Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 12, 2017

Email: Two Questions

Hello Master,

I have two questions. Feel free to answer either one or another, both or none.

I just saw that documentary by Jeremy Snead, Video Games – The Movie, released in 2014. The documentary is just plain common sense. I saw nothing there that I didn’t already knew. But, while I was watching, I wondered: if the ‘crash’ of the video games happened because Atari and other companies were releasing a streak of games with super-rushed development and with the lowest quality, and nonetheless pumping them so much with heavy advertising… What I mean is: this whole Atari situation wasn’t unique in the history of games. The stream of shitty games would be repeated later a couple of times. So what changed? What is preventing the industry from suffering another crash? What I know is the AAA industry is playing very safe with their games, but what must be considerated is the fact that consumers today are kind of… educated. Back in the Atari days, the consumers didn’t think twice in boycotting that mess. Today they’re always giving second chances to The Game Industry.

The Second Generation of consoles introduced changing games on a system (e.g. cartridges). But it was the Third Generation of consoles that introduced lockout chips for non-licensed games (e.g. Nintendo).

Behold the Atari 2600.

Image result for atari 2600

Above: Behold it reader.

Since there was no lock-out chip, anyone could make games for the system. Everyone began to make games because it was so much cheaper and quicker to make them than, say, today. Also, video games were becoming a cash cow in 1981 and 1982. Colgate, the toothpaste company, made video games. Quaker Oats, who made oatmeal, made video games. Everyone was making games. Retail got flooded by the garbage. Customers went away due to the shitty games. Retailers were stuck with all the crap.

It would be better to say the retail market for video games crashed in 1983. Arcades and PC gaming were going fine. Nintendo saw the arcades doing well which gave them the courage to enter the U.S. market.

Image result for rob nintendo nes

The purpose of R.O.B. was to sell the NES to retailers as a ‘toy’ as opposed to as a video game console. Once retailers were convinced the NES was a viable product, Nintendo dropped R.O.B. altogether.

Nintendo had the NES lock out all non-licensed games. Nintendo also imposed a publishing limit of five games a year per company. It’s incredible to think of how fast games could be made back then. Since games were not well understood, a company manager would want as many games pumped out as possible as there would be more ‘assets’ and more ‘irons in the fire’.

There has been other crashes before. I think one large one in particular is the multi-media consoles such as the 3DO, the Apple Pippen, the CD-i, and so on. This was around 1999-2001. It also marked the end of Sega as a console maker too as Dreamcast stopped in 2001.

There hasn’t been a ‘felt’ type of crash like 1983 because retail is becoming less important with each year, and it is more of an investment, in both money and time, to make a video game. When a game bombs, we see it marked down. But when a game sold online bombs, we know not! That is part of the significant change.


What are your thoughts on all this heavy talk about “game narratives” and how “game narratives” are “the motor of game evolution!”, as if the fact that Nathan Drake from Uncharted can now convincibly shed some tears on a cutscene, it automatically means that the game is better now than when the technology didn’t reach that level of realism.

I personally think that we always were capable of fully immerse ourselves on a game. Because the real channel that connects us so deeply to a game aren’t the graphics [at least not them alone, or not them as the core channel], but the channel is our imagination, the player’s imagination. Someone on the movie above said that that was what Nintendo perceived by the time of the industry crash, that we needed characters to really like and really immerse into a game [that’s why it would focus intensively on “character-based games” like Mario, Zelda and Metroid]. What to say about that? When games like Minecraft and GTA [which no one gives a shit about the main characters] are still a hit?

Thank you for your amazing work. It’s really inspiring.

Greetings from Brazil and sorry for any English errors.


Lately, I’ve been looking at the NES era in a new light. Nintendo made many new games/ips back then. Why did Super Mario Brothers 1, 2, 3, Legend of Zelda (and Zelda 2), and Metroid succeed in capturing the imagination and sales while other Nintendo games didn’t? Why didn’t NES Golf light up the sales charts? It wasn’t just adventure games that did so well, but why those games?

Nintendo’s analysis is due to characters. After all, Miyamoto designed Mario to be Mr. Video Game like how Mickey Mouse is everywhere in animation. Is Mario, Zelda, and Metroid successful because of Mario, Link, and Samus?

If that is true, then why didn’t Kid Icarus do better? Even with Pit brought back for Smash Brothers Brawl, the 3DS Icarus game didn’t exactly light the charts. Nintendo focusing on the character of Pit did not do it.

Even if Metroid: Other M had flawless execution, why didn’t that game do better? Is it true that people like Metroid because of Samus Aran? If so, then we all should like a game where we explore who Samus Aran is.

And as you state, no one cares about the characters in Minecraft or GTA.

If we want to see where video games are going generations from now, say in Generation Fourteen, we need to look at the prior generations. Where is the movement? Is there a long-term trend?

One thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that, like an amoeba, game genres coalesce and cannibalize one another. Adventure games didn’t die. It is just that every other game absorbed the job that adventure games did which meant adventure games had no role left. Adventure games with their storylines, characters, lush graphics, and adventures existed in a time of very primitive gaming  As a game, such as RTS or FPS, got more advanced, they could have lush graphics, storylines, characters, and adventures. There was no reason to play the adventure genre.

You can see it happening now with the MMORPG. The traits of the MMORPG are now being inserted into every online multiplayer game. Soon, the MMORPG genre will lose its purpose.

I believe the last game genre will be the ‘world’ genre. I do not mean ‘open world’, but in full simulation of a world. It originated with the very first Ultima. There is a world. You are in it. Over time, I expect this genre to cannibalize all the other genres. Look at Star Citizen, only a clue of how an Origin game today would be designed. Star Citizen is a ‘universe’ game that has ship combat but also MMORPG gameplay including FPS gameplay (!).

Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, and Metroid all have on thing in common: they are open world games in the 8-bit sense. By open world, I do not mean the cliches we use today. I mean they are simulations, universes in themselves, where the player can do different things to bend and break that universe.

Zelda is self-explanatory. But the same development staff made Super Mario Brothers at the same time when making Zelda. In Super Mario Brothers, you can choose your path. You do not have to stomp on the goomba. You can avoid the goomba altogether! You can even skip stages! By definition, Super Mario Brothers is linear, but the way how the game works is non-linear. You can play the stages in so many different ways. This was not like Donkey Kong or Mario Brothers or Popeye. The Mushroom Kingdom was a WORLD, a UNIVERSE to live in. Metroid, of course, also feels like its own self-contained world.

No one felt like Mach Rider was a self-contained world. Or Kirby.

People go, “Wow! Open world Zelda, Breath of the Wild, sells the hardware!”

But when have open world games NOT sold Nintendo hardware? If you consider Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and Zelda to be open world-ish, it is easy to see why they fueled NES sales. Mario 64 is loved not because the game is in 3d but because it resembles an open world for Mario to be in. Zelda: Ocarina of Time makes the reader think he or she is in a world. “What about Wii Fit and Wii Sports?” Well, you got me there.

I think the growing ‘world’ genre will destroy ‘narrative’ gaming just as swiftly as Minecraft crushed all the ‘story’ based child’s games.



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