Here's a great little find, courtesy of YouTube and a kind soul who's been holding onto his videotapes for a generation. It's a television show about computers, Computer Chronicles. This particular show was broadcast in 1984, and focuses on the cutting edge of computer games. Well, cutting edge for 1984.
Guests for the show include Chris Crawford (Atari), showing off his new simulation, Excalibur; Steve Kitchen (Activision), showing off his Atari 2600 version of Space Shuttle; Bill Budge (EA), bragging about Pinball Construction Set; and EA founder Trip Hawkins talking about the state of computer games, while playing a quick match of Dr. J Versus Larry Bird One on One.
It's a great time capsule of the era, at a time when videogames had been in the public's eye for a number of years, and the advancement of technology allowed designers to stretch their wings creatively. This was an era of rampant copying (you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a Pac-Man ripoff), but it was also a great age of discovery. The possibilities of computer and video games were limited only by designers' imaginations.
It's interesting to observe the guests, some of the great minds of the early videogame era, speak about their craft not as programmers or carnival barkers, but as artists and storytellers. They saw computer games as a means to share the vast palette of life with people. They saw the opportunity to educate, and perhaps even raise questions. Chris Crawford has always been speaking from that particular angle, and the fact that the gaming industry did not evolve in his direction is a loss for the form.
This was a time when game creators saw themselves as artists. Who can you say about that today? Sure, there are a few visionaries, but they're a very tiny minority. The bulk of the games today are produced by worker bees, packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes. Technology has soared beyond anyone's imaginations, game budgets rival Hollywood movies, and yet the creativity just isn't there. Another First-Person Shooter. Another 3D over-the-shoulder adventure. Another anime RPG. Another movie tie-in. Another Madden.
One hopes that Nintendo's continued success will lead to a creative rebirth in games, with new and more original ideas, and game concepts that are entirely new. One also hopes that services like Wii Channel and XBox Love Arcade will lead to a renaissance in independent games, the kind of garage hits that built this massive industry in the first place. Heck, I'd still rather play Doom than the latest...well, whatever the hell it is that I'm supposed to pay five hundred bucks for a console for.
Perhaps old television shows like this should be required viewing for game publishers and software studios, if just so folks can remember just where their roots lie.