Monday, September 28, 2015

Happy 25 Gameboy

I've started collecting again for my Gameboy's for the first time in at least 15 years. It's fun to be a little older and have a little more money to pick up some of those titles I couldn't get as a kid. 

Of course when my first title Solar Striker arrived by mail a couple weeks back, I felt like a kid all over again. Suddenly, memories came pouring back, of being 12 or 13 and looking at and buying new Gameboy games. I remember being able to put hours into those games and in most cases beating them. 

My time with my Gameboy and its games was at that right time in my life when I began to notice the world around me. Super Mario Land (1&2) where my summertime games, Metroid 2 was a Christmas vacation game played before Christmas. Choplifter 2 was my after Christmas game and winter game, as was The Hunt for Red October. Radar Mission was a Saturday night buy when I was stuck at a store with my parents and a traveling companion thereafter. Most of my games had a place and a connection to something else in my life. I can even remember two games I wanted Top Gun: Guts & Glory, and Turn & Burn being games I wanted to by the summer after I graduated from 8th Grade. 

Once I got into high school my taste changed as I became a PC gamer. But in 2000, while stuck in an endless string of hotels I bought a Gameboy Color and new memories emerged, especially with Paperboy, and SpyHunter. 

With today being the 25th anniversary of the original Gameboy, I wish I had a bigger and more in depth article in place. Frankly, the date snuck up me though and all I can really justly do is just share these memories. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Defining 8-bit: Part 1 - A Journey into Nostalgia and Perception

About a two years ago I was having a conversation with a hardcore Atari 2600 fan regarding a particular game we both liked, that had both an Atari 2600 port and an NES port. In the conversation I had made some comment about how that particular Atari 2600 game was good but looked better in 8-bit alá the NES. As I said that he stopped to correct me (very nicely I might add) saying that although he knew what I meant about 8-bit and the NES, that Atari 2600 games where technically 8-bit too. At first I was taken a bit back by that though, I knew that Atari had programmed many of their games using 8-bit computers like their own Atari 400 and 800, but I never made the direct connection to Atari 2600 games being 8-bit. In my mind when comparing the offerings of the Atari 2600, to the NES it was easy to lose sight of the fact that the 2600 was 8-bit too.

Even though both the Atari 2600 and the NES are 8-bit, it isn't an illusion that what you are seeing looks worlds apart. The fact of the matter is that this has very little to do with the graphical limitations of 8-bit, and more to do with the hardware itself. The NES as well as the other systems of the 3rd generation had hardware that was exponentially more powerful than those of early gen 2 systems like the Atari 2600. In one of my previous articles "A Bit of an Issue"  I talked about the part Moore's Law played in this and how the hardware of 1983's Famicon (the NES forerunner) would have been anywhere between 16 and 64 times more powerful then what would have been on the 1977 Atari 2600. This would mean that the NES was not only an overall more powerful system do to its updated microprocessor and onboard memory, but game carts of the era would have benefited as well by being able to hold significantly larger programs that increased both the quantity and quality of gameplay. Despite all this though game programmers still went about developing games for 8-bit microprocessors and continued to use 8-bit machine language to compile their programs. The end result was two forms of 8-bit that looked and felt nothing alike.

If you dig deeper though, you will see an evolution take place between the 2600 and NES that can show you how changes in hardware development lead us from one to the other in visual terms. The Atari 5200, Intellivision and Colecovision, as well as computers of the era such as the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari 800, and early PC all give us hands on examples of how changing hardware and its capabilities evolved 8-bit between 1977 and 1985. Games began to look better, and become more complicated as ever increasing instruction sets played out, and as many developers where able to bring their imaginations to graphical fruition. The 1982 Lucas-Arts game Rescue On Fractalus on Atari 800 and 5200 is a prime example of the evolution of 8-bit gaming between 1977 and 1985. Rescue On Fractalus although now a relatively obscure game, pushed the boundaries of 8-bit gaming with a unique space/flight simulator experience that no other game of the time was offering. The neatly textured 3D terrain, characters, and complexity of play set the game apart from many of its simpler contemporaries of 1982. The game was able to show off the capabilities of the short lived Atari 5200, which up until that point had for the most part had been relegated to playing nothing more then upgraded versions of titles previous available on the Atari 2600. In essence Rescue On Fractalus was a preview of what 8-bit would come to look like on gen 3 8-bit systems.

In this series I hope to get a clear definition of what 8-bit is from gaming podcaster's who experienced it in its many forms when it was the only way to play. My end goal being to show you my reader the many incarnations of 8-bit, while expanding the way you perceive it.