Video Game

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Video Game

About 250,000 individual commands are written by programmers to create a video game program.

A video game is an electronic or computerized game played by making images move on a television screen, computer monitor, or coin-operated arcade. Some video games are played on hand-held, battery-powered devices. Even though many homes have personal computers, consoles (home video game systems) are as popular as ever, and manufacturers continue to create new models. Consoles are computers made just for playing video games, are easy to hook up to the television set, and typically allow for multiple players.

The video game industry is on a roll. An estimated 60 percent of Americans play video games regularly. Among children aged eight to eleven, over 80 percent play video games. In 2001, the video game industry made $9.4 billion in sales.

World's first video game

The world's first video game was created by a group of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) computer programmers and scientists during the early 1960s. Led by Steve Russell, the group did not set out to design an electronic game. They simply wanted to test a new computer. Russell wrote a computer program for a two-player game he called Spacewar. The game featured battling spaceships that fired torpedoes. Although the game became popular among other computer programmers and the people with whom they shared it, it did not give birth to the video game industry.

A quarter a game

In 1971, influenced by Steve Russell's Spacewar, Nolan Bushnell (1943–) invented Computer Space, the first coin-operated arcade game. Bushnell also built a small machine just for the game. However, his game was so complicated that people lost interest in it.

In 1972, Bushnell and his partner, Ted Dabney, introduced an arcade game called Pong. Designed by Alan Alcorn, it was modeled after the game of Ping-Pong™, or table tennis. For a quarter a game, players tried to hit a flashing dot (the "ball") past their opponent's video paddles. Based on the phenomenal success of the arcade video game, Bushnell and Dabney started the Atari Company in 1975, introducing a home version of Pong. A Pong console, or home video game system, that attached to the television set was developed for home play. Giving Sears, Roebuck, and Company the exclusive right to sell the game, Atari sold 150,000 units of the Home Pong console and game. In 1975, Bushnell sold the company to Warner Communications for $28 million.

Dots on a television screen

While Bushnell and Dabney were developing Pong, Ralph Baer (1922–) was designing a home video game system. In 1972, Magnavox introduced Baer's invention, the Odyssey. The Odyssey came with six program cards for playing twelve different games, including tennis, football, hockey, and skiing. The game, played on the television screen, consisted of three white dots, two of which served as paddles for hitting the third dot back and forth. Plastic overlays, which players placed over the television screen, provided the playing fields. For example, a plastic overlay of a hockey rink came with the hockey game. Nearly 100,000 systems were sold that first year.

DISAPPEARING COINS

In 1978, when the company Taito released the video game Space Invaders in the arcades, the Japanese government reportedly had to produce additional yen currency to keep up with the nationwide demand for coins. The coins were being gobbled up in arcades and anywhere video machines could be set up, causing near riots across Japan.

Success and collapse

Rapid advances in electronics technology during the 1970s led to the development of more complicated games. In 1978, Atari's Football and Midway's Space Invaders became the all-time favorites in arcades up to that point. Pac-Man, produced by Midway and Japan's Namco, became the 1980 superstar, with about 300,000 units sold worldwide. Ten sequels were created following the initial Pac-Man craze.

Companies flooded the market with home video game systems and rushed to adapt popular arcade games to video cartridges. Consumers were overwhelmed with the large number of games, many of which were of poor quality but were still expensive. By 1983, the home video game business had started to collapse. The 1983 sales of $3 billion had dropped to $100 million by 1985. Interestingly, arcade video games continued to flourish.

Bigger and better

In 1986, the Japanese company Nintendo rekindled Americans' interest in video games with such games as the Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda. Whereas previous home video games were poor imitations of arcade games, Nintendo's games were genuine reproductions of their arcade counterparts. In 1989, Nintendo introduced a handheld video game system called Game Boy, which came with Tetris, a puzzle block game designed by Russian Alexi Pajitnov that remains popular to this day. That same year, Sega, also a Japanese company, released the Genesis home video game system. Its Sonic the Hedgehog game became a favorite game in 1991, followed by a sequel, which was an instant hit.

In the late 1990s, video games took advantage of new technologies, such as the compact disks (CDs) and digital video disks (DVDs). Computer games were created when personal computers became available to more people in the mid-1980s. Today, video games are not just toys. They have become a part of the computer and Internet technology.

Design

A team of people, consisting of computer programmers, writers, artists, musicians, and other game designers, are responsible for the design of a video game. During the design process, they work out details of the game, including the game type, objective, and graphics (pictures).

The team decides the type of game, which may be one of six categories. These include fighting, shooting, strategy, simulations, adventure, and RJA (run, jump, and avoid) games. Fighting games require the players to battle with each other or with the computer. They are generally the most popular games and include such titles as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. In shooting games, the player tries to destroy enemy tanks, ships, or planes. Strategy games include chess, checkers, or bridge. Simulation games reproduce real-world activities, such as driving a race car or flying a plane, while adventure games let the players do role-playing, such as being a wizard or a warrior. The RJA games, such as the Super Mario Bros. games, let a player reach a goal while having to overcome various obstacles.

Raw Materials

A vivid imagination is the most important raw material in creating a video game. However, a variety of supplies are needed to produce and market the designer's ideas.

The Manufacturing Process

Designing and producing a video game involves the efforts of many people. Creating the computer program and images alone requires at least twenty people. The development of the game can be a long, drawn-out process that can sometimes take up to one year.

Creating the story

1 The first step in video game manufacture is writing the game's story, complete with a setting, characters, and plot. This provides an objective for the player and a guideline for the rules of the game. A game manual is usually produced, using all this information.

The designer may also be the writer of the story. Or, other writers may help create the story. The writers make storyboards, which are a series of one-panel sketches pinned on a baseboard. The sketches outline the scenes, which are arranged in their order of occurrence. Dialogue and/or summaries of action are written under each sketch.

Capturing action with art

2 After the story is outlined and the type of game is agreed upon, the team decides on the game's format. The format is the way the video game is presented to the player. The formats include platform, top-down, scrolling, isometric, three-dimensional (3-D), and text.

The platform format features a side view of the player's character. The top-down format gives a bird's-eye view of the player's character and is the format often used for war games. Scrolling involves moving the screen slowly in one direction. The isometric format is a top-down game, which uses perspective tricks to give the illusion of 3D. The text format has limited graphics and is used only for interactive fiction. Video games may use one or more of these formats.

3 The artists add drawings to the storyboards. They also add character descriptions and arrows showing how the characters will move.

4 The artists create final pictures, using one of two methods. They may create converted graphics, which are images that have been drawn using a computer program. They may also make more lifelike images by filming the action with an actor and then electronically digitizing the images, or converting the images into the number codes of computers.

The artists review the taped actions on a color monitor and select each frame (a strip of film) that will be used to create a portion of an action. For example, six to ten frames are used to show a character taking one step. Four to five frames are needed to show a punch or a kick. The artists also create the background, using both converted graphics and digitized images.

Recording dialogue and sound effects

5 Dialogue and sound effects are recorded in a sound studio using various audio (sound) techniques. The sounds are recorded on digital audio tape and then computerized by a synthesizer. A synthesizer is a computer that translates sounds into computer data.

Writing the program

6 A team of programmers takes the design elements and starts writing the programs that will instruct the video game system or the computer on which the game will be played. The first step is to draw a flowchart, showing the logical steps of the computer program. Programming languages used include Visual Basic, Visual C++, Pascal, and Delphi. Each programmer in the team works on a different phase of the game, which can take up to seven months to produce.

To work more efficiently, the programmers use previously developed sequences of programming steps, adapting them to the new game. This saves additional time and efforts in rewriting the same programs and also helps reduce errors. Since computers perform their tasks by following the program instructions, any instruction error means that the video game would not function well. About 250,000 individual commands are written to create a video game program. Sounds and graphics are programmed separately.

Testing

7 The testing process helps reveal fundamental design and programming problems. It may be discovered that some elements of the design do not work very well or that certain parts may be too difficult for the player. Programming problems may involve some illogical steps that the computer cannot follow.

Testing can be done in several ways. The programmers can play the game and try to find possible problems. Professional game testers, who are trained to look for errors that are not easily detected, may also be used. These people are typically game designers who have experience with many types of games. The game testers may suggest ways to make the game more entertaining or more challenging. The game developers may also invite consumers to test the game. This is an effective way to test the market. The suggestions and other information obtained are reviewed. Then, reprogramming is done until the desired results are achieved.

Burning the disks

8 When the programming is completed, the game code is transferred to a master compact disk (master CD). This process is called "burning" the CD. Creating a master disk is the first step in mass-producing copies of the game. The master disk is made of a smoothly polished glass coated with an adhesive and a layer of light-sensitive metal, such as aluminum. The disk is put in a laser-cutting machine. While the disk spins, the computer code from the game's program sends an electrical signal to the laser. A laser beam cuts grooves into the light-sensitive coating, recording the program information on the disk. The disk is soaked in a chemical that etches (eats away) the surfaces exposed to the laser beam, producing the pits and lands that carry the digital information. The disk is given a metal coating, usually silver.

9 Next, a metal negative copy of the master disk is made through a process called electroforming. Using an electric current, layers of nickel are applied onto the disk's surface. After the desired thickness is achieved, the nickel layer is separated from the master disk. This metal negative is an exact copy, but in reverse, of the master disk. (This is the first metal negative.) Using the same electroforming process, the metal negative is used to make several metal positives, or exact copies of the original master disk.

PAC-MAN MANIA

Pac-Man remains one of the most popular video games. It was the first video game to generate various spin-offs, including T-shirts, linens, coffee mugs, clothing, lunch boxes, and cereals. Cartoon shows and songs were created about it. Pac-Man also appeared on the covers of Time and Mad magazines.

10 A mold called a stamper is made from a metal positive. This stamper, which is a metal negative (the second metal negative), is used to create the actual compact disk (CD) using a process called injection molding. The stamper is placed into a mold in an injection molding machine. Melted polycarbonate plastic is forced into the mold under high pressure to form around the stamper. As the plastic cools, it hardens, taking on the patterns of the pits and lands found in the original master disk. The CD is inspected for such imperfections as dust particles, water bubbles, and warping. The CD is rejected if any imperfection is found.

11 The CD is transferred to a machine that punches a hole in its center. It is then coated with a thin layer of aluminum or silver using the process of vacuum deposition. The disk is put into a cold airless room. Then the metal coating is heated and evaporated and allowed to condense (turn into liquid) onto the chilled compact disk surface. Next, the disk is sealed with acrylic for protection. Finally, the disk is given a decorative label.

Packaging the game

12 All the components of the video game are transported to the packaging line. Each part of the game is placed in a preprinted cardboard box by automated machine or manually. The game boxes move by conveyor belt to a shrink-wrap machine that seals them in plastic. The sealed boxes are placed into cases and shipped for delivery.

Quality Control

The process of transferring the computer game program to a CD or a DVD must be done in a clean, dust-free environment. Dust particles, which are larger than the pits carved on the disk, can ruin them. Other visual inspections are done during the different steps of disk manufacture. Samples of the finished disk are also tested to make sure the video game program is working properly.

Other game components are also inspected to ensure they meet the required specifications. At the final manufacturing stage, samples of the complete product are checked to make sure all the components are present.

The Future

Video games have come a long way from their counterparts of the 1970s. Video games continue to improve, especially with the development of DVD technology, which promises to pack more information than CDs. Superior graphics and sound, numerous details, and sound effects have become the norm. Three-dimensional images and lifelike characters with music borrowed from star artists are the latest features of video games.

The number of video game players is growing, with more adults getting hooked on the games. Current figures show that nearly two of every five adult households in the United States own a video game system. The new consoles boast of built-in modems for surfing the Internet and online gaming. The video game industry predicts a future where many home video game systems will eventually be connected to the Internet.

burn:
To write the digital information into the light-sensitive metal layer of a compact disk.
console:
A home video game system.
converted graphics:
Images that are drawn using a computer program.
digitized image:
Image that has been converted into digital codes, or number codes, that computers can read.
electroforming:
The process of making a copy of the master compact disk by using an electric current to apply a nickel coating onto the surface of the disk and then separating the metal coating from the master disk.
frame:
A single strip of film, several of which are put together to show an action.
monitor:
A video device that displays images produced by a computer.
pits and lands:
The microscopic indentations on a CD (compact disk) or on a DVD (digital video disk) that store the information needed to recreate a video game.
stamp:
To form a compact disk by forcing melted plastic polycarbonate into a mold.
storyboard:
A series of one-panel sketches in which the scenes in a video game are outlined and arranged in their order of occurrence.
synthesizer:
A computer that translates sounds into computer data.
vacuum deposition:
The process of coating a compact disk with aluminum or silver by heating, evaporating, and condensing the metal onto the chilled compact disk surface.

For More Information

Books

Katz, Arnie, and Laura Yates. Inside Electronic Game Design. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996.

Olesky, Walter. Video Game Designer. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2000.

Web Sites

"The Exhibit of the True History of Video Games." The Electronics Conservancy,Inc.http://www.videotopia.com (accessed on July 22, 2002).

"GameSpy's 30 Most Influential People in Gaming." GameSpy Industries.http://www.gamespy.com/articles/march02/top30/127 (accessed on July 22, 2002).

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