Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Elements of a Great Game

I decided to do a post about a discussion we've been having on the forums. The topic?

The elements of a great game! (duh...)

The reason I decided to lay my thoughts out in blog format is that I hope to seem less like a gibbering mental patient than I did on our forums. Here I can ramble on without interruption until I make my point or until they come to take me away.

“but I know I've got one thing I got to do, Ramble on!”

Lately I've been thinking a lot about game design. There are number of reasons. For one thing I got into computers because I wanted to write games. My life and career moved around until I've dedicated years of energy to preserving and providing classic games for other fans such as myself. This has kept me so busy that I haven't worked on a video game for, well, let's just say a long time. I hope that, one day, I will finally get my chance, but there's more than that.

I have also played D&D for many, many years. I have been the Dungeon Master for I don't know how many hours of my life. I've written good campaigns and not-so-good campaigns. I've played where I was caught up and enjoying every minute of it and I've played where I just sat there rolling my dice watching the clock and dreaming of the moment when the game wrapped up.

What do these two things have to do with each other? Everything. I'm not just talking about what makes a great video game, I am talking about what makes a great GAME. I believe there are common threads that connect all gamers and all games. It is those threads that I am considering.

What makes people want to play games? A lot of things really. The challenge, the reward, the atmosphere, etc. I want to boil these motivations down to their basic elements. Why? Well, someone on the forums compared these base elements to chords in music. I think that is an excellent example. As chords to a musician or a palette to an artists so these basic driving elements should be to game developers.

A lot of people might believe that these game “chords” are already well known or that they don't exist. Well, I believe I have an answer for each of these objections. First, games are much like books, television or movies. In all those forms of entertainment there are certain formulas that are used. That is why there are classes on writing and cinematography. They teach people what the basic “palette” is that they should use. Now that's not to say that you can plug in the formula and BAM you have a best seller or a block buster. Even if you know the chords you have to be able to play.

“Well, how can we have descent instruments when we don't really even know how to play?”

“That is why we need Eddie Van Halen!”

As in all forms of art the artist is really what makes it art. However, if Van Halen had never learned his chords would he have still been a great musician?

So, I believe those elements exist. Which is why “Save the girl” is a running theme in books, movies and games. Man has a natural desire to save the girl! (and if she doesn't want to be saved hilarity ensues .)

Now, as to these themes being common knowledge, they may be, but I'm not familiar with such a school of study. Plus when I look at some of the games that have come out I have to believe that I'm not the only potential game developer that has never heard of them. Some games just make me think “Who would have ever wanted to play this and WHY?”

This post is getting a bit long, so I am going to cut it short. I plan to do another post soon touching what I believe is one of the “Colors” of game development.

I hope my sanity has been established and that you could see what I was saying.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good Old Atari

So, early last week I got an e-mail from Josh Pendrick. He's a Social Media manager over at Atari. He wanted to know if Console Classix would be interested in promoting up and coming Atari products that our fan base might be interested in. My answer, in a word, was:


Of course Console Classix will promote new “classics” that are just about to come out. Needless to say we're huge Atari fans. (Don't bother mentioning how many times the company has changed hands, I know, I know. Not my point!) I don't know how many Atari products I own personally. We'll just run with “A lot” for now. We love Atari past, present and (I hope and believe) future.

Now a week went by before Josh said anymore to me. However, when he got back with me he did, indeed, have a couple of interesting news items to share.

First, a new version of Warlords is due to come out this Summer. That was a personal favorite of mine. Me and one of my childhood friends would play it for hours at the time. Josh gave me a link where you can get a bit more information about it. This is it:


Now, I haven't gotten to play it yet (cough, cough), but it looks great. My only hope is that it maintains the feel of the original even with all the new bells and whistles. I may very well do a review of it after it comes out. Until then, go check out the site.

In other up and coming awesomeness news, a new version of Yar's Revenge is also under way. If you've never played the original go give it a whirl:

Yar's Revenge

I don't have any more information yet, but I am supposed to get some soon. I'll comment on this post with the URL as soon as I get it.

I would also advise you to go by Atari's website. They actually have a number of rebuilt 2600 games up. You can play them here:

Play Atari

All in all Atari has a lot going on for the retro-gamer. I am going to have to keep a closer eye on them in the future. If I get any more information or actual play experience (cough...) with these up and coming titles I'll be sure to let you guys know.

In a final note we may be getting a little Atari swag to give out. If we do we'll almost certainly contest it away in one way or another.

Have fun and good gaming!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This week at Console Classix

Well, last week really, but I'm posting about it this week....

Anyways, the parts finally came in (yesterday) for the new NES reader I plan to work on this week. I actually have to go pick up some SNES carts to dissect for the project. I know it's a loss, but what can I do. They will have to lay down their video lives for the greater good. Plus, we can still use them really. I need to remove their ROMs, but that won't trash them, it will just make it impossible to play them on the SNES.

I made some changes to the browser and rolled out an update. We added a “Random” button so you can take wild ride to who knows where. It reminds me of when the Doctor put the randomizer in the Tardis. (If you don't know what I mean I am talking about THE Doctor and Time And Relative Dimension In Space) We also updated the Facebook Status Update code. Now it's easy to turn the status update on and off. Of course, the more you guys use it the more traffic we will have. You all know what that means. (More games and features!)

Belief it or not that basically ate my week up. I also had some tax stuff to take care of, but for the most part I was working on the browser.

As I mentioned, I hope to get the new NES reader up and running this week. I probably won't get it done in time to get any new NES games up Wednesday, but I'll do what I can. I am probably going to work on adding the categories to the CC browser although, again, I may not get it finished this week. I want to add a commenting system on the game info pages. The user review system is good (although we really need to keep up with it better), but I want something that allows a bit of back and forth between players. I am also planning on doing more blog posts and, as I mentioned in my last post, I am enlarging the number of subjects I touch on. Last, but not least, I am probably going to work on getting more video up soon. I want to show you guys how we go about building an adapter and what have you.

For the moment I'm off. Have fun, cause I'm gonna!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Change of Venue

OK, the point of this post is, first of all, to say that I am expanding what I am going to cover in this blog a bit. How? I am going to begin to post about what's going on in gaming in general with specific regard to what I consider truly “classic”. Why? Because I want to.

Up until now I have just used this blog to talk about Console Classix. It's not a bad subject. In fact, I love it. However, CC isn't the only thing going on in the gaming industry. It's not even the only thing going on in the classic gaming industry. Those are things I want to talk about because it will reveal a bit more about me and my feelings on what makes games truly classic. Past, present and even future. Why do my feelings matter? I'm the president of one of the coolest classic gaming companies ever! (OK, so that doesn't make my opinion any more important than anyone else's. Still, it's cool to say at parties.)

So, first of all most classic gamers (at least the ones I know of) enjoy good games from whatever time period they come from. They love games like Yar's Revenge, Link to the Past, Final Fantasy Tactics right up to Force Unleashed. Classic gaming isn't a time period it's a matter of quality and gaming philosophy. Most of them are also very “cross-platform” playing games for whatever system they happen to run on, including PC games. I mention this only to explain that my subject here is about good gaming, games that are going to become “classics” and what makes games good/classic.

The first subject for all this: Free to play MMOs

“WHAT?” you ask. “How does this tie in with classic gaming in any way shape or form?” It's very simple. The industry is changing. Free to play MMOs have already begun to change the gaming landscape. At the moment it may not seem “classic” because it's going on right now and we can see it happening, but, in time, it will touch the entire industry.

Think back to the days of the Atari 2600. The goal of the games was simple: get the most points. That honestly sums up most of the early Atari games, but then things stared to change. In 1979 we got Adventure. You had to get items, solve puzzles and accomplish something tangible. You were trying to beat the game, not just your buddy's score. Today, many may not think of this shift as extreme, but it was. Game consoles turned on this very point. They became something other than “home arcade” systems. Space Invaders was a huge arcade hit that then made the transition (albeit poorly) to the home arcade. The Legend of Zelda was a huge hit in it's own right. It didn't get numbers from arcade popularity, it was hit for the home console all by itself.

Now the landscape is shifting around the Free-To-Play concept and it's likely to change the entire gaming industry. The reason is simple. Nothing will get you into a game better than an unlimited free sample. If you truly enjoy the game it's only a matter time before you put money in it. We've already seen companies like Frogster build very successful business empires with FTP games like Runes of Magic. Turbine pulled LOTRO and DDO out of the financial fire by converting over to FTP. Just recently Cryptic switched Champions Online over to a FTP model and managed to increase it's profits by over one thousand percent. (Yes that's 1000%)

I know a lot of people out there are screaming at the top of their lungs “Yea, but those games suck!” However, they certainly aren't looking at it from an objective point of view. Between them these games have millions of players. More importantly they are very profitable. “What? Profitable? I thought this was supposed to be about how classic a game was, not how profitable!” Well, that's true, but here the two run hand in hand. Players vote with their money. It's one thing to say you enjoy a game, it's another to drop five bucks in it. The profitability of these companies really represents what gamers want and enjoy. It's the fact that these games are financially successful that is changing the industry.

You have to consider the fact that DC Universe Online was released in a landscape of direct free competition. You may feel that no self-respecting player would play CO rather than DCUO, but not everyone feels that way. Now DCOU has got to prove, not only that it's worth $15 a month, but that it's worth that much more than CO. No matter how you feel about it personally I'll bet you that the head cats at Sony we're jumping up and down with joy when CO went FTP.

Now, imagine DCUO had opened with a FTP model. (I can hear hissing in the crowd already, but hear me out.) If DCUO is really worth the $15 a month then they would have no problems. They could have setup micro-transactions and offer a better deal for monthly subscribers. Now, I know some users hate this model. The only reason I can think of is because teenage boys that still live with their parents will shell out $100 a month to get on top and that's not fair to the rest of us. I agree with that totally.

However, Craft of the Gods (I know, you've never heard of it....) offers what I feel is the perfect solution. They offer servers for each payment model. If you are a subscriber you can make characters on any of the servers. FTP players can only create characters on FTP servers. The advantages with this model are numerous.

First, you can sample the game as long as you want before you decide to buy. That means publishers will have to focus on making a good game more than on making a good ad campaign. Second, if you think the game is worth five bucks a month and not fifteen you can pay the five. This puts money in the developers pocket and let's you pay on your own terms. Third, if you do decide to buy the game you can play in a private environment with other subscribers. Forth, if you are the only one of your online friends that wants to pay for it you can still game with them on the free servers.

One of the things that FTP brings to the table is options. You can try the game before you buy it and you can decide on a month by month basis what the game is worth to you. I think this is going to be a good thing for the industry. How many great games have never really made it because their advertising was weak. Imagine if players had been able to sample every Nintedo game that ever came out before they bough them. Some profits would have been lost and others gained. Good companies that went under might have survived (plus some stinkers might have gone under quicker.)

Some of you may be wondering how this relates to console gaming, but it's not hard to see if you look. Already we are seeing free demos pop up and it's only a matter of time before we get free to play online games for them. (In fact we may already be seeing those. I haven't kept up as well as I should have.) This brings me to the point that Farmville is, in fact, a FTPMMO, but I'll save that for another time.

So, FTP, personally I love it. I think in many ways it's already the present and is sure to be a big deal in the future. Players are just going to have to accept it and look at ways to eliminate the problems they see in the model. The FTP model itself isn't going anywhere.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fix Up The Old And Break Out The New

This week we got a good bit done. We added pages to list the most popular games and home brew games. We also added a way to list games by publisher and by release year. I think the new additions really add a bit to the site. We also fixed (I hope) the Facebook status updater. Our fans should begin to see more and more “So and so is playing such and such at CC” messages. Lord willing, this will bring in more traffic.

We also ordered some parts for a new NES reader I intend to build. We will still have to pull the chips off the boards, but if it works we'll be able to read NES ROMS with the Retrode. That will save us a great deal of time and energy. Plus, we should be able to use the same setup to read GB/GBC games. (We will still need special adapters, but we own most of what we would need.)

In addition to all this we got a few of the requested games up and running. I want us to get more, but we have to work it into the budget. Some of the games requested were a little more pricey than your run of the mill cart. Still, what we got up was good and we're going to try to get more as soon as we can.

There is now a “Development” post on the forums. I opened it up by giving a brief explanation on reading ROM chips. I intend to fill out that information bit by bit and provide more technical data about what it is I'm currently working on. In the long run we're also wanting to setup a “Media” section and I may make some video of me building adapters and what not.

All in all last week was a good week. I hope we make even more progress this week.

For those of you who have requests or questions remember that you can post them on the forums:

Console Classix Forums

That's it for now. Have fun and good gaming!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An End To Code

My title could have been “An End To Re-Code” because it's the recoding of the site that's actually done. Thank the Lord! It's been six weeks (or so) well spent, but I'm glad to have it behind me. Now the site looks better and, more importantly, works better. We hope that this will lead more people to sign-up simply because the site won't look broken if they happen to browse by using Firefox.

Now, that the great re-code is over we're going to be able to add a few pages. In fact, we've already added a “Free Sample” page that duplicates the features of the “Free Sampler” button within the CC Browser. We also started collecting the game use data in a database. We intend to use that to build a “Most Popular” page next week. We've got a few other little additions in mind as well.

One of the big advantages of the re-code is that we can now make changes more easily. If we get a new page suggestion or a suggestion to add a feature to a page we can fill that request much more quickly than we could have in the past.

We want to handle requests as quickly as possible. All kinds of requests: New games, new features, website changes, etc. One of our current weaknesses is that we are seriously understaffed. We have a great deal to do each week and we don't have enough hands to do it. Changes that increase our efficiency, like the changes we just made to the site, are good for everyone.

If any of you have suggestions or requests to make we'd love to hear them. Just sign-up for the forums and let us know what you're thinking.

Console Classix Forums

The more feedback we get the more good changes we can make.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forums

Nothing really funny happened, but we did open the forums up to the public this week. I just picked that title because I have to pick a title for every post and it's not always easy to come up with something clever that really pertains to the subject at hand. Anyways, not really the point is it...

We got a fair bit done this week. As I said the forums are up and open to the public. Already we're getting feedback and game requests which is awesome. The more communication there is between us and all the others fans (yes, we're fans too you know.) the more we can improve things.

We also got a few more pages recoded. The upgrade, credit card edit and cancel pages all work like they're supposed to now. (At least they seemed to in my tests. There is NO need for anyone to test the cancel page. We'll just run with the idea that it works, lol) We just have a handful of pages left in the re-coding queue and then we can move on to add a few new pages.

I plan to add a “Most Popular” page where people can see what's been played the most. I also plan to a “Free Sampler” page where people can browse the free samples we offer from the full system from the web site as well as from the CC Browser. In addition to all this goodness I hope to add a “Home Brew” page that lists all the home brew games we offer. All of these should add a little more functionality to the site. (I know I mentioned a lot of this on the forums, but not everybody goes to the forums!)

If you would like to visit the forums they are here:

You'll get a lot more “up to the minute” news there than you will here or in the site news.

That puts me in mind of our new Wiki pages. So far the response hasn't been overwhelming. I think my little wikiclassix button has much to desired. People simply aren't clicking it. The wiki could be a real resource for us and for the other fans, but only if we get info up. Still, it hasn't been up long. People will get used to the idea and things will start to move along.

Anyways, that's it for the moment. Lord willing, this is going to be a great week and I'll have more to talk about soon.