Dreamcast, MacBook, Art Ramblings

My plan was to sell my MacBook Pro after the road trip, but now that the time’s come, I can’t bring myself to do it, and I find myself finding excuses for using it over my extremely souped-up PC with the sweet LCDs.

Yet I don’t have money and I haven’t decided whether I’m headed back into the job market, so I’m torn. In the last year or so, as I’ve worked on the book continuously, I’ve made a pretty huge mess of my office, and now I’m cleaning that up as I hang around waiting for word on my other book proposals/job possiblities. Which means I’m selling off some of my old treasured RPGs and cool games, which, inevitably, meant I hooked the Dreamcast up again and took it for a spin.

I’ll skip the rant about how cool the Dreamcast was and get to my point — some of those games were gorgeous. Popping in a game that’s six years old, I don’t expect it to look that great, but in some of them – Skies of Arcadia, in particular – the artists did so much with the expressions of the characters, building a style, that it’s beautiful.

I look at some of my favorite old games (like Starflight/etc) and I remember the sense of wonder I felt playing them, but I don’t ever look at screenshots of the old PC/PC-AT games and think “wow, that’s a beautiful CGA game”. But the aliens in Space Invaders are weird and cool and recognizable even today, and some of the old sprites still carry meanings.

It’s a lot like art history. Cave paintings without perspective can move us, and today

There are two major differences, though:
– computer technology’s moved so fast that there’s never been little artistic focus at any point. When EGA supplanted CGA, there weren’t artists that tried to keep working in CGA, but there were still painters after photography was invented (to be overly simplistic about it).
– the history of the art’s quickly destroyed, because incompatibility means you can’t study the works of the past, and copy protection contributes as well. I can’t run Starflight today for a number of reasons, so I’m reduced to seeing screenshots and trying to remember the gameplay (Uhhh… Statement/Question/Posture?).

Both those differences have wider-ranging consequences than we’ve really considered as a society. For one, it means that we’re in a strange position of moving forward and jumping ahead of our breadcrumbs. If I wanted to teach someone about the history of gaming, I’d be able to find some of the orignal arcade games in decent emulation or otherwise, and then I’m screwed for a while before I can even consider walking into the vast grey area of abandonware, then it’s dicey trying to get stuff from then on to run on supported operating systems… so my class would be like
1. The early origins of gaming
2. Games I’d like to show you but can’t for various reasons
3. Half-Life 2!

I’m reminded of the gaps in the history of painting created by wide-scale wars or natural disasters, where we’re left with a couple pieces by someone who was brilliant and supposedly created others.

Video games are art, I have no doubt that this will eventually be recognized by all reasonable people. But while I can buy a book and look at reproductions of Jean Miro paintings, or travel to see them in person, some of the best games, the most influential classics that created genres and thrilled all that played them, are already essentially lost.

That’s horrible, and it’s sad that nothing’s going to happen about it.

5 thoughts on “Dreamcast, MacBook, Art Ramblings

  1. Scraps

    This reminds me of the way television was treated for at least its first couple decades: disposably. It’s not surprising that so little of the early days of film survives, but television was relatively constricted, with most broadcasts being produced by a few high-profile companies: we have a more comprehensive idea of the early history of television. Yet a distressingly large amount of early television — not just crap, but the great stuff — is gone forever. Some of it survives by accident (tapes that weren’t meant to be preserved but were never reused, etc), some only because home enthusiasts recorded their screens with movie cameras. This persisted even into the 1960s.

    At least with gaming you have the physical artifacts. I think eventually the interest in the old stuff will be great enough that people will make machines again just to play (or show) the old stuff, and copy protection and copyright be damned. The amazingly fast turnover in platforms sure has made an unprecedented mess for the early history of video games.

  2. DMZ

    Oooh that was a good one. I wore out joysticks playing Privateer.

    Top Games I Can’t Play Anymore

    Ancient Art of War
    California Games
    Earl Weaver Baseball
    Full Throttle
    Magic Carpet (1/2)
    Perfect General
    Pirates (though it’s out now)
    Star Control 2

    688 Attack Sub
    Scorched Earth
    System Shock (1/2, both with caveats)
    Wing Commander (various)

  3. Anonymous

    As I said, Privateer is my #1

    I think I liked Tie Fighter more than I liked most of my girfriends…

    Wing Commander 3 ranks high on my list.

    I admired System shock 2;however, I never really fell for it like I did Deux Ex or Halflife


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