Monday, November 21, 2005

Games, crime, and CSI

So did anybody see tonight's episode of CSI: Miami?

When a group of criminals play out a violent videogame in real-life, the CSIs must stop them before they strike again.

That's the story in a nutshell. Sure, the basic CSI stuff goes on, with some of the interpersonal development that they awkwardly stick into some of the episodes, but it pretty much revolves around the idea of kids playing a video game and copying it in real life.

Yes, I know the idea has been (and still is) fought over ad nauseum, that violent video games encourage violent behavior in children. And yes, I know there are people unbalanced enough out there who would try to act out game scenes for the thrill of it. I've probably known some of them. But I'm not going to rehash the old arguments.

The bone I want to pick is:

Wait for it...

That horrid, ugly, black-hole-level-of-suck game they showed. Yup, that's right, that embarrasing, back-woods-cousin representative of computer games that they threw up on the screen. (For those of you who haven't seen it, follow the link above and watch the preview. Look for the two or three seconds they show of the 'game' in question.)

Do the people who plan this show know anything about PC games? Couldn't somebody have stood up at some point and said 'That game doesn't look interesting, marketable, fun, or even playable'? I mean, crap, guys, I know you can't program a whole game engine just for one show, and licensing an existing one would cost quite a bit, but couldn't you have your art people at least research game design a little before they cobble something together? Or even ask a gamer for some input?

Here are some brief points for next time:

1. Quality PC games do not use screen fonts that look like refugees from Wargames.

2. Quality PC games do not flash the score in the middle of the screen every time you earn points - they keep it off to the side where it won't distract from the gameplay.

3. Quality PC games do not change camera angles every couple of seconds like a bad episode of MTV's Real Life, nor do the cameras constantly 'swoop' around the character.

You want to see some great examples of how to do it? Look at some screen shots of Max Payne, Battlefield 2, GTA3/Vice City, or XIII. Better yet, you can probably find two or three of those titles on discount racks for around $10 or less. Try playing them, then look back at the travesty you put on the screen Monday night. See if you can tell the difference in the basic 'feel'. What CSI had was a cartoon. A badly drawn, overly-violent cartoon. Not a game.

If this is the only exposure some people have to PC games, it's no wonder they think the hobby is a vast waste of time. If you want to make social commentary and provoke discussion, fine, but at least pretend like you've done some research on the subject matter.

Blasts from the past

Head on over to the Download Squad for an interesting look back at Windows 1.0. Not exactly a game, I know, but Windows has had a tremendous effect on the path that gaming history has taken.

(via The PC Doctor)

And for some gaming goodness that will take you back, travel in time to The Most Officialest SkiFree Home Page! Skifree was part of the original Microsoft Entertainment Pack, and was one of the first Windows games I remember playing (aside from Solitaire and Minesweeper, of course). Written by the original programmer, the site gives a brief history of the game's development and marketing, and has a link to the original SkiFree 1.0. Even cooler, there's a Win32 .exe file available for download, so you can get your skiing on in Windows XP now, too.

And yes, I still hate that stupid abominable snowman.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Belated acknowledgements

I completely forgot to credit my latest ebay purchases, so here they are. (Better late than never.)

Thanks to speksmaker, I am now the proud owner of Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel, Kings of the Beach, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?, and one of the prides of my collection, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. The Ultima games have always been dear to my heart (and yes, i even liked Ultima IX: Ascension), so I was very pleased to acquire this gem. It would have been a bargain at twice the price I paid for the auction.

Thank you, speksmaker, for keeping your games in such good condition and allowing me to add them to my collection.

New games

Bidding on Ebay is starting to bug the crap out of me. Every time I find a game that I really, really want, within the last two minutes of the auction the price skyrockets out of my range.

Oh, well, on the plus side I love my local Deals store ($1 shop). Almost every time I go in there, I find something new to add to the collection. Tonight I walked away with Wheel of Fortune, Hero X, Deadly Dozen, Force 21, and Battleship. And for one genuinely good game, 2 so-so's, a board-game derivative and a game-show derivative, that's $5 well spent.

(And don't say anything, but I picked up a Tonka game and a My Little Pony game as stocking stuffers for the kids. Shhh!)

Thursday, November 17, 2005


The Most Shocking Video Game Moments of All Time (at least, according to

(via Fark)

Addicted to gaming?

According to an article at, "[g]aming fanatics show hallmarks of drug addiction".

I always thought that was kind of common sense. I have certainly felt addicted to certain games in the past, and I've noticed the same behavior in others around me. But I could say the same for certain television shows or books. Almost any behaviour, to some people, will have addictive qualities.

Think about it. How often do you arrange your schedule around a favorite TV show? "Well, let's see, I need to return the library books and fill the car before 7, so I can make it back in time for Survivor." What type of stress do you feel as you struggle to meet that self-obligation? Is it an addiction, or just something you really, really, really like to do? How thin is the line?

Fortunately, there is no (or little) chemical dependency related to these activities -- it would be limited to the release of natural chemicals in the brain rather than the introduction of external, synthetic substances. It's mostly behavioural. Which means that with some self-control, it shouldn't be too much of a problem.

I say as I sit in front of a computer and continually check the stats of a website dedicated to 20+ years of gaming.

(via Fark)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

IFComp 2005, the text adventure competition

Text adventures (now known as interactive fiction) are alive and well. IFComp holds an annual competition. Established in 1995, the contest gives players the chance to try out new, fan-created adventures and pick their favorite. And they're free. :)

The Wall Street Journal has a pretty comprehensive article about this year's competition here. Check it out, then head over to and get ready to party like it's 1989.

(via fark)

A little bit of history

OK, OK, I know this has been around for a while, but it's still one of my favorites:'s Essential 50. Everybody who games should read this and get a good foundation in the history of their hobby. And while I may not agree that all of the games on the list are absolutely essential, I think they do a great job of presenting the stories behind the games and showing how they influenced the ones we currently play.

Let there be games...

Beyond merely playing a game, the thrust of user interaction for the last couple of years seems to be on level modification and skinning. A few games, most notably Neverwinter Nights, have allowed almost complete control over creating new storylines and new worlds.

But what about actually creating games from scratch? Coming up with an original game idea and making it work, if you're not a programmer, can be an intimidating thought. From what I understand, it can be pretty daunting even if you are a programmer.

Over the last few years, a handful of programs have been published that try to help the common, every-day gamer get past the 'intimidation' factor and create their own games to play and share with friends.

One of the earliest was SSI's Wargame Construction Set. Released in 1986 (and incidentally, one of the oldest titles in my collection), it used a tile-based keyboard-driven interface and allowed you a fair amount of flexibility when it came to creating units. The graphics left something to be desired, and good luck getting it to run on a modern rig (perhaps DOSBox?), but it was the first chance a lot of players had to put their dreams on the screen.

A few years later, Klik & Play gained some popularity. I even seem to recall PC Gamer releasing some Klik & Play stuff on their demo CD's. Europress Software came out with it in 1994, and it gave users an introduction to object-oriented programming, but kept it simple enough to be approachable by non-programmers. Wired Magazine gave it a decent review back in 95, where they highlighted one of its major shortfalls: it just wasn't powerful enough to create Doom clones, which was, of course, what everybody wanted to create. Still, it did a great job of platform and arcade-style games, and allowed importing of graphics and sound files. It was mouse-driven, too, which was a great improvement (in my eyes) over the Wargame Construction Set. And if you follow the link above to Clickteam's website, you can find an 'education' version available for download. Again, you may have problems running it under XP, but it's worth a shot.

And finally, we come to RPG Maker 2000, which I briefly played around with a couple of years ago. With a strong flavor of the early Final Fantasy-type RPGs, you also get the ability to import custom chipsets, midi files, and character sprites to make a well-rounded, completely customized RPG. I found the learning curve to be a little steeper than I would have liked, being a non-programmer, but there are (or were) plenty of online tutorials out there that walk you through every step of the process. RM2K has had a couple of updates over the years (RPG Maker 2003 and RPG Maker XP), which seem to expand on the original program without changing the overall feel, but I can't speak of that firsthand -- I've not yet played around with the newer iterations.

Of course, there are plenty more game creation tools out there. More than I could hope to play around with, actually. So let me know -- what's good? What have you tried and liked, and which ones should be avoided? How easy are they for non-programmers to get into? And most importantly, is game creation still popular with players, or has everybody jumped on the modding bandwagon?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

12 Games, 24 Hours

I just found this via In4mador:

Extreme Adventure

Hendrik Vogelpohl plays (to completion) 12 classic graphic adventure games in 24 hours. Through the wonders of modern technology, you can watch the whole thing in under two minutes.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New additions

Just added the following to my collection, thanks to a great Ebayer by the name of pfarr21:

The Best Games You've Never Played, Vol. 1

Try Galactic Swarm, by Camaj Interactive. Seriously.

I first ran across this game as a Reflexive demo, and I was blown away.

The premise is simple: using a top-down view, fly around shooting enemies, dodging space debris, and collecting ore. Kinda like Asteroids on steroids. Asteroids-steroids. Or something.

But with the weapon power-ups available (the morning star tail has to be one of the coolest ideas I've seen in this type of game) and the varying attack styles of the enemies, you have an intense, fluid game that keeps you saying, 'Just one more level.'

Add to all that the fact that I was able to find a full-version copy at a dollar shop, and this game has to be one of the best entertainment values out there.

The story is practically non-existent, and the tactics don't vary a whole lot -- every level is pretty much 'shoot everything in sight and run for the gate' -- but for a quick break in between marathon RPG or strategy sessions, this game is perfect.

If you've never played it, do yourself a favor and head over to Reflexive's website and take it for a spin (it's listed as 'Swarm'). Then check your local dollar shops and discount stores to score a cheap copy.

And watch out for the energy-suckers. Those beggars get me every time.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Games for the kids

My kids are going to be computer geeks. There is no doubt in my mind.

They've been able to use a mouse and keyboard since before they could walk. My wife used to hold our son in one arm while guiding her Sims character through its daily routine with the other, and as he got older he graduated up to helping her kill monsters in Neverwinter Nights. My daughter is too young to remember the days when we didn't have a computer on the floor next to the TV, especially for the kids. They started with an old Macintosh with the one-button mouse, moved up to a Pentium 200 Mhz system with a two-button serial mouse, and have most recently been given the use of the first computer I ever purchased -- a P2 400 Mhz.

So of course they can play their own games. Shoot, they can probably even install their own games. It's in their blood.

We've tried a lot of different titles with them. Most have been 'edu-tainment' of one sort or another, usually focusing on math, reading, or logic. For replay value alone, the best of the lot would have to be those published by Humongous Entertainment, may they rest in peace. Humongous is no longer among us -- they were absorbed by Atari Kids -- but if you can find any of their older series (Putt-Putt, Pajama Sam, Freddi Fish), pay the price and take them home. Your kids will love them.

These games are all in the 'graphic adventure' genre. You know the type -- before you can go through the gate, you have to get past the guards. The guards only allow gourds to go through, so you have to find a pumpkin. To get the pumpkin you have to do something about the weeds in the garden. And so on. It's a familiar drill. But the really great thing is that no matter where you click on the screen, something cool happens. And usually, several 'something cools' happen. Try unrolling the paper on the wall -- it may show a treasure map, a poster of Pajama Sam's hero Pajama Man, or a hint on how to proceed with the game. And these sorts of things are scattered all over. Add to that the fact that the quests are cycled for each game. Finish it once, and you can play through it again because you'll get entirely new puzzles. It stays fresh, and the kids keep going back to it to find something new.

The quests themselves can be a little tough at times. We've actually had to use an online walkthrough once or twice, but maybe we just aren't as sharp as our kids. That's a minor quibble, though, and when you factor in the violence level (almost non-existent) and the character lessons (helping others, eating a balanced diet, etc.), it's easy to overlook a few tough puzzles.

If you have kids, these games are an excellent addition to your library. Just keep an eye on the age category -- a game that your kids aren't quite old enough for can lead to frustration. And the kids might get upset, too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

If you want to check out a great gamer community project, head on over to

Built on an empty database that is populated by you, Gamer's Pouch provides a method of cataloging, tracking, and rating games.

My username over there is Palad, if you're interested in checking out my catalogued collection. It's not quite complete, as I have multiple copies of some games, multiple formats of others, and some that are just so obscure that I haven't been able to find reliable publication information on them.

The funny thing for me is that at some point, Gamerspouch became a game in itself. It was fun to add new games to my collection just to see how it stacked up to everybody elses'. It became a meta-game: a game about games. A challenge to get ahead of the other players. A personal affront when Fenriss or Artayd beat me to the punch adding games to the global database. A quest to dig up as much information on my games as I can. My own MMORPG with real-life connections.

And my wife thinks I'm obsessed. pffft.

I just never grew up.

Get Lamp

I want to make sure I get Jason Scott in here right at the beginning. He's the guy who directed BBS: The Documentary (that's Bulletin Board System, not British Broadcasting Service), and he is currently working on a new show that should be of great interest to computer gamers:
Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary. Take a look at his website and keep an eye on this guy.

When I first ran across his website, it reminded me of one of the first computer games I ever played -- Infocom's Leather Goddesses of Phobos. It was a great game, especially for a 13-year old who knew enough to lie when the 'Lewd Mode' age-authentication came up. Ahhh, lewd mode... what memories. ~sigh~

Actually, it was my brother's game, and it tended to lose my interest after a while. The text parser was great (at least, for those days), but I would get frustrated at not being able to fully explore the world. I didn't mind the lack of graphics one bit, I just hated being told, "Sorry, you can't do that." I understand that even with current technology, programmers can't acount for every single thing the player could want to do, but it still bugged the crap out of me to feel like my hands were tied.

Have you ever been to Disneyland? I went once, as a child. They had a ride where you could drive a car around a track, but in order to keep you where they wanted you, there was a metal rail running the length of the road, and each vehicle straddled it. Being five years old, I nearly gave my dad whiplash by slamming the car back and forth against the rail. That's how the early adventure games made me feel. The designers seemed to have a track in mind that they wanted the player to follow, and nothing you tried would allow you to bump over that rail and explore freely. Every time you got the message, 'You can't do that here,' it jolted you out of the game, making you realize that it was just a story, not a true adventure.

Still, it's amazing to go back and look at some of those games. My wife recently bought me a bundled copy of some of Infocom's early text adventures, and I loaded them on her PC. You see, she started playing games with Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, and she has no idea what we used to do for fun. While I may have quickly grown irritated at the limits imposed by those old games, I still have some fond memories of working away at them, trying to find just the right combination of phrases to keep the car on the track. I keep telling her she needs to try them out, if only to gain a little sense of history.

As for me, it sure is fun being a kid again for a few moments. Even if I do keep hitting the rail.


I collect PC games. But if you're here, you probably already know that.

Just to prevent confusion, let me spell it out. I collect original PC or IBM-compatible games, no warez, no copies, nothing illegal. I don't collect C64 , Amiga, Mac, or console games. I focus solely on PC games, and have so far put together a collection spanning the last 20+ years and composed of over 550 individual titles. I prefer original media, but I buy re-releases and compilations/collections whenever I can -- I'm more interested in building an archive of the software itself, rather than the physical media.

I felt it was time to start a presence on the web to document some of this, and to give people a place to contact me. I'm always on the lookout for more games, and anything offered would be gratefully accepted.

But I'm not going to limit this to merely talking about the games I find. I want to branch out a bit, and give exposure to the other people engaged in this hobby. I want a place to share my memories of two decades of computer gaming. I want to give those who come here a chance to become a part of the history that we live in the middle of.

I'll leave comments open for the time being. I want you to respond to what I say. Please don't abuse the privilege.