A computing legacy

With the news of Samsung wishing to get into some sort of game development, a question was thrown; why haven’t Europeans made a console? Well, the answer really is two-pronged;first is that at the moment there is no company that has the resources and the knowhow to develop one, and the second is that the flopped Phillips CD-i was an European console by all means. Sure, Nokia had their period of actually being good, but overall Nokia lost their in waywhat made their phones good and really screwed up with the N-Cage. There’s bunch of rumors that the N-Cage was demanded by the Russian mafia and I wouldn’t be surprised if these allegations were true. We’ve seen stranger things in the game industry than that.

However, there’s a more prominent reason why European companies have not ventured into the console markets any further in any other form than a developer. This simple reason is that Europe has always been far more into computers than consoles. Britain had Sinclair Research Ltd. which developed and produced their own computers for customers, and one of the most memorable was their ZX Spectrum line of machines starting from 1982. I personally remember 16k/48k model from my childhood with rubber keyboard, and that my godfather showed me some Aliens when I was some four years old after playing a bunch of games. Amstrad also produced their own line of computers, and later on purchased the rights for the Spectrum range and the overall Sinclair brand in the mid-80’s.

Computers were mostly used for gaming, and I do not know many people who actually used them as work machines. Computers back then were mostly game machines, even thou a lot of decent and useable programs existed for multiple things, but I never could see Spectrum as anything pleasant to work on. But the games were pretty awesome overall, and some names you should know started with the Spectrum, like David Perry of Shiny Entertainment (most well known for Earthworm Jim and MDK) as well as Julian Gallop of X-COM fame, as well as a bunch of others.

I’m sure I don’t need to go through what kind of machine Commodore 64 was, as its legacy still lives pretty strong in the modern pop-culture, especially up here in North. However, I do feel the need to mention the Amstrad CPC, which was developed in the mid-80’s to compete against both Commodore and Sinclair machines, and saw popularity in the UK, France, Spain and in some German-speaking countries that could get their hands on it. There are multiple varieties of the CPC, but it seems that the CPC464 is the most nostalgic to many. It should also be mentioned that Amstrad’s CPC line also gave birth to the Amstrad GX4000, which was a neatly designed game console based on the CPC technology. Outwards appearance isn’t everything, and in 1990 the hardware just didn’t really cut it. It was discontinued a year later with only 40 games, but it needs to be mentioned that the GX4000 it had its own port for light guns. None of the games developed to the system was what you would call good.

It might look RAD, but the games are all sort of abomination

In the later part of the 80’s Amiga and Atari were pretty big names in the European computer scene. I was personally always more invested with the Atari machines, namely the Atari 520ST which released in 1986 and was a pretty damn awesome machine on its own and very comparable to its Amiga counterparts. Commodore had purchased Amiga, so Commodore’s legacy could be seen in Amiga machines as well, thou a separate team from Amiga kept working on Amiga branded machines.

The 80’s video game crash affected the computers as well and for the same reason. So much garbage was coded for every machine out there that it just got out of hands and there wasn’t even a level of quality to speak of. Rampart piracy didn’t help either, thou later computers did have a bit better copy protection. There was a period where these computers were kinda frozen, much like the console games after the Crash, but that was a very brief period. The overall quality rose with the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System’s rise, but to this day there are computer enthusiasts who do not understand why the consoles overtook the spot as home’s main game device. Then again, neither does SONY or Microsoft.

Much like with any competing entertainment market, there were battling scenes between Amiga and Atari machines, and many demos of showing the awesomeness of both machines were made to ridicule the other. While Atari’s machines seemed to be weaker in direct comparison, it should be noted that the ST line, as well as the STE, TT MEGA STE and Falcon computers, saw large use because of its music-sequencer software and was used as a controller of musical instruments by both amateurs and professionals. Jean Michel Jarre, Madonna, Tangerine Dream and Norman Cook used Atari computers for their music, to name few. While Amiga had decently strong music support as well, it saw use as a more diverse multimedia machine in video production and show control. People at now bankrupted ADV started their subtitling with an Amiga machine, which kind of lead to the birth of proper to modern American anime scene. Amiga’s large memory also allowed for the development of several 3D rendering software as well.

Ah damn, I love that Atari sound. It has that *something* in there. It might be nostalgia

Overall, we could argue that Europeans always enjoyed tinkering with their machines rather than just play them. A lot of European developers started with the old machines like this, and the users have moved from making simple demos to have their own software and/or hardware companies. Still, these computers were used to play games quite a lot, and the chasm between these nearly console-like computers to actual consoles like the Mega Drive isn’t that deep. I never really used my Atari 520ST for anything but playing games, but then again I never really understood the potential the machine had.

In 80’s there was a generation shift between the consoles and the computers, where few years made a significant division deciding whether you started with consoles or computers. Still, the European computer scene as it were lived strongly to the mid-90’s. I’d argue that the scene, as it existed back then, sort of died with the death of Commode in 1994, and this can be directly blamed on Amiga CD32, which was a CD based home console rather than a proper computer. Nobody remembers that device for a reason, and the scene that flourished was mostly assimilated into other computer scenes. Nevertheless, there is still an undead scene that keeps using both Atari and Amiga machines and continue doing demos and games for the system, as well as exploring what they can do.
When the 90’s rolled over even Europe had taken by the storm of Sega and Nintendo. The Mega Drive had always been more popular of the two brands, and Europeans can feel Nintendo’s cold shoulder even to this day. It could be said that the first proper console to truly strike true with the European customers was indeed the Mega Drive, and later on the PlayStation.

Nintendo saw much more success in Japan and America, which they still see as the most important areas while neglecting the potential Europe offers. Because of these computer roots, and that Nintendo hates us, the 360 and PS3 havebeen the slightly more popular machine locally even thou the Wii has been universally more successful. Europe almost always saw game releases last from the big three (Japan, US and Europe) and we always suffered from bad PAL conversion because the companies were not interested to do proper recoding to use standard PAL signal. That, and Nintendo has little no care what happens in Europe and doesn’t even try to bring their games out here in similar fashion they do in US and Japan. WHy should consumers care if the company doesn’t? We’ll have to see what the next generation of consoles do here in Europe, but the situation looks rather grim still when you look at the past six years.

If Samsung indeed is starting a home console development, I can only hope that they will make a console rather than a dumbed down computer. We do not need anymore the likes of GX4000 and Amiga CD32, even thou the HD twins already are part of the legacy. Samsung has the knowhow and the resources to make a proper console, but I’m afraid the company is far too rooted to computers and mobile media to realize their potential.

A matter of quality

There’s always a question of quality when it comes to products whether or not we speak of artists or craftsmen. Quality is the universal measure that ultimately decides whether or not something is going to become a success of sorts.

This isn’t really the case.

How quality is measured is up to the individual customer. As a rule of thumb we can say that a certain level of quality will always succeed, whereas far too high quality will sell less, as will too low quality.

Let me use VHS, LaserDisc and BetaMAX as an example of this. The VHS had the worst quality out of the three in sound and in picture. BetaMAX was superior, and LaserDisc was even better. VHS was good enough in quality, and offered other things that were better in quality, such as price and availability. Low price is always better in quality than high price, and larger stocks are better quality than small stocks. That, and all the best films and series was were released on VHS.

In portable electronicscustomers value long battery life. If a product consumes batteries in a slow pace then it’s considered to be pretty good in quality. WonderSwan, a handheld game console from Bandai, managed to last around 24-26h with one AA battery. That’s something to strive for. Naturally, WonderSwan’s quality, as with any game console, lies in the games provided.

For media equipment this is the measure of quality; can it do the job for you? Will it be able to fulfil what you want to do with the machine? This is a question that haunts anyone who is going to buy a new a computer. Should they go for a Windows based PC or a Macintosh? Should they learn Linux or some other other OS instead? What programs will be there for them, will there be a large software support for the OS and so forth.

Windows is regarded as a high quality OS because of its versatility and how standard it is. You can safely jump from version to version and get hang ofthe new versions safely. Sadly, Windows 8 abandoned this altogether and I can see a lot of people and companies jumping over Windows 8 if there won’t be any proper and fundamental changes in how it’s usability works.

Macintosh machines work well for what they’re intended for. Personally they do not allow me the freedom I want on any level, so for me a Mac has a lower level of quality. If you prefer Mac, then more power for you. Just don’t come up to my face and start spouting that it’s the superior choice.

In film and animation the quality of the product can be measured on many levels; story, visuals, sound, acting etc. Much like with design and other creative industries, the only way to get a better quality product is to go through loads of experiences. A simple example would be a steel table; you can’t make the welding seams good if you don’t train your welding, and weak welding means a weak table. In animation you want to have people who have experience in animation to ensure the best possible product, but even then you need to take in newcomers to give them experience in the actual industry. The finalproduct might not be the best because of this, but you won’t get the best quality product in the future if you only have people who never had any actual experience.

Locally this is actually a pretty bad thing; most workplaces only take in people with experience, and you can’t really get any experience if you can’t get a workplace. It’s a vicious cyclethat should be stopped everywhere. Taking in few new workers would serve everybody’s interest, really.

You can see that quality isn’t something that’s set to stone from the get-go. There are things that do have a set standard (like a welding seam) but things like shape are completely abstract and vary from product to product and from user to user. For some a scene of animation might be bad quality, and for some standard quality.

We’ll be discussing Total Eclipse soon enough

The above, for some, is atrocious cell of animation. For some it looks like your modern TV-animation scene. I personally dig the light effect that’s going on.

While there are certain standards that do exist and are used to measure whatever, they only apply if the user, ie. the customer has the same set of values. Rarely dothe standards of industries and customers meet, even if the industry standardsshould be those of customerson appearance. Still, when talking of quality we do need to have those set standards in order to have a common ground, but even then we always deviate from those grounds because we do see things differently even from the same point of view. Just visit any game forum to witness this first hand.

The industries do have to think the standard of quality differently as well. Money is always one ofthe issues as arethe demands of the customers. Juggling between multiple issues to achieve the best possible product is no laughing matter. Sometimes there are customers whose voices need to be discarded in order to get the best mean quality possible. Serving everybody is an impossibility, and that’s why you need to aim to please as many as possible, even if its outside your own comfort zone.

Still, the last point is used as an excuse to do trophy products far too often, especially in the creative industries. Just because you can’t serve the 4/5 of the possible customer group, it doesn’t mean that you should only serve one fifth.

What is true quality is really hard to measure. Universal standards don’t seem to fit when we take individuals in account, and if we discard the individuals then the standards do not apply. Perhaps if we were cold logical machines we all could have those same standards of quality. It’s a richness that we are so different, and that richness makes things a bitch to make.