SpaceVenture after the break…


I’ve been around the computer gaming industry long enough to know that the heyday of PC gaming has come and gone. It’s over. Kaput. Stick a fork in it, it’s done, last one out please turn off the lights. Kthxbye.

Of course, companies are still producing PC computer games. I’m certain that, if the data was sliced in the right way, it would be fairly convincing to build an argument that there are more PC games being produced now then ever before.

Yet, it doesn’t feel like the PC game industry is thriving. If anything, the PC game industry has been locked into a publisher’s prison for the last decade or so because – obviously – every PC game player is nothing but a pirate and only the most stringent copy protection schemes will ever suffice to ward off the horrendous hordes of PC pirates that are destroying the industry on an hourly basis. Even when you manage to buy a PC game in an actual store, you’re not really buying a game anymore – Just a little digital code that you enter into a computer so you can download the game from a secure server and have it de-encrypted and authorized for you to play… Provided that you have always-on internet or whatever new draconian copy protection scheme the publishers have envisioned. You’re not buying a game anymore – Just the privilege to play a game until the publisher sees fit to remove that privilege.

With each passing day, the memories fade of a time when I could walk into a video game store and see an entire wall of PC games, from ceiling to floor. There was a time when computer games came in the “big boxes” and players were rewarded with little trinkets inside the boxes, such as cloth maps and cheap metal coins or fictional pamphlets or newspaper segments… Items that placed players into the mood of the game. Games, at one time, were events, not merely products delivered on deadlines. Once upon a time, games were special not because they were “collector’s editions” but because they were games themselves. Just the very notion of buying a game was celebrated.

Today, the video game stores are awash only in console titles in tiny little boxes. Want the little cloth maps or coins of yesteryear? You’ll have to buy the “collector’s edition” or “deluxe edition” or “game of the year edition” or whatever buzzword the marketers have come up with for this revenue cycle. No, I won’t disregard those editions – A lot of those higher-priced editions have some legitimately nice items included.

All of this is mentioned against the backdrop of a reality setting in for gamers – That the first wave of game developers are beginning to pass away and, if not pass away, are getting ready for their walk-on role in a George Romero zombie film. The twenty year old developers of yesteryear are now in their late forties. The forty year old developers of yesteryear are now in their mid-to-late sixties. A lot of the original talent have since left the computer gaming industry or retired altogether – Ken and Roberta Williams of Sierra fame packed up their wagon and set sail for anyplace other then an office environment since the mid 1990s. In a few years, they’ll be two decades removed from being quintessential players in the gaming business. Nolan Bushnell, the creator of Atari, hasn’t been relevant in gaming since the early 1980s and that’s being generous. Steve Jobs, one of two founders of Apple computers, passed away recently. Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore and who later misguided Atari into the dustbin of gaming history, recently passed away. Bill Gates, the original monopolist of the PC computer with his Windows operating system, has long since given up the computer business to spread his questionably-earned billions in philanthropic efforts. Richard Garriott’s comeback, Tabula Rasa, was nowhere near the success that his earlier Ultima titles were back in the 1980s. How long will it be before he calls it a career?

It is not all dour and gloom – Ken Silverman, the creator of the BUILD engine, was young enough in the 1990s to garner fortune that he won’t be receiving a social security check for decades to come. The main creatives from iD Software’s golden era are similarly older but not old. Warren Spector and Sid Meier are steady contributors to modern day gaming.

Yet those developers are chiefly from the 1990s – The decade where computing began to rise to prominence before the Internet exploded into the mainstream and became the “killer app” for which even the computer illiterate could no longer ignore desktop computing. The developers from the 1980s, though… They are the ones beginning to count the grey hairs (if they still have any) and the wrinkles on their face… If they’re even still alive.

Two such developers, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, became famous in the 1980s as “The Two Guys from Andromeda” – They created the adventure series “Space Quest” for the game developer “Sierra.” Like all melodramas when far too many egos and money are involved, strife formed and the pair eventually split for a variety of reasons too numerous to mention here. Now, the two are back and have mended their ways in an effort to stage a comeback. While they do not have the Space Quest intellectual property, they have proposed and just recently funded a new project called “SpaceVenture” which appears to be “Space Quest” without the intellectual property.

While I know that I will never buy the game (sorry – I’m too much of an old fogey to accept the new “digital only” or “online purchase” paradigm), I’m glad that the two developers have gotten back together to create a game similar in spirit to the Space Quest games. Having played all of the Space Quest games (even those that the two were not involved in), some of those games bring back some very nice nostalgic memories from my youth. They were good times and I’m glad that I played those games in the time period where they had the greatest relevance. Although I doubt that their new game will carry the same weight as their original series had (to be fair, “Space Quest” did not exactly have a lot of competition in the humorous space adventure genre), it will undoubtedly thrill diehard Space Quest fans the world over.

It’s true that you can not become younger but it is true that you can always feel younger. The reunion of The Two Guys from Andromeda will not bring back the golden era of PC gaming but it does bring back, if only for a moment, those fond memories of walking into a store with a $20 dollar bill and your toughest choice in the entire day was having an embarrassment of options over what to buy. I hope that there are several more collaborations of them to come. The fans, and PC gaming, certainly deserve it.

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