I've got an exciting announcement!
My friend Zach Weddington, who did the documentary Viva Amiga that I reviewed for Ars, just launched a Kickstarter for his next project. And I'm on the team! I've been hired as a writer for the project.
It's called Arcade Dreams, and it's a documentary series covering the history of arcade games, from the penny arcades of the 20s to the heydays of the 80s and 90s, right to the virtual reality rooms of today.
I'm really excited about this project, so please check out the link below. And if you Want to Know More(tm), read on...
I remember the first time I walked into an arcade. It was like entering a dark cavern full of flickering neon lights and electronic sounds. It was intoxicating. The games drew me in, with their promise of an escape from a humdrum small town life into a universe full of possibilities. For a few, fleeting moments, and for just twenty-five cents, you could be anything.
Like me, director Zach Weddington had fond memories of arcades from his childhood. He went digging to find out more about their stories, and fell into a rabbit hole. It turned out that arcades were more than just a fad that came and went in the 1980s. They had actually been around for more than a century. Weddington, who was coming off the success of the documentary Viva Amiga, realized that if he wanted to see a comprehensive history of arcades, he would have to make it himself. “Growing up in the ’80s, like so many other kids, I was obsessed with arcades,” he said. “Now I get to turn this lifelong passion into my dream documentary series.”
Months later, after hundreds of hours of work, and assembling a team of industry heavyweights to help him, Weddington was finally ready to share his dream with the world. The Kickstarter for Arcade Dreams is now live, and it looks fantastic.
Arcade Dreams is a multi-part documentary about the 100-year history of arcades through the eyes of the game designers, the players, and the games themselves. Starting with the “penny arcade” mechanical amusements in the early 20th century, these games slowly gained in sophistication. Electrical augmentations added sounds, skill challenges, and scoring. Then, in the 1970s, a new invention called the microprocessor revolutionized the industry. Arcade games became video games, but many of the early titles were an evolution from their electro-mechanical ancestors. One example:Sega’s Gun Fight, a confrontation between two small cowboy figurines in a Wild West diorama, inspired Taito’s Gun Fight, an early video game.
Arcades peaked in popularity in the 1980s, then started to decline. In the 1990s, as home gaming consoles started to replace arcades in children’s imaginations, arcades evolved again, providing new experiences like Dance Dance Revolution that you couldn’t get at home.
And even after pundits pronounced arcades dead, they carried on in places like Japan, just as popular as they had always been. In the 21st century, new amusement centers around the world experimented with the arcade formula. At the same time, retro arcades with 80s and 90s titles started to cash in on nostalgia, like the Guinness record-holding Galloping Ghost, which boasts more than 300 games. Collectors and fans bought and restored cabinets and created their own arcades in their garages and basements. People yearned for the social and community aspect of playing games in the same physical space. Even in 2020, with the pandemic keeping many of us at home, arcade owners are hanging on and planning for the future. Their stories, and others, are all part of Arcade Dreams.
Weddington has assembled some incredible talent to help him bring his vision to life. He joined up with Bill Winters, an Emmy award-winning Director of Photography (Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee), and legendary producer John Fahy, who has worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Peter Jackson. Executive producer Berge Garabedian, who runs the popular movie review website JoBlo.com, came on board after a chance encounter in an online pinball forum. “What drew me in was the film’s teaser trailer, I was like ‘Oh…my…God! This is my life!’ and I immediately wanted to be a part of the production team. It also feels like now is the perfect time for this project, as retro gaming and nostalgia from the 80s are uber-hot,” said Garabedian.
And Weddington also asked a certain long-time Ars Technica scribe to join the Arcade Dreams team as a writer. Yes, I’m proud to say that I’m part of this project, and I’m both honored and humbled to be in such distinguished company. The footage that I’ve already viewed is incredible, and I can’t wait to see it all come together.
What really makes this series stand out is not just the fancy 3D rendered titles, or even the gorgeous shots of the video games and pinball tables. It’s the people that Weddington found to tell their stories. I’ve been going through some of the interviewees and writing up their biographies, and there are some amazing characters. For example, Eugene Jarvis, who designed arcade classics such as Defender, Robotron: 2084, Cruis’n USA, Pinbot, NARC, and Smash TV. There’s George McAuliffe, who was a sales manager for Time-Out Amusement Centers right when the arcades started to collapse, and worked with Dave Corriveau to help found Dave & Buster’s. And Roger Sharpe, who literally saved pinball in the 1970s, playing for the game’s life in a dramatic courtroom battle to prove that winning was due to skill, not chance.
Joining these industry legends are a host of designers, fans, collectors, restorers, and arcade operators, too many to list here. Together, they combine to tell a story that is more than just about games. It’s about art, technology, and passion all combining to create windows into other worlds, and to bring imagination and fun to life. It’s about bringing people together to test their mettle against the machines and against each other. Ultimately, it’s about us, and how our dreams became reflected against the plexiglass in a darkened room.
The Arcade Dreams Kickstarter is now live. It will run out of quarters in 45 days, so don’t forget to insert your coin.
This discussion comes up all the time on forums, between fans of the original Starcraft and fans of Starcraft II, in particular, the professional scenes that evolved around those games.
I watched a ton of both, so I figure I have some idea about which game was "better".
But the answer, like many things in life, is much more complicated than just "this game is better than that game."
Pro Starcraft Brood War at its height, from 2006-2008, was a very unique thing, unlikely to ever be repeated. The scene essentially was 100% Korean, and 100% KeSPA. There were foreigner tournaments, but the level of play was ridiculously low. The players were essentially amateurs. Day was a high school kid and Artosis would quit his job every year a few months before WCG regionals to practice. These were the top-level non-Korean players at the time. Whenever they played Koreans, (which was only once a year) they would get utterly and completely destroyed, like playing against the computer on "Easy" level destroyed.
Meanwhile, in Korea, KeSPA ruled with an iron fist. To stay on a team you HAD to practice well, like 10 hours a day MINIMUM, and you had to work with the coach and do whatever he said and take no breaks ever and you had no negotiating power for your salary AT ALL, and if you didn’t like it? Too bad, there are 50 Koreans begging to replace you. Deal with it.
This pressure cooker environment weeded out the weak and left only the super-strong. Players like Flash and Jaedong would practice until their eyes bled (in Jaedong’s case, this was literally true). The level of competition was so close at the top that any player could take down any player, so everyone had to be on top of their game. This made for exciting matches, with daring cheese and "economic" cheese plays thrown in with series where the multitasking and macro levels went through the roof. It was exciting.
With Starcraft II, everything changed. KeSPA players weren’t playing originally, so the Korean scene was made up of B-teamers, formerly retired players, and a smattering of foreigners, a few of whom managed to do quite well and even won tournaments. The Koreans were overall better, but it wasn’t a complete roflstomp like it was in the Brood War days. This was exciting, but for a different reason. The games weren’t as high-level. They just weren’t. But the situation was different. It wasn’t just KeSPA. There was a thriving international scene. Players could win tournaments without being slaves working in the salt mines 12 hours a day. They could actually compete for teams to get the best salary possible (this was never possible in KeSPA-- the "free agency" they offered was in fact the exact opposite)
The game itself also had some problems. One of the biggest was Broodlord-Infestor. This was actually something that happened almost every game in PvZ, and Protoss had only the "casual fun unit" of the Mothership to try and get a lucky Vortex, and if it missed, or the Zerg split the Brood Lords, or Neural Parasited the Mothership, too bad, it was over. This wasn’t so much fun to watch.
Now, with Heart of the Swarm released and the KeSPA players switching over, things are different yet again. HoTS fixed a lot of problems with the original Starcraft II. Protoss got a counter to Brood Lords (the Tempest) so PvZ wasn’t quite as dumb as it used to be. Terrans got Widow Mines which made things more random and yet skilled players could also bait the shots out with single units. Zerg got Swarm Hosts, which aren’t as good as Lurkers but at least they made for some different strategies and let them "siege up" and do different things, and Vipers allow high-APM players to do amazing abducts. Even Oracles reward the super-skilled, high-multitasking player. It’s better than Wings of Liberty. MUCH better.
Is it as good as Brood War? That really depends on how you look at it. The KeSPA players are certainly taking it to the next level-- look at recent GSLs or Proleague-- these guys are just hammering through different ideas and builds and they are starting to dominate again. But KeSPA doesn’t allow them to travel to international events (with the one exception of MLG) and so they are still isolated from the international scene in some ways.
But is the GAME ITSELF as good as Brood War? That’s really hard to say. I think a lot of what made Brood War great was the players. They suffered for our entertainment, but they raised the game to an art form doing so.
There was something that happened at the end of Brood War when players had to do a "hybrid Proleague", where they alternated Brood War and Starcraft II (at the time, Wings of Liberty). I don’t know if you watched any of the games, but I did. They were terrible. The KeSPA players didn’t care about the game any more because they were all practicing Starcraft II. So when they played Brood War, they just did whatever, and hoped their mechanics would save them. It worked, but dear God the games were boring. THEY WERE BORING.
I thought about this, and I figured that a lot of what made Brood War special, the amazing "metagame", wasn’t so much a factor of the game itself, but it was something the players brought to the game.
The other thing is that back in the day, the KeSPA players were it. There were only so many teams, and each team had only so many players on their playing roster. Sometimes a B-teamer would make it up to the big leagues, and sometimes players retired, but at any given time you had maybe 10 teams and maybe 8 players on the bench. 80 players. There are easily three to four times the number of pro players in Starcraft II.
Having fewer players makes it easier to build storylines, to build rivalries, and to build hype. There were also fewer tournaments, so each one was more special. In Starcraft II, there is a tournament every week and every weekend, and sometimes two at a time.
So, a lot of it is nostalgia, but justified nostalgia in some ways.
A tiny amount of it might be the game itself. It might be. I’m not willing to rule that out.
But things change. Sometimes you fall in love with a game and sometimes you fall out of love with it.
There are pro Brood War tournaments starting to happen in Korea these days. People love the game that much that they will play it even without KeSPA support and salaries. I’ve watched a few of these games. They’re pretty terrible. These are former pros, but they aren’t doing the amazing things that I remember from Brood War. They’re doing dumb things and winning for dumb reasons. I can’t watch them, even though they are playing the ostensibly "better" game. Not even for the nostalgia value. I tried. The excitement just isn’t there.
And it is there for Starcraft II. So I’ll continue to watch.
This was a photoshop I made after an Inside the Game episode when djWHEAT joked that if Starcraft II added a fourth race it should be the Cat race. I took some of the most famous Internet cats and combined them into a devastating new race!
Watch out for the Longcat Nydus drop!
There’s an interesting clash of cultures going on this weekend. Blizzard has contracted out the production of their first season’s final Starcraft tournament to OGN.
OGN is a Korean television network that has been broadcasting Starcraft matches since forever. Unlike GOMTV, they don’t have much experience with broadcasting to a western market. So you get these interesting fashion and furniture choices that look like they came out of Austin Powers, or at the very least a PSY video.
It’s all in good fun. 13 out of the 16 finalists in the tournament were Korean, and the three non-Koreans all got knocked out in the first few hours, so I guess you win this one, Korea. You win everything. Keep on winning on.
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In this episode I go over the European World Championship Series finals between Stephano and MVP, and we examine how widow mines are a great unit... for Stephano. It’s worth crushing your head (or the letter S) just to see!
Links from the show:
WCS EU Finals Stephano vs MVP full series
Super friendly widow mine hits
In this episode we go over some great games from Dreamhack and update the status of WCS Korea, Europe, and America, including WCS Points standings!
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I’ve always wanted to do a news show, and I love professional Starcraft, so I’ve combined my passions into a weekly show called... wait for it... This Week in Starcraft.
You can watch Episode 1 here:
And you can watch it live every Friday at 3PM PST here:
It’s basically a recap of what’s been happening in the professional Starcraft scene over the last week. I try to keep it down to 30 minutes because who has that much time in life?
Hope to see you there!
There are a couple of things I always wanted to do but never did.
One of them was to have the courage to play Starcraft, 1v1, on the ladder.
Another one was to have a TV show.
So I've combined the two into a show I call "Overcoming Ladder Anxiety", a show on Twitch.tv:
It's basically my journey through playing ladder for the first time ever, talking about my anxiety and dealing with how reality doesn't quite match up to your expectations. It's about how Starcraft can teach you lessons about life.
The show runs Monday to Friday at 2:00 pm Pacific. Please join in live, or watch the videos! Thanks!
Oh, not much.
Just commanded the Starship Enterprise.
This was taken at the PNE. My wife is handling Riker’s duties (she didn’t want to be Counsellor Troi-- who does?) and my brother-in-law is ably manning the science station. Or maybe it’s the weapons station. Or the security station. Well, it’s whatever the script needs it to be, okay?
This was part of the awesome Star Trek exhibit. It’s a full-size replica of the original bridge set, which was destroyed in the disappointing Generations movie. I also got to sit in Kirk’s original chair, which was pretty awesome.
EDIT: Okay here’s a pic of me in Kirk’s chair.
EDIT AGAIN: And here's the NCC-1701D's transporter room:
The Barcraft was a huge success! We nerds took over both sides of the bar and every single TV screen was showing Starcraft II.
Plenty of drinks and fun were had while we cheered Park "DongRaeGu" Soo Ho as he won his first MLG Championship title on a live stage.
It was completely awesome and I will definitely be back for the next one!
I'm a writer and occasional programmer. I write science fiction stories and novels.
I am the writer for the upcoming documentary series Arcade Dreams.
I also write technology articles for Ars Technica.
I'm the creator of newLISP on Rockets, a web development framework and blog application.