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Discs based gaming and you – Luddites and grognards

posted on September 20th, 2007 by christian

I have something to admit. It will sound strange in this day and age, but I still get a bit weirded out playing games on optical media.

It really makes no sense, considering just how long I have been popping discs into trays to get my game on. My reasons are a combination of upbringing and perception, and if you’re bored or curious, I’d like to share them with you.

Reason One – Music

Very early on, when CD’s were becoming mainstream, I was young enough to make the false assumption that they were like cassettes and vinyl before them, intended only for playing music. Of course, young Christian had never played with a computer using a tape drive, so I was wrong on two accounts. In any case, thinking of a CD as a storage medium rather than as a vessel for music took a little while, but I came around eventually.

Reason Two – I’m a computer guy

The one place that I have never felt weird about using CD’s for non musical purposes was the PC. I think this was due to the fact that I have been hugely interested in computing since my family’s old Commodore 64. Even back then I had a loose grasp of the idea of software as something that was written and executed. When CD’s started being used for software, I finally wrapped my mind around the storage idea. Yes they could hold music, but they could also act like really big floppy discs. When I installed a game on the PC, it was just copying files onto the hard drive. Of course, this is a gross simplification of how things work in a computer, and I never took much stock in the fact that the CD still had to stay in the drive for reading things like video clips, but at the time this is how I saw it.

I couldn’t do the same for classic gaming consoles. They had no hard drive, their CD drives were slow, their CPUs weak (though still better than my 486). How in the world could they just read and process all that data on the fly? I had a hard time buying it, and it took actual learning for me to accept CD based consoles.

Reason Three – Multimedia

Remember “Multimedia”? Of course you do, unless you are in the age range of 12 – 15, in which you are just about as old as multimedia. For everyone else, surely you have memories of this ridiculous movement brought on by the compact disc. It brought us encyclopedias that were more worried about showing us low grade video clips and half assed games than they were actual text. So much junk software throughout the 90’s. And of course it permeated into game consoles.

Unfortunately the Sega CD did a lot of damage in this regard. I know there are some legitimately good games on the platform, but its junk made me wonder if CDs meant an era of predominantly bad FMV games where the interaction was anything but. Then there was the 3D0, which took the multimedia angle even further with educational and non game software. Myst proved that people wanted pretty pictures as much or more as traditional gaming goodness, and I feared that the CD would usher in a terrible new era. Nevermind the fact that I never considered that Myst only spawned a genre of knockoffs, while PC gaming trudged on its normal path unscathed. For some reason I was still afraid of the fate of the consoles.

Reason Four – Sony

Since the beginning of their console history, I have always felt that Sony brought a cold, utilitarian feel to gaming. Time was when I could turn on a console and the game started up immediately. Eventually I would be treated to the welcoming feel of the Dreamcast bootup and the fairly nice bootup of the Xbox 360. They make me feel comfortable and excited to play some games.

Now go boot up a Playstation. What do you see? “Sony Computer Entertainment” with a logo that looks like it belongs on a VHS box. What do you hear? A blaring jingle that makes you feel like the text should instead read “this film is THX certified”. Why does the PS2 look like a space heater or an old piece of 80’s hi-fi equipment? Until the arrival of the “sexy” PSP, everything about the Playstation experience evoked the feeling of generic electronics. It made the game console a tool, rather than a toy, and as great as that sounds for kids desperately trying to prove their maturity, it never clicked with me. Since the Playstation helped to legitimize CD based consoles, I have always associated CD based gaming with Sony’s cold, hard image.

Of course, if you want something tangible, you need only look at the discs. Notice how every Playstation game features the Compact Disc logo on the label. Notice how some PS1 games look like early CD’s – all silver with black text. PS2 games continued that tradition with the DVD-Rom label. I thought that was some sort of requirement to put these logos somewhere on the disc, but I have discovered that this is not the case. A few Saturn and Sega CD games have the Compact Disc logo on the disc or the case, but thanks to perusing Jay’s mighty game library, I discovered that many of them didn’t. They had colorful labels and logos. They looked something like an actual game. Wii and Xbox games are a on DVDs, and the DVD logo never appears. Again, to me they look like games. Only Sony finds it necessary to make its products feel like just another entertainment commodity.

And that is why I still feel weird playing disc based games.

Ultimately none of this matters. My PS2 library dwarfs all other consoles. Carts don’t instantly make a game better. The “warm fuzzy feeling” coming from old Nintendo and Sega games is all in my head. But dammit, I don’t buy modern music and I only pick up choice DVDs. Games are my hobby, my comfort food. I like that warm and fuzzy feeling, a feeling that only books can give me more of. Even in this crazy modern industry that I so often complain about, that feeling of fun and happiness makes it all worthwhile.

Please, don’t take it away from me.

16 Comments

  1. TrueTallus said on September 21, 2007:

    The Gamecube’s little xylophone startup jingle is probably my favorite boot up sequence, though I admit I always thought the PS1 startup sounded mysterious and powerful instead of cold and uninviting. As far as media logos go, I too have always thought the DVD/CD emblems where required. Interesting. Any idea if Sony puts UMD and Blue-Ray logos on as well?

  2. christian said on September 21, 2007:

    I think there is a UMD logo, and probably Blu Ray. I really wonder what the rule is for logos – as the Wii in particular doesn’t seem to give a jack shit about them aside from the console box itself.

    Maybe cold and uninviting is not the best way to describe the PS1 startup. I just don’t get the feeling when starting it up that I’m about to play a game. It sounds like something that’s letting me know I’ve got Dolby support.

    It also seems to be one of the longest startups I’ve seen. The PS2’s is about the same I guess, though I can tell that its length is also determined on how long it takes to read the disc, which I’ve seen on some older machines to be quite a long time.

  3. jay said on September 21, 2007:

    I miss cartridges. A friend of mine in grade school left his copy of Toejam and Earl in his backyard for over a year. When we found it we brushed off some moss, blew in it and it still worked.

    Add durability to instant loads and the ability to save without a harddrive and you have a far superior medium than optical formats. You know, assuming you only play 16MB games.

  4. christian said on September 21, 2007:

    I wanted to talk about my love of carts here, but that sounded like it might be better for another post.

    In a nutshell – carts define gaming for me. Nothing else really used them, and I always got a better rush of excitement from a new cart. Plus the instant load times and saving, yeah.

    Also, I tend to lump lots of things into this category, from Atari games to the NES to the Genny to HUcards.

  5. Tony said on September 21, 2007:

    “Wii and Xbox games are a on DVDs, and the DVD logo never appears”

    That’s because they don’t conform to the DVD-ROM standards set forth by the DVD Forum, thus they can not bear the DVD-ROM logo. PS2 games do conform to the DVD-ROM standards, thus that’s why they have the DVD-ROM logo.

    “Wii in particular doesn’t seem to give a jack shit about them aside from the console box itself.”

    As I stated, the Wii’s drive does not conform to DVD-ROM standards, thus they are not required to display the logo. However, if they do add DVD Video playback in the future, that logo is required to be there because they licensed the technology from the DVD Forum.

  6. jay said on September 21, 2007:

    Thanks for the info, Tony.

  7. christian said on September 21, 2007:

    Hell yeah that’s pretty great, but that’s strange then that the Xboxes play DVDs and don’t conform to standards.

    And now for a snide Sony jab – I find it ironic that Sony is so standards compliant with their consoles when their music CDs are full of DRM and rootkits that put them farther and farther away from the CD standard.

  8. Stefan said on September 21, 2007:

    With regard to the “computer guy” reason, other audio media had been used with computers for some time before CDs came around. Lots of the 80’s home computers had tape drives, so I think it might have been something we were used to. It was still fundamentally an audio disk in my mind, but if you could store data on an audio tape, why not a CD?

  9. Tony said on September 21, 2007:

    “I find it ironic that Sony is so standards compliant with their consoles when their music CDs are full of DRM and rootkits that put them farther and farther away from the CD standard.”

    They don’t use DRM or rootkits on their CDs.

  10. Tony said on September 21, 2007:

    Sorry for the double comment, but I forgot to respond to this:

    “Hell yeah that’s pretty great, but that’s strange then that the Xboxes play DVDs and don’t conform to standards.”

    They do play DVD video, but only with the addon pack. The only reason they have that pack is so they can get the fees for DVD Forum’s licensing of DVD Video technology.

  11. christian said on September 21, 2007:

    “They don’t use DRM or rootkits on their CDs”

    They very much did at one point. Quite a fiasco that I followed closely.

    Of course Sony is such a huge company that their music dept. is not the same as their gaming dept. But on a whole the company has always been about control and proprietary products. The fact that the Playstation line is so standards compliant is a bit baffling, though it seems to be due to market pressure if anything, the same pressure that caused their line of music players to finally support MP3 rather than only ATRAC 3.

  12. bruce said on June 24, 2008:

    “They don’t use DRM or rootkits on their CDs”

    Well, not anymore they don’t, not after the bitchslap they got for trying it.

    christian : Your remark about the design of the Playstation brings up an interesting point. As the audience for videogames has aged, the consoles have tended to looks more and more like appliances or “devices” rather than toys. The Wii, oddly enough, probably epitomizes this aesthetic to the largest degree, I think Nintendo was going after the Apple school of design with it. I’m not complaining, just observing.

  13. Wesley said on June 24, 2008:

    My dislike of optical media gaming is far more pragmatic. I want everything to be digitally distributed onto a hard drive, so we get far more reliable consoles with no moving parts, considerably shorter load times, and not having to force my lazy ass to get up and change the disc. To me, Steam & XBLA are the best thing to happen to gaming since the analog stick.

  14. TrueTallus said on June 24, 2008:

    When did you get into gaming, Wesley, if I might ask, and on what platform? I’ve heard similar praises for the digital age from friends who are either young enough in the hobby to have come to expect gaming to be user friendly (blasphemy!) or so hard bitten and savvy from PC gaming that nothing else will do.

  15. Wesley said on June 25, 2008:

    Sega Genesis & Doom on an old DOS packard bell are my humble origins (although I dabbled alot with the NES’s of friends and relatives). So I grew up with instant load times and typing two words to boot up a game. When the PS1 came around, I was suddenly waiting 5 minutes just to make it through all the splash screens and menus to start playing. To me, Steam & XBLA are a throwback to the good ol’ days. If I want to play Rez or Audiosurf, 3 clicks and less than a minute later and I am.

    Also, blowing dust out of cartridges >>>>> disc read error.

  16. Stefan said on June 25, 2008:

    @bruce

    You just reminded me. Remember when the wii was going to come in a bunch of different colors, with the others being launched shortly after they opened with white? I’m guessing that was put on hold due to the fact that they couldn’t keep up with demand for the white ones. Still, the plan to offer it in different colors to match people’s interior design is a really good indicator of that “appliance” mentality you mentioned.

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