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...back on the trail...

Alexandre Correia
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Every now and then, I check the Greatest Wikipedia list and its version history to see what's been added, filtered, or simply cut.

As expected, the rate of new games added has slowed to a trickle as most of the best video games have already been found. One or two new titles every now and then is the most you can expect from now on. To put this in perspective, the most recent title on the list, Breath of the Wild, is already four years old.

And for a long time, Pong was the first of The Greatest. An appropriate first, you might say, as the game is considered the first commercially successful video game, after its debut in 1972. Addicting, engaging, fun.... and without a shred of theme or story on it!


Stories, however, are one of mankind's driving motivations for (game)play. So is it surprising then that The Oregon Trail has (finally) replaced Pong as the first in the Greatest since last March?

The game is text-based, like Zork. But unlike the quasi-sandboxing nature of Zork, the closest relatives to The Oregon Trail are not found on the digital landscape but rather in books. Or, to be more precise, interactive fiction books.

Interestingly, though, The Oregon Trail actually precedes - not by much, mind you - the most famous titles in the genre. Tunnels, and Trolls' Buffalo Castle (1976), Choose Your Own Adventure (1979), and Fighting Fantasy (1982). It was almost as if the genre was begging to come out and play, regardless of the medium!

To be clear, the original 1971 Oregon Trail is not this one:

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Sorry Nicole.

Or this:

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Sorry Maya.

And certainly not this one:

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Sorry Hannah.

Unfortunately, the original 1971 version is lost forever.

The game - designed is an ill-suited word here - written by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger to teach their 8th-grade Minnesota students about that particular piece of American history, was deleted from the school's mainframe at the end of the semester! It took them four years to write the game a second time, based on a printout of the original source code. But even that second 1975 version is hard to find. The version most people consider the original is actually the 1978 iteration, played on an Apple II.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

The original creators with their one page game.

I had to dig deep to find the oldest available version of the game. Not as deep as Jimmy Maher, The Digital Antiquarian, and his quixotic quest for the exact same thing. But thanks to Jim, and the video that led me to him, I was pointed to a set of telnet commands to play the 1975 version of The Oregon Trail. My skill in using archaic technology with a stateish-of-the-art computer lacks, though, so I kept digging for an alternative route.

And just like my quest to play the original Pong ended with a simplified compromise (the Atari Vault collection on Steam) so did The Oregon Trail has a simple route to play it sans telnet.

Head over to Wikipedia's page for the 1971 version of The Oregon Trail. Scroll past the text - or read it if that's your fancy. Keep going past the References until you reach the External Links. There you'll find this:

Quote:
The 1975 version of The Oregon Trail can be played for free in the browser at the Internet Archive.
From gallery of ZombieBoard

Maybe one day I'll also arrive at Oregon.

Now to play one of the earliest forms of mainstream interactive fiction AND resource management game!


Thanks for reading. And if you want to find out more about the original Oregon Trail or the history of digital interactive fiction, then check out:

Jimmy Maher's On the Trail of the Oregon Trail four-part series at The Digital Antiquarian.
Aaron A. Reed's 50 Years of Text Games, a 2021 journey from The Oregon Trail to A.I. Dungeon

Originally published at Browsing Games
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Wed Jun 30, 2021 10:00 pm
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...game changer...

Alexandre Correia
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During my binge with recent and past episodes of The Tim Ferriss Show, I came across Tim's first interview with Adam Gazzaley.

A neuroscientist that's working on improving cognitive skills through the use of video games rather than the traditionally prescribed pills and potions. Video games as part of the equation to strengthen your mind. A fighting tool against the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's'.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Brainstorm

As Gazzaley said in their first chat in 2015:

"There are active ingredients in consumer video games that could lead to brain changes in a meaningful and sustainable way (...) But because these games are built for entertainment purposes, I don't think they're going to go as far as they could if they were designed with an understanding of the brain and cognition in mind and the population you're trying to impact.

And that's what makes this field so challenging. To build from scratch and reach something that has the engagement, immersion, and enjoyment that a video game does –because people have a pretty high bar for what they expect out of a video game now, especially young people; they're like, "That's not fun. I'm not going to engage in that." So, to get there, and then to also have all of the mechanics and the video game engine itself target these brain processes – to do both of those: that's the ultimate challenge."


And then compare it with their 2021 conversation,

"If you have an intervention like NeuroRacer and EndeavorRX, which challenges cognitive control at a very high level due to closed-loop systems in a personalized way - like the ultimate trainer constantly pushing and optimizing those abilities over weeks and even months sometimes - then what you end up with is a transfer of benefits to cognitive control challenges outside of the game that's independent of what the cause of those deficits was."

Both episodes, recorded six years apart, are worthy of listening. Maybe even consecutively as a way to better understand how much Gazzaley and the scientist he works with have advanced in such a short period of time.


From, UCSF Magazine. Can Technology Mend Our Broken Minds.

Imagine playing a video game in which your data is collected with sensor technology – performance metrics, emotional responses, body movements, brain activity – and used in real-time to guide the environment you are experiencing, personalizing challenges and rewards to improve your cognition.

Their early NeuroRacer video game now evolved into the more immersive EndevaroRX from Akili Interactive Labs was given clearance by the FDA last year, making it officially the first video game medicine. The game adapts to the player, making it forever challenging when needed and toning it down accordingly to avoid boredom. In essence, a game that knows you're getting bored before you do!

At the moment, this digital treatment is only aimed at ADHD disorders. Still, their research shows that similar digital treatments could help with conditions such as autism, depression, and multiple sclerosis.

With cognitive decline starting at the age of 23, this type of digital medicine showed that it can help revert elderly minds to their 20-year-old levels, with the effects lasting for at least six months even after they've stopped playing.

From Video Games for Neuro-Cognitive Optimization.

"It is unlikely that a single CLVG (Closed-loop Video Game) will be used in training; instead, game packages will be delivered as "neuro-crossfit" training programs with several CLVG weights (for dosing, intensity, etc.) customized to the individual's needs."

When you read about stuff like this, it's easy to take things to the next level and imagine a not-so-distant future when people log into their Apple Store or Google Play accounts to play an anti-depressive racing game. Or take their daily prescribed dose of fighting games to knock out Alzheimer's!


But then again, even before I learned about Adam Gazzaley's research, I'd stumbled with a very particular console/video game reviewer.

Food4Dogs' Youtube channel is run by an elderly New Zealander filming unboxings of her favorites handheld console games!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

No sign of dementia on her speech and reasoning.

Clearly, this gaming hobby has got to be one of the best tools for brain longevity that western society has ever stumbled upon.

Originally published at Browsing Games
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Wed Jun 16, 2021 10:00 pm
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...welcome to arstotzka...

Alexandre Correia
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I don't' remember when or why I first got Papers, Please.

Lured by one of the many Steam's sales days, an incessant stream of recommendations? Maybe because I like point and click games with pixels? Indie game love? Perhaps because I'm playing Twilight Struggle with the Soviets?

From gallery of ZombieBoard

I'm not sure I want to live here...

I wanted to play a new game tonight, and something that it didn't took ages to download and non-existing brain energy to learn. At 40Mb, this is got to be one of the smallest games on Steam with such high recognition.

The starting menu is as sparse as the monochromatic communist drums accompanying it. Two options, Story and Endless. I pressed Story because it was the first. A second later I was back in 1982, as man recently awarded a prize from the October labor lottery, with a new job as a border-crossing immigration officer. A grey cubicle with a lever to open the dam of people trying to get into the country was my real award. A few men with machine guns behind me, the bonus prize I guess.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

First day at the job.

I had no clue about what I was supposed to do, other than my real job. Unlike board games, that come with rule books, in video games, that's a rare happening, at least these days. To had to the pressure of feeling that a hundred people were impatiently waiting for me to figure out what to do, I noticed a small dark clock at one corner of the screen. Tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack...

From gallery of ZombieBoard

After a few days, the first soldier appears.

Luckily, there WAS a rulebook behind the counter in the cubicle. In it, a map of Arstotzka and neighboring countries, along with the major cities in each and respective national symbols. Some of the pages indicated to the things behind the counter, but not what they were for. On the side of the screen tough, a small drawer with two rubber stamps. Denied and Approved. I guess that was my job in the game. Stamp passports. I opened the lever and called the first person to step forward in an indecipherable Eastern European dialect. Why did so many people wanted to enter a place that looked like a prison camp was beyond my humble abilities as a border immigration officer.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Then a few more show up for the border party.

The first day, only nationals were allowed. On the second day, foreigners could enter too, if their passports showed no signs of irregularities. Later a ticket system was implemented along with the usual passport checkup. And the next day, an invitation for foreigners, a ticket for nationals, and a mild interrogation procedure was needed before I could dictate, as some sort of immigration god, who could come in and who couldn't.

I heard insults at the same rate that prostitutes handed me their card, inviting me to visit them later. Familiar faces began to show up after each day, trying to enter on charm or blatantly fake passports. They all went back with a Denied stamp for their efforts.

Eventually, I began to realize that my limited work time each day equated, in money at the end of the shift according to the number of people I was able to process. Not a problem when you only have rent to pay and food to buy for yourself, wife, son, and mother in law. But when the rent goes up, it's a problem. When the procedures to enter the country started to become more intricate and byzantine, my processing rate lagged, and thus the money I earned at the end of the day went down. Another problem. When the kid and mother in law got sick and needed medicine - more money - that was a bigger problem.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

You're going to die? What do you want me to do? What about my family?

I'm into my fifth day with Papers, Please and I'm pretty sure where this is going. In a couple of days, I'll have to decide between food for the kid or medicine for the wife. If I hang on to this hellish gatekeeper's job, I'll have to start to decide between gulag for some, freedom and starvation for others, or a smog of life in some Orwellian communist bureaucratic country.

Welcome to Arstotzka, I guess. Let's see if I can stomach it.

Originally published at Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard
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Mon Sep 21, 2020 9:00 pm
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...replaying in the historical plaza...

Alexandre Correia
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The real history of video games is a story of human creativity, aided by technological growth.
Tristan Donovan, Replay: The History of Video Games.
I arrived at the restaurant earlier than expected.

A few seconds later, the rest of the people I was due to meet for dinner, texted me say they were running a little late. So with thirty unexpected free minutes, I did what I always do when I'm presented with the gift of free time for a free mind. I reached for the backpack and opened a book.

I may forget the wallet or the keys, but I never leave home without a book, or at the very least, something worthy of reading. Local free newspaper left on the mailbox. The rules for a game I'm thinking about playing. Or, in the last weeks, my new Kindle. After three small books read on the E-Ink screen, I'm irreversibly converted to yet another vehicle to consume the "printed" word, with audiobooks and real paper making up the rest of my reading transit.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

There's always a perfect place to read if you look closely to your book.

I sat on a Portuguese sidewalk, leaning against an abandoned building wall, in a plaza with big trees in the middle. The place was riddled with tables and chairs from the small restaurants facing this downtown corner of town, but everything was still quiet at this early hour. I opened the "book" and for thirty minutes, I traveled back in time, to a world when video games were on the verge of bursting through mainstream media and popular culture.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels was amazing. Replay is a MUST for anyone who equally balances the joy of reading with the pleasure of gaming. I'm only halfway into this 500 pages thick history book, but the intro was enough for me to realize that I was going to like it.

Tristan Donovan's book isn't scaffolded to the innovation's timeline of the hardware, which over the years made video games evolve into what they are today. Sure, you'll read about PDP-1 to 11, from pinball machines to arcade cabinets. From Magnavox to PlayStation and the various families of home computers in the last fifty years. But the book isn't structured around these technological mediums used to play games. It's about the acts of creativity that culminated in a video game. And the future consequences those first gaming experiences enacted in that new artistic industry.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Founding fathers...

You'll read about how Lara Croft helped surge the feminist's movement, breaking a male-dominated genre that touched all aspects of video games. While at the same time, vindicating Sony's debut in the early console war against Nintendo, with the first CD-ROM and graphic card combo.

You'll learn that the first video games, decades before Pong or Spacewar!, already existed in the form of the printed word. Written in scientific research papers, to show the potential for a primordial machine language. And that THE Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science, was the first to write the code for a chess game, way back in 1947.

You'll discover that early video game history isn't an American-Japan exclusive territory. That for instance Spanish, La Abadia del Crimen, was an amazing 8-bit breakthrough in the graphic adventure genre. Completely overlooked at the time, flopped in sales outside Spain, but still, more than thirty years later, with a cult following in that country. Or that Jean-Louis Lebreton, was dubbed the Hitchcock of gaming in the early '80s, with a style of games more appropriate for adults than kids. Designing early french adventures like Le Crime du Parking (rape, drug addiction, homosexuality) and Paranoika (players battling with mental illnesses).

For instance, I had no idea that Nintendo is a century-old corporation, that started as a toy company back in 1889, or that it decided to "invade" America to duplicate the video game business model they used in Japan, with dominating results. And that in the process, they managed to revitalize an industry that had collapsed in 1983, with the fall of Atari.

That Tetris, designed by Alexey Pajitnov in the pre-perestroika era, had spread out like a virus through aging old computers in the Soviet Union, available only to researchers and military personnel. And that it's licensing to the capitalist society is a story worthy of a Hollywood thriller. Those polyominoes were, along with Mario, the most famous of Italian plumbers, one of the major selling points in Nintendo's first handheld console, the Game Boy.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

...and rock stars.

Our friends finally arrived for dinner, as I read about the industry's shattering shareware philosophy used with Wolfenstein 3D, by id Software. Openly selling licenses of a new pixelized 3D technology to other video game companies. And Doom's championing for online player vs player, turning John Romero into the first rock star of video games.

I closed the book, got up from the sidewalk, and gave my first hug to a friend since last March in this new bug-19 world.

Originally published at Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard, Replay: The History of Video Games
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Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:00 pm
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...the perfect bug...

Alexandre Correia
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There is something odd about Centipede. Every time I play it, usually after a quick zen-like Pong session, my heart rate goes trough this crescendo roller coaster of upbeats and downbeats, that I struggle to stabilize after the game is over.

A centipede shot and split in two, doubles my breathing rhythm. While a loss of a life means I can relax. A new centipede spawns all the way up, at the top of the screen, miles from my danger zone it seems, and the poisonous mushrooms revert to their normal state. A four second bliss. Then a flea drops towards me. I shoot it once, only wounding it, and immediately need to shoot it again to kill it, or be squashed by an insect! Half a second passed between the two shots.

Then the spider shows up, and my heart and mind go into overdrive. Do I kill it when its suicidally close to me for extra points, inching me closer to the extra life at 12,000 points? Do I keep things safe and shoot it from a distance? Better yet, do I let the spider roam trough my patch of pixel garden so it can eat mushrooms and make my movements easier? Unless of course, if it eats one too many mushrooms! Triggering another flea, pooping a constant stream of yet more mushrooms!

Meanwhile the two centipedes are getting closer and closer to my Bug Blaster.

All this life-death decisions, happen in a second, and a second later, a new reel of decisions sparks from the ever changing game state in Centipede. It's intense to say the least!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

The mushroom cabinet.

But I'm not surprised by the game's difficulty, escalating the longer I'm able to stretch my three lives. I'm coming from a Pong session remember? Where each time the ball hits a paddle, the speed is increased until it becomes a battle of blurring paddle skills between me and the computer. What dazzles me it's the addictiveness of Centipede. What a coin gobbler this game must have been back in the early '80s!

But why is it so addictive?

Is it the fact that Centipede was co-developed by Dona Bailey, a video game programmer in a time when programmers were a rare breed? Working in the toddling industry that was close to a Greek Mount Athos of newfound creativity for gender based games, themed only around sports, shooting and fighting? Or is it because Centipede falls in that hard to reach realm of game perfection? As Richard Rouse III wrote in his book, Game Design: Theory & Practice: "Nothing in Centipede is out of place, nothing is inconsistent, nothing is unbalanced. To analyze Centipede is to attempt to understand how to design the perfect game."

I don't know. What I do know is that to play Centipede, is to subject yourself to a video game workout of the fun kind!

Originally published at Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard
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Wed Aug 12, 2020 9:00 pm
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...summer loot...

Alexandre Correia
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The latest Steam Summer sale presented me with two joyous browsing days through video game land. Scouting for cheap as hell new additions to my digital shelves.

Because that place feels like the Amazon of digital gaming, I deemed it wise to focus my attention solely on games that I meant to play in a short or medium future. To help me in that process, I built a list of wishful dreams.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

All aboard.

Most, of the games in the wishlist, are Greatest titles. Out of 188 games, I managed to find something like 60 on Steam. Less than half. It was a good wake up call for something that a friend of mine told me since the start of this quest. I'm going to have a real hard time playing and finding, many of the Greatest games. An obstacle that I'm prepared to face stoically with a challenging smirk on my face. I'm always down for tough challenges.

None of the games cost me more than a cappuccino at my local coffee shop. An ironic bargain since of those sixty games, I purchased eight games that I've already played when I was a kid. A penniless kid, mind you, always looking for the next pirated game on dirty and abused plastic floppy disks! At that time, I paid nothing for games that provided experiences which are intrinsic to my childhood memories. And now, as a nostalgic challenge-craving adult with disposable hobby cash, I'm finally buying the games I plundered from the black market, like a kid with an eye patch and a tricorn hat!


Another World, Wolfenstein, and UFO: Enemy Unknown. Bona fide classics. I can't even remember the number of minutes, hours, days, months, that I spent playing these games. Lost in their make-believe worlds once school was over and homework dismissed for tomorrow.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

FPS and TBT a world away.

Contra, Double Dragon, and Mega Man 2 are games I saw many of my friends play, in their third generation 8-bit consoles, but that I could never get my hands on. I was, and still am, a PC gamer and ports to PC were a rarity in the '80s and '90s and extraordinarily difficult to find in our small town in pre-internet days.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Console tough guys.

The final Greatest titles acquired were Galaga and Pac-Man. Of these, the only memories I have is of watching older teens playing the arcade cabinet versions, in small rundown arcade saloons. Dubious places covered in perpetual semi-darkness, cigarette smoke, and a stench of cheap beer, from the tavern next door.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Cabinets of old time fun.

Only two of the new games, have no place on the Greatest list, but are more than worthy, for my own tastes buds. Pixelated sandbox Terraria, and pixelated farming RPG, Stardew Valley.

I watched my brother play Terraria to death, and over time, the game dented my curiosity armor. Every now and then, he still challenges me to join him in that strange world. Now we can.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Pixel adventures.

For about a month in 2010, Farmville scratched a dream-like itch of mine, of a life spent farming. And I've always wondered if I could experience the same, with a better game. I'm not fortunate to have played Harvest Moon in the late '90s, which was the game that inspired Eric Barone to design Stardew Valley. I'm guessing that Harvest Moon kicks Facebooked Farmville's butt, despite being fourteen years older!

Besides, the origin story for Stardew Valley is too amazing as to not play the end result of a mammoth undertaking. You can read it in Blood, Sweat, and Pixels - a book I highly recommend even if you're only mildly interested in video games - or watch this documentary on YouTube.

A one man's five-year quest for a dream that far superseded his expectations.

Originally published at Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard, rockpapershotgun.com, The Maverick, Hattori Hanzo, Joeyeti, Aarontu, ctimmins
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Thu Jul 16, 2020 9:00 pm
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...retro game night lag...

Alexandre Correia
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For a minute, I could almost picture two grannies with a severe case of hiccups, trying to hit a square ball with a rectangular paddle, and absolutely no success whatsoever.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Shifty square ball!

Nuno and I had agreed to meet later at night, in Atari Vault's tiny corner of the Steam world. To have ourselves a sort of a retro night, playing nothing but geriatric video games from the '70s. Pong, of course, was the first game we "played".

The first video game (in retail historical terms, that is), was a good game to try out the connection's health, with a nearly invisible footprint in computing requirements. Or so we thought... the lag made it impossible to play! No matter who hosted the game or what device we used to control the paddles (mouse, keyboard, gamepad). No deal.

What I'm learning about the first game in this Quest for the Greatest, is that it's really hard to play Pong against another human in 2020!


We left the elderly tennis court heading to the racing track instead, where we hoped the lag didn't chase us. A couple of racing games, Sprint 2 and the simply called Race (Indy 500). Both former arcade and Atari 2600 games from 1976 and 1977 respectively, now lingering to dear life amidst the billions of other games, in the niche, within a niche that are retro nostalgic gamers, who are approaching granddaddy age!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Granny race.

These fared a little better. I mean, the lag was still there, but we could hardly tell it apart from the drunken-like swings and haphazardly twists and turns of our cars, trying to circle around the easiest track! More than the lag though, it was our ineptitude with the controls that made Sprint 2 a laughable and funny attempt.

The other two grey cars of the race, nimbly controlled by the A.I. Schumacher didn't help in making us look good either.

At least with the Race game, same controls, same graphic design style (graphic design style... yeah right!) we only had the two of us to compare our performance. We still bumped 9/10 again the railings and 10/10 against each other, whenever one of us did a full circle and caught up with the other, grunting in despair as the car reversed from the slow sands, only to be bumped right back in!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

The eternal Indy 500.

Neither deemed worthy to waste 5 seconds to read when the race was supposed to be over, so I, fearing that we got stuck in an eternal loop of the blind, logged off.


We tried Pong a few more times, with still no success, and then Nuno picked a game that would be the highlight of our retro night, Centipede!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Shoot 'em up those insects!

There was no lag in this one, and after a few seconds, we mastered the motion of the pixel exterminator, trying to have a mushroom field, bug-free! And like a perfect old arcade saloon vibe, we took turns playing the game, competing against each other for the high score!

After three lives each, we tallied the points and I wrote this one down as "to play again", on my checklist of retro games. Really cool!


To close our impromptu digital gamenight, one might say, Nuno, hosted a Warlords session.

Once more, the lag returned but I didn't really noticed it. This time, the pace of the game was so frenetic and chaotic, that my synapses were pressed to the limit to try and understand what were we supposed to do and who was what!

About 30 seconds before losing, I finally understood what was going on in the surreal pixel painting scenario. Four castles, in the four corners of the screen. A fireball (later two fireballs!) bouncing around each castle and chipping a pixel off every time they hit, unless bounced by what looked like shield guardians stuck to the castle walls!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

'70s disco warlords.

You had to have a lot of imagination power back in the '70s. Castles, fireballs, tennis balls and mushroom fields, crafted out of mere block-size pixels. Amazing!


Our "game night" lasted no more than 40 minutes, where most of the time was spent trying to fix technical issues and in Steam chat, scheduling the next "game night" for tomorrow at the same time, but in a different "arena".

Tonight was great. But what was amazing, for me at least, is that after thirty years of gaming, tonight was the first time I EVER played an online game against another human.

Bravely discovering new gaming territories during the Quest for the Greatest!

This article was originally published on Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard
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Fri Apr 17, 2020 9:00 pm
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...the great underground adventure...

Alexandre Correia
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In 659 GUE, the Kingdom of Quendor was relatively small, encompassing seven-and-a-half provinces on the western shore of the Great Sea, an agrarian land whose major products were rope and mosquito netting. It was the thirty-first year of the reign of Zilbo III, part of a dynasty dating back more than six centuries to Entharion the Wise, the first King of Quendor. However, that dynasty was about to end with the ascension of Duncanthrax to the throne of Quendor on the final day of 659.

From the rulebook of Zork: The Great Underground Empire. 1977
I'm taking a break from a Pong deep dive and other pre-1977 Atari games for the moment.

The circumstances seem propitious for quality play with more than a single digital game at the same time, wouldn't you say? All of a sudden, in a westernized world alarmed and worried from too much time in front of a screen, society did a 180º on its constituents, courtesy of bug-19.

Please, stay safe, stay indoors and stay in front of the screen!

And if what I've been reading holds true and people really are pushing for sofas and gaming apparel on online shops, then I would posit that bug-19 will boost the playing of such, if not the creation of more! I wonder what bouts of gaming creativity are happening right now, caused by a silent and socially distant world? Games that will only see the light of day once this dark night is over? I wonder...

From gallery of ZombieBoard

It's not Pong, but I'm still in B&W gaming land!


Thus, I'm moving on to the next item on the Quest for the Greatest: Zork!

And this one, couldn't be more different than all of the pre-1977 Atari games I've played to date! If with the latter, the joy comes from the direct competition against people (or an A.I.), with the smallest sport-like narrative emerging from the gameplay, with Zork, the narrative is the game!

Interactive fiction as the dawn of adventure games! Inspired by the the first solo RPG in digital form, Colossal Cave Adventure, just a few years after the genre was first popularized with Dungeons and Dragons. A game that's indistinguishable from a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except for the medium used to tell the story. A computer. And like with books or RPGs, the only limit to this story, is the player's imagination. With Zork suffering/blessed from having no graphics to aid you with in the vision of a Kingdom of Quendor.

Good old text-based adventure!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Text-based, doesn't mean a boring adventure!

Zork is pretty easy to find if you have a Steam account. Infocom released a version for Steam back in 2017 and for half the price of a small and simple card game, you have access to the entire retro Zork saga!

After the necessary digital clicks and procedures - no more than five minutes from the time you decide to buy, to the time the screen goes black prompting for your first zorkish command - I headed towards the house. It had all the doors and windows boarded shut, but behind it, there was a path leading to a forest, with a large tree with low branches serving as the gatekeeper of the woods.

Obviously, I couldn't pick up the branches! "A valiant attempt." was I all got in response to my newbie attempt of attempting to use a tree branch as a pry bar to enter the boarded house! But I could use the low branches to climb the tree and find an empty bird's nest with an egg encrusted with gems and crystals.

Ten minutes of humble exploration in Zork yielded 5 points... out of a possible 350!! The Kingdom of Quendor is not as small as it was written in the rulebook!


I had the adventure itch now. And without playing, the only reasonable way to scratch it was by reading articles, watching videos, or (in my case) listen to a podcast dedicated to the subject while cooking dinner and doing the dishes! Retronauts came highly regarded so I promptly subscribed to the show and checked for a past episode about adventure games. As soon as I spotted a familiar name, I hit play!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Oh, the nostalgia vibe is kicking in again.

The homemade bolognese simmered on the low burner, dispersing a savory oregano and tomato scent all over the house, while the discussion between Bob and Nina Matsumoto (cover artist for the Thimbleweed Park), about Secret of Monkey Island, made me hungry for more.

This article was originally published on Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard, mentalfloss.com, gog.com, steampowered.com, funstockretro.co.uk, goliath.com, vice.com, mobygames.com, playclassic.games
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Fri Apr 3, 2020 9:00 pm
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...steaming paddles...

Alexandre Correia
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For a while, I thought that the Quest for the Greatest would end before it even started!

After the early excitement upon the idea of the quest itself which led me to the "saga" of searching for an original Pong gameplay experience, the journey slowly came to a halt. For the last three weeks or so, It's like I've been taking a nap under a tree in a nameless forest of the video game realm.

I'd nearly lost all hopes from ever playing Pong - Pong!?!? - with a real person. Or, at the very least, as a shameful alternative consolation prize, against any A.I. as long as the game's visuals, sounds, and gameplay remained true to the original. Web browser Pong copy-cats are as common as freshmen college students in video game design courses and just as different from the original!

But then Andrew posted a comment that shook me up from the slumbering nap...

andrewhodkinson wrote:
Alexandre, did you see the 100 game Atari Vault arcade game emulator on Steam? It's on sale with a bundle from Fanatical at the moment. Comes with an SNK collection as well.

Not sure how true to the originals they are, but going by their images of the arcade machines they look exactly right.
The first thing that came to mind "How did I miss this in Atari's main website the first time around!?!?" The second, was "Why didn't I checked Steam too?"

A few clicks were all it took to confirm Andrew's comment. Atari Vault was showcased both in Atari and, after searching, in Steam's vast library.

I had no idea how Steam worked, even though my brother is more at ease within it than he'll ever be around a cardboard counterpart. I checked the images for Atari Vault, games included in the pack and general feedback. It all seemed too good to be true. Heck, it was Pong. From Atari! So how could it not be like the original? I bought the pack from Fanatical, five minutes after reading the comment and before I'd even created a Steam account!

In a way, it felt like creating an account in BoardGameGeek. Only that in that "forum", people play games first and talk about them second.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

There you were you big yellow cabinet!

Original Pong was there in Atari Vault all right! No need for outside emulators, even if the whole thing works like an emulator itself inside Steam.

Installed Steam, created the user account, and redeemed the Fanatical code. I also redeemed the others, but for now, they'll go by unchecked. There's some SNK collection in there too, and that might prove valuable further down the journey in the Quest for the Greatest.

A few moments later I installed Atari Vault, launched Pong, and... bliss!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

It's Pong baby!

My first "real" game of Pong was against an A.I. set at the default Medium difficulty. Too excited to even try out the iBuffalo Classic USB gamepads, I used the mouse instead. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. But I still lost big time. 8-11. I didn't mind, though. I was playing Pong goddammit!

I fumbled with the controls next, to try and set up the iBuffalos, the most analog input devices I have, apart from the mouse. But they didn't work. There was a Community link on the game's main menu and pretty soon, I was digging through Steam's forums and reading about general complaints about the controller's configurations and input in Atari Vault. Even there, the consensus was that MAME was still THE ultimate way to enjoy retro arcade gaming. Everything just works in MAME.

I knew that by now of course. That was the reason I had been taking a nap from the Quest for the last three weeks! Sure I could play original Pong with MAME (or DICE), using gamepads as a poor man's spinners instead. But there was no A.I. in there! I still needed to find real-life opponents.

And while it's fairly easy for me to approach my tabletop gaming buddies with new cardboard games to try, I'm just too much of a shy introvert that fears real-life ridicule for attempting the same with a 50-year-old video game!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Hopeful.

Thankfully, just like in BoardgameGeek, there's a thriving vast community of players in Steam! Just within Atari Vault, there are over 5000 registered members! I'm sure that once I post there and plea for Pong players I'll find someone that's willing to hit a square ball with me a few times.

The Quest is back! Thank you, Andrew!

This article was originally published on Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard, hrkgame.com
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Fri Feb 28, 2020 9:00 pm
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...finding pong...

Alexandre Correia
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How hard can it be to play a video game released almost 50 years ago?

Late last year, I set myself on a lifelong quest to play all games from this list, devoting to each my full attention for a least a month, if not more. It's a crazy thing to pursue, sure, but it's also - for me at least - very exhilarating!

From gallery of ZombieBoard

exhilarating?!? Ping (Pong)?

The first game on the list of the greatest, carefully curated by a handful of wiki/video gamers devotees, is none other than the game that sparked the entire video game revolution, Pong. And it's not me saying this, I'm just paraphrasing all the stuff I found on the internet, written by what's got to be the newest branch in History's' academic field: video game historians!

One would guess that 47 years later, it would be easy to get access to the golden oldie that started it all, right? Maybe freely available in some video game historians website, or as a free to download on Atari's website.

Instead, after some superficial Googling to try and play the original Pong online, all I could find, was this:

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Too much technicolor!

This is not what I have in mind when I think about the granddaddy of video games!


So, I dug deeper. And to learn what I should be digging for, I started to educate myself on what the original gameplay looked like. The paddles are short, not long and don't reach the top of the screen. The speed of the ball is pretty decent, if not right down difficult and it increases after every successful hit. There's a vertical dash line in the middle of the screen and every time the ball exists a side of the screen, a point is scored, and the game resumes with the squared ball starting at the same horizontal height along the dashed line.

And then, there's the cutting edge sound effects:


None of the online versions I found resembled even remotely all of those original attributes! Consequently, I started to wonder how hard or how expensive would it be to thrift a second-hand version of Atari PONG (Model C-100) on eBay.

From gallery of ZombieBoard

Cool loose wires! Exciting!

With prices ranging well above three digits (plus shipping!), it was clear that Pong (Pong!?!?) was way out of my wallets' range! Sure, I might reason that 100 bucks is a worthy price to pay for something like Gloomhaven, with dozens and dozens (if not hundreds!) of hours of analog gameplay. But for a primitive tennis simulation, that's also borderlining analog?

I also found this guy, Jason, a circuit board hobbyist from Malta as far as I could tell, selling his own replica of the original circuit board on a site called Tindie. For as cheap as 18€ plus shipping, he sends you a slightly better "clone" of the same circuit board that was inside a 1979 Atari's clone, the AY-3-8500! A clone of a clone! All you need to do after receiving the circuit board is to roll up your DIY electronics' sleeves, find the necessary cables and extra parts, hook everything to a TV set (which I do not own!) and download the 3D files to print the joystick - sorry, the paddles! - and a console case while you're at it!

I actually thought about pursuing this solution. I think my good gaming buddy Nuno has the necessary skills to help me with a project like this and the whole thing could turn out into a good and memorable experience.

On the other hand, I'm a lazy person! So I was back into finding an online/digital version of the game. There had to be original versions of the game out there! Back to Google-Fu...


Then I stumbled on this video:


And reading the comments, it looked like the guy who uploaded the video, Adam, had coded Pong himself and used an emulator to play it. The emulator was a SourceForge project called DICE, and along with dozens of very old games inside it, there was Pong. I quickly downloaded the retro software into my 64bit machine and fired it up.

There were some display problems at first, with miniature fonts and icons all over the place, making the whole interface hard to read, but after a few blind clicks, I had a square ball bouncing between the edge of the screen! The problem was... I couldn't see the paddles!

Maybe it was still a display bug, from running old software on a newer OS? I couldn't tell. I marked that venue as a "CHECK LATER" and went back to the GoogleOcean, now armed with the right keywords! Pong rom and emulator!

If Adam did it, there had to be others who had done it as well! Heck, even my brother, a freshman in a video game design course had coded the dam game two months ago as part of a weekly project! Not a replica of course, since he had to show off his creative skills. Instead of a dashed vertical line, there were all kinds of rotating obstacles and traps! But if all else failed, I would ask my brother for help!


From gallery of ZombieBoard

I'm getting there, I can feel it!

After some more digging and Google-Fu, I started to come up with a ton of sites hosting ROM files for Pong and a common emulator name where to use them, MAME.

I downloaded the self-extracting zip file, added a ROM file from a French website and fired up the retro code for the second time!

The original graphics were there. The paddles showed up after I pressed every key in the keyboard. Later I found a menu where I could, apparently, define my own keys for UP and DOWN, but it didn't really work as it was supposed to. Nonetheless, I had found an almost original version of Pong! Finally!

Now all I need is to tinker with MAME to get it to work with an external controller (if possible) and find someone to play with.

This last element in the Play-Pong equation may turn out to be the most difficult thing to find. Maybe I can ask my five-year-old, and hope that she wants to be my sparring partner?

This article was originally published on Browsing Games

Photos & Images: ZombieBoard, stirileprotv.ro, thehenryford.org, atariage.com, news.softpedia.com
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10 Comments
Fri Jan 17, 2020 9:00 pm
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