Monday, September 6, 2010

Study the past to learn about the present.

Digging deeper into the history of non-English video game journalism, today we're unearthing two of the oldest German monographs that deal with our favourite hobby.

Peer & Ulrich Blumenschein co-wrote Videospiele in 1982. The team of father and son made sure that the book was written well (Ulrich Blumenschein had worked for rennomated magazines such as Spiegel and Stern) but also knew what it was talking about. I only recently found this book when I decided to write about the other one ...

... Computerspiele, by Christa-Maria Sopart. This is from 1984, but I got it sometime during the early 90's at a bargain bin for 1 Deutsche Mark.

It's astonishing to see the many aspects where we've come an incredibly long way during the last thirty years, and even more astonishing to see how some things never change.

Videospiele was focused on Arcade games and home console, and understood itself mostly as a playing and buying guide. Even the introduction sounds like an economy advisor:

Gratulations ...

... dear reader! The few bucks you've spent for this paperback volume are well invested. For if you use these guide properly, you can save more than the price of the book in a short time. That applies to the young Arcade-Freak as the family dad, who plans to buy a video game console for home use or even a new cassette for his son.

So after ten pages of video game history (interesting how the book already saw the decline of the American industry in favor of the Japanese) it goes on with strategies for the most popular arcade games at the time. Today this section mostly delivers entertaining value for the German paraphrases to the English game titles and a few funny drawings of game scenes. A few examples:

Asteroids: Gefährliche Reise durch den Raum (Dangerous Journey Through Space)

Galaxian: Überleben is alles (Surviving Is Everything)

Defender: Entführungsdrama auf dem Planeten X (Abduchtion Drama On Planet X)

Berzerk: Der üble Otto (The Evil Otto)

Phoenix: Hitchcock im Weltall (Hitchcock in Space)

Donkey Kong: Der Affe und die Jungfrau (The Ape and the Virgin)

Oh, and not to forget the Seven Golden Rules of arcade gaming (These have longer text explaing the rules, I'm only translating the catchphrases):

Rule No. 1: Select a game that appeals to you and that still gives you joy after a few test rounds - and specialize to that game!

Rule No. 2: Assemble your own list of Questions while watching others play, and don't stop watching until it seems you've answered all your particular questions!

Rule No. 3: Examine the machine before you start! [this warns of inferior rip-offs with similar titles and the condition of the conrols]

Rule No. 4: Training brings Score!

Rule No. 5: Let others help you, when you can't cope with a difficult situation in your game.

Rule No. 6: Concentrate while playing!

Rule No. 7: Keep cool while playing!

After that follows a comparison of the four consoles available in Germany at the time and their games - Atari VCS, Intellivision, Phillips Videopac Computer G7000 (that's what the Odyssey II was called here) and the German console, Interton Electronic Video Computer VC 4000. It seems the latter was already out-of-date by the time the book was published, as it is rather neglected. There's no picture of the hardware, and no single screenshot of any game (only one picture of a game box).

For each available game there's a review, if you want to call it that, with a description of the game's mechanics, a sentence about "What caught our attention" and two scores, Spielwert (Game Value) and Gesamturteil (Overall Assessment), of which I don't quite get what's the difference, although the latter is sometimes one point below the former. The unit are once again german school grades.

"What caught our attention" is once again good for chuckles:

"Once again Atari didn't even manage to find an understandable German title for the game." Yars' Revenge (Die Rache der Superfliege)

"The spookhouse can be really frightening, you shouldn't give it to your kids in the evening." Haunted House (Das Spukhaus)

Not so scary: Haunted House

"Simple as Pong. The coloring is very nice." Super Breakout

"You'll need strong nerves." Astrosmash

"It pays to win; the explosion of the enemy battlestar is worth to see and hear." Star Strike

"When playing for a long time, the trigger finger starts to hurt." Weltraum-Armada

"If it wasn't only three field players per team, the illusion would be perfect" Fußball

"Funny how the spectators turn their heads after the ball." Tennis

"Not suited for a small screen. Only with 60-cm color TV are the details on the map overview properly recognizable." Flotteneinsatz (Sea Battle)

"Pong in 2D" Tennis

Interesting in a historical sense is an article on the future of video games, surprisingly cautious with wild speculations, but rather focusing on technologies that were in development at the time or new trends in the US, mentioned are talkie peripherals and Subroc-3D, the first "real" 3D arcade game based on similar technology as we know from the Virtual Boy. On the rise of independent developers (here meaning not what we call indie games today, but 3rd party developers like Activision):

For the video gamer this are of course great perspectives. He can more and more feel like the reader [of books], who is able to read any book with only one pair of glasses. Or with other words: he isn't pressed for a decision between this or that hardware system when buying his basic equipment.

But of course there also had to be:

It seems we are not far from laser light to create spatial images (Holograms) or language controlled computers in Telegames, anymore.

An early announcement for ET the game?
Atari has already teamed up with Steven Spielberg, the man who raised the science fiction film to a new level with his "Star Wars" series (sic!) and [Spielberg] made a contract with Lucasfilm Ltd., the best special effects studio in the world, which created the phantastic scenes for films like "Star Trek II", "Poltergeist" and "ET". Goal of the cooperation is to create novel Video-Games, that appear like a movie at the cinema, with life-like characters in realistic surroundings.

(Almost) at the end of the book stands the eternal question: "Video Games - A danger for young people?"

Question: Are video games addicting?

Answer: (...) Of course there are gamers that overdo it.
One could compare them to buyers of season tickets to the Fußballbundesliga [premiere league of soccer]. No one accuses them of any addiction.


Question: Shouldn't the young arcade machine fans spend their money for better things?

Answer: (...) There are many temptations in our sparkling, pluralistic world. Cigarettes. Bubble Gum. Pot ... video games seem to be a lesser evil here.


[after an answer mentioning the learning effects of video games]
Frage: I hope this learning effect doesn't apply to those "War Games"?

Answer: Whether anyone plays "War" is first of all a question of good taste. Parents should definitely make sure not to draw in again that kind of war toys through the back door that has long been banned and disappeared in other places. Program cassettes like "Blowing up dams" are certainly not suited as gifts for a child's birthday or christmas.

Yeah, Germany had/has a rather troubled relationship with the topic "war".

The video game companies are well-advised to follow the example of Mattel Electronics, who didn't even bring a game with the title "B-17 Bomber", that's freely available for home use in the US, to the german market. The task in this game consists of flying bombing attacks on a mass of land that clearly recognizably shows the shape and characteristics of Europe.

By the way the definition for "War Games" by the federal ministry of youth, family and healthcare quoted in the book is: "Entertainment games without profit opportunity [not sure how to translate that, it means no gambling], with which cruelty or acts of war are depicted or where technical appliances are used to simulate bursts [meaning lightguns]."

When watching and questioning real Arcade-Freaks in Hamburg or Munich, it quickly becomes evident that in case they should encounter a green man of Mars on the street after leaving their Arcade, they'd prefer to go have a beer with him instead of putting him down with a laser gun (where to get such a thing, anyway).

Oh, this is getting really long, and it's getting really late. Going to bed now, there'll be a closer look at Sopart's book in a few days ...

Atari Advertisement


  1. "If it wasn't only three field players per team, the illusion would be perfect" - Fußbal


  2. I really enjoy these looks into old video game magazines. The Atari age is something I missed altogether and is fun to see how people perceived video games at that point in time.

    As for Germany and "War Games", I had initially thought you meant WarGames, the movie with Matthew Broderick as a hacker. Anyway, it is interesting to note that Germany, as well as Australia, currently have the most stringent stance on violence in video games. It seems that stance has been consistent throughout the years.

  3. "Donkey Kong: Der Affe und die Jungfrau (The Ape and the Virgin)"

    Considering Germany's 'tastefull' pornography trade I'd imagine that title has been used a few times...

    Also the hudson mario ports article has incorrectly sized images :(

  4. As long as you're writing about German mags, how about doing a bit on 64'er, which I consider a genuinely important magazine? I think I've still got the issues at my parents' house where Chris Hülsbeck's "Shades" and Soundmonitor were published as type-ins, and the issue where Manfred Trenz placed third in a graphics competition (which lead to him being hired to do the graphics for Great Giana Sisters).

  5. I would if I could. To be honest, there's tons of home computer focused stuff worth talking about (ASM, Power Play, Amiga Joker and of course 64'er), but to be honest I don't own a single issue of any of those (well, I bought Power Play far later in the Windows age), so if I was to post on any of these, I had to get at least a few issues to read them. So any further posts heavily rely on my budget and my free time. Writing about mags I skimped through 20 years ago at my uncle's just doesn't cut it ;)

  6. Videospiele is for various reasons one of my all time favourite books (at first the Danish translation and today he German that I was lucky enough to find by chance). There is just something about it, the way it is written and the magical zeitgeist it elates that is very special.
    There is historical background (what was then history and what in time became), play guides, buying tips, reviews, speculation about the future and even moral discussions. What more can you ask from ~ 190 pages?! Well you get a good deal more. You get a glimse into the exitement, magic and truly great experiences that was had, when people was first able to control the content on their TV sets and dive into new, wonderfull strange worlds