Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Podcast: Project Mercury

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This week we are talking about the Sega Game Gear (Project Mercury), Sega’s first portable console that took on the Gameboy head on.  While it didn’t come close to winning, the Game Gear still stands as the longest running competition for a Nintendo portable.  We also bring in special guests Jason and Mark (from Retro Game Geeks) to talk about beloved titles from the early 90s.



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Written by spydersvenom

April 16, 2014 at 9:17 am

Posted in Game Gear, podcast

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Tetris Aid

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How Tetris Has Been Used in Research To Help Health Problems

tetris_1

Tetris that famous game released in 1984. Beloved for its simplicity and addictive nature; but did you know that Tetris has actually been used in a variety of medical studies?  There is plenty of research reporting the benefits of gaming despite the media having us believe playing video games turn us into serial killers and dysfunctional members of society. Today’s article focuses on the research studies performed using Tetris.

Tetris good for the eyes.

le_tetOne interesting study carried out in America and even in the UK is using Tetris to treat Amblyopia. You may know this condition more as a “lazy eye”, where one eye is not seeing as well as the other eye and can be accompanied by an eye turn.  It usually occurs at a very young age and current treatment involves patching the good eye to force the bad eye to work. Spectacles are also given to aid this treatment. Unfortunately not all treatments are successful and the lazy eye can remain into adulthood; treatment for a lazy eye in adults is usually ineffective.

A study in in Canada at the McGil Univesity found playing the game Tetris with both eyes open was more effective than patching the good eye¹. In the study participants wore special goggles.  Some of the patients had their good eye totally occluded during Tetris play whilst the other participants had both eyes open and the goggles showed different images of the Tetris game.

The study found vision and depth perception improved dramatically and studies are now under way to see if the treatment can help children with a lazy eye.

Tetris curbs your addictions

.Ever had a addiction?  Smoking? Coffee? Buying too many video games? Well this study from Plymouth University in the UK may be for you².

The UK study on 119 people has found playing Tetris can reduce cravings for people with addictions. Published in Appetite, the study was designed to test Elaborated Intrusion Theory which suggests cravings are not just desire-based, but visual as well. The research hypothesized that performing a visual intensive task can reduce cravings.  In this test participants had to describe their cravings before playing Tetris and once the game was complete they were asked to describe their cravings afterward.

Students who participated in the test found their cravings reduce more than 24 percent compared to people who did not play Tetris.

 

Tetris helps with Trauma

At Oxford University in the UK, Tetris was found to reduce the effects of traumatic stress³.

ptsd_tetIn this study 40 participants were exposed to distressing images and half were then given Tetris to play after a period of time. The experiment then looked into the number of flashbacks experienced by the participants.  The half that played Tetris were found to have fewer flashbacks than the participants who did not.

It was believed playing Tetris helped disrupt the laying down of memories, therefore those who played the game had less flashbacks of the distressing images.  Since Post Traumatic Stress Disorder relies on flashbacks like distressing sights, sounds, or smells of a traumatic event, the experiment worked on the principle that it may be possible to modify the way the brain forms memories in the hours after an event.

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Of course it is important to point out all of these studies require more information and study to prove the theories. It does go to show that there really is proof that video games can actually be beneficial in helping several medical conditions. Of course that probably won’t change the bad press surrounding the media but who knows maybe in the future Tetris will be prescribed on the NHS and Doctors will be handing us Gameboys instead of pills.

References

1: lazy eye

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22245620

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130422122953.htm

2: addiction

http://www.joystiq.com/2014/03/23/tetris-used-to-help-curb-addictive-cravings-in-uk-study/

3: trauma

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7813637.stm

Written by jamalais

April 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

Posted in Features, Gameboy, NES, PC/Mac

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BBC Tackles the Dungeons & Dragons Fear in the 80s

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D&D

As the article implies, there are plenty of things that parents have to be scared of in terms of what content comes in contact with kids today.  This is nothing new.  In the 50s it was rock & roll, in the 90s it was video game violence, but in the 1980s the seed of evil was none other than D&D (Dungeons & Dragons for those not familiar with the pen-and-paper role playing game).  I am always fascinated by the counterculture of what parents fear and what kids get heavily involved in.  Of course, like all other concerns of the past, as time moves forward all world-ending plagues on the youth come off extremely tame in hindsight and this is no exception.  The wonderful people at the BBC have documented the rush of D&D fever in an article aptly named The Great 1980s Dungeons & Dragon Panic and I highly recommend anyone who’s interested in the stories behind pop culture check it out (link in the article title).

Written by spydersvenom

April 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Posted in News

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Retro Fridays: Unreleased Games

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starfox-2-snes-rom

This week for Retro Fridays we are playing unreleased games.  The Sunsoft canceled NES title Sunman, which was really a re-skin of a Superman game. An ultra violent PS1 game that was deemed too violent to release named Thrill Kill.  And finally the stolen never released SNES sequel to StarFox, StarFox 2 (of which most of the gameplay was integrated into StarFox 64).  All of these games were captured on actual hardware, no emulation (and we tell you how to do it too).  Click on the Starfox 2 photo above or here to be taken to the video.

Written by spydersvenom

April 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Podcast: Finding An Analog

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interactivevision

When video games started invading toy store shelves the industry was stunned by a product that not only buried traditional products but dominated at generating revenue.  Secretly they all wanted a piece of the pie and the hope was that the dominant video medium, VHS, could be the gateway.  Enter the failed consoles of the Action Max, ViewMaster Interactive Vision, and canceled Hasbro Control-Vision (codenamed NEMO).  Oddly enough these consoles did have roots with some very top people in both toys and gaming in addition to creating the building blocks of the Full Motion Video (FMV) game.

Tetris on a skyscraper video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUFwDqrSI5s

Action Max gameplay vids: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=action+max

ViewMaster Interactive Vision Channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1L81ahLRzf4xIIHIjgAs2w

IGN’s fantastic NEMO article *MUST READ*: http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/12/25/finding-nemo-the-story-behind-hasbros-nintendo-killer



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Podcast: Extra Credit – Last Best

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On the first episode of our new Extra Credit series Fred goes solo to answer listener Matan’s request to discuss the strong games that emerged from the end of console generations.  Often times a console’s most fun and technical showpieces emerges when everyone has moved on – this show celebrates those games.

Music Credits:
Intro: Main Theme - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
First break: Stage One - Batman (NES)
Second break: Main Theme - Quake II (PC)
Third Break: Main Theme - Tempest 2000 (Jaguar)
Outro: Hills of Radiant Winds - Nier (360/PS3)



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Written by spydersvenom

April 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in podcast

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Retro Game Night: Super Metroid

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In honor of the April game club, I’m giving Super Metroid a try for the first time ever.  Regarded as easily one of the strongest titles on the SNES, if not of all time, I get started to see what all the fuss is about with the title that is responsible for the “Metroid” in “MetroidVania“.  Click on the box art below to see the video.

supmet

Written by spydersvenom

April 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Posted in SNES, Videos

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Podcast: Shmup Game Club

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shmup_post

This week we are joined by listener Jason (@albirhiza) to discuss our Shmup Game Club: Giga Wing 2, Velocity (Ultra), Radiant Silvergun, Power-Up, and Sine Mora.  Campaigns, tactics, high scores, and more are covered as we dissect some of the more contemporary additions to the genre.



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Progressive Challenge: A History of Game Difficulties

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Zelda2

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Shin Megami Tensei Persona, IkarugaDark Souls.  All of these games have one thing in common: they are hard as hell.  Since the genesis of the video game difficulty has existed to be the barrier to entry and the extension of game experiences.  What is a video game if not a challenge?  Originally technology had not caught up with the goals of the medium so games had to use difficulty to bridge the gap of a good experience where visuals and storytelling failed.  Nowadays games are just as capable, if not more, than other media in being an interactive experience and therefore difficulty steps aside most times.  I consistently hear that the concept of difficulty is dead, that a hard game dictates a good game, and that today’s gamers are weak and catered to.  Frankly, I disagree with all of that.  Gaming is typically tech dependent and with that dependence comes the evolution of experience, which results in the evolution of difficulty.  Games haven’t gotten harder or easier, they have simply evolved.

Difficulty Trends

I think the question of how difficult a game is comes to the amount of time you spend with it, which is why games seem easier today.  Traditionally the challenge was intended to get you to play the game more often, justifying the high price tag for a relatively short experience.  Take Contra for example, I cleared that game on this very site in roughly half an hour without using any codes.  This is not an easy feat for many gamers and definitely much harder for those that didn’t grow up playing the game.  While it may have only taken me 30 minutes, there are tens of hours of practice spanning more than 25 years that led up to that run.  In contrast, I could not conquer Ghosts’n’Goblins and finally gave up after two hours.  There is someone out there who is the exact opposite as me and it’s most likely based on what they have played.  This is transparently due to memorization – once you know exactly what is going to happen to the point that the game becomes manageable.  The best way to memorize something is to repeat it over and over.  Enter the first generation of the difficulty.

Parallel to this initial outing in repetition and memorization comes reflex.  Some of you reading that last paragraph may be thinking more of games like Punch-Out!! or even a PowerPad game like Stadium Events that require you to have the skill to conquer them.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve memorized Bald Bull’s charge, if you can’t nail the timing of hitting him in the stomach you’re either repeating the dodge till the end of the round or eating canvas.  Either way, you’ll never win.  Being able to conquer a skill set, nail timing, and basically having the reflexes to perform complex tasks in games like Super Mario Bros. 2 (Lost Levels in the US) either enabled or prevented your ability to win.

battletoadsFinally there were the dick programmers.  Like it or not they didn’t have an appropriate way to blanket difficulty so they were forced to fudge it.  This explains such terrible games as Beat Takeshi’s Challenge, Battletoads, and Silver Surfer where being good at the game or memorizing how to beat it meant nothing because the game invariably stacks the odds against you.  Repeating an area is one thing but forcing someone into game over screen after game over screen to the point of insanity with nothing but unsavable hours to retread the past is not fun.  These games are not fun.  They are only used for the purpose of masochism.

 

Contemporary Difficulty

From that point they just continued to evolve in a regular pattern until you get the games of today.  Nowadays the point of many games is to tell a tale rather than post a challenge, resulting in games like Heavy Rain that have no end game state.  On the other hand some of the biggest and oldest gaming tropes hold true.  Dark Souls is nothing more than a memorization game, as are any of the bullet hell shmups you may enjoy today.  The game never changes its course, it always spawns the same enemies in the same way – many argue to alter this mechanic would navigate it to the “not fun” hard status.  Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero/Rock Band are also nothing more than reflex gameplay, requiring that you not only understand what to do, but perform actual physical tasks to achieve your goal.  I think the only difference to games today and from the past is the unknown.

dark-souls-dragon-bridge

Imagine playing The Legend of Zelda for the first time today.  I will fully admit that I can breeze through this title in no time, having little fear of taking on Gannon at the end, but then I grew up playing it and knowing its intricacies.  I think you would be hard pressed to find someone today that hasn’t played it dedicate the time it would take to figure out the mechanics, find the secrets like where to get hearts and the location of dungeons, and finally complete the game.  If that person were to go online, you may accuse them of making the game unfairly easy or cheating to get ahead.  This is why people criticize Dark Souls and those that generate guides to get it.  It also explains why it’s so popular; gamers get to return to those better days where you have to figure the world out.    Also keep in mind that like Dark Souls, it may not be just about memorization or reflexes, but both, which creates a whole new barrier for entry.  Still, there will always be those games that are not fun and unnaturally hard for no reason, and for games like Knight’s Contract I say good riddance and the world is a better place without you.

Written by spydersvenom

March 31, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Retro Game Challenge: Radiant Silvergun

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For those of you gearing up for this week’s Gaming History 101 shmup game club, I’ve got the Radiant Silvergun (links to my review/coverage of the game) campaign through to completion on a video here.  Don’t expect the best playing in the world, I’m okay but I’m no match for the one-lifers who take this game on.  It was more like 50 lives in my case, but nonetheless, I managed to complete the game despite some self destructing bosses.  Click on the box art for the video.

radsil_box

Written by spydersvenom

March 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

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