The King of Kong


Last night I watched the excellent documentary The King of Kong : A Fistful of Quarters. (LINK)

It brought back memories of some of the best UX ever… Classic Arcade games.

Bear with me a second….

A couple weeks ago, I played Call of Duty with my nephew on their new XBox 360.

Needless to say, he smoked me.

After he killed me in all manner of enjoyable ways, he played solo. Since this was a rental game, he had to start at the beginning. This meant about 12 minutes of logo screens, and tedious story scenes that went into detail about a backstory that wasn’t really all that important.

Watching him play was a revelation in how mundane the game actually is.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s visually fascinating, the depth of user action is remarkable, as are the variations of weapons and fighting.

But it’s all the same. My nephew played the first three levels with the sort of enjoyment one usually gets from changing a lightbulb.

The gameplay was so scripted, he knew how to do everything. It was mechanical, predictable and ultimately boring.

Walk… stop… sight in… wait for sentry… shoot… jump… 2 sentries will come out door…

Repetitive patterns have been part of video games since they were started, but something about this was ridiculous. It’s one thing to figure out the patterns for Ms. Pac Man… at least it was fast, fun and a new level still held some chance at achievement (dang pretzel always eluded me).

It seems the randomness that made Donkey Kong such a difficult game has been replaced with a poorly written screenplay and cheesy voicework.

Perhaps I’m old and I can add this to my list of things that I can point to prior efforts done much better.

Now, back to the Classic Arcade.

The boards that ran them were feeble, the pixels were the size of my thumbnail, the memory and capability were severely limited and the controls were limited to a few basic inputs… so where did the effort go?

Into making 4 minutes of a good time that a 13 year old would spend a quarter on.

Early games like Tempest (the knob), Centipede (the trackball), and Galaga (the joystick) revolutionized HCI to a degree that Playstation and Xbox can’t come close to matching.

Don’t think so? Download MAME and give the old games another go. (MacOS) | (Other)


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