The Daily Almanac of Videogame History now available

For the past few months I’ve been working on a non-academic side project: a one-fact-a-day book about videogames. I call it The Daily Almanac of Videogame History and now I’ve put it up for sale on amazon for 99¢.

The Daily Almanac of Videogame History

I found one videogame-related fact for each day of the year (including one for Leap Day). Wherever possible I tried to cite everything from primary sources and I tried to highlight the strange or weird videogame-related things instead of just release dates (although there are some of those too) so although there web sites with similar “Today in Videogame History” themes I think mine is not only more accurate but has a different focus.

Strange items include a Judge who banned a kid from playing videogames, a town that only legalized arcade games a few years ago, and a Japan-only Xbox game called “N.U.D.E.”

Now I don’t have an excuse not to be working on my academic stuff. Although I could work on a sequel…

A Call of Duty edition of Newsweek?

I was in the grocery store Monday and decided I would check out the magazine rack. I was surprised to see a magazine devoted to Call of Duty with the Newsweek logo on it:


While there have been special issues of magazines for specific videogames before and whenever someone famous dies it seems like there are special “tribute to X Collector’s Edition” magazines on the stands just days later, it seems weird that Newsweek would be the one to have their name attached to this. Of course, because I love gaming magazines I had to buy it, so I guess the combination worked.

blogroll updated

As promised  I’ve updated the blogroll over on the right. I would have done it earlier but I got caught up in rolling around in all that darpa money that digra gets in their think tank which employs tons of people…

blogroll pruned

I’ve deleted some of the links in the blogroll over in the sidebar.As someone who is having a hard time finding a job, I can’t blame some of the people if they have left academic game studies since I might have to be doing it myself (of course it seems more like academia leaving me than me leaving academia…) Regardless, it did hurt to delete some of those links but if they haven’t updated since 2012 I have to assume the site isn’t being updated any more. I’ll be adding some new links in the days ahead.


Analog keyboards and rumble mice

Back in December I got a PS3 for the first time and more recently I’ve been working on a side project that involves looking at a bunch of gaming stuff from the 90s. Recently these two interests have combined in a way that made me think about the lack of progress in the way pc games are played. Ever since the Atari 5200 came out with a different controller than the Atari 2600 it has become common for console controllers to change with each new console. Most of the time the new controllers don’t just look different but they add in new/different features. Some of those features then go on to become more or less universally adopted.

This really isn’t the case with pc gaming. Aside from incremental improvements such as using a laser instead of a ball in a mouse, the mouse and keyboard for the earliest computers isn’t really all that different than modern ones. Sure, mechanical switches are the hot thing now but those are really just coming back. No matter how many leds and lcd screens they add to a keyboard or mouse it is still basically the same and doesn’t really change your gaming experience.

There was a time, however, when there was more experimentation on pc controllers. There were controllers that basically tried to make the keyboard more comfortable like The Claw, the Wolfking Warrior, the Z-board which offered replaceable keyboards for a specific game, or the Razer Orbweaver and similar products but all of these are just putting buttons in the different spots.

My research reminded me of one controller that tried to have analog movement: the Spaceorb 360.

Spaceorb 360

I remember when this came out and while it seemed like a cool idea, I never saw one in person. Unsurprisingly it failed because it was weird looking. (a somewhat similar looking controller was the Microsoft Sidewinder Dual Strike but it used the ball thing to look and not move like the Spaceorb). Apparently the Spaceorb has its fans since someone made an Arduino interface to make it work with modern versions of Windows. The thing that is appealing about the Spaceorb is something I’ve wanted in pc games for a long time: variable speed. How nice would it be in a FPS to be able to easily be able to control how fast you move? Here’s what I want: analog keys on a keyboard. Maybe just for WASD or whatever but imagine keys that would work like triggers on a controller where you could push them down a little to go slowly and all the way to run. I know it might make the clicky keys weird but surely they could just put in a potentiometer or something on the keys to measure how far down the keys were pressed without making them feel different.

Running across the Spaceorb reminded me of the other old control device that never took off but seemed really cool: the rumble mouse. Logitech released a couple different kinds of these over the years. The first was the Logitech Wingman Force Feedback Mouse. Check out the video of how this thing works:

Maybe it is just me but it seems like it would be pretty cool to have a mouse that could do that. Unfortunately, to make it work the mouse was apparently attached to the pad which meant you couldn’t really move it very far.

The other line of force feedback mice Logitech came out with was the iFeel mice which looked like regular mice. I never used either of these but I would imagine that the iFeel didn’t have as much movement as the Wingman because it wasn’t attached to a mouse pad. It was, however, apparently useful outside of gaming as it could be used to rumble when you moved the mouse over a link, a window border, or something else. That seems like it would be kind of neat and could come in handy when trying to move your mouse to just the right spot to resize a window or move a text box border. Unfortunately, like the Spaceorb, the rumble mouse also failed to catch on.

However, it has been more than a decade since the rumble mouse was released and nearly twenty years since the analog controller so I think it is time for someone to try these ideas again. Come on Razer or Das Keyboard and give me a keyboard with analog keys and a rumble mouse! (seriously, give me one because I’m poor and couldn’t afford to buy them if they came out).

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

One of the weird things about Wolfenstein: The New Order is that apparently it is a sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 2009’s Wolfenstein (which I didn’t even know existed. and seems to be out of print since even used copies are going for over $70 and I can’t find it digitally distributed anywhere). Since this game takes place in an alternate timeline, it seems strange that they would make it in continuity with these other games (if that is the case). Even if it is a sequel, there’s nothing in it that marks it as such and the game is a pretty fun experience with a few other weird things thrown in along the way.

Most of the weird things about the game are elements that it carries over from the original Wolfenstein 3D such as the ability to eat dog food to gain back health and the collecting of hidden gold which doesn’t seem to really have any impact on anything as far as I can tell. These overtly game-y elements clash with this story which goes to some length to show the cruelties of war in general and the Nazis in particular (spoilers: the Nazis were not nice.)

That ludonarrative dissonance extends to things like having to hit “E” to pick things up which is a real pain when you have to pick things up all the time because enemies drop bits of armor as you hurt them. While the trope of picking up armor, health, and bullets didn’t really strike me as clashing with the storyline because they are conveniences, having to hammer “E” really did because it was an inconvenience.

Another weird aspect is the perk system which adds a bit of RPG to it. It is weird because you level up from doing things but the perks are automatically applied to a stat boost so you can’t pick a skill to improve. So you get better at doing the things you are already doing which seems kind of pointless. I only played the game through once so I don’t know how being better at something else really changes the game.

(Similarly, there is a point where the story branches and since I only played it the one time I don’t know if the different paths are really all that different. )

Perhaps the worst part of the game are the boss battles which don’t really vary from the old “hit the boss in one place then another” or “wait for the boss to expose its weakness before shooting it.” Thankfully it does refrain from the worst boss battle sin of having to nearly kill the boss only to have the boss regenerate and then have to kill it again and again.

While the gameplay does have some of these quirks, it is otherwise pretty solid FPS that has a nice variety of shooting and more stealthy things like crawling through conveniently man-sized vents, hiding from security cameras, and stealth. Likewise, the storyline of a world where the Nazis won is pretty well done. Many people have noted the Bioshock Infinite-style alt-universe covers of pop songs and there are some interesting bits where you will see an obviously pro-Nazi-biased newspaper clipping about how wonderful things are under Nazi rule.

The strongest part for me was the part where you have to infiltrate a prison camp. I really liked going around and getting quests from different prisoners. It reminded me of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay which isn’t surprising since this Wolfenstein: The New Order was apparently made by many of the same people who made the Riddick game.

Unfortunately, the prison level also results in trivializing the experience of concentration camps and prisoner of war camps because you end up escaping from it the same day you get there which makes it seem like the prisoners are clueless weaklings incapable of doing it themselves. It ends up giving the message that “all it took was a real man.” There was a moment when I thought the game was really going to force you to work in a prison factory but that lasts all of about two minutes. It would have been a really brave and interesting game if they had forced you to do some meaningless button mashing for a while. Of course, it also would have been a very different game, as well.

Another plot point that borders on venturing into problematic territory is the existence of a secret Jewish society called Da’at Yichud.

Some minor spoilers here….  See, the reason why the Nazis have robot dogs and moon bases and stuff if because they stole it all from Da’at Yichud. The problem is that this concept of a secret society with super-science risks perpetuating stereotypes that Jews are secretly holding out on the rest of us and maybe they are controlling things behind the scenes. As a plot point, they use it as a simple way to explain why the bad guys have robots and moon bases in the 60s but by making it a secret jewish society it gives the Nazis a kind of justification for their genocide. It doesn’t go that far but it does border on it which makes me wish it had just been a multi-ethnic secret society or something in order to sidestep those kinds of issues.

Regardless, I had fun playing Wolfenstein: New Order because it is a decent shooter, the Nazis winning WWII is an interesting premise which gives the game to have some purely evil bad guys (the scene on the train is a standout) and it is quite long for a modern game so even though there is no multiplayer you do get your money’s worth.

five thumbs up

“B.J.” Blazkowicz
Saves the world in the end but
he is no Doom Guy

Whatever Happened to 80s Anti-Videogame Advocate Ronnie Lamm?

In the last post I mentioned I was doing some researrch on history of gaming for a side project. In the history of videogame censorship, one of the earliest and most notable people was Ronnie Lamm who was quoted in lots of interviews and appeared in many tv segments back in the early 1980s.

When I read about people from decades past who fight for a losing cause, I often wonder what became of them. I think it would be an interesting project to do a real “Where are they now?” with people involved in news events in decades past. Interestingly, I ran across a 2009 article from the Long Island Press that did talk to her. In the article, she is quoted as saying:

“It was a very interesting time of questioning,” Lamm, now a grandmother, tells the Press. “This is something new, something that parents were embracing, possibly for the wrong reason, and school districts at the time had concern about children cutting out of school to go to [play] video games. But our initial concern was the safety of children in bar lobbies, in luncheonettes. Where were these machines? Were they in the backroom? Were they being watched? Children are hanging out here… What was their supervision?”


History and Research

I’ve been doing a side project that involves tracking down some release dates of videogames. Because I’m a bit obsessed with finding authoritative sources I’m finding it difficult for some things. Strangely, although wikipedia has tons of release dates on games, hardly any of them are sourced. Perhaps stranger is that although wikipedia loves to put [citation needed] on everything, hardly any of these uncited dates have that tag.

Some release dates don’t seem to be known. For example, the exact day that Space Invaders first came out seems lost to the ages. And even though things like the ET Landfill thing were well documented in Atari Inc.: Business is Fun, there was still tons of coverage reporting that it was thought to be an “urban legend” and “no one knew what was buried there.”

What wikipedia does have though is a couple videogame sources that I wasn’t aware of until I stumbled on them the other day:

  • The first is wikipedia’s list of videogame source that they call their “reference library.” It contains links to gaming magazines and websites online and off as well as books and other things.
  • The second is wikipedia’s list of “books on video games” which is, cleverly enough, a list of books on videogames.

Neither of these is earth-shattering but they are useful sites to keep in mind when looking for something.

This is a man and he has a name: Edge gets bylines

A short followup on something I wrote way back in November of 2007 when I noticed that Edge magazine doesn’t give author credit on its articles.

Well, as a couple months ago that has changed because Edge now lists the authors of their articles:


The weird thing is that although the editorial for the first issue where they started listing authors they noted differences in some of the columns and layout but they didn’t mention giving authors credit.