Posts Tagged ‘star wars’

The Origin of it All

It was the fall of `92.  We had just arrived in the country and needed to buy a PC for my grad school work.  We opted for a mighty 386 computer (and sprang for the 40Mhz rather than the 33) and after considerable soul-searching had a ridiculously excessive 1Mb video card installed (how good was this machine?  When I discovered Doom a couple of years later, much of the game played as a blinking, growling, slideshow accompanied by the occasional delayed weapon blast).  I don’t even remember how we found the particular machine, probably through the newspaper (we were young and stupid).  At any rate, it began having some issues pretty quickly.  So I took it back to the rent-a-box place where we’d bought it, somewhere in the anonymous light industrial depths of the city of Orange.  The sales person wasn’t at all happy to see me but quickly established, as I’d suspected, that the motherboard was defective and offered to replace it for me while I waited.  Then he sat me down in front of another PC with an attached joystick and started up a game called Wing Commander.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been encouraged lately by the thought that even though the world of game design has, on the whole, proven stubbornly resistant to learning from its mistake (mainly due to a collective memory that makes an ADHD ant appear to be a fount of oracular wisdom) some improvement is nevertheless possible.  I’ve been quite impressed with the Bioware’s preparations to try and ensure that the launch of the massively hyped Star Wars: The Old Republic will not be an unmitigated disaster.

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George Lucas

Really? Haven't you done enough? (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Or, Lucas, You Smug Self-Satisfied Bastard, Stop Ruining my Childhood

If you are like me you were probably plunged into the same bottomless black pit of intestines-extracted-through-the-nose despair at the recent announcement that George Lucas is going to be releasing the Star Wars trilogy (and three other marginally related movies) in 3D.  This is disturbing on a number of levels.

It is, first of all, further evidence that there is nothing Lucas will not do to wring the last shekel out of the Star Wars franchise.  In addition, he is still laboring under the delusion that there are more than three Star Wars movies.  Therefore the 3D(e)ification of the Star Wars franchise will begin with The Phantom Menace (which, by the way, I am going to copyright as the title for Lucas’s biography).  Releasing that movie in the first place was a bad idea.  Re-releasing it in any form is simply a terrible idea.  A turd in 3D is still a turd, only now it is disturbingly lifelike and sitting much too close to your face.

The aspect of this I find most distressing, however, is that it proves that even someone as apparently savvy about movie history as Lucas really doesn’t know jack about movie history.  When it comes to the potential of 3D for movies and electronic games–and it is a technology that I believe has great potential in both these areas–this is very bad news.  It indicates, in fact, that most people have missed the fundamental lesson of the juggernaut that kicked all of this off, James Cameron’s Avatar.

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It was a line I fell in love with the first time I heard it. 

There’s a moment in Alan Parker’s completely over-the-top but also strangely subtle Angel Heart (1987) where Robert De Niro’s Lucifer cooly informs Mickey Rourke’s character: “The future is not what it used to be, Mr. Angel.”  The line–which many have attributed to French poet and critic Paul Valery–makes sense in the context of the film, where a man discovers that everything he thought he knew about himself is frighteningly wrong.  Our sense of who we are, let alone our sense of our future potential, who we might become, is completely dependent on our sense of who we have been.  This is true not just for individuals, but for developments in art, science. . .pretty much anything, really.  Writers from George Orwell to Milan Kundera have understood this clearly: control people’s perception of the past and you control their future.  Potential is based on memory.

Angel Heart explores what happens when our memory can’t be trusted.  But what if you have no memory at all?  You get the world of game development.

A Sitting Duck

Recently I found myself missing inhabiting the Star Wars universe, so I decided to re-install X-Wing Alliance (1999), the last in he series of superb space combat simulators produced by Lucasarts and Totally Games.  I’d run the game under XP before so wasn’t anticipating any problems.  I fired the game up, jumped straight into combat. . .and the problems began.  Any time I tried to target an opposing ship, my cross-hairs disappeared, as did the enemy ships.  All my weapons refused to fire. . .which didn’t stop anyone else being able to fire at me.  A little bit of research led me to the fansite X-Wing Alliance Upgrade where I learned that these are relatively common problems experienced by people with more recent Nvidia graphics cards (and when I say “recent” I do not in any sense mean “cutting edge”).  This is but one of a whole host of problems experienced by people trying to run the game, some of them related to graphic capabilities, others to problems with newer operating system architectures.

The good news is that there may be a fix, at least for my issues (I haven’t tried it yet).  It comes courtesy of a person who obviously has way more diagnostic talent and programming know-how than I and who has produced a series of patches, many of which involve hacking the actual executable files of the game.

What I have described here, however, is an all-too common experience for people trying to run older games.  And one common response from gamers (one that cropped up a couple of times on the X-Wing Alliance boards) is along the lines of “Dude, it’s a ten-year old game.”  But the more appropriate response should be “Dude, it’s only a ten-year old game.”

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