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Mary Clark

Games 4 Girls

Since my last update, I started and finished reading Brenda Laurel: Pioneering Games for Girls, the latest book in the Influential Video Game Designers series by Bloomsbury Publishing. I read it seeking some gendered historical analysis of 90s games and technology, but I got that and much more. Laurel’s innovative approaches to design were research-driven, interdisciplinary, and completely revolutionary for their time. 20 years later, I can see hints of her Human Computer Interaction philosophies in some of the software engineering design practices that I had learned. There’s a lot that I loved about this book that isn’t really related to the media anachronism project, but I highly recommend it. Laurel’s HCI book from the early 90s, Computers as Theatre, is near the top of my reading list now.

Moving on to what’s most relevant to the media anachronism project: games. One of Laurel’s biggest and most controversial areas of research was in games for girls: the types of games girls wanted to see, what topics they cared about, and how their play differed from boys. Her game company Purple Moon, known for creating the Rockett Movado and Secret Paths series, was the culimation of this research. The two series formed a dichotomy of whole interaction with the Rockett Movado universe: the Rockett Movado games focused on the external conflicts and responses of the player-controlled character Rockett, while the Secret Paths series explored the internal struggles of characters from the same series, and allowed the player to reflect on the conflict and the character’s final resolution. Neither of the games would try to assert that a choice the player made was right or wrong, but instead gave them practice in “social rehearsal” and inner reflection. For example, characters in Secret Paths would only provide their personal resolution at the end of the story arc, and not the external repercussion of their choice; players could see how the character came to a healthy resolution that fulfilled their personal values, and that was what mattered most. They were both critical series in the Games for Girls movement.

However, the games were criticized for their gendered play on both ends of the spectrum. Parents and critics didn’t really understand the game and found it boring compared to more masculine, male-targetted games of the time, but feminists criticized its stereotypical gameplay that put girls in emotional situations. I’m mixed on the issue: I think that if I had been old enough to be playing these games at the time that they were released, I would have loved them, but 22-year-old me can understand where feminist critics are coming from. We’re also two decades past the release of these games, and as the author—Carly Kocurek—hypothesizes, I think Purple Moon’s games were predecessors to today’s “emotional games” that usually aren’t gendered, so I think that a 2017, research-driven game for girls would be much different from those of the past. Much like Laurel herself believed, I think that all that really mattered was how preteen me would’ve felt about the games, and I think they would have been healthier for more than some of the other things I read/played.

As a result of my reading, I think I’m going to download or buy a copy of a Secret Paths game for the room, and either a copy of Barbie Fashion Designer (a competing game for girls made by Mattel) or a Rockett Movado game. I already have a copy of My Little Pony: Friendship Gardens for the room, which is a game for girls made by Hasbro, and I want to be able to contrast games like these with others from its genre.

In other updates: I got my copies of Myst and Sam & Max Hit the Road, and those are in the room but have not been installed anywhere. I also got a disk image of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that I’m really excited about, and next on my to-do list is to download a copy of DOOM from the Internet Archive. We are now using virtual machines to emulate old Windows versions on a PC, so this will make it easier to emulate disk images (I think).

Second Half of the Semester Update

I made a lot of progress in the last two weeks, so I’m just going to touch on everything I’ve done very briefly instead of just focusing on one item.

Task Rundown

This week and last week, I:

  • Uncovered a few old laptops and brought the best functioning laptop back to school.
  • Collected 90s game cartridges, software, and other items from my house.
  • Obtained some 90s computer games from a friend.
  • Ordered Myst and Sam & Max Hit the Road.
  • Read Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons, written in 2001.
  • Read through the 1990s publications of Computer Gaming World.

Exhibit Items

The laptop I brought back was a Compaq Armada 7370DMT from 1997, running Windows ME. It currently has some small games installed on it from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack, including Chip’s Challenge, SkiFree, Rodent’s Revenge, and Pipe Dream (Pipe Mania). Windows ME is probably farther from 90s than I would’ve liked; on the other hand, it’s a pretty forgettable OS from its time, and often nicknamed the “Mistake Edition”, so visitors might find it interesting to poke around with. There are also more important things to spend time on now that we’re in the second half of the semester, like actually making this thing connect to our local network, for example.

Including the laptop, I brought back a lot of 90s technology from my house, including Nintendo 64 cartridges (that we didn’t already have), SNES cartridges (just took them all), some VHS copies of films with their sleeves, some software and games from the late 90s and early 2000s (just in case), our N64 controllers, and a 1998 Pokédex! I really loved digging around in the basement for old stuff I used as a kid, so I’m hoping I’ll get to do more of that someday.

My awesome friend and dungeon master James has contributed several computer games that he and his brother played back in the 90s (thanks, James). My favorites so far are The Neverhood and Roller Coaster Tycoon Deluxe. He also gave me the point-and-click game Space Quest 6, the last in the comedy-cyberpunk Space Quest series by Sierra On-Line. I’d never heard of it until now, but it came out in March 1995, so it’s as old as I am. Neat.

Since I had decided they were important and rare enough to be bought, I ordered Myst and Sam & Max Hit the Road for the exhibit, both on CDs. I also considered buying DOOM, before remembering that it’s basically shareware now and buying it on floppy disks costs an ungodly amount of money.

Reading

My assigned reading for this week was Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons, in which Anne-Marie Schleiner analyses the original Tomb Raider and its fanbase through a feminist lens. I picked it because it was from 2001 and read it through more of a historical lens than a feminist one, so I didn’t get much out of it, but it was a good entrance into women in tech in the 90s, and games for women. I don’t really have much to say about it besides that.

I skimmed through the 1990s publications of CGW and found a lot of ads and articles on interesting games and software, most of which I had never heard of. Aesthetically, the magazines themselves looked much different than the ones I had viewed from the later 90s and had more of an 80s look. The ads were also much less in-your-face; there were fewer horror and hand-to-hand combat or shooter games advertised, and the content/images were much less chaotic. I would guess in advance that I’m going to see this change with the rise of 3D graphics and virtual reality. I also noticed that some CGW issues contained their “Top 100 Games”, as rated by their readers. A plethora of war games, action/arcade games, simulation, and strategy games were featured in the top 10, along with one roleplaying game and no adventure games. These rankings and the magazine’s ads indicated that most popular 1990 games featuring “modern violence”, i.e. 19th or 20th century combat, were military combat games in which players fought using war machines (see F-19 Stealth Fighter, Harpoon, and Their Finest Hour).

I enjoyed seeing the evolution of opinions on Loom, which was heavily advertised in several early issues and had a preview in the 70th issue (April 1990), but both the game and the preview were met with criticism seen in the 72nd issue (June 1990) after the game’s release in May 1990. In the “Letters from Paradise” column, one reader remarked that the preview was misleading and CGW’s writers should have “said point-blank that the game was deterministic and linear, not just ‘easy’”, but others praised the accuracy of the review and made no comment on the game itself. A review from the July/August 1990 issue in the Scorpion’s View—a column written by “Scorpia”, an “experienced and respected adventure game expert”—echoed these complaints about the linear gameplay and “watered down” plot elements; they explained that the game had good intentions with these mechanics and was still well constructed, but was just “too lightweight” for its genre. Finally, in the September 1990 issue, Loom won CGW’s Special Artistic Achievement Award.

Next week, I’m hoping to install some of the games that I’ve brought once we get the CD drive issues on the PC worked out, or I might try installing something on the Mac. I’m also going to download more early 90s games that are available as shareware on archive.org. I’ll also begin reading Brenda Laurel: Pioneering Games for Girls.

Digging in the Archives

(Content warning: suicide & self-harm)

Despite pre-spring break laziness, and excluding this blog post being 3 days late, last week was an incredibly productive one research-wise. I read Inspecting Video Game Historiography Through Critical Lens: Etymology of the First-Person Shooter Genre by Carl Therrien, which only surfaced in my readings-search at the beginning of the semester because of its inclusion of several 90s FPS games, but actually provided a substantial amount of research ideas and answered a question I’d asked in a previous blog post.

Therrien’s etymological research analyzed the development of the name “first-person shooter” for a game genre: what terms were used to describe similar games prior to the term’s creation, and what historical events and games led to “first-person” and “shooter” becoming the defining traits of this genre? This research is what finally explained the occurrence of “DOOM-like” in several sources I had read from the decade: DOOM preceded the use of FPS as a genre, so games that had the same perspective and gameplay as DOOM—usually other first-person, 3D action games or even just games with a first-person perspective, or “non-violent DOOM-likes”—were labelled by DOOM’s distinctive mastery of fast, 3D, first-person gameplay, since there was no defining genre given for games like DOOM yet. Similar first-person titles would use “3D” and “first-person” interchangeably, since 3D graphics achieved a more immersive experience than 2D shooting games had, and shooter games would use terms ranging from “shoot ‘em up” to the more vague “action game” in marketing. It was until the later half of the 1990s that Therrien sees the rise of “first-person shooter” in Usenet chat sessions.

The best part of this reading, however, was that Therrien’s discussion of his research methods led me down a rabbit hole of new ideas: he analyzed chats, read magazines, and studied cover art and advertisements to look for etymological clues. The magazines stood out to me as a new target for research, so I found Computer Gaming World magazine’s website, made a script to download all of their 90s publications, and got to reading.

The first issue I read was one from March 1996, which I first found on The Internet Archive and browsed through before the mass download. The content was overwhelmingly masculine; maybe it was just because this issue’s subtitle was “Blades & Bullets”, but each full-page advertisement felt like a call to arms or a masochistic dare. One exception was an ad for The Dig, a point-and-click game by LucasArts, which is illustrated with the dramatic collage look of a movie poster.

Advertisement for The Dig by LucasArts

Many of the advertisements for violent action or horror games used gruesome or comedic shock value. An advertisement for Big Red Racing features a caricature of a man chaotically driving a jeep, leaning out of the vehicle to pose for the camera. He’s wearing ripped jeans and sticking his tongue out, his mohawk blowing in the wind as he races off road. In red, type-writer text over him, the advertisement claims: “After you crash, we simply hose the pulpy red mess off the dash and give the car to the next guy.” It’s worth noting that the game can be played in first-person, which makes me wonder about the linguistic and visual differences between advertisements for first-person action games and non-first-person action games.

The ad that struck me as the most intense and shocking was this one for The Computer Game Developers’ Conference in early April of 1996. The ad’s narrative features a man at a change booth in an arcade, bathed in the room’s colorful red lighting. To his side, you can see two boys playing games in the arcade, but the man is turned away from them, forlornly pointing a pistol to his head. Above them the advertisement reads (bolding where the font gets larger):

“In a moment of utter stupidity, you blow off the Computer Game Developers Conference. Braindead about the latest hardware and game design trends, you lose your job, and your big opportunity to develop the next Myst. Cut off from any industry contacts, you discover there’s just one position in the computer game industry you can land. Shoot, you think, I should’ve gone to that conference.”

The anxious scene of the man trapped at the apparent end of his career is framed by the rest of the advertisement, which soothes the nervous and scared viewer with claims of “four low-stress days networking with people who know how to make great games”. Come to CGDC for some stress-free fun or, I don’t know, die! For the record, the Computer Game Developers’ Conference was renamed to the more general Game Developers’ Conference, or GDC, and the 2017 conference ended 3 days ago.

Advertisement for The Computer Game Developers Conference 1996

This ad is the pinnacle of 90s toxic game dev culture. It feeds off the fears of competitive white male game developers, desperate to not be left behind in the race to make the next revolutionary game, by revealing a false fate: if they don’t keep up with the trends by taking this one simple step, their entire career will fall apart and life won’t be worth living. The use of an arcade job, aside from being environmentally dark, also denotes uselessness—the man is literally left behind in the dying arcade business, which is financially and socially worse than ending up in, for example, a software development job making something besides games. Mixed in with other over-the-top, violent, first-person advertisements for actual games, this ad left me incredibly uneasy.

So the advertisements in this magazine were the most striking to me because their content was so unexpectedly overwhelming, but besides that, the reviews and articles in these magazines have been really helpful so far in discovering new games and contributing to my knowledge of ones I already have. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest, especially the issues that cover “best of”/”worst of” 90s games.

This week I’m back at home for spring break, so I’ll be making a blog post later in the week about what I’ve been doing while I’ve been here.

The Internet Tidal Wave

This week moved away from video games a little and more into the overall development of 90s PC software and the early years of the internet. My reading for the week was The Internet Tidal Wave: a company memo from Bill Gates addressed to his executive staff. It functions as not only a primary source for what technological growth and industry competition was occurring during the mid-90s—it’s also as a window into how Gates predicted his company could ride the internet wave (into legal hot water). Gnarly. I also wanted to get some idea of what software, besides games, would realistically be on a 90s PC, whether it was pre-installed, shareware, or purchased.

In his memo, Gates’ discusses his high hopes for new digital communication developments and web browsing, but also cites many concerns he has for Microsoft’s lack of involvement (or even future non-existence) should they not coordinate their market involvement. He claims:

I have gone through several stages of increasing my views of its importance. Now I assign the Internet the highest level of importance. In this memo I want to make clear that our focus on the Internet is crucial to every part of our business. The Internet is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981… I think that virtually every PC will be used to connect to the Internet and that the Internet will help keep PC purchasing very healthy for many years to come.”

He targets Netscape, a company “born on the internet” and their browser by the same name, as the company’s greatest threat in the internet market. With Netscape at 70% usage share, according to Gates, they are able to control what protocols and products gain traction, and could potentially exclude Microsoft in certain areas. Another interesting fear of his is the creation of a computer less expensive than a PC but optimized for web browsing, which sounds eerily similar to what current Chromebooks accomplish.

And on the note of predictions, Gates’ mentions that progress in 3D technology could lead to “virtual reality type shopping and socialization”. I’m not sure of what he pictures when he says “virtual reality”: wearing the headset, or just 3D virtual space? If he means the latter, socialization has absolutely already happened and is still happening, and the former should be in the works. Virtual reality shopping is also coming around.

What makes this memo especially historically valuable is the events that followed its delivery: the release of MSN, the creation of Internet Explorer, and its bundle with Windows operating systems (in later releases of 95 and 98) that led to the legal battle U.S. vs. Microsoft. At the time, web browsers were not commonly freeware or pre-installed software, so bundling an operating system with a web browser without hiking up the price too high meant leading the market and slaughtering competition. Microsoft “giving away” their browser became “a huge, huge problem” for Netscape, and after their rapid fall from dominance in the web browser market in the late 90s, nineteen states accused Microsoft Corporation of “anticompetitive” practices that “attempted to monopolize the Web browser market” in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The court ruled against Microsoft on all charges, with the exception of Microsoft’s arrangements with other companies to fight against Netscape.

But as a result of their (slightly illegal) strategies, Microsoft became an incredibly influential competitor and is pretty worthy of a place in a 90s exhibit. The exhibit’s PC will most likely use Windows 98 for compatibility and optimization (the OS that was already installed was Windows XP, so this won’t be a problem) so this will come with Internet Explorer, and that’s definitely something we want to keep. It’s low priority, but we could consider installing Netscape so visitors could compare the quality of the two browsers.

So in conclusion, Gates’ memo was an insightful glance into what 90s technology, particularly internet technology, dominated the market, and how large companies like Microsoft quickly adapted to meet the competition head-on. Furthermore, Gates’s 20-year-old predictions and fears for the progress of internet technologies is a great contribution to the Console Living Room dialogue; many of them either sound ridiculous, yet feasible, or are already in existence or in the making.

Baby's First Game Emulation

This week I finally finished Game After. It took a little more time than anticipated because, while some chapters were pretty narrative-like and read a little faster, the fragments that really pertained to my project were more philosophical and explored how the ontology of games translated into an exhibit. I’m also a slow reader in denial. But I’ve talked enough about exhibits in blog posts for now, so I wanted to spend the rest of my time this week exploring the beautiful garden of the vintage computer games and documentation on archive.org.

In addition to game artwork and manuals, the Internet Archive has an awesome collection of vintage MS-DOS games as demos, shareware, abandonware, freeware, or whatever “disk image I downloaded from the internet”-wares I’m forgetting, many of which can be emulated in the DOSBox in the browser. Others are available as a disk image and/or can be torrented and then played on your emulator of choice which was, in my case, also DOSBox. I downloaded two games to emulate: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Enhanced (the in-browser emulation is linked) and System Shock, published in 1989 and 1994 respectively.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Enhanced

Carmen Sandiego was incredibly fun to play, despite what came off as a mostly repetitive gameplay strategy. The player collects clues about criminals who have stolen precious historical artifacts from around the globe, and chases them from country to country until they discover their identity and location. Given that this game was a remake of the original Carmen Sandiego game from 1985, this probably won’t be something that I want to install on computers in the console living room, but I really enjoyed playing it and thought it was worth recommending, especially because it’s so freely available.

System Shock introduction

System Shock is much more pertinent to the decade, and something I’ve been interested in playing for quite some time because of BioShock’s label as one of its “spiritual successor”. One of my ideas for curation is to install “spiritual predecessors” (I guess that’s the opposite of “spiritual successors”?) or actual predecessors of more popular modern games, so—even though System Shock is also worthy of merit in its own right—I think it would be something worth including because of its design influence on Deus Ex and BioShock. Another title in this same vein is The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996) because, had Bethesda’s bad code and marketing not been saved by ZeniMax’s buyout and Morrowind’s success, this could have been the last Elder Scrolls game and Skyrim would have never existed.

System Shock Interface

I loved the grungy cyberpunk aesthetic of System Shock’s small, cluttered, low-resolution FPS window. It felt messy, anxious, and dark, and the technical constraints and crammed UI design of early FPS games really complimented this well. It also had a pretty sophisticated 3D graphics engine that supported slanted walls or floors on the map, but enemies and items are still in 2D. While playing, I quickly realized that the game actually had no NPC dialogue: all major communication is done through emails with a teeny tiny pixel font, such as the one pictured above, and the only presumed non-enemies I found were dead ones.

I also spent some time digging around for games I played as a kid (a lot of the games I’m learning about were those that I either wasn’t allowed to play or couldn’t play because I was a baby) like SkiFree and Chip’s Challenge. I recovered from memory, thanks to my dad, the game Hover!, which I downloaded and played a few rounds of. Afterwards I discovered this August 1995 personal computing article(?) from the New York Times predicting how the consumer market will respond to the Windows 95’s release (might research some of this later and see how accurate his prediction was), and the author briefly mentions Hover! as a “nonviolent DOOM-like” included in the OS, which I thought was interesting because I didn’t think “driving a hovercar and not having a gun” qualified as nonviolent DOOM-like? Maybe I don’t quite get what DOOM-like means. Anyways, I’m looking forward to going home over spring break and seeing what CD-ROM copies I can find of games I used to play, if we still have any hidden away somewhere, or what more I can at least remember and find a disk image of. I’ll definitely make a post about what I’m able to find.

That’s all of the interesting stuff for this week. System Shock and Carmen Sandiego were my test runs with desktop emulation in DOSBox, so I’m going to keep messing with non-emulated disk images on the Internet Archive and see what other cool games or software I can find. Whatever isn’t (legally) available will probably be bought later if it’s deemed worthy, or if I can find it but it’s just a really cool game to have a hard copy of.

More on Game After

This week was more of reading Game After, interspersed with other research on games for the room. It’s taking me a little longer to read Game After than I expected, so I’m giving myself one more week to read that.

I’m noticing trends in the various exhibits that Guins explores on his game afterlife journey. Obviously, each exhibit—depending on whether the artifacts are curated by archeologists, engineers, collectors, or enthusiasts—builds itself around a different perspective of the game’s history and ontology. There are roughly four categories that tend to overlap in the exhibits Guins visits:

  • The game as an object: Exhibits that focus on the ex-game objects. Usually the hardware, which is either non-functioning or untouched in order to preserve it. Like traditional fragile museum objects, they are often placed behind glass to prevent interaction, or they are placed in a deliberate fashion on the exhibit floor to focus on the object’s design or artwork. They are also unmodified, or only repaired using correct components to keep the “original object” intact.
  • The game as an activity: The game’s executable process that is used for play. Separate from the game as an object, it is emulated on a machine that the original game is not native to. When it’s not separate, these two combine to create the game as an experience: visitors playing the original game, on its original hardware, as players would have done during the original release.
  • The game’s history: Any and all documentation on the game, including source code, concept art, unused materials, prototypes, and legal materials, accompanied by materials on the history of the game post-release and its afterlife. Often accompany the game as an object exhibit types in order to document the experience of play where it’s not possible for visitors, similar to traditional museum displays.
  • The game’s environment: Less common (but noteworthy considering this is what the console living room is trying to do) is recreating the game’s common historical environment. For example, an arcade exhibit that does this would attempt to recreate the environment, sounds, and visuals of a real arcade from that decade. Often used as a complement to the game experience (game as an object + game as an activity).

Not everything fits flawlessly into these categories. For example, Guins occasionally mentions MAME cabinets: game cabinets that have either been recreated or stripped of their original internal hardware, and now hold a machine that emulates several arcade games. This allows players to use hardware similar to what the game’s creators would have intended, but it’s still being emulated on a foreign machine underneath. According to Guins’ observations, creating a MAME cabinet is also considered incredibly disgraceful, as gutting an authentic cabinet is frowned upon by amateur collectors and museum curators alike.

These categories can also overlap at different angles. For example, in Rochelle Slovin’s 1989 exhibit Hot Circuits, presented in the Museum of Moving Images, designer Stephanie Tevonian arranged the playable arcade cabinets 8 feet apart and at 45-degree angles to allow visitors to greater appreciate the game object’s art. While the cabinets were placed out on the floor in an “arcade” layout, their separation allowed visitors a unique perspective on the game as an object that they would not get in, for example, an arcade expo, where the game as an activity is more prioritized and more cabinets are packed into the available space. Both exhibits prioritize the game as an experience, but in different ways.

The Console Living Room, as a project that values preservation but prioritizes a historically enriching experience of its digital and material contents, will have some of all four categories, but mostly the object, activity, and environment. The old CLR had some historical documentation of its items, but this was not found directly in the exhibit alongside items (I’m 90% sure) and would have detracted from the environment’s historical consistency. And, now that I think about it, I’m not sure how an exhibit could incorporate all four categories without creating an overwhelming presentation, but maybe I’ll come back to this when I finish reading.

Artifacts vs. Activities

This week, I’ve been making my way through Game After by Raiford Guins, a study of the afterlife of games. I got off on a late start this week due to my copy arriving after the weekend instead of before, so I read the introduction and the first two chapters. In these chapters, Guins explored the complicated task of curating and preserving games in museums, thus this week was less research-heavy and focused more on the development of future goals for the exhibit, based on Guins’ analysis.

Ontologically, video games are incredibly complicated to preserve. Traditional no-touch museum displays of game hardware—encased behind glass, protected from the decay of years in a basement, never to be handed off to a new generation of players—only present what most consider to be one part of the game itself, which consists of “both object and process”, as Espen Aarseth describes. Emulating the game’s process on a non-native machine is equally valuable and inadequate: the experience of play may be revived and relived “safely”, without damaging hardware, but requires digital maintenance and even possible legal issues. In their afterlives, even when every part of their being is preserved in the safety of a museum, most games are doomed to be disembodied for the sake of their longevity, and as they build their memorials, curators must “negotiate video games as both activities and artifacts” (p. 34).

Guins frequently cites the work of Henry Lowood, curator of the Stanford University Libraries, as he grapples with the issue of games as artifacts or activities. He raises the question:

“Is it necessary to play The Legend of Zelda on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, with the original Nintendo controller and a contemporary television set, in order to gain a historically valid experience of the game?”

Lowood’s argument asserts that new institutional models must be developed for the collection, documentation, and archiving of video games, but—at least in the context of Guins’ writing thusfar—the answer to this question is left ambiguous. To play devil’s advocate, I think some would argue that, if the game is the experience of playing and not the shell that process lives in, you don’t need any of the original hardware to play it: you could emulate it on another machine (if I remember correctly, you can even buy it digitally and play it on the Nintendo 3DS) and this would be a valid experience of the game. But this is an inherent re-contextualization of the game: even if it’s not being emulated for the purpose of historic analysis, the experience is still separate from its intended body of hardware. I could go on, but I think that especially in the context of the Console Living Room, it’s important to experience the game on what is as close to accurate hardware as one can afford.

On the subject of accuracy, since I started reading Game After, I’ve been thinking a lot about how far accuracy can be stretched. On a smaller scale, I think it’s important to have real, physical copies of the game on CD-ROM, but these can get incredibly expensive. A cracked version of the game is still historically valuable, but admittedly less satisfying than having the physical copy. Moreover, I realized my greatest concern when Guins, in the introduction, asked what World of Warcraft emulation could do for a future curator “besides reveal what a lonely world it is without some documentation of the social and cultural experience of online play”. Without any players, the experience of a massive online multiplayer game, which relies on both AI and real interactions with other people through a digital space, is completley lost to time. Likewise, even small-scale multiplayer games that rely on one machine per player (online or over LAN) will lose some part of the intended experience of the game without those other players and machines.

Because of this, my new stretch goal for my part of the project is so make sure that at least some of the games can have multiplayer LAN, which could turn out to be more difficult than I think depending on compatibility. If we only have a Mac and an MS-DOS-friendly computer, there are very few games that might be able to natively talk to each other over a network, especially if the systems are chronologically far apart. If there are two compatible games out there, I’m sure that a network between the two could at least be faked with the help of some modern computing, but again, that could turn out to be more difficult than I think it will be. It’s something to keep in mind.

Next week, I plan to finish Game After and research some more games (especially ones that could possibly work for my stretch goal). I think I’ll put off the rest of the stretch goal research until I actually know what kind of computers we’ll be working with.

Myst and DOOM's Legacies

This week working on the Console Living Room was mostly researching and reading, since we’re still establishing meetings times. My reading for the week was Making the Water Move (2008) by Andrew Hutchison, which I picked as an introductory piece into 90s games. The article compares and contrasts the developers’ priorities in Myst and DOOM—two games I would super love to install and play on the Console Living Room’s computers—and how these requirements shaped the iconic audio-visual experiences of the two vastly different games. Less related but still noteworthy, he also provides an argument for game AI (particularly NPC interactions with the player) as the next obstacle in creating an immersive gaming experience, now that audio-visual aesthetics have so vastly improved.

I was fascinated by the radically different approaches the developers’ took to their respective games. Myst is more of my kind of game: thoughtful, deliberate, detailed compositions of images and audio, woven together to create (what was, at the time) an incredibly immersive puzzle. It used a lot of data for this—too much for any lone hard drive to handle at the time—and streamed its images and audio from the CD-ROM. This made the game relatively heavy and slow, but what was lost in speed was made up for in aesthetic quality.

On the other hand, DOOM’s fast-paced action required immediate response to user input, and had to immediately render the results for the user. It was more important that the developers make a fast game, not a pretty one; while Cyan Worlds’ development team was using every byte of memory to their advantage, id Softwares’ was making enormous aesthetic sacrifices to use as few as possible. Textures were re-used, objects were simple, and the resolution was low. Fortunately, it paid off: DOOM’s free player movement, quick response time, and real-time 3D rendering made it one of the most iconic (and controversial) first-person-shooters of all time.

One aspect of DOOM that was sparsely discussed by Hutchinson in the article was the online multiplayer feature, which I assumed, based on how important online multiplayer is to the first-person-shooter genre today, would have to be pretty reliable. Turns out, it wasn’t! It sucked!

I did some additional research and came across this article on the evolution of game networking. During and prior to DOOM’s time, games frequently used the deterministic peer-to-peer lockstep networking model. In a nutshell, this model exchanged player commands instead of the game state, so for example, instead of exchanging the player’s location on a map, you would exchange the player’s commands to move several steps forward, or interact with this object, etc. It’s a cool concept, but one of the major drawbacks is that the minimum latency is equal to the latency of the slowest player because communication is done across all peers. DOOM multiplayer was great over LAN, but playing online was usually a laggy disaster.

It quickly became apparent that peer-to-peer gaming was not going to work for the first-person-shooter genre, and a new model needed to be created to support a faster, more reliable way of communicating the game state. In 1996, id Software released Quake, which used the client/server topology. Now, instead of each player running a game on their computer and communicating their moves between every other player’s computer, there was only one game on the “server” computer that communicated with the “client” computers. Since then, the client/server model has undergone several improvements to further reduce latency (and even give the player the illusion that there is no latency at all). DOOM may not be the game to thank for popularizing online multiplayer, but its faults led to a revolutionary development in the way we experience multiplayer games today.

So in conclusion, my research this week was focused on how the technical limitations of 90s games influenced their aesthetic experience and performance. Since most of my further reading focused on game networks in the 90s, I would like to do some more research next week on games more along Myst’s genre.

Sources

Here’s a list of important articles from this week:

I also found some useful resources for Myst and DOOM on archive.org

Yay New Blog

Maybe six months or so ago I deleted (but kept a backup of) my old Wordpress blog through Domain of One’s Own because I hate Wordpress. But now I have to blog for class again! So you’re reading this on my new Jekyll-generated blog. ✨ I’m trying to build the theme myself as some SASS practice, so bear with me.

Sooner or later I’m going to migrate the blog posts that I like over to this blog, but for now I’m just focusing on ~the basics~.