Category Archives: general

Vintage Games 2.0 Update

Time to celebrate!

Hi, all! I just heard back from Sean, my editor at Focal Press. The manuscript has been received, and I’ll soon be assigned a production editor to get us to the finish line. I really think you guys and gals will LOVE this thing. I dug deep to find the stories, quotes, and context that will really suck you in.

Some of my favorite parts:

  • Shigeru Miyamoto’s development of Donkey Kong. What will you use the fire button for, Miyamoto? Fire button–what fire button???
  • Will Wright and Sid Meier’s struggle to get anyone to believe in their “stupid” ideas for SimCity and Civilization. Who in their right mind would want to play such boring games?
  • An anxiety-ridden Iwatani hiding out in a movie theater to see if any of the couples filing out would notice his bizarre arcade game–Pac-Man!
  • Grand Theft Auto was boring and full of glitches. But wait–one of them turned out to be its greatest feature!
  • A smug journalist told Sega’s Nilsen, “The Super Nintendo has 32,768 colors. Your Genesis only has 512. What are you going to do?” Nilsen pointed at a screen behind him, where Sonic the Hedgehog was playing. “That.”

I wish the book was out already! I can’t wait to see what you all think about it. For those wanting signed copies, keep in touch. I’ll keep you posted on publication dates and such.




Kickstarting Free Software

I meant to respond in more depth to a part of my last segment with Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, but a cold and a massive time crunch (plus an unstoppable Civ 5 binge) kept me from appending to the video. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a blog post, so I’ll just sketch out my response here instead.

First, a bit of history. As some long-time followers know, I used to be something of a cheerleader for the free software movement, doing cover features for Free Software Magazine and writing articles on it for Armchair Arcade. At the time, I was convinced that GNU/Linux was the future I wanted to fight for, and that anything other than 100% free software was unethical. To put it short, I had drunk the Kool-Aid.

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Was Sir-Tech’s Wizardry A Rip-Off of Oubliette?

I was writing a chapter about one of my favorite silver-age CRPGs, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord today. It’s been awhile since I dug into the research, and was intrigued by one of CRPG Addict’s posts about its key inspiration, Oubliette. Oubliette was one of many highly innovative and ahead-of-their-time games for the PLATO system, which has been on my mind since my most recent interview with Richard Bartle, the main main responsible for MUD (forthcoming on Matt Chat). Bartle got pretty animated when the subject of PLATO came up. In his opinion, the influence of PLATO and its games is highly exaggerated. In his case, apparently people tend to claim or insinuate that he himself was inspired to create MUD after playing some MUD-like games on the system, though he’d never even heard of it.

Real-time combat! Or, at least timed combat...

Died on my first encounter. Yep, this definitely smacks of Wizardry!!!

Of course, in my interview with Robert Woodhead (co-creator of Wizardry), the subject of PLATO came up, too. Woodhead was very passionate about how influential PLATO had been, and as far as I know never made a secret of his passion for several PLATO games, including Oubliette, whose influence on Wizardry is clear to see (as CRPG Addict makes clear). Anyway, I noticed some pretty heated comments on CRPG Addict’s post, including some from Corey Cole, co-designer of Quest for Glory. Cole pointed out that basically there was no wrongdoing here, since the development context of Oubliette was entirely different (even though its designers did go on later to attempt a few commercial releases, one for the C64 and a more recent one for mobiles). In any case, I do have to agree with CRPG Addict that it’s a little odd that there wasn’t even a slight nod to the original game to be seen.

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Matt Chat’s Audio Podcast for April

Hi, guys. I’m back this month with a new audio podcast. I talk a bit about Pillars of Eternity and my Matt Chat fantasies before moving into an interview with Dan Nezmar of Team21, the company currently running the Dungeons of Aledorn kickstarter.

Download the mp3 here.

How to Watch Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution

Since I keep getting requests from individuals curious about my movie, Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution, I thought I’d make a post with links to all the various ways you can watch this masterpiece of modern cinema. Here’s what distinguished film critic Tyler Yates of Red Carpet Crash has to say about it:

‘Gameplay’ is one of the best (if not the best) documentaries on the videogame revolution. It just hits the phenomenon from so many different angles and puts so much work and passion into its presentation. Also, it features a lot of old school videogame play AND commercials. This is definitely a movie to check out, learn a little something, and get nostalgic over.

It’s not yet available on disc or Netflix. But there are plenty of great options:

  1. Google Play (Rent: $3.99, Buy: $9.99 $5.99)
  2. iTunes ($12.99)
  3. Amazon Instant ($4.99-$9.99)
  4. Xbox Video (Rent: $3.99, Buy $8.99)
  5. Vudu (Rent: $4.99, Buy $9.99)
  6. PlayStation (Rent: $3.99,  Buy: $14.99)
  7. Vimeo (Rent: $4.99, buy $12.99)

If you’re not based in the USA, try the Vimeo version first. I have reports that it’s working in Germany and at least two other countries.

I recommend that you select an HD version for a big screen, but the SD versions are significantly cheaper.

In any case, please watch the film if you haven’t already, and let me know what you think! I really think you’ll like this one a lot better than most of the other videogame docs out there.


Susan Manley Interview with Matt Barton of Matt Chat

Below is the transcript of an interview I did with Susan Manley, former lead artist and project manager for SSI and now a COO and Executive Producer for Olde Skuul. If you prefer to watch the videos, click below for the automated playlist of the entire series. Otherwise, enjoy!

Matt: Hi, folks, I’m here with the great Susan Manley, the COO and Executive Producer of Olde Skuul. Formerly, she was the lead artist and project manager of SSI, a company you’re probably familiar with if you watch this show. She was also the first ever project manager for internally developed projects for a little company named Electronic Arts. How are you today, Susan?

Susan: I am good. I think that I was employee 236, so we weren’t too small then.

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Ed Fries Interview with Matt Barton of Matt Chat

Below is the transcript of an interview I did with Ed Fries. If you prefer to watch the videos, click the link below, which is a playlist that will take you through all of them. Otherwise, scroll down for the transcription!

If you want someone to transcribe your videos, shoot Max Shelton an email at writingmax at gmail dot com.

Matt:  All right folks.  I’m here with the legendary Ed Fries.  The former Vice President of game publishing at Microsoft.  He’s basically the guy who gave the thumbs up or down to the Xbox titles, and played a huge role in creating the Xbox.  Does that sound about right? (laughs).

Ed: (Laughs)  The older I get the more legendary I get. I noticed that. (laughs)

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Surveillance on Spy Games

Duke-TogoAs you probably know, Retro Magazine is the coolest magazine in the world for folks interested in retrogaming. If you’re not already subscribed to it, I may have to come over to your place and slap you with a fish. For the next issue, I’ve been tapped by the editors to put to put together a feature article on spy games. Spy games? What the heck does Matt know about spy games? Sadly, not a lot! However, I’ve been giving myself a crash course in the genre and trying to get to know these characters:

  • Duke Togo (Golgo 13)
  • Gabriel Logan (Syphon Filter)
  • James Bond (GoldenEye N64)
  • Michael Thorton (Alpha Protocol)
  • Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell)

Sadly, I only recognized one name from this list: Bond, James Bond! Thankfully, I have played all the way through GoldenEye, albeit on my DS rather than the N64 (though I’m pretty sure I own it for both). I’ve always been a James Bond fan–I grew up watching Roger Moore-era Bond movies that we rented from the local VHS place. The fact that the VCR came in a cool suitcase seemed appropriate for watching a secret agent movie!

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Seduction of the Stupid?: Some Thoughts on GamerGate

Seduction_of_the_InnocentBack in 1954, a psychiatric whistle blower named Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which made all sorts of alarmist claims about the comics book industry.  Unbeknownst to the general public, the supposedly kid-friendly world of comics was anything but, and were, in fact, dripping with filth and the vilest of themes, including excessively graphic violence and sexual obscenities.

While some of his claims seemed questionable then and now (Superman as a fascist? Batman and Robin as lovers?) Wertham did a marvelous job drawing the public’s attention to some of the worst excesses of the comics industry. The comics industry responded by adopting a “Comics Code” sanitizing regime that threw the baby out with the bathwater. These efforts stunted the American comics book industry, which soon lagged behind other countries in terms of art and themes. Serious comic book authors in this country either went underground, gave up, or produced childish, squeaky-clean stories purged of meaningful content.

My point is not that the comics industry needed no regulation–simply that the reaction went much too far, and ended up stifling creative freedom in the process. And, if we’re not careful, the same thing–if not worse–is about to happen to American video games.

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The Ideology of the Games Industry

It’s hard to believe that Horkheimer and Adorno’s landmark essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception was written as far back as 1944. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you use the link here to check it out. While I certainly don’t agree with everything in it–it seems to leave me with a feeling of hopelessness rather than empowerment–some of their criticisms really strike a chord with me. I thought it’d be worthwhile to make some connections between their essay and the “games industry.” My point for doing so is that the “games industry” is seemingly unabashedly committed to ally with a purely capitalist ideology–that is, to openly admit that the whole affair is driven only by profits, catering solely to the lowest common denominator, content to reify the status quo and all its inequities, and completely uninterested in producing anything resembling art in the fine arts sense or criticism in any sense. I know many game designers who do aspire to do much more than provide cheap, soulless amusement for the masses, but their aspirations are as worthless as the games they make instead.

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