GDC 2009 - Day 5.3 - The Bogost with the Most, a Complex Sandwich

One man gets drunk with Ian Bogost. They wax nostalgic about the good ol' days. Days when games were good, and you didn't have all those newfangled keyboards, mice, hard drives, CDs, monitors, joysticks, quarters, oscillators, etc.

- - -
1:00pm - 2:30pm   Bonus Lunch Coverage

Had my first ever Waldorf salad sandwich.
It had apple, grapes, lettuce, mayonnaise and I'm not sure what else.
It was delicious. GDC - come for the lectures, stay for the lunches.

Sitting down at the table I met Daniel Cook of fame.
We exchanged Hellos. He made some genius observations, then ran away.
Recently learned we were both winners of Gamasutra's "Games of 2020" competition.
Mountain Dew, you work in mysterious ways.

Idle Lunch Conversation

Me I really like the game design lectures.
Thought I wouldn't since I find most game design articles fluffy.
Friend    Well... that's the subject matter, right?
Me Well... no. I'm looking for specific details, not generalizations.
Like... you've been working on a Go-Kart racing game for 2 years.
After so long, you could share what works regarding Go-Karting.
Friend Yeah... but I don't know if I'd want to share that :)

You read that right. There were grapes in my sandwich.

- - -
2:30pm - 3:30pm   Learning from the Atari 2600   Ian Bogost

Sad Fact: I played Space Invaders when it was brand new.
Found it at a Horse Track. To this day don't understand why people prefer betting.

Bogost is a charming speaker.
His passion for gaming history is contagious.
Bet he has a Colecovision in his closet, and a copy of Smurf.
Someone buy this man a Commodore 64.

"Unlike the Peter Molyneux talk,
 in this talk about the Atari all the predictions will come true."

Developers from the 70s solved today's co-operative play problems.
Developers from the 70s solved today's family play problems.
In your face Wii.

Brief History of Time

1958   "Tennis for Two"   Oscilloscope

1961   "Spacewar!"   PDP-1

1972   "Computer Space"   First Arcade Game!
In a truly prescient move, it ripped off "Spacewar!".
Game not for kids - meant for bars and college campuses.
Advertisements featured photos of sexy ladies next to sexy molded plastic cabinet.

Still haven't arrived at Atari 2600.
Ian might reconsider presentation title.

1977   "Telstar Combat!"   Home Television
I retract my earlier 2:45pm grumblings - History is Incredible!
My Dad bought this for us and we played it together.
Dad drove his tank exclusively in reverse.
Tears fill my eyes as I remember Dad beating me over and over again.
I now believe he was preparing me for Internet multiplayer.
Thanks Dad... you cheating piece of crap.

1977   "The Atari 2600"   aka. The Atari VCS
Designed around 2 people sitting at their television playing together...
similar to a tavern game like darts.
Atari Combat (27 games in one!) shipped with hardware.
It introduced people to the machine and the software.
Certain games illuminate the hardware. Hello Wii Sports!

Dictionary Alert: "Affordances" used.

8 of the 10 initial games were translated from existing tavern arcade games.
The excitment of going to the movies goes far beyond the movie itself.
The tavern offers something way more than drinking at home,
it has the opportunity for social interaction.

No coincidence that Wii bowling is the best Wii Sports game.
"It's aware of the context of the experience of bowling as well the game itself."
It turns your home into a bowling alley, you're not just bowling.
Wii baseball should be [insert image of waving foam hand at a crowded baseball game].

"Adapting familiar subjects for familiar spaces"
That sounded cool, so I kept it.

Atari 2600 Games

Translation of a coin-op game to the home seems like it should be really easy...
... since you don't have to change the format or function of the game at all.
However, need to look at the right things to adapt.


It was developed in 6 weeks... and was poor!
Atari manual attempts to apologize for translation problems.
The pills are square "They're wafers, not pills!"
The monsters flicker constantly "They're ghosts, not monsters!"
The cherry is missing "The vitamins are the two intersecting rectangles!"
The video of the MAME emulated 2600 Pac-Man made it look worse than I remember,
and I remember it looking absolutely horrible.

Ms. Pac-Man

Storage expanded from 4KB to 8KB, had way more than 6 weeks.
Pac-Man now faced in direction you were moving, there was less flickering, decent sound.
EVEN included the arcade title screen attract loop, which serves no purpose at home...
BUT it recreates the sense of being in the arcade.
Believe I have found the perfect first date game for Wendy.

Yar's Revenge

Atari attempts to port Cinematronics arcade vector classic Star Castle.
Developer soon realized that a decent version couldn't be done.
"I took what i thought were the top logicial and geometeric components
 of Star Castle and reorganized them."
"He didn't take the gameplay. He took components of the game."

The intense luminosity of Star Castle was captured by Yar's crazy neutral zone graphics.
Zone generated by 5-lines of genius assembly code that used source itself for graphic data.
Also kept Star Castle's boss shield and enemy that chases after you.
Recreating the sensibility and feeling of vector games
is what made Yar's Revenge successful.

Until today, I did not realize Yar's Revenge was successful.
At that time, Jimmy's Arcade (in Sarnia) offered 16 tokens for 1 dollar!
At that price, I could afford to pay for all the Star Castle I wanted.
Vectors before Flash made them uncool! 60fps before people knew what that meant!
Yar's Revenge was for losers! Everyone knows you can't play Star Castle with a joystick!
I just wish the shield rings didn't get repaired when you completely destroyed them.
Tim Skelly, I will find you, and I will hurt you.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

"E.T. the movie was about the isolation of 1 alien who remained behind,
 and the face of the world who perceives him as a threat."
"It's about alienation, not aliens."
The game attempts to capture this.
i.e. Falling into a hole and floating your way out made sense (kind of)

The problem? At the movies, people enjoyed watching the kids.
In the game, you're the alien. It captured the wrong aspect of the movie.

Despite being widely derided as the worst videogame ever created,
during Q & A Ian admitted he would not change a thing about it. He loves what it tried to do.
Believe the workers that buried the unsold cartridges feel the same way.
Could GTA exist without E.T.? Yes.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

It's not an adaption of the film, it's a translation of one scene
It's brilliant because (unlike E.T.) it's really what the film is about.
"Huge walkers overwhelming the speeder."
I believe it's brilliant because it features huge freaking walkers.
Shameless Plug: Like Empire? You'll love "Hold me closer, Giant Dancer"

Lessons Learned
  • Innovation less important than adaptation

  • Adapt experiences, not properties
    i.e. Capture the wonder of emerging from the wardrobe, don't create sandbox Narnia

  • Tightly couple topics to a machine's affordances

  • Timing matters less than it may seem

  • We should add couch beating to Zelda

There's merit in trying to understand the innards of the Atari.
We don't need to justify learning about the history of our medium,
we can do it for it's own sake.
The Atari is a living, breathing relic.
We should know about it for those reasons alone.

Even before the Atari 2600 was released, I frequented arcades.
They were smokey (from people actively smoking inside), dark, and smelly (at least I was).
People rarely talked to each other, and the only noise was the games themselves.
The Atari 2600 failed to recreate this experience. It also did not steal my bike.

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