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Orson Scott Card on Games, 21 Years Ago 121

Posted by Zonk
from the back-in-the-dark-ages dept.
MilenCent writes "Long long ago, Orson Scott Card wrote a game opinion column for Compute! Magazine. In the November 1983 issue, he had some interesting things to say about the essential ingredients of a great game, all arguably still important today. He picked out one company that, at the time, consistently excelled in most of these areas--try to guess which one! Additional commentary over at Curmudgeon Gamer."
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Orson Scott Card on Games, 21 Years Ago

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  • EA... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:48PM (#14752155)
    "The software firm Electronic Arts has added a fifth requirement for itself: The game must be truly original. No Donkey Kong or Pac-Man clones in this group, of games. Even though each of their games has roots in gaming traditions, the object has not been to recreate a favorite board game, or duplicate a sport, or translate an arcade game." Oh how the mighty have fallen.
    • Oh how the mighty have fallen.

      In a way it makes sense. They wouldn't have gotten so big today if they weren't doing something right in the first place. They gained their original capital by making games that people actually wanted to buy (without the brandname to rely on and the oodles of marketing they can spend now) which allowed them to make all the acquisitons which have led to them becoming the behemoth they are today.

      As is described in more detail by the Snopes article [snopes.com] on the "curse" that seems to

      • the "curse" that seems to follow football stars featured on Chunky Soup can labels

        Granted this is OT, but the same thing could be said for Pepsi commercials. Britney Spears and Spice Girls did Pepsi commercials and look were they are now.
      • No one comments about companies who have always performed poorly, "oh how the mildly pathetic have become even worse."

        There are plenty of articles about how Infinium Labs [phantom.net] sucks, and they haven't so much as put out a product, yet.

        Derek Smart put out what many consider a long string of terrible games and even among those that despise him, he's something of a legend. [Caveat: I haven't played any Derek Smart games. I'm just saying the only press for these games I've seen is bad. They could be sparkl
    • . . . that at one point in time first-person shooters were considered "original". How many Wolfenstein and DOOM clones/sequels are "original?"

      The way I see it, no FPS is "original" except THE original, Wolfenstein. But some people still consider Halo "original" since it follows a storyline - like Marathon didn't?

      • But some people still consider Halo "original" since it follows a storyline - like Marathon didn't?

        Or, for that matter, the original System Shock? Damn, that was a good game. Nothing beats turning on your top-level personal shield, sparking up the lightsab^Wlaser rapier and charging right into SHODAN's elite cyborg armies...

      • by Kadin2048 (468275)
        like Marathon didn't?

        I think you misspelled Pathways Into Darkness [wikipedia.org].

        I remember playing that game late at night... it's amazing how scary you can get 640x480, 8-bit graphics.
  • Madden 2015 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Forrest Kyle (955623) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:50PM (#14752164) Homepage
    "The software firm Electronic Arts has added a fifth requirement for itself: The game must be truly original."

    lol

    Other company mission statements from 1983:
    Mac: Our computers must run everyone's software and be affordable.
    Microsoft: By 2006, all bugs and security holes must be eliminated. Also, we will open source everything.
    FCC: By 2006, ABC will be required to show boobs at the top of every hour, all day long. Also, Howard Stern will host the Oscars.
  • by Kronovohr (145646) <kronovohr AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:50PM (#14752166) Homepage
    2006 - 1983 = 21? man...I guess that's the new math for you
  • by Oldsmobile (930596) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:52PM (#14752175) Journal
    Yes, I agree, games should always be excellent.
    • Quoting out of context makes you look like an ass when someone calls your bluff. This is the full quote:

      3. It should be an excellent game, not just excellent programming - the play itself should be exciting and not serve merely as an excuse to show off the programmer's expertise.
  • by jdwilso2 (90224) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:53PM (#14752183)
    Killing Origin Systems was the beginning of the end of my respect for them.

    Now they've evloved into more of a video game sweat shop than anything else. The games they publish that are still good are designed and written by third partys.

    Reading this article really hightens my sense of loss for one of the great companies of my generation.
    • I hated them when they killed Westwood.
    • The sports games like the Madden series were the beginning of the end for EA. They made hunks of cash with minimal creativity required. As a result, their production rules got applied to everything else EA made with devastating results. By the time they bought Origin there was no longer any room for out-of-the-box thinking.

      Then again, Origin was already half-dead. Starting with Ultima 7 they did just what Card lambasted in his article: "I have little patience with games that play me, forcing me to follow on
      • remember I lost my first attempt at Ultima 7 because I started wandering around and hit the story elements out of order.

        Really? It's been a couple years since I played U7, but I seem to recall that you couldn't hit anything out of order, in that certain characters didn't have anything to say, or sometimes don't even appear until precursor storylines had been opened. I loved U7 for that. Free to wander and explore whatever small side-stories you wanted, or just roam the countryside adventuring, pursuing th

      • >Then again, Origin was already half-dead. Starting with Ultima 7 they did just what Card lambasted in his article

        Yep. I played Ultima V, Ultima VI, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. Ultima V had crappy graphics but it took 200 hours to beat. Ultima VI was VGA and supported 16-bit sound. Savage Empire was the first to introduce recipes for items (sulphur+saltpeter=gunpowder+bamboo=flintlock). Martian Dreams? Never finished it. The only other RPG I played was Wasteland. And when I look at somethin
        • Ultima V had crappy graphics but it took 200 hours to beat.

          OT but.. wha?? for someone who had played them from the beginning, no: V was awesome. And I'm talking about the apple // version, too.
          • Ultima V had crappy graphics but it took 200 hours to beat.

            OT but.. wha?? for someone who had played them from the beginning, no: V was awesome. And I'm talking about the apple // version, too.


            Well, that could be it... IIRC the apple version of Ultima V looked much better than the PC version.

            Even more offtopic... Origin games had a history back then of driving new hardware purchases for me. Ultima VI made me buy a VGA card and monitor. Wing Commander drove me to build my computer from scratch, to save a
            • OT fine, all i'm saying is that Origin had much to offer circa Ultima V/VI but not much else by the time of Ultima VII and clones. By the time VGA was dominant most of the play styles were standardized. I recall Wing Commander well, thanks for bringing it up! I had almost forgotten pseudo-3D and the plot-centric WC3 that brought multi-disc gaming to the fore.
            • Well, that could be it... IIRC the apple version of Ultima V looked much better than the PC version.

              I guess I figured it was the reverse for some reason, given the funky pixel shifting apple // graphics. (and I only ever had a green monitor in those days).

              Even more offtopic... Origin games had a history back then of driving new hardware purchases for me. Ultima VI made me buy a VGA card and monitor.

              It was a sad day when I heard that Origin stopped Apple development. though I played through V, I never played
      • It's strange -- maybe it's just because I don't like sports computer games -- but when I think of EA, still the first game that comes to my mind is M.U.L.E. How's about that for longevity?
  • by Absolut187 (816431) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:55PM (#14752189) Homepage
  • What a debut! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yeechang Lee (3429) <ylee@pobox.com> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @07:56PM (#14752196) Homepage
    Yes, it's hard to believe that *that* company was once the unquestioned leader of innovative gaming.

    Consider the company's first five titles [wikipedia.org]:

    * Hard Hat Mack for the Atari 800 and Apple II
    * Archon for the Atari 800
    * Pinball Construction Set for the Atari 800 and Apple II
    * Worms? for the Atari 800
    * M.U.L.E. for the Atari 800

    One is absolutely, bar none, one of the greatest games of all time [salon.com]. Two [wikipedia.org] more [wikipedia.org] are notable milestones in gaming history. Four, perhaps all five, are considered classics.

    I like EA and its games. It's a tremendously-successful company, is (I think) the *only* videogame maker other than Nintendo and Sega to survive intact over the past two decades, and over the past 23 years has put out many other fine titles. But let's not forget that there was a time when it didn't depend quite so heavily on annual releases of Madden and NBA Live.
    • It's a tremendously-successful company, is (I think) the *only* videogame maker other than Nintendo and Sega to survive intact over the past two decades

      Namco, Konami, Activision, and Capcom are all companies that have survived the last 2 decades. I'm sure there are more. I think Rare could be considered to be autonomous enough for this list.
      • Namco, Konami, Activision, and Capcom are all companies that have survived the last 2 decades.

        In fact, Activision was the first ever third-party developer, having been formed by disgruntled Atari employees to write games for the Atari 2600. Atari sued Activision and lost, which opened the door for other third-party developers that came later.

        Namco, Konami and Capcom (add Taito and a few others to that list) started out as arcade developers, so their lineage is a bit different. Atari, Taito and Nintendo w
      • SetupWeasel wrote:

        Namco, Konami, Activision, and Capcom are all companies that have survived the last 2 decades.

        I can't speak for the others (although I suspect you're correct), but the current Activision only shares the name and some intellectual property (such as the Infocom brand name) with the company of the 1980s; that one went bankrupt.

        Indeed, it's much easier to list the names of the other prominent videogame publishers extant when EA debuted in 1983 that aren't around any more, versus those that sti

        • By your standards, though, even Sega hasn't "survived intact".
          • despitethesun wrote:
            By your standards, though, even Sega hasn't "survived intact".

            You're right; I completely forgot about Sammy having bought it. Well, I guess the list thins further.
        • Wow. Just that list of names is a walk down memory lane.
        • And Epyx made, absolutely bar-none, the BEST gaming controller ever. XJ500? was that it's model number? Best joystick EVER.
        • Activision never went bankrupt. They did use a tax law that allowed them to reclaim paid taxes after the videogame crash which probably helped.

          According to their own website [activision.com] "BHK Corporation, a company controlled by Activision's current executive management team" in 1990, but as it is a publicly traded company that stuff happens. It hasn't been merged into another company or ceased to exist at any point in time.
          • Activision never went bankrupt. They did use a tax law that allowed them to reclaim paid taxes after the videogame crash which probably helped.

            According to their own website "BHK Corporation, a company controlled by Activision's current executive management team" in 1990, but as it is a publicly traded company that stuff happens. It hasn't been merged into another company or ceased to exist at any point in time.

            Not quite. BHK Corporation (standing for Bobby Kotick, Activision's CEO ever since) did indeed bu

            • It's not that I don't believe you, but I don't find sources that say that.
              • but as I heard Kotick say in person

                He is the source. Once this thread is cached at Google I'll send you a link.
                • A great song writer once said:

                  You don't tug on Superman's cape,
                  You don't spit into the wind,
                  You don't pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger,
                  and you don't take a post on the Slashdot forums as gospel truth.


                  They might have tweaked that last line before they recorded it.
                  • SetupWeasel asks that I prove that I heard something in person, which is of course difficult to impossible.

                    However, regarding Activision's alleged bankruptcy--the central point regarding his skepticism--would a SEC 10K filing [sec.gov] with the following paragraph:

                    For purposes of this presentation, the Company prior to the January 9, 1992 effective date of its Plan of Reorganization (the "Plan of Reorganization") under Chapter 11 of Title 11 of the United States Code (the "Bankruptcy Code") is referred to as the "Pre

  • "It should be an excellent game"

    And I figured out how to win the next Superbowl - all I have to do is score more points than the opponent...

    But seriously - the article is pretty useless... The hard part is not to understand that you have to do something new and excellent - its how to do it. A minor detail the article unfortunately doesn't explain...

    Peter.
    • The article is a little more useful than that, even though what he said is self evident now.

      Scoring more points is a good way to win the Superbowl. Scoring more points is a crappy way to win the Masters.
  • It has been said a lot, but it really seems like most games today try to focus on having amazing graphics, and then move onto focusing on gameplay later, if ever.

    Some games manage to innovate both gameplay and graphics, but they are rare. A lot of sports games have played essentially the same for the past 5 or 6 years, with only graphical updates. Most FPS games are similar, with just better graphics (physics is an exception, but that's not really gameplay when it just has to do with rolling barrles after a
    • What part of HL2 physics are you referring to ?

    • by Xshare (762241) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:23PM (#14752489) Homepage
      Bullshit about the sports games. I keep hearing people saying this, yet I can't agree. Every year, the AI gets so much better, the ability to play more realistically gets much better, playcalling gets better, and the ability to change things on the fly gets better. I'm afraid of this stopping now that EA has exclusive rights on almost every sport, but sports games HAVE gotten much better over the past 5-6 years, and it hasn't been just graphics.
      • If you compare a sports game from 2006 to one from 5-6 years ago, yes, there's usually a huge improvement. Thing is, the improvement doesn't look so big when you compare, say, Madden 2001 to Madden 2002. While the changes and improvements do add up over time, they're not huge from year to year and so the criticism is still mostly valid.
      • You are correct but they're still just making incremental improvements to the same game. It's like taking a 2002 GMC sierra and comparing it to a 2003 GMC sierra. It still does everything the same, just better.

        On the other hand, a segway was real innovation. It was a flop, but it was an innovative flop.

        I can't say I'm happy with any recent innovations in the gaming industry. The MMORPG concept was pretty revolutionary, but nothing much new is happening now. It's the same basic rules with a new skin, be
  • by derek_m (125935)
    The software firm Electronic Arts has added a fifth requirement for itself: The game must be truly original.

    Clearly that one was forgotten about long ago, these days its just endless sequels each containing fewer differences than the last. Originality was forgotten about long ago in favour of squeezing every last dollar out of a 'franchise'.

  • by Errandboy of Doom (917941) on Saturday February 18, 2006 @08:08PM (#14752259) Homepage
    Read about and download M.U.L.E. here [the-underdogs.org].
  • EA (or ECA for us old-timers ;-) ) made some truly AMAZING games back in the day. Through them they established themselves and... well... led to what we have today.

    Ironic, I suppose, but at least they were worthy of success to begin with. Heh...
    • Yeah, the ECA days...that cube, sphere, pyramid logo was damn clever.

      And the games...man. Archon, Skate or Die, Realm of Impossibility...in those really cool "album cover" like boxes...plus the respect they gave to the game programmers as artists (hence, Electronic ARTS...) That was an amazing time.
    • EA (or ECA for us old-timers

      Funny, I always thought it was EOA. Could never figure out where the O came from though...Now I guess I'll spend my time trying to figure out why it was a C instead... : /
      • and it WAS "eoa" not "eca". the sphere was in place of the "o" when the logo was drawn in its entirety. "old timers" that pretended it was "eca" were just clueless, like the italian importer was at the time. a quick google search can clear up any doubt, otherwise you can just look up your old EA boxes (I still have some c64 stuff).
  • I've re-read Ender's Game lately (written in 1985), and was amased by some of the predictions Orson made in just one book. The "network", online news and bloggers (Locke and Demosthenes), hand-held devices used for education (we only start seing them now). Damn, I think we shouldn't be surprised if we see the buggers real soon! :)
    • Wow, a whole book to state the bleedin' obvious

    • I've re-read Ender's Game lately (written in 1985), and was amased by some of the predictions Orson made in just one book.

      Really? I saw nothing particularly insightful.

      The "network"

      Gosh, he envisioned a worldwide network only only 15-20 years after the creation of early world-wide networks like compuserve and the internet.

      online news and bloggers

      'cause no one was doing anything even remotely like that which could be fictionally extrapolated, like USENET of BBS's.

      hand-held devices used for education

      • Cut the flame. If you think that these things were obvious in 1985, then you obviously don't remember it as well as I do. Of course, computer networks existed since 1969. But they were either defense or university projects. The internet was only opened to the public in 1990's. Nobody could tell then what it would look like and how (if at all) it would be used by wide public. As to blogging, it only gained public awareness in this millenium.
        And where the heck did you come up that he only thought the netwo
        • The internet was only opened to the public in 1990's. Nobody could tell then what it would look like and how (if at all) it would be used by wide public. As to blogging, it only gained public awareness in this millenium.

          Card's "Locke and Demosthenes" bit could hardly have been described as a blog. It was public message boards, exactly like those found on CompuServe and scores of public and private BBS's. From Ch 9, Valentine to Peter on his plan to go on the net and manipulate public opinion:

          "On the net

    • Heh... If you think that's impressive, Murray Leinster predicted the Internet, home computers, search engines (is this prior art?), software filters for sensoring the search engiens, the idea that "information wants to be free" and home shopping in the short story A Logic Named Joe. [baen.com]
      • In 1946!

      Many thanks to Baen Books [baen.com] for putting the first couple of chapters of a novel online, and even whole books. [baen.com]

    • Actually, Ender's Game was a novella published in Analog science fiction magazine in August 1977. The predictions were there largely intact - I was reading it as a teenager at the time. This was still before the time of Radio Shack's TRS80.
  • by MBCook (132727)
    Can anyone point me to screenshots of that "Worms?" game. It sounds quite interesting, but I can't find screenshots anywhere on Google. In fact I can find next to nothing on it.
  • End Game (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 18, 2006 @08:59PM (#14752430)
    ""Long long ago, Orson Scott Card wrote a game opinion column for Compute! Magazine. In the November 1983 issue, he had some interesting things to say about the essential ingredients of a great game, all arguably still important today."

    And yet the one game he had a hand in, Advent Rising [adventtrilogy.com]. Did poorly in the marketplace.
    • Then again, he did have a hand (however minor [hatrack.com]) in Loom and wrote the dialogue for The Dig. I miss Lucasfilm Games.
    • Re:End Game (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cgenman (325138)
      No offense to Orson, but I take a touch of dark satisfaction when someone from another medium comes into gaming and falls on their face. It ISN'T easy to create great games. It doesn't just take vision, creativity, and a budget the size of texas. It takes compromises, a willingness to give the player control when the experience warrants, a willingness to take control away from the player when the experience warrants, a sense of the aesthetics of play, a team full of skilled people that you are willing to
      • Ah, but if you knew how little he actually had to do with AR you might take that back...let's just say he was a stand-up guy and did one of his relative (a cousin, I believe) a very, very big favor.
        • I believe it. He's probably a solid guy.

          But I also don't think that's how a writer in a videogame can work. Even though I see executives try it over and over again, you can't farm out the text and expect the plot to be any good. You can't even farm out the plot and text and expect the pacing, implementation, and emotional tone to be any good. You need your writer around, for the full development cycle, in-house, as a director. You need someone who will let the artists know what the subtle emotional fla
          • Haven't you ever played "The Dig"? Very underrated game and is an example of how Card (if properly used by the gaming company) can make a great game with a fantastic script. Also pick up Card's novel "The Lost Boys" which features a game designer in the 8-bit era as the main character.

            I think you're being a bit harsh on the guy without knowing all the facts.
      • Re:End Game (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It's not like he single handidly coded the game. All he basically did was come up with some of the dialog for the first half of the game, and then they threw his name on the cover. He didn't come didn't come up with the overall story line or have ANYTHING to do with game play. He talked about all this during an interview at the E3:
        http://media.psp.ign.com/media/714/714496/vids_1.h tml [ign.com]

        I think he was just getting his feet wet in the gaming industry, but it's difficult to argue that he's fallen "flat on his
    • Ah, but he did also do the swordfighting insults in "The Secret Of Monkey Island".

      I think that earns him some credit.

    • And yet the one game he had a hand in, Advent Rising. Did poorly in the marketplace.


      He also wrote the insults for the sword-fighting in Monkey Island.
  • by FromWithin (627720) <(moc.nihtiwmorf) (ta) (ffuts)> on Saturday February 18, 2006 @09:11PM (#14752465) Homepage

    Hurrah! Evidence of the existence of the computer games industry. It's not something you see often on here. Not the video game industry, the computer game industry: The one that almost all of the major players in the current game industry were borne out of.

    Video game crash in the U.S? Irrelevant...computer games never stopped. They went on from strength to strength via the C64, ST, Amiga, and then the PC (when it's CPU speed finally came up to scratch).

    It's getting harder and harder these days to find any sort of real history of games due to revisionists re-writing everything and putting such huge importance on video games, Atari, and Nintendo.

    Let's have more articles like this.

    • It wasn't the CPU that limited the early PC's use as a game machine -- it always outperformed a C64. It was the crummy video and nonexistent audio. CGA video was actually sharper than anything you could get out of a C64, but you had the choice of 16-color text, or 4-color hi-res graphics -- and four nasty colors they were, too. Let's not even talk about the monochrome adapter.
      • I can attest that a CGA adapter on a monochrome screen- 16 shades of green - was actually quite pleasant. But most people never had the experience. I spent most of my childhood rallying for a color monitor, not even realizing that what I had on my portable was rare and actually easier to look at.

        Damn great PC portable that was. I beat most of Ultima V at my grandma's house.
      • The thing about the PC is that it had to completely rely on the CPU. What I meant was that the CPU had to be fast enough to compete with the combination of CPU and custom chips in other home computers.
      • I believer there were 2 different choices for the colors. Something like light blue, white, black and magenta or green, yellow, black and white?
        While EGA was an improvement, it wasn't until the advent of cheap VGA cards that PC gaming really started to get good.
    • Huzzah for your comment. I feel exactly the same way.
  • From what I recall Magic Carpet 2 sold horribly.

    I don't retro-game much. Sometimes for 5-10 mins here and there for the memory and for kicks. MC2 however, I can still play it start to finish and enjoy every second of it.
  • Wasn't there some great theory at one point that Ender's Game was nothing more than an apology for Hitler?

    What about that Ender's Game was actually written by a comittee, that this comittee abandoned him for "Speaker for the Dead", but decided to write "Xenocide" for him.

    How about the least crazy one, that one of his series was a fairly direct retelling of The Book of Mormon.
    • Oh please, it might be Sunday but do you need to troll [wikipedia.org] so blatantly?
    • aside from having almost nothing at all to do with hitler yes. the only similarity is war and killing.
    • I have forgotten the link, but some woman with a serious chip on her shoulder has decided that _Ender's Game_ is an apology for Hitler. Although I think 99.99% of the people who have read the book would not agree, she has twisted everything she could into proving her hypothesis. She has also alleged that Card does not write his own books.
      The problem is that Card is not politically correct and holds some opinions that are not well liked by some people, particularly about homosexuals. Card is also very rel

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