Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Some more history: gather round, children...

Some more history! Make yourself comfortable.
     The 80’s saw the birth of some truly unmemorable home consoles. So many that they actually crashed the entire gaming market with samey home consoles with the same few games. Nintendo and Sega stood as the last remaining competitors after every other company backed off from the gaming market, causing a power shift in the gaming industry from America to Japan. More on those two later, anyway.
     One of the few consoles from this era of any real note was the Commodore 64, released in 1982; the cartridges were cassette tapes, and instead of any kind of handheld controller, the games were controlled using a Qwerty PC keyboard. ’83 saw the birth of the Famicom, known to the rest of the world as the NES; the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES ‘deluxe set’ came bundled with R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy; literally, a robot, which was compatible with only 2 games. Nintendo has also released the handheld Game & Watch series by this point, in ’81; each G&W consisted of one game (with two modes; Game B was either a harder version of Game A, or the same game with a gimmick), many of which have practically become templates for minigames-within-games used even today (if you find yourself moving left and right to catch things falling from the sky, it’s a descendant of Parachute. If you’re moving left and right to dodge things, it’s Helmet. The list goes on). Sega also made their debut with the Sega Master System in ’85, rising to rival Nintendo (who won that war in 2001, when Sega became a third-party software publisher) in the ‘console wars’.
     The 80’s also introduced some titles that pretty much shaped gaming as it is today. There were many text-based adventure games, such as the classic series, Zork (can’t be bothered to download? Here is an accurate representation). Text Adventures are literally entirely made up of text; time is frozen while the player does nothing, and with no actual visuals, the situation is simply described to the player (“You stand facing a house. The door is locked, and there is a postbox. To the East is a forest”). Actions are performed by inputting the command; the basic commands were usually “Look”, “Examine”, “Take”, “Drop”, and the likes. The player moves by inputting “East”, “North”, “West”, “South”, “Up”, or “Down”; advancing through the game relies on solving puzzles using whatever items were at hand. Should the player encounter a monster of any kind, it would either be an indestructible obstacle meant only to be avoided (such as ‘Grue’s), or result in a battle. Any fights would rely on either more puzzle-solving (such as the ogre in Zork, defeated by shouting ‘Ulysses’, which frightens it off), or whether you picked up a certain item earlier (if you picked up an axe instead of a sword and end up fighting a fast enemy, you’ll be too slow to hit it, and die. If you picked up the sword and end up fighting a heavily armoured enemy, you won’t be strong enough to cause any damage, and you’ll die, guide dang it.)
     Then there was 3D Monster Maze, released in ’81 for the Sinclair ZX81 (not a gaming console, but a home computer). 3D Monster Maze was not only essentially the first true survival horror but had the first 3D engine. The actual graphics were 2D (the opening sequence featured a man not even made up of pixels, but of ASCII characters), but the game took place in a maze navigated in first person with complete 3D movement. The game itself was simple; there is one exit from the maze, and one T-Rex loitering around. The game would alert the player to the T-Rex’s current position in relation to the player’s with a line of text along the bottom of the screen. When the player drew closer to ‘Rex, the text would change from “REX LIES IN WAIT” (the default status, and the closest thing to being safe) to “HE IS HUNTING FOR YOU”. When Rex is directly adjacent to the player, the message “RUN HE IS BEHIND YOU” or “RUN HE IS BESIDE YOU” appears (unless he’s directly in front of you, in which case you’ve probably already flailed desperately in panic for a moment before running like HELL).
     The first 3D, fully-textured graphics appeared in the PC game Ultima Underworld, in 1992. But 3D graphics didn’t really kick off until ’93, with the release of Starfox (Starwing outside of Japan) for the SNES. Of course, this started the huge transition to 3D; famous series’ such as Nintendo’s Super Mario and Legend of Zelda series made the transition on the Nintendo 64 flawlessly with Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time respectively, along with Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series with the 7th instalment (the game that brought Final Fantasy into the mainstream) on the Playstation.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A Brief History of Video Games...PART ONE. No, PART...THE FIRST.

     Ok, let me start with a brief history of video games. Wayyyy before Pong, the first commercially available video game, was ‘Tennis for Two’; created by William Higginbotham in 1958, ‘Tennis for Two’ was made from an analogue computer linked up to an oscilloscope (pretty much the closest thing to a proper screen at the time). It had two controllers (it’s a good £20 for a poxy third-party controller these days. These bad boys were wireless, too) which had one button to hit the ball and a dial to alter the angle and trajectory in which they hit the ball. In addition, the view of the ‘tennis court’ was from a horizontal viewpoint, rather than the birds-eye view we get from the players side of the pitch in modern tennis games. The ball even had bounce physics, programmed to change direction appropriately when it hit the floor or the net. Think about it; the first physics engine was invented 16 years before video games became acknowledged at all.
     A little later in ’61, Spacewar! was invented by Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Witaenem, students of the MIT. They had received a DEC PDP-1 computer, and conceived the idea while playing around to see what the console could, and found that it had some amazing graphical capabilities. In Steve Russell’s own words, “We decided that probably you could make a two-dimensional maneuvering sort of thing, and decided that naturally the obvious thing to do was spaceships."
     The actual concept, however, of games played on a television was thought up by Ralph Baer in ’51. His idea was rejected at the time by the TV company he worked for, and it wasn’t until years later in 1966 that he developed “The Brown Box”; battery-powered and incapable of sound, the Brown Box was the first ever home games console, and the prototype for the Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey had 28 games and supported up to two light-guns which registered the light from the TV screen. And any other light; pointing the gun at a lightbulb or another nearby light source had the effect.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


     Ah, it’s the start of a year, and the start of a blog. Insert epic /ominous music here. I’m thinking Ride of the Valkyries.
     I’m Sophia Gibson and I’m studying Game Art at DeMontfort University right now,  because I’ve grown up wanting nothing but to make video games. I don’t remember wanting to do anything else; I’ve wanted to be a game artist since I was 9, and before that I wanted to be a game designer. A game is, to me, the absolute purest and most complete art form (incoming rant). You can create a fictional environment or a character with a pencil on paper, and you can compose the most epic piece of music, and you can write the most heart-rending story, but to actually walk through that world with all the emotion and experience of someone else is just something else entirely. And if it’s all for the sake of making money and not in the least bit for the sake of art? That’s fine. People will pick up a controller and experience it all the same.
     In short: Games are great.
     Over-the-top rant over! I grew up in Biggleswade, in Bedfordshire (or “The Shire”. Everywhere has Hobbit names. Biggleswade, Sandy, Broom, etc). Or as many know it, “A Bit Near London”. My absolute dream is to be a Character Designer, as my strong points have always been life drawing and portraits, and I enjoy working with a team…But I’d be happy with pretty much any position in game art, and to get there I want to develop my skills in other areas (such as landscapes and architecture).
     What else. I also like reading webcomics (LOTS OF THEM) and watching anime (especially ONE PIECE ONE PIECE ONE PIECE). And I love music. LOTS OF MUSIC.