Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Wednesday, May 03, 2021

fun and profit
A read through this blog’s Videogames category informs you about my overwhelming preference for the simple games of yesteryear over today’s intensive/interactive titles.

Believe it or not, there’s a big market for last century’s pixels, with a seemingly ideal business model:

Among the companies with an increasing number of titles on Xbox Live Arcade is Midway, the Chicago-based developer and publisher. Midway began as a maker of arcade machines, such as Defender, Mortal Kombat and Spy Hunter. It still develops new games but it is also focusing on putting its older games on new platforms.

Putting out older games is relatively inexpensive and fast, thanks to new technology. “We can get it done in a few months with under $100,000 in development costs,” says Steve Allison, chief marketing officer. “It brings in a few million that is almost pure profit.”

Pure profit indeed, as those old programs don’t consist of anything remotely as complex as the movie-like production elements of modern games. Plus, all the work that went into titles like Robotron: 2084 (pictured above) was finished twenty or thirty years ago; porting to current consoles is a snap.

But I wonder: With all the money being made off this old intellectual property, how long will it take for the oldtimer programmers who wrote those games to sue for a cut of what the publishers are treating as “found money”? I’m sure they all signed work agreements way back when that gave up their rights; but in this new and unanticipated landscape, I’m sure a challenge is looking awfully tempting.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 05/03/2021 09:58:12 PM
Category: Videogames, Business | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Sunday, April 23, 2021

If you’re a child of the ’70s/’80s, you may remember the hoopla over “Dragon’s Lair”. It was a new type of videogame: It wasn’t a block-pixelated mess of beeps and boops, but rather, was a slickly-animated projection of interactive gaming action!


It was pretty to look at, with the visuals having been developed by former Disney animator Don Bluth. But the convergence of high-grade visuals and responsive videogame play was too complex a trick to pull off in the early ’80s. “Dragon’s Lair” was more of less a high-tech whack-a-mole game: Animated scenes would run, a visual prompt would tell you that a proper joystick-button tap was needed to deliver the “correct” game action, and you advanced the game. There was no real skill involved, just rote memorization culled from many quarters’ worth of trial and error.

As a result, it never caught on, despite the spawning of the companion “Space Ace” and a couple of other similar games. Far from ushering in the next wave of videogaming, they represent an interesting dead-end in the evolution of the medium.

But they aren’t forgotten. And so, someone’s distilled those memories into “Dungeon Escape”, a rough Flash-built homage to the beat-the-clock point-and-click adventure.

The stick-figure characters and backgrounds should tip you off that Bluth wasn’t involved with this latest permutation. But it’s as amusing an Internet trinket as you’ll run across.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/23/2006 12:05:03 PM
Category: Internet, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback

Friday, April 07, 2021

I didn’t have to use my genius powers to know that adding ColorJunction to my Google Personalized page was going to result in a mountain of ill-spent minutes.

But I did it anyway. Because I just don’t have enough distraction in my life. And it’s been forever since a Tetris-like clone managed to addict me thusly.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 04/07/2021 06:06:29 PM
Category: Internet, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback

Thursday, March 23, 2021

I first learned about Alienware Corp. a couple of years ago, while covering the Florida business landscape for Florida Trend. I thought it was a company worth keeping an eye on, editorially, for a couple of reasons: It was a tech company, it was in south Florida, it achieved nine-digit revenue generation via dedicated niche markets, it was a great organic-growth entrepreneurial story. Unfortunately, I never made much headway — the company got into the magazine’s pages occasionally, but never in-depth. I think the business of hard-core videogaming PCs was considered outside the interests of Trend’s core readership.

Now that computermaking giant Dell is buying Alienware, a little more attention might go toward the high-end custom computer biz.

I’d noticed that Dell was really pushing its XPS line, positioning it to encroach upon the territory that Alienware and Voodoo PC had carved out. Despite robust growth, Alienware couldn’t hope to compete with Dell’s resources in the long run, and wouldn’t be able to convince potential investors otherwise. I’m assuming the company’s founders decided to get out while the getting was good.

Despite initial news that Alienware is going to retain its branding and autonomy, I can’t believe Dell would maintain both that and the XPS label. Eventually, one will be abandoned, and I’d bet it’s the Alienware name that goes in the ashbin.

UPDATE: Analysis from BusinessWeek’s Louise Lee suggests that acquiring Alienware is a response to the cool reception XPS has had. Since Dell is known as primarily low-end, the premium-priced XPS was a tough sell; Alienware is an established pricey brand, so that market segment is easier for Dell to reach via acquisition.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 03/23/2006 06:03:41 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Videogames, Business | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Saturday, February 25, 2021

If you’re more comfortable blowing the brains out of a cartoony monster than a horrific one — and I know I am — then CutieQuake is the shoot-em-up outlet for you.

I wish they had done this to Doom. Not the videogame, but the movie. Maybe it would have been halfway watchable. And kept The Rock from inflicting himself on audiences yet again.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 02/25/2006 02:07:56 PM
Category: Movies, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback

Thursday, February 16, 2021

There’s probably a million free Web-based ports of Sonic the Hedgehog out there. But I doubt most are as complex as this one, which lets you play as one of four characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or Cream. You’ll think you’d just fired up your old Genesis.

(Via Hemmy.net)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/16/2006 08:39:12 AM
Category: Internet, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Friday, February 10, 2021

get the cherry!
Just in case your eyes aren’t completely shot from years of television and computer monitor gazing: The world’s tiniest website, with impossibly teeny versions of Pac-Man, Pong, Asteroids, and other microscopically-rendered classics.

There’s also a blog and an art gallery. But c’mon, no one’s going to check those out when you can squint at a couple dozen pixels’ worth of Space Invaders, right?

(Via YesButNoButYes)

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/10/2021 07:26:15 PM
Category: Internet, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Wednesday, February 01, 2021

phone home
To my ear, Wintergreen comes off as just another garden-variety whiney pop band.

So it’s a good thing that video director Keith Shofield applied his retro-videogame-stylin’ technique to the video for the song “When I Wake Up”. Because without those interspersed screenshots of the notoriously bad “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” 2600/VCS game, I don’t think I’d be able to stand watching the entire clip.

Unfortunately, as inventive as the landfill-dig storyline is — thus fulfilling one of Generation X’s more esoteric urban legends — I’m afraid it’s rooted in fantasy. While Atari did, indeed, bury loads of unsold cartridges in the New Mexico desert, the steamroller-and-concrete treatment they gave the discarded merchandise puts an end to any prospects for recovery.

Incidentally, while “E.T.” was terrible, I’m not sure I’d tag it as “worst game ever”. Even back then, as a kid, I understood what was going on: It was an afterthought product, on a par with the stuffed toys and limited-edition Reeses Pieces that accompanied the movie’s marketing. I doubt anyone expected it to be anything but a piece of crap (although it probably exceeded even those expecations).

To me, the 2600 port of “Pac-Man” was a much, much bigger disappointment. And, to my recollection, the negative reception that crappy game got did a lot more to start Atari on its eventual decline (although not before some decent games were released for the 2600).

(Via Joystiq, by way of selsine tech)

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/01/2021 06:30:34 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Sunday, January 01, 2021

Midway Games has been making a lot of noise over two of its recent sports game releases: Blitz: The League and NBA Ballers.

Both titles are something of a fusion of sports games with a Sims-like sensibility. The gameplay that happens on the field and the court is almost incidental; the portions that deal with characters’ extracurricular activities (barhopping, flashing that blingy-bling, etc.) are the meatier portions of both games. It’s basically a reality TV approach to videogaming, with infotainment reportage serving as the inspirational underpinnings.

Here’s what I find curious: While Blitz is the product of a loss of official NFL licensing for any football games not produced by Electronic Arts, Ballers is being produced as branded NBA merchandise. Throw in the fact that the creative force behind Blitz is Peter Egan, former writer for “Playmakers”the NFL’s series non grata — and it appears that the football boys are more concerned about keeping their images clean(er) than the NBA is about its rep.

It’s not completely cut and dried. The morphing of Blitz into a faux XFL experience came after the NFL cut off Midway and other game studios. The NFL wasn’t presented with the option of putting its seal of approval on an ultraviolent, negative-stereotype game; Midway went the extreme route because they needed that to replace the lost NFL/NFLPA cache. On the other hand, the NBA and its players’ union didn’t appear to have any qualms about officially sanctioning a game with fairly similar themes.

Basketball has always been seen as being more attuned to youth culture than the other major pro sports. Maybe this is another manifestation of that.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/01/2021 04:07:21 PM
Category: Football, Basketball, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Tuesday, December 20, 2021

Because I just can’t get enough of those jive-talking, PSP-shilling animated squirrels, here’s another one of their television spots.

This one is much funnier than the original spot I linked to. I’m not sure if it’s even airing in the U.S.; the only place I seem to see it on TV is during NHL games that come through from Canadian-based feeds. I’d guess the “hells yeah!” declaration, coming out of the mouths of animated rodents, might be a little too edgy for American stations.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/20/2005 07:06:35 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Saturday, December 17, 2021

Josh Korr writes up a pretty good summary about how ever-advancing graphics manipulation is resulting in videogame imagery that’s, paradoxically, less lifelike than one would expect. Characters that are supposed to be true-to-life in sports games instead come off as looking fake, with plastic-like skin.

(A quick aside: I’m thinking a good nickname for Josh would be “Hard”. Imagine introducing him at some convention or something: “And here’s the tech blogger from the St. Pete Times, our main man, Josh ‘Hard’ Korr!”)

The problem lies in what Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori calls “the Uncanny Valley”:

When an android, such as R2-D2 or C-3PO, barely looks human, we cut it a lot of slack. It seems cute. We don’t care that it’s only 50 percent humanlike. But when a robot becomes 99 percent lifelike — so close that it’s almost real — we focus on the missing 1 percent. We notice the slightly slack skin, the absence of a truly human glitter in the eyes. The once-cute robot now looks like an animated corpse. Our warm feelings, which had been rising the more vivid the robot became, abruptly plunge downward. Mori called this plunge “the Uncanny Valley,” the paradoxical point at which a simulation of life becomes so good it’s bad.

That “cutting slack” action is crucial, and it takes place on a subconscious level, where the human brain processes visual information and makes symbolism possible. It’s the same processes that allow us to look at a circle, an arc and two dots, and recognize the arranged imagery as the classic smiley face. As Scott McCloud pointed out in his book “Understanding Comics”, it’s not so remarkable that we can interpret such graphical information thusly; it’s more remarkable that we can’t look at it and not perform that mental calculation into representative glyphs.

In the videogame world, the progression is quite clear. We’ve gone from the block-pixels of Pong, to the cartoon animation of Mario and the like, to the faux-realism of Grand Theft Auto and Doom. The balance between how pretty the game looks, versus how much of the focus should go to the gameplay (which Korr argues for, and is a constant point of contention among gamer cognoscenti), is delicate.

The question comes down to how “real” the imagery in these mediums has to, or should, be. I’ve always felt that what made comics work as a storytelling format, particularly for the staple superhero/sci-fi/fantasy genre, is that the nature of line-drawn representation makes the classic suspension of disbelief easy to complete. That doesn’t necessarily create allowances for the quality of the storytelling, although it’s certainly contributed to the kid’s-stuff attitude attributed to comics (and, if you think about it, to videogames too). But it’s a device that you don’t see in text-based storytelling or in film.

However, as it becomes more feasible to use close-to-life representations of people, animals, backgrounds and objects in videogames, will our visual processing adjust? To me, it seems like we’re in a transitional phase for all this: That 1-percent-focus will someday disappear, to the point where controllable videogame characters and environments will be as high-quality as a movie. Then what? Will all the gaps be filled sufficiently? Right now, we’re used to a certain level of unreality in this arena, and accept that. We may not have to settle for that when the process is complete.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/17/2005 04:27:28 PM
Category: Videogames, Creative, Science | Permalink | Feedback

Sunday, December 11, 2021

I’ll never buy a PlayStation Portable for myself (nor anyone else, I’d imagine). I had an old-style Nintendo GameBoy, with the monochrome screen, way back in the day, and that was enough.

But I’m thoroughly enjoying the “Squirrels” TV ads for the PSP. Nothing like jive-talking rodents to get me to giggling.

The spots are the work of director Monkmus of Hornet Inc., as commissioned by TBWA/Chiat/Day. There are at least two of them: One where one of the squirrels tells the other to play “Nut” outside, and another where they’re talking smack at each other about how much tail they’d get if they had the kind of graphics/firepower that a PSP had. Oh yes, hilarity abounds.

The artistic style of the spots, with their charcoal black-and-white look, combined with the frenetic voicework (reminiscent of Alvin and the Chipmunks, but slightly urbanized), really sells it for me. It’s a very unusual presentation for selling a videogame console, and thus makes it stand out amid the television commercial clutter.

Which Sony needs, because it’s still facing an uphill battle in overtaking Nintendo in the handheld gaming market. Can squirrels be saviours?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/11/2021 06:55:00 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Videogames, Creative | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Thursday, December 08, 2021

Don’t you feel all kinds of sorry for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who didn’t score one of his company’s hot-hot-hot Xbox 360 consoles as an executive perk?

“The Ballmer children do not have their Xbox 360 yet. I’m in the same boat as many of you,” Ballmer said. “Thanks to the wonders of Sarbanes-Oxley, management does not get a free Xbox 360,” he quipped at a meeting of technology industry executives.

Under financial disclosure rules, Microsoft would have to classify a free game console as income for Ballmer.

Riiiiiight. Like a $400 expenditure for a chief executive who’s being compensated seven figures annually represents an onerous bonus. And how much you want to bet that you will, indeed, find a beige gamebox (or two, or three) in Ballmer’s crib?

I think I should start a subcategory here for cataloguing instances of CEOs grousing about the “hardships” that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is making them endure. It would be a ready source of amusement for the days that I need some.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/08/2021 09:18:15 PM
Category: Videogames, Business | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Sunday, November 20, 2021

Moving or not, I’m mighty scared of Eric the Voodoo Doll and his potential for destruction.

I’m almost as scared of the scientist-to-videogame-designer career path that brought him into being.

What a way to kick off a Sunday.

Which do you suppose is a more appropriate name for a voodoo doll: Eric or Vince?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/20/2005 10:55:57 AM
Category: Comedy, Videogames, Creative | Permalink | Feedback

Wednesday, November 02, 2021

I don’t check out the sports transaction wire as much as I used to. I was always primarily interested in the hockey moves, as that’s my favorite sport (and, with all the minor leagues and former CBA structure, afforded the most interesting player transaction moves). Therefore, last season’s lockout lessened the need for me to scan that little pile of agate type each day.

Hockey’s back, of course. And so my eyes are back to doing the spotcheck for trades, waives, releases and whatnot. And I’m glad, because today’s lineup brought this fun fact:

GREEN BAY PACKERS - Signed LB Atari Bigby.

I wonder if his middle name is “2600″ or “5200″

FURTHER THOUGHTS: It’s too bad the Packers don’t play Tennessee this season. We might have seen Atari Bigby tackle Titans first-round pick Adam “Pacman” Jones (yes, they’re both on defense, but there’s always special teams).

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/02/2021 02:00:19 PM
Category: Football, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (7)

Tuesday, October 18, 2021

It’s been a mixed morning, all before I even left the house.

After getting dressed, I killed some time on the Xbox by playing Dragon Spirit (one of the oldschool games on the newly-acquired Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Arcade Collection). I managed to get farther on it than I’d been able to during the previous couple of days’ play. Happy-happy.

Then, just before walking out the door, I went to feed the fish. After dropping in the pinch of food (they’ll get more tonight), I made to screw the lid back on the tiny container, and the slick label caused me to drop the damned thing to the floor. The flakes burst out confetti-like, coating a sizable portion of the floor and carpet; it’s really amazing how much food was packed into that little plastic cylinder. Worse thing was I had absolutely no time to really clean it up. So I shook the portion that fell onto my shoes off onto the floor, scooped up a couple of fingerfuls back into the container, then left. I’m hoping the remainder doesn’t attract insects before I get back tonight to vaccuum it up.

Resolved: I’m leaving the house earlier tomorrow.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 10/18/2005 08:29:58 AM
Category: General, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Monday, October 10, 2021

buck upAre you an aspiring moviemaker, full of ideas but low on cash, equipment, resources, talent, etc.? Do yourself a favor and save a bunch of time: Forget about the actual movie, and produce the promo poster instead.

IMDb’s Pitch Your Picture contest allows you to take your best shot at creating a fake movie poster. You could win a sweet 32-inch LCD television or a digital camera! This competition just screams comedy (actually, it screams porn parody, but I’m sure that’s against the rules).

I like this sample submission, Crazy Deer. The tagline totally sells it: “1 Deer. 2 Horns. 3 Bodies.” That, and the clever tricolor motif; great substitution of red/white/blue instead of the typical red/white/black in this sillouette style. And it totally reminds me of “Deer Avenger”.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/10/2021 11:36:44 PM
Category: Movies, Videogames, Creative | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Friday, September 30, 2021

I guess it speaks to how central prominent videogames have been in my life when a National Weather Service hurricane-generation program brings to mind the old SimCity game, with its option for tossing disasters at your fledgling metropole (although hurricanes aren’t among the acts of God available; tornadoes are, though).

Given the current increased sensitivity to hurricane disaster, Tom thinks the existence of this online plaything might spark protest.

I doubt that. Now, if the NWS were to introduce a giant-lizard disaster scenario, ala SimCity — that might raise some eyebrows.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/30/2005 08:17:03 PM
Category: Weather, Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Friday, September 02, 2021

You can keep your Madden NFL ‘06. When it comes to football videogaming, make mine Tecmo Super Bowl.

Why? Aside from its basic oldschool design and several ahead-of-its-time gameplay innovations, it managed to defy the laws of physics (i.e., the shortest distance between two points):

running in a straight line is the slowest way to the endzone. instead, zigzag as much as possible. watch with sheer enjoyment as defenders practice eating dirt after each unsuccessful dive.

Actually, I may have to devote a post to all the logic-defying trick moves that were found in the sports videogames of the late ’80s and early ’90s. I know that EA’s NHL Hockey contained a bunch of them, including surefire top-shelf goals from impossible angles, that quickly devolved games into beat-the-clock scoreathons.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 09/02/2021 10:10:52 AM
Category: Videogames | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Thursday, August 18, 2021

Are you one of those videogame addicts, forsaking television and every other entertainment option in favor of your Xbox or PlayStation?

Then you might as well get paid for your obsession. EA Tiburon, the Electronic Arts subsidiary that’s orchestrating a boom in Central Florida’s videogame industry, is hiring professional game beta testers.

It’s not all screwing around, and don’t expect to get rich:

New games are rife with glitches, and testers are expected to find several each day. Those who don’t lose their jobs, so testers are under pressure. They are considered temporary employees, so they can lose their jobs after a three- or four-month cycle, although they often can get hired again. Pay starts at about $8 an hour.

I don’t see myself hauling out to O-Town for eight bucks an hour. Besides, I doubt they need a beta tester for ports from old Atari 2600 games, which would be my specialty.

But if you’re up for it, email away.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/18/2005 09:38:58 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Videogames, Business | Permalink | Feedback

Wednesday, August 10, 2021

Although he doesn’t explicitly state it, the impression I got from Robert Trigaux’s column on Orlando’s blossoming videogaming industry — signified by the imminent opening of UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy — was that Orlando is poised to become a new-media entertainment center of the universe.

First, Orlando must be congratulated for leveraging the arrival of Electronic Arts (which bought a Maitland game developer called Tiburon in 1998) and making the graduate-level Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy a reality. If Orlando plays it smart, the metro area could emerge as a significant player in what is clearly an industry poised for megagrowth.

On a smaller scale, Electronic Arts is to Orlando’s video gaming industry what Scripps Research is expected to become to West Palm Beach’s (if not all of Florida’s) bioscience industry.

Second, the academy will train game developers, many of whom will be hired locally and at healthy salaries. This becomes a plus not only for generating better-paying jobs, but for attracting younger, educated adults to remain in Central Florida. So kudos to a practical plan to produce people with specialized skills.

Third, beyond traditional theme parks and tourism, Orlando and UCF have demonstrated a knack at developing promising and higher-paying business hubs. The metro area is well regarded for its concentration of entrepreneurs and young companies with expertise in laser technologies. The area also is gaining a stronger reputation in the defense industry.

Hollywood and the movies, New York and television, and now Orlando and gaming. The seeds are certainly being sown.

I’ve been aware of EA Tiburon and the Orlando videogame industry for some time now.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/10/2021 10:09:01 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Videogames, Business | Permalink | Feedback (1)

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