Youtube influencer GenXGrownUp has just livestreamed a hands-on review of the MyArcade GameStation Pro.
The big news is that the GSP has an SD card slot. And apparently, according to GenXGrownUp, it will play ROM files from the SD card. This is exciting news and should heighten interest in the system. My initial impression of the system is improved considerably with this information. I think I can safely upgrade my recommendation from “wait and see” to “buy” based on GenXGrownUp’s review.
GenXGrownUp reports some latency in the controls, which is to be expected, but GenXGrownUp describes it as minimal, and manageable, and he likes the quality of the controller.
He also mentions that the joystick has three buttons, not two, and that the placement of these buttons works better for some games than others. The layout has the A button in the top-left corner of the base, in the traditional position for the classic Atari joystick. The B and C buttons are on the stick, on the top knob and in a trigger position, like on a fighter plane. All of which are fairly classic, normal placements for additional buttons.
One downside of the system, the console switches for the Atari 2600, for difficulty A and B, and B&W/Color TV, are accessed through on-screen menu. There are a few Atari 2600 titles ( such as Space Shuttle, Riddle of the Sphinx, Raiders of the Lost Ark) where these switches were used during gameplay, which would make playing these games a bit awkward, but these are the exception rather than the rule, and I don’t know if any such titles are among the catalog of pack-in games, so this could be a non-issue for the most part.
It’s an interesting time to be an old middle aged guy who still loves ancient video games. 45+ years on from the launch of the Atari 2600, the console still remains culturally resonant, at least with my generation, and maybe some younger people as well.
There are two new mini consoles coming out in quick succession this fall, both aimed at our demographic: Atari’s 2600+ and MyArcade’s Atari GameStation Pro.
Both are very similar in capability, but differ in features. So which is the better buy?
The MyArcade Atari GameStation Pro is a pre-loaded system, similar to the AtGames Atari Flashback consoles of the past, but this one blows those systems away: with over 200 built-in games, HDMI output, wireless joysticks, and includes games not just from the Atari 2600’s library, but the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and arcade as well. It is available for pre-order, with the shipping date now set at Oct 31.
The Atari 2600+ is a mini Atari 7800/2600 SOC-based emulation console with a cartridge slot and HDMI output. It’s available for pre-order now, but it’s unclear when they will start shipping. Probably in time for holidays, assuming it doesn’t get delayed.
Which one provides the better value? That’s tough to say, but on paper at least I think I’ll give the edge to the MyArcade system. It’s considerably less expensive, at $100 for the console plus two joysticks, plus all the included games.
MyArcade GameStation Pro: $99
Atari 2600+: $130
The Atari 2600+ is 130% more expensive at $130 than the GameStation Pro, and includes just one controller, and only 10 games. The GameStation pro includes 200+ games, plus two controllers.
GameStation Pro: 200+ built-in games from the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and arcade titles.
Atari 2600+: cartridge slot, including a 10-in-1 cartridge. The compatibility list promises over 500 compatible cartridges from the 2600 and 7800 library.
One advantage of the 2600+ is that it has a cartridge slot, and if you have a large collection of cartridges, it’ll be the system that can play them — if they’re compatible with it. Having to buy cartridges separately only adds to the cost of owning the 2600+, but if you already have a collection of old games, that cost is already paid for. And if you don’t, the games are common and usually pretty cheap.
On the other hand, the GameStation Pro’s 200 games probably include most of the popular games you’d ever want to play from these systems, but if one of your favorites is missing, you won’t be able to play it. It also supports a broader range of games, considering that it includes titles from the Atari 5200 library, and even arcade games.
It ultimately depends on what you have and what you want. If you have a large collection of games for the 2600 and 7800, the 2600+ might be better for you. If you don’t have a collection or don’t like to swap out cartridges, and are satisfied with the selection of the built-in games of the GameStation Pro, or like the idea of having access to the arcade and 5200 games, then those advantages are certainly attractive. On the other hand, if your favorite game(s) are missing from the built-in selection, you’re out of luck.
A great advantage of the Atari GameStation Pro is that the controllers it comes with feature a dial which provides built-in compatibility for paddle games. The joysticks also feature two buttons, a necessity for playing many of the Atari 7800 game titles.
The Atari 2600+ can support paddle controllers, but you have to buy them separately, adding still more cost. If you do, they’ll be real paddle controllers, the same design as the original Atari 2600’s. And they should feel the same as the original controllers, providing the most authentic experience. It remains to be seen how good the manufacturing quality is for these new sticks, and whether they’ll truly measure up to the original sticks from the 70s and 80s.
But Atari do not seem to be selling 2-button controllers to fully support the 7800’s library. If you have an old 7800 Proline controller, it should work with the 2600+, though. Of course those old sticks can be worn out or unreliable.
So it remains to be seen, but if the GameStation Pro joysticks feel good and don’t have a lot of lag, they might be better. If on the other hand the authentic feel of the original style controllers matters most to you, the 2600+ is better, assuming the modern build quality measures up. But the lack of 2-button options and including only a single CX-40 joystick are disadvantages.
Advantage: To be determined.
A big part of what will determine which if either of these systems is worth owning will be how well they emulate the games. If they don’t feel right due to imperfect emulation or input lag, that can be an insurmountable dealbreaker.
The GameStation Pro’s joysticks have some advantages, though. They do support two button input, and they even have a built-in knob that serves to provide paddle game support. So it should support the full library of all the games that are included with it. Early reviewers have reported that these controllers feel well built, solid, and heavy, not cheap or junky.
Although neither system hits all the checkboxes that I would have wanted on my perfect system, I think I’m leaning slightly toward the GameStation Pro. The big unknown that I have been unable to find any answers to is what are the 200+ titles that come built-in? It likely has enough built-in games that I would like to play, and I think the fact that they are built in is an advantage, since I don’t have to switch cartridges to play a different game. But if it doesn’t have some of my favorite titles — which is probable, given that many of my favorites are third-party games — then the advantage goes to 2600+ for its expandability offered by having a cartridge slot.
Either system including a SD card slot or a cartridge slot would make them much more attractive. As would being FPGA-based rather than SOC. Even if an FPGA system doubled the cost, it would be worth it to me for the greater fidelity to the original hardware, which would mean full support for the entire library of games produced for the system.
I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to pre-order either system. It’s best to wait and see what the reviews are like after they’ve hit the market. Likely both systems will have drawbacks and disadvantages that will bring down the recommendation rating.
For enthusiast gamers who already have a means to play their Atari games, whether on a PC through an emulator, or through original hardware, I think it’s tougher to recommend either system. Unless your old systems are not working reliably any longer, and are too much of a pain to keep in repair, stick with them for now. If you enjoy the advantages of emulation, you can run an emulator on any PC, and there are adaptors that allow classic controllers to be plugged into a USB port.
We can hope that eventually in the future a proper FPGA-based system will be released that offers full compatibility with all games, HDMI output for modern HDTV, high quality joysticks, and a cartridge and/or SD slot to allow access to the entire catalog of games.
For casual gamers who aren’t as concerned about perfect gameplay, or nostalgic gamers who are looking to get back into retro systems, it’s easier to recommend either system. Either is also a reasonably good starter system for a younger gamer who never had the opportunity to play these systems in their heyday.
Ultimately, both of these systems are going to appeal mainly to a casual, nostalgia-driven consumer audience, rather than the enthusiast gamer who never quit playing their original systems, and learned to do field repairs on them to keep them in tip-top working order for decades, and modded them for superior TV output.
Today Atari announced a new console product, the Atari 2600+.
The $130 system looks like a miniature Atari 2600 4-switch “woody” model from the early 1980s.
It features HDMI output, a cartridge slot, and compatibility with Atari 2600 and 7800 systems. One CX-40 type joysticks are included, along with a 10-in-1 cartridge that includes the following titles: Adventure, Combat, Dodge Em, Haunted House, Maze Craze, Missile Command, RealSports Volleyball, Surround, Video Pinball, Yars’ Revenge.
A second CX-40 controller costs $25. CX-30 paddles can be purchased for $40, which includes a 4-in-1 game cartridge. This brings the total to build a “complete” system as they were originally sold back in the day to $195.
Significantly, I do not see any solution given for playing 7800 games requiring 2-button controls, which is most of the 7800 system’s library. This is a real drawback if, as it appears, there is no modern 7800 controller available or planned.
Inside the console is an Rockchip 3128 SOC (system on a chip), and since it’s a SOC-based system, this means that there will be compatibility problems with certain cartridges; a compatibility list, which does mention that some original titles do not work on it, as is typical of SOC systems, due to minor differences between the original hardware.
As of this writing, the compatibility list only notes 4 games that failed testing, along with another 113 games that they were unable to test. 515 titles passed testing. Weirdly, Atari were unable to test the console with Pitfall II, one of the most popular and easy to find Atari 2600 games.
For gamers who are running original hardware, but would like to hook up to a modern HDTV, and not have to worry about the eventual death of their 40+ year old consoles, this looks like a possible solution, assuming it supports the games you want to play on it. Of course, the original cartridges that you’ll be plugging into the slot are going to be 40+ years old too, unless you’re using a Harmony cart.
At first glimpse, I was excited about this product, but after looking more carefully, I’m going to have to give it the same C rating that I gave to the Retron 77.
No 2-button controller option for 7800 games, other than vintage joysticks from the ’80s.
“Only” a 10-in-1 multi-game cartridge is included.
If you can look past the shortcomings and focus on the positives, I think this can be a good buy that provides decent value. If you have a bunch of old cartridges laying around, but your console isn’t working reliably any more, go for it. But if you already have the means to play your Atari games, I’d recommend holding off for something `better. This system seems about as good as Hyperkin’s Retron 77 console, maybe a little better due to the build quality of the CX-40 joysticks and the inclusion of the 10-in-1 cartridge.
Hey, Atari: Make it better, do it right
If Atari had consulted with me before producing this, I would have given them the following advice to earn an A-rating and recommendation:
Implement the hardware with FPGA technology for the highest possible fidelity to the original hardware spec.
Use a 6-switch console shell, with real working switches. (Certain games, such as Space Shuttle, used the console switches as well as the joystick for controls, and the tiny, hidden difficulty switches of the 4-switch models just aren’t as good of a solution.)
Include 2 CX40 joysticks and 1 CX30 paddles.
Provide a 2-button joystick option for 7800 support.
Rather than a 10-in-1 cartridge, bundle the entire multi-volume Flashback Classics collection series, in cartridge format. Also, include a collection of 7800 titles in the box. There’s no reason not to do this. The entire Atari 2600 library was small enough to fit on a 3.5″ Floppy Disk (1.44 MB).
Sell as a bundle for $200.
If Atari can do all that, they would have a real winner that I would be excited to buy.
As it is, this product as it is isn’t bad, just not as good as it deserves to be, and a bit of a disappointment for someone looking for a premium modern system that can keep the original games running on modern TVs.
I am taking a break from playing the game today to summarize my impressions so far on the new play mechanics in TOTK.
The Sheikah Slate in BOTW has been replaced by the Purah Pad, and it’s basically the same thing, but has different powers replacing the ones that were in the previous game.
In BOTW, I mainly used the Sheikah Slate for bombs. I heavily relied on bombs, especially in the early part of the game, and often wasted vast amounts of time standing uphill, way out of range, doing long range bomb attacks on enemies to keep from wasting weapons on them, or getting killed while I was still low on heart containers and not well armored. I felt this was an unsatisfying way to play the game but I played it that way anyway, and I feel like this is Nintendo’s fault for making bombs be unlimited. Nintendo tried to nerf bombs by having them have a cooldown so you could only generate one every 10 seconds or so, and by having them do minimal damage at best to most monsters. Bombs were meant to be a physics tool, used to create an impulse to move an object around with their blast, or blow up an obstacle, not really to be relied upon as a weapon, although they could serve in that way if need be. Ultimately, though, I felt that they were off the mark in the way they were implemented. They were useful, had a lot of cool possibilities, but I think that making them unlimited, weak weapons wasn’t the best way to go with their design.
TOTK replaced Sheikah Bombs with Bomb Flowers. Basically they’re free bombs that you can pick up as forage, and are pretty rare, which limits their use rather well. The game seems to try to not count on you having them at your disposal at all times, or ever, really. But I think it seems like they do a bit better damage, making them OK to use as weapons, although I really haven’t found many other practical uses for them otherwise. I did use them in lieu of wasting weapons when I was mining, and bombed my way into a Discovery! cave, but it doesn’t really seem like they put as much bombable walls and rocks in this game, and I’m really pretty OK with that. Bombs are classic from the OG LOZ to present, but they can play a minor role or not appear in a Zelda game, and I’m fine with that.
The Map, Telescope, Camera, and Compendium powers are pretty much the same. Although, sure, the map towers work a bit differently in TOTK, and I like the way they’ve been changed. In BOTW the map towers were there to provide interesting climbing challenges, and they were reasonably well designed in the way their challenge curve increased the further you got from central Hyrule. But they were all somewhat limited, and once you figured out climbing and resting, there wasn’t all that much to them, other than maybe clearing obstacles or defeating some enemies. In TOTK, the map towers have been overhauled, and I like the changes. Most of the towers have some fairly easy problem with them that you have to fix, but it requires a bit of problem solving, and isn’t simply a challenge or a softlock to prevent you from using it until your stamina bar is big enough. I also really like the way they integrate the towers into the world design by having them shoot you up into the sky, giving you access to the sky world level, and a beautiful view of the world below at the same time, and multiple options for how to proceed from there — stay in Sky Level, glide and descend to a distant point in the region, fall straight back down, or fast travel to some other waypoint. Being launched into the air like a rocket may not be safe or plausible, but it’s fun and well done as a gameplay mechanic.
I like that TOTK has added a Character Profiles section so you can better keep track of all the names and faces you encounter in the world. It’s like Contacts in our smartphones, but with more robust profile background and less contact info. I think it really helps, since there’s so much world in the game to explore, and so many people you may run into.
The other BOTW Sheikah Slate powers were Magnesis, the ability to manipulate metal objects telekinetically, Stasis, and Cryonis. In TOTK these have been replaced with powers that are maybe a bit similar, but distinctly different. And they are actually powers granted to you by your prosthetic arm, rather than Purah Pad powers.
So, instead of Magnesis, we have Ultrahand. Ultrahand is more versatile and advanced. We’re not limited to metal objects, but any virtually any type of object: Rocks, boxes, weapons, any item that Link can pick up basically. But not anything and everything you see in the game. You can’t use it to uproot trees or bend them to create spring tension, and so on. The power is mainly intended to serve as a way to manipulate in-world building blocks to create vehicles and contraptions or whatever the situation seems to call for, and gives you pretty nearly limitless potential for creativity. It’s most people’s favorite power, and can be used in so many different ways, most of which seem to be intentional by design, few of which seem to be truly game breaking or glitch based, but the power is very ripe for abuse, and I think the game encourages you to be as creative as you wish to be.
So far, my own use has been more limited and less imaginative. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers, and I’m trying to play the game “straightforward” to experience the story and adventure, rather than as an open world sandbox. I basically see the objects that the game offers you to manipulate and mess around with, and I try to do obvious things with them. I usually succeed quickly or give up quickly, because I don’t want to waste a lot of time on an experiment that doesn’t pay off. I also took some time to get used to the controls to manipulate things, and now that I’ve gotten some hours into the game and have done it a bunch of times, I’m warming up to it and finding it more enjoyable, and will probably be more open to playing around with the mechanic more.
If I was playing differently, or in a different mood, I might have gotten deeper into this, sooner. I think the main reason I haven’t is because I know in the back of my mind that the objects I build, however cool they might turn out to be, will only be temporary. I can’t save them, or put them into inventory, and when the game requires that I put them aside and walk away from them, the time I’ve invested in creating them will have in some sense have been discarded as well, wasted. If I had a more “zen garden” mentality about it, I might regard this temporary, ephemeral nature of the creations differently, be detached from the inevitability of losing them, and in turn find more enjoyment in the act of creating and using them.
I would very much like for the game to have a “freeplay” or “storyless” mode where all you do is play with parts and put them together without restrictions, and with ability to save them so you can return to them, work on them more, and not always have to start over from scratch. I’d like the ability to create permanent objects in this mode as experiments, and then go back to the “real world” mode and see where I can produce them for some end that plays well in the story/mission part of the game.
I also have not gotten very far with exploring the various building blocks and pieces that you can use to create your constructions. I think in part this is because the game threw too much at me too quickly. I remember in the opening act of the game, getting introduced to all these new Zonai terms and I think for me it was too much, too quickly, and I didn’t have patience to take my time to read the descriptions fully, digest them, and let their implications sink in so that I could appreciate everything that the game was giving me. Again, this was in part to the dual mechanics of “everything is temporary” and “your assets are limited so you have to grind and farm for stuff” combined with “but it’ll break, or you’ll have to discard it and you can’t save it, and anything you accomplish with it will be erased by the next Blood Moon anyway, so really how much do you want to sink your time into this right now?”
So, I think introducing concepts and parts more slowly, and allowing me to absorb and learn at a bit slower pace, and build up and elaborate would have worked better for me. I have a ton of Zonai stuff in my inventory and I don’t really know how it relates. I have a vague understanding that I can turn some raw material Zonaite into refined Zonai material, and then maybe turn that into Zonai tech, but I don’t know what all the things are or how to do it all. It just seems like I’d need to break a billion rock hammers pounding out lumps of Zonaite, to trade in for Zonai capsules or convert into Zonai batteries, and in turn cash those in at the gumball machines to obtain bits of Zonai tech, use that to build things, or use them as augmentations for weapons, or who knows what all you can do with it. There’s too many possibilities, and, again, a slower introduction and walkthrough for them would probably have helped me enjoy them better and get deeper into them.
Stasis in BOTW was a time-stopping ability that enabled you to put a kinetic charge into a time-frozen object, or just freeze something in place for a temporary period so you could manage some situation you found yourself in. In TOTK, the time-themed power is Recall. It’s cool, but I bet there’s so many ways that you could use it, that you don’t even realize. There are puzzles that are intentionally designed to require you to use the ability, and those are generally obvious, but there are potentially a lot of non-obvious ways to use the power that will be discovered by inventive and creative players. It’s not natural or intuitive to think in terms of time moving backwards, for one object of your choosing, and think about how manipulating that object in that way can create possibilities. The world is so dynamic as it is, and this is a new dynamism that layers on top of everything and makes it even more complex. I probably use Recall the least, simply because I’m so accustomed to not having an ability to reverse something’s motion through the axis of time, that it’s unnatural for me to think of it and see opportunities.
Cryonis is gone, and I hardly miss it or think of it. It was a weird ability: the ability to, wherever there is water, create up to three giant ice cube that lifts out of the ground like a solid pillar that you can land on or lift things with. It was an entirely inconvenient way to cross unswimmable bodies of water, one stepping stone at a time. It was actually a surprisingly useful and versatile ability and BOTW did an amazing job of providing opportunities to get the most out of it, but it’s also just a pretty weird thing to be able to do as an adventuring swordsman.
Replacing it, apparently, is the Ascend power, which is also weird but useful. Being able to shoot upward, phase through solid matter like swimming through some kind of opaque jell-o, and pop out through the top to rapidly get to the top of virtually anything you can get underneath is a hard one to come up with in a brainstorming meeting. I wonder why Nintendo’s designers decided that this was an ability that they wanted to put into the game. It certainly beats the hell out of climbing.
As a power, it most closely resembles the Revali’s Gale ability, which instead of working in solid rock, would create a powerful updraft that could lift you into the air. That at least makes sense. But how can Link pass through solid matter? Why only vertically and up? Why not horizontally or downward? Why only when standing, not when crouching or falling? What’s the range limit on overhead ceiling clearance? I do use the ability a lot, and appreciate that I can use it, but it’s still really weird. Ascend, combined with Fast Travel, make LInk basically impossible to imprison, it would seem. So I would like to see parts of the game where this capability is taken away from you, and you suddenly have to struggle without it. I do find that I use the ability a lot more than I thought I would, and I am pretty actively looking for opportunities where it will be useful most of the time. If I want to get on top of something, rather than spend time climbing, I look for a way to get under it, then Ascend. I’d like more in-game narrative logic to explain why Link gains the ability, and a fantasy-plausible explanation for how it works and why it has the limitations that it has.
The last ability that I’ll talk about, Fusion, is so integrated with Ultrahand that I really feel that they are inseparable. I guess technically with Ultrahand by itself, you would only be able to move stuff around. But with Ultrahand active, you can use it to glue movable items together, which is really the Fusion ability. But there’s a separate Fusion ability that allows you to fuse the currently-held weapon or shield, or an arrow, with virtually any other item in the game, opening up a staggeringly uncountable number of possible combinations of this+that. So the ability you have when you select the Fusion power from the menu is basically the same ability as the glue ability you have active when using Ultrahand to move stuff around, but Fusion works specifically with things laying on the ground in the environment around you and something you can put in your inventory. This gives the stuff you can craft using Fusion a little bit less temporary nature than the stuff you can craft with Ultrahand but not really save, and must have out and be using the the entire time you own it.
I like the Fusion ability, and even though it allows for some really oddball combinations, the game designers went with that rather than disallow the weird stuff. This gives the game a less serious, more playful feel, and in a good way. Stuff that just shouldn’t work in the real world, like a claymore (two-handed sword) glued to another claymore end to end work just fine in TOTK. Adding a fusion object also seems to add to weapon longevity, as the fused item will break from the end first, and then the object in hand. And weapon durability seems to be a little bit less fragile, and also given more in-game justification by the way the Demon King’s awakening caused all the weapons in the world to deteriorate and crumble. But even so the better weapons seem to last longer than they did in BOTW, where it was pretty common to go through 2-3 weapons in a single decent melee. In TOTK, you can carry a decent weapon through several, even many encounters, before it wears out and eventually shatters. And the better quality stuff seems to last longer than the poor quality or improvised stuff, like I was asking for. Tree branches still break in 2-3 hits, but a zonai weapon will last through many combats. Normal weapons fall somewhere in the middle. This makes me tolerate the breaking system a lot better than I did in BOTW. So I really appreciate this tweak. I feel like Nintendo more or less got this part of the game right, this time around.
A day ago, a video of an Atari 2600 homebrew for a Metroid de-make was posted on Reddit. I’m used to seeing these types of post and then losing track of the project as nothing happens for months or years. But this developer, MathanGames is working very quickly, it looks like in Batari Basic, and has already released a ROM.
The first two releases had a vertical jitter bug that gave the game a feeling like you were playing in a world prone to frequent earthquakes, which made jumping gaps somewhat dicey, but the 3rd build seems to have eliminated this defect, and is more playable. To hopefully avoid copyright/trademark infringement problems from the notoriously litigious Nintendo, the project has been renamed Xanthiom.
The game is not really attempting to port Metroid, exactly, but there’s a many familiar features: missiles,energy tanks, jump boots, wave beam, varia suit all make appearances. But there’s no morph ball, no bombs, no vertical shooting, no ice beam, and no screw attack. The starting world feels like Brinstar, and is joined by elevator pad to an area that seems to be Norfair, but the map layout is different, so it’s only very loosely based on Metroid, more homage than port.
Still, you’ll find doors to shoot, red doors require a missile, of course. A few of the enemies from Metroid also appear: Zoomers, Rippers, Rio,, and Skree. Even the mini-bosses, Ridley and Kraid, even a fake Ridley.. or is that a Space Pirate? Sadly, no Mother Brain, no Metroids (unless I haven’t found them yet.)
There’s no musical score, but there are sound effects for shooting and getting hit.
Controls are pretty awkward; it feels like the jump mechanics could use some polish. And some of enemies don’t collide with the backgrounds, so pass right through walls.
I love it. I’m hoping that the developer continues with this project, adding more to it, because what’s here already shows a great deal of promise, and I love playing NES de-makes on Atari 2600.
Altogether, this has a feel similar to Princess Rescue, but I think it feels better. Not terribly challenging, unless you count the rather awkward jumping, but you’ll enjoy playing through it in 20 or 30 minutes.
I know this is going to sound weird, but Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves might be the best movie I have ever seen. It is literally perfect. Everything that it should have been, it was.
The above is not an April fools joke.
The movie didn’t set out to be the greatest movie ever made, nor is it high art, or even a “serious” film.
But they succeeded beautifully at capturing the spirit and mood of Dungeons & Dragons. The production hit every mark about as well as it could have been hit.
In terms of being everything it should be, Honor Among Thieves does it better than any other film adaptation I’ve ever watched. It aspires to be nothing more than it is, and it doesn’t need to.
It blends comedy, action, fantasy, and light drama superbly well.
The performances were all outstanding, sets and costumes spectacular, sfx and cgi weren’t the absolute best I ever saw, but I have no complaints.
It really felt as though I was watching a campaign played out by a group of friends who are having a good time and aren’t necessarily concerned about being epic at every moment, and indeed are quite comfortable being absurd, yet despite occasionally diverging into silliness it never feels like it goes off track.
There are moments when the characters say things to each other that feels almost more like “table talk” (player to player conversation rather than character to character).
And the story even had a coherent plot, without feeling contrived or like they rushed and forgot something, or threw out continuity because who cares, or anything. That’s so rare anymore.
I don’t know that it quite has the heart of a Princess Bride, but it is right up there with Pirates of the Caribbean or Guardians of the Galaxy, and I would be happy to see sequels if they could be done to the same level of quality, although I’m very content with the film as standalone.
Above all they truly nailed source material and the spirit with which gamers approach playing the game — deliberately, different characters are played with different styles, and the clash of acting styles and abilities is absolutely brilliantly suited to making a D&D film that really feels like D&D.
And so many little Easter eggs and references to the source material, if you’re looking for them.
If you have fond memories of playing the game, go see it.
I’m about halfway through Once Upon Atari: How I Made History By Killing an Industry by Howard Scott Warshaw, and loving it.
Howard Scott Warshaw, if you didn’t know, was a programmer for Atari in the early 80s. He worked in their console division, where he developed the games Yar’s Revenge, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. These were groundbreaking games on the most popular home console of its day, and accomplished many “firsts”.
In 1983, the video game market suddenly collapsed, due to a combination of a multitude of factors, but at the time Warshaw’s E.T. was often given blame for causing what came to be known as the “Great Crash of ’83’. E.T. has often been referred to as “the worst video game of all time” but that is quite unfair to the game, which pushed the limits of the Atari 2600 hardware, and while not perfect, was by no means a bad game — although it was drastically over-produced by Atari, leading to a huge amount of unsold inventory, which hurt the company’s bottom line. Warshaw was given 5 weeks to develop the game, a feat thought by his managers to be impossible given that most Atari 2600 games took about 6 months to develop.
This is all well known and chronicled history for video game fans. Warshaw to his credit has been remarkably accessible and open about his story for some time, and has given numerous interviews over the years. He’s even been known to appear on the Atari Age facebook page and comment once in a while. He’s truly a legend of the industry, and a wonderful, brilliant human being. This book details his story, how he came to work for Atari, what went on there during his tenure (confirming a lot of the oft-retold stories about the workplace culture), and how he faced the indignity of being cast as the creator of the “worst game of all time”.
Warshaw left Atari and went on to become a licensed psychotherapist and has helped people like himself, who worked in the high tech field to deal with the immense pressures that they’re put under to be creative, be correct, and deliver products that will make billions of dollars for themselves or their shareholders.
I haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet, but from what I already know of his story, his approach to dealing with failure, or at least the perception that he had been responsible in large part for a massive and very public failure of what had just a year prior been the fastest growing company in the history of the world, is remarkable as it is instructive. He has embraced the label, but adds to it that his Yar’s Revenge is often cited as one of the best video games on the Atari, thus giving him the rightful claim to having the greatest range of any game developer. Turning a negative into a badge of pride, he has faced the critics, rebutted them with not just clever rhetoric, but also facts, figures, and sound reasoning, and provides us an example of how “failure” often isn’t failure, that perceptions matter, that what you tell yourself matters, and that above all it does not define us — we have the power, if we choose to use it, to define ourselves.
Warshaw’s writing style is accessible, not overly technical, candid, often quite humorous, warm and insightful. Reading his book makes me admire him even more than I did, and grateful for the handful of times that he’s Liked something that I’ve said on the Atari Age facebook page, and most of all, thankful for the many hours I spent as a young child engaging with, and enthralled by, his digital creations.
Usually we hate to forget things. But one of the best things about being able to forget is that you can have a cherished experienced again as though for the first time.
REDDER was a game by indie game developer Anna Anthropy and first released on the web in 2010. I played it for the first time not long after, and it remains to this day one of my favorite puzzle platform games. Few games have made me want to design my own games as much as REDDER, and that’s perhaps the highest compliment I can think of to give it.
I’ve re-played it multiple times since then, and always enjoy it so much.
This year is the first year that Adobe has ended support for Flash, the technology that REDDER was originally built on. I have written previously on the impending death of Flash, and what that means for tens of thousands of video games that were built with it during its 25+ year history.
I feared that this would result in a vast, rich cultural legacy becoming more and more inaccessible. I still fear that. Adobe didn’t just drop support for Flash, didn’t just cease continuing development of it. They pulled the plug. Browsers stopped supporting it, so now in order to run Flash objects in a browser, one needs to keep an outdated browser. This of course has its own problems, and very few people will continue do do it. Moreover, as the userbase moves into a post-flash browser-scape, web hosts will over time have less and less incentive to continue hosting legacy Flash experiences, and in time perhaps the only ones that will persist will be deliberate historical preservation efforts.
That’s a damn shame, because REDDER belongs in the Smithsonian, or the Library of Congress, or both.
Fortunately, Anna Anthropy has re-packaged Redder, in a desktop OS format that wraps a Flash player into stand-alone application, and allows it to be enjoyed on Windows and Mac OS X. It is available for $5 on itch.io, and is worth every penny.
What a beautiful thing it is that I can forget this game just enough to be able to come back to it and experience it again, re-discovering the solutions to the maze and helping my little space explorer friend in their quest to collect all the diamonds to replenish his stranded spaceship.
The platforming is basic. You move, you jump, that’s it. There’s no wall jumps, no edge hanging, no coyote time, it’s pure basic simple. There’s no shooting, no destroying enemies. Your only tools are your brain, to figure out how to get past obstacles and get to where you need to go, and your agility, to accomplish the task. There are save points, to make the deadly obstacles a lot less annoying. There are switches to flip, which toggle special colored platforms into and out of existence, which serve as doors and platforms that block your way or create bridges to access deeper reaches of the world or traverse deadly obstacles to add an element of risk to the challenges you’ll face. When one type is on, the other type is off. And together they serve as the building block of the platform puzzles you’ll need to solve to win the game.
As you progress through the game, the graphics and music begin to glitch. It’s subtle at first, a tile here and there, and it adds an element of mystery to the game. As you continue to collect diamonds, the glitching increases, until, near the end the entire game is out of control with random tile animations. When the final diamond is collected, the entire facade is stripped bare, and everything turns into raw collision boxes, color coded — a clean, pure visual language.
There are only three types of hazard in the game: patrolling robots, which traverse horizontally and are deadly to touch but never react to your presence in any other way; “drip guns”, which shoot deadly pellets that you must duck, jump, or otherwise avoid with good timing, and electrical fields which don’t move and must be avoided.
For all its simplicity, the game provides an engaging challenge to find your way through the complex, maze-like alien world, and collect all 27 diamonds.
One thing I love about REDDER is that there are no locks. You start out with all your powers, and apart from the switch platforms that are the only real puzzles blocking your progress, there’s nothing preventing you from doing anything, going anywhere that you can go in the game, from start to finish.
What I love about this is that this forces the design to challenge you in ways other than “oh if you get the item, you can get past this”. This comes down to understanding the map — the twisting, interconnected pathways connecting the grid of screens that comprise the world of REDDER, how platforms and switches relate to one another, flipping switches in the correct order to allow passage, and having a modest desgree of skill to master the timing and agility needed to make the jumps and avoid the dangers.
It’s a casual play — I would call the vibe relaxing. The music is soothing and evokes a spirit of exploration and puzzle solving. The game provides a fun challenge without relying on fear, anxiety, or frustration. Toward the end of the game, as the graphics and background music become increasingly glitch-ified, the game does start to produce a bit of anxiety. If you’re playing the game late at night, it can almost feel like your lack of sleep is to blame for the game’s breaking down. I really like this. To me it is the “something extra” that gives the game a memorable mystery, a question left unanswered, which both frees and empowers the player to come up with their own explanation, should they choose to.
Additionally there are three secret hidden rooms off-map. These serve no purpose other than to delight you for finding them, and perhaps provide a clue or an auteur’s signature.
It seems there have been a few changes from the original in this version. I don’t remember these secret rooms having these messages — a web search reveals that the original REDDER had secret rooms with the words “ANNA” “TRAP” and “PART”. TRAP and PART are of course pairs that make a palindrome, and ANNA is a palindrome, and REDDER is a palindrome. There’s something up with palindromes in this game.
But I don’t know what ROB? OWOR and BORR mean. It makes me wonder what else may have changed, and why the changes were made.
Donkey Kong is the foundation of a modern business empire, a cultural cornerstone, the genesis story of the Marioverse. Not liking Donkey Kong is something akin to blasphemy. I gave it a shot. I wanted to like it. But I just never liked it.
I first played Donkey Kong when it was new, in the Arcade, on Atari, and ColecoVision, and I never considered it one of my favorites. It was a smash hit when it came out, sold tens of thousands of arcade cabinets, swallowed hundreds of millions of quarters, sold millions of cartridges on home consoles, and been ported to just about every console of its generation and the next few after. It was groundbreaking, both technically and in terms of game mechanics and narrative.
I recognize all of that, and I still don’t care for the game. I respect it for its accomplishments, but yet I don’t like it. I can’t enjoy playing it.
This isn’t merely a statement of opinion or taste; I don’t enjoy playing Donkey Kong, and I don’t find it to be a particularly well-designed game.
Let’s talk about that.
Barrels – the first screen
Donkey Kong is very difficult and unforgiving. Part of its difficulty stems from the tight window for clearing dangerous obstacles, and the narrow clearance for successful jumps. But much of it comes from design choices that tend to make the game feel unfair.
Jumping is the key mechanic around which the whole game is based. Yet, the jumping mechanic is rough. When you jump, you can’t change direction or height, so you’re committed to the path of the jump until you land. This makes jumping risky and hard. When you make a mistake, there’s no second chances. You know you’re going to die, and there’s nothing you can do but watch and wait for it.
You can’t jump very high — just the exact height to clear a barrel or fireball, and the exact distance to clear two barrels if they’re right next to each other… barely. Miss a jump by a little bit and you’re dead.
On the first screen, some of the ramps look like they might be close enough together to allow Jumpman to jump up to the next platform from the one below, but that is not permitted. You can only ascend to the next platform by climbing a ladder.
Not that you’d normally ever want to, but you can’t jump down from the edge of a ramp to the one below, either — the height is not great, but it will still kill you.
If you jump off a platform, you die if you fall just a short distance. Jumpman can’t survive falling any farther than the peak height of his jump.
You can’t get off a ladder until you get allll the way up to the top of it, or allll the way to the bottom. Very often, you’ll think you’re there, and try to move left or right, only to find that you’re still locked onto the ladder and unable to move. A better design would have been to treat horizontal joystick input as continuing Jumpman’s previous climbing direction, moving him the rest of the way up/down the ladder until he is clear.
There’s no jumping from a ladder, either. Allowing this would make the game play feel less stiff, and give the player greater control and flexibility. It seems like Jumpman should maybe be able to reach up from the lower ladder to grab the bottom rung of the upper half and climb up, or to jump off from the top of the broken ladder to get some extra distance and height out of the move. And, surely, if only he could only jump vertically from the top of the ladder, you’d be able to reach the top half and continue up. But no, he can’t do any of these things.
Some of the ladders are broken, turning the ladder into a deadly dead-end. You can climb up them, but only get part-way. Even if you’re at the very top rung of the bottom half of a broken ladder, barrels rolling by below you will still hit you and kill you, even though you’re well off the ground. It’d be nice if the game gave you a break and decided there was enough clearance that you could be safe here. And a barrel that decides to roll down from the platform above and take the ladder path will also kill you. If it does, there’s no way you have time to get out of the way in time; you’re a sitting duck You’re stuck on the broken ladder until you backtrack down and get off. If you could jump off the ladder, or jump to clear the gap where the ladder broke, you’d have one more option, open up possibilities, a chance to dodge out of the way, and it would make the game feel a little more fair. But Donkey Kong doesn’t give this to you.
The Hammer power-up allows Jumpman to fight back against the barrels and fireballs that are his bane, and earn extra points. But this comes at a cost.
Jumpman can’t climb ladders with the hammer, and cannot jump. This means he is stuck on the platform where he grabbed the hammer, for as long as the hammer persists.
The hammer is a temporary item, which runs on a timer that ends after a few seconds, but without warning. You can be right about to smash a barrel when suddenly the hammer disappears, leaving you defenseless and no time to jump out of the way. And if that happens, again you have no choice but to die. This feels unfair. To fix this problem, the game should give the player a cue to let them know that their hammer time is about to expire — blinking or an audio signal would be helpful. And maybe if the game detects that Jumpman is facing a barrel, and it is within a “close enough” distance just as time is about to expire, give the hammer enough extra frames before despawning it to allow the barrel to be busted, avoiding what would otherwise feel like an unfair death.
Since the levels are timed, and running out of time will kill you, and you can’t clear the level when you have the hammer because you can’t climb with it, getting the hammer can screw you if you grab it while the timer is running low.
As well, your remaining time gives you bonus points, so being forced by the hammer to wait before you can finish the level can actually cost you points, unless you can smash enough barrels/fireballs to make up for the lost bonus time, and make it worthwhile. It would be better if you could cancel the hammer early, or if you could still climb and jump while holding it. Or, perhaps hitting the jump button while holding the hammer could make Jumpman throw the hammer, giving you a useful way to cancel it early, and a ranged attack that could come in handy and give you one more option.
The hammer may make you seem invincible, but you can still be killed if a barrel gets past the hammer to touch Jumpman. Most players don’t realize this until, soon enough, they learn it the hard way. A barrel coming down a ladder can be hit by the hammer, but if it swings out of the way and the timing is just wrong, the barrel may hit Jumpman in the head before the hammer swings back up. Likewise, the rolling barrels may approach Jumpman from behind, or roll under the hammer while it is swinging above Jumpman’s head. The swinging of the hammer is automatic, not controlled by the player, so whether the hammer hits the barrel or the barrel gets through is somewhat random. Usually Jumpman will hit, but once in a while the barrel will get through. I would fix this design issue by making Jumpman invincible from the front while holding the hammer, but still let him take hits from above and the rear.
Barrel pathing is pernicious; whether a barrel will go down a ladder or continue down the ramp can’t be known for absolutely certain, but it seems that barrels are more likely to go down the ladder if you’re on the ladder, making using ladders especially deadly. It makes you paranoid to avoid starting up a ladder until any approaching barrels have cleared the ladder you need to climb. To some extent, you can manipulate the barrel AI by your position and direction, as the enemies will tend to take the path that is least advantageous to you. So by standing to one side or the other of a ladder, and facing the right direction, you can often influence the barrel to take the short path or the long path.
Barrel spacing is too random and can often kill you unfairly. Donkey Kong will sometimes roll two barrels at you too far apart to jump both together, and too close together to jump the first one and then immediately jump the next one.
Sometimes DK will toss a barrel that will go straight diagonally down the screen, ignoring collisions with the ramps. These move extremely fast and are unpredictable, making them all but impossible to dodge. If you happen to be in their path, at the top of the screen, you have almost no warning and no time to get out of the way.
Collisions with barrels will kill you with any overlap — even if you’re standing on the platform below, with your head poking above the next level, a barrel rolling along that level will collide with you and kill you. An if it passes below and clips your feet even a little, while you’re on a ladder, it’ll kill you as well. Collision boxes could have been made smaller, to make slight collisions forgiving, and allow for exciting “close calls” rather than cruel kills.
You clear this screen by popping all the rivets out of the girders, causing the structure to collapse. You clear the rivets by walking over them. This creates a narrow gap between the two rivets, really it’s just a crack. It looks narrow enough that you should easily be able to walk over it without inconvenience, much less danger. Yet, if you try, you find that Jumpman will fall through this narrow gap, to his death. This could have been nerfed by making you stop at the edge of these gaps rather than fall, or by allowing you to step over them unimpeded.
In later Mario games, Mario has the ability to fall any distance without injury, so long as he doesn’t fall into a bottomless pit. In Donkey Kong, though, Jumpman can’t fall any distance greater than the height he can jump. This means you have a lot less options and possibilities for moving around a level. The result is the controls feel stiff and uncomfortable.
You can grab a hammer on this level, as well, and if you do, you’ll be stuck walking back and forth on the girder you’re on, unable to walk over any gaps created by a missing rivet. This often means waiting for several seconds on one of the smaller side platforms, unable to climb up or down the ladders, and unable to cross the rivet gap. When you have the hammer, the fireball enemies that move around this level will often keep out of your reach, unless they happen to already be on that platform with you, seemingly waiting for your hammer time to end, so they can swarm you the instant you’re again vulnerable. If this happens, you’re often blocked from multiple sides, or facing two consecutive fireballs spaced so that you can’t clear them with any possible jump. Again, it’s like the game is designed to punish you.
I could never clear this screen as a kid, not that I got many chances to. To get to it, you have to clear Girders, Rivets, and then Girders again, making the first Elevator screen level the fourth level in the game, and by this time I’m usually out of lives.
The jumps on this screen are very unforgiving, due to the height that Jumpman will fall if he misses the moving elevator platforms that he must land on in order to make his way to the goal. If you mis-time your jump, you may miss the platform, or simply land on it after falling too far. And you don’t have to fall very far to fall too far and trigger a death when you land.
There are bonus objects to pick up on this level, and not very many other scoring opportunities. But the bonus objects are so difficult to reach it’s not really worth it. You’ll waste too much time, or miss a jump and die.
At the end of this level, there’s a bouncing spring that moves horizontally very quickly, bouncing at you before falling down the right side of the screen. This makes any approach up the level involving movement through the right side of the screen especially deadly. It takes pixel perfect timing to avoid this final obstacle, and it’s probably the hardest single challenge to negotiate in the entire game. Apparently (I say, because I’ve never done it) the way to clear this final obstacle is to wait patiently, and time your move so that you can pass through the danger zone between one spring launching and the next. Move at the wrong time, and you’re screwed. It’s possible stand in a specific spot where the spring will bounce over Mario harmlessly. I don’t think it’s possible to jump over the spring; if you can it’s almost certainly not worth the risk.
Pie Factory Screen
This screen is also known as the cement factory, or the conveyor belt screen. I don’t remember ever playing it, so I don’t really have complaints here. To get here, you need to clear 7 screens, and since I could never get past the Elevator screen in level 4, making it to the Pie Factory was far beyond my ability. It’s also the level that is often omitted from home console ports. I don’t even know what you need to do to clear this screen.
I watched some videos of people playing this level, and it looks like it might one of the more enjoyable levels. A few of the platforms are conveyor belts, which affect Jumpman’s horizontal speed when running on them, depending on which direction you’re facing, they’ll make you slower or faster. This doesn’t seem to affect your jumping ability much, though, because any other objects on these platforms are also affected by the conveyor belt speed.
At the top of the screen are two extension ladders which slide up and down according to a timed pattern. To clear the level, you have to wait for the ladders to extend up, then climb to the top-most platform. This doesn’t seem terribly difficult, although you’ll be at the mercy of the timing if there happen to be any fireball enemies nearby, you may not be able to get past them due to the timing of the ladders.
It’s hard to say without having played it, but all-in-all I think the Pie Factory might actually be one of the easier levels in the game. Which makes it seem strange/questionable that it is the last to be introduced to the player.
Lose a life and start over
On any level, if you lose a life, you start over from the start of the level you’re on. No progress is saved, no checkpoints. In order to clear the level, you have to do it perfectly, not making any lethal mistakes. This makes clearing any level which you have difficulty with especially difficult.
In a modernization, I imagine that there would be a waypoint system to allow you to keep some of the progress you make in a level. On the Rivets screen, this would be a simple matter of remembering the rivets you’ve popped. On the Elevator screen, starting Jumpman on the last platform he safely touched before dying would be helpful. On the Barrels screen, resuming exactly where you died would be nice, but if not, then at least start over on the last platform touched.
Why did Donkey Kong succeed?
Donkey Kong was one of the most successful arcade games ever, and even today it is a favorite of many gamers who appreciate the games of this period.
In 1981, arcade videogames were still quite new and had grown almost unimaginably popular after about a decade of market growth and technical development, with great interest in any new title that came out. It was a time we now look at as a golden age for the video arcade, after several years of ascendancy through the 70’s black and white era that gave way to the mega-popular blockbusters that dominated the early 80’s, games like Asteroids, Berzerk, Defender, Pac Man, Dig Dug, Joust, Galaga, and Moon Patrol. Out of all of them, only Pac Man made more money than Donkey Kong. What made it such an attraction?
Donkey Kong had the benefit of being unlike anything that had come before it, in terms of play style and technology, yet it had instant familiarity all at once, in the way it echoed the familiar King Kong story from classic cinema. It had colorful cartoon-like graphics. Its sound effects and music were charming. The game play was novel, yet intuitive, despite the brutal difficulty level. And for an arcade game, being extremely difficult was actually a good thing, since it resulted in shorter games, more credits per hour, and thus higher revenue. The challenged appealed to many gamers of the time. And there were not yet other games similar enough to compare against it, so the rough edges in the mechanics weren’t very obvious.
As one of the earliest platformer games, it broke ground and innovated, and for the time that was enough. Despite the shortcomings, rough edges, and unforgiving difficulty, it captured the minds of the public and gave them entertainment.
For all that, though, it just wasn’t for me, and I’ve come to accept that. For my quarter, Ms. Pac Man or Zookeeper is a far better play.
In 2007, Pac Man creator Toru Iwatani gave me all the reason I needed to buy an XBox 360 when Namco released his farewell game, Pac Man Championship Edition.
Easily the best Pac Man game ever made, it was a fantastic modernization of the classic game which updated the design to maximize Flow, the zen-like state of consciousness sometimes called being “in the Zone”. Featuring a split maze, where completing one side spawns a prize on the opposite side, which, when eaten, refreshes the completed side, the game is perfectly set up for non-stop maze running and high score runs, where your goal is to maximize points in a timed run through a combination of eating dots, prizes, and ghosts.
I learned yesterday that a NES demake of Pac-Man CE has been released on the latest Namco Museum anthology, available on Nintendo Switch.
The original Pac Man CE was designed for 16:9 TV screens, while the NES is obviously engineered to display its graphics on an NTSC 4:3 display at 240i resolution. So to work around the limitations, the demake uses an ingenious programming technique to scroll the maze, using the NES’s video buffer to create an infinite horizontal wrap when you use the warp tunnels.
This is a must-play, must-own if you’re a fan of Pac Man or the NES. It’s also worth owning on the Switch. Apart from online leaderboards, it is fully featured, quite faithful to the XBox 360 original, and extremely well done.