19 - Premier Manager

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On the rise and fall of the Premier Manager series of soccer management games — a former PC gaming juggernaut that lost its way amidst a shuffle of developers and publishers — and the part it played in the broader consolidation and homogenisation of sports games (of all kinds) over the past 20 years or so.See full show notes and episode player…

18 - Hogs of War

hogs-poster
Far from a mere "Worms in 3D", Hogs of War was its own breed of madness. Hear the story of how it evolved from a concept of "Command and Conquer with pigs", what made it such a well-designed satire, and how this underrated PlayStation game saw the funny side of serious global conflict.See full show notes and episode player…

17 - Super Mario Kart

Screenshot of the Rainbow Road track from Super Mario Kart
How Nintendo and its mascot created a genre, and a combat-racing franchise heavyweight, and in the process gave us a masterclass in game balance, with the best-selling 1992 Super Nintendo game Super Mario Kart.See full show notes and episode player…

16 - Sega Rally Championship

Sega-Rally-Championship
Sega Rally Championship changed everything for the racing genre, and the 1995 off-road arcade hit was an incredible game too. This is the story of its development, critical reception, and long-term legacy.See full show notes and episode player…

15 - The Boss Button

The boss key for 1982 game Bezare brings up a mock spreadsheet like the one here, which breaks down a household budget.
Before computers had proper multitasking support and quick shortcuts for changing apps, playing games when you're not supposed to be could be super risky. But if there's one thing that's been a constant in technology, it's that wherever there are computers, there are also games. And for a while, in the 1980s and 90s, many game developers actually put in a special key command that would bring up a fake productivity screen. This is the story of the rise and fall of the boss button.See full show notes and episode player…

14 - Lode Runner

A screenshot of Lode Runner for the Apple II
The story of how a terrible description of the Donkey Kong arcade game led to the creation of Lode Runner, one of the greatest games of all time and one of the earliest games with a built-in level editor. See full show notes and episode player…

13 - Girl Games, Inc.

On the 90s girl games movement, and its assault on the status quo of the video game market, featuring Girl Games Inc founder and former filmmaker Laura Groppe.See full show notes and episode player…

12 - Microsoft Games

Before something like the Xbox could ever hope to exist, Microsoft first needed to learn how to be a successful games publisher on the PC. This is the story — or part of it — of how Microsoft got games, featuring input from four key Microsoft Game Studios people — Ed Fries, Stuart Moulder, Ed Ventura, Jon Kimmich — and Age of Empires co-creator Rick Goodman.See full show notes and episode player…

11 - Bomberman

On June 11th, 2018, character designer and artist Shoji Mizuno passed away. He was a key figure back in the 1990s at the now-defunct Hudson Soft, a renowned Japanese games publisher — having directed art or design, or sometimes both, on more than a dozen games in the popular Bomberman franchise as well as providing original character designs for the Beyblade anime series.

Since this year is also the 35th anniversary of the release of the first Bomberman game on the MSX, I thought now would be a good time to look back on how the explosive puzzle franchise made its way into the world — and into the hearts of millions.See full show notes and episode player…

10 - Dogz

A screenshot of the
Frustrated by the unjustified furore that surrounded his tame interactive movie game, designer Rob Fulop turned to Santa for help. And with a clever business model he and his team at PF Magic invented a new kind of game, one in which you adopt and care for a digital animal — a virtual dog or cat, or something more exotic, with a personality and needs and quirks not unlike a real one.See full show notes and episode player…

9 - Midwinter

The title screen for Midwinter shows a man in armour overlooking a mountainside town or industrial complex that appears poised to explode.

On the late Mike Singleton and the importance of Midwinter and The Lords of Midnight, his two great works. After switching from high school English teaching to professional game development in the 1980s, Mike quickly rose to the top of the industry. His games pushed the limits of what was possible, and he routinely crafted worlds that were way ahead of their time.

Here, based on archival research and old magazine interviews, I present part of his incredible story.

See full show notes and episode player…

8 - The Tomb Raider grid (part 2)

Screenshot of Lara running
Continuing the story from Part 1, this is how the original Tomb Raider's grid-based engine/level editor impacted on the series, on Lara Croft's rise to fame, and on the shifting sands of blockbuster game development. This episode also discusses the place that such a grid system has — or might have — in game design today. Featuring input from former Core Design artists and level designers Heather Stevens and Andy Sandham as well as programmer Gavin Rummery.See full show notes and episode player…

7 - The Tomb Raider grid (part 1)

A screenshot of Lara doing a swan dive in Tomb Raider III

Every aspect of the original Core Design Tomb Raider series (and by extension the franchise's success post-Core) comes back to the grid that lies beneath it — the majority of the puzzles; the platforming; the cavernous chambers and ruins and outdoor areas that provide a sense of isolation, of solitude and discovery; and Lara Croft's iconic acrobatic movement style.

And yet it never would have happened if not for one pragmatic choice made by a programmer early in the game's development.

This is the story of how that came to be, and how it made Tomb Raider…well, Tomb Raider, based on interviews with Heather Stevens (née Gibson) and Gavin Rummery as well as my past work covering Tomb Raider's history as a freelancer.

See full show notes and episode player…

6 - ROM Hack

At the dawn of emulation and the World Wide Web, a group of fans discovered the Nintendo and Super Nintendo games that never made it over from Japan. One of them decided to hack into a few of these and translate them, unofficially, with help from some friends — starting with Final Fantasy II for the NES.

Featuring quotes from Steve Demeter, founder of one of the first fan translation groups, Demiforce, who was the driving force behind three high-profile ROM hacks — the Final Fantasy II and Radical Dreamers translation projects, and the Earthbound Zero prototype release.

See full show notes and episode player…

5 - FIFA 3DO

A screenshot of FIFA International Soccer for 3DO, showing a Brazilian player falling after a heavy tackle. The camera is positioned on the field, pointing towards the corner flag, and the crowd is visible in the background.
A story from the dawn of 3D sports games, and the forgotten link between the 16-bit isometric and 32-bit 3D EA Sports games — this is how FIFA 3DO transformed the way sport was represented in video games.See full show notes and episode player…

4 - Bug Salad

How a marketing guy at shareware game publisher Ambrosia Software ended up eating bugs in front of hundreds of people at Macworld New York 2000.
See full show notes and episode player…

3 - Color Cycling

This is the story of illustrator Mark Ferrari, whose artwork was so good it forced Lucasfilm Games to figure out how to make a graphics technique called dithering compress to fit on floppy disks — in the process winning awards and triggering the use of dither in the wider games industry — and who pioneered the use of two background illustration tricks that gave the illusion of animation. He became world-renowned for his colour cycling and palette shifting techniques, which could be used to make a single computer illustration appear alive.
See full show notes and episode player…

2 - Airfight

The story of the one of the earliest flight simulator games, Airfight, a favourite among the PLATO community back in 1973, based on an interview with its creator. Airfight was a multiplayer flight combat sim with wireframe graphics and real-time chat, and it was an influence on the first home computer flight simulator, subLOGIC's fittingly-named 1980 game Flight Simulator for the Apple II and TRS-80.
See full show notes and episode player…

1 - Race to the Bottom

In the early days of the iPhone App Store, game developers found themselves locked in a race to a $0.99 price point that none of them wanted to become standard. This is the story of how that happened, and how it affected mobile games going forward.
See full show notes and episode player…

   

The Life & Times of Video Games

A documentary and narrative-style podcast about video games and the video game industry — as they were in the past — and how they came to be the way they are today.