Before the Crash: Imagic, Behind the Scenes

During my random retro stumblings I happened upon a really cool video.  Ignore the screechy, terrifying singing at the beginning if you want (recommended, skip to 00:38):

  


I love the guy on the banjo in this film (or the playtester); I keep wondering what kids were watching this guy, thinking this would be the perfect job, when in a year all these guys may not have been working there any more due to a crash in the video game market.  The game you see them designing here is Wing War (I wrote up a profile here).  The fellows at Imagic had no idea what was going to hit soon after, as the video game industry crash of 1983 folded a lot of these small companies.

What's really neat about this video is just hearing about how much went into what, to our jaded eyes might seem like yet another primary color pixel fest.  The work they put into planning the animation, the background, and the concept of the world reminds me of the stuff I'm getting into now that I'm designing a game myself, wrestling with all these problems and potential features that might seem trivial.  As hard drives increase in size, and graphics seem limitless in their capacity to depict things, it's easy to forget how limited resources, software constraints and hardware constraints help foment creativity.  I don't think the 2600 was the ideal system to develop on, but it seems like there is still a lot of room for video games to grow, despite it having been more than 20 years since this video was filmed.

A prequel, of sorts
Wing War itself was a victim of the downturn, as it was never released for North American markets, but those of us from NA might recognize stuff like Cosmic Ark, Dragonfire, or Atlantis.

It's easy to overlook these old games, I often do, but I think these rare views behind the curtain help put things into perspective.  Not all game companies then probably put as much time into design philosophy as Imagic seems to, but that even seems to be the case now, as well.

See Atari Age for more information on Wing War, and Atari Guide apparently has a buggy video of actual game play, where the player doesn't know what the heck he or she is doing.

Anyway, the more I research about these old games the more I'm convinced that a lot of the games were rather simplistic not because the industry was primitive, but because the game-playing public on the whole wasn't ready or able to play a complex video game yet.  We tend to demand more detail, more fiddly bits, more complexity than we used to.  We've sort of collectively trained as a culture to have higher demands on our programmers. 

Some of the more complex Imagic games are relatively unknown, not because they were bad games necessarily, but because they were less popular in an already niche market because they were harder to get a handle on.  We're more willing now to delay gratification until we can master a game.  Back then I remember not liking a game too much that wasn't easy to just pick up and play, although I guess Star Raiders is still too complicated for some folks.
1 Comments
2 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

During my random retro stumblings I happened upon a really cool video.  Ignore the screechy, terrifying singing at the beginning if you want (recommended, skip to 00:38):

  


I love the guy on the banjo in this film (or the playtester); I keep wondering what kids were watching this guy, thinking this would be the perfect job, when in a year all these guys may not have been working there any more due to a crash in the video game market.  The game you see them designing here is Wing War (I wrote up a profile here).  The fellows at Imagic had no idea what was going to hit soon after, as the video game industry crash of 1983 folded a lot of these small companies.

What's really neat about this video is just hearing about how much went into what, to our jaded eyes might seem like yet another primary color pixel fest.  The work they put into planning the animation, the background, and the concept of the world reminds me of the stuff I'm getting into now that I'm designing a game myself, wrestling with all these problems and potential features that might seem trivial.  As hard drives increase in size, and graphics seem limitless in their capacity to depict things, it's easy to forget how limited resources, software constraints and hardware constraints help foment creativity.  I don't think the 2600 was the ideal system to develop on, but it seems like there is still a lot of room for video games to grow, despite it having been more than 20 years since this video was filmed.

A prequel, of sorts
Wing War itself was a victim of the downturn, as it was never released for North American markets, but those of us from NA might recognize stuff like Cosmic Ark, Dragonfire, or Atlantis.

It's easy to overlook these old games, I often do, but I think these rare views behind the curtain help put things into perspective.  Not all game companies then probably put as much time into design philosophy as Imagic seems to, but that even seems to be the case now, as well.

See Atari Age for more information on Wing War, and Atari Guide apparently has a buggy video of actual game play, where the player doesn't know what the heck he or she is doing.

Anyway, the more I research about these old games the more I'm convinced that a lot of the games were rather simplistic not because the industry was primitive, but because the game-playing public on the whole wasn't ready or able to play a complex video game yet.  We tend to demand more detail, more fiddly bits, more complexity than we used to.  We've sort of collectively trained as a culture to have higher demands on our programmers. 

Some of the more complex Imagic games are relatively unknown, not because they were bad games necessarily, but because they were less popular in an already niche market because they were harder to get a handle on.  We're more willing now to delay gratification until we can master a game.  Back then I remember not liking a game too much that wasn't easy to just pick up and play, although I guess Star Raiders is still too complicated for some folks.
Posted by Claude

Game developers say the same things now... Life does rhyme, how curious is that? Great find and good history, thanks for posting.