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You know it’s winter in Vancouver when the rain pours down for the sixth straight day, your neighbour is building an ark, and the otters are swimming in your basement! Yes indeed. It’s November and winter has arrived on the ‘Wet Coast’ once more. While some folk look to the mountains and the snow falling on the slopes, with dreams of a weekend in Whistler and the 2010 Winter Olympics, the good Doctor has better things to do. What’s that, you say? What could possibly be better than watching snow fall on the mountains while trying to wring out your socks from the falling rain? Why, I’ll tell you!

It’s time for Doctor Arkanoid’s Sunday Morning Sing Along! Gather round the monitor and let’s all sing some great video game songs! To start off, here’s a wonderful 1979 tune from the Australian group Mi-Sex called “Computer Games”.

Now we’re getting warmed up! Let’s sing another great classic video game song from 1980! Are you ready for…Space Invaders?

Now that we’ve worked those lungs a bit, let’s take a ‘breather’ and I’ll tell you all a magical fairy tale.

<The Doctor takes down a big book of Magic Video Game Stories from the shelf and opens it up for everyone to see>

“Once upon a time in a faraway magical land, there was a very special  unicorn who liked to play fantasy role playing games with his unicorn friends. One day….

<The Doctor’s face goes red with embarassment..yes…well, we won’t mention that the unicorns were naked!>

What’s that? You want to sing some newer video game songs? Ungrateful young whippersnappers! Oh alright, let’s try this one! It’s about fantasy role playing too!

Well, wasn’t that fun? Did you all have a good time singing songs and sharing a story? Of course you did! Be sure to come back soon for another Doctor Arkanoid Sunday morning sing along!

Doctor Arkanoid


It’s beginning to look alot like….time for a long overdue edition of Powerup!

First up, here comes another movie based on a video game! Oh joy! Oh rapture! Oh Gawd spare us! But wait! It’s Walt Disney and the movie is Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time! Jordan Mechner’s famous action adventure game is coming soon to a theatre near you! And it’s a Gerry Bruckheimer production! Now judging the merits of a film based on the trailer is always a risky affair (Cue deep voiced movie announcer guy: In a virtual world of danger and uncertainty, where one wrong mouse click can unleash horrors beyond imagining, comes a hero for our times…). But I digress. See what you think.

Once again the annual holiday retail video game demolition derby has started with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, published by Activision – Blizzard. The latest retail figures are in and developer Infinity Ward has a global hit on its hands. On Tuesday, November 10th, the game sold 4.7 million units worldwide and generated approximately $310 million USD. After five days, sales went past 8.5 million units and $550 million USD. To put this in perspective, Grand Theft Auto IV was released in May, 2008 and sold approximately 3.7 million units on its first day of release. After one week, sales reached 6 million units and total revenues were $500 million. Or to put it another way, GTA IV made more money in its first week than the movie Iron Man did for total box gross box office (it was shown in North America theatres the same week GTA IV was released).

At the same time, Modern Warfare 2 managed to generate controversy in other parts of the world. The Russian government ordered the game to be pulled from store shelves because of the way Russia was depicted. Infinity Ward quickly developed a patch to remove the offensive content. You would think by now game designers would ‘get it’ about international game localization for other countries, especially when they’re as large as the Russian Federation. Meanwhile in New Zealand, conservatives are all riled up that the country’s chief sensor has allowed Modern Warfare 2 to be sold in New Zealand. He also happens to be openly gay, which is fuelling the fire of debate.

No edition of Power Up! is complete without yet another story about that mildly successful little online game called World of Warcraft. Well, this time the fate of Azeroth is in the hands of…Chinese bureaucrats! A terrible battle rages on between the mighty Ministry of Culture versus The General Administration of Press and Publications. What’s at stake? Control of the lucrative games and entertainment industry for the Middle Kingdom’s 338 million Internet users.

Doctor Arkanoid

‘I sense a great disturbance in the Force’

Legend of Zelda Wind WalkerMighty Nintendo, home to the great pantheon of immortal video game characters, has been shaken to its foundations by an ancient force re-awakened. Since 2004, Nintendo enjoyed a resurgence of commercial success thanks to the creation of the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii. The company once scorned by die hard gamers saw the same worldly cynics madly scrambling to buy Super Mario Kart and Nintendogs! Nintendo re-established itself by focusing on the ‘Blue Ocean’ – the huge number of casual video game players who enjoy playing games for short periods of time, leaving the intensely competitive ‘Red Ocean’ market share of core gamers to Microsoft and Sony.

The ancient force stirred, gathered its strength, and dipped its mighty hand into the Blue Ocean, sending ripples across the world to the shores of Super Mario’s Temple.

In October, 2009, Nintendo reported that profits for the six month period from March to September decreased by 52%! Global sales of the Nintendo DS decreased 15% during that time to 11.7 million units (insert gasp here how this many sales could be a decrease – but the ways of the Gods are fickle). Software sales for the DS are expected to contract by 17% to 150 million units by the end of March, 2010 (again..insert gasp).

What force could possibly shake the foundations of Super Mario’s Temple?


The grand technology Zen master Steve Jobs has extended his reach into the video game world with iTunes, the iPod Touch, and the iPhone. The president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, admits that Apple is having an impact on Nintendo’s fortunes, though he claims he is an Apple devotee and that there is no apparent rivalry between them.

A Short History About Apple and Video Games

When it comes to thinking about companies that create technology for playing video games, the name ‘Apple Computer’ doesn’t exactly leap into mind. It’s sort of a strange paradox because Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak on the original premise of creating “...computers for the rest of us...”. The Apple II was never designed for playing games; however, many lone programmers spent countless hours slaving away in their basements, bedrooms, and garages to create titles like Expedition Amazon, Apple Panic, Choplifter, Lode Runner, Drol, Sammy Lightfoot, Sneakers, The Dark Crystal, Time Zone, and Wavy Navy. I will never forget the thrill of playing Transylvania by Penguin Software, Prince of Persia by Broderbund, or Ultima II by Origin Software. The first personal computer game companies evolved, including Broderbund Software, Sierra Entertainment, and Electronic Arts. Founded in 1982, EA was a small company of programmer ‘auteurs’ who created famous Apple II titles like Archon, Pinball Construction Set, and Skyfox. The first computer game designer ‘celebrities’ were crowned, including Bill Budge, ‘Lord British’ Richard Garriott, Ken & Roberta Williams, Jordan Mechner, and Doug Smith.

When the Macintosh appeared in 1984, it was all about the mouse and the graphic interface. Apple focused on showcasing how Macintosh and its flickering bluish white display screen could be used for graphics and writing. In 1986, desktop publishing was the ‘killer app’ for buying a Mac. Apple wasn’t interested in games. But that didn’t stop developers from trying to wring some fun out of Macintosh. Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle were very popular. Most people don’t know that you could play networked games on a Macintosh in the late 1980’s using an Appleshare connection. I regularly fought my friends in long Maze Wars tournaments after work (God I hated seeing the killer eyeball come round the corner wall before my nemesis killed me!). The introduction of Hypercard in 1987 and its use of hyperlinks led to the creation of The Manhole (1988) and Cosmic Osmo (1989) by Rand and Robyn Miller, who later went on create the Myst adventure series on the PC in 1993.

One moment I’ll never forget is at the 1991 Game Developer Conference in San Jose’ California at the old Hilton Airport Courtyard Inn. Apple sent a lone company game evangelist to walk among the 200 PC and video game developers who attended. It was truly a ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’ moment as the game developer crowd wasn’t exactly receptive to the evangelist’s message that Apple really cared about games. I observed it was a good thing there was plenty of food for the developers at the reception!

Steve JobsFast forward to 1997 and the second coming of Steve Jobs as he returned to Apple and launched the iMac computer. Steve rightly decided that it was important to get game developers on board to help make Macintosh ‘cool’ again to computer users. So he did something clever and enlisted the help of programming wunderkind Jon Carmack to create QUAKE for the iMac and show off the 3D graphic capabilities of Apple’s computers. It had the desired effect; game development for the Mac started to take root. While it’s true that the number of titles was nowhere near what could be found for Windows based computers, at least there was a better chance of making money developing games for the Mac. You know Apple has come a long way in computer games when Blizzard developed a Macintosh version of World of Warcraft!

Join the Doctor at ringside next time for Part Two of the ultimate Super Smash Brothers matchup: Super Mario versus Steve Jobs!

Doctor Arkanoid Doctor Arkanoid

Kim Jong ilI’m fairly sure that I’m not the only one who feels like the world is going off the rails these days. Global recession, global warming, religious radicals, Kim Jong Il, Balloon Boy, Carrie Prejean self destructing on CNN Larry King Live – and now video game developers in Vancouver and around the world are being scorched by a firestorm of layoffs.  Echoing inside Doctor Arkanoid’s massive cranium, I hear the lyrics from the famous Phil Collins song ‘Land of Confusion‘:

Ooh Superman where are you now?

When everything’s gone wrong somehow.

The men of steel, the men of power,

Are losing control by the hour’.

On November 9th, the Reuters news agency reported that Electronic Arts announced a major round of layoffs affecting 1500 staff worldwide, including 900 game developers, 500 publishing support staff, and 100 administrative staff, with the Burnaby Studio being significantly affected. This is the EA mothership’s second major round of layoffs. In January, 1200 staff were laid off, including the closing of Black Box Studios, creators of the Need for Speed series. Reuters also reported that EA recorded its 11th straight quarterly loss for the period ending in October, 2009. This news attracted the attention of CBC Radio, who invited the good Doctor to provide a diagnosis of what’s currently happening in the video game industry.

CBC Radio EA Layoffs

EA isn’t the only Vancouver video game developer to lay off staff and close studios in 2009. Most people didn’t know that the cell phone giant Nokia established a game development centre in Richmond several years ago for the NGage portable media player. Nokia folded its operations and laid off 100 staff. With the merger of Activision and Vivendi Games into Activision – Blizzard in the fall of 2008, Radical Entertainment dismantled two of its four game teams, laying off 120 people. The South Korean game company Nexon, creators of the online game Maple Story, shut down their Nexon Human Nature Studio run by Alex Garden, former co-founder of Relic Entertainment. 90 people were laid off. Walt Disney’s Propaganda Games let go of 36 staff. Backbone Entertainment was closed, Hothead Games laid off staff, Relic Entertainment let people go, and Microsoft’s game studios in Redmond, Washington released several hundred people as part of an overall staff reduction.

According to the Canada Entertainment Software Industry Report released in March, 2009, there were approximately 5,842 game developers working for 61 game companies in British Columbia. While it’s hard to say exactly how many unemployed game developers are looking for work in the Lower Mainland, the Doctor is fairly certain that between 1500 and 2000 creative, talented individuals are anxiously seeking new opportunities. In fact, I was contacted this past week by two former game development students I worked with at the Art Institute of Vancouver. Both of them were recently laid off and trying to find another position with a game company.

In Hollywood, they say you’re only as good as your last movie. In Vancouver, you’re only as good as your last profitable video game.

Take it away, Phil Collins:

Doctor Arkanoid Doctor Arkanoid

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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.