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ExtraMana's Blog. Includes my YouTube videos and written articles.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History - Computer Space (Atari)

 
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Computer space art

 


In the 1950's the cold war between the East and West raged on. The US invested massive amount of money into technology. Money was poured into the development of new missiles, aircraft and of course computers amongst many other things. In 1958 Willy Higginbotham was working at the Brook haven National Laboratories. Higginbotham had been a designer of electronic circuits for the Manhattan project and was a renowned physicist.
He wanted to create an interactive game for the Laboratories annual vistor day. The result is he would end up creating the world's first video game: 'Tennis for two'.

To make this game he used an oscilloscope, and analogue computer and some push buttons.
The visitors where very intrigued by Higginbotham's invention. For the game he created a 2d view of a tennis court with a single horizontal line on the middle being the centre. To control the game each player had a small box with some controls on it. The ball in the game was affected by both gravity and wind resistance.
The game only had a 5 inch monitor. The game was later re-showcased in 1959 but this time with a larger 17 inch monitor. 

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Tennis for Two (World's first videogame)

Despite the attention Higginbotham received for his invention he did not make a single penny from it. For one thing he never tried to market it, and for another had he tried to patent the invention it would have become property of the US government.In the mid 1960's Nolan Bushnell was attending the university of Utah it was there he learned about computer games. One of the games at the University was called 'Spacewar'. 
Bushnell learned to program so that he could start making his own games. With the help of other students Bushnell created several games including tic tac toe, 3-D tic tac toe and a game called Fox and Geese. All of these early games where very primitive.

However in 1969 Bushnell was hired by an engineering firm called Ampex Corporation. It was there that he was able to get hold of some parts to help make his next game 'Computer Space'. 'Computer Space' was heavily influenced by Steve Russell's game Space War from 1962. What Bushnell would do differently is that he would make it a coin operated game, the first of it's kind. The original space war game had been made on a PDP-1 a computer that cost $120,000 dollars meaning it was completely unmarketable. It was Bushnell who would take games out of universities and make them marketable to the public.

Bushnell partnered with Bill Nutting to manufacture 1500 computer space machines. Not all of the machines sold and there was another problem. Bushnell had made a complex instruction manual for the game. This put a lot of potential players off as not many people wanted to have to learn all the instructions just to play the game.
It was 1971 and there simply wasn't anything on the market like Computer Space. The game was distributed in bars, bowling alleys, and college campuses but it did not do very well. After the failure of Computer Space Bushnell decided it was time to form his very own games company. He partnered with Ted Dabney who had been an engineer at Ampex. Ted Dabney and Bushnell put in the modest sum of 250 dollars each to form their games company: Atari. Bushnell didn't know it yet but he was about to become the father of the multi-billion dollar industry of video games.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History - Blood

 
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Blood Pc-Dos game box art

 
 

In January 1996 Duke Nukem 3D was released and at the time it sported revolutionary new graphics using Ken Silverman's Build engine. First person shooters had become incredibly successful thanks to games like Duke Nukem 3d and of course Id software's games Wolfenstein 3d, and Doom. In June 1996 Quake was realised and once again revolutionized the already very popular genre of first person shooters. Not only did it feature jaw dropping full 3d visuals but it sported a multi-player component that took the world by storm. Even though the Build engine was now outdated other game companies still wanted to capitalize on the success of the first person shooter genre. Duke Nukem 3D had taken inspiration from classic action films with Duke quoting lines from Evil Dead: Army of Darkness,Die Hard, terminator. John Carpenters film 'They Live' and a host of others.

 After the success of Duke Nukem 3d. 3d realms started work on two new first person shooters using the build engine. Blood and Shadow Warrior. 3d realms would later sell off the rights to the game Blood to Monolith who would finish production. Both games would take inspiration from classic films just as Duke Nukem 3D had done. With Blood's hero Caleb referencing horror films like the shining, and Shadow Warriors hero Lo Wang referencing martial arts films. The build engine although now outdated had been enhanced for Blood. It now featured Voxel graphics, which essentially allowed the weapons, keys, ammo and other pick-ups throughout the game to appear in 3d. As the name suggests, Blood is an extremely gory game. It featured blood and gore all over the walls and floors and there was even a physics element to the games gore. The most noticeable of which is that not only can you dismember certain enemies. But the Zombie for instance once you dismember his head you can kick it around by walking over it. Delightful.

Blood also featured another fairly innovative aspect a secondary fire mode to the weapons. This was pretty unusual for 1997. An example of this is that the sawed off shotgun inspired by evil dead allows you to fire a single shot with the primary fire mode or give the enemy both barrels with the secondary fire. Other guns in the game included the pitchfork as your starting weapon, flare gun, Thompson machine gun,a voodoo doll and rocket launcher. My favourite was the shotgun unsurprisingly. Enemies in the game featured rats, flying gargoyle demon type things, cultist members with machines, zombies and the like. And they where all surprisingly deadly, for instance the zombie if you don't finish him off will get back up and drive his axe into your back. This is one of those classic first person shooters where death is literally around every corner so get ready to save often unless you're truly hardcore.
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Blood Pc Dos gameplay screenshot

To progress in the game you had to turn switches, blow up explosive barrels to access new areas and of course find keys. Unlike previous first person shooters you had to find up to six keys not 3 in order to complete a level which can become quite a chore especially as you delve into the later chapters of the game.
The story of the game Blood isn't told through occasional text screens like in Doom but rather cut scenes. The plot is not very fleshed out and is very forgettable it has something to do with a cult named 'the cabal' who worships the god Tchernobog who was voiced by Monolith's CEO Jason Hall. There's something in there about betrayal but really nobody buys a game like this for the plot. the time period isn't very specific, personally I would of guessed the game had to be set in the late 1920's, or 1930's or 40's because of the fact it has a Thompson sub-machine gun in it. But Blood was retroactively dated in 1928 in it's sequel Blood 2:The chosen. Not that it really matters.

Throughout the game you'll visit haunted mansions, sewers, lumber mills, mortuaries and just about every cliché' horror location you can think of. The game is very tongue in cheek to say the least. Blood released in 1997 and did not sell particularly well despite being a blast to play. It received two expansion packs: 'cryptic passage' that was developed by Sunstorm Interactive and published by WizardWorks Software. and Monoliths own expansion 'plasma pak'. Until recently tracking down a copy of Blood and it's expansion packs was a little tricky due to the poor sales of the games. But it's now available with it's expansions from good old games.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History - Duke Nukem

 
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Duke Nukem title screen

 


Scott Miller had been making games since 1975. Some of Millers early games had been The Computer Quiz, Astronomy Quiz, and BASIC Quiz. Later he started to make more complex games such as 'Kingdom of Kroz'. In that game the player had to collect gems, and avoid monsters. When a monster touched you the player would lose one of his gems. The player also had a whip attack they could use a limited number of times as a defence. The whip could also be used to break down walls that sometimes blocked an exit. The game had a focus on conservation of gems and whips as part of the strategy. Kingdom of Kroz remake footage from the Cruz engine.

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The Computer Quiz - Scott Miller

While Millers earliest games had used a donation model whereby gamers could download the entire game for free and then choose to donate money. His later games like 'Kingdom of Kroz' would start to use the shareware model whereby gamers could get some of the games levels for free, but to get the rest they would have to pay. Scott Miller made a series of Kroz games and he started to make a lot of money from them using the shareware model. His games was distributed on BBS boards and gamers would get a message pop up on screen after they finished the shareware version of his game offering them more content for a price and giving them an 800 number to call.
Millers shareware games proved very successful. Kingdom of Kroz was one of Millers first games to be credited under his company name 'Apogee software productions'.As the 1980's started to draw to a close a new game was in development at Apogee software. This game was called 'Metal Force' and it had a protagonist in the game called 'Duke Nukem'.

Working on the game was Todd Replogle, Alen H Blum III, George Broussard & Jim Norwood. With Scott Miller acting as boss & producer. It was Millers decision to change the games name from 'Metal Force' to that of it's hero: Duke Nukem. Millers team collaborated to define Dukes character. They took inspiration from comic book heroes and 1980's action movie stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Duke Nukem was a typical side scrolling action game, similar to many titles that where available on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game released in 1991. It could only scroll by shifting 8x8 blocks. Unlike Id software's 1990 game 'Commander Keen' which had parallax scrolling. Both Commander Keen and Duke Nukem were distributed through Scott Millers company: apogee, as Shareware.

The games story was simple: you had to stop the evil Dr Proton and his army of 'techbots' from taking over the world. In the game you had only one weapon: the 'atomic pistol' however it could be upgraded using the in game pickups to have a faster firing rate. There where also boot and health pickups throughout the game that you could usually find by destroying coloured boxes.
The actual level design was good for the time because it allowed the player to take multiple routes to the same exit. There was room for exploration, and the game play itself was very fast.
After the release of the game the team learned that there was a cartoon show called 'Captain Planet' and in that cartoon there was a character called 'Duke Nukem'. To avoid legal trouble the 2nd release of the game was renamed 'Duke Nukum'. Despite this Duke Nukem sold well. The game implemented Millers philosophy: that is, if you create a good character there is no end to the stories you could tell using that character. This philosophy would work well for Apogee, as Duke Nukem would receive numerous sequels over the coming years.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History : Wizardry Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord!

 
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Wizardry box art

 


In 1974 Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson publish the tabletop role playing game dungeons and dragons. It isn't long before people start making there own versions of the game on computers.
In the early 1970's access to computers is very limited due to there high cost. one of the only places you could get public access to them was on University campuses. It's during this time that people would begin to program their own role playing games on mainframe computers such as the PLATO system.  Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood create the game 'dnd' on the PLATO system it is heavily based on dungeons and dragons.  As the 1970's draw onward there would many more computer role playing games programmed on the PLATO system such as 'Oubliette' & 'Moria'. Because the PLATO system was designed for educational purposes however there are many computer role playing games created on it that would be deleted when found by an administrator and so have been lost to time.

In 1979 Richard Garriot creates 'Alkalabeth' the prequel to his ultima series. Garriot had been making games since High school where he wrote 28 games called 'D&D1' through D&D28' with Alkalabeth being 'D&D28b'. 'Alkalabeth' and Richard Garriots following 'Ultima' series would go onto become very successful on the apple II and many other systems over the coming years. His games would become hugely influential in the computer role playing games genre.

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Akalabeth box art

Alkalabeth like games on the PLATO system before it had been heavily influenced by Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson's tabletop role playing game Dungeons and Dragons even using the same game play mechanics such as turn based combat, character classes and attribute points. In the late 1970's a man called Robert Woodhead began to work on a game called 'Galactic attack' it was a single player version of a game Woodhead had played on the PLATO system. The game would be released in 1980. 'Galactic attack' was a real time space combat game in which you could control the speed and direction of your ship as well as fire torpedoes and phasers at your enemies.

Woodhead's was  dungeon style rpg called 'Paladin' it was during the early production of this game that Robert Woodhead met Andrew Greenberg. Greenberg had himself written a game in BASIC and had named it 'Wizadry'.  What would set Woodhead & Greenbergs game 'Wizardry' apart from Richard Garriot's Akalabeth was the fact that Wizardry was the first computer role playing to feature a party system. On it's release Wizardry was very successful. The game was praised for it's depth, innovation and game play. At the time it was one of the best selling role playing games in North America.

Many ports of Wizardry would be made over the coming years the one shown in this video is the NES port of the game that sports improved graphics and sounds. Both Wizardry and the Ultima series would also see a release in Japan on systems such as NEC PC-8801 and MSX. The influence of Wizardry can still be felt in computer role playing games today. Simply put it is one of the most important games in video game history.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History - Id Software Quake 2

 
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Quake 2 box art

 
 
After the release of Quake, John Romero was been forced out of id software. He would soon be forming his own games company: Ion Storm. Romero wanted to make new kinds of games, whereas John Carmack wanted to continue making doom like shooters and id software's next game was certainly not going to break much new ground in terms of concept. In 1996 a musician named Sascha Dikiciyan sent id software an audio cd called 'Methods of Destruction' it was an alternate soundtrack to Id's game 'Quake'. The cd caught id software's attention and they decided to hire Sascha and his associates who are known better under the name 'Sonic Mayhem' to make the soundtrack for Quake 2. 
 
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Sascha Dikiciyan (musician)
 
'Sonic Mayhem's' soundtrack for Quake 2 would be much faster and louder then Trent Reznors soundtrack for Quake had been. Although the graphics engine John Carmack had created for the original 'Quake' had  been simply stunning at the time, allowing for full 3d graphics, which where light years ahead of games like 'Duke Nukem 3d' Carmack wanted something even better for 'Quake 2'. During the production of the Id tech 1 engine used for Doom there where was one thing Carmack had wanted to incorporate but couldn't due to technical and time restraints, and that was a 'hub system' that would allow players to go back and forth between levels. This feature was actually in one of the early alpha versions of Doom but later had to be cut due to difficulty Carmack had with saving and restoring level state properly.  In Quake 2 Carmack finally managed to incorporate a 'hub system'. Carmack would also add coloured lighting, and translucency to 'Quake 2'. The game would also make use of hardware accelerated graphics from it's release, and have improved networking.
 
Whilst the original 'Quake' had a gothic look that Carmack described as Cthulhu-ish, Quake 2 would have a science fiction look and feel to it. Quake 2 was the first of id software's game to feature any kind of story beyond text screens. The game included cut scenes and mission objectives that update during game play as you complete old ones and are assigned new ones. The games 'hub system' meant you would sometimes have to travel back and forth between levels to get items and complete mission objectives to progress. Subtle touches like this added extra depth to the game, and made the universe of the game seem more real to the player. Perhaps the biggest draw for Quake 2 in 1997 was it's multiplayer. If you want to get the game running online today you'll first need an IP address for a server then you'll need to go to the 'address book' in Quake 2's Multiplayer menu and paste the ip address there to get a server.
 
The community for Quake 2's multiplayer is not as strong as it was in 1997, but thanks to Steam there are still a few people around to play and the game is just as much fun now as it ever was. So if you happen to bee in a death match game see a player called 'comicconreviews' be sure to point out there a total n00b.
 
 
ExtraMana

Video Game History - Silent Hill

 
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Silent Hill cover art

 

Hey all today I'm going to look at a horror classic. Silent Hill for the playstation. This game was a response to the highly successfuly Resident evil. However unlike resident evil this game is all about tension subtley and psycological horror rather than jump scares. The game starts with you Harry Mason waking up after a car crash in Silent Hill. You quickly learn that your daughter Cheryl is missing and so descend into the hellish fog filled streets of the town in search for her. You will soon pick up a pistol, flashlight and a town map this is still a survival horror game after all.
So this brings us to the core game mechanics.

Firstly you will find it damn near impossible to navigate the town without reffering to your map this has helpful markers showing you where you must next head. You will however find yourself reffering back to your map every 10 goddamn minutes for the entirity of the rest of the game.  Secondly your flashlight whilst obviously useful to light your path will expose you to enemies so as you progress through the game you will have instances in where keeping your flashlight off will be of a tactical advantage to you allowing you to slip by certain enemies un-noticed. However by doing this you will be left literally in the dark with nothing but the sound of howling,moaning and creeking of the enemies sending shivers down your spine as you attempt to navigate stealthily past them.  Thirdly you will find a radio which emits static when enemies are near which sounds like a heap of gravel being put through a blender which really provides a sense of unease as something creeps towards you from out of the fog. Fourthly you will soon find the game is all about locating certain items to help you progress through the levels. Primarily you will be looking for keys, you will find these by navigating to the marked areas on the map and exploring them. You will then need to solve riddles and experiment with combining objects at specific points in the game in order to progress.

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silent hill rubber ball

Some of these puzzles are bastard hard. For instance one of the games most challenging puzzles while have you decoding a complex riddle in order to learn what notes to play on a blood stained piano. Personally I found sequences like these where not possible to complete without some kind of walkthrough. Anyway let's move onto the weapons. Silent Hill only has a limited assortment of weapons. Such as the knife, steel pipe, pistol, shotgun and hunting rifle. And out of those you will probably find yourself conserving shotgun and hunting rifle ammunition for the toughest enemies and boss battles.

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silent hill piano puzzle

Harry is kind of dousche when it comes to combat as he does not know how to handle the weapons. The melee weapons he flails around in some vain attempt to hit the enemies. and the ranged weapons that is the guns he often can't hit anything from more than four feet away. But this is kind of the point, Harry is an ordinary guy and will have to really on blind luck and careful timing to survive the enemy encounters. The level design of silent hill is as you would expect you must explore the town and it's interior areas such as schools,hospitals, churches and so on in search for your daughter. When outside you can't see more than ten feet in front of you from a thick fog so you are always wary. Inside you are often exploring narrow corridors or small rooms in total darkness. So you are always on edge as to what might be around the next corner. You will also come across a lot, and I mean A LOT of jammed doors. The game knows how to build tension masterfully for instance when you explore the local school you will find yourself wandering corridors  in darkness with nothing but freakish burnt children to greet you and ghosts lurking ominously out of sigh pushing books out of desks and onto the floor.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History - Silent Hill 3

 
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Silent Hill 3 box art
 
 
Silent Hill 3 released in 2003 for the playstation 2 is in my opinion the best game in the Silent Hill series, even better than the classic Silent Hill 2. In Silent Hill 3 you play as Heather, a spunky, witty and bitchy teenage girl. They heather's character rather interesting, deep and detailed. For instance throughout the course of the game when you look at a carton of cigarettes or interact with another object you'll learn more about the character. Heather will say something like I used to smoke and now I don't anymore. This is a little bit more detail that we had missing from the previous games.
Gameplay wise Silent Hill 3 sticks to the typicial formula that is that in order to progress you must locate specific items at key points in the game in order to progress. Sometimes these items will be keys, and other times it will require you to combine particular items in your inventory in order to solve a puzzle.
 
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Silent Hill 3 gameplay screenshot
 
In Silent Hill 3 the monsters are much more difficult that thin the previous two games, in a lot of cases it's actually easier to avoid them altogether than to try and fight them. As with Silent Hill 1 and 2 the monsters in the game are deeply symbolic, some representing maternity and such as the insane cancer, and others representing something about the main characters past. The design of the monsters is just as detailed and well thought out as with the previous silent hill games.
What makes Silent Hill 3 stand out for me is the attention to details in the characters progression throughout the story. For instance Heather starts out as being somewhat defensive and spikey but after the death of her father becomes deeply vunerable and self destructive.
Overall while Silent Hill 3 is not as deep, or symbolic as it's predecessor it is far more engaging on a human level and in my opinion is the peak of the series.
 
 
ExtraMana

Video Game History - Final Fantasy Adventure

 
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Final Fantasy box art
 


In 1987 Square put a trademark on the name 'Seiken Densetsu'. The english translation of this means 'Holy Sword Legend'. They where working on a project called 'The Emergence of Excalibur'. The game was under the guide of Kazuhiko Aoki. The game was being developed for the famicon disc system, and it was intended to be 5 discs long. Which at the time would have made it the largest game for a nintendo system.
Square thought the game was going to be very successful. They started allowing the game to be pre-ordered before they even began programming. However due to finacial problems and market failures square was facing bankrupcy and several projects had to be cancelled including 'Emergence of Excalibur'.
Fans received a letter from Square annoucing the games cancellation and giving them a refund for their pre-order. In this same letter Square detailed a new RPG they where developing which was called 'Final Fantasy'.
In 1990 Koichi Icchi, Yoshinori Kitase, and Goro ohashi began work on a new game boy adventure called Gamma nights.

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The emergence of excalibur cancelled NES game

Rather than being a turn based RPG it would be an action RPG like Zelda. For the game Koichi Icchi was inspired by works such as Alice In Wonderland, lord of the rings and Moomin.
However Square wanted to add more to the game so they decide to incorporate elements from the scrapped project 'Emergence of Excalibur' into the game. When released in Japan the game was called Seiken Denesetsu Final Fantasy Gaiden. It was in fact the first title in the mana series.

When the game came to the US it was called Final Fantasy Adventure simply to give it stronger branding. As Final Fantasy was Square's most successful brand in the US at that time.
Final Fantasy Adventure was the first game in which US players encountered Chocobos and Mogul. The game released in the US on November 1st, 22 days before the release of Final Fantasy 2 which came out on November 23rd in the US.

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ExtraMana

Retro Review - Solider of Fortune (PC)

 
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Solider of Fortune cover art

 


Solider of Fortune is perhaps the goriest game ever made it even had a special warning label on the box. Made on the Quake 2 engine (id tech 2) and released by Raven Software, this game was not a forward thinking shooter by any means. It was linear, and had simplistic game mechanics. However it had fun gunplay, satisfying weapons and a lot of gore. Enemies could have specific areas of their body targeted for dismemberment and the game boasted surgical precision in the damage with it's GHOUL engine. The game came out in 2000 and handles like a typical shooter from the late 90's, so if gore is your thing and you like old school first person shooters you should defintely check it out. Solider of fortune cheats included Floating Explosions, God Mode, Noclip, and level warping.

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ExtraMana

Video Game History - Metal Gear

 
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Metal Gear box art

 
 
In 1985 the MSX2 computer was released and was fairly popular at the time. In 1986 Hideo Kojima joined Konami to work on games for the MSX2. Kojima had problems creating games due to his lack of familarity in programming. One day his bosses told him to create a combat game for the system.
In 1986 combat games where very popular in the arcades due to the influence of films like Rambo First Blood part 2.  In that same year the game Nemesis, also known as Gradius was ported from the arcade to the original MSX computer.
 
In that game due to hardware limitations you could only place 32 sprites on the screen at one time. Also horizontally you could only place 8 sprites. The 9th sprite would simply disappear. These restrictions where the standard for games of the time. For the MSX2 it would take one sprite to create a character and a second sprite to colour that character. Basically one character would cost you two sprites. If you wanted to show a bullet that would take up an additional sprite. And every 9th sprite placed on the screen would disappear. Kojima had some serious limitations to tackle if he was going to create a combat game for the MSX2. The first idea he came up with to try and counter this problem was that he would make a combat game without any fighting. 
 
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Microsoft MSX home computer
 
The second idea he had was to make a combat game that was just about escaping. His third idea was to have a combat game about hiding from enemies. This would mean it was no longer a combat game but a stealth game. However this would not mean it would be the worlds first stealth game. The origins of the genre go back at least as far as 1981 with the video game Castle Wolfenstein from Muse Software. However what Kojima would do differently is that he would have a game that was not about escaping but instead about infiltration. Once he had this idea in place he began writing the characters and story to flesh out the game concept.
 
The character of Snake was inspired by John Carpenter's 1981 film starring Kurt Russel as the anti-hero Snake Plissken. Kojima even wrote a letter to John Carpenter asking for his blessing to use such a similar character in the game metal gear. Carpenter happily agreed.
Kojima then decided to add a game mechanic that meant the player had to avoid enemies in order to stay hidden and once the enemy spotted you their algorithim would change. Simply put as soon as they saw you, the enemies where programmed to chase you. They where given dynamic artificial intelligence. Metal Gear was released in July of 1987 in Japan, and September of 1987 in Europe. It was not released in the US.
 
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Escape from New York film art
 
A reprogrammed version of Metal Gear was released on the Famicon in Japan in December of 1987. In June of 1988 the game was also ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System and released in North America. The port of Metal Gear for the NES was not designed by Hideo Kojima and was not as good as the original. Kojima said the NES version of Metal Gear was
'A crap game'. However thanks to these ports Metal Gear was successful enough to warrant a sequel.
When development on Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake began Kojima ran into another problem. He wanted to create a deeper stealth game but it still had to run on the MSX2 system which was quickly becoming outdated.
 
The first thing Kojima did was to improve the enemies line of sight by giving them a wider field of vision. This would make the game seem more realistic.
Kojima also allowed enemies to follow Snake from one screen to another. But the MSX2 did not have the ability to scroll. To solve this Kojima decided to place a radar in the upper right of the screen so that the player could track enemy movements off screen.
In Metal Gear, Kojima had added an alert phase when the player was spotted by an enemy. In Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake Kojima added an evasion phase after the alert phase ran down. Kojima also gave enemies the abilty to hear, for instance if Snake walked on a particular surface he would give off a sound that would draw attention. The game also had more focus on story where as the original Metal Gear had very short screens of text when other characters spoke to you on your codec, Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake had much longer conversations and more developed characters.
All these changes added more depth, strategy and tension to the game.
Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake released on July 1990 on the MSX2 in Japan and did not see a release elsewhere.
 
 
ExtraMana

Video Game History - Metroid

 
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Metroid box art

 

In 1986 the Nintendo Entertainment System was doing very well thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto's Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong game franchises. The NES had become a powerhouse in gaming easily rivaling the lucrative arcade industry. However Gunpei Yokoi and his R&D1 team who previously had made some successfull games for the NES such as Duckhunt, Excitebike, and Ice Climbers wanted to show they could make a game that would rival Miyamoto's. Yokoi put together a team of four people, including Yoshio Sakamoto as art director, Hiroki Kiyota as art designer and Makoto Kanoh who would create the scenarios and concept. Yokoi would the producer. Yokoi wanted to do something completely different than Miyamoto. So rather than making a bright colourful family friendly game like Mario brothers, Yokoi would make something dark and gritty. Metroid would become a symbol of Nintendo's abilty to make adult-oriented games. It would also be one of Nintendo's first games to feature a female hero.

For the game Yokoi took inspiration from Ridley Scott's film Alien. He wanted his game to have a non-linear design. Something that was unheard of at the time. Metroid was released exclusively for the famicon Disc Systsem on August 6th 1986. However just 2 months before Metroids release 128k cartridges where released. These had much more memory than the famicon floppy discs. In 1987 Metroid was ported to a catridge. Originally it had been on a floppy disc. Metroid didn't sell badly but it was overshadowed by a much bigger hit: Legend of Zelda which had an enormous marketing campaign. Yokoi's R&D1 team moved onto other projects after Metroid. However in 1991 Yokoi would be responsible for one of the most important innovations in video game History: he created the Game Boy.
 
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Gunpei Yokoi with Game Boy
 

The Game Boy quickly became the most successful console in the World! Even outselling the NES!
Yokoi became a very powerful figure in the gaming industry when he decided he wanted to make a sequel to Metroid on the Game Boy no one was in a position to tell him no. The fact that Metroid had sold fairly well in the West hadn't hurt either. For Metroid 2: The Return of Samus. Hiroji Kiyotake would be directing, Hiroji had been the original artist on Metroid. The Game Boy's hardware and monochrome display was a lot more limiting than the Famicon's had been. So the game designers decided to use visual cues to show Samus's different suits. The distinctive shoulder pads introduced in the Game Boy game have remained in the series ever since. Kiyotake gave Metroid 2: The Return of Samus a much more linear design than in the previous game. However the game did introduce several new features to the franchise including wave beams, bombs, and a wall crawling morph ball. Metroid 2 the Return of Samus sold well enough although gamers had mixed feelings about the game due to it's more linear design. It would be R&D1's next game that truly have the bigger impact on the gaming industry.

After Metroid 2 on the Game Boy was released. Gunpei Yokoi's R&D1 team was split into two divisions: Intelligent Systems who would make the console games and another team who would make the handheld games.Intelligent systems was then split into more teams. One of these teams was formed by Yoshio Sakamoto with the intention on making a sequel to the original Metroid on the NES. The Third Metroid game recieved continual budget cuts from Nintendo and was even cancelled three times as it was the biggest game on a cartridge at the time and so a big finacial risk. Metroid 3 was a very ambitious game it had huge set pieces, bosses and a more elabourate story. Metroid 3 would have a non-linear design. This meant it ended up being one of the earliest games players would do speed runs on. Players would see how fast they could get from the game start to the end credits. While Skipping areas or exploiting bugs help give them a better time. The soundtrack in Metroid 3 was composed by Kenji Yamamoto. It was his debut game score and is often regarded as being one of the best video game scores of all time. However like with the previous two Metroid games in the series. Metroid 3 did not sell particularly well in Japan. This was not because it was a bad game. It was due to the stiff competition of the day. It was overshadowed by Donkey Kong Country which had beautiful pre-rendered graphics, also the PlayStation and Sega Saturn consoles where soon to be released.

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Video Game History - Asteroids

 
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Asteroids arcade game

 


In 1962 Steve Russell creates Space War on the PDP-1 computer. It was one of the world's earliest video games and was years ahead of it's time. In 1978 Cinematronics releases Space Wars in the arcade It was based on Steve Russell's game. Space Wars used Larry Rosenthal's vector graphics technology. Vector graphics was a huge innovation in game graphics. It would allow for images drawn to have sharp edges, and crisp shapes. It would also allow elaborate line art and stark contrast. Other game designers had been using raster-scan which would only draw crude shapes, for instance if you wanted to show a car it would just look like a rectangle.

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PDP-1 computer

But early vector graphics could not generate colours.So game companies would place coloured plastic overlays on the top of the game screen to create an illusion of colour. In 1980 an engineer at Atari named Howie Delman creates a more powerful vector graphic generator for coin op games. The first game to use this new technology was called 'lunar lander'. In that game players had to dock a lunar lander on the moon using limited fuel. The game was incredibly innovative as it had realistic simulations of the physics of lunar gravity. 'Lunar Lander' was not particularly successful but the technologly behind it would later be used in Atari's game 'Asteriods'.

Lyle Rains, vice president of Atari's coin operated games division had an idea for a game in which players cleared an area of space by shooting asteriods whilst flying around in a small ship. Rains also came up with the idea that the asteroids should get smaller every time you shoot them with your ship. Ed Logg the programmer behind 'Super Breakout' was assigned the task of creating Asteroids. Ed Logg decided to make Asteroids use vector graphics because at that time it's high resolution was 1024x768. At that resolution you would be able to make out the tiny ship perfectly. Logg believed that at normal resolution the game would look ugly.

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Asteroids arcade gameplay screenshot

In just one week Logg had a preliminary version of Asteroids made on his workstation. In just six weeks the game was nearly finished.The inspiration for it's control scheme came from the original Space War game from 1962. Asteroids released in November 1979. In the game there was a button that when pressed would jump the player into hyper space making them appear on a randomly selected spot on the screen. This was another idea that was also taken from the original Space War game.

 After Asteroids release it became so successful it toppled the hottest game of the time: Space Invader. 70,000 cabinets of Asteroids where sold worldwide. The game was so in demand that some of the game cabinets came with extra large coin boxes. Asteroids was so successfull in fact that it's revenue combined with the sales of the VCS home consoles meant that Atari accounted for one third of the income from it's parent company: Warner Communications. What set Asteroids apart from games like Space Invaders was it's realism. It had realistic physics, complete with inertia and momentum. The game looked and played better than anything on the market. This was the start of the golden age for video games.

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Video Game History - Id Software Doom 3

 
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Doom 3 cover art

 
 

In 2000 Id Software's last game had been Quake 3 Arena, the company was trying to decide what to do next. They knew they wanted their next game to be singleplayer focused as both Id's fans and the gaming press had complaints about Quake 3 being a mutiplayer only title. John Carmack had built up a legendary reputation for his programming skills, even earning himself the title title 'God' by the gaming press. Carmack started researching modern computer technology to figure out how far he could push his next graphics engine. Carmack had researched bump mapping and was sure he would be able to use this relatively new technology to give his new engine the edge over the competition.
Id's project manager Graeme Devin proposed the company should make an action roleplaying game called 'Quest'. Kevin Cloud and Adrian Carmack liked the idea, but John Carmack hated it. He felt that a roleplaying game would not push the engine he was thinking up to the limit, and that id software's fans would be expecting another action game not an RPG. Carmack decided he wanted to make a sequel to Doom. Id's fans had been begging for a new Doom for years and it was the companies strongest IP. What was more Carmack believed with new technology he would be able create hyper-realistic looking monsters that would scare players like never before. But Kevin and Adrian didn't want to make another Doom. The original games where legendary. Kevin and Adrian considered the original games to be perfect and they didn't want to mess with perfection.

John Carmack ignored Kevin and Adrian and decided to speak to Trent Raznor. Carmack asked Reznor a question. If Id software was going to create a new Doom game would he be on board to create the soundtrack? Reznor said yes. Carmack then with the help of Paul Steed, Trent Raznor and some other employees at Id software confronted Adrian and Kevin on the issue of a new Doom game. Carmack gave an ultimatum, that is if Doom 3 wasn't id softwares next project they would all leave the company.  This was not the first time Carmack had given an ultimatum like this. During the production of Quake him and and other members of Id Software had confronted John Romero over differing creative ideas for the game. Carmack had managed to get his way then and he was going to get his way now.

On June 1st 2000 John Carmack wrote a .plan file and uploaded it to the internet. He announced to the world that Id Software's next game was going to be Doom 3. The game industry had changed a lot since the days of the original Doom. Story was now an expected element in a first person shooter. John Carmack had once said 'Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important'. But times had changed since the first Doom. While some of Id's previous games had featured a story with Quake 2 being the prime example it was never especially detailed.

For Doom 3 id software decided to hire Matt Castello to come up with the games story. Castello had previously worked on the 11th Hour and 7th Guest for Trilobyte. Castello put together a nintety page design document for the game. There would also be a complete set of storyboards detailing all the game's actions. All this was a first for Id Software. To make his new graphics engine truly revolutionary Carmack would use unified lighting and shadowing. Games prior to Doom 3 had used fixed light sources. Carmack would also use advanced animation that would allow enemies to move twenty four frames per second the same as Hollywood films.

Carmack would also have Graphic user interfaces on particular surfaces. He wanted the player to be able to actually interact with a console realistically instead of just pressing the 'Use' key like so many games had done before Doom 3. Id Software went dark on the production of Doom 3. Carmack didn't want to waste time on press releases or interviews he wanted the team to have total focus on making the game. In May 2002 at E3 a demo of Doom 3 was finally unveiled. The press where amazed and described the game as having a quality of presentation on par with Pixar. Carmack proved to the World once again that he was a programming god. The Id Software crew running the booth for Doom 3 told the press that the game demo was completely in real time. The game looked so amazing that the press didn't believe them.

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Doom 3 E3 2002 gameplay screenshot

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Video Game History - Deus Ex

 
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Deus Ex Cover art


By the mid 1990’s Warren Spector had already made a big name for himself from his involvement on the first person role playing games ‘Ultima Underworld’ and ‘System Shock’. Ultima Underworld released in early 1992. It was a technological revolution as it was one of the earliest games to display texture mapping in first person. 
Spector had gotten his first taste of working on a science fiction game with 1994’s smash hit: ‘System Shock’ and now wanted to take the simulation experience. For Spector this would become the start of the long and torturous struggle that would be Deus Ex’s development. Spector’s first attempt at Deus Ex was a project called ‘TroubleShooter’. In the game the player would take on the role of a Dirty Harry inspired-ex-cop-turned security specialist. The project fell through so Spector tried again with a new concept called ‘Shooter’. In ‘Shooter’ the player would take on the role of Adam a bio-mechanically enhanced government agent tasked with defending the World against terrorist threats in a dystopian future. This project also fell through. But third time round was a charm for Spector. In the late 1990’s he started pitched a new game titled ‘Majestic Revelations’. Inspired by ‘The X-files’ this new game was set to take the player into a World of conspiracies, government cover-ups and a shadowy group named ‘Majestic 12’. Years had passed since Spector’s first attempt to make a science fiction game. When System Shock launched in 1994 consumer grade computers simply weren’t powerful enough to render graphics in 3D. But this now no longer the case.
 
Spector leased the powerful ‘Unreal Engine’ and expanded his team from 6 to 20 people. With this expanded team came internal power struggles that pulled the project into different directions. Individual members of the team all had opposing ideas about what the game should be. Some thought the game should be a violent fast-paced first person, others wanted an in-depth simulated role playing experience and some even wanted a strategy game. To make matters worse Spector the game to have massive outdoor levels based on real World locations. But the Unreal Engine simply didn’t have the raw power to deliver his vision. Worse still when the started early play-testing began they found that a realistic looking World was simply too boring. ‘Deus Ex’ needed to be more fantastical. The player had to become immersed in this World of conspiracies and dark cyber punk not bored by realism. The levels where changed to accommodate the limitations of the unreal engine. Also more robots and alien looking creatures including the ‘greazel' where added to make the game more fantastical. 
 
Spector’s struggles where beginning to pay off as Deus Ex neared closer to the finish line but there were still some glaring issues. For one the source code for artificial intelligence in the game was built on top of that used for Unreal Tournament. Deus Ex was supposed to allow the player to approach combat in any way they desired. The game needed to accommodate multiple play-styles from stealth, to all out carnage. But Unreal Tournament was designed to fast-paced shooter. Fixing the AI became a nightmare for the single player campaign. But for multiplayer it didn’t turn out to be much of a problem. As the multiplayer ended up with giving players an experience that echoed Unreal Tournament’s.
 
In June 2000, 5 years after Spector’s journey began, Deus Ex released. Those years of struggle had been worth it as critics lavished the game with praise and awards, securing Deus Ex a place in video-game history. As time passed it became a classic in the eyes of Pc gamer and in late 2015 two teams of dedicated modders put out their final attempts to breathe new life into the game. Caustic Creative’s ‘Deus Ex Revision’ sought to expand the levels, mechanics and even include a new soundtrack. Whilst Totalitarian’s ‘GMDX’ mod expanded animations, interfaces, and more without changing the core experience. With these mods Deus Ex now became more accessible to an entire new generation of gamers. Making sure it’s place in history remains secure for years to come.
 
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