ZHUKOV VIDEO random header image

In Defense of the Atari 7800

23 / 09 / 10 14:48 · 1 Comment

The Atari 7800 is a truly underrated and oft-overlooked game system.

It is the only Atari machine that truly fulfills the promise of every game system before it: arcade-perfect ports of classic games. No longer would classics such as Ms. Pac Man be butchered beyond recognition by hardware that wasn’t up to the task. Seriously, the versions of Dig Dug, Ms. Pac Man, Food Fight, and Donkey Kong Jr. for the Atari 7800 are *the* kinds of experiences you would want from anything called Atari.

Unfortunately this achievement came just one generation too late. With the NES in full-swing, players were no longer thirsting after perfect ports of arcade classics. Thanks to Nintendo and Sega, they now had access to great original software developed for the home a la Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. It was at this moment in time that the arcade experience was finally surpassed by the home video game console, a blow from which arcades were never able to recover.

I still think the Atari 7800 represents a good deal for the retro enthusiast on a budget. Despite the tragically small library of Atari 7800 games, the Atari 7800 features backwards compatibility with the Atari 2600, only the most popular video game system of all time. Not a bad feature to boast. Two systems for the price of one.

So here’s to you, Atari 7800! Shine on you crazy diamond!

→ 1 CommentTags: Games

Why the iPhone/iPad can’t be the future of videogames.

22 / 08 / 10 14:20 · No Comments

The iPhone and iPad are not the future of gaming. Ironically, it took a rather spectacular game, Castlevania: Encore of the Night, to help me fully conclude this.

You’d think Castlevania: Encore of the Night would be as convincing a title as any as to the promise of iPhone/iPad gaming. Its got great 2d visuals, awesome music, and familiar RPG elements all wrapped in a thoughtful Puzzle Fighter-esque sort of puzzle game. It’s a card-carrying member of one of traditional videogaming’s longest running and most well-regarded franchises, Castlevania by Konami.

What’s the problem, then? It’s a puzzle game, albeit a fine one, which really begs the question, why aren’t we playing a traditional Castlevania game on the iPhone/iPad? It’s because we can’t. With the lack of tactile controls, use of a traditional directional pad and buttons aren’t available and movement would either be reduced to a tiresome tap and drag affair or to a pathetic on-screen representation of a directional pad and buttons.

Even Castlevania: Encore of the Night, despite its good design, is rather a chore to play. (You have to click on each block to rotate it and ‘swipe’ to move it left or right). What does it say about the iPhone/iPad that it can’t even play Commodore 64 games properly (via the admittedly cool Commodore 64 emulator now available in the iTunes store). The player has to use an onscreen representation of a joystick and button, thus impairing control and reducing screen real-estate dramatically. Think about that. A 30-year old gaming machine with 64k of memory can outperform this machine at certain gaming-related tasks.

You might argue that I can’t expect ‘traditional’ games to work in the iPhone/iPad, and that these platforms require both developers and gamers to think of new types of games and new ways to play them. You might insinuate that the days of directional pads and buttons have gone the way of the Atari 2600 joystick before it, deep into oblivion or into nostalgic fantasies, whichever comes first.

You’d be both right and wrong. Yes, the iPhone/iPad enables new types of games, many of which have not been done before, and that’s great. It’s bringing new people into gaming, which is also great. Does this mean the old games are inferior or past their prime? Not a chance.

The “traditional” videogame (with tactile controls) has been around for over 30 years producing countless genres, variations, experiments, and experiences. Can a touch screen provide the same diversity of experiences? Color me unconvinced. The gestures just seem too imprecise on such a small screen and with such fat fingers.

I think the time is ripe for a mobile phone with simple gaming controls included to help bring a more complete gaming experience to the masses. A directional pad, two buttons, and perhaps two shoulder buttons would certainly suffice.

One wonders why Nintendo didn’t every attempt such a hybrid device. At the time of the Wii launch with the Nintendo DS riding high, Nintendo’s reputation was sparkling and it seemed that they could do no wrong. Even the simple, glossy white look of their peripherals, consoles, and interfaces was downright Apple-esque. A Nintendo DS with even a marginal phone built in, courtesy of a partner in the mobile phone industry, seems like it could have been a success, or at least an interesting failure.

Nintendo was probably wise not to make such a gambit, as navigating Nintendo’s online store via the Wii leaves a lot to be desired from a user interface standpoint. Designing a full-fledged phone would certainly have been biting off more than they could have chewed.

The iPhone/iPad might be great for simple games on the bus, but they’re not the future of videogaming. Not until they can play Castlevania. The Castlevania from 1986, that is.

Castlevania in 1986. Inexplicably better than today?

→ No CommentsTags: Games · Uncategorized

Farwell, Mercury.

13 / 06 / 10 19:07 · No Comments

It’s hard to tell if there’ll be many mourners to lament the passing of Ford’s Mercury brand this year, and I’d be lying if I called myself one of them; however, I’ve always found interesting the brand’s utter failure to assert itself in any regard.

It would be hard to argue that Mercury’s proudest moment wasn’t the original Mercury Cougar musclecars of the 60s and 70s; however, Mercury, the owners of a long lineage dating back to the 30s, have been more synonymous with anonymity than anything else since then.

Ford and Lincoln certainly put Mercury in a hard position. If Mercury was to inhabit some middle zone (either as a pseudo-luxury Ford or a junior Lincoln) between the two, it’s hard to say what such a car would be like. After all, Lincoln never established itself as the import-fighting, cutting-edge luxury brand it could have been (think Cadillac). Most still associate Lincoln with Town Cars. That doesn’t leave much space for Mercury. Is it a pseudo-pseudo luxury car? Who wants that?

The front-wheel drive return of the Mercury Cougar was certainly the brand’s most (only?) notable car the 1990s/2000s. With an attractive coupe body not shared with Ford or any of its other subsidiaries, the Cougar seemed to be, finally, a Mercury with some identity and some edge. I remember slapping my forehead in disgust when I learned that Mercury had opted to release a version with “French Blue” paint instead of a version featuring the SVT Contour’s 200 horsepower V6 Duratec engine, a move that would have put the Cougar in the same class as the Acura Integra Type-R and other hot, relevant performance coupes of the decade. Of course, the Cougar instead became another also-ran and quickly faded from existence in an all too typical conclusion for Mercury. Well, at least they won’t have Mercury to kick around anymore.

→ No CommentsTags: cars

Encounter with the Double Down

16 / 04 / 10 13:50 · 3 Comments

KFC recently challenged me to DOUBLE DOWN. I can only assume this implies that I will have to wager BOTH my dignity and perhaps my life for the chance to earn the pride (or shame) that lasts a lifetime; the knowledge of being the only kid on my block with the cojones large enough to eat an entire DOUBLE DOWN sandwich. It’s a good thing the colonel is already deep in his grave because this sandwich surely would have sent him 6 feet under in a matter of moments.

For those of you who don’t know, the DOUBLE DOWN is KFC’s bold bid to rid the planet of both napkins and breaded buns in one fell swoop. A sandwich where the ‘buns’ are two fried fillets of chicken. Inside, of course, you’ll find monterey and pepper jack cheeses, ‘special sauce’, and two strips of bacon.

The Double Down is a strange asteroid of a sandwich. As you can see, the appearance is craglike and… unappealing. The sandwich smells good, though! Not unlike… fried chicken! I sit down in the secluded corner of my local KFC to begin my experience… for science, of course.

Upon first clutching the Double Down in my shaky and slightly sweating palms, I can say that supporters of napkins and buns can breathe easy for the time being — napkins and buns will live to see another day. Despite KFC’s revolutionary claims, holding the DOUBLE DOWN leaves your hands greasy and soiled, as expected.

I take my first bite… and I taste a familliar flavor, one that has graced the world’s finest cuisines for thousands of years…

Salt! Lots of it! Salt! Overwhelming every pore of my body and every atom of my being. 1300+ milligrams of sodium will do that, I guess. It is another 15 seconds and two cups of diet Pepsi before my vision is restored and I am able to continue.

There’s bacon, cheese and sauce in this sandwich, supposedly. I mean, I know I can see them, but… I can’t taste them. All I can taste is salt. Seriously. Other than that, it tastes like a piece of fried chicken from KFC with some goo inside. Whatever flavor the special sauce contains, I am unable to identify or discern it.

I stumble out of the KFC feeling slightly disappointed. I am still alive, after all. And although I admire the ingenuity of the KFC exec who dared to follow up the company’s successful and health-conscious “Kentucky Grilled Chicken” campaign with this abomination, humanity will have to wait with baited breath just a tad longer to witness the demise of the pesky scourge of napkins and buns. I do wonder if the sandwich would not be made more enjoyable with less salt. Then again, it was probably some sodium-based preservative that was behind the campaign to transform a piece of fried chicken into a bun, a notion that seems ridiculous in hindsight.

Try the DOUBLE DOWN for yourself, if you dare.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Beautiful Vixen

19 / 12 / 08 20:17 · No Comments

On my way to the bar last night I stumbled upon one of these amazing automotive beasts. It was slung low and long, looking like some sort of cross between between a Star Tours ship, a BART train, and a Volkswagen bus. Upon closer inspection I was shocked to learn that this was a BMW! A BMW VIXEN!

A vehicle so obscure, it even lacks its own Wikipedia entry. I mean, even Canada’s pride, the Bricklin SV-1, has a Wikipedia entry. Perhaps understandable as there were only 587 Vixens ever made.

Some further research indicates that the Vixen was actually American, with a portion of the cars (homes? craft?) being powered by a BMW-made turbo-diesel, thus earning them the right privilege to brand them.

Apparently the Vixen could earn up to 30 miles to the gallon (!), cost ~$40,000 and included a microwave, a refrigerator, a sink with running water, and a bathroom. Can you imagine the joy of crossing our beautiful country in one of these cosmic starcraft? I say, BRING BACK THE VIXEN!

Until that happy day, feast your eyes on these delightful Vixens.

→ No CommentsTags: cars

Play Minotaur China Shop

17 / 12 / 08 16:59 · 1 Comment

Minotaur China Shop is in many ways everything a good online game should be. Crisp graphics, simple gameplay with a subtle sense of strategy. These attributes are paired nicely with a solid soundtrack and a completely unique and humor-filled premise.

What’s that premise, you ask? You play as a entrepreneurial Minotaur interested in running his own china shop. Serve customers their desired items to earn a profit. Along the way, your bumbling Minotaur will inevitably knock over shelves and stomp your own valuable wares. When this happens, you can opt to pull the videogame equivalent of “shooting the moon” by entering a rage and destroying your entire shop (or as much as you can before security takes you down) to collect insurance payments.

You need the Unity Player Plugin to play the game through your web browser. Since I’ve been poking around game development, the issue of universality and platform compatibility is an important one. To me, Flash games are perfect in this regard since Flash is already installed on upwards of 90% of web browsers. The Unity Player, although reputable, has far less of an installed base. The great majority of players will have to download the plugin to play. Despite the high quality of games produced with the engine, this makes distributing and getting people to try your game exceedingly difficult. How many of you who read this, for instance, will decide not to try the game due to this seemingly simple yet undeniably disconcerting requirement? If I’m the developer- probably too many.

→ 1 CommentTags: Games

Eat your Serial

01 / 12 / 08 20:50 · No Comments

I’ve been asked a few times if I’ve seen any good movies lately. Although the last movie I actually was cajoled into seeing in the theatre was the entirely regrettable Indiana Jones 4. I felt like I’ve been watching lots of movies.

It’s because I’ve been buried deep in a prolonged DVD marathon of some of HBO’s finest serial dramas: The Wire, Carnivale, and The Sopranos.

Since these series are not exactly new, I expect to be called late to the party by proclaiming the serial drama as the storytelling form of the present and immediate future.

Nonetheless, I’ve come to the conclusion that television serial dramas are a superior form of storytelling than the traditional 2 hour film. I’m not arguing that great stories haven’t been told in movies and won’t continue to be told in the future; however, the amount of character development, backstory, subplots, conflicts, rises, and falls you can fit in say, 50 hour-long episodes of a television show just can’t be crammed into a two and a half hour movie.

I’m not arguing quantity over quality. But all things considered equal, (production values, acting, writing, etc.), you can craft a story with greater depth given more time.

Serial content is not just episodic content. Episodic content is nothing new; pretty much every narrative on television is episodic. You never need to know what happened in the last episode of Law and Order or the last episode of Full House to understand and enjoy (well, that may be a taller order) the next episode; the events in the previous episode (usually) have no bearing on the next. These are independent stories told with familiar characters. Such is not the case with a serial drama, which represents one large story arc told in installments. Seeing prior episodes is essential to understanding the context in which the characters operate. But perhaps this is why so many otherwise quality serial dramas ultimately fail on television. It’s too hard to catch up or understand what’s going on if you’ve missed a week or two, or, god forbid, try to join a season half-way through.

The serial drama is a more perfect form presented through the wrong medium. These shows belong not on TV but on DVDs, where they can be watched in sequence (as many or as few as desired), but more importantly, in their entirety. The fact that these stories don’t fit on television is painfully clear in early examples of serial dramas such as Twin Peaks, where NBC tried to get new viewers “up-to-date” on characters through painful exposition with forced flashbacks and recaps. It ended, some would say prematurely, after two seasons.

There’s no reason to limit the serial to drama, either. Arrested Development is a fine example of a serial comedy. It’s telling that this show also failed after just two seasons on television but retains a cult following, and, as any loyalist will tell you, is surely best enjoyed on DVD. How much richer are jokes that require subtle understanding of past events than the generic gags of a 30-minute sitcom whose redeeming quality is merely that it can be understood by anyone devoid of all but the most basic context? Arrested Development is both more challenging and more rewarding than the usual television comedy.

Naturally, I expect serial content to come to the web, and not just as re-broadcasts of television. Perhaps the best example so far is Channel101/Channel102 – every month live audiences vote on whether or not to allow independently-made series to continue for another episode. The result is a library of ‘seasons’ of independent content. They’re short and mostly comedies, but once the production values and writing catches up, I dream of full-length, web-based serial dramas. The O.G. Shutterbugs even has a few flashes of Arrested Development-style subtlety. Has anyone spotted these in the wild yet?

→ No CommentsTags: Video

On the Road

06 / 03 / 08 22:38 · 1 Comment

So, since apparently it’s the thing to do these days… I’m posting from South by Southwest in Austin!

I’ve never seen so many laptops on a flight. The plebs worked on their powerpoint presentations and excel spreadsheets while journeymen tackled javascript consoles and other various forms of coding. I stated my own claim to nerddom by blitzing through a couple hundred feeds in Google Reader’s clumsy but well-intentioned offline mode.

The grand prize has to go to a gentleman touching up some beautiful b&w photos in Apple’s fancy-ass Aperture: a program I may have deemed worthy of a purchase (or another term with a p) had I not been so thoroughly scared off by the putrid stench of iPhoto.

Until next time.

→ 1 CommentTags: Applications

Mini What?

20 / 02 / 08 21:39 · No Comments

They did the unthinkable.

They brought back the Fiat 500!

Call it late to the retro party, call it a Mini Cooper or New Beetle rip off, call it a Fiat– whatever. It just shows that you simply don’t know.

There is hope for this world yet.

→ No CommentsTags: cars · News

On the passing of Polaroid…

09 / 02 / 08 20:59 · No Comments

As you may have heard, Polaroid film will cease to be produced in the near future. This is sad. Some have routinely pointed out that with the advent of digital cameras, there is no longer a need for instantaneous film, or film at all for that matter.

Yes, digital pictures are instantly accessible, and yes, digital prints are easy to create at home or at the pharmacy, but I believe there’s something to be said for the appeal (and marketability?) of a camera that produces not only an instantaneous copy, but a tangible one. How many images are being hidden in unwieldy iPhoto libraries and how many are lost forever on decaying hard drive spindles? It’s good to have a print: you can see them without a screen. Are there any digital cameras on the market that can claim this functionality, without a plug-in photo printer? (Asking genuinely, not meaning to goad you film-haters out there.) Perhaps we’ll see the Polaroid name put to use on such a product, someday.

Expect tears from me when Kodak pulls the plug on Super-8… although others are ready to carry the torch. Maybe we can hope for the same from Polaroid?

→ No CommentsTags: photography