Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chronology: Breakout

Breakout was one of the first truly fascinating, influential and compelling video game concepts. The premise is simple - avoid missing the ball. Keep it in play until you have broken all the bricks on the screen.

Breakout is closely tied to two members of its video game family tree: Pong and Arkanoid.
  • 1966. Ralph Baer begins work on the Brown Box, later to become the Magnavox Odyssey home video game system. One of the games developed is Table Tennis, a simple game of two paddles deflecting a ball horizontally on a screen. It's seen by Nolan Bushnell at a demo, and helps inspire the similar Pong in 1972 and Breakout in 1976.
  • 1976. Atari releases Breakout to arcades. It's conceptualized by Bushnell, and ostensibly programmed by Steve Jobs; however, Jobs actually gets his friend Steve Wozniak to do the work.
  • 1986. Nothing much happens Breakout-related for a decade, then there are, in this order, three Breakout-style games released in 1986: Gigas (Sega), Arkanoid (Taito), and Gigas Mark II (Sega). Arkanoid is the one to set the stage for brick-breaking games to follow, with its many enhancements in the form of falling "power-ups" that can be caught and influence the player's deflection device.
  • 1987 to present. An innumerable slew of Breakout games are created - far too many to list. Wikipedia has a partial list.

The sheer simplicity of the game concept, the fact that one can play solitaire for a short or long time, and the addictive and satisfying gameplay have made Breakout a winner for decades. Here is a listing of Breakout games available today at JUST ONE game publisher:

Aztec Ball
Aztec Bricks
Boom Voyage
Break Quest
Bricks of Atlantis
Bricks of Camelot
Bricks of Egypt
Bricks of Egypt 2: Tears of the Pharaohs
Chak's Temple
Fairy Treasure
Gem Ball
Hyperballoid 2
Hyperballoid Golden Pack
LEGO Bricktopia
Magic Ball 3
Nuclear Ball
Nuclear Ball 2
Ricochet Infinity
Ricochet Lost Worlds
Ricochet Lost Worlds: Recharged
Ricochet Xtreme
Temple of Bricks
Treasures of the Deep

It looks like brick breaking is here to stay.

Recommended reading:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Gooey Interfaces, Then and Now

Here we see an interesting specimen from the twilight of the BBS age (1997, to be precise). In today's point and click, ultra-graphical world, many users are unaware that going online used to be a textual affair. The "hotkeys" are highlighted in yellow - Pressing "J" would let you apply to Join the system, "P" would send a plea for help regarding a lost Password, etc. To make things pretty, an ASCII art butterfly adorns the screen. The communications program (in this case, WinComm) keeps a readout of connection speed and time online at the bottom of the window. This was because connections were slow and long distance was expensive - so you had to be mindful of how long you stayed on. Seems archaic now, with fast broadband and ALWAYS being online....

In the 1990s an interesting thing happened. BBSs and the Web started to merge. Here we see the Web interface of the same BBS pictured above. Note that this was before "usability" became a buzzword - this Web page seems hardly useful, at least the part visible "above the fold" - all the user can do is send an email, see how many hits the page has gotten, and look at a more detailed butterfly! Note the dial-up number at the bottom of the window, in case you want to go old school and dial in the old fashioned way. Also, check out the miserable state of the browser (in this case, AOL, looking like a diseased version of Netscape.)

Which is not to say minimalist Web design is always bad. Google.com has done very well for itself with just a simple graphic, a text entry box and a few well-chosen links.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008