In his book From Sun Tzu to Xbox , Ed Halter makes a very convincing argument that many of the conventions in videogames that we take for granted can be traced back to constraints that were placed by many of the early developers of computing technology. As he notes, early computers like the ENIAC , with its stored memory and its binary language of ones and zeros, were created for purposes such as calculating ballistic tables.
A decade later, when Steve Russell was creating Spacewar! Military projects like SAGE greatly advanced the computer while maintaining its focus on tracking objects in space. The most significant similarities between these early computers, however, was not their round display screens or their cabinet-like processors, but the way that they functioned.
Since the beginning of the modern computing age, computers had been built for the purpose of tracking objects in space. The proclivity to compute and simulate real-world physics was built into their very design from the beginning.
As such, it should come as no surprise that many of the first videogames like Spacewar! Early designers had to work with the capabilities of the computers at hand; that simulating a projectile appears to have come naturally to three different inventors, completely independent of one another, suggests that there is something essentially basic in this design all three tapped into.
This inherent bent toward physical simulation has gone on to influence the development of every console and every game from Pong , to the Atari VCS, to Doom , to the profusion of shooters and simulators we have today. The fact that the main character in Adventure is a square is due to the hardware constraints of the system.
One notable example is the Atari game Adventure , created by Warren Robinett. Unlike the computers that these text-based games were played on, the Atari VCS was designed for action games, particularly two-player action games like Pong and Combat. The VCS could only hold two sprites in memory, designed primarily for the paddles, tanks, or other avatars of the two players Montfort and Bogost, Although most single player games used one of the two sprites to represent the player, Robinett wanted to use them both for the items and enemies the player encountered in order to flesh out the game world.
Thus, the protagonist of the game Adventure became a tiny square. What would videogames have been like if the development of modern computers had been fueled by something other than the military? Such counterfactual histories are hard to imagine for a number of reasons. Computers are naturally mathy creatures. Physics, ballistics and other mathy fields are a much easier to pair with the development of the computer than fields in the humanities. What if the history of the computer had continued down this route?
What if the purpose of early computers was creative expression first and mathematical complexity second, rather than the other way around? Could we imagine a history where narrative construction was the primary focus of videogames and physics simulation took a back seat?
This is important not just so that we can take advantage of them, but also so that our games can overcome them. From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and video games. Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost, The Atari Video Computer System. And drifting a little afield from history, but — have you looked at anything about Inform 7? Charcoal Eyes Glass Tears [feat. Title The Desecration Of Desire. Got one to sell? You may also like. Buying format see all. Record Size see all. Record Grading see all. Sleeve Grading see all.
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