Who ya gonna call?

Ultrasound ghosts


I’ve written before about Gamelab — my personal favorite video-game designers on the planet. They’re the philosopher kings of the game world, producing stuff that is not only insanely addictive and artistically lovely, but often quite philosophical.

They just came out with their latest offering, Arcadia, and it’s a truly brilliant concept: You play four early-80s video games, simultaneously. It’s like the ultimate game for our multitasking, ADD world. Each individual game is really simple, but when you get all four going at once, the emergent complexity is really nutso. I can manage things pretty well on “easy” mode, but things get way too frantic on “normal”; I’m slightly terrified to try “expert”. (The game is online here at Shockwave.com.)

But what’s particularly brilliant about the game is how it riffs on the current trend for revisiting old-school video games. They games they’ve created — a pong-like tennis game, an Intellivision-style baseball game — are all note-perfect parodies of the early-80s greats. Those games have come back in vogue partly because their simplicity is refreshing; in the context of today’s supersophisticated RPGs and first-person-shooters with gazillions of controls, playing Pac-man is a blast of raw energy. It’s like putting on some Little Richard after having spent years listening to techo. But the Arcadia games are rather sly and jokey. There’s an adventure game called Jumpy McJump — a kind of hilarious riff on the phalanxes of crappy me-too sidescroller games that came out after Pitfall and Mario Bros. became hits. And there’s Strathreego (a version of the tabletop game “Connect Four”) with a little robot on-screen that “thinks” while it makes its move, in a cute nod to the “it’s alive! it’s a thinking machine!” wonder that greeted the first home computers.

But the most sly joke of all is the scoring system. In early games like Space Invaders, an alien ship was worth about 20 or 30 points; hitting a “bonus” UFO got you, like, another 100 points. An impressive high score on an early machine was something like two thousand points. But as time went on, games in the 90s started developing ridiculously higher and higher scoring systems, to the point where in today’s pinball machines, you get a half-million points every time you hit a single bumper. In Arcadia? After you play, go check out the top scores. The last time I checked, one of them was 22 quadrillion.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson