Monthly Three: Computer game

This Monthly Three (imaginative name, I know) will most likely consist less content than usual, as the theme will be System X defining games, in this case What games define computer games? In this way I hope to showcase the core differences that stand between computer/PC gaming, arcade gaming and console gaming. As all three systems have differences in their core, the selection here are largely picked to present the definitive elements that a platform excels at.

We start with computer games, because they are the first to stem from the general field of electronic games. That’s a whole another can-o-worms we might open one day after discussing how computer and video games are simply continuation if child play culture.

But onwards, games that defined computer gaming as we know it nowadays. These are not in any particular order, so there’s no reason to look into that. The amount of games will be kept under ten for the sake of removing excess fat.

Continue reading “Monthly Three: Computer game”

Games on your wall

There’s a Kickstarter up called Linked to the Wall, which aims to create game cartridge wall mounts. The driving idea they have is that games are made into similar form as paintings, framed to the wall. The idea seems to be solid in principle, but there’s few problems, one logistic, that they are either side-stepping or haven’t thought about.

Looking at the prototypes they have, I have to question why do they need to create separate wall mounts to different cartridges. They want to streamline and eliminate all possible manufacturing problems by creating a solid piece of plastic, which is understandable and admirable to a point, but also tells me they want to produce these as cheaply and fast as possible. Designing a wall mount that would be adjustable according to a cartridge’s width isn’t terribly hard. Designing it well is somewhat challenging. Smaller cartridges, like the Game Boy, Game Gear and GB Advance carts would require a smaller solution, one they are also offering, but again with a different mounts for each cartridge. Their design is also lacking Famicom cart design.

Let’s take a look at the depth of the cartridge connectors’ grooves between a Famicom, NES, Mega Drive, Super NES and N64 game carts. To measure the depth, I am using metal ruler that starts from 0mm at its end and a caliper to measure the width of the connector groove.

The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm

Let’s put the NES images up before we compare the two.

19mm, perhaps just slightly over
19mm, perhaps just slightly over

The Famicom cart is shallower than its Western counterpart on either direction. The width is not a problem with either of these in the design they are currently using. The depth is a minor inconvenience, but 10mm is more than enough build a prong that holds  NES cart in place. The plastic thickness is not a problem either, as long as the prongs are not made of too rigid material, which is a given. An adjustable arm could allocate both FC and NES carts just fine, as their design currently places the cartridge on two prongs that supports both front and back with one additional support column going into the groove. This additional piece is what keeps the cart straight, whereas the main prongs take the carts’ weight.

Their prototypes have been 3D printed and it shows. All the larger cartridges they have are slightly slanted forwards. This means they don’t only need to invest into material research than just create injection moulds.

The Mega Drive carts' groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width
The Mega Drive carts’ groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width.
Just a shy of 91mm
Just a shy of 91mm

The Mega Drive carts’ groove depth is a bit shallower than either FC or NES carts’, but the width is between NES’ and FC’s. Because the MD cart is shallower, the support column would need to be 1mm shorter, but at this scale and weight that’s not an issue with the right material.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
97mm, I most likely jammed the instrument a bit too hard in

Super NES/Famicom cartridges have the same width and depth across the board despite their different outer appearance between US and EUR/JPN region. The NES still has the widest groove, meaning SNES carts shouldn’t pose a problem with an adjustable arm.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
71.5mm in width
71.5mm in width

The N64 has similar depth to the FC carts, but a Mega Drive cartridge still beats it. It’s width is the smallest, which means the adjustable hand should be at that size, minimum.

Let’s say that the adjustable arm is a design where there’s basically two tubes inside each other and you pull them out. If the minimum width is 70mm, it’s has enough room to spread at least 40mm either direction, adding a whopping extra 80mm to the total width, making the arm at 150mm at maximum, an unneeded amount. The needed width could be marked down with slots a peg slides into or with a small screw, both low in profile if done right. Another option is to position the adjuster the point where the mount is secured to the wall. Just have two slaps of plastic that you screw together at whatever distance from each you want. They wouldn’t even need to make large change in their current design to accommodate this.

If you have an access to a 3D printer, you could actually just use these measurements and do your own mounts if you wanted.

With Game Boy and GB Advance games, you have the exact same width and depth with both cartridges and there’s no good reason why to have separate mounts for both of them. Have the support wedged slightly into the connector groove and it would keep either GB or GBA carts in place.

A thing that I haven’t mentioned at all is thickness. For the record, here are the measurements for the carts used:
FC – 17mm

NES – 16.5mm

MD – 17mm

SFC/EUR SNES – 19.8mm in the middle, 17mm at screw point

US SNES – 20mm in the middle section, 17mm in outer sections

N64 – 18.9mm before tapering out

Having the main supports elongating to 18mm should be just fine, keeping the mount low profile. With the adjustable design, you could have the support prongs holding the cartridge in place with similar level of low profile.

The design given in the Kickstarter also leaves the cartridges’ connectors all open for further oxidation. While this is supposed to be a solution to problem of having games in boxes, which is really a non-problem to begin with, at least in these boxes the games were sealed from excess moisture and other unwanted materials floating in the air.

The problem of connectors being exposed is not really all that easy to solve without additional design tweaking. To keep the production as low as possible, you really can’t have luxuriously separate pieces that would seal the grooves, as they have a different height. The height with Nintendo’s cartridges’ are pretty solid 10-12mm, with N64 having the largest height, but also the thickest wall. Mega Drive’s height is same as N64’s; 12mm. The wall thickness is not the same across the board either. An adjustable solution for this would not be too low profile. A solution would be to have the lower support be thin enough but strong enough to be adjusted according the width and height, but as mentioned that’d skyrocket the costs both in design and production.

They also have basically opened some of the game boxes in their examples. These cardboard boxes are hard to come by as it is, and opening them as such ruins them. I hope they used a scan copy from the Internet.

I also have to question their advertisement slogan “Turn your games into unique wall art!” seeing there are thousands of these games out there.

Of course, you could also do what I did to throw some of my games to the wall and save some room while you’re at it. Just pick some shelves from Ikea and put your games on it. You can put more games on the wall that way, save some money and protect them from dust. Plus, when you’re tired with them you can use the shelves for whatever else than just stash the frames and mounts away.

Not saying this is the best solution, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best
Not saying this is the best solution or the prettiest, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best on the long run

Designed freedom

Free roaming game design has been with us for a long, long time. PC RPGs tended to give the player whatever way they chose to approach a quest or a task in order to give an illusion of  that the player can do whatever he wants. Whatever came afterwards was tied to events, and sometimes the way the player approached these tasks decided where the game went.

Arcade games were different. Their strength always was in the strong design that kept the gameplay together and required to master the gameplay elements as intended. There was relatively little freedom of choice, if any.

Console games could take the best of both worlds, as with Legend of Zelda. While you were free to tackle the game in whatever way you wanted like PC RPG, it was tightly tied to the design of the game and progress structure, just like an arcade game. Hence it being an Action RPG.

With sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs being examples of relatively free approach in games. Sometimes it is advertised that you are completely free to play the game the way you want, but this isn’t really the case. For example, Metal Gear Solid V has a strict ranking system that essentially makes the player to play the game in few selected ways rather than truly appreciating the way the player would like to approach the missions.

Would a free roaming game that emphasizes on the player’s own approach even have a need for a some sort of ranking system? For challenge missions and such yes, but outside that the system would need to be reward the way the player plays. It is supposed to be a free system after all.

The problem is a dynamic ranking system would be how to rank the different approaches. In a stealth game like Metal Gear it would make sense to give a penalty to the player for killing enemy soldiers, but with MGSV you’re the Big Boss and you call the shots. If you want to go in guns blazing, then you do that. It’s a valid method and was even demonstrated in Konami’s presentation. In this approach, shouldn’t the system rate the accuracy, speed and lack of collateral damage?

A problem with a dynamic rating system is how it would recognize the way its being played, but essentially there is no game that actually allows any sort of approach to the game. Ultima Online was the closest thing we’ve got. This is due to games being products that are always designed with a core idea. For a stealth game its stealth, even if would allow whatever approach. The game design would always push the player towards the designed method of playing. To go in guns blazing fits more Grand Theft Auto.

The solid nature of games is another thing that essentially prevents the player to do whatever they want. Games have a definitive beginning and end, and you can’t branch off those even with games with multiple different ends. While games may be interactive, they are not dynamic. What is coded in there won’t change. In Zelda you can’t side with Ganon. In Sleeping Dogs you can’t jump the ship and join the criminals.

It’s marketing speech when you hear that you are free to do approach the missions whatever way you want. You can do it, but don’t expect a high rank unless you manage to get around the system. A player who understands how he is ranked and how the system works can abuse it to their heart’s content as much as they want, thou most customers don’t give much weight or even care enough to put enough time into the game. Tool Assisted Speedruns are an example where understanding the game has taken to an absolute maximum. DS Brain Age’s TAS is an example how understanding how the game functions underneath allows player to essentially whatever they want.

No game allows you to approach itself the way you want to. The ways the game can be approached has been designed already and the templates are already in there. There can only be personal variations how these templates are then put into use. A game may have been designed to support multiple approaches with modifications and large amounts of options to choose from, but it may also have a core design that simply invalidates some of those approaches. The only game that’s completely dynamic in its approach are children’s games and traditional pen & paper games, where the participants give direct feedback to each other and change as the situation needs. This possibly ever-changing nature is something that electronic games can’t do without having a system that can allow such change or react to it. After all, neither computer or video games are reactive, that part is left to the player.

To compare with other media, movies are completely inert in their interactivity. What’s there can’t be changed and it can only repeated the exact same way. With games scenarios are often this way as well with the player giving them the dynamics to change with slight variations. Some games may emphasize on random elements with procedurally produced worlds or random placement of items and characters. It’s something, but far from actually changing or adapting to what the player is doing.

Long story short, if a game wants to allow the player to approach missions and task however they want to, and actually stick with this sentence, the games would need to be as reactive and mould themselves around those selections. Designing and programming such a game would be nightmare. Then again, most people seem to prefer the more tightly designed games, like the 2D Mario ones.