Montageman: A dude who writes

March 19, 2007


Filed under: affect, videogames — montageman @ 12:28 am

My family has owned a delicatessen for about 35 years. During the mid to late eighties, one (or sometime 2) of the most important items in the store was the arcade game(s). My dad knew one of the arcade distributors in the area, so he would rent the games as a favor both to his distributor friend and to us (his sons). Games would change about every month. I only remember a couple – The Main Event (an excellent tag team wrestling game with a number of fictitious characters), Rampage (a beat ’em up game where players would control one of three monsters and rampage through cities destroying buildings, eating people, and fighting of the armed forces), and Gauntlet (the first dungeon crawl game & could also be characterized as a run and gun; players had a choice between an elf, wizard, warrior, or Valkyrie). Each of these games were designed to be played by at least 1 player, but were the most fun when played with 3 (Rampage) or 4 (The Main Event and Gauntlet). This turned the store into a community meeting place for the neighborhood kids – a place where kids could play games, eat candy, and drink soda, so basically it was an arcade with an incredibly small amount of choice between games.

Gauntlet (Atari 1985) is, in terms of my personal history, the first arcade game that I would say I was addicted. The cabinet itself demanded respect – it was larger than regular cabinets simply because it housed 4 joysticks instead of 2 allowing for co-operational play between 4 players at once. The point of view is top-down, which was later mimicked by games like The Legend of Zelda and Grand Theft Auto 1 & 2. The game takes place in a dungeon that is being taken over by a multitude of different enemies (ghosts, goblins, ogres, etc.) which must be killed or avoided by one, two, three or all four of the games protagonists. The game’s main objective is essentially the same as many other games in this genre: to restore the order and rid the castle of the enemies. Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin in Remediation talk about the status quo as objective, “Players are ultimately the security guards whose task is to shoot (or kill) anything that appears threatening because the ultimate threat is that the enemy will destroy the equilibrium of the system and eventually halt the game by killing the player. In essence, the player is constantly asked to defend or reestablish the status quo,” (93). Restoration of order has been a fundamental objective in a number of games both before and after Gauntlet. What made Gauntlet most interesting to me was the cooperative nature of the objective and the need for four completely different characters to work together. A warrior, an elf, a wizard, & a Valkyrie – each with strengths and weaknesses, the warrior was powerful so he could take damage at a slower pace, the elf was quick, the wizard was good with magic, and the Valkyrie was decent in all categories.

Gauntlet had its controls set up in the following fashion: a joystick, a fire button, & a magic button. The magic button could be used once a player had potion in his possession. The potion would clear the visible area of enemies. One of the fundamental differences when a game is translated from arcade to console is the control scheme – there is no longer a magic and shoot button, rather the magic is the A button while shoot is the B button. This may not seem like a big deal for a game like Gauntlet, but as controls become more complicated, some gamers will lose interest in a game quickly because of convoluted control schemes.

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