Posts Tagged ‘dropped frames’

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Footnotes: Dropped Frames #7: Gatekeepers1: Activision was founded in 1979 by four Atari programmers, a venture capitalist and a music industry executive. The four Atari programmers felt that their contributions to the 2600’s best selling titles were being overlooked. They [understandably] wanted a larger share of the then considerable profits. Depicted above is Larry Kaplan—for no reason other than the fact that he had a sweet (and thus eminently cartoonable) beard. Kaplan had a falling out with his Activision partners and returned to Atari a few years later.

2: Atari never supposed that anyone else would develop games for their system and took no measures to prevent it. When Nintendo developed their Famicom system (called the NES in the United States) in the early 1980s, they included both legal and hardware measures to prevent unauthorized development for Nintendo consoles. This has become the industry default in the years since.

3: Atari earned very little on the sales of individual console systems. The bulk of their revenue came from the sales of games. When Activision opened the floodgates to third-party developers, that revenue started to dwindle. The crash of the 2600 was caused by several factors (ageing technology, growth in the home computer market, rival console systems), but the flash-point seems to have been a wave of new developers, and their subsequent collapses (which forced retailers to liquidate that inventory [and Atari to drop prices to match new market expectations]). (Tristan Donovan, Replay: The History of Video Games, pp 98-99)

4: Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR (the original publishers of Dungeons and Dragons) in the late 1990s, rescuing the game from financial collapse. When they decided to publish a 3rd edition of the game, they also created the Open Gaming License. It allows for groups to publish works derivative of the system that powers Dungeons and Dragons 3rd (and 3.5) edition. They also created a subset of the OGL called the D20 license. The D20 license was more restrictive, fluctuating (and needed the approval of Wizards of the Coast) but had greater name cachet. (R. Dancey, “Open Gaming Interview with Ryan Dancey,” http://www.wizards.com/dnd/article.asp?x=dnd/md/md20020228e )

5: The motivation behind the OGL was two-fold: one it was designed to promote sales of Dungeons and Dragons products (M. Cook, “The Open Game License as I See It, Part I”, http://www.montecook.com/cgi-bin/page.cgi?mc_los_154 ); and two: it was designed to prevent Dungeons and Dragons from ever disappearing down a rabbit hole of legal entanglements in the event that Wizards of the Coast (or some future copyright holder) should go out of business. (R. Dancey, http://paizo.com/paizo/messageboards/community/gaming/4thEdition/mikeMearlsHasOpenGamingBeenASuccess&page=4#156 )

6: There are no clear numbers for the titles and quantities sold of OGL and D20 products. There were a lot of them. (Just searching for D20 on Amazon gives you 176,000 hits. Even accounting for duplicate results, that’s a lot of them! And of the OGL/D20 split, D20 was the far more restrictive!)

Interestingly, Dungeons and Dragons’ current biggest rival in the role-playing game market is the title Pathfinder (created by former Wizards of the Coast partner Paizo), which uses the OGL to carry on the now discarded 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

When Wizards of the Coast released their 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons in 2008, they created a new license, called the Game System License. It is much more restrictive than either the OGL or the D20 licenses. I do not know the rationale behind the changes, though certainly, on the surface, it looks to be intentionally more protectionist.

7: Retailers purchase role-playing games from distributors up front; in doing so they place their financial well being on the line with every product they stock. They must gauge quality against local demand with every game they purchase. While they invariably purchase games of lesser quality when an audience (or trend) demands it, on the whole, they must act as industry arbiters.

Thanks to Jay Adan of Greenfield Games and Jim Crocker of Modern Myths for their input on games retailing.

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1: TSR, or Tactical Studies Rules was a company founded to publish Dungeons and Dragons, the first role-playing game on the market. On the verge of bankruptcy, it was purchased by Wizards of the Coast in 1997.

2: Dungeons and Dragons was the creation of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It grew out of a medieval themed wargame called Chainmail. It was first published in 1974 by TSR.

3: In 1975, Flying Buffalo published Ken St. Andre’s game Tunnels & Trolls. It is widely considered to have been the second published role-playing game. Though thematically similar to Dungeons and Dragons, it diverged significantly in mechanics. There have been seven major editions of Tunnels & Trolls to date.

4: By contrast, Dungeons and Dragons originally retailed for $10.00.

5: It was only a flop for TSR. Empire of the Petal Throne (or Tekumel, as it is called today) has been in print, more or less continuously for 35 years.

6: Here, I am referring to mainstream, box titles–those you might expect to find on the shelves at your local GameStop. (Sometimes called AAA games–I am loath to call them that, as it seems to imply a certain degree of quality not always demonstrated in the products.) The last decade has seen the significant rise in a casual, and indie-games movement. These movements seem the result of the above, rather than part of the above.

7: http://www.develop-online.net/news/33625/Study-Average-dev-cost-as-high-as-28m It’s difficult to assign a simple metric in the changes in development costs. In 2000, the market looked different. Many productions focused on a single platform. Today, multi-platform development seems to be the norm.

8: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3078404/ns/technology_and_science-games/ This article, at least several years out of date, show a bit of how the retail price has changed over the past decade. A quick look at new releases indicates that $60.00 is the norm.

9: Again, I am referring to mainstream, box titles. Massively Multiplayer, Casual and indie-games have their own pricing structures, with many eschewing a retail price entirely (most notably, social networking-centric casual games).

10: The latest edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play retails for $99.00. In Q3 of 2010 it was the third best selling role-playing game, behind only Dungeons and Dragons and Paizo’s Pathfinder (itself a version of Dungeons and Dragons).

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This comic was written during the frenzy surrounding the Amy Bishop shooting at the University of Alabama. The intrepid reporters at the Boston Herald dug up the valuable and pertinent insight that Ms. Bishop played Dungeons and Dragons in college. This comic was my attempt to better understand the relationship between media (particularly interactive media) and anti-social behavior.


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Years ago, two designers at the game development company I worked for were talking about “cellular automata.” I didn’t really pay too much attention to the conversation (beyond remembering the name). Much later, I was reading the book “Hackers,” by Steven Levy and came across a chapter almost completely devoted to the concept. It’s a wonderful metaphor: unpredictable complexity from the application of time to simple rules.

The Game of Life

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This game had two iterations: one in which the player peered through a tank periscope teeming with MRSI, and one that didn’t require such faith in the cleanliness of others. It was an early example in a three-dee environment built mathematically.


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A never before seen short history of the video game Zork. Zork was one of the very first video games I remember playing outside an arcade. Infocom (having long since been subsumed and scuttled by other companies) retains a special place in my heart for their clever, difficult and adventurous games!


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Last month I created a series of comics for The Escapist‘s webcomic contest. I didn’t win. I intend to periodically create these, as they’re of a personal interest. Click to view the full size!


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