In the last decade, a seemingly wonderful transition has occurred. We no longer need to go to shops to bring home boxes filled with manuals, keyboard overlays and booklets advertising ‘coming Spring 82!’. As much as part of me wishes for those days to return somehow, it’s an important change and it needed to be made. The move to digital is well underway and it doesn’t seem like anything can stop it.
But what of those days of yesteryear? More importantly, where did the games come from? The ideas behind these video games come from people’s imaginations, naturally. While those out there of a religious bent might make pilgrimages to the important place of faith, perhaps the most discerning, dedicated or clinically insane of those video game lovers may wish to follow in their footsteps.
Perhaps the first, and most commonly trodden ‘pilgrimage’ is that of to Kyoto. Nearly everyone knows Nintendo and what they represent. While, perhaps for the more serious gamer, Nintendo has come to be a little stale and predictable, there will always be a place in most gamer’s hearts for this Japanese company.
For those who are maybe a bit older, or just followed a different video game path, the old Commodore HQ would be a perfect place to pay your respects. Sadly, Commodore hasn’t existed since the mid 90s and the site is no longer video game related. If I ever visit her, I will leave a 3½ inch disk with a read write error on the grounds and think of the better days. The address is 1200 Wilson Drive, West Chester, Pennsylvania and is now a place where they film cooking advertisements. Oh, how the great have fallen!
GSC Gameworld, sadly no longer exists. The creators of the Cossacks and (more famously) the STALKER series were based in Kiev from 1995 to 2011. What I enjoyed about these games were that they used their own country as the setting. Cossacks had a campaign of 17th century Kiev trying to win independence from Poland and Russia. Stalker created an incredibly fleshed out world based on a decaying post Soviet landscape with amazing creatures, atmosphere and even politics. GSC proved to the world that Eastern European developers can make some of the best games available. They are missed. Disappointingly, I couldn’t find the address for their old office, so instead I recommend visiting the crumbling reactor of Chernobyl, around which the game is based. Safe and easy I’m sure.
If you’re in the area of Kiev, maybe head over to Stockholm and visit Paradox Interactive and Paradox Development Studio. I know they aren’t really nearby, but Paradox have done much to keep hardcore PC strategy gaming alive. Although difficult to get to grips with, the Europa Universalis series has taken historical gaming to new heights, however it is probably with Crusader Kings 2 that they have won my heart. Running a dynasty through assassination, good breeding and blinding your prisoners? What more could you want? I’ve spent at least 3,000 hours playing your games, you wonderful Swedes.
There are countless other minor places to visit, many are companies still in business. Rockstar North (makers of GTA) have their HQ in the middle of Edinburgh, but perhaps you could head further north in Scotland to Dundee. Before the 2000s, Rockstar were called DMA Design and were well known for their breakout game, Lemmings. Pay a visit to Dundee, wear a green wig, climb up a building and get arrested.
A real pilgrimage for all video gamers would be to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York. It is here, that the very first electronic video displayed game was created. William “Willy” A. Higinbotham, a nuclear scientist who’d worked in the Manhattan Project, designed a game in a few weeks for an exhibition. The game, Tennis for two, was a big hit then and at the following year’s visitor’s day. However the game was packed up and forgotten about for over 20 years. It simulated drag, velocity and the angle of the ball when hit. It is a more complicated game than Pong, despite being 20 years older. Tennis for Two is the birth of video games.
Higinbotham’s contribution to the video games industry was recognised in the 80s when Magnavox tried to patent ‘video games’. A lawyer working for Nintendo discovered Higinbotham’s contribution to video games while researching the case. Before his death Higinbotham wished that he be remembered for his work on Nuclear Non Proliferation, rather than an almost accidental contribution to videogames. Truly a person who had their priorities right!
I think most of you long time readers know I’m a collector. Since I’m an only child, it’s been very easy for myself to amass far too many toys, games and books than I could ever hope to make full use of. I’m sure it’s the same with many people, although my housemates (and long-term friends) travel very light. When we all moved into this house, all of their things came in one car. When it came to myself, it took nearly 4 full carloads and six months later I’m still bringing in the occasional box or bag of stuff.
I have been known to buy games, SOLELY for their covers. Pretty ridiculous right? I don’t often bend to the collectors urge anymore. I find artificial ‘collectors editions’ to be very uninspiring, offering very little in anything really collectible. There are a few exceptions, but generally art books and figurines are good, anything else is usually not worth your time. The games that I bought for their covers weren’t special editions of any sort, their only ‘special’ quality was that they were Japanese.
The covers of Japanese games are generally better than those of their US or European and it has been the case since Japan came into the game making scene. There are plenty of famous examples, of excellent Japanese covers and… lesser artwork for the rest of the world.
The first of this little indulgence was Zero Mission, the Gameboy Advance remake of the original Metroid. It has a very dark, heavily stylised and classic rule of thirds cover. This also shows how out-of-the-way the branding is for this game, you can hardly see it is a GBA game. Good art but maybe it isn’t the best for marketing.
The American cover below uses much clearer Gameboy Advance branding, taking up a full 5th of the cover. While the artwork is good, it doesn’t look like a front cover of a game.
I played and finished my Japanese Zero mission with few issues. Surprisingly, the game was almost all in English, with only some Japanese menus and subtitles during the cut-scenes.
The other two games I bought were ones I barely played. F-Zero was really hard (and I can’t read Japanese) and Mega Man Zero 2 had a REALLY long unskippable opening scene and was also really hard. I got sick of watching the intro over and over when I died right near the start, so I gave up.
I think these both look great. The American version of the F-Zero box has the Gameboy Advance branding covering up the character on the left. I guess America and Europe didn’t think they were that important. Megaman Zero 2’s cover is a bit messier but I think is a nice piece of art. The American version of this cover, only features Megaman in front of a blue background… very generic.
I’m glad that at least for a while, game covers were worth collecting for their own sake. Japanese Super Nintendo (Super Famicom) had excellent art work as well. The US/European always featured much more obvious branding/logos. Japanese Gameboy Advance boxes are essentially smaller versions of the Super Nintendo ones, so it really is trying to get back to something I missed. I managed to find these on Play-Asia for less than $20 all together. I mean I love this stuff, but I’m not going to go into debt for it.
Unlike certain Kubrick collectors I know.
If only the GBA intro was this elaborate!