The Video Game Revolution (2004)
by PBS / Greg Palmer
The Video Game Revolution examines the evolution and history of the video game industry, from the 1950s through today, the impact of video games on society and culture, and the future of electronic gaming.
For half of the American population, an examination of the past, present and future of video games might seem as relevant as a two-hour documentary about skate board wheels or a frank and open discussion of the Slinky. Video games? That's what spotty teen males wearing black t-shirts do in the basement, right?
Wrong. What that half of America might not know is that the other half of America is regularly playing video games. And it's not just kids any more. The average video game player — or "gamer" — is 30 years old. That gamer isn't feeding quarters into an arcade machine, either. He (and increasingly, she) is playing on a home computer, having adventures under a different name and identity in an eternally existing cyberworld full of danger, romance, and thousands of other people pretending to be somebody else.
And that home computer is ever more electronically sophisticated because it was designed in part to play games. Gamers are also playing on home consoles — Playstations, Game Cubes, XBoxes. They're just game machines now, but the powerful companies that make them expect their future home consoles will control not just games, but the television, PC, DVD — all the electronic information and entertainment we see.
Increasingly, that entertainment will be game-inspired. There used to be video games and movies. Then there were video games based on movies. Now there are movies based on video games. The video game industry has surpassed the movie industry in revenue, even though video games have been in existence for only about 33 years.
The Video Game Revolution examines first the history of games, beginning with a 1950s engineer named Ralph Baer who suggested that televisions should have on-screen game playing. Ralph's boss thought he was nuts. Then in 1972 an ex-circus barker named Nolan Bushnell produced "Pong", a bouncing dot that became the biggest thing to hit taverns since the beer nut. The Video Game Revolution features exclusive interviews with game-making pioneers, many of them still involved in game-creation, including Shigeru "Donkey Kong" Miyamoto, Jason "Crash Bandicoot" Rubin, Will "The Sims" Wright, Chris "Dungeon Siege" Taylor, Peter "BC" Molyneux and Megan "Nancy Drew" Gaiser.
Along with the people behind the games, Video Game Revolution profiles people in front of the games, including a couple that met and married as on-line characters and then met and married as themselves, and a classic game distributor and graduate of Cal's Coin College.
The Video Game Revolution is primarily an entertaining look at the world of games, but all is not fun and frolic in that world, and the program touches on that as well. Many games are extremely violent — and that violence is rewarded, which deeply concerns parents like program guest Pamela Eakes of Mothers Against Violence in America and legislators like Senator Joe Lieberman. Games can also be dangerously addictive, and are getting more so through continuous on-line playing.
The Video Game Revolution concludes with the future of gaming, including the possibility that some day our homes will have game rooms like the holo-deck in Star Trek: Next Generation — a completely exclusive game environment — or that a microchip inserted directly into the gamer will allow play without any external apparatus. As one game maker says in The Video Game Revolution, "The real model we're building is the one in your head, not on the computer."
The Video Game Revolution from KCTS/Seattle was produced by Greg Palmer and Marcie Finnila and written and hosted by Greg Palmer. Executive Producer is Enrique Cerna.
This is the story of how a whimsical invention of the 1960s helped spawn the computer industry as we know it. Video games have influenced the way children live and play, forever altered the entertainment industry, and even affected the way wars are fought. See how it all began and find out what it means for the future.
Over the past 30 years, video games have become an integral part of our culture, and the video game industry has become a multi-billion dollar behemoth. Follow the journey of video games from university laboratories to our living rooms.
The Best and Worst Video Games of All Time
Since the beginning of gaming there have been both memorable triumphs and spectacular failures. We asked some notable gamers to share their lists of hits and bombs.
By Steven L. Kent, Author of The Ultimate History of Video Games and The Making of Doom 3
1. The Legend of Zelda (the original for NES)
2. Super Mario World (Super NES)
3. Super Puzzle Fighter (arcade)
4. Tempest (arcade)
5. Metroid Prime (GameCube)
1. Waterworld (Virtual Boy)
2. Shadow: War of Succession (3DO)
3. Drake of the 99 Dragons (Xbox, PC)
4. Universal Studios Theme Park Adventure (GameCube)
5. Duke Nukem (game.com)
How a Game is Made
Making the Game
For most people, the video game experience starts at the store and ends on the couch. Few realize that creating a game can be as complex as making a Hollywood blockbuster. Months of planning and preparation, script writing, casting, character development, cutting-edge technology and massive computing power go into making games. To get an idea of how it all works, we visited Gas Powered Games, the Kirkland, Wash.-based creators of the popular Dungeon Siege series. The company was hard at work on the next installment in the series, Dungeon Siege II.
In the Beginning: Preproduction
Every game begins with a story. Often story ideas come from game designers themselves or are pitched by outsiders, but increasingly they are based on other forms of entertainment like popular movies. Other common sources are sequels or spin offs of existing games and simulations of real-world events. Once the basic game concept is decided upon, writers and artists work together on a storyboard. A storyboard consists of rough sketches and technical instructions sequentially organized to depict each scene of the game. It is a visual representation of the story and a reference for the writers, artists and designers just as it would be for a film. But while a film has a single storyline, a video game can have thousands of outcomes. Therefore various levels, or "worlds," of the game must be sketched out.
Creating the Characters
As the storyboard is made, designers begin to create the characters. Rough sketches of major characters are drawn and redrawn until they are perfect. It's important for the artists to refine the characters as much as possible at this stage because it will be costly to make changes later.
Once the character design is finalized, it's time to transform the sketches into controllable 3D characters. According to Steve Thompson, art director for Gas Powered Games, it takes about five days to design and program a character. The sketches are first scanned into the computer. Then, a digital exoskeleton is created to define the character's shape and to give the computer the control points necessary to animate the figure. The more detailed this exoskeleton is, the more realistic the motion of the character will be. Next, layers of "skin" are added, followed by layers of color and texture.
Putting It All in Motion
At this point, the character is basically a digital marionette. The game programmers bring this figure to life by instructing the computer to move the character. Several techniques can be used to do this, depending on the type of game and motion desired. In some games (not Dungeon Siege II), the motions of a human actor are captured using a special suit of sensors to represent the control points of the character's skeleton. These movements then can be mapped onto the character's skeleton to produce ultra-realistic motion.
The Game World
One of the most important aspects of modern game creation is the environment. Subtle touches like reflections in shiny surfaces and varied cloud patterns often go unnoticed by players, but they help create a much more immersive environment. And often such details can propel the story forward: for example, a twig snapping under a character's foot can signal approaching danger.
As the power of home computers rapidly increases, game developers are able to create ever more realistic and complex environments. Levels of detail that were unimaginable only a few years ago are now commonplace. It's hard to imagine the game worlds that await us in the future. The majority of 3-D objects created for computer games are made up of polygons. A polygon is an area defined by lines. Each polygon has a set of vertices to define its shape, and it needs information that tells it what to look like. The most commonly used method to transmit this information is "texture mapping."
You can think of texture mapping much like wrapping a present. Each side of the box being wrapped is a blank polygon and the "paper" is an image of the texture to be applied. Most video game consoles and computers contain a special chip and dedicated memory that store the special images used for texture mapping and apply them to each polygon on the fly. This allows games to have incredibly detailed 3-D environments that you can interact with in real time.
Unseen to the user, but making all of the game elements work together, is the code. Code is the set of computer language instructions that controls every aspect of the game. Most games are written with custom code based on the C programming language. A 3-D code engine is almost always used to generate the incredibly complex code necessary for all of the polygons, shadows and textures the user sees on the screen.
Another important aspect of the code is the artificial intelligence component. This is the logic of the game, and it also establishes the physics of the game world, detecting the interactions and collisions between objects and controlling their movement.
Once the game is complete, it enters the postproduction phase. This phase includes extensive testing, review, marketing and finally, distribution.
The job of the testers is to play the game repeatedly to find all the mistakes, or "bugs." Problems are prioritized in many ways, from "fatal" bugs which must be resolved immediately, to minor issues which may or may not affect the game's release. When a problem is discovered, a detailed report is sent back to the developers and the error is corrected.
The first version sent to testers is called the "alpha" version, and it is tested to detect any major flaws in the game while they are still relatively easy to fix. Once all of the major flaws are addressed, a "beta" version is released, often to a larger group of testers that sometimes includes the public. The beta version is exhaustively tested, fixed and re-released until the developers are satisfied that the game is ready for primetime.
Usually during this testing phase, a copy of the game is sent to the Entertainment Software Rating Board to be given a rating. These ratings are intended to give consumers an idea of the content of the game and its appropriateness for different age groups.
Games are big business. According to the Entertainment Software Association, a blockbuster game like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City can cost between $3 million – $5 million to develop, with an addition $10 million for promotion and marketing.
With so much money at stake, the publishers go to great lengths to hype their games. This begins early, often while the game is still being designed. Companies send their designers and public relations staff to trade shows and conventions all over the world to promote their latest games. Demonstration versions, or "demos," are sometimes made available for download from the Internet to offer a sneak peak, and theatrical trailers like those created for Hollywood movies are released. All of this is done so that buyers will be willing to spend $15 to $60 (or more) to be immersed in the imaginary world that that game designers worked so hard to bring to life.
The Video Game Revolution
Written and Hosted by Greg Palmer
Additional Material by Marcie Finnila
Photographed by Daryl Ondatje
Additional Photography: Greg Davis, David Ko, Tom Speer, Valerie Vozza
Edited by Valerie Vozza and Daryl Ondatje
Composer: Bill Kiley
Sound Design: Bill Fast
Art Direction: Lisa Moore
Graphic Design: Rodney Fehsenfeld
Executive Web Producer: Drew Ringo
Web Producer: Francine Strickwerda
Misty: Rachel Delacour
Big Ugly Misty: Bill Fenster
Associate Producers: Michael Bradbury, Michael Dolan, Aleah Tierney
Production Coordinator: Karin Basford
Unit Managers: Dawnelle Dutcher and Curt Weiss
Engineering: Corey Rosenberg, Bud Alger
Deliverables Coordinator: Mercedes Yaeger
Field Audio: Resti Bagcal, Mark Burkey, Merle Carey, Celeste Glende, Toby Higashi
Production Assistants: Tera Buerkle, Nicole Cukingnan, Shaylan Frazee, Dara Horenblas, James Kimberling, Jennifer Kolu, Ed Kusmana, Winnie Lo, Vicki Noon, Valerie Meiners, Steve Roberts
Studio Production: Fugate Holt, Viktoria Ralph
Camera Assistance: Todd Schmidt
EFP Assistance: Saul Rouda
Business Development: Jay Parikh
Legal Services: Monica Reisner
Press Relations: Pat Mallinson
Game Footage, Stills and Archive film Courtesy of:
The Article 19 Group Inc.
Ralph H. Baer
Blue Planet Software
Bluth Group LTD
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Computer Gaming World magazine archives
Gas Powered Games
Gray Matter Television
Matthew Henzel & Video Game Obsession
Intellivision Productions Inc.
Konami of America
NorthWest Classic Games Enthusiasts
River West Brands LLC
Seattle Post Intelligencer
Simon & Schuster Interactive
Sony Online Entertainment Inc.
Stagecast Software Inc.
TNT Amusement Inc.
Turbine Entertainment Software
EDSAC © Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. Reproduced by permission.
Vivendi Universal Games, Inc. All rights reserved.
Crash Bandicoot 1,2; Spyro: Year of the Dragon; and Way of the Warrior courtesy of Vivendi Universal Games, Inc. All rights reserved.
Ziff Davis Media Inc. All rights reserved.
Pong®, Adventure©, Asteroids® Deluxe, Breakout®, Combat®, Defender®, Missile Command®, Space War™, Steeple Chase™, and Yar's Revenge® interactive software games, and Atari® 2600 joystick footage, courtesy of and © 2004 Atari Interactive, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Pong®, Adventure TM , Asteroids® Deluxe, Breakout®, Combat®, Defender®, Missile Command®, Space War TM , Steeple Chase TM , and Yar's Revenge® interactive software games, and Atari® 2600 joystick footage, courtesy of and copyright 2004 Atari Interactive, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Atari ® logo and images, and Asteroids® Breakout®, Combat®, Gotcha™, Gran Trak 10™, Pong®, Tank™, Pole Position, Star Wars still images courtesy of Atari, Inc. © 2004 Atari, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Civilization® III © 2001 Atari Interactive, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Unreal® Tournament 2003 © 2002 Epic Games, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Enter The Matrix ™ © 2003 Warner Bros. and Atari, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission Atari® 5200 ™ console courtesy of Atari, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Footage from World of Warcraft®, Starcraft®, Starcraft® Ghost™, Warcraft® III: Reign of Chaos™, Warcraft®III Expansion: The Frozen Throne™, Diablo®, Diablo® II Expansion: Lord of Destruction™ courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment®.
Footage from Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom I – III, Quake I – III, Arena and Return to Castle Wolfenstein used under license from Id Software, Inc.
Philips' Magnavox Odyssey game images reproduced with permission of Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. All rights reserved.
Star Wars® & Indiana Jones game footage courtesy of LucasArts, a division of Lucasfilm Enterntainment Company LTD.
PAC-MAN® © 1980, Ms Pac-Man® © 1982, Pole Position® © 1982, Galaxian® © 1979 all Namco LTD. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Namco Holding Corp.
Image of a 1989 Sega console, Sega Saturn console, is made available courtesy of the Sega Corporation.
©Sega Corporation, Altered Beast, Frogger, Golden Axe, Helga, Mystic Defender, Sonic Spinball, Sonic the Hedgehog 1,2,3 and Streets of Rage. All Rights Reserved.
©2004 Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. All rights reserved for Crash Bandicoot: 1, 2; Spyro: Year of the Dragon; Jak II; Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando; Playstation One Launch.
Clips from Enter the Matrix used courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Special Thanks: Erica Delavan, DICE Summit, Edelman Worldwide, David Finnila, Gamer's Depot, Gameworks of Seattle, Gollin Harris Public Relations, the Happy Jack Fish Hatchery, Olympic Hotel, Steve Kent, Lee Krueger, LanWerX, MIT Media Lab, Tom Niemi, Marcus O'Farrell, Ned Palmer, David Rabinovitch, Hans Reutter, Tim Schall, USC, Washington Cease Fire
Production Manager: Nolan Lehman
Production Business Manager: Tula Urdaz-White
Director of Clearances: Charlesetta Taylor
Executive Producer: Rupert Macnee
KCTS Executive in Charge of Production: Enrique Cerna
Produced by Greg Palmer and Marcie Finnila