Doctor ArkanoidWelcome to the Inner Sanctum! I’m glad you decided to drop in.

I’m sure you’re wondering who is Doctor Arkanoid and what this blog is about. Allow me to enlighten you🙂

First of all, Doctor Arkanoid is me! My name is Anthony Gurr and I’ve been involved with the video game industry for 25 years. I’m also a professional technology writer, and I’ve taught at the post-secondary level. I received my Master’s degree in Technology and Learning Design in June, 2011, from Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, Canada. I started my career in video games in 1988 by working as a game tester for a Japanese company in Vancouver called Taito Software. Perhaps you’ve heard of Taito; they made a modestly successful arcade game named ‘Space Invaders‘! I was known inside Taito Software as ‘Doctor Arkanoid’ – the resident game guru and writer of a marketing newsletter we sent out that featured game hints and information.

Some of the titles I worked on at Taito Software include Arkanoid, Bubble Bobble, Chase HQ, Operation Wolf,Rastan, Renegade, and Wrath of the Black Manta. I also worked for Taito Corporation in Tokyo, Japan, from 1991 to 1994, where I helped develop Arkanoid: Doh it Again, Lufia & The Fortess of Doom, Operation Thunderbolt, Super Chase HQ, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and The Ninja Warriors.

The Inner Sanctum is all about helping people make sense of the wild virtual frontier that is the video game world. By ‘video games’, I’m talking about the whole spectrum of personal computer games, handheld video games, mobile games, and video game consoles. The purpose of this blog is to help explain the nature of video games and the industry to the mainstream world and encourage an open dialogue.

This blog isn’t about cheat codes, gamer gossip, or the latest marketing hype. There are plenty of other folks in the blogosphere doing an excellent job of that! The Inner Sanctum is about helping make sense of video games and their influence in today’s world. If you’re an academic, a parent, a teacher, a media reporter, a student, or someone looking for thoughtful advice and information, I hope you’ll find this blog to be useful.

The TyeeDoctor Arkanoid

Smartphone addictLast Tuesday, August 6th, the good Doctor was invited by CBC Radio to appear on the afternoon call-in program BC Almanac to discuss the wonderful world of free apps for mobile devices. The guest host for the program was CBC National reporter Duncan McCue. This was my second appearance on BC Almanac – I first visited with them in March, 2013, to discuss the controversy caused by a recent alumni of Port Moody Secondary School who created a 3D level of his school that was playable using the Counterstrike game mod. The discussion this time around was decidedly less intense. What I really enjoyed was listening to people from all over British Columbia calling and tweeting about what apps they liked using on their mobile devices. It’s hard to believe how ubiquitous apps and mobile technology have become in people’s lives since Apple originally released the iPhone in Canada back in 2008. Google recently released the results of a study that surveyed 1000 Canadian smartphone users. They reported that the average smartphone has approximately 30 apps, 8 of which are paid apps. The majority of apps on their smartphones are free. In 2012, the consumer survey organization JD Power and Associates reported that the top ten uses of smartphones in Canada (in order) were texting, photography, email, Facebook, weather, games, web search, maps, news, and music.

Apps and smartphones are a serious going concern in Canada. While preparing for my interview with CBC Radio, I discovered the results of a fascinating study called The Apps Economy in Canada, released in October, 2012, by the Information and Communication Technology Council. It reported that 13 million Canadian smartphone users spent $675 million dollars on apps and broadband subscription services for 2012, compared to the global base of 1.2 billion smartphone users who spent a whopping $25.97 billion dollars. There are 51,700 people involved in Canadian app development, 15% (7,755) working here in BC. The Canadian app development industry generated $775 million in revenues for 2012.

You can listen to the CBC segment about free apps here (it starts at approximately 20:45).

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

Lufia packaging originally designed by Taito Japan in 1993

Lufia packaging originally designed by Taito Japan in 1993

In mid-April, 1993, Taito Japan decided to green light the North American localization of Lufia and the Fortress of Doom for SNES. I felt kind of a rush when I was told about the go-ahead. This was the first time in my life that I successfully championed a major release title for publishing. My intuition for selecting great games was validated. Little did I know that there was more going on below the surface. My Japanese managers congratulated me on being so tenacious. Then they informed me that I was responsible for localizing the game.

Having the responsibility of localizing Lufia was a double-edged sword.  Taito was making a big investment to publish this game in North America. I was now the point man between Taito America, Taito Japan, and Nintendo America for this game meeting all the development and submission requirements. If this game missed its deadlines, or if Nintendo failed to approve its submission, then my head was on the chopping block. I was also responsible for working with the Neverland team and the Taito QA team. Neverland was easy to work with. The Taito QA team were difficult – they didn’t like being told what to do by someone they viewed as an ‘outsider’. It was an eye-opening experience about international relations.

I won’t get into all the nitpicky development details. Taito America wanted Lufia and the Fortress of Doom ready for the 1993 Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, which was held in mid-June. Nintendo wanted the beta evaluation EPROM set and full game documentation by early July. I had slightly less than two months to get the translations completed, documentation written, game packaging organized, and ‘cultural issues’ in the game revised. What were the cultural issues? Nintendo’s submission guidelines for SNES games were very strict. Games were prohibited from showing all kinds of things that could be construed as offensive. In Estpolis, the Sinistral Shrine originally displayed a Christian crucifix on the altar (no religious symbolism allowed). I’ll never forget how the Taito Japan team wondered why Americans would be so sensitive about a crucifix in a videogame. References to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, or sexual suggestiveness were taboo. Estpolis originally contained a tobacco reference, a few alcoholic references, and one particularly famous drug reference involving my favourite video game odd couple – Aguro and Jerin.

Here’s one of their famous ‘discussions’ starting at 02:50:

I really liked the character of Jerin – she was the precocious, stubborn sister to Aguro’s brave and stoic sense of duty. But man, could those two argue with each other! Jerin always managed to needle Aguro in the just the right place. Of course, she was also a bit of a brat. I’m sure the die-hard Lufia fans remember the famous exchange between them about that magical tonic to make Jerin’s hair grow. In the original Estpolis dialogue, it had nothing to do with hair. The potion was meant to make women’s breasts grow bigger. I still remember Jerin’s famous last words on the subject:

“Right. We’re not here to talk about breasts!”

My Australian translator Dianne and I snorted in laughter when we read that line. She was an awesome Japanese translator and a wonderful friend. We spent many hours reviewing the dialogue, changing names, and looking for cultural fixes. She was a joy to work with. I learned that there were quite a few Australians in Japan who were masterful Japanese translators.

My biggest challenge was rewriting the story of Lufia for a North American audience. It was a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, I needed to stay within the story guidelines of the original Estpolis. I couldn’t make wholesale story changes. Then there were the expectations of the North American audience, many of whom were fantasy RPG fans. The big advantage given to me by the game was having a text buffer for 112 ASCII characters. I could write the story of Lufia so it read like a real fantasy adventure. In 1993, this feature was something new and unique. I  was also responsible for reviewing the names of every item, every weapon, every spell, every town, and every special game location. By the time we finished translation, the complete rewrite document for Lufia was contained on 112 pages of 8.5″ X 11″ paper.

Of course, guess who was responsible for typing all the ASCII characters and saving several hundred text files for the game? I spent many long spring evenings getting everything completed.

Next Time – Lufia and the Fortress of Doom debuts at the Summer CES Show

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

There are very few veterans in the videogame industry today who have been around as long as Don Mattrick. Don is pretty much responsible for launching the rise of Vancouver, Canada, as one of the world’s pre-eminent videogame development centres from 1999 to 2009. Back in the early 1980’s, he and his friend Jason Sember were a couple of gawky teenagers who created a hit arcade action title called Evolution. Don created Distinctive Software in 1983, which later would become Electronic Arts Canada in 1991. It’s accurate to say that EA Canada was the incubator that spawned other Vancouver game companies like Radical Entertainment, Barking Dog Studios, Relic Entertainment, Next Level Games, and many other small studios. Don remained at the helm of EA Canada until the fall of 2006, when he was hired by Microsoft to head up the Interactive Entertainment Division and overhaul the Xbox 360.

Today I learned that Don Mattrick left Microsoft and will take over as the new CEO of social game publisher Zynga. At first glance, it seems a bit puzzling to see the glorious Mr. Mattrick leave the Microsoft mothership to head up a failing social game company. What in the name of Master Chief would persuade him to do such a thing?

The answer: XBox One

Like all publicly traded companies, the shareholders expect Microsoft to generate a profit. When Don took over the Xbox division in early 2007, it was bleeding red ink. They were not making money off their software titles  for the then brand new Xbox 360 as expected. There is a fundamental principle in the videogame industry – software drives hardware. If you’re not providing gamers with enough must-have hit titles, your console sales will go down the tubes. When it comes to game software development, Don knows his stuff. He managed to turn the Xbox division around and grow it into a reasonably sucessful subsidiary of Microsoft’s business. But the problem with Microsoft is that at its heart, the company isn’t focused on designing and developing consumer technology products. It started as a computer software company that develops applications and system software – that’s where the majority of its profit centre comes from.

Several weeks ago at E3, Microsoft did a big launch of the XBox One – a machine that looks less like a videogame console and resembles something more like a big, black, oversized DVD player. It also has that creepy HAL 9000 style camera lens for its Kinect player.  If there’s one thing Don Mattrick loves, it’s being the centre of attention. He thrives on being the circus ringmaster. Or in this case, lead frat boy of the game geek fraternity. I’ve been to E3 five times, from 1995 to 2000. In the past 13 years since my last visit to Los Angeles, nothing has changed. It’s the same overblown, overhyped, overpromised medicine show attended by hard core adult male gamers who just want to blow stuff up and eviscerate other players in virtual space. The XBox One show featured overly confident game producer types who lacked any public speaking skills and were utterly wooden in their performances.

Watching Don and his travelling road show praise the Xbox One as the ultimate convergence in home entertainment reminded me of another great company that made the same promises. It was 1999, and the newly appointed President  of Sony Corporation, Noboyuki Idei, said that the new PlayStation Two would usher in a new era in home theatre, linking games, entertainment, and the Internet. It never happened. The embarassing thing about PS2 in Japan when it first appeared was that the Japanese were buying it as a cheap DVD player, not a game console. So here was Microsoft, 13 years later, touting the Xbox One as the convergence of home theatre, online, and television.

I was experiencing deja’ vu. Microsoft made the same mistake Sony did with the PS2. Gamers buy consoles to play games. That’s what it’s all about. A talking box that lets you wave your fingers to watch TV shows isn’t going to be a deal-breaking sales feature. It’s about the games. Period.

Microsoft announced that players had to check in online every 24 hours with their Xbox One to maintain an active connection. I raised an eyebrow. Then they announced that you wouldn’t be able to play with used games or ones provided by your  friends without the appropriate key. That’s when I felt a disturbance in the force. Microsoft was pulling a discrete NSA form of surveillance on the Xbox One gamer community to ferret out piracy. And there was one more thing – this vaunted hallelujah-talking-TV-game console would cost $499.00

Don Mattrick and Microsoft over-reached on trying to control the market for their new console. Sony was about to give them a total face-plant.

To be continued…

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

What’s in a name?

When it comes to videogames, the title is literally everything. It must stick inside the player’s head and stay there for eternity :)  The title becomes the brand, leading to franchises, sequels, merchandising, and maybe possibly stuffed animals! When I worked at Taito Software in North Vancouver from 1988 to 1990, my American boss Alan Fetzer taught me that videogame titles could only be a maximum of four syllables – no more. Just think about some of the most well-known videogame franchises in the world:

Mario – Zelda – Metroid – Sonic – FIFA – Halo – Call of Duty

Need for Speed – Warcraft – Diablo – Gears of War

 Metal Gear – Kirby – Pokemon – Angry Birds

I think you get the idea. A successful videogame name is short, sweet, and creates an image that stays with you for a long time.

I had the privilege of creating several titles for published videogames. I can tell you that dreaming up the name for a videogame isn’t easy. There is so much riding on it. A great name that grabs people’s attention creates buzz. A terrible name will hang around your neck like the proverbial millstone. A ton of money gets spent on videogame promotion – it’s critical to have a great sounding title. However, what matters more than anything else is the gameplay.

The first videogame title I created was for the Japanese sequel to The Legend of Kage (pronounced KAGE, not CAGE) for NES, which Taito released in 1987. Some of you might remember the flying ninja who madly rotated his blade like a lawnmower. Taito Japan created an awesome sequel which had four stages and sixteen levels, with beautiful cinematic sequences.. Taito Software decided to release a North American version. I was asked to submit a set of possible titles in 24 hours. I grabbed several sheets of paper and brainstormed 48 different names. From this list, the title Demon Sword was chosen. Later on, I created the titles Wrath of the Black Manta, The Flintstones – The Treasure of Sierra Madrock, and The Jetsons – Invasion of the Planet Pirates.

So, how did Lufia and The Fortress of Doom get chosen? Well, the story goes something like this. It was definitely the burning question with Taito Japan about what to call this game for the North American market. My managers agreed that the Japanese title Estpolis was out of the question. I didn’t like the title; I knew American videogamers wouldn’t get it, either. I was asked to come up with a name. The way I looked at it was that the entire adventure wasn’t about the player – it had nothing to do with you being Maxim’s descendant. That was different for an SNES rpg at the time. The story was ultimately about this young girl named Lufia and her connection to the Sinistrals. I put it to Taito Japan that we simply call the game Lufia. I felt that the name could stand alone by itself and would be instantly recognizable. I believed the title could be the start of a successful series (was I prescient, dear Lufia fans?🙂 ) I received the green light to call the game Lufia. Ultimately,Taito America was responsible for approving the name because it was their product. I sent a fax with my recommendation.

Taito America didn’t like Lufia.

To be specific, they thought the name by itself wouldn’t resonate with North American videogamers. I argued that there was already a precedent with Nintendo games like Mario, Metroid, and Zelda. They countered that those games were already well-established Nintendo titles; Lufia was completely unknown to the market. Taito America told me they would reply in a few days. It actually took a full week before they offered their solution.

They wanted to call the game – Lufia and the Fortress of Doom.

My first reaction was that I wanted to gag. Taito Japan was aghast. I recognized immediately that the subtitle was a clear adaptation of the movie title Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  In 1989, Taito Software released the NES title Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The rationale for the subtitle from the American perspective was that the story revolved around the Sinistrals and the Doom Fortress, although I strongly suspected they didn’t play deeply enough into the game to understand the story of Lufia. Taito America felt it would resonate better with the American audience that simply calling it Lufia.

The Japanese taught me that there are times when you must compromise to achieve a larger goal. I succeeded in naming the game Lufia, and we added the subtitle to get Taito America’s buy-in for publishing it. Looking back, I think it was a worthwhile bargain.

Next time – The race to the 1993 Summer Consumer Electronics Show

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

If there is one fault Japanese videogame publishers have to this day, it’s the myth that they know videogames better than anyone else. Because of their historical success with coin-operated arcade titles, followed by the Nintendo and Sega and Playstation videogame consoles, Japanese business managers in videogame companies like to think that the reason for their success is their all-knowing expertise. This myth goes along with another one that still exists – that Japanese videogamers are inherently better than North American players. I had to contend with this mythology as the sole non-Japanese employee at the Taito R&D facility. On the one hand, as a Taito employee from North America, I was an immense asset to the development team. On the other, I was viewed as an outsider. In any case, I had to prove myself in what were challenging circumstances.

The following weekend in mid-March, I headed out for the world famous Akihabara electronic district in northeast Tokyo – what was then six square blocks of consumer electronic madness in over 430 stores. Standing there on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of packed crowds, I couldn’t believe I was really there. But indeed I was. My mission was clear – find a videogame shop that sold imported titles from the United States. It took about a half hour of searching, but eventually I discovered a second floor store up a narrow flight of stairs. It was full of titles from around the world for different platforms. I quickly snatched up copies of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest and and Final Fantasy II. They weren’t cheap either – about 9,000 yen ($90) each. When I bought them, I suddenly realized that I was going to need some kind of converter for my Japanese Super Famicom in my apartment. Japanese titles were cased in oval packages. USA titles didn’t fit the Super Famicom. So I spent another 4,000 yen on a converter made by Hudson ($40). My gamble was already proving to be expensive.

I still have my Japanese Super Famicom and a small library of Japanese games. I also have my Super NES and about 35 titles.

I arrived home at my apartment in Hamadayama, a small town in western Tokyo located in Suginami (“Cedar Wave”) Ward, and started playing Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. To my disappointment, I polished off the game in just over two hours. It was a short plot, with chunky characters, a clunky combat system, and not very challenging monsters. But that was the point of this Square title. They claimed it was made for beginners who were not used to the Final Fantasy series. I thought it was a rushed title to fill their quota for North American releases. On Sunday, I started playing Final Fantasy II and realised how similar it was to the original NES version of Dragon Warrior, only with slightly better screen scrolling, music, and sound. The combat system was a step up. I took the game at a slightly slower pace, but I managed to finish it within two days. After playing the two games, I wrote up a report and met with my managers. Once again, I emphasized how much better Estpolis looked and played than the Final Fantasy titles. I gave them direct examples about combat, graphics, music, sound, and player interface. I pointed out the difference between Square’s limited text and our ability to tell a proper adventure story. I said they had something unique on their hands; we had a great opportunity to release something special.

Taito Japan was nervous about releasing an rpg videogame overseas because the company was not known for roleplaying titles. The last Taito rpg title sold in North America before Lufia and the Fortress of Doom was Dungeon Magic for the NES (another title I still own with my original NES). That game barely broke even, so I understood why Taito wasn’t keen about a SNES rpg. However, in a rare moment of opportunity, I was asked to talk with Taito America and see what they thought. Several of the key Taito America staff were good friends of mine, so they were excited to hear I’d found something interesting because they were looking for one more title to fill the product release schedule. My Taito America counterpart Larry Stalmah asked me to send him an EPROM set so he could play the game. I transmitted the game code over a dial up network to Taito America. He got back to me one day later and said he wanted to release a North American version. Larry would take care of convincing Taito Japan’s directors about getting approval for localizing the title.

Now I had an ally at Taito America.

Next time – How we decided on the title ‘Lufia and the Fortress of Doom

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

When last we left our hero…

As I rode the Toyoko line from Tsunashima back to Shibuya in southwest Tokyo, I was thinking about how I was going to change the minds of my corporate Japanese managers about localizing Estpolis for the North American market. In the early 1990’s, developing Super Nintendo games was a very expensive business. Nintendo controlled everything when it came to physical game packaging, printing, and production. You paid Nintendo for the cartridges, circuit boards, EPROM chips, math co-processors, game manuals, and game packages. The cost for an initial production run was at least a minimum of several hundred thousand dollars. The onus was on me to prove that my gamer intuition was absolutely spot on and that this title would be a worthwhile investment.

In 1993, the SNES had been out for almost two years. When it came to fantasy role playing games, there was a very limited choice available. You were looking at Actraiser, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and The Legend of Zelda. That was it. I’d played all these games from start to finish. They were good examples of SNES ” first generation” titles – the term developers use to describe the iterations in software development. Estpolis was the next step up – it was a second generation title. To put it in perspective, 1994 SNES titles like Donkey Kong Country and Final Fantasy III were third generation videogames.

From 1987 to 1990, Taito was considered by the videogame industry as one of the top five global publishers for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This was extraordinary considering that at the time, there were at least 45 NES publishers! It was an extremely crowded market. In May, 1988, I was originally hired by Taito Software (the North American headquarters) to work at their Lonsdale Quay facilities in North Vancouver. By the time I joined the Japanese R&D centre in 1992, Taito was suffering from poor North American Game Boy, NES, and SNES sales. They were also involved  in serious legal  issues with Atlanta based Turner Home Entertainment around the classic Hanna Barbera Studio licenses The Flintstones and The Jetsons. All North American operations were concentrated at the Taito USA office in Wheeling, Illinois. Taito Corporation sent a new Japanese senior manager to the United States to oversee their videogame sales. He previously worked for the sales and marketing division of BMW Japan. He knew nothing about videogames or the current trends in gaming. Later I would learn that he actually didn’t even like videogames.

So what made Estpolis different from Final Fantasy II or The Legend of Zelda? Here’s what immediately caught my eye as a “professional” videogamer:

Playable introduction sequence – The introduction took place 100 years before the player’s character appears in the game. Letting the player participate in the pre-history was totally unique. No one had ever done that in a Nintendo title. It set the stage for everything that happened afterwards. By the way, here’s a fascinating snippet of Lufia lore – in case you ever wondered who created the evil name  ‘Sinistrals‘  <— I did🙂

Bright, colourful graphics, and animated magic spells – The character and background graphics for Estpolis were bright, colourful, and detailed. Honestly, they made Final Fantasy II and The Legend of Zelda look dull by comparison. I have to emphasize here that I’m talking about where we were at in 1993. This game was graphically better looking. The magic spell animations were big and colourful. I remember casting the lightning spell and watch the shocking white bolts dance on the screen. It’s also worth mentioning that the group offense and defense magic system played really well and looked very nice.

Large text buffer – Many people commented over the years how the story of Lufia reads like a real fantasy adventure. There’s a reason for this. The developers created a text buffer that could handle a whopping four lines of ASCII text at 28 CHARACTERS PER LINE. There was 112 character space for writing dialogue. I like to joke that Lufia ‘invented’ Twitter!🙂 Another piece of Lufia lore – if you wondered who wrote the dialogues – that was me as well, with the help of an awesome Japanese translator named Dianne, who hailed from Australia. We had a ton of fun going over the dialogue, which was re-written from the original Japanese text.

After 20 years, I still have the original translation files from the game. I made sure to archive Lufia’s history. I also own a final beta cartridge of the game.

Next time – How Taito America and I convinced Taito Japan to localize Lufia for the United States.

Doctor Arkanoid

Doctor Arkanoid

lufiaJune, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the classic Super Nintendo role playing game Lufia and the Fortress of Doom. I can’t believe 20 years have passed; it really still seems like yesterday when I saw the original Japanese version of the game Estpolis in March, 1993, at Taito Corporation’s former research and development centre in Tsunashima, Japan, just north of Yokohama. I’d been hired in the summer of 1992 as their overseas 3rd party development producer – an incredibly awesome job where I collaborated closely with Nintendo of America, Sega of America, Taito America, and third party game developers in Europe, South Korea, and the United States. Like all Taito staff, I wore the company uniform, performed company exercises beside my desk at 8:45 a.m. sharp, and lined up to recite the company motto precisely at 9:00 a.m. We also repeated it again at 5:00 p.m.

Lufia was a very successful title when it was officially released in the fall of 1993. It sold approximately 900,000 copies, won three awards, spawned numerous sequels, and developed a bit of a cult following among video game players. In 2013, there are still quite a few gamers who recognize the name whenever I mention it. But what the videogame industry doesn’t know is that the North American version of  Lufia and the Fortress of Doom almost never happened. Taito management originally never seriously considered releasing  an overseas version. Karma is a strange thing, but at the time, Taito Corporation had no plans to release a North American version of the game. The truth of the matter is that Lufia and the Fortress of Doom would never have happened at all – without me coming along and being a real pain in Taito management’s backside about the game’s potential in North America.

It was on a Monday morning in March, 1993, when I saw the Japanese Super Famicom team playing what looked like a very bright, colourful, fluid, action role playing game that strongly reminded me of Dragon Warrior by Enix and Final Fantasy by Squaresoft. The game music was also very well composed, compared to other Super Famicom titles of that time. I asked the producer whose game it was. He told me that it was Estpolis, a Taito RPG for the Japanese market. I was very impressed with how it looked and played. Right away I recognized that there was nothing else like it on the market in North America – it was an impressive looking RPG. I told my managers how cool and unique this title was, compared to what I’d seen in North America. I remember they were surprised to hear this – they were corporate managers, not game developers. I asked them if they had considered possibly developing a localized North American version. I’ll never forget how they hummed and hawed for a moment before answering me.

“You know, Anthony-san, we don’t think this sort of game would do well in North America”, they said.

“Why do you think that?”, I asked.

“Because”. They paused. “We don’t think video game players in North America like action role playing games“.

One of my strengths as a video game designer is that I still possess a keen gamer’s intuition for knowing a potential hit videogame when I see one. At the time, my gamer gut was screaming that this title had hit potential.

I knew that I had to convince them.

To be continued –

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

CounterstrikeYou know the old adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same‘? The same can be said for the videogame industry. I’m fairly certain that 99.9% of North Americans didn’t realize that August, 2012, marked the 40th anniversary of the first commercial videogame console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Not only that, it marked the the 40th anniversary of the coin operated arcade machine Space War!, distributed by Nolan Bushnell. I vividly remember walking into a penny arcade on Government Street in Victoria, BC, Canada, when I was 12 years old in the the summer of 1972, inserting my hard earned quarters into that machine, and feeling supremely ripped off that it was too hard to play! I mean, the nearby Undersea Gardens aquarium had a Sega UFO electronic arcade shooting game that was much more satisfying because I could actually advance several levels!

Videogames have been around for 40 years, so you would probably think that everyone is used to them by now; they’re accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment. Well, hold onto your tinfoil hat, Sparky, because it just ain’t so. I never cease to be amazed by the controversies videogames continue to elicit from the general public after all these decades. Yes, decades. The latest episode took place last week, when a group of recent high school graduates from Port Moody Secondary School created an accurately detailed 3D level map of their school that could be played using the Counterstrike mod developed from Valve Software’s Half Life engine. Co-incidentally, Counterstrike was first created in Surrey, BC, (of all places) by Minh ‘Gooseman’ Li back in 2000. I’ve designed many 3D levels commercially, so I understand the mindset of where these young guys were coming from. In fact, they explained on their website that they built the level as a way of showing their school spirit. This was done with the intent of creating a virtual space where they could bond.

Unfortunately for these kids, they naively made the mistake of posting a video of this level on the Internet without thinking about how anyone who doesn’t like or understand first person shooters (and they exist in large numbers) might react to seeing their local high school being used as a battleground, especially given the recent tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, or the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. To the students’ mind, this was a Counterstrike map – no big deal. To their teachers, parents, and the RCMP, there was nothing entertaining or nostalgic about it.

Speaking as a former professional videogame developer with 22 years of experience, a long time gamer, and as a responsible ‘middle aged’ man, I think the reaction of some teachers and parents was completely overblown and utterly exaggerated. What I heard and saw were overly sensitive adults who don’t play or understand video games at all. They make up their minds based on sensational media stories that use large amounts of emotional hyperbole. These adults make emotional statements about a video game they have never played that have no basis in fact.

Given the current climate about shootings on school and post secondary campuses in North America, I understand why the police were asked to investigate this situation. But I believe it was unwarranted and needlessly contributed to public hysteria. In an increasingly paranoid society, the last thing we need are police investigating people who play video games as potential homicidal maniacs. Peer reviewed empirical research evidence shows that there is no causal connection between playing video games and school shootings. But many adults keep wanting to believe a connection exists. Thankfully, the police investigators recognized that the students were not planning something sinister. It’s too bad that some parents, teachers, and Port Moody municipal politicians were not as rational in their assessments.

Time and again I’ve heard people claim that first person shooter video games are literally the devil’s handiwork. If this claim were true, then I should be a raving homicidal maniac who would have decimated entire cities by now! I’ve played all the classic first person shooters for over 20 years and I can tell you that they’re masterpieces of art, music, and narrative for their times.

CBC Radio invited me to appear on their call in program BC Almanac, to discuss first person shooting games. I also appeared on a news segment for The National.

Doctor ArkanoidDoctor Arkanoid

Wall Street is being occupied, the glaciers are melting, and Justin Bieber is releasing a Christmas album. I’d say it’s long overdue for a new issue of Power Up!

Earlier this year, London Bridge was literally falling down. Many places in the old town were falling down and burning because of the riots . Not only that, the media establishment and Parliament were fanning the flames with the news about Rupert Murdoch and News of the World hacking into the phones of famous and not so famous people. You know videogames are part of the mainstream culture when they’re being used for political commentary.


Meanwhile, Sesame Street continued its long time domination of the videogame industry with this secretly recorded tape showing legendary game designer Tim Schaefer desperately trying to pitch Sesame Street’s hungriest venture capitalist on his latest idea.

Cookie Monster would make an excellent videogame critic. Here’s how you’d know if you have a surefire hit on your hands.

Doctor Arkanoid

Well, better late than never!

When I was attending the Media Jeunes Conference 2010 last November as a guest panelist, I was asked by Dr. Lise Renaud from the Comsante’ Research Centre at the University of Quebec if I would sit down for an interview about videogames. Modest fellow that I am, they had to twist my arm! I recently received the URL for this interview.

Comsante’ hosts a blog at Cestmalade .

I hope you enjoy the interview!

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Anthony Gurr and Doctor Arkanoid - Revelations From the Inner Sanctum!, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anthony Gurr and Doctor Arkanoid - Revelations From the Inner Sanctum! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.