The Art of Selling Games: Part I

The Art of Selling Games: Part I
 
 

As a child of the 80s, I was first introduced to video games in arcade parlours. They were dark, seedy places which were often associated with the downfall of what the older generation would term “the youth of today.” And it’s true, they were often pretty grim; filled with a chorus of random 8-bit noises from every direction, fluorescent lighting, and a carpet scheme that wouldn’t seem out of place in a haunted rest-home.

It was joined by a chorus of clattering 20 cent coins and the faint smell of onions. But amidst all the gloom and visible pubescent haze were works of art that deserved so much more than minimal mood lighting and greasy-fingered groping.

Space World, Auckland, 1982. Kerryn Pollock, "Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand."

Before my time (I was more a kid of the late 80’s), the gaming industry was revolutionised by a game called Space Invaders. It burst onto the scene in 1978, designed by Tomohiro Nishikado for Taito games in Japan. Inspired by other media at the time, like The War of the Worlds, and Star Wars: A New Hope, Space Invaders was a pioneer that transformed the video game market from a novelty, into a global industry.

There were a handful of games before Space Invaders of course, like the legendary Pong. But Pong lacked any sense of world building, or any real purpose to the gameplay - instead it was a primitive tennis game. Meanwhile a lesser known game called Gun Fight offered some more excitement by essentially swapping the Pong bats out for two cowboys who could shoot each other. But it was set in the Wild West, which wasn’t very compelling for kids in the mid-70’s.

Meanwhile, Space Invaders latched onto the massive science fiction craze of the late 70’s. It gave players a challengingly addictive premise of defending a moon armed with nothing but a laser cannon against repeating waves of aliens. Originally, the aliens were intended to be human soldiers, but Taito quite rightly thought that they didn’t want to send the message that shooting humans was okay, especially when dealing with an “impressionable youth” who were just coming to terms with interactive video game violence.

The graphics were certainly a product of their time. Simple pixelated shapes which jerked awkwardly across and down the screen, like an old typewriter punching out letters. Everything was monochromatic, with white blocks on black representing every spaceship and alien.

Because of technological limitations, game designers simply couldn’t depict what they had in their imaginations – which is where illustrators stepped in. Every arcade cabinet, which was essentially the “packaging” that helped sell the game, was adorned with full colour renders of fantastic worlds. Many were almost unrecognisable when compared to the game depicted on screen.

These illustrations helped lure potential gamers over, and helped to sell a much bigger picture than what the game’s graphical limitations ever could. Not only did they breathe some life into the jagged shapes (it turns out the aliens are more like electric yetis throwing down missiles), they paint a picture of the sci-fi world that you’re trying to defend. It’s an alien moon-like setting, and the design of your vehicle isn’t just a brick with a nipple on top - but a daunting death ray as reimagined by the artist.

The Space Invaders cabinets of the late 70’s were particularly ingenious. One of the most creative aspects is the way they superimposed the white game graphics onto a picture of a moon. It was achieved by reflecting the game graphics with a mirror onto a painted backdrop, complete with a starry background, giving the game an illusion of semi-transparent visuals with an unparalleled sense of depth for its time.

Later editions even added colour to the game, but not through new graphics chips which were too expensive to manufacture. Instead they used coloured cellophane strips, green along the bottom for the barrier blocks, and then orange along the top. The white shapes on black meant only the sprites picked up the colour, but the illusion of colour graphics was mind-blowing for its time. Later editions took this concept further and added in more coloured strips, with blues and reds helping to distinguish the rows as they get closer to your base, and ultimate demise.

Continue reading on page 2.





 

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Comments Comments (23)

 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Friday 5 May 2017 11:23 AM
-
Great read, looking forward to part 2.

I wish I grew up with arcades in my life, but unfortunately I can only know them through articles/docos/references.
 
 
 
Posted by RKO_NZ
On Friday 5 May 2017 11:41 AM
1
5 May 2017, 11:23 AM Reply to drunk_monk
Great read, looking forward to part 2.

I wish I grew up with arcades in my life, but unfortunately I can only know them through articles/docos/references.
Same here, wish I was in the 80's, if we could only jump through a time portal, growing up in the 90s and watching 80s action and horror films, theres always iconic scenes usually involving an arcade, I see them and wish I was one of those kids running around in there. I mean there's still a few arcades around the Auckland area (I still go to the one underneath Burger King on Queen St) but its not as epic as the old school ones.
 
 
 
Posted by Unfathomable-Ruination
On Friday 5 May 2017 11:56 AM
4
Man, I feel bad for the above posters not having experienced an arcade. They were so awesome, these days they're few and far between, although I'm sure that a few still operate. There was one in particular in Wairau Park on the North Shore called Galaxy, and you paid $10, and could play a wide selection of games for as long as you like (They roped off a section with certain games in there) Still, was really cool.

Hell, I still remember when dairys used to have arcade machines in them. Used to hang out at the local playing Street Fighter 2, sometimes 'd go in there and someone had Guile in the Golden Stance, effectively locking the machine up. Ahhh, good times and memories though

I still remember when The House of the Dead came out in the arcades, and they actually had a little booth that you had to go into, and close the curtains as the games was deemed too "gory". Man, how times have changed now lol.
 
 
 
Posted by Benny
On Friday 5 May 2017 12:14 PM
2
5 May 2017, 11:56 AM Reply to Unfathomable-Ruination
Man, I feel bad for the above posters not having experienced an arcade. They were so awesome, these days they're few and far between, although I'm sure that a few still operate. There was one in particular in Wairau Park on the North Shore called Galaxy, and you paid $10, and could play a wide selection of games for as long as you like (They roped off a section with certain games in there) Still, was really cool.

Hell, I still remember when dairys used to have arcade machines in them. Used to hang out at the local playing Street Fighter 2, sometimes 'd go in there and someone had Guile in the Golden Stance, effectively locking the machine up. Ahhh, good times and memories though

I still remember when The House of the Dead came out in the arcades, and they actually had a little booth that you had to go into, and close the curtains as the games was deemed too "gory". Man, how times have changed now lol.
Galaxy?! Bloody 'ell those were the times. Now it's just a bowling alley.
 
 
 
Posted by Unfathomable-Ruination
On Friday 5 May 2017 12:49 PM
-
5 May 2017, 12:14 PM Reply to Benny
Galaxy?! Bloody 'ell those were the times. Now it's just a bowling alley.
Yeah, that's the one :) Been ages since I've been to Wairau Park, but surprised the bowling Alley is still kicking.
 
 
 
Posted by Blackfox
On Friday 5 May 2017 1:43 PM
1
awsome read, are there even any arcades around anymore? i remember a few in auck cbd
 
 
 
Posted by Ryzlin
On Friday 5 May 2017 2:00 PM
1
5 May 2017, 11:41 AM Reply to RKO_NZ
Same here, wish I was in the 80's, if we could only jump through a time portal, growing up in the 90s and watching 80s action and horror films, theres always iconic scenes usually involving an arcade, I see them and wish I was one of those kids running around in there. I mean there's still a few arcades around the Auckland area (I still go to the one underneath Burger King on Queen St) but its not as epic as the old school ones.
I was born in 93 and grew up playing arcade games. There were still massive arcades around you just needed to know where to look. I have fond memories of my dad taking me out to south Auckland where there was a massive arcade in an old warehouse.
 
 
 
Posted by Ryzlin
On Friday 5 May 2017 2:02 PM
1
I'm looking forward to seeing how you view the selling of video games in today's market, Angus. Especially considering things like digital market places, kickstarter and preorder culture.
 
 
 
Posted by RKO_NZ
On Friday 5 May 2017 3:05 PM
1
5 May 2017, 02:00 PM Reply to Ryzlin
I was born in 93 and grew up playing arcade games. There were still massive arcades around you just needed to know where to look. I have fond memories of my dad taking me out to south Auckland where there was a massive arcade in an old warehouse.
Closest thing I got to experience was what Unfathomable-Ruination mentioned with the arcade (spacey) machines outside the local dairy and takeaway. Local Fish n Chip shop down the road from me had a Street Fighter 2 and Metal Slug cabinet, Although in the neighbourhood I lived in at the time, had a lot of naughty lil s$*#ts who tagged on the screens and burned the joysticks and buttons with lighters, so I really never got to play the machines and really experience them for what they're worth.
 
 
 
Posted by M-to-the-T
On Friday 5 May 2017 4:35 PM
2
Nice read!
Late 80's, me, 3 mates and 4 player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the video shop on the way home from school. Even if we didn't have any "20's" we'd at least pretend we were playing during the demo screens. That and playing 1944 at the Fish n Chip shop at the end of my street, we would unplug the power cord when nobody was looking, as the game would reboot with a free credit everytime. Good days.
 
 
 
Posted by Emerson15
On Friday 5 May 2017 4:43 PM
1
I had scott pilgrim flashbacks at the puck man story.
 
 
 
Posted by MadCant
On Friday 5 May 2017 4:51 PM
1
That's a superb article Angus! I'm now left reminiscing the massive array of games I played as a wee fella growing up with all this, though particularly the really early games.
I not-so-fondly recall typing out the code for Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Radar Rat-Race & the likes on our old Vic20 many times over before we eventually got a tape drive to record said code. If after school, we'd usually be on the brink of finishing when mum would tell us to turn it off to scrub up for dinner - I'm sure that's how I learnt to touch-type. Whenever we went to the library, we'd rush to the computer section & borrow the latest books/magazines to copy the code in the back for whatever game was in there that week/month/whatever.
It is amazing how far things have come, though we are a few decades on now I guess. Really looking forward to part 2 of this mate...
 
 
 
Posted by MadCant
On Friday 5 May 2017 4:55 PM
1
5 May 2017, 11:56 AM Reply to Unfathomable-Ruination
Man, I feel bad for the above posters not having experienced an arcade. They were so awesome, these days they're few and far between, although I'm sure that a few still operate. There was one in particular in Wairau Park on the North Shore called Galaxy, and you paid $10, and could play a wide selection of games for as long as you like (They roped off a section with certain games in there) Still, was really cool.

Hell, I still remember when dairys used to have arcade machines in them. Used to hang out at the local playing Street Fighter 2, sometimes 'd go in there and someone had Guile in the Golden Stance, effectively locking the machine up. Ahhh, good times and memories though

I still remember when The House of the Dead came out in the arcades, and they actually had a little booth that you had to go into, and close the curtains as the games was deemed too "gory". Man, how times have changed now lol.
I'd forgotten about Galaxy. It was here I first experienced VR firsthand - they had some tank game, which honestly was pretty crap, but the tech was still amazing for its time. Circa '92 - '94.
 
 
 
Posted by Dvst8u
On Friday 5 May 2017 9:42 PM
2
If playing street fighter at the fish n chip shop counts that's where my arcade jjourney started and mostly finished. Mostly.
 
 
 
Posted by ptys
On Saturday 6 May 2017 8:03 AM
1
My first arcade memory was the Double Dragon machine they had in the departures lounge at AKL airport (80's). Finally got to be a ninja without imagining.
 
 
 
Posted by 163Battery
On Saturday 6 May 2017 11:32 AM
1
5 May 2017, 04:35 PM Reply to M-to-the-T
Nice read!
Late 80's, me, 3 mates and 4 player Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the video shop on the way home from school. Even if we didn't have any "20's" we'd at least pretend we were playing during the demo screens. That and playing 1944 at the Fish n Chip shop at the end of my street, we would unplug the power cord when nobody was looking, as the game would reboot with a free credit everytime. Good days.
I remember that game! They had it at an arcade in Taihape. My brother and I would ignore all the other games and just go to town on the TMNT one. My dad ran a cafe/dairy in Mangaweka at the time and when he had to do his banking in Taihape he would drop my brother and I off at the arcade with a big handful of 20¢ coins. God, those were the days man!
 
 
 
Posted by maxnaughty
On Saturday 6 May 2017 1:06 PM
1
That takes me back!
 
 
 
Posted by SinuousPanic
On Sunday 7 May 2017 6:46 AM
1
We still have TimeZone in Christchurch (was called Timeout in the 90s). Not sure how many of them are actually left, but the one in Hornby behind the mall has been in business for a couple of years. Not as many games as there used to be and most of them aren't ageing well unfortunately.
 
 
 
Posted by kniteowl
On Sunday 7 May 2017 4:42 PM
1
Wow... really enjoyed that read. I lolled at the cellophane "colour graphics" for space invaders... I always assumed it had a colour display...
 
 
 
Posted by TandooriAce41
On Monday 8 May 2017 12:00 AM
2
I got all of Atari games on PS1 and it never gets boring : )
 
 
 
Posted by Antmannz
On Friday 12 May 2017 3:36 PM
-
Being a child of the 70s, I can recall when the dairy just down the road from school got it's first "spacies" machine - one of the original Space Invaders. It was always crowded after school as us kids scrunched together around it to try and watch whoever was playing. That and remembering where your 20 was in the line of 20s (20c pieces, to you young'uns) across the bottom of the screen.

Then Defender came out ... and that was a whole new world of required skill - far beyond that which my meagre collection of 20s would allow. You could play Space Invaders for a reasonable length of time on a single 20; with Defender it was waay too easy to crash and burn inside 5 seconds. Good times.
 
 
 
Posted by arkwright
On Friday 12 May 2017 6:40 PM
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The description of the atmosphere was particularly accurate. One thing worth mentioning was the hypnotic sound generated by a row of machines all running Space Invaders, especially as the difficulty and tempo increased.

Double Dragon was pretty much the standard in fish and chip shops.
 
 
 
Posted by robz
On Friday 22 Sep 2017 9:47 PM
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ahhhhh the good ole days arcades n duke boxes