At South by Southwest this past March, six videogame journalists met to come up with a definitive list of games that represent gaming now — the “Criterion Collection” of gaming. They ask: “What videogames are canon? Are games old enough to have an essential group of titles worthy of the Library of Congress?” Despite Asteroids’s historic popularity, we weren’t sure if it would make that list; so we stopped by to find out what would.
The panelists were Chuck Osborn (Group Editor in Chief, Future US), Eric Bratcher (Editor in Chief, Future US), Evan Lahti (Senior Editor, Future US), Ryan McCaffrey (Senior Editor, Official XBox Magazine), Brett Elston (Executive Editor, GamesRadar.com), and Scott Butterworth (Assistant Editor, PlayStation the Official Magazine).
Each panelist made a 30-second pitch for their “best game,” followed by some discussion, audience input, and then a vote. One big guideline for selection was: Rule out nostalgia. “If you’re introducing someone to gaming, you might love Street Fighter 2, but would you suggest playing that one over Street Fighter 4?” On the other hand, to what degree should a game’s influence and historical significance be considered, even if elements seem dated? This became a key point immediately.
Scott Butterworth started out by nominating the original God of War, for its influence of the interaction wtih 2-button combos, plus the blockbuster value. Others asked, why pick that over God of War 3, which is the culmination of the ideas in the series, with better production value etc. Which would you tell someone to play right now? It was voted down.
Next, Brett Elston picked Super Mario Brothers 3, as the baseline for video games. Mechanics are tighter than 1, and the idea of different worlds comes from this. Plus, this list would be incomplete without a Mario game. Accpted.
The discussion went on, with yeas and nays (Splinter Cell, Chaos 3: no; StarCraft II: yes; World of Warcraft: yes), and things were looking grim for Asteroids. Then, Eric Bratcher, who had really been pressing for relevance today in the selections, nominated Tetris (1984). You can understand it in 30 seconds, but can’t master it in 30 years. It has been on more platforms and played by more people than any other game. Tetris recevied a unanimous yea. Asteroids it is not, but it’s in the same family of simple geometry, simple gameplay, and a race to survive. We’ll take it.
Here’s the final list, in the order they were nominated:
- Super Mario Bros 3
- StarCraft II
- World of Warcraft
- Orange Box (Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal, Team Fortress 2)
- Red Dead Redemption
- Street Fighter IV (“what a sequel ought to be”)
- Link to the Past
Atari has just released Atari’s Greatest Hits for Apple mobile devices, with 100 classic Atari games: 18 arcade and 92 Atari 2600. The basic app is free and includes Pong. Games can be purchased in packs of 3-4 for $0.99, (there are 25 total), or you can get all of them for $14.99. A few truly great hits are missing (Pac-Man, Space Invaders, although these aren’t actually Atari games), but there are more than enough good ones that aren’t as readily available elsewhere.
The “Asteroids Pack” includes Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Asteroids 2600, and Canyon Bomber (Bluetooth Multiplayer). In the iPad app, the arcade version offers three control options: Disc, Roller and Arcade, with the controls in the border around the video window.
In Disc mode, the device is held horizontally, with a left-thumb 360-degree disc area for direction and thrust, and right-thumb buttons for fire and hyperspace. Rotation is very responsive, but perhaps too responsive, and difficult to fine-tune without more practice.
Roller mode has a left-thumb vertical roller for rotation (up-down equals rotate left-right), and the right-thumb controls thrust, fire and hyperspace.
Arcade mode turns the iPad upright, with five buttons along the bottom in the standard arcade layout. It’s good, although when playing with thumbs, we prefer the roller.
Supposedly this app has been developed along with ION, who will be releasing their bluetooth-connected iCADE iPad arcade cabinet in June. Currently, the Atari app can connect with other devices via bluetooth to play certain games head-to-head. With the iCADE, you place your iPad in the cabinet-looking holder and use the physical controls from there.
It goes without saying that the graphics can’t be compared to a vector screen, but they’re true to the original code with slight modifications. Specifically, when Asteroids is played on an LCD or CRT screen, the photon dot is almost too small to be seen. It glows brilliantly on a vector display, and the trace takes several seconds to disappear completely. But without creating some artificial effect, they’ve just increased the size of the dot so that it’s visible, along with the thickness of several lines. This is also the case with the online classic version at the Atari website, but missing with other authentic versions of the game, including the computer-based MAME. Game play feels about right, although just a hair faster than at the arcade.
Speaking of other modern versions, Asteroids HD ($0.99) is an authentic replication of the game for iPad, with full-screen graphics and invisible control: slide your left thumb back and forth on the left side of the screen for rotation, tap on the right side of the screen to fire, and tap with two fingers to hyperspace. Works well. And while we haven’t tried the iPhone version of the new Atari app — and it may be great — the screen is almost certainly too small for the detail of the original. A favored variation that retains the feeling of line-art simplicity but adapts it to the small screen, is Spheroids [we couldn't find a browser link for this game -- this will link to iTunes].
Back in the new Atari app, Asteroids Deluxe, is similarly authentic, with the faint background image found in the arcade. The Atari 2600 version of Asteroids has the standard game console options on load, and decent play with a virtual joystick and fire button. The graphics flicker like it would on a TV.
The games also include a gallery of original package artwork and images, and all-in-all, it’s a dollar well spent.
It’s been a year since ThinkGeek announced the iPad Arcade Cabinet – the iCADE — on April Fool’s Day. Since then, they’ve partnered with ION, and the product has become real. It’s a bluetooth controller and iPad stand in one, with arcade-style buttons and joystick. It’s expected to be available in early June, 2011.
Pocket-lint.com has a list of other April Fool’s pranks that came true.
We’re here at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, one of the largest festival/conferences for Film, Interactive trends and Music. No public Asteroids machines in town, but there are enough tacos and free beer to make up for it.
The big buzz at the Interactive conference this year is online gaming; companies are moving beyond traditional brand marketing to engage their audiences in new ways. Facebook is the largest gaming platform today, and games like Farmville have ratings that rival prime-time television. Just as important, they’re reaching demographics that aren’t what you’d stereotype as a typical gamer.
Atari brought in Thom Kozik as executive vice president of online and mobile, with the goal of creating online versions of their classic games. Asteroids Online, still in its beta stage as a Facebook game, is among the first. As a “causal gaming experience,” it’s tailored to draw you in and keep you coming back. Full write-up here soon.
Along the same lines, another talked-about trend is the rise of social networking applications on mobile devices, driving real-world activity. The founder of FourSquare drew a huge crowd. His app (and many others) allows you to check in to your current location, based on GPS coordinates, and gain points and prizes based on number and type of check-ins. It turns daily life into a game. I actually had my first practical success with FourSquare at Beer Camp at Emo’s the other night, when a friend had checked in a few minutes earlier. I recognized his icon, sent him a text, and good times were had.
All of this expands the concept of video gaming. Even traditional game systems are shifting into the real world, starting with the Nintendo Wii’s gyroscopic controller and just recently, expanded with the XBox Kinect. Actual movement is translated into virtual motion. These controllers have also immediately been hacked and adopted for more conceptual and artistic ends. One of the cooler installations here in Austin was at the Frog Design party — a room-sized grid of weight-sensitive platforms acts to control the music’s step-sequencer. People can see a projection of the matrix, and hear what they’re doing in the beats.
I like to watch where things are going, and think about Asteroids, sitting in the corner of an arcade or bar, with five simple buttons driving a series of white lines on a black screen. It was created 32 years ago, before computers saturated our lives. You have to leave your house to play it. It’s basic. It’s pure. For some of us, it holds up.
Daniel Terdiman conducted a cnet interview with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, talking a bit about the history of Atari, and Bushnell’s vision of the future of software. At the top of Nolan’s list of things to change society are auto-cars, the elimination of credentials (think eyeball scans), and personal robots.
Nolan Bushnell is certainly out in the world, keeping an eye on things. Our own sources report recent Bushnell sightings at the MakerBot table at the New York MakerFaire last fall, and in the basement of Machine Project in LA, where creative people are, in fact, bringing technology into daily life and making it awesome.
369 N Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
LA’s Barcade is back, in its third location, right next door to the old one on Western Ave north of Beverly (369 N Western). No longer Miss T’s Barcade, it is now “The Blipsy.” Their opening night party flier says: “This third installment brings closure to all the questions raised from the previous Barcades. Probably the most complete of the trilogy.”
The bar is now one large room instead of three, blue instead of red, and has liquor in addition to beer. There’s no clear signage on the street: follow the pac-man dots to the door.
The Asteroids machine here is still our favorite. For more info, read the original LA Barcade Recon.
Here’s a look at an Asteroids cousin in the arcade: Sega/Gremlin’s Eliminator, released in 1981. The 4-person cocktail game has the distinction of being the only 4-player vector game ever created. It was also released as a 2-player upright and cocktail game.
A summary on M.A.R.S. (Mark’s Arcade Retro Site) says:
In Eliminator, your object is to 1) Destroy any threats (opposing players or drones) by forcing them into a large floating asteroid (known as the Eliminator Base) using your energy bolts, which “push” ships, and 2) Fire an energy bolt down a narrow opening in the Eliminator Base, thus destroying it. Of course, you will have to survive an onslaught by your opponents, drones, and the Eliminator itself (a deadly ship that comes out of the Eliminator Base, lauches fireballs and destroys opponents on contact).
We just came across this old post on WFMU’s Beware of the Blog. They were stuck at work on the Friday before Labor Day, playing Asteroids, and decided to write about it. Includes video of one of their games.