Old games have cool names

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Old games have cool names — names like Pong, Rogue, Hack, Adventure, Spacewar!, Defender, etc. The names are short, simple, and accurately describe what the game is about. Modern games, unfortunately, aren’t named in such a fashion. The advent of marketing departments has pretty much killed off any name that can’t marketed and defended as a trademark, resulting in such game titles as Age of Wonders 2: The Wizard’s Throne and Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2006 Trophy Season. Another problem is that whereas Shooter used to be a perfectly good name for a game, now it describes multiple genres of games: first person shooters, third person shooters, space shooters, schmups, etc. All of the good simple names are either taken, shot down by pointy-hairs, or too ambiguous.

I miss the game names of old. They harken back to a bygone era when videogames were first being made. The creators didn’t have the “benefit” of decades of videogaming naming conventions. The names they chose are charming for their simplicity. Homemade non-commercial games such as Rogue, Hack, Adventure, Spacewar!, and others don’t suffer from marketing hype. They have an easygoing air about them. There’s a modern roguelike named Dwarf Fortress; the name perfectly describes what the game is about. I can’t imagine how badly it’d have turned out if a marketing “guru” was allowed to choose the name.

As for why I’m bringing this up, it’s because of the excellent article, Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky, which was just published in Digital Humanities Quarterly by Dennis G. Jerz. Jerz managed to track down the original source code to Adventure, the first text-based adventure game that invented such now-commonplace concepts in videogames as items and inventories, as well as the adventure genre itself. Not only that, but Adventure was based on the real world Colossal Cave in Kentucky, and Jerz traced back through the cave verifying the accuracy of the text descriptions in Adventure. This is definitely the best scholarly paper on historical videogames that I’ve read recently.

And by the way, the original Fortran sources have been modified slightly by Matthew T. Russotto so that they compile with the modern GNU G77. I downloaded them and they compiled just fine on the first try, and I was up and playing original Adventure, now three decades old, in seconds flat. Talk about a great archaeogaming find.

A good interview

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

What follows is a repost of one of my posts to the newsgroup talk.origins. This post is from August 21, 2003 (I previously reposted another post on this blog). This post is pretty self-explanatory; just note that it was written to a specific audience at talk.origins, so you may not recognize some of the names. It has also been reposted on talkorigins.org as an Honorable Mention for Post of the Month August 2003. But I figured I might as well repost it here, too. I’m working on saving all of my really good material from talk.origins from rotting away in old Usenet archives by reposting it here. It’s a hard slog trying to extract the really good stuff though! Anyway, the post:

This is kind of off-topic, but it’s a “warm, fuzzy” story, so you might wanna read it.

I’ve been on talk.origins … gee, I don’t know how long now, maybe something like 2 years. I’ve been interested in evolution/religion a lot longer than that and was thrilled when I found a good place to discuss it online.

So, I’m 18 now, and I go to college in a week (University of Maryland, College Park if you’re interested). I am rather happy to be going to college, because I get to outfit my dorm room with killer equipment that other people cannot afford – I got a full scholarship, you see!

Let me tell you, getting a full scholarship here is very tough. They have about 100 full scholarships for all 4 grades, and there are about 26,000 undergraduates. It’s not that I’m not very smart, I just wasn’t very dedicated in my schoolwork (thanks in no part to the distraction of talk.origins AHEM). I had a final GPA of something like 3.85, and a weighted GPA of 4.75 (I took nothing but Honors classes my last 3 years). But in the end, it was talk.origins that saved me (never mind how it negatively impacted my high school grades).

Besides looking at your essays, high school grades, etc., the interview is a very important part of the scholarship decision process. The interviews were conducted by groups of three professors, … and lo and behold, who should I get on my interviewing staff but a professor of biology!

So I had a long discussion about evolution with him. We were talking about abiogenesis, punctuated equilibrium, stuff like that. He was really impressed. Meanwhile the other 2 interviewers were spellbound that I was talking to this biology professor in all of these advanced topics (this isn’t the kind of stuff high schoolers would know, even if they took AP Biology).

So, they were very impressed. The biology professor commended me on how much free time I spent on various educational pursuits, and said that he personally would be checking out talk.origins. I left the interview feeling very pleased. And, sure enough, about a month later, I got a letter in the mail saying I had been awarded a full scholarship!

So, I would like to formally thank all of the wonderful people on talk.origins for the many tens of thousands of dollars I’ll be saving over the course of the next four years. I (really) couldn’t have done it without you. I’d like to thank all the regulars (Wilkins, Bryant, Sienkiewicz, et al, you know who you are). And I’d even like to thank our resident trolls (who I will not mention) for provoking endless discussions that helped fill my brain up with all sorts of cool information that ended up being useful on a scholarship admission interview.

I have to start packing now, I’ll see you all again when I’m relocated to my college dorm.

Usenet is a strange reality where you see people beating up a patch of
grass where nine years ago there used to be a horse. -Nuke

It’s really quite something that if that fifteen minute interview hadn’t gone so well, I’d be sitting on about $60,000 in student debt right now (rather than no debt).