Microsoft "Doubles Down" on PC Gaming?

File this one under “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

This Kotaku story does have some interesting points.  Next month’s relaunch of the Games for Windows Marketplace is a good thing for PC gaming, particularly since digital delivery is the future of all electronic media. And although the idea of a cross-platform gaming between Xbox and PC platforms really never amounted to much, another attempt will be nice, if not particularly vital.

The most comical part of the Kotaku story, however, is the reference to the “tremendous line-up of computer games” for 2010. I searched in vain for some idea that this was meant ironically, but no: I think the writer is serious. He goes on to say that “computer gaming isn’t just still around, it’s making a resurgence,” and cites … 3 sequels, 3 ports, and an expansion set as proof. (And he doesn’t mention the most exciting part of PC gaming this year: Minecraft.)

I guess it’s a kind of “resurgence,” if you redefine what that word means. My writing career parallels the entire rise and fall of computer gaming, so I remember when there were hundreds of releases in a year. In a way, there are still hundreds of releases, if you count casual and Java games, which also migrate to mobile phones and other platforms. But the big-ticket games that drove the PC gaming boom have simply vanished. We put out a 300-page issue of PC Gamer one Christmas during those heady days of the 1990s. We didn’t do it based on an average PC-gaming output of 0.5 releases per month.

The muscular years of hardcore PC gaming are not about the return in the midst of a full-blown recession-bordering-on-depression. That’s just crazy talk.

CONTEST ENDS TODAY: Bejeweled Photo Frame

Zombie hand not included
We have a heavy metal (as in the actual heavy metal kind, not the Black Sabbath kind) picture frame encrusted with real fake jewels. These frames are pretty rare, actually. PopCap produced some to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Bejeweled, but they were never sold.

To enter, all you have to do is:

1. Share a link (even this one) or follow State of Play via:
Please note: if you already follow us on Google, RSS, Twitter, or Facebook, just let me know that you’d like to enter, and please do a retweet or some other kind of link share.


2. Let me know you want to enter. Do this in any of the following ways:
  • Leave a comment.
  • Tweet me @StateOfPlayBlog
  • Post a message on the State of Play Facebook Page
  • Send an email to “” (replace the =at= with @) to have your name entered.  
  • Please don’t forget to do one of these things or I won’t know you’ve entered!
Deadline is Monday, October 25!

I’ll choose winners by the scientific process of writing names on little pieces of paper and pulling them out of my Mario hat.


COLONIAL GAMING: Other Board Games

Ben Franklin’s Chess Set

Colonial Americans knew most of the ancient board games familiar to us today. Some were more popular than others due to various factors. To appeal to Colonials, games had to be easy to play and fairly sociable. They needed to play quickly so that many rounds could be squeezed into a single evening. This was almost certainly related to gambling, since games that played quickly allowed for faster turn-over and more chance to wager, even if it was just for miniscule pots. Finally, gamers of the 18th century preferred chance over strategy. Their passion for cards and dice was very high, while games that lacked this random element tended to bore them.

Chess, for instance, was considered exceptionally boring. Charles Cotton, author of The Complete Gamester (1674) found it tedious and “more difficult to be understood than any other game whatever.”

Due to its length and reliance on skill rather than chance, it also makes a very poor gambling game, which certainly added to its unpopularity. There were surely a number of chess sets in America in the 18th century, but oddly enough only a few survived, including two owned by Thomas Jefferson and one by Ben Franklin.

Franklin almost certainly was the man who brought Chess to America. He was playing by 1733, and wrote an important essay on the game. His efforts to popularize it didn’t spread far beyond members of the Franklin’s American Philosophical Society, however.

Checkers (Draughts) 
Although it was also known to the colonists, Checkers was as unpopular as Chess. The rules in use would have been similar to English Draughts. These are the same rules we use today in Checkers, rather than the rules for Spanish or French Draughts, or other variations.

Whatever they called it, it wasn’t nearly as popular as it was to become later.

The game does show up in Virginia court records, however. In 1679, Mr. John Edwards and a servant were arrested and put before the grand jury because they played Checkers on a Sunday.

Backgammon had a bit of a following in the Colonies for a simple reason: it used dice, which promised chance, which meant it was a good game for betting. Many Backgammon tables appear in Colonial inventories, and Backgammon games (and monetary losses) are mentioned in many diaries of the period. Thomas Jefferson played, and would win or lose several shillings in a session.

In Colonial Virginians at Play, Jane Carson describes the variants used at the time:

In the French versions, tric-trac or tick-trac, all the men started from the ace-point and penalties were different. Sice-ace was a modification for five players, each using six men. In dubblets the fifteen men used were placed differently on the tables, and in ketch-dolt all the men were piled in the center of the board. 

Although very popular in France, Dominos didn’t make any impression in America until the 19th century. In 1801, it was still considered a “childish sport” by one writer of the time, who also noted that it “could have nothing but the novelty to recommend it to the notice of grown person in this country.”

App O’ The Mornin’: Catapult Madness Review

Grade: F
Price:  free

I know that the word “free” has a powerful appeal. I get that, really I do.

But sometimes even free isn’t enough to justify something’s popularity. I’m not sure why Catapult Madness has been squatting atop the Free Apps charts for the past week. I’d love to see the number of downloads compared against a more relevant statistic, such as “time on device.” I’m betting Catapult Mania would appear on some other charts, such as “Fastest Deletion” or “Most Likely to Make You Want to Kick the Developer in the Face.”

This is kind of your basic ballistic app, only lacking anything that might make it interesting or appealing. Your task is to fling a peasant as fas as possible using a catapult. The trigger control is basic powerbar combo: hit one button to set the power of the throw, and another to set the angle. It’s not too hard to land your taps right in the sweets spots for maximum power and ideal angle.

The peasant starts flying through the sky, end over end. Let me tell you something: this is one of the most unappealing animations I’ve ever seen in an app. The spinning peasant gave me a headache after about 3 seconds. The little cartoon character just spins around and around, slowly coming to earth only to bounce again and again. Sometimes it hits objects that increase its bouncing and thus the total distance traveled.

At certain points, you can apply various boosters, such as bombs, magic, wings, and flatulence to help extend the total distance. The goal is to get the longest distance possible, with an unlimited mode unlocked at 50,000 feet. Along the way, you earn money to buy more powerups to increase your distance. Although traveling long and far is the prime objective, the game is so horrible to look at that you don’t even want the sucker to keep going.

Look, I like throwing things as much as the next guy.  Sometimes I just wander around my yard throwing stuff until the nice men bring me the thorazine–because that’s just how I roll. The desire to fling lies at the heart of Angry Birds and many other fine apps.

And you know what else lies at the heart of Angry Birds and many other fine apps? A freakin’ game, that’s what.

Oh, and it crashes. A lot. Please don’t tell me this has to do with my memory. I run all my review games with a clean boot. This thing doesn’t need memory problems to make it crash. The programming code is probably so appalled at being used for such a wretched purpose that it actually tries to flee in horror and shame.

I almost gave this one a D because the background art is okay. And then I thought: I’m actually giving a full letter grade for background art that doesn’t quite rise the same level of incompetence as the rest of the production? Thus, the F.