All posts by Christopher

About Christopher

As a life-long gamer and Apple fanboy, Chris looks forward to bringing his critical wit and creativity to the NoDpad team. A self-proclaimed geek, Chris loves the distribution channel the app store brings to video game industry and hopes gamers and developers alike will continue to support the iPhone as a solid gaming platform. Besides video games, he also enjoys film theory, classic literature, and American football.

Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone: 1978

Coming off of its biggest year in its history, the video game industry was gaining momentum, but a split had developed between the then traditional arcade experience and the new home video game console.  By 1978, families could spend a few hundred dollars on a home console that provided countless hours of game play for everyone.  Although arcade games at the time far exceeded the computational capabilities of any home system on the market, the benefit of endless gaming at home drew much of the market away from the bars and bowling alleys that had helped spawn this revolution.  Arcade developers needed an ace up their sleeve.

Although owning an Atari was less expensive in the long run, true gamers found the graphical limitations of home gaming to be a bit of a letdown.  Many gaming fanboys owned an Atari, but several were coaxed back to the arcade experience when better games arrived.  In light of original Star Wars shattering all movie box office records a year before, it probably comes as no surprise that 1978 saw two great space games for the arcade; both are available on the iPhone.

Space Invaders- TAITO’s Space Invaders was THE game of the year.  This deceptively simply, bottom-up vertical shooter is a quintessential classic that has recently seen new life on the iPhone.  Rows of aliens descend upon Earth.  As they shower down bullets, the player fires back at the onslaught to protect its home.  The original along with countless clones are available on the app store, but contemporary gamers may enjoy its update: Space Invaders: Infinity Gene.  Custom made for the iPhone by the legendary TAITO, this re-imagining keeps the original spirit of the shooter alive by adding seemingly endless but clever mutations on the same theme.  Not only have the graphics been updated for the modern gamer, the gameplay has been greatly improved versus its now-clunky predecessor.  This may be the best reborn retro game on the iPhone.

Space Invaders on the iPhone: original (left) and update (middle and right)

Asteroids- To a lesser degree, another space shooter named Asteroids found it’s own way into the hearts and minds of fans.  This top-down space shooter gave gamers a different view of space largely due to its vector-based graphical presentation.  Instead of designing numerous dots to represent characters on a screen, vector uses a series of points to draw lines.  This allowed developers to design better graphics within the computational limitations of processors at the time.  The outcome was a monochromatic draft art style that became iconic for video games of that time.  Vector-based games mostly died out in the 80’s, but the technology is still used in many illustration applications today.  For those wanting to experience vector in all its glory, check out roids79 or Tractor Beam for the iPhone.  For those seeking the gameplay without the old school graphics, check out Advanced ROX, a visually stunning top-down space shooter.

Left: original Asteroids Middle: iPhone's Tractor Beam Right: iPhone's Advanced ROX

Check back with us every so often for more gaming history with our continuing series Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone.  For more in this series, click here.

Could the iPad Save Publishing? No, but… well Maybe

With the introduction of the iPad a couple of weeks ago, the oracle himself, Steve Jobs, stated that the device was the single most important thing he’s ever done because it could single-handedly save the publishing industry.  Jobs may be reaching for the stars with this one if he expect this new device to be much more than a Kindle/iTouch hybrid.  If the current business models are followed, there’s no way the iPad will reach the critical mass acceptance unless…

Before going further, let’s consider the facts:  the iPad is really an Apple entry device designed to take on the Kindle as a reading machine.  Although the iPod has enjoyed huge success, it’s profitability stems not from the device itself but from it being a gateway drug of sorts into the entire Mac world.  How profitable would these little devices be if they didn’t lead consumers to buy music, games, and apps through Apple’s own iTunes?  Also consider how many more people own a Mac computer now because they were introduced to the Apple brand through the quirky iPod.

As for my personal thoughts on the iPad, it’s far too big to be considered a portable gaming device.  Right now I carry my iTouch everywhere I go.  Something the iPad’s size isn’t conducive to such.  I’d only take a device this big with me on long trips for gaming and/or reading, but I wouldn’t break it out casually while for a table at a restaurant.  It might be a neat, coffee table device in homes for table top games or the newspaper reading, but this appeal is limited.  Steve Jobs has great intuition, but the iPad alone isn’t going to turn Apple fans into subscribers of on-line newspapers; this isn’t going to save the print industry unless…

A bigger, untapped market is educational computing.  Education and the publishing have been married ever since education began in America.  Jobs could be hinting at joining this marriage via the iPad.  A device like the iPad would be an ideal candidate to replace the aging, clunky tower and monitor systems schools now have.  Not only would administrators no longer have to worry about the upkeep of ancient wired networks, schools with wifi, could upgrade every iPad in a kid’s hand through iTunes U in a matter on an hour or so.  Apple could generously include a base version of pages along with optional, virtual textbooks.  Kids could read books online and then email their homework into their teacher on a daily or hourly basis.  Worksheets, along with the costs of paper and endless copies, could also be a thing of the past; independent developers could write interactive software that could uniquely practice and test the skills the students need to know.  Instead of finishing homework, students could be required to achieve a certain score in a math game to be considered proficient.  Having these portable devices in the hands of every student would not only increase motivation by allowing students to work at their own pace and receive instant feedback via realtime assessment, this would also mean kids wouldn’t need to run to their lockers to collect books or forgotten homework.

The iTouch is already being used in schools to allow underprivileged students access to the internet and email. The price of these types of machines will only drop.  If schools buy in bulk, these machines could cost just as much as a high-end scientific calculator which is currently about $200.  Giving an iPad-like device to every child entering high school would be cheaper than buying new text books and upgrading a mammoth computer systems every five to ten years.  It would also ensure that technology wouldn’t simply be taught in classrooms; it would be integrated in every class every day just as computers are a part of everyday business.  How does this relate to publishing?

The major hurdle preventing such a technological revolution in the classroom is the very industry Jobs is trying to “save” with the iPad.  Publishing companies have such strong lobbies with school districts and members of congress, it will be difficult to get tax monies rerouted to fund such an effort.  In short, Jobs would have to make sure publishers get a big enough piece of the pie through virtual textbook revenues that they don’t cry foul.  It’s doubtful publishers will play along, but that may be the very reason why Jobs is promoting the iPad as a neat, little savior of the publishing industry.  Even if it may not be incredibly profitable at first, the iPad (with its new ties to publishing through a nifty addition to iTunes) may harbor enough good will to open the door up for an arrangement such as this.  IBM and Apple were able to convince similar folks to brings computers into the classroom in the 80s.  Distributing the iPad (or something very similar) into our schools could be the next step, and that truly would be the most important thing Steve Jobs could do in his lifetime.

Aurora Feint II: Arena Daemons FREE

No D-pad has just learned that the great single screen RPG/puzzler hybrid Aurora Feint II: Arena Daemons is free for a limited time in the app store.  Even if you think this game might not be your cup of tea, we recommend at least downloading it and taking a look; it’s two prequels (Aurora Feint and Aurora Feint II: The Beginning) have been surprisingly solid titles.  Aurora Feint II: The Beginning even won iPGN’s Game of the Year in 2008.  Take advantage of the offer while you can.

Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone: 1977

It’s hard to explain how momentous 1977 was for the world of gaming.  For the first time average consumers began to believe that these quirky little games could become more than a passing fad.  Instead of blockbuster titles, this year witnessed major industry changes that altered the course of video game history forever.  Nevertheless, there were a few great games that came out that year, and you can get them for your iPhone.

Hardware/Software- While Nintendo was proudly promoting Light Tennis– another Pong clone– as the world’s first multicolor video game, the U.S. outfit Atari was set to revolutionize distribution.  Before this, a handful of games found individual success both at home and in arcades, but that began to change with the Atari 2600.  The first system to feature a hub microprocessor (AKA hardware) and interchangeable cartridges (AKA software), this machine quickly became the industry kingpin.  Up and coming game developers could now skip the critical step of creating of an entire machine that would play their game; instead they could redirect their resources on game development alone.  This meant gamers enjoyed more titles more quickly; it also solidified Atari as the first titan of the industry.

The Atari: the first titan in home gaming

Industry Trends- Home gaming wasn’t the only avenue the industry was pursuing.  After selling Atari for a very nice profit earlier that year, Nolan Bushnell– its founder– created a new arcade model that centered around kids.  When the first Pizza Time Theater (later Chuck E. Cheese’s and Showbiz Pizza) opened, it practically guaranteed a new generation of obsessive gamers.  LED technology even allowed handheld gaming to take a big leap forward.  Not only was Missile Attack (a tower defense game where players defended NYC from a barrage of incoming missiles) the first pint-sized game, it was also the first game to suffer from media backlash.  Advertisements were pulled from television fearing kids would think NYC was really under attack.  Note: This concept did eventually find its way into consumers’ hands in 1980 when Missile Command finally made its way into arcades; Atari has since released a new version of the classic game for the iPhone.  Although this game features both an update and a classic mode, the $4.99 price tag may be asking a bit much.  For those looking a for similar experience for free, check out Guardian Missile Commander.

Left: Banned Missile Attack Center: 1980's Missile Command Right: iPhone Missile Command

The Best in Gaming- Ironically, the two biggest titles of the year didn’t come from the arcade or the Atari.  Mattel’s portable electronic football game simply titled Football enjoyed great success.  This red-dot run and dodge classic has been re-marketed several times over the years.  Most recently, touchGrove has meticulously cloned this early handheld with great care for the iPhone.  LED Football and it’s green sequel LED Football 2 are both available in the app store for $0.99, but for those wanting to recapture some of this early excitement with a more modern experience, Backbreaker Football is a dynamite successor.  Home computer gamers weren’t slighted either; Zork: The Underground Empire, a tongue-in-cheek homage to Dungeons and Dragons, would go on to become the home computer’s first mega-hit.

LED Football over the years

In many respects, 1977 was the year video games came home.  The release of the Atari 2600 boxed many arcade game makers into a corner, even despite the budding kiddie pizza parlor business.  Arcades needed to strike back with a blockbuster title that would re-establish its stronghold on hardcore on gamers.  It would take a year before that title would arrive.

Check back with us every week for a more gaming history with our continuing series Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone.  For more in this series, click here.

Note: Zork: The Underground Empire is available in the app store with the Frotz interactive fiction app.

Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone: 1975-76

Every week for the next couple of months, No D-pad will spotlight key games from the last 40 years of gaming.  Not only will this retrospective give readers a brief history of the industry, we will also point out notable classics and clones from that bygone era that are now available in the app store.  We hope you enjoy.

1975- While home gaming was growing in popularity due to the now infamous device known as Pong, a new type of game was entering the scene for computer gamers who wanted a more cerebral experience.  Graphical limitations and memory constraints confined games to small stories on single screens.  Expansive worlds found in contemporary FPSs and RPGs were simply impossible to create unless the experience came from the mind.  A few techno-savvy computer students decided to take up the challenge of providing bigger worlds and more plots to video games by spawning a new genre of games: text adventures AKA interactive fiction.

Left: screenshot from Advent Right: Frotz for the iPhone
Like an interactive book, players would read a paragraph or two about their surroundings and then proceed to manipulate their virtual world by typing messages back to the mainframe.  In many ways these simple IF-statement games laid the groundwork for inclusion of story development in all video games.  Although these early games were buggy, they evolved quickly into complex puzzler or in-depth character-driven mysteries.  The very first game of this type was a title called Adventure (also Colossal Cave); it is now available for free in the app store under the name Advent.  The app store also has a great collection of 255 other text adventures in one free downloadable package titled Frotz.
Dual stick controls over the years
Midway's Gunfight and the iPhone's Minigore: both are dual stick shooters

Other notable events from 1975 include the first-ever dual joystick shooter called Gun Fight by Midway.  This arcade title wasn’t a big hit at the time, but the idea of utilizing two controls– one for the movement of the player and the other for aim of the gun– had a monumental effect twenty-years later when the concept was shrank down utilized by both Nintendo and Sony in their home systems.  Now the dual stick is just a common to video games as Mario.  For a great dual stick experience on the iPhone check out Minigore or the upcoming Pirate’s Gold.

1976- Lots of exciting things were being developed in 1976, but not much found its way to consumers that year.  Breakout, designed by Apple’s own Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, is the notable exception.  Similar to Pong in design, the purpose of the game is to reflect an ever-bouncing all at a series bricks at the top of the screen.  Once all the blocks were gone, players would advance to the next level.  Super Breakout is now available on the iPhone.  But if you want something closer to the original, try the clone BrickOut.  Like the calm before a great storm, this year was slow for the budding video game industry, but things would quickly change.  The industry would soon experience major shifts that would set the course of video gaming for years to come.

Left: 1976's Break Out Middle: iPhone clone BrickOut Right: Super Breakout

Check back with us every week for more gaming history with our continuing series Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone.  For more in this series, click here.