I ended my last column talking about games as Christmas gifts, and that has inspired me to write more about the state of electronic games today. The earliest popular video games that were released in the arcades of the 1970s include “Pong,” “Breakout,” and “Space Invaders.” These fairly simple games were built using discrete components and not the microprocessors that were just hitting the market at that time. Nolan Bushnell created Atari and hired a young electronic technician named Steve Wozniak to design the game “Breakout.” Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs later formed Apple Computers. Wozniak wanted to demonstrate that the game “Breakout” could have been done in software on his Apple computer, and so he wrote the game in Integer BASIC and gave it away with early Apple computers. Thus computer gaming was born.
Atari had several hit arcade games and came up with the idea of offering them in a home version. The company built this machine on the same processor used by Apple. The Atari 2600 was a major success, and while not the first game console, it popularized the concept of what is now known as the game console.
Game Consoles Today
Today there are three major brands of game consoles. Games consoles are dedicated computers that typically plug into the family television and offer game controllers for user input. Most controllers are designed to be used with two hands and provide a mix of analog and digital joysticks and a number of buttons placed for easy access. Modern controllers give force feedback letting players feel actions in the game.
Early consoles only played games loaded on cartridges or discs. Modern consoles now allow games to be purchased, downloaded, and stored on the console. Some games require the console be connected to the Internet. An Internet connection also allows multiplayer games. However, it is rare to find a game on multiple platforms that allows cross-platform play for multiple players. A headset with a microphone is a must-have accessory for the online player.
Sony creates the PlayStation series of games, the current model being the PlayStation 4 (PS4). There are two variants, the Slim model and the Pro model. The Pro model supports play in 4K resolution if you have a 4K-capable TV. There are also two drive options: 500 megabyte and the preferred 1 terabyte option. PS4 exclusive titles include “God of War,” “Uncharted,” and “Spider-Man.” Most people consider the PS4 to be the best gaming console technology available today.
Microsoft creates the XBox series of consoles. The current models are the XBox 1S and the XBox 1X. The 1X is a more powerful platform supporting gaming on 4K UHD televisions while the 1S plays the current games but only supports 1080p HD output. XBox exclusive games include “Titanfall,” “Gears of War,” and “Halo.”
The Switch, Nintendo's entry into the console world, is both a portable game device and console. The Switch has a gaming "dock" that the console device plugs into allowing game play to occur on the television. The console has its own screen, and when removed from the dock, the battery-powered console can be used to play games on its built-in screen. The Switch includes two wireless controllers called "Joy-Cons" that attach to the console and are similar to the Wii controllers. Like the Wii before it, the Switch has good support for family friendly and casual gamers. Popular and exclusive titles for the Switch include a new "Legend of Zelda" title, a new "Mario Kart" title, and "Super Smash Brothers Ultimate."
PC gaming is gaming on the personal computer. Here the Windows PC dominates the market with significantly more games sold for the Windows platform than Apple, Chromebook, or Linux computers. This is because Windows currently provides the best graphics driver software for high performance games. Also, XBox and Windows development resources can often be shared, making it easy for developers to target both platforms.
PC Game Distribution
Many PC games available today are sold online through distribution outlets. These outlets provide a means of selling games to customers for publishers. Distribution platforms often provided digital rights management (DRM) allowing users more freedom installing games for play on multiple computers while protecting the publishers by making piracy difficult. Additional tools allow gamers to chat online as they watch others play or provide multiplayer environments.
Steam is the largest PC game distributor by far. Its application provides game installation and updating, live chat, and a web-based DRM scheme that supports offline play. Game publishers Origin and EA (Origin.com) teamed up to create the Origin service. Origin is similar to Steam but mainly carries Origin and EA software.
GOG (used to stand for "Good Old Games") (https://gog.com) offers a mix of new and classic games. Many of the old favorites have been updated or paired with emulation software allowing these great games to work on modern computers. Most GOG games do not have DRM or copy protection software making it easy to install copies on both your desktop and your laptop computers.
Humble Bundle (https://humblebundle.com) is different in that a part of your purchase price goes to charity. You can pick the charity or select one of Humble Bundle’s. It offers special bundles of software where you get to name the price and determine how much goes to charity.
Amazon games can be purchased old style on media shipped to your home or can be purchased for download. Amazon remembers the games you have purchased in case you need to download and install them again.
Steam and all of these services mentioned allow the purchase of gift cards or instant Internet gifts in case you need help to complete your holiday shopping. I have run out of space again this month. I wish all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, love for your neighbors, and joy for whatever else you may be celebrating.