Oh look, some vague rumors about the technical specs of the next Xbox console.
As expected, the internets are now all a-twitter (or a-plussing, if that’s your thing) about what this could all possibly mean for the fate of Microsoft’s next big hope. Technophiles have been quick to point out how laughably underpowered the new console’s proposed video card is, at least compared to what’s currently available for desktop PC gamers. Naturally, they’re overlooking the fact that the Xbox 360′s Xenos video card was comparably underpowered back in 2005, but we don’t want that to get in the way of a good whine.
The level of negativity this rumor is attracting does beg one question though: what was everyone expecting?
Ever since the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn arrived on the scene — long enough ago to make me feel depressed about how old I’m getting — console manufacturers have been playing a never-ending game of catch-up with PC hardware manufacturers. As each new console rolled off the production line, PC gamers would be there waiting to point, laugh, and compare tech spec e-peens. But in recent years that gap has been closing, at least where visuals are concerned. And, let’s face it, that’s the only yardstick most people use when it comes to assessing just how “advanced” a console is. What’s its maximum resolution? What shaders does it have? How many magical video card things does it do per second? Will the next Final Fantasy game finally look like the FMV of my dreams, dammit?
Not that many PC gamers are in a position to claim a significant technical advantage. The average PC gamer isn’t even playing games in 1080p right now. In fact, fewer than 10% of gamers who use Steam are playing in 1920 x 1080 or above. When the next generation Wii, Xbox and PlayStation arrive on the scene, every console gamer will be playing in 1080p. Now who’s playing catch-up?
Relax, guys. It all boils down to this: PC gamers and console gamers are going to be on pretty level footing when it comes to how pretty everything looks. Sure, those ten percenters will have insane resolutions and enough anti-aliasing to turn a rough day around — and they’ll remind us of this fact every damn opportunity they get — but we’re all one big happy family now.
So now we can stop worrying about how many polygons the neighbors are throwing around every second, let’s turn our attention to some of the things we’ve been neglecting lately, such as AI, physics, sound propagation, narrative/mechanical cohesion, etc. Working on those areas is going to deliver more interesting gaming experiences, not the ability to count a space marine’s bountiful supply of nasal hairs.
Wow, it’s been a last time since I posted something here.
Despite appearances to the contrary, Retroblique isn’t dead. I’m currently working on a collaborative gaming blog project with two fellow gaming bloggers (whose work you can currently find over at Raptured Reality and Pioneer Project), the fruits of which you’ll hopefully be able to enjoy some time in the near future.
Retroblique will stick around, but it will evolve into a more general geekier blog. There will still be occasional gaming banter, but expect to see me prattling on about music, film, literature, design, technology and social media too. In other words, a broader snapshot of my personal interests.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to start posting retro gaming banter on Google+. I’ve seen many other people successfully use the platform for micro-blogging, so I thought I’d give it a whirl and see what I can do with it. If you want to join in the fun, here’s where you can find me on Google+. I may fold some of the content back into Retroblique, but we’ll see.
Watch this space for further announcements!
Recent gaming distractions: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC), The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection (PS3), Minecraft (PC), Eufloria (PC) and Super Mario Galaxy (Wii).
The 4G’s lovely Retina Display allows web sites to displayed in all their original glory and, most importantly, still remain readable without having to switch to an ugly mobile-friendly stylesheet.
That being said, it’s always nice to have options. And with many mobile users accustomed to swiping and tapping their way through their coffee break reads, I thought I’d give Retroblique’s mobile readers the opportunity to enjoy a more functional way of reading this blog.
From now on, those of you who access this blog with an iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, Palm Pre, Samsung Touch or Blackberry Storm/Torch will now see this mobile version by default:
Don’t worry—if you prefer the vanilla version of Retroblique, simply scroll to the bottom of the page and you’ll see an option to toggle the mobile version off (and, assuming your mobile browser stores cookies, it will remember your choice).
Pretty much anything you can read/write with vanilla Retroblique you can read/write on mobile Retroblique. You won’t see the sidebar or the linkage contained therein, but you’ll see all the posts, pages and comments. Additionally, the top of the screen contains direct links to my Twitter page and the ability to send a direct message to my iPod Touch.
As a bonus for iPhone/iPod Touch users I’ve created a home screen icon, so bookmark away!
I’ll probably be tweaking the mobile version’s appearance over the next few weeks (those calendar icons will probably be replaced by app-style thumbnail images from the articles), so watch this space. In the mean time any feedback you may have (particularly from non-iPhone/iPod Touch users) will be most welcome.
Once upon a time, long before they were bombarding us with no end of mediocre Star Wars titles, LucasArts were responsible for a handful of groundbreaking titles on a variety of 8-bit platforms (primarily the Atari XE/XL and Commodore 64). We’ll discuss each of them in greater detail during the months to come, but for now I’d like to draw your attention to a rather nifty futuristic sports title by the name of Ballblazer.
Don’t worry if the name doesn’t immediately set any bells a-donging. It’s a good quarter of a century old (ouch) and although critically championed it remained one of those titles that everyone attached to their wishlist but never quite got round to buying. Even those who bought it found it a tad esoteric too.
I can understand why Ballblazer left many gamers bemused. While futuristic sports titles were ten a penny back in the mid 80s, those that presented the game in a first-person perspective were the exception rather than the rule. While not a 3D game in the strictest sense of the definition, Ballblazer nevertheless required a slight more advanced understanding of spatial awareness from its players than the average 2D game, not least because much of the game’s playing field (and the actions of the opposing player) existed beyond the player’s immediate field of view.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s take a step back and consider the basics of the game.
Ballblazer is a minimalist hybrid of football (that’s soccer to you North American heathens) and basketball. Each player takes control of a Roger Dean-esque pod called a rotofoil that glides above the surface of a rectangular field of play. A glowing sphere is ejected onto the playing field, whereupon the rotofoils made a bee line for it, hoping to capture it and blast it between the opposing player’s goal posts.
Did I mention that the goal posts are constantly moving along the goal line? Not only that, they get closer together each time a goal is scored. It’s a pretty nifty device for ensuring that two evenly-matched players remain closely tied throughout the duration of the match, leading to some rather intense brawling as the countdown timer threatens to bring the game to a halt.
Another major concern for the offensive player is that their rotofoil slows down while in possession of the sphere. Not significantly, but it’s a subtle enough distinction that the defensive player always has the upper hand. The offensive player needs to decide if he wants to risk maintaining possession of the sphere as he charges towards the goal, or release it by blasting it further down the pitch to gain some speed back. Either way there’s a strong chance an experienced opponent will be able to regain possession.
To help simplify the controls and prevent players from getting completely lost on the relatively large playing field, the rotofoils always snap round to face the direction of the sphere. Keeping pushing forward on the joystick and you will eventually find the sphere, regardless of where you are in relation to it. A useful aid for players who are aware of the feature, but for the uninitiated gamer the constant viewpoint shifting is bewildering and disorientating, which may explain why some of my friends threw their joysticks away in frustration, claiming they just didn’t get it.
Matches last three minutes or until someone scores ten points, whichever happens first. Two points are scored for a regular goal, three points if the goal posts are beyond the player’s field of view. Games are quick, fast and often dirty. Two player games provide the most entertainment, although the computer AI presents a significant challenge.
Ballblazer was certainly technically impressive for its day. On screen clutter was kept to a minimum to ensure a snappy framerate; the playing field itself was rendered as a flat checkerboard, serving to enhance the illusion of speed. Sound effects were sparse but always provided sufficient cues as to what was happening on the field of play. Most other sports games of the day, traditional or otherwise, would often attempt to throw too much detail at the player, thus slowing gameplay down to a crawl. Lucasfilm Games quite rightly sacrificed detail for speed and were able to deliver a more compelling, competitive experience as a result.
Ballblazer remains one of those 8-bit titles that’s still worth playing today. Its frantic, kinetic pace is a good fit for the modern gamer’s sensibilities and the three minute matches ensure the game never outstays its welcome. Ideal for a quick “pick up and play” if you’ve only ten minutes to spare.