VGT – Is Shigeru Miyamoto the Socrates of Video Games?

Greek philosphy and video games.  Can there even be a connection?  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m taking a Christian Thought & Greek Philosphy course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and I can’t help but to find connections (if and when possible) to my fascination with video games.  Keep in mind, I’m not going to document anything or give references – I just don’t have time with work and class.  Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to pour back out whatever knowledge I may have gained in my studies.  So, if something doesn’t sound right or add up, please be sure to comment and set me straight.

A bust of Socrates from the Louvre

A bust of Socrates from the Louvre

Socrates was an early Greek philosopher who didn’t mind asking a few questions.  In fact, that’s just about all he did.  He questioned everyone about everything.   This constant asking of questions could be very irritating and I can imagine that his foes would get frustrated by his technique.  But he had a purpose.  He would plainly state, “I know nothing” and then through his questioning process (now known as the Socratic method) prove that his opponents were no experts either.

The condemned Socrates preparing to drink poison

The condemned Socrates preparing to drink poison

My wife told me that in law school the professors would use the Socratic method in the classroom.  She saw grown, intelligent people reduced to tears as the professors would ask question after question – proving that the students know nothing and that they need to begin again.  It sounds like the teachers were acting like jerks!  I don’t think Socrates necessarily acted like a jerk.  He seemed to ask questions in a gentler manner, but he did find himself in some serious trouble later in life.  You see, there was rioting in the city and the culprits were youth who claimed to be students of Socrates.  Therefore Socrates was arrested and put on trial for his life.  His main defense?  He claimed that he didn’t know anything, so how could he teach anyone anything?  How could he even have students?  It was a unique and compelling argument but the verdict did not go his way.  He was sentenced to die by poison.  Although Socrates never wrote anything, his legacy and his words were carried on by his students (most notably Plato).  But wait, I thought he said he didn’t have any students!  Sometimes philosophy just goes around and around in circles!

The creative Shigeru Miyamoto

The creative Shigeru Miyamoto

So why do I think that Shigeru Miyamoto may be the Socrates of Video Games?  First of all, few can question the amazing mind and incredible creativity of Nintendo’s most famous employee.  Not only did Miyamoto create the Mario franchise, he also made Star Fox and the Legend of Zelda.  What are some of the others?   He has always had the ability to look at game concepts in a new and exciting way.

What made the connection in my mind, was an article I once read in Nintendo Power back in 2010 or 2011.  I have a boxful of the NP magazines and I searched for the article but was unable to find it – so I’m working on this from memory.  It was an interview with Eiji Aonuma – who some say is the creative successor for Miyamoto at Nintendo.  In the interview, he was talking about the game Skyward Sword and how Miyamoto came in at a certain point in development and “upended the tea table”.

Great, the game's done.  Oh no!  Here comes Miyamoto!

Great, the game’s done. Oh no! Here comes Miyamoto!

I can only imagine being a game developer and thinking that I’m working on a great idea.  Then in comes “Mr. Mario” and he starts asking questions.  Soon all my plans and ideas are reduced to nothing as Miyamoto starts to give feedback and take the game concept in a completely new direction.  Who does he think he is?  Does he even know how hard it is to program?  Actually, he probably does.  But it seems clear that he has a purpose and he wants to make the best game possible.  (By the way, whether or not Skyward Sword is a great game is up for debate)

I found it interesting that Aonuma’s view of the process was not negative and in fact he thought it was a necessary ritual in the game design process for Miyamoto to come in and turn that tea table over.  It is often good to stop, reduce it to basic ideas, and then start again with renewed focus and energy.

Perhaps his bust will one day be in the Louvre?

Perhaps his bust will one day be in the Louvre?

So Miyamoto, in that small way – may be similar to Socrates.  As far as I know he has not been the cause of any riots.

 

VGT – I Am Completely Un-Awesome

Once again I find myself in the position of having a mind filled with all kinds of ideas, and a body that can’t wait to finish writing this post and go to bed.  I’m taking Christian Thought and Classical Philosophy class and I’m literally having to read hundreds of pages a week.   I may be the only one in the class who is mentally comparing Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario et. al.) with the Greek philosopher Socrates.  That’s what happens when you enjoy video games and theology, they get mashed up together.

Some Nintendo Power Research

Some Nintendo Power Research

So whether it is Aristotle or Augustine, I still find myself diving into my personal library of Nintendo Power magazines.  I sort of enjoy philosophy, but deep down I’m pretty sure that reality is in fact, real.  I also have no problem believing or understanding that there must be another reality beyond myself.  I want to tell these philosophers, “I’m convinced OK?  If I just agree with you will you stop talking?”

But why am I completely un-awesome?  I’ve mentioned recently to my new friends on the Theology Gaming Podcast that I’ve had a difficult time on a particular section of Assassin’s Creed 3.  In the scene, I am trying to stop six of my fellow warriors from reaching the top of the hill.  If they get there, they will be killed by the military forces of Charles Lee.  I just can’t do it.  I’ve tried so many times but I either miss the guy by running up a tree, or by accidentally running in front of him and alerting everyone.  When they are alerted, they all just start running to their deaths at the hill top.  On the podcasts, my opinion shifts from week to week from completely loving the game to completely hating it.  By the way, you can find the Theology Gaming Podcast on iTunes now and on other apps soon.

What did I do to get past it?  Did I dedicate hours of my life in attempt after attempt?  Did I go to the store and buy a player’s guide?  Did I study the videos of other players on Youtube?  No, I had someone else come to my house and beat it for me.  He did it in three tries – and that was only because he was not used the Wii U control scheme.  I’m attaching a video.  I might as well make my humiliation complete.

Now that I’m past that moment, I am liking the game again.  But I felt compelled to tell all of you the truth about how un-awesome I am.  God is awesome by the way, a word meaning both great and terrible.  So if I’m un-awesome, that means I’m mediocre and unimpressive.  The video evidence doesn’t lie!  Have a great weekend.  I’m heading down to Savannah to visit my son at Savannah College of Art and Design.

VGT – More Fun with the CoCo2

Seminary classes have started for me again, so I will be spending more time with Plato and less with Mario.  Before things get too crazy,  I wanted to share some more thoughts and pictures as I’ve been re-discovering the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2.  Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to play any of these games on my modern television set without an adapter.  I want to be sure to include a picture of it.  Again, it is just a small piece of metal that I can plug in a composite (RCA) cable into, then I screw the other end into the back of the TV where the cable box would go.  I wonder sometimes where I would go if all the Radio Shacks went out of business.  Ebay or Amazon I guess.

RCA to Coaxial Adapter

RCA to Coaxial Adapter

What is it actually like to play games on the CoCo2?  I took a few shots of my friend Squiggly when he was playing Demon Attack.  You can see that playing games on the Color Computer is similar to how we play games on PC’s today.  He is relatively close to the monitor and the the immersion.  It is not like playing a console game in the living room.

Gameplay on the CoCo2

Gameplay on the CoCo2

I also wanted to get a close up of the joystick “in action”.  The analog joystick is small and boxy with a single button.  It is relatively comfortable to hold and play games, but it makes me appreciate the modern joysticks of our current gaming era.  They are much more ergonomic.  I would probably rate the XBox 360 game controller as one of the best designs ever.  This Radio Shack joystick is it’s great grandpa.  Sort of like the Ford Model T before the Corvette.

Holding the Joystick

Holding the Joystick

One of the features of the CoCo2 was color.  It arose from a generation of TRS-80 computers that were monochrome only.  Now, I have great memories of playing games with huge white pixels on a black screen.  The color computer’s ability to display 8 colors at the same time was pretty amazing.  The screenshot below is from the boss battle screen in Demon Attack and I think it does a great job of demonstrating the color capabilities.  Try to count the number of colors!

Look at all the pretty colors!

Look at all the pretty colors!

I have a new game that I want to share called Canyon Climber.  It is a 2D platformer much in the spirit of the Donkey Kong arcade game.  It was released about one year later than Donkey Kong.  In the game, you are a little person and it is your job to climb out of the canyon.  For Level 1, you have to plant charges at the end of each bridge and then plunge the detonator to destroy the bridges.  There are antelopes or mountain goats trying to stop you.  This level has the feel of the Donky Kong level with the fireball where Mario is jumping over rivets to make the girders fall.

Things are gonna get blowed up real good

Things are gonna get blowed up real good

Level 2 for Canyon Climber looks almost like a direct ripoff from the initial Donkey Kong screen.  It just needs a giant gorilla at the top left.  There are no barrels, only American Indians or Native Americans shooting arrows at the main character.  He jumps over the arrows and climbs the ladders

A little like Donkey Kong

A LOT like Donkey Kong

The third level involves climbing the canyon and avoiding the bird droppings.  It reminded me of Donkey Kong Jr.  Getting up the last ladder is difficult because the birds are so close.  I died here and played no longer.  This leads to the question, “Is there a level after this one?”

Level 3 - more canyons and climbing

Level 3 – more canyons and climbing

Another game I played is called Temple of ROM.  It is a top down dungeon crawler in the classic sense.  I found that it reminded me of playing Rogue on the PC back in the day, but with better graphics.  It’s not really a compliment to the CoCo2 when I say that it has better graphics, because Rogue had no graphics.  I played Rogue using only ASCII characters and my imagination.  However, I think Rogue generated random dungeons and Temple of ROM does not.

A scene from Temple of ROM

A scene from Temple of ROM

The little person is trapped in a monster filled dungeon and he must use his sword (or is it a laser?) to vanquish the fiendish beasts.  But there are rewards for his actions with treasures such as diamond rings.  This game was pretty good until the bat showed up.  It’s hard to run from the bat, and it seems impossible to kill the bat.  I couldn’t get any pictures of the bat because there was too much running and dying.

Fire and a blurry thing that I think is a monster

Fire and a blurry thing that I think is a monster

I have to give a shout out to the game, Springster.  I’m sure that it’s a great game but I was never able to get it to work.  I even blew on the cartridge like I do with my NES.  However, playing no game at all would have been better than playing Spidercide.  Spidercide is an example of game designers taking two good game concepts and making a bad game out of it.  Some asked the question, “Hey, what if we took all of the puzzling fun of the arcade game Qix and combined it with the great spaceship controls of the arcade game Asteroid?”  The end result was not pretty.  The spaceship is virtually impossible to control with joystick, so you find yourself constantly flying in circles.  Meanwhile, the line producing enemy speeds around the screen with a zig here and a zag there.  Eventually it runs into you and you die.  I felt like a fish out of water, flopping around an electrical torture chamber.  Fun!

Qix and Asteriods produce a monster love child

Qix and Asteriods produce a monster love child

Before I put the Color Computer 2 away in it’s box, I would like to try some of these games again.  I would like to find out if there is a level four in Canyon Climber (I’m sure I could find the answer to this question on Youtube.com, but it’s just not the same as finding out for myself.  I would like to put in Temple of ROM one more time and perhaps play more patiently than I did.  But most of all, I would like to play Demon Attack.  That was hands down the best experience for me on the CoCo2.  Thanks for going on this short journey into computer and gaming history with me.

VGT – How A Microsoft Surface Saved Me from the Brink of Death

Today is a special day!  My blog is also being posted on another great website: theologygaming.com.  Check out some of the many great entries that Zachary Oliver has been writing!

There I was, laying on the couch and struggling to breathe.  Congestion clouded my brain and fever raced through my system.  Well, maybe I didn’t have a fever – but I did feel extremely horrible.  It was just a bad cold but I know that there seems to be some flu and cold bugs floating around lately.  How was I on the brink of death?  I wasn’t able to find or play any video games during my four days of sickness!

At first it didn’t matter but after a two days I had viewed every movie or TV show that I ever cared to watch on Netflix.  I even watched two episodes of My Little Pony for goodness sake.  That doesn’t make me a brony.  I didn’t have the mental aptitude to play Assassin’s Creed 3.  Conner is trying to save his village from destruction (again) and that requires careful thought, planning, and various skills with blades – so that game was out.  Then I thought, “My iPhone, maybe that will save me.” – but the screen is too small and isn’t everybody getting tired of their iPhone these days?  It’s kind of funny but now when I see someone using the new Samsung Galaxy phones – at first I thought it looked ridiculous with such a large phone, but now, I look at my iPhone and it looks so small, so insignificant.  That’s marketing for you.

My Windows 8

My Windows 8

Then I saw it on the corner of my ottoman, my Microsoft Surface sitting there like a neglected friend.  Sure, when I bought the Surface I was just curious and I wanted to experience Windows 8.  It’s been a largely positive experience and I love learning new operating systems – seriously, I do.  But I just haven’t been able to love the device.  There’s nothing wrong with it, I just feel like Microsoft is trying to catch up to Apple iPad and they have a long way to go.  At first there weren’t many apps in the Windows 8 store, but the amount of downloads have picked up lately.  So I explored the Windows store and came across two old friends – available for free download.  My old friends were Microsoft Solitaire Collection and Minesweeper.  They were the perfect types of game for my Dayquil addled brain to play – and I was able to at least move one finger. Why weren’t these two Microsoft game staples already on my Surface?  Well, they just weren’t ready yet.  Perhaps the developers needed some extra time to make the games work better with Windows 8.  But now, both games have grown up since the days I played them on a 386 running Windows 3.1.  Both games instantly connected me to my Xbox Live account. Even though I don’t play online with my Xbox 360, I still have an active account and it is nice to know that I can earn achievements while playing these simple games.

No solitary confinement here

No solitary confinement here

For Solitaire, you are given the option of selecting from a wide variety of themes.  I chose a Western theme.  While the game was dealing from a deck of worn cards, I even heard horses neighing in the background.  I have always enjoyed the standard Klondike version but recently have started playing Spider.

Spider with a western theme

Spider with a western theme

Controls are simple and sensible – you use your finger to drag cards to where you want them to go.  The Daily Challenges are a lot of fun too.  There are three per day, and they are all challenging but solvable  – and there is no limit on attempts.

More than just a facelift

More than just a facelift

But Minesweeper saved my life.  Arkadium games  somehow took this simple game and gave it a facelift.  You can play it the same way you always have, but I was sucked into the Minesweeper Adventure.  In this game, you are a little explorer in a dark, treasure-filled cavern and you need to get to the exit.  The cavern is filled with gold, treasure, maps, weapons, enemies, and mines of course.  I played that game for a full hour without even noticing how miserable I was feeling. That’s the magic of a good game.  That’s the magic of a good movie or a good book as well.  Stories, games, and adventures take you away from thinking about yourself for a while.

More than just minesweeping

More than just minesweeping

As many of you know, I am a seminary student.  I still have a full-time job working in computers and technology, but I decided almost two years ago to work on getting a Masters of Divinity.  I take one or two classes per semester.  What am I going to do with it?  I don’t know exactly, but throughout my life I have often found myself working with children.  I enjoy preaching to kids.  It is a lot more challenging than you may think and I often use games and stories to teach them and get a point across.

Wild Man Ted leading a children's church

Wild Man Ted leading a children’s church

When I think about it, I’m doing for children the same thing that Minesweeper and Solitaire have recently been doing for me.  For a short time, I want to get the listeners to stop thinking about themselves – to set aside their own lives for a moment and think about something new and different.

I think Jesus was a master storyteller.  People loved to listen to him because he talked about subjects they could relate to.  Imagine how a farmer might have felt, sitting on a hillside and listening to Jesus talk about a sower throwing seeds on the ground – what a great story!  Or perhaps to be a shepherd and hear Jesus tell a story about a shepherd leaving ninety nine safe sheep to go and search for that one lost lamb.  At the very least. a listener with the hardest of hearts would come away feeling entertained.  However, for those who “had ears to hear”, how much more did they gain as they heard words of life coming from the lips of Jesus?

VGT – Thankfulness

I may not have many video game references for this post.  I do plan on adding a new post soon as I continue to explore my TRS-80 Color Computer 2 and some of the games I have for it.

But as I write this morning, I am feeling so thankful.  I’m not entirely sure what brought the feeling on.  Perhaps it is because the sun has been streaming through the windows while I’ve been reading.

Maybe it’s because my men’s group has been revisiting The Shack.  If you’re not familiar with the book, it was a very popular Christian novel that came out back in 2008.  Some theologians praised it’s originality while others warned that it threatened orthodoxy.  I’ll let you judge for yourself if you would like.  It’s an inexpensive book and I recently purchased it for my Kindle for $3.99.

A picture of the shack from the book cover

A picture of the shack from the book cover

To summarize the story, the protagonist (Mack Phillips) has suffered a terrible loss – the kidnapping and death of his young daughter.  Three years after the tragedy, he receives a note in his mailbox that seems to have been sent to him by God.  The simple note invites him to spend the weekend with him at the shack.  This shack is the same remote building in the woods where searchers discovered the torn and blood covered dress that his daughter had worn.  Mack decides to go to the Shack and there he has an experience that forever changes him.

The strange thing is, I just finished reading the terrible tragedy in chapter four, in which Mack is going through his awful time of loss.  Yet I find myself feeling such thankfulness, and even a fullness of joy.  Some of you know that I went through a time of loss and sadness myself.  It’s when I look back and reflect on the past few years that I can start to see that God has been my constant companion through it all.  Through the times of brokenness and the times of restoration, I worship him.  He knows what suffering is.

Thankful for a creative space

Thankful for a creative space

Perhaps I’m also feeling thankful because a friend sent me an email because he would like for me to learn a new song.  He not only sent me a youtube link, but also sent a PDF with lyrics and chords.  I have been a casual musician for many years and I play both piano and guitar.  I love to sing and play worship songs.  I enjoy leading small groups in song, especially on a retreat or camping trip.  The song is called 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  Here is the video below.

It’s the final verse that gets me:

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

I’m just so thankful for all the good that there is in my life.  I’m not talking about material things.  I’m talking about people, I have family and friends everywhere.  I have a joy in the deepest part of me and a clear conscience when I go to sleep at night.  I have people like you who have taken time to read whatever I may write in my blog.  I’ve been discovering that there are more of you who think like me, people like Zachary Oliver and his website www.theologygaming.com  There are others too, but Zachary has been doing a great job of pulling us together by creating a Theology Gaming Group on Facebook and even starting a Podcast.  Good things are happening.