Self-pimp: Retro Gamer 83 and Primal Rage

These days, videogame companies have access to mainstream 3D tools, but it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1990s, 3D was in its infancy, so when Dennis Harper decided he wanted to do a game like Street Fighter 2, but starring realistic dinosaur-like deities, he had a problem. In the end, Primal Rage became a mash-up of one-on-one fighter and Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation (and then went on to become a crazy marketing phenomenon—there was even a Primal Rage slide projector).

For the full story, check out my interview with Dennis in Retro Gamer 83.

November 9, 2010. Read more in: Arcade, Stuff by me


Chuck chucks Missile Command history out the window

While watching the latest Chuck last night (‘Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer’, which, knowing UK TV, aired sometime last year in the USA), Missile Command became a major plot point. Chuck (the show) is harmless fun, but it did highlight a problem in taking history and messing with the truth with merry abandon.

The episode was mostly quite well-written and the revisions not nearly as irksome as, say, Titanic taking First Officer William Murdoch and turning a guy who saved lives into a murderer, but I was nonetheless decidedly uncomfortable at times. The reason? Missile Command is essentially a pacifist game. As ex-Atari guy Greg Rivera mentioned to me in a recent interview: “One of the goals [of the Missile Command team] was to teach the futility of war. No-one ever won Missile Command,” adding that there’s no ‘game over’ in the production, just an ominous ‘THE END’ when all your cities are destroyed. In Chuck, however, Dave Theurer is turned into Atari’s Japanese chief engineer, with terrorist ties.

All shows take liberties with history, and I’m sure no malice was intended by the scriptwriters. But in an increasingly hostile age, it’s a shame to see a fantastic satirical, pacifist statement by a true giant of classic videogames misrepresented in such major fashion. Then again, the concept of a living, breathing, vibrant and bustling Atari HQ in the USA almost makes up for it.


Crazed Atari fans try to get back at Chuck’s inaccuracies the only way they can—retro-videogame-style.

July 15, 2009. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Retro gaming, Television


The need for speed: the majesty of S.T.U.N. Runner

S.T.U.N. Runner

Some gaming experiences stay with you forever. I’ve played more videogames than I care to remember, on many different platforms, but I distinctly remember ambling into a very small arcade in Clearwater and, among the beaten-up and half-dead machines, spotting S.T.U.N. Runner.

Akin to smashing a futuristic bobsled game into a rollercoaster experience with a hammer, S.T.U.N. Runner got over the feeling of speed in a way no games had done before and few have done since. The pace was breathtaking to my younger self, and the game over incredibly quickly. But on getting to grips with the game’s mechanics, S.T.U.N. Runner became a fantastic means to while away an hour, escaping from the hot Florida midday sun.

Snapping back to more recent times, Ed Rotberg was kind enough to chat with me last year about his classic tank game Battlezone, and we then talked about S.T.U.N. Runner. Preparing for the interview a day earlier, I fired up the game in MAME and had forgotten how pretty it is. Sleek vector-based designs shoot past at breakneck speed, and even when using a PC, control of the craft is just perfect.

Perhaps this is nostalgia putting the boot in, but I think it’s a massive shame that the game has never been done justice on home formats (with the exception of an astonishing and surprisingly faithful Atari Lynx effort), because even in today’s rush for increasingly extreme gaming experiences, S.T.U.N. Runner still impresses.

My interview with Ed (and co-conspirator Andrew Burgess) is in the current Retro Gamer.

S.T.U.N. Runner

April 8, 2009. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming

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In the (Battle)zone

Late last year, I had the good fortune to interview Ed Rotberg, creator, among other things, of the groundbreaking Battlezone. This vector graphics tank simulator was the first truly immersive 3D environment in videogames, and probably the first 3D update of a 2D classic, what with it being heavily based on Kee/Atari’s various overhead Tank games.

The current issue of Retro Gamer, 59, includes portions of the interview in ‘The Making of Battlezone’, and the game is featured on the cover as a beautifully rendered faux-vector scene.

This seems to have been good timing by Retro Gamer, since all kinds of Battlezone-related things seem to be cropping up right now. First, there’s Vector Tanks, a heavily Battlezone-inspired blaster for iPhone, written by the supremely talented Peter Hirschberg. Secondly, Wade Shooter’s video for Fujiya & Miyagi’s Sore Thumb dresses the band and instruments in vector ekoskeletons, occasionally cutting to scenes of vector tank warfare.

Battlezone video

The kind of band Red Dwarf’s Kryten no doubt dreams of.

January 27, 2009. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Interviews, Magazines, Retro Gamer, Retro gaming

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Eugene Jarvis on the reality of clones in the games industry

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of hours talking to games designer Eugene Jarvis, the chap responsible for, amongst other titles, Robotron: 2084 and Defender. The guy is one of those genius types who’s about as modest as they come. Handily—what with me interviewing him for various magazine articles—he also happens to be witty and able to provide plenty of insight into gaming’s past, present and future.

One of the things gaming’s typically accused of in the modern era is churning out more of the same, crushing innovation underfoot. Jarvis has a different take:

I’m blown away with how games have gone. Look at Defender side-by-side with Halo or BioShock, and all these modern games, and see where we got in 25 years… It’s amazing how from year-to-year we’re always complaining that everything’s just the same as the last game—sequel upon sequel. But we used to say that in the Space Invaders era! It seems like from year-to-year, we’re always decrying the lack of progress. But then after 25 years of that, it’s like: holy cow! [laughs] 25 years of cloned games and we’ve gone a long way!

I’m usually the first to complain about stagnation within gaming and a lack of innovation, but Jarvis offers a good point. Sometimes, it pays to take a step back and make a more direct comparison between past and present. Evolution isn’t always fast, and like watching a child or plant grow, it often takes juxtaposing things ten years apart to see how much something has changed.

That’s not to say that there aren’t massive problems in the current games industry, because there are. However, this most-talked-about of concerns has clearly been a headache since the very start of gaming (indeed, Jarvis noted that Robotron: 2084 is basically Space Invaders crossed with Berzerk!, and that Defender evolved from a batch of Space Invaders and Asteroids clones), and so perhaps it’s time to get over the cloning issue and just enjoy gaming’s continual—if decidedly inconsistent—evolution on the path to who-knows-where.


Robotron: 2084. If you’re a youngster, this is where your modern console game’s controls first appeared.

July 30, 2008. Read more in: Arcade, Gaming, Opinions, Retro gaming

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