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History of accessible gaming


What I would not like you to think is that accessible gaming is some sort of recent innovation, because it is definitely not.

We all know, that people with disabilities have always existed. As soon as first video games appeared, the question about easiness of playing them arose immediately. General accessibility is the reason why Computer Space arcade machine failed due to complicated controls (as for the first arcade machine ever) and Pong succeeded.

PongReally, what can be more accessible than plain Pong? Just one – ONE – rotating knob is all you need. Most people could control even the earliest Pong machines in this or that way. You can use one finger, one elbow, even your lips, tongue, cheeks, feet, toes – anything would do for such simple action as rotating a single knob. In some extent, it is not much different from pressing one giant switch.

The first actual effort to make an existing game console accessible can be tracked down to early seventies. As soon as first Pong consoles appeared on the market, first video-game modders “hacked” them to make gameplay slower – for people having troubles playing at normal speed (some of them being mentally handicapped, for instance, or having troubles with fast reaction and hand-eye coordination, which is a primary skill for playing an action-based video game).

atari 2600 kids mode 2Atari have produced their first popular home console back in 1977. On some of Atari 2600 games a special feature was implemented, which would make a game way easier to play, e.g., a lot slower or with little to no enemies. You could easily detect it by watching at the cartridge – an icon of a teddy bear was depicted on games supporting this “Kids mode”. When selected in game, a teddy bear icon appears on the screen, so if you are playing “kids mode”, everyone would know it. The thing is that this mode is not just for kids, but in fact for mentally or physically challenged gamers as well.

atari 2600 kids mode

Atari 2600 still remains one of the most accessible game consoles. Although I can hardly imagine a blind gamer playing Atari, it fits perfectly hearing impared, mentally challenged and even quadriplegics – through its original design. Seriously, how much can you do with 4-directional non-analogue joystick and a single button? Pretty much everything you do in a video game, but with more ease than with DualShock. Take for example one of the earliest quadriplegic gamers in history – John Dutton. What he did back in 1982 is he adapted controlling standard CX-40 Atari joystick with his mouth and pressing Fire button with his chin. The only modification needed is ducktaping a pencil to the fire button.

johndutton

1981 was proclaimed the year of disabled people by Organization of United Nations. A lot of programs intended to help disabled people adapt to social life were taking place. And this photo appeared in the magazines back then. Who is that girl? What game is she playing? What type of disability does she have? What home computer/home console is being used? As for now, these questions remain mystery, although this photo is one of the earliest examples of accessible gaming in history

1981

In Nintendo era, video games became notorious for their insane difficulty. Not all of them, but still many. The other thing that happened is unique NES controller design: it was the first time people were intended to hold a game controller the exact same way most of us are used to it nowadays: holding with both hands while both thumbs resting on the controller buttons. This move has spawned an evolution of complexity of this type of design, resulting in DualShock-alikes of the present day.

neshandsfreeBut Nintendo were not the ones who did not even think about gamers with special needs. Actually, in 1988 they released the world’s first official video game controller for disabled persons – NES Hands Free. Now it is very rare, because it was sold in limited quantities and not in regular shops – you had to order it. The price also was a bit high for the time, being about $120. Now it sells for up to $600 when it appears on eBay. The controller is used by a chin for directional movement and “sips” and “puffs” (in/exhaling air using mouth). According to some misconception among retrogamers, this controller has no accessible “Start” button, so a disabled person would need someone else to press Start for him/her every time. I would rather not believe this bias and tend to think that the device can recognize difference between a hard and soft sip/puff, making thus all 4 buttons aside from D-pad fully accessible.

In 1990-s and 2000-s a lot of effort was put into making control schemes in games accessible by physically disabled persons. The problem is that there is no universal way to do so. The system of switches, mentioned in the previous article, may be good for some games, but most gamers tend to find out new ways to use existing mainstream controllers or modify those for their own needs.

Randy Fitzgerald, known in gamers’ community as N0M4D, is world’s first quadriplegic professional gamer. He has begun playing games using his face as early as in the age of 3 – on a Pac-Man arcade machine and even back then he managed to win in local competitions! As he mentioned himself, he designed new ways to adapt to game controllers with every generation of consoles. Even today, when game controllers are so complicated, that we could not even imagine it back in 1977, he tends to use an Xbox360 controller, although modified for him by EvilControllers.com. The mod placed shoulder buttons of the controllers between face A,B,X,Y buttons, so he could easily reach them with his face muscles. Some games are still hard to play for him when using standard control scheme, but one of his personal favourites – Call of Duty series – now has got special scheme implemented for disabled users – and it is named after Randy – N0M4D. So, if you played CoD and wondered what this control scheme is for, now you know it.

n0m4ds controller

Blind gamers also were not left behind, although they have never shared a considerable part of the consumers market. As electronic games were just an experiment in early 70s, the first audio game – Touch Me – emerged back in 1974, which would later spawn the more successful and remembered clone, called Simon. Both Touch Me and Simon are simple 4-button devices. The gameplay was around memorizing random pattern of 4 sound tones played in order, with every tone assigned to one of 4 corresponding buttons. All you were supposed to do is replicate the pattern by pressing buttons, with an extra sound added to the pattern when you succeed. The game was not designed for blind gamers, but was the first blind-friendly electronic game in history.

touch me, simon

Text adventures were around in 1970, but were not accessible by blind users yet, because no sound synthesizers were developed for home users. But the situation changed in 1984, when Apple released MacInTalk – the first text-to-speech engine, which was bundled with Macintosh operating system out of the box. That was the year when blind users were not only introduced to computers, but also given the whole electronic game genre available to them on par with sighted users

macintalk

Voice synthesis is a good option when you can only rely on sound while playing a game. But text adventures are a specific genre which is just not for everyone. Computer games have always been mostly about action – and not too much could be done with monoaural sound, while no stereo was available in gaming consoles back then. The things changed when decent sound processing hardware was introduced in late 80s, mostly on PC and Amiga computers.

qsoundIn 1989 the first solely sound-oriented game was developed, although it was meant to be just a demonstration of new 3D sound capabilities of Qsound cards. That game was called Wumpus and it was bundled with Qsound products on an installation CD. In the game you would control a creature and rely on sound to orient in environment. Sadly, not much is known about the game, I only hope that it would show up somewhere in the Internet and will be preserved for history

It took whole 20 years from the release of Atari 2600 until the first commercial game was designed specifically with blind gamers in mind. This game, called Real Sound: Kaze no Regret, was released in 1997 exclusively for Sega Saturn, only in Japan. The game case even included instructions in Braille, which specifies the game as being very blind-friendly. Kenji Eno, the main person behind the game, was inspired by numerous letters from blind gamers, who thanked him for his works, which could be enjoyed by  them. And he was not designing his games for blind community before – yet still visually impared players could play some games, relying on hearing abilities only. The reason why the game is Sega-exclusive is because of a peculiar contract between Eno and Sega: he agreed to make the game exclusive for a Sega console, if Sega would donate 1000 Saturns to blind gamers, bundled with this game, and they agreed on that.

realsound

RealSound is a game of a very specific genre, called “Interactive novel”. Most of such games are actually called “Visual novels”: they consist of still images accompanied with a HUGE amound of readable text (like intro sections in jRPGs, e.g., Final Fantasy). It can be hours – until you are given something to do apart pressing one button to scroll the text further. These games are not about action – but about immersion. You learn the deep story, learn the personalities of your hero and other characters and when you are given choice – it affects the further development of the storyline. There is not as much freedom of choice as in Western story-oriented RPGs, but the fun is to actually immerse and have influence on the story, rather than explore a virtual world or shoot everything in sight. RealSound is the first and one of the very few “Audio novels” and was really appreciated by Japanese blind gamers’ community.

In the present day, audio games are mostly being done by blind programmers themselves, so most of them are freeware, not commercial, not sponsored – and thus very simple, in comparison to full-fledged mainstream modern video games.

quakeAudioQuake by Agrip, released in 2004, is one of the few examples of mainstream games being modded to be accessible by blind gamers. This game is notable for being the first blind-accessible First Person Shooter game in history.

How would it sound to you if audio versions of popular “big” video games would be released? Let’s take Skyrim as an example: an epic adventure in a spectacular 3D environment, which would be interesting for blind gamers to experience, if it only would be as accessible as AudioQuake. There is a lot in the game apart from graphics: the story, dialoges, sound effects, music, all making the game immersive even with the eyes closed!

Zork_Grand_Inquisitor_CoverartDeaf gamers also receive some accessibility service, as games become more and more relying on recorded speech dialogues and sound environment. What they desperately need is closed-captioning in games relying mostly on sound. World's first video game with full closed captions for all in-game sound effects and spoken dialogues is considered to be Zork: Grand Inquisitor, one of the sequels to original early text adventure game, called simply Zork. Subtitles are an obvious thing to see in games which have no voice-overed dialogues, but in modern games they are not so crucial for gamers with no hearing impairments. So this 1997 title is the first example of closed-captioning, made specifically with deaf gamers in mind - rather than general audience.

Closed Captions are OK, but there is more that can be done – like make video game characters interact using sign language? Sign languages are often native for people who were born deaf, but have to adapt to the society by learning to read in a second language. Sign language are quite different from speaking ones, rather than being gestured representation of common speech. As the level of detailing polygonal models may be already high enough to provide lip-syncing and show hand gestures, this feature is possible, if only such a translation of sign language into 3D modeling would be fully developed for implementation. For now there are already efforts in this field – done by Japanese researchers. But note that every country has its own sign language, which is different from spoken language, so making good software to translate sound language into sign language is a matter of lots of efforts and a lot of time.

3dsigning

Some pictures a courtesy from OneSwitch.org.uk.

Accessible gaming: play with no boundaries!


Being a devoted gamer for the whole my consious life, I have always been afraid, what would happen if I won’t be able to play video games anymore? I thought that I would have to enjoy other sorts of entertainment hobby activities, which seem not as appealing to me, as videogaming.

We live in an imperfect world created for perfect people. To have full access of all spectre of new technologies, you have to be somewhat healthy: have good eyesight, be able to hear, operate your hands and fingers and be mentally capable. And the abovementioned qualities are valuable for any video game lover. As technologies develop, games are designed to be more and more complex, appealing to all of our senses and abilities.

Yet it is a commonly known fact that no one matches the description of a “perfect” human being. People who we call “disabled” are in fact disabled not by their disabilities, but by the perfectionism of the world they live in, where everything is designed with an average person in mind. If we all had one hand – all the controllers were one-handed. If we all had no eyes – imagine how far we could go with technologies relying on audio and tactile feedback only!

Overall, there are four categories of people who have some sort of disadvantages regarding playing video games. These categories are: visually, auditory, physically and mentally impaired. If you fall into one of these categories – remember, that does not mean that the world of video games is not for you. There is always something you can find that suits you and even get benefit from!

Visually impaired gaming. Can you imagine that a blind person can beat you in Mortal Kombat? Or play First Person Shooters on par with you, relying on audio feedback from the game only? Yet this is true! You actually CAN play Resident Evil 6, seeing no video.

This audio is recorded by a blind person for blind gamers community and released on a website with practically no graphical elements – typical for a site, programmed by a non-sighted person. It may be hard for sighted to figure out, what was going on during the gameplay – but actually it is not for blind gamers!

Note that Resident Evil 6, as well as many other mainstream games, were not designed in any way with blind gamers in mind, but surprisingly it is playable and this fact is astonishing.

I personally am a sighted person and not so badass to try and beat Resident Evil with my eyes closed (well, I even can’t do that with eyes opened, for now). But as all of you, I am able to play audio games, which were specifically designed with people with sight disabilities in mind.
terraformers

Terraformers  is an example of such a game and is also a permanent installation in Computerspielemuseum. You can also download it and try it out – it is playable both with graphics and with sound only. This is a 3D adventure game, where all the environment is described by a  synthesized voice: what you see, what you are doing and how is the environment affected by your actions.

Sounds similar? Maybe yes, if you grew up with a microcomputer in early 80-s and loved text adventure games. These were not designed for unsighted, neither they could be played by blind gamers back then, when speech synthesis was not so easy to perform on a regular home computer. But actually it is now! For now, every unsighted computer user relies on this or that form of text-to-speech software, which makes using a computer fully accessible without a monitor at all. So yes, nearly all adventure games can be played by unsighted gamers with no restrictions. The only thing they need is to make sure that the text in the game can be read by text-to-speech software (if the game is not fully transcribed into sound, which is a very rare occasion). The other thing is that a blind person might have to rely on his or her memory for remembering all the screens in the game – I mean the map. Yes, those adventure games consist of several hundreds virtual screens sometimes and it may be extraordinarly hard to beat them without drawing something on paper. But if one is persistent, the ways to draw a map still can be found – like using LEGO pieces, for instance. Or draw it in your head.

The easiest way to play an audio game is using Z-code virtual machine. This is a universal highly portable standart for text adventure games. You can find a LOT of games using this engine, beginning from as early as Colossal Cave Adventure, which is believed to be the first true text adventure computer game. An example of a good Z-code interpreter is Frotz, which is available for different Oses including MS Windows and has a text-to-speech feature implemented. You need to have a text-to-speech engine be installed on your system, but from Windows XP all Microsoft systems have it out of the box.

frotz

You might think that blind people can play mainstream video games with no video because they gain some extraordinary skills to compensate their lack of vision, which may be close to truth in some cases. But I think that every sighted person can play an audio game with not more effort than a video game!

So let’s have a look at something more simplistic. 3D Snake is an audio-only implementation of a very popular video game, which was built into nearly all models of Nokia mobile phones. I personally have played this audio game and had fun with it! Yes, believe me, this game is easy enough to pick up and play even if you are not used to rely on listening more than on your vision. The wind represents walls and a loud repeating sound represents fruit which you must seek and consume. On your first try you will run into the wall but don’t give up and you’ll realize pretty quickly that playing with no video is not as hard as it seems!

It’s easy to go on and on about blind gaming community, so I will just make a reference to this article on GameSpot. Read it, if you are interested in how blind people play video games, - there is a lot of there I did not desire to repeat in my article. I recommend reading some comments in the end as well.

Spot On: The blind gaming the blind

Hearing impaired gaming. At first glance it can be thought that people with hearing disabilities have no hinderance in playing games. I remember myself playing old DOS games in my school. There were no headphones, no sound speakers on any desktop computer, but games like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Doom, Raptor and others were still quite enjoyable – even with absolutely no sound!

On the other hand, although normally a person perceives 80% of informations through vision, the most part of 20% is left to listening. If you played 3D Snake, you probably understand, how important hearing can be.

Close captioning is what many game developers neglect. But actually it is present in some mainstream games like Half Life 2. Basically, it is an unhearing-friendly version of sound environment, where all sounds (not only voices) are represented with following text like “[Boom!]”, “[Reloading]”, “[Zombie screaming]” and so on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho94P5rMb8I

Sounds weird to you? Yes, playing a game becomes something like reading a comic book. But what I actually do know is that these close captiones are really appreciated by hearing-impared and those can be found on nearly every modern movie DVD. So why not games?

Thankfully, if not fully close captioned, most of games with voice acting do have subtitles – at least in most parts. For some reasons subtitles may be missing within in-game full-motion videos, and this can be a bad thing not only for hearing-impared, but also for those like me who play games in non-native language.

A videogaming  website DeafGamers.com specializes on reviewing modern video games with deaf players in mind. Overall it may seem like a casual review catalogue, only there is one extra paragraph in every article, which touches the question of accessibility of a game to an unhearing person. It turns out, that most Wii and Nintendo DS games are very deaf-friendly, most of them including captions for all the dialogue. On the other hand, one of the most deaf-unfriendly game series is Halo, which has almost no text captioning whatsoever, even in mission briefings, which are a very important part of gameplay.

Physically impaired gaming. Let me ask you, do you play on your console if you injured one of your thumbs? Thumbs have become our main instrument for using console game controllers – from the time when D-pad was invented by Nintendo. So basically you need both hands and both thumbs to play most console games. Right?

Wrong!
Missing a finger, a hand or even both hands is not a problem for playing games, if you really want to. Our body consists of several thousands of musles, so you actually do have something you can control a game with. The only problem is that standard game controllers might not be an option for you.

Stephen HawkingProbably you have heard about Stephen Hawking.This man is almost completely paralyzed at the moment and not able to speak, being unable to communicate without help. His disability has been progressing since he was 21, and while he became more and more aknowledged as a scientist, the technology which could help him communicate with people and use a computer developed as well. For now he uses only tiny motions of his cheek to enter text into the laptop, mounted on his wheelchair. He is also able to use web-browser, e-mail client, skype, to give lectures and interviews. Is he a devoted gamer? Probably not, because he has got other important things to do. But the fact is that he IS able to be a gamer – if he wanted to. Not profficient in Mortal Kombat maybe, but there still are games he can play – like board games simulations for example or games that require not more than one button to play.

Playing video games is VERY important for disabled persons – because that means advancing their quality of life. Many of them find their lives to be extremely boring. Just imagine: you can’t work, everything that has to be done by you is normally done by your relatives or a nurse, so you are left with a HUGE amount of free time to spare. Also if you are young, socializing is an important aspect of your life, which has to be fulfilled somehow. So why not video games?

Some of us already are devoted gamers and no one knows when and with who happens something which makes one not able to play video games. Well, not able to play them NORMALLY is the correct thing to say. Remember a blind playing Resident Evil? Remember Stephen Hawking?

And here is this guy: being partially paralized after an accident, he decided to build a special PS3 controller for himself, which would involve his feet and head movement.
now i can game again

He is not the only one, obviously. There are a lot of impared video gamers out there. There is market for those who cannot use “normal” video game controllers, like PS2 DualShocks, which require operating with thumbs and index fingers of both left and right hands.

Here is a modded Gamecube controller, made by a modder for his brother who has lost his left arm. Yes, this is NOT the only one-handed controller mod out there, but this one is spectacular because of implementing the mod on an awesome and uniquely-designed GameCube controller and using motion controls, so the controller is actually usable, although with right hand only.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45A2glYyezo

Don’t think that disabled gamers are forced to stick with homebrew projects made by themselves or their caring friends or siblings. Although it is hard to comply to the needs of each and every disabled gamer, there is some effort in this area.

Thus, you may order yourself a one-handed controller like this. It is 55 British Pounds on OneSwitch.org.uk, but tends to be up to 250 US Dollars on some other websites.
one-hand controller

This is probably the most universal solution for a one-handed gamer, since it is compatible with all current-gen consoles as well as regular PC, suits to both left- and right-handed gamers and hasn’t got too complicated design. The price tag may seem high, but believe me, it is still much lower price than you would pay, for example, to Benjamin Heckendorn to make an exclusive one-handed controller specially for you.

What to do if you cannot operate with your hands at all or have troubles to do so? Then a system of switches comes in help! A switch is usually a very large easy to press button, or a “sip-and-puff” device, which is turned on and off when you inhale or exhale air, or even a thing you have to press by biting it with teeth, or a foot pedal – anything that can come to mind! You just have to think what muscles of your body you still can use and how – than design a system of switches for yourself. All switches have the same interface – 3.5 audio jack. The last thing you need apart from all the switches you have chosen is this arcade joystick:
switch joystick
…or any other solution, like a simple USB interface to connect all your switches to PC or a gaming console.

But there are still some problems with abovementioned switch system concept:

1. It is expensive. We all know that disability does not make one a millionaire. Moreover it is obvious that some other expensive things are usually required – such as medical treatment expenses, prothesis or a wheelchair. And it is really depressing having to pay hundreds of dollars, when an able-bodied person could afford a game controller with the same functionality as cheap as $5 (DualShock-like controllers are really that cheap nowadays).

2. It is too complicated. Of course you will get used to it eventually, but there is one still “what-if”: what if there are NOT so many possible switches that you can control with your body at the same time? A DualShock controller, which has become a common standard for modern gaming, includes 14 digital buttons and 2 analog sticks. A system of switches can possibly just fail to provide full control of all these functions – especially if he/she is a quadriplegic.

switches

Both issues are partially attempted to solve by charity organizations, such as Special Effect. These people help disabled people to get into the world of video games, for some of them it may be the first time, for others – an unsuspected returning to previously known and beloved hobby. What they do is they visit a person at him or her home and try to figure out what method of controlling a game or a computer in a whole would fit them most. This is very important for those who are not so tech-savvy to make modded joysticks and mice themselves – and most people aren’t. The other important note is that they do it for free. They rely on donations, funding and volunteers, although they managed to help significantly increase quality of life of more than 50 people.

An interesting thing about Special Effect organizations is that they not only help people communicate via computers and play games, but create new ways to do so. One of such technologies is their EyeGaze system. Even if your whole body is paralized, so you can’t move neither your limbs, nor even chin, in most cases you can still move your eyeballs! So why not to control a computer mouse cursor with your eyes? The main thing about this technology is that it actually works! I just wonder, why Stephen Hawking is not using it, relying solely on one-button interface.

Here is a review of some simple flash games, which can be played either with a EyeGaze system or with two one-button switches:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wt16YwanL94

fishie fishieYou don’t like the games? Well, if you can control a cursor, the wide variety of card games, adventure games, rail shooters and even action games are available for your amusement!

And what if you are forced to use not more than ONE button, just like Hawking? There is still the whole market of games for you, most of them being free! Yes, they are not as sophisticated as the most recent Xbox360/PS3/Wii U titles, but believe me, they are fun. You don’t actually have to be a retro gamer to enjoy them.

http://www.onebuttongames.com/

Note that one-button games mostly are not created specifically for one-switch systems users. Some indie programmers just create them in contrast to modern overly complex games, just to prove that simplified gameplay still can be fun. Some of them don’t even realize that their games are the only ones that actually can be played for some people! I recommend that you check out an indie game Fishie Fishie, which was made with a control system of maximum simplicity.
http://www.farbs.org/Fishie%20Fishie%20Setup.exe

Don’t be afraid to download it directly, it’s free! Anyway, you can buy this game also on Wii Shop if you want. And there is also an Xbox 360 version.

Mentally impaired gaming. As games are becoming more and more complex with the technology growing more potential throughout the years, they also become harder and harder to pick up and play, like it was in the 70-s and 80-s. And this can be an issue for a mentally handicapped person. We won’t deny that mentally handicapped do enjoy games like everyone else, will we?

complexrpgMental impairment can not only be very low IQ which make a barrier in understanding complicated instructions in RPGs or figuring out tough puzzles in adventure games. This also includes such conditions as dislexia and discalculia: an overall normally developed person, quite adequate and responsive can have severe troubles with reading written text or making calculations respectively. Thus, text adventure games may be not an option for a dislexic, although he or she still might be able to LISTEN to them via text-to-speech engine! A discalculic may not be able to make difference of expensive and cheap shops or cannot develop a decent character raising in some complex RPG like The Elder Scrolls or Arcanum for instance.

Since we still have a decent amount of good commercial games with simple enough gameplay, mentally impaired people can enjoy them as well. The thing is that you should know where to look for them.

Nintendo Wii and DS system are often criticized to be not appealing to so-called “hardcore” gamers. That criticism is wrong, because if a game is simple that doesn’t mean it’s bad. And if a game is overly complex this does not automatically make it good. In our case, these systems are great choices for mentally impaired gamers!

On the other hand, Xbox260 or a PS3 might not be the best options for a mentally handicapped, since most of games are far from simplistic and are oriented on specific audience, which likes complex control systems and deep, twisted storylines.

Games which are simple enough to pick-up and play are:


  • Rail shooters (like House of the Dead, Elebits);

  • 2D platformers (like Kirby Wii, New Super Mario Bros.);

  • Arcade racing games (like Mario Kart Wii);

  • Minigame collections (like Wii Play, Rayman Raving Rabbids).

tabletpcModern smartphones and tablet PCs powered by iOS or Android, which make use of touchscreen technology, may also be good gaming machines for mentally impaired. There are a lot of simplistic games for them, many of them are free. But the main difference from other gaming options is that a smartphone may be more intuitive to use than a standart screen-joystick interface. It may be even easier to play actually ON the screen than controlling action on the screen with using a device in your hands. You see a button – and you push it. Or you just use the whole screen as one gigantic button. What can be easier than that?

Another good option is actually retrogaming. Seriously, why not? Classic one-button 4-directional Atari joystick is very easy to use, even easier than Wiimote! And it’s just a matter of seconds to figure out how to play almost every game on Atari 2600. These games and consoles are still around for cheap, but if you have a hard time finding one, emulation is also a good option. Just make sure to buy a USB-compatible joystick for these games

atari 2600Before I end up with this topic, I would like to add one thing. Please do not consider all of the abovementioned games and control options as “for disabled”. No! They are for everyone who is able to use them – only they might be more helpful to some people than others. So there is absolutely no reason for you not to try out your hearing skills in an audio game, for instance. And why not to push that mashy one-button switch in some simple, but challenging one-button game? Accessible gaming is not about what you can’t – it’s about what you CAN do to control a game and succeed in it. So if you are lucky to benefit from all games, broaden your horizon!

Polyplay: a unique arcade machine from GDR!


Today we will have a look at a particularly rare and interesting arcade machine.


This is a Polyplay arcade cabinet, which has been manufactured only in 1985-89 in Eastern Germany, and very few of them have remained in playable condition. The one I was playing is located in the Museum of Computer Games in Berlin (computerspielemuseum.de) and is installed in a part of the museum, devoted to gaming in GDR.

1 polyplay

Eastern Germany has got its unique home computing and videogaming scene, particularly because of it being influenced by USSR and not many consumer electronics were sold there in such quantities as in other parts of Europe and in United States.


This machine is typically “GDR-ish”: it looks a bit simplistic, in comparison to other arcade cabinets of its era; internally it is based on Soviet computer hardware (i. e., Z80 microprocessor clone); it features not one but whopping 8 games, all of them with simple “ZX-Spectrumish” graphics and most are “inspired by” popular arcade games which were flourishing in other parts of the world, - in other words, they look like clones of them. The video resolution 512x256 might seem OK, until you realize that the game screen is split into large blocks of pixels, and there is no smooth sprite movement like in console versions of the games. Instead, the hardware is limited to displaying text and letter-size sprites, like in many home computers of the era, so the images can move just by those grids – either 8 pixels forward, or 8 pixels backwards and so on and no way to move a sprite on 1 pixel distance. If you have ever played on ZX Spectrum, Apple Iie, VIC 20 or something like that, you know what I mean.
2 polyplay coinslot


Originally, one play costed 50 pfennings. But this particular arcade machine has been modified to be played for free: a push of a red button is needed to emulate dropping a coin into the coin slot of the machine.


The other clearly visible modification in the machine is its monitor, which is by any means not an original one, because it is LCD! This may be both a good thing and a bad thing: a good thing because it makes colors more crisp and overall more good-looking image, but the bad thing is that it is a step down from keeping the machine’s look as close to the original as possible. But anyway, this is much better than throwing the whole cabinet into waste because it is “broken and outdated”. Who knows, how many of them are still left?

3 polyplay monitor
What about joystick, you ask? Now PolyPlay machine features a Competition Pro-style arcade stick, which is quite comfortable to use, although it tends to break every once in a while, and this time was no exception. The day I was playing the joystick was hard to turn straight right – so the gameplay is screwed up a little bit in the following video footages. All the footage were filmed in Computerspielemuseum.

4 polyplay joystick
The videos do not feature the best possible gameplay, but they are enough to get the idea of every game which is in the machine. There are overall 8 games, although the machine was first designed with 12 games in mind. These games are interchangeable and other Polyplay arcade cabinets might feature two other games, which are not listed here.

  • Hirschjagd (“Deer Hunt”). This is a simple shooting game: you are a hunter and you shoot deer. This might look like Robotron 2084, but a very-very simplified version: there is only one deer on the screen at a time, it cannot hurt you and the game is “race against the clock” type, meaning you just have to shoot a deer while the timer hasn’t run out. You have a limited amount of ammo as well, so there is a limited amount of misses!

  • Hase und Wolf (“Hare and Wolf”). It is speculated that this game is based on a Russian cartoon series “Nu, pogodi”. Anyway, this is just yet another Pac-Man clone, although not bad one. Every time you go to the next stage, there is one wolf more on the screen. Apparently, they can’t be killed, because your powerups seem not to affect them, as they would in original Pac-Man game.

  • Abfahrtslauf (“Downhill Run”). This game is also a clone. Although I hardly can imagine a skiing game done some other way in the 80s. You go skiing  from up to bottom, but you have to get your hero between the flags. There are 6 runs overall, each one ends either with successfully reaching the bottom, or failing to get between the flags. This makes the game one of the longest for one play – because you have 6 tries, unlike 3 in the previous one.

  • Schmetterlinge (“Butterflies”). This game also might be based on a cartoon series – the protagonist looks like Pittiplatsch from a cartoon with the same name, filmed in GDR. You control a plumpy dwarf who tries to catch butteflies. Basically you have two minutes to catch as many butterflies as you can.

  • Schiessbude (“Shooting Gallery”). This is obviously a clone of a game named Carnival, and this one is actually good!  All is there: limited supply of bullets, ducks stealing your bullets, multipliers and a lot of targets to shoot in “space-invaders” style.

  • Autorennen (“Car Racing”). Conceptually this game is similar to Atari’s Gran Trek 10, although I wouldn’t blatantly call it a clone. First, it is mor e like a genre of racing games,with a lot of titles with similar concept, rather than all of them being clones. Second, this game actually does have some interesting elements in it, like racing against a computer’s A.I. There are just two cars on the screen at a time though: one for a player and one for A.I.

  • Merkspiel (“Memory game”). This game is one of the numerous Simon-type games, where you have to remember sequences of colors and music tones to reproduce, and every time one . The main difference with original Simon is that you have more available colors with corresponding sounds and each color is actually a unique geometrical figure. When you fail to reproduce the sequence, the game is not over though – it is over when you have no time left, which is extended with every your good move.

  • Wasserrohrbruch (“Water Pipe Break”). The last but definitely not the worst game. The water pipe is broken and you have to gather drops of water in a bucket. When your bucket is full, you go up the stairs and pour it outside. The game is over when your entire body is in the water. This game must be the most original in the whole list: I can’t recall a similar arcade game of the era.


Polyplay is a homebrewish-looking simple arcade machine, which already had outdated hardware (as for an arcade machine) back in 1986 and simplistic games (games like those were already on the market 5 years ago), but anyway it is playable and can be rather addicting for those who enjoy achieving high-scores in old arcade games. The feel of the machine is a bit similar to the feel of some of Soviet arcade machines, which is not surprising, since Polyplay is actually based on hardware produced in USSR, sharing its limitations. And you know that hardware limitations is what gives a retro game that unique feel, which can be nostalgic to someone.


Although these machines are rare and hard to find: not more than 12 cabinets are confirmed to be found in working condition – you still can play abovementioned 8 games via online emulation, if you go through this link:

http://polyplay.de/index.php?m1=play


The emulation there is quite accurate, although I’ve come through some inaccuracies in collision detection in Autorennen and Schmetterlinge. Anyway, you are welcome to try out the games by yourself, and maybe you can even manage to achieve a significant high-score .Bbeware, there are a lot of high-scores out there already!


And don’t forget to get to the machine if you see it in Computerspielemuseum!


We have reviewed the most-known consoles from late 70-s to early 80s that could transform into full-fledged computers (with sume assumptions).
But what about today? Is it just the feature of the past? Look at the consoles now! It seems that soon there will be no difference between a console and a computer, like there is no difference between a monitor and a TV in 2010s.

Nintendo Game Boy 1989
9 Nintendo Game Boy
Surprised? But yes, there IS a BASIC compiler for Game Boy, so in some extent it does transform a handheld into a pocket computer, just like those TRS notebooks from early 80s. It is a bit hard, but possible to type in a program using d-pad and 4 buttons (A, B, Select, Start) only. You say, there's no way to save a program? Fear no more! There is a Mega Memory Card, which can easily be used to store up to 128 saves from original cartridges and flash linkers, like EMS Smart Card.
The only thing is that this Game Boy BASIC is just a homebrew rom, which surely can be uploaded onto a cartridge and played on original Game Boy, but still not an original "transformation kit".
Also there is a very popular program for Game Boy called LSDJ, designed specifically for flashcarts and it gained a high popularity among 8-bit musicians, who use original Game Boys for creating music and for live perfomances.
There is also a printer and a camera for Game Boy out there, so Game Boy is capable of transforming into a very gimmicky gadget out of a handheld gaming console.

Bandai Apple Pippin 1995
Bandai Apple Pippin

Apple Pippin, released in 1995, looks more like a cut-down Macintosh computer rather than a standalone gaming console. Although it is based on MacOS run-time, you would have a hard time trying to launch any Macintosh software on it.
It also had no built-in hard drive, unlike most computers of that time (and till the present day).
But surely, you could connect a keyboard to it and it had got a built-in dial-up modem! Thus, Bandai Apple Pippin could become a full-fledged network computer! Remember part 1, we were talking about online capabilities? Not too many people in 90s and further cared about developing their programming skills using a computer, so BASIC was not a compulsory built-in language to justify a computer anymore. Things have changed and the image of an average computer user has changed drastically: from a nerdy programmer to an Internet-addict chat user.

Sega Dreamcast 1999
11 Sega Dreamcast

If Pippin and Game Boy are on the list, so why not Dreamcast? It has got everything to be a computer, and this stuff is all official: a keyboard, a mouse, a modem (being a feature of Dreamcast, it came bundled with every Dreamcast produced) and, of course, lots of software for Internet browsing. Thus, Sega Dreamcast may be called a network computer, just like Pippin. Sadly, there are no programming kits out there and no printer connectivity, so it's doubtful that someone would use Dreamcast for anything other than Internet surfing apart from games.

Sony PlayStation 2 2000
12 Sony PlayStation 2Linux - here is the best solution for making a computer out of a modern console! And PlayStation is the best choice for it. The reason of the high popularity of PS2 is its versality and it was one of the strongest point of its marketing. Why would someone buy a console for games, when you can buy also a DVD player for movies in one shell?
Remember we talked about Mattel Intellivision marketing? The same thing was here, but while Intellivision failed, PS2 succeeded. There was released a full Linux for PS2 kit, officially from Sony themselves, not third-party and not homebrew! It consists of a keyboard, a mouse, a network adaptor, 40 Gb hard disk and a VGA-adaptor for monitor. Thus, you can use any Linux applications out there, along with any USB-compatible devices, such as a web-camera, a printer, a scanner and much-much more. Of course you may use a text processor and a compiler, including BASIC, of course, just choose any software for Linux OS out there.
What's the trick, you ask? - This cit is compatible with early Japanese PS2 only, which have HDD slot and PCMCIA port. This port was eliminated from further revisions which came out in USA and Europe and PS2 Slim has no even HDD slot, being severely cut down functionality-wise.


Current-gen consoles: Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, DS(i), PSP
13 Current-gen consoles

Nowadays, in the XXIst century, there is simply no point in making a console limited to gaming. A console is more like a platform, rather than a gaming device by itself. Most of us can afford both a computer and a console or even several consoles nowadays, as they are much cheaper than they were in the 80s.
There is no problem in installing Linux on any modern console, including handhelds, although all decisions are not official and made by hackers. The reason of this is that Linux is absolutely free and open-source, making it so flexible, that there almost surely will be someone who would port it on a platform it still does not exist for.
I should not however, that at the point of writing there are no Linux distributives for very new consoles: PS Vita, 3DS and Wii U, but hey, we'll just have to wait a while...
There are also some projects on retrogaming scene out there as well. E. g., VecOS being in development by Revival Studios for the Vectrex system.

What's this stuff is all about? Why would one want to convert a console into a computer? You may be right if you say that there is no common sense in that. All this stuff is more like "just because we can" projects in the present, and in the 80s it was an attempt to prolong life to a dying console. In 80s you would rather buy a Commodore 64 or a ZX Spectrum as a computer and an Atari 2600 or an NES for games - that was the most obvious choice. Other consoles and computers were rare and not so widely spread as you might think, especially such bulky and expensive decisions as APF Imagination Machine.

So would you build a computer out of a console? Probably not, neither in 80s, nor nowadays. But all these crazy projects show us, how similar in fact the consoles and computers are and at the same time - how different are they. Feel free to ask questions and spek out suggestions.

After taking into consideration every console on the market of the past generations, we have created a list of some of them, which we might think can be possibly transformed into a home computer.
If a console is not on the list, that does not mean that it by any means can't be considered a computer. It's just us who were not able to find enough information on the topic.
The list is sorted by release dates of the consoles.

  • Bally Astrocade 1977
1 Bally Astrocade 1977
Seems that we begin from the earliest and the most obvious choice.
Bally Astrocade was marketed as early as in 1977, even before Atari 2600. Sadly, the shipping was delayed, so 2600 has chimed in and got the market in its grasp, remaining the main popular game console until Nintendo Entertainment System.
The system has been released under five different names:
Bally Home Library Computer
Bally Professional Arcade
Bally Astrovision
Bally Computer System
and finally Bally Astrocade.
As you can see, two of the five names are pointing that it is a computer, rather than a gaming machine. It was advertised as an educating tool as well. It has got a keyboard and a BASIC cartridge packed in. So, it definitely had got programming capabilities. Of course, there was a cassette module for saving programs - BASIC Audio Cassette Interface. Eventually a full-fledged keyboard was released: Zgrass-32 Computer Keyboard, and since then the console became a real home computer of early 80-s.

  • Atari 2600 1977
2 Atari 2600 1977
Do you know that Atari 2600 was originally named VCS which means Video Computer System? Actually there was little difference between computers and consoles on the market in the beginning of the era of videogaming. So, Atari 2600, similar to Bally Astrocade, beared a word "Computer" in its name.
Was it really a computer system? Why not! In 1979 there was a cartidge released for the 2600, called "BASIC Programming". The purpose of it was mainly educational, because it was very primitive by nature and a bit hard to comprehend.
As the only input of Atari 2600 was a joystick with 1 button and 4 direction, a pair of so-called "Keyboard controllers" was sold along with the cartridge. It was just two 12-digit number pads, connecting to the two controller ports of the system. Together they made a 24-button keyboard, not very comfortable to use and not capable of full-fledged text typing. There was no way to save a program, no way to connect a printer and nothing else what would make VCS more similar to a home computer.
Anyway, thus Atari have justified the name Video Computer System for their successfull gaming console.

  • APF MP-1000 1978

"The wooden age" of home gaming was not over, and a new console, which is now rare and obscure, appeared on the market. There is nothing much to say about this system with "phone-like" controllers and simple graphics in games.
3 APF MP-1000 1978
The main gimmick of it for us now is it's ability to transform into a fully-fledged home computer system! Here it is: MPA-10 Imagination Machine!
Basically, it is a terminal module, consisting of a full keyboard, a data cassette recorder, more expandable on-board RAM and, of course, a BASIC cartridge. Now it's about C++ and Delphi (which is in fact Pascal), then it was all about BASIC. BASIC ruled the world. Although it was not a language the majority of commercial software was written with, it was absolutely dominating the market as a language for teaching programming due to its simplicity and ease of use for a non-experienced user. And this is definitely not a bad thing.
Although we began our story from Bally Atrocade, it took years for it to transform into a computer. Contrary to this, MPA-10 Imagination Machine has become the first home computer/gaming system hybrid in history.

  • Magnavox Odyssey2 (Philips Videopac G7000/G7200 in Europe) 1979
4 Magnavox Odyssey2
Odyssey 2 may be a little confusing. Look at it, it has got a keyboard built-in!
But it is still more a console than a computer. In my opinion, Odyssey 2 is an illustration of a fact, that a keyboard does not make a computer, although the first thing which comes in mind is that you can type on your computer and can just move a joystick with your console.
Of course, the things change a bit when we plug in the Computer Intro! educational cartridge, which is educational programming software. I did not get it from the first glance, but after looking at the manual it seemed to me that we have a deal with a low-level assembler programming here, not BASIC! Who needs BASIC, it is for pussies!
Unfortunately, there was no way to save a program, so if it is a computer, then surely just an educational one. But hey, the main use of the microcomputers in early 80s was education! Professionals used more powerful, more bulky and more expensive machines back then.

  • Mattel Intellivision 1980
This home computing craze did not pass by Mattel products. Actually, one of the point of the advertisement of the Intellivision was that it eventually will gain its own computer module.
5 Mattel Intellivision
And there were a lot of people who bought it specifically for this addon, although it was not released at the time of advertising. And was not released in a year. The consumers began complaining for fraud and false advertising. And they were right! There were a lot of parents who bought Intellivision console to their children and were waiting for a computer component to be released, so they can make an educational computer of their Intellivision rather than leave it as a gaming device.
The Keyboard Component was the first Mattel's attempt to make Intellivision a fully-fledged computer. It did not hit the stores, and by mid-1982 the Federal Trade Commission charged Mattel $10000 a day until a promised computer module would be released.
The first project failed because it was too ambitious for it time and hence - too expensive for an average target consumer. Nevertheless, Intellivision gained an ability to become a computer. The addon was called Entertainment Computer System and was a very cut-down version of the original first project. In fact, the only reason for it to hit the market was to get rid of the $10.000-per-day fee. Needless to say, it was released during the decline of Intellivision and 1983 video game crash was coming, that's why we know Intellivision mostly as a gaming console. By the way, its home computer counterpart Mattel Aquarius was also a commercial failure and nowadays is rather rare and almost unknown to the masses.

  • CBS ColecoVision 1982
6 CBS ColecoVision
Colecovision was created to compete with Intellivision. It is more powerful and features more expansions, although it is similar to Intellivision overall, even design-wise. 3 expansion modules were officially released: an Atari-2600 clone (#1), a steering wheel (#2) and, of course, the mysterious and legendary Expansion Module #3, which would transform Colecovision into an Adam computer.
The development of the module was finished, but it was never manufactured and never hit the market. Although you still can buy an Adam computer and see what it would feel like. There should have been BASIC processor (how could one imagine a microcomputer without BASIC anyway?), a word processor and printer connectivity.
The ambitions of Coleco were much higher. They planned to make their console being able to play Intellivision games with their fourth Expansion Module, and the fifth and the final one connects it... to another Colecovision, being a fully-fledged modem! Oh, that would be way ahead of its time, and it never happened back in the day.

7 Philips Videopac G7400
  • Philips Videopac G7400 1983

And now we have to return to Magnavox Odyssey2. Its successor G7400 was released only in Europe and may have been called Odyssey3 if it was released in the U.S.
G7400 is backwards-compatible with Odyssey2/G7000, but more powerful. It featured more processing power, more RAM, more colors, higher resolution and overall promised to be a better deal. In fact, there are still not many games specifically designed for it, most of G7400-games are also compatible with G7000, but feature a colored hi-res background.
But, there was also one important thing about it. And this is the G7420 Home Computer module! This separate module features an additional processor and RAM and adds the support of a cassette recorder to save and load... what do you think? BASIC programs of course! Note that this may be the only computer addon in our list which does not feature a full keyboard, because G7400 has already got one, inherited from G700/G7200.

  • Nintendo Famicom 1983
8 Nintendo Famicom
Did you know that Famicom stands for Family Computer? Probably, yes. Do you know what a bad-ass computer can a Famicom transorm into? Let's find out.
Back in the day Nintendo was generous on addons for their consoles, especially Famicom, which has got several dozens of them.
Famicom BASIC was the addon, which contained the full package for successful transformation of a Family Computer into a just Microcomputer. It consists of a keyboard, a cassette recorder, a cartidge with BASIC programming language (who would have doubt on that?) and a teaching book. Oddly enough, it was never released outside of Japan. Nintendo of America were targeting mostly young children and thought that they would be too young for programming. I know that it took game developers a lot of times to start considering adults as target users of videogames, but hey, there were already a lot of consoles and microcomputers on the market by the time of release of NES, why did they leave its extension port completely useless?
As for Famicom, there was also a Disk System, which added support of floppy disks (although not for storing programs, but for commercial games) and even a modem, giving it online capabilities! But some good things, as we all know, are never released outside of Japan.

We all like to talk about PC gaming and console gaming, discuss the differencies, the pros and cons of both of them. As for me, it seems a little irrational, because consoles and computers are pretty much the same things: they have got processors, digital memory and can output videosignal. Basically, consoles are computers at heart, they are simply built differently and cost cheaper than a desktop computer which is capable of running graphically-wise similar games.
There is enough said about PCs and about consoles. What I would like to do is to try and make peace between both. So, this article is about the unusual and for many people nowadays even unknown possibilities of many consoles: transforming into a home computer!

Back in 1983 in USA the video game crash was spawned by numerous reasons, one of them was that microcomputers became cheap and affordable, moreover they evolved into relatively powerful machines capable of running videogames with full-color graphics and numerous levels (and even big overworld maps). The advertisings questioned: "Why should one buy a console, when a home computer can do more than just play games?" And yes, that was a defining argument for both parents and children: the parents thought of a computer as a more advantageous buy, because they could make use of it themselves and the computers back then could actually awake a youngster's interest in computer studies. That even happened personally to me, as my first gaming machine was a clone of ZX Spectrum and I have studied programming from as early as 5 years old (not only that, but it helped me develop some English skills via using Latin alphabet on the keyboard and typing in English words as BASIC commands).

The developers of video game consoles understood that as well, so there are some gaming machines which you could buy some expansions for and transform them into a home computer. And that gives us another question, which is not so easy to answer: what is the actual difference between a game console and a computer? Let's find out.
.

1. Programming capabilities. A gaming console is designed to be used for games. Back in 1980s many home computers had got large capabilities for studying programming, because, unlike modern PCs, they had got a programming language (usually a variation of BASIC) built in. So, sooner or later, you will at least try and type in something like
Programming capabilities.10 PRINT "HELLO"
and RUN. This is already a program. And you, who have written that, are a programmer. Programming microcomputers becomes fun and easy. What do we have now? Now everyone has got a computer and can't even type in a web-address in a browser, using a google search window to find their websites.
Nevertheless, if you want to program, you need a computer. Any modern computer has got some development kits. If you want just a gaming machine, you need a console, that's pretty clear. So, programming capabities are a sign of being a home computer. But is this the only thing that differs a computer from a gaming console? Let's find out.
External storage.

2. External storage. In the early 80s there were no way to save games. Games were mostly distributed on cartridges with on-board read-only memory, which means that in most cases there was absolutely no way to store any data on them. Even a high-score. That and overall memory limitations by the way defined the early concepts of videogames. Briefly, they could be completed in less than an hour, but should have been beaten in one sitting. RPGs with large overworld maps and battery-backed on-board RAM for saving appeared much later.
So, transforming a console to a computer actually involved giving it some data storage, usually floppy disks or audiotapes. They are much slower than cartridges, but the main thing is that they are cheap and you can store your own data on those.
In 90s, when the fifth generation of videogame consoles came to life, being able to save the game was crucial, so the memory cards were introduced for Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64. From that moment on, there is no game console which does not support external storage in this or that form. Thus, having an external storage by itself does not define a home computer.

Full-size input device
3. Full-size input device. This can arguably be another difference between a computer and a console. Can you imagine a computer without a keyboard? In 1980s - probably not. And the transformation of a console into a computer often involved plugging in a keyboard unit. We have to type a program, haven't we? But as for nowadays' computing, I think keyboard is not as necessary as before. All we use is either a mouse, or a touchscreen. Even when you have to type in a small message in an internet-pager or an address of a website, an on-screen keyboard or a keypad of a mobile phone will do. So, the presence of a keyboard doesn't define a computer by itself. But let's get to another argument.

Text processing
4. Text processing. Yes. What else does a casual user need a computer for? It's just a handy typewriter! And unlike the latter, you can store your text in digital format and correcting errors is not such a hassle as if you would use a typewriter. This task is rather simple, and for many of us it is a defining reason to buy a computer over a console. But hey, shouldn't we remember the first microcomputer ever, Altair 8800? You could program on it, put text processing was just ahead of its time. Thus, we will consider having a text processor one of the most reasonable capabilities that differ a home computer from a video game console, though the programming is still more reasonable.

Using printer.
5. Using printer. This is definitely not a defining factor, but it is connected to the latter ones. When you have used your keyboard to type in some text, formatted it with a text processor and saved on a disk, what would you want to do with it next? Print it, of course! However, a lot of home computer remain printerless and still remain being computers. I'm not sure whether there exist computers with absolutely no way to connect a printer to, but I'm sure that many users have got a computer at home, but have no printer and live with that. Moreover, there actually are printers for gaming consoles, one of notable examples being a Game Boy Printer.

Using monitor in place of a TV set.
6. Using monitor in place of a TV set. I have included this just it could be considered. But is that right? Or course not! You may think that a computer must have a crisp and sharp image which a TV cannot provide. But would you be surprised if I say, that there are a lot of home computers with RF-output only? Early ZX Spectrums are among them. It's just a shame that many videogame console developers do not include a nifty RGB output in the console units, because they tend to think of that format as enterprise-oriented, not for a casual home user. Fortunately, modern consoles can provide an HDMI output, if they cannot be connected via RGB or VGA, just like a computer. We like crisp images in videogames as well, don't we? And there are some older consoles which actually are officially capable of outputting RGB, i.e. Videopac G7200.

Online capabilities.
7. Online capabilities. This last factor is just so wrong, that I even doubt that it has to be on the list, but decided to include it just because it can be considered by someone. Just look at all the consoles you know. All of them, which were produced in 1999 and further, have this or that way to connect online! Sega Dreamcast even had got a modem packed in with every console shipped.


So, here are all the factors that could possibly differ a home computer from a console. As you can see, it's hard to think of any of them as the most defining, but I personally consider that every computer must have some programming capability. I remember my old ZX Spectrum. I had no access to the Internet, had no printer and could not record my programs to a tape, because I had no cassette unit with a proper microphone jack. And still it is much more than a gaming console, because I have learned the basics of programming with it. Other kids grew up with Dendy and they just played games. I love games too, but unlike them, I have been able to write my own simple programs in such early age as 5.

Next time we'll have a look at the consoles themselves. Which of them is the most computerized? We'll find out!

Where are motion controls gone?


I'm thinking of this every time I turn on my Wii.wii
I was stunned and shocked when I heard first in my life about Wii. That would be the console destined to change our point of view on video games, revolutionize the gaming itself. And it is indeed still my favourite console.
It's not a secret that Wii has not as powerful guts as its competitors - PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. I personally don't care about graphics and resolution, but I admit that more powerful hardware gives more possibilities for detailing and broadening a video game.
So, Wii is all about innovation in gameplay, isn't it? But what's wrong with the world I live in? People who created Wii and are responsible for supporting it are actually killing it!
You think I'm talking about "too much waggle"? NO. I'm kind of person whose opinion on this topic is completely opposite. I'm the person who actually bought Nintendo Wii to play with motion controls! I even do own MotionPlus and Balance Board! What differs me from the target audience of the Wii - is that I absolutely don't care about party games, minigames collections and related garbage. I was dreaming about wielding a sword in Star Wars, shooting arrows with a bow in The Elder Scrolls, using my arms and legs in fighting games. What did I get instead of that? Button mashing. This is as old as the first video game is. We have accelerometers, gyroscopes, infrared sensors and even weighting scales to give us more immersive gaming experience. And what we get? Playing most of our games with SNES controller. Yes, I do mean Classic Controller for Wii as well as standard controllers for both PS3 and XBox 360.
controllers
Even the upcoming Wii U Controller has got the same buttons configuration as SNES gamepad.
Wii-U-GamePad
Maybe I should not blame game developers for that. They are told to make games which make more money. And their audience does not want to move. The audience wants to hold a SNES gamepad and mash buttons. So, that's YOU who are responsible for making Wii worthless. That was YOU saying "oh, I hate jumping around waggling the wiimote".
But I should blame developers for NOT making "stupid waggle" even an optional feature for people like me who appreciate it. Instead of that every time I see a good Wii game I get rather disappointed that it completely ignores the motion sensing capabilities.
Early Wii games actually do use motion controls, but I cannot recall A SINGLE game from the past two years which DOES actually use them! No, I'm not counting aiming with a Wiimote in shooters and some scarce scenes where we are told to "shake the Nunchuck" or "Shake the Wiimote". I'm about fully implemented motion controls in a fully-fledged game. There is actually ONE exception: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword which controls rather well using motion-sensing capabilities of a standard pair of Wii controllers: Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Wielding a sword works rather well in it. You can't go wrong with Zelda if you get into playing this rather specific game series. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess works with motion controls rather well, and it is one of the Wii's launch titles!

zelda

Wii_Sports_Resort-tennisWii Sports and Wii Sports Resorts are examples of really good games completely based on motion-sensing. I haven't heard anyone claiming that "waggle" does not work in Wii Sports Tennis, especially when talking about its improved version in Wii Sports Resort. Why third-party developers don't take this hint into consideration and either make badly implemented motion controls or tend to ignore them?redsteel2
Red Steel 2 is a 3D first person shooter with sword fighting. A lot of waggle? Yes! A good workout for a gamer's arms? Yes! Do motion controls work? Yes! Do we have a lot of other similar games for Wii? No!
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is another good example of a game I was waiting for. It is my favourite genre: action adventure. How can you go wrong with a Star Wars game, where you can hold a real lightsaber with your own hands? Believe me, although the game is short, it has the motion controls done right.

star_wars_the_force_unleashed

But what about Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2? I was waiting for that game from the moment I heard about it. And what?star_wars_the_force_unleashed_2 I was VERY disappointed when I finally got it and found out that THERE IS BUTTON MASHING INSTEAD OF SWORD WIELDING! How could they screw up such a good game? I have no idea. The developers told that their intention was to implement dual-sword battle system and they thought it wouldn't work with motion sensing. Actually, they did not abandon the technology, leaving it for special moves, but that is just not it. The first game was far more immersive.
No More Heroes and it's sequel are considered to be games where the motion controls are implemented the right way. Come on, how it can be right, when it's all about button-mashing again! Yes, thankfully they have some motion-controlled special moves, but yet again that's just not it. You push a button - you wield a sword. Come on, it's like making a 3D shooter for PlayStation 3 using pixellated sprite graphics. I'm not against it, but it's just not innovative. Are Sonyboys here? Imagined that? That's how I feel about Wii games with no "waggle".

no more heroes

Virtua TennisLet's take a look at sports titles. Virtua Tennis 3 is a game based on motion controls which is a good thing. I have not got into it and consider Tennis from Wii Sports Resort a better game, but maybe it's just me. But for some reason Virtua Tennis 4 has been added a feature to control the game with buttons! Can you imagine that? Just think about it! A Wii Tennis game! With! No! Motion! Sensing!
Actually, Virtua Tennis 4 does use motion sensing and even gives Wii MotionPlus a way to go. And I'm not talking that they should not have made motion controls optional. I'm saying that motion controls should be an option in every modern game. Xbox 360 has got Kinect and PS3 has got Move. Do we have some good games for those devices? Maybe Skyrim with motion sensing? Fable 3? Some action-adventures which are flourishing on these two 1080p consoles? No! We have shovelware party games like Star Wars Kinect, but what about hardcore games - nothing but a SNES controller.
starwarskinekt
The saddest part is that this tendency to abandon motion controls is considered to be a good thing among so-called "hardcore" gamers. I feel that these people are the reason why Wii U will use a modified version of the SNES controller. And what really disappointed me, is that I have seen this abomination at E3 2012.
wiiu2
What do you think about? Xbox 360 gamepad? No! This is an alternative controller for Wii U! And that is the worst thing Nintendo could have done to the fans of motion-based gaming. This may be the last nail in the coffin of motion controls, because, as I may predict, the developers of Wii U games will tend to overuse button-mashing and ignore not only Wii Remote support, but the built-in screen of the new Wii U controller as well.

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This article is entirely in Russian, because it is about common mispronunciations and misunderstandings of gaming-related words and phrases in Russian language. It may be interesting to those who learn Russian or speak it as a native language.


Ни для кого из русскоговорящих не секрет, что компьютерные игры пришли в страны бывшего СССР с Запада, а соответственно - вся терминология и жаргонизмы, связанные с видеоиграми, заимствованы из английского языка. Некоторые из них, правда, чисто русские.
coffee
В любом случае, в русском гейминг-комьюнити существует огромное количество типичных лингвистических ошибок, причем вошедших уже в ранг нормы, примерно так же, как слово "кофе" в разговорной речи часто бывает среднего рода, хотя на самом деле в русском языке ему присущ мужской род. Поэтому я решила рассмотреть некоторые из них и привести правильный вариант.


1. Аркада. Это слово используется для обозначения целого жанра игр, что не совсем верно. К аркадам в русском языке принято относить все игры, которые на Западе принято называть "платформеры": Super Mario, Kirby's Adventure, Crash Bandicoot, Sonic the Hedgehog и многие другие. Также применяются сочетания "логическая аркада", "аркадные гонки" и даже "аркадный шутер". И хотя последнее еще имеет какой-то смысл, когда мы хотим подчеркнуть упрощенный геймплей по сравнению с другими играми такого же жанра (логические, гонки и шутеры соответственно), то называть все платформеры аркадами - в корне неправильно.

arcadeАркада (англ. Arcade) - это изначально термин из архитектуры, обозначающий ряд арок одинаковой формы. В США слово "arcade machine" восходит еще к "penny arcade", механическим игровым автоматам 1920-х. С архитектурой, насколько мне известно, связан тот факт, что аркадами называют огромные помещения шоппинг-молов, в которых находилось огромное количество аркадных автоматов. Такие аркады были популярны в 70-80-е годы, но не в СССР.

В русском языке практически не употребляется выражение "аркадный автомат", вместо этого применяется тошнотворное "игровые автоматы", неслучайно ассоциируемое с "видеопокерами" и "однорукими бандитами". На Западе они называются gambling machines. Разница здесь принципиальная: на игровом автомате есть шанс выиграть деньги, на аркадном - нет, только игра на интерес, и любители видеопокера никакого отношения к геймерам не имеют: у них - другое хобби.

На Западе тоже говорят "arcade game", но здесь "arcade" выступает в качестве прилагательного, т.е. "аркадная игра", в смысле "игра с упрощенным геймплеем, подобно играм на аркадных автоматах". В прямом же смысле "аркадная игра" - это ни в коем случае не жанр, а форм-фактор, в котором выпущена игра: аркадная игра запускается на аркадном автомате, и для начала игры нужно опустить монету. А на консолях и компьютерах - порты аркадных игр, так что назвать того же Соника "аркадой" - в корне неверно, так как игры с этим персонажем изначально появились на игровых приставках.


2. Джойстик. Злоупотребление этим словом свойственно как русскоговорящим, так и англоговорящим геймерам. В далеких 70-х, действительно, практически единственным способом управления в играх был джойстик, как в аркадах, так и на консолях и микрокомпьютерах. Английское слово Joystick в дословном переводе - "палочка удовольствия", как бы пошло это ни звучало. Теперь смотрим на то, что называем джойстиком мы. Палочки я здесь никакой не вижу, этот дизайн игрового контроллера называется Геймпэд, от англ. gamepad, дословно - "игровая панель". Чувствуете логику?

Джойстик и геймпэд

Что же касается уникальных игровых контроллеров вроде Wiimote и его клона PS Move, то лучше их не называть ни джойстиками, ни геймпэдами, так как они не являются ни теми, ни другими. Корректно их называть либо по официальным называниям "Виимоут" и "Мув", либо просто "игровой контроллер такой-то приставки".

вии

3. Играть в компьютер. Игры были всегда, а компьютерные игры - не всегда. До эпохи видеоигр у каждой игры было свое название, и играть можно было только "во что-то" а не "на чем-то": в домино, в шашки, в нарды, в салочки, в дочки-матери. В то же время, когда мы говорили о музыкальных инструментах, мы не говорили "играть в пианино" или "играть в гитару", так как пианино и гитара - собственно, инструменты ДЛЯ игры, а не сами игры. Также и с видеоиграми: компьютер или игровая приставка - это инструмент ДЛЯ игры В видеоигры, соответственно, верно говорить: "играть на компьютере" или "играть на приставке". А выражение "играть в компьютер" отлично обыграно в книге "Энциклопедия профессора Фортрана":


4. Игра на Сеге. Я и сама иногда так говорю, но необходимо все же прояснить, что с точки зрения лингвистики это неверно.
SegaMegadrive2
Во-первых, Sega - это название фирмы, а не консоли. Сама консоль, о которой в таких случаях чаще всего идет речь, в Америке называется Sega Genesis, а в Европе - Sega Mega Drive. В наших краях практически не были известны другие консоли от Sega, такие как Sega SG-1000, Sega Master System, Sega Saturn, Sega Game Gear, Sega Nomad. Была, правда, Sega Dreamcast, но к ее появлению 16-битные приставки уже устарели, и мы до сих пор понимаем, что "сега" - это Sega Mega Drive, а "дримкаст" - это Sega Dreamcast (хотя, строго говоря, правильно произносить "Дримкэст").
Поэтому правильный вариант - "Игра на Мега Драйв", "Игра на Денди" и т. д.


5. Мой Плейстейшн.
playstation
По неизвестным мне причинам практически все игровые приставки в русском языке считаются словами мужского рода, в том числе и Sony PlayStation. Только "Сега" принято считать женского рода из-за окончания "-а". Но на самом деле, Плейстейшн никак нельзя назвать в мужском роде. Самого слова "плейстейшн" в русском языке нет. Его родовое определение - "игровая приставка" или "игровая консоль" - женского рода. Если перевести само слово Play Station на русский язык, получится "игровая станция", что снова выходит женского рода.
vectrex
ZX Spectrum, правда, мужского рода, назвать его в женском язык не повернется, так-как, во-первых, слово "спектрум" по правилам русского языка будет мужского рода, во-вторых, его родовое понятие - "компьютер", что тоже мужского рода.

А вот Вектрекс на англоязычных форумах иногда называют she, когда хотят подчеркнуть, что Вектрекс имеет душу и как можно теплее выразиться. Назвать на русском Вектрекс в женском роде - немного режет слух, поэтому здесь можно подчеркнуть, что Вектрекс все-таки ближе к аркадному автомату, чем игровой приставке, хотя бы потому, что "приставка" должна к чему-то приставляться, а Вектрекс приставить, собственно, не к чему, кроме как к розетке.

К слову отмечу, хоть и не отдельным пунктом, что не стоит злоупотреблять словом "приставка", особенно если речь идет о карманных игровых консолях, типа Game Boy, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP: как минимум потому, что они ни к чему не приставляются, так же, как и Vectrex. Правда, Геймбой назвать в женском роде язык тоже не поворачиватся, как минимум потому, что в названии есть слово boy, что значит "мальчик". Поэтому пусть он будет просто Геймбой. А DS и PSP, на мой взгляд, следует считать женского рода.

геймбой, ds, psp

6. Кассета для Денди.

кассета/ катридж
Эта ошибка, что неудивительно, типична и для англоговорящих: еще в 80-х, с появлением Nintendo Entertainment System (известной нам как "Денди"), картриджи с играми иногда называли Nintendo tapes (дословно - "нинтендо плёнки"), так как большинство людей больше знакомы с аудио- и видеокассетами, но не имели дела с таким форматом, как картридж. Аналогично и в наших краях, особенно это свойственно старшему поколению: часто в обиходе даже и нет слова "картридж", но есть слово "кассета". Усугубляется это тем, что до 1992-го года игры у нас действительно распространялись в основном на кассетах, ввиду засилия клонов ZX Spectrum и полного отсутствия импорта картриджных консолей. Некоторые и CD/DVD-диски называют "кассетами", видимо только потому, что на них тоже хранят музыку, фильмы и игры.

Вот мы и рассмотрели несколько самых распространенных речевых ошибок, связанных с разговорами об играх. Конечно, на самом деле их больше: и неправильно прочитанные названия, и путание одних вещей с другими, но здесь я привела самые, на мой взгляд, распространенные и наиболее значимые. Если Вы с чем-то из вышенаписанного несогласны или можете вспомнить еще один пример, дайте мне знать.

Kinder Surprise: is it still a surprise?


Well, it's not surprising to see in Ukraine a Kinder Surprise!
But it definitely was back in the 90s, when these things first appeared on our postsoviet market. All the kids were thrilled, including me, as I grew up at that time.
How can you go wrong with a Kinder Surprise? You have three things in one, remember?
1. Chocolate.
2. A toy.
3. A surprise!
I always wondered as a kid, every time seeing that TV-ad: what actually the third thing is? I see only two things! Well, I came to a conclusion, that just the fact that you don't know which toy you will get, is that same third component of that overpriced egg. And it's not a bad things! Many of us, kids, had got large collection of Kinder Suprise toys: lions, cats, smurfs, bears, vehicles and so on.
Now you can buy those toys on ebay, but really, do they have THAT appeal? You would get only thing number 2. What about that awesome chocolate? And where is a surprise? And haven't you dreamed being a kid that once you grow up, have your own money and buy yourself loads of Kinder eggs? Most of us have forgotten those dreams and don't bother thinking of it...
No, actually there ARE some crazy ones like me and my dear girlfriend who recently bought two Kinder Surprises for herself and me!
And here are these two shiny things in this review!
Back in the day we had a wide variety of possible toys in Kinder Suprises, but now you actually have some sort of choice, because now they are sold in separate categories. Let's begin with a more expensive one, which comes in a box.

Kinder Surprise: is it still a surprise?

Inside the box is the egg itself, with the same foil wrapping, just the logo was changed slightly and finally translated into Ukrainian (I don't remember the logo in 1990s being in Ukrainian or Russian).

Kinder Surprise: is it still a surprise?

Unwrapped, it looks pretty much the same as those days: an edible shell with milky chocolate on the outer side and white chocolate on the inner. The egg is easily divided in two, so a plastic capsule with an action figure is revealed. Back in the day I used to share one of the edible halves with someone, so we did today: I have given a half of my egg to my friend and she gave me a half of hers.

Kinder Surprise: is it still a surprise?

Apparently, this series is based on a recent "Happy Feet" CGI cartoon. and you have a chance of getting one of nine possible characters of that movie. Most of them are from Antarctics, but there is also a puffin, which geografically resides in Norway, the opposite end of the world. I assume the author of the cartoon has got some poor knowledge of biology and geography. Nevertheless, I haven't seen the cartoon, so I don't really know what is a puffin doing in Antarctics.
Anyway, here is our hero him/herself:

Kinder Surprise: is it still a surprise?

The packaging is the same as back in the day: a toy usually comes disassembled, consisting of 1 to 5 parts (meaning it may be in one piece if it is small enough to fit in a capsule). This cute puffin came with his legs separated from rest of the body and was very easy to assemble.
The toys are still being painted by hand, which is apparent in close view: you easily can see some paint marks on the borders of painted areas, which are scarce and have even some nostalgic feeling for me.
The capsule is slightly changed from the form I remember: now it opens up like a case, not being separated into two independent parts. I don't know why they changed the design, as in my opinion it was OK (though I remember having sometimes a hard time trying to open some capsules as a kid).
The second egg is boxless and cheaper, but there was no way to guess what could be inside until we open it...

Kinder Surprise: is it still a surprise?

...and a cute flamingo-karateka showed up! According to a mini-flyer found inside the capsule, he/she is a part of "Sporty Animals" series, which is Kinder Surprise exclusive brand, not associated with some on-going CGI. The bad thing is that the characters are not easily recognizable, but the good thing is that you may think whatever you like, make up your own story for the characters, give them names you like and make interactions between them the way you want, not being bound by the plot of some known cartoon (it would be fun to collect all Happy Feet action figures and make up the third movie installment by your own though).

Kinder Surprise is still a good thing and still can be a decent collectable and a fun present for a child (or an adult). The only downside is that it is excessively overpriced: about 12 hryvnas (~$1.5) for boxed Happy Feet 2 edition and 8 hryvnas (~$1) for a regular one. I remember that back in the 90s these mystery eggs were not only a dream of every child, but not every parent could buy them too often because of the high price.

P.S. It is sad that this ingenious product has never been sold in the United States. In USA, the Kinder Surprise is banned because it contains a non-edible item inside of an edible one and supposedly may cause harm to a child, though it is clearly written on every one of them that it is NOT recommended to children under the age of 4.

From early 2000s till the present day, 2012, PC gaming absolutely dominates the Ukrainian videogaming market. In some extent, it resembles the situation prior to video game crash in 1983 in United States, when home computers became cheap and affordable, had got an infinite amount of games for all tastes, many of which, such as DnD and text adventures, have never got their place on the console market, because they could hardly be played without full keyboard you could type a text with.

The same thing was around year 2000. Personal Computers have become cheap enough to get a place in nearly every household, especially when the Internet became more affordable.

Personal computers are much more convenient for First Person Shooters, because computer mouse is more precise than an analog stick on a gamepad (1). Also there are much more Real-time Strategies and Point-and-click Adventures on PC, than on any console ever produced - also because of the convenience of using a standard mouse for these types of games.
Needless to say that developing a game for Windows does not require licensing, so there were much more good Russian translations and games made by Russian developers on PC than on PlayStation. Some notable examples are so-called "Russian quests", which are basically simple, but funny cartoonish point-and-click adventure games, most of them have never been translated into English: "Petka and Vasily Ivanovich save the Galaxy" (2) which has spawned a series of 9 games, the last one came out in 2009; "Shtirlitz" (3) and others. It's hard not to mention a real-time strategy Cossacks and a series of first-person shooters with RPG elements S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Both Stalker and Cossacks are made by Ukrainian developer companies (4).

игры на пк

Even when computers were not in every household, there were so-called "computer clubs", where you could pay money for playing any PC game which is installed there. Most of the time popular multiplayer shooters like Quake III or Counter-Strike were played (5).

Quake 3
Some clubs even from as early as 1991 provided such services for console gamers. If you could not afford your own console, you went to a gaming club, paid money per hour and played either alone or with friends. Renting a console was not popular, but this type of gaming was quite widely spread, just like arcade machines in early 1980s in USA and Europe.

So, Ukraine, pretty like Russia and some other post-soviet contries, has its own unique gaming history and thus, the tastes of Ukrainian gamers differ from those of American and European ones.

First, we had got ZX Spectrum in 1986, with all its library from 1982, so older and more simplistic games for it were not as popular as, say, in Great Britain. For example, there is not much of a fanbase of Jet Set Willy, but a relatively obscure game Tujad (which I will review later) has become widely spread and popular, maybe because it was one of the games on a pack-in audiotape, which came with the Speccy and contained some random, but very good games.

Second, we had got games on famiclones, but not the full library, thus there is absolutely no strong fanbase of Zelda series, unlike more developed gaming regions. To make things worse, we were not familiar with Zelda games on SNES and N64, because those consoles were rather obscure for our gamers.

Play Station 2Third, PlayStation dominated and still dominates the gaming market, being a common name for all disk-based consoles. PlayStation 2 has become widely spread, but there were almost no original XBox'es and Nintendo GameCubes (6). Although Dreamcast has got some attention, mainly because it was made by Sega, a company with a very huge fanbase in Ukraine because of the popularity of their Mega Drive console and its games.

And at last, PC gaming dominates the modern market, leaving sixth and seventh generations consoles in obscurity for the masses. There are people playing XBox 360 and a lot of pirated games for it. Some prefer PS3, being loyal to Sony because of their first two consoles. But as for Nintendo Wii, it is very overpriced and very obscure, because Nintendo does not sell any consoles here officially, after the failure with the attempt to sell SNES for original price.

Retrogaming-wise, I was actually astonished to find out that there actually are some people, though very few of them, who not only play older games, but even collect cartridge-based systems and games for them. Most people though prefer emulators and consider keeping old consoles being a waste of space in a house. This makes difficult to get hands on some rare Dendy and soviet Spectrum models.

That's almost all about Ukrainian gaming history...

Hey, stop! What about pocket gaming?

While USA and Europe had various Pocket Arcades, Mini Arcades, Game & Watches, that type of gaming also remained obscure in the 80s.

But some types of Game&Watch models have been replicated and gained a lot of popularity in the masses. The most popular pocket game of that time was "Nu Pogodi!" (7). This replica of Nintendo EG-26 Egg model of Game&Watch series was in production from 1984 and has even become a cultural icon of the time, being played till the late 1990s. There were also some other Game&Watch clones, but none of them had become so recognizable as this one.

nu pogodi, tetris

Like I said, in 1991 the market became flooded with Chinese products, with a simple handheld "Brick Game" among them (7). This is another cultural icon of the 1990s. Some may call it a "Russian Game Boy", because albeit being sold, Game Boy has not achieved such popularity, as such simple but addictive game with different varieties of Tetris, Snake and simple racing and tank games.

gameboy

nintendo ds, sony pspAs for Game Boys, I have seen those and even borrowed one for an evening, which in fact was borrowed by my friend from a friend of him (that's to consider how rare it was back then) (8).

Game Boy Advance has got more attention, because it was produced in 2000s, when gamers had access to lots of modern gaming hardware. Chinese clones of GBA-SP are still widely sold in local stores, though very overpriced (up to $120 for a console with some built-in Famicom games) (9).

But when it came to the next generation of pocket consoles, the era of Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, the latter became widely known and spread, and the DS has got almost no attention, unlike other gaming contries, where it has sold much more pieces than PSP. Why did it happen? I think the reasons are obvious: Nintendo has no devoted fanbase, but Sony has. Moreover, in provincial cities and towns a DS can be difficult to find. So, yes, Sony dominated even here. Though you should not overestimate the development of the pocket console market in Ukraine, because most people just play simplistic games on their smartphones and don't care neither of PSP, nor DS and their successors (10).

         Hope you enjoyed this short series and learned a little history you didn't know about.