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Memories of the Twin Towers, World Trade Center and the Debut of the Sega Genesis

It’s hard for me to fathom — it’s been 22 years since I flew to New York City to cover the debut of the Sega Genesis video game system.

I had just started working for a magazine publisher based in Greensboro, N.C., developing and producing an entire line of instructional videogame tapes as an addition to the company’s line of video game and computer magazine business. Back then, when you talked about home video game machines, the original Nintendo Entertainment System ruled the roost, but it wouldn’t for long. Suddenly, Japanese arcade giant Sega was now challenging Mario with its new 16-bit Genesis system. The Genesis and its 16-bit processor bested the NES in almost every way: More realistic and fluid graphics, and action that more closely emulated arcades of the day.


The first shot in the 16-bit wars was fired when Sega openly challenged Nintendo with its 16-bit Sega Genesis video game system. 

On Assignment in NYC
The year was 1989. Another editor and I were sent to cover the Sega press conference that would announce the Genesis Entertainment System to the world. We flew up late on a weekday afternoon—August  13th, to be exact— in order to get some sleep the night before and be on time for the media event the next morning. On the flight up, I read about the sequel to Ghostbusters in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Like the first film, this new movie would be set in New York…the very place I was heading. Before I knew it, my travel companion and I were pulling into the gates at LaGuardia and catching a cab into town.


Who you gonna call? The Ghostbusters on a June 1989 cover of  Rolling Stone.  

It takes a while to get to Lower Manhattan from the airport but it’s a great cab ride. As you get closer to the metropolis, the city looms ahead on the distance at first, before consuming your entire field of vision. And suddenly, you’re there…in New York City—the most vibrant city on earth.

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple
We were staying in Lower Manhattan for the launch event. In fact, we were staying in one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

The Towers were cities unto themselves, each full of both businesses and offices. We stayed in one of the Tower’s hotel chains (Hilton, maybe? Radisson?). After checking in, we were escorted by a bellman to rooms about 50 stories up, approximately half way up the massive Tower. The accommodations were first class.


Remember them as they were: the magnificent Twin Towers of the World Trade Center rose more than a quarter-mile into the sky, and were, at one time, the tallest buildings on earth.

There were a number of restaurants in the Tower; we found a spot and ate dinner. Later that night, I woke up and went to the window. I just stood there staring out at Lower Manhattan. My eyes scanned the upward reaches of the Tower and I remember feeling like I was inside of a mountain of steel and glass. I felt safe. I couldn’t envision any force strong enough to bring these Towers down. But that was 22 years ago.

Inside the Box
The next morning was like most for New York; a moderately sunny day. As I looked up I saw the huge skyscrapers partially blocking the sun’s light, giving the city a kind of a gray tint that suited it perfectly.

Following breakfast, we headed over to the press event. The event was being held at the old U.S. Customs House, a grand old building with giant columns that had stood since 1907. In 1976, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark. During our brief walk northward from the WTC, we passed the intersection with Wall Street. Up the street were various financial buildings and the famous stock exchange. You could almost smell the money. Once inside the U.S. Customs House, we were handed press kits within day-glo green folders. There were various crates placed around the enormous hall.

 
The U.S. Customs House in New York City has been around since the early 20th Century. This is where Sega unveiled the Genesis to the press.

After a few minutes, a Sega spokesman welcomed the press to the unveiling of the Sega Genesis. Then the crates were then lifted to reveal the various gaming stations, along with a larger visual display near the front of the hall. Almost instantly, Sega staffers sat down at the various stations and started up the demos. My co-worker and I toured the exhibits, taking the random invitation to play a game as we walked around. Loud techno music was pumped through the building.

At that time, the system had not yet discovered its Mario. That would happen in 1991, with the debut of Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic would go on to become the console’s biggest franchise. Instead we played a near-perfect arcade conversion of Altered Beast and Golden Axe. The visuals looked superior to anything on the NES. The controller was more rounded and felt more ergonomic than the rectangular NES control pad. And the console and controller were manufactured of cool and edgy black plastic (instead of the gray, red and black color scheme of the NES). From the beginning, Sega was trying to distance its console from the NES.


Golden Axe was one of the first Sega Genesis games when the system debuted in 1989. It would be another two years before Sonic the Hedgehog would become the signature character identified with that game system. 

The rest of the press event was fairly routine, and before long we were crazily trying to find a cab and our way out of the city.

A couple of years later, I was again sent to New York for business. While walking the streets of Manhattan, up from Time Square to my meeting, I saw a street vendor selling a black t-shirt. On the front, the famous New York City skyline. In front of the skyline was a grinning human skull. The shirt read, “New York City: Where the Weak are Killed and Eaten.” It takes a certain New York sensibility to appreciate why that shirt is so funny. I didn’t purchase the shirt at the time, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Lucky Town
New York’s always been lucky for me. Twelve years before the 1989 press event, I had made my first trip to Manhattan. As a boy I had been fascinated with New York City. I drew the famous skyline endlessly. My parents took me there in April 1977 for a long weekend of sightseeing. Within two hours of arriving at our hotel near Times Square, I had met my boyhood hero, Stan Lee, resident genius of Marvel Comics and creator of icons like the Amazing Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, and so forth. My father and I caught Stan the Man as he stepped off the elevator after returning to Marvel’s Madison Avenue offices from lunch. I’ve still got his autograph, and another from another famous celebrity.


Andy Warhol used to carry copies of his celebrity magazine Interview to give out to people he’d meet. He autographed this copy of the April 1977 issue and handed it to me on Madison Avenue in New York City. (His signature runs up the left side.)

A half hour before meeting Stan Lee, my Dad and I were walking up Madison Avenue. We passed a celebrity I recognized immediately. We flagged the guy down and spoke to him for about five minutes. It was famous pop artist and professional celebrity-watcher Andy Warhol (the guy who said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”) Andy, the ultimate celebrity insider, turned out to be a real nice guy. He asked about the weather back in North Carolina. I asked him for an autograph and started reaching for the hotel stationery I had in my pocket. But Andy beat me to the punch, taking the copy of his tabloid newspaper/magazine (called Interview) and signing it up the side. The magazine cover he handed me, now framed,  still hangs on my wall.

The View of a Lifetime
On that first trip to New York, I went up to the top floor of one of the Twin Towers. The lobby inside the Tower was expansive and that’s where you bought tickets to go up to the top floor or roof. (On non-windy days, they let visitors up on the roof, but we were there on a breezy day.) The elevator ride to the top took a while, and involved one elevator change.

Once on the 110th floor, we slowly walked around the perimeter of the building, looking out from all possible angles. It’s difficult to adequately describe how lofty the view from the top of the WTC was, but this should give you some idea: It was so high up that you could see into four different states from the top floor. At one point, I got close to the edge of the glass and ventured a look straight down – more than a quarter-mile straight down into the abyss. It was so severely high up that you couldn’t look straight down more than a couple of seconds without inducing vertigo. You felt like you were in the clouds, and indeed you were. You were so high up that when hard winds blew, you could feel the Tower move a little. Being there was always an unforgettable experience. I am so lucky to have experienced that.


From the lofty top floor of the Twin Towers, you could see into four different states.

A dozen years later, I would spend one more night in one of the Twin Towers. A dozen years after that, the Towers would be brought down in the worst attack on the U.S. since World War II. At that time, I was editing a magazine for firefighters. One of our writer/photographers was brought into Ground Zero on the night of 9/11. He spent all night touring the destruction at the WTC. He shot 15 rolls of film – all that he had – and was scrounging film from other photographers. Every view was historic.

Now I try not to remember the destruction of the Twin Towers. For me they remain proud and tall, rising to amazing proportions out of the depths of Lower Manhattan. And if I need any help remembering the electric charge I felt just from being there, I go look at a poster I purchased in the lobby of the WTC, all those many years ago. It shows a rounded, fish-eye perspective view of the Twin Towers looming over Lower Manhattan. Beneath the photo, huge type reads, “The Observation Deck at the World Trade Center.” Above the  photo, in even larger type, the poster reads: ”

IT’S HARD TO BE DOWN WHEN YOU’RE UP. 

Without a doubt, it was the view of a lifetime.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments

Five Best Videogames of Comic-Con 2011

As the movie, videogame and comic book industries invaded the San Diego Convention Center last week, Comic-Con 2011 dominated media coverage. Fans mobbed the Convention Center, too, looking for the  latest in cutting-edge entertainment. This year’s show is now history and for our gamers out there, we’ve rounded up for you the best five videogames of the show:

MASS EFFECT 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release Date: March 6, 2012


BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 is easily one of the most anticipated games of 2012.

The long-awaited sequel to the make-your-own adventure, Mass Effect 3 was playable for gamers at Comic-Con. We saw this game at E3 but Comic-Con gave us a chance to spend more time with it. What did we like best about it? BioWare enhanced the third-person shooter aspect and RPG elements of the game and gave gamers the option to play as a female Shepard.

For the uninitiated, Mass Effect mixes sci-fi themes with elements of action RPG gaming. As the new game begins, Commander Shepard is being put on trial for what happened in ME 2. However during the trial, Earth is besieged by Reapers. Shepard uses the opportunity to make a quick exit and goes off to summon help from other alien civilizations. While Shepard is recruiting help, he encounters resistance from former allies, the Cerberus, and the space opera plays out from there. For players that worked hard on those previous game saves, you’ll be happy to know your progress will pick up where you left off with ME 3.

Expect multiple versions of ME 3 to be available — such as a collector’s edition and a digital deluxe edition. And get this: The special editions are set to include exclusive weapons found in the N7 Arsenal Pack. We’re totally buying that.

SPIDER-MAN: EDGE OF TIME (Beenox/Activision)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Nintendo Wii, DS & 3DS
Release Date: October 4, 2011


“Excuse me, do you have the time?”  Spider-Man: Edge of Time floats between two time zones — the year 2099 and 2011. 

Spider-Man is everywhere these days — including a new movie and even a Broadway musical. Not to be left out, he makes his latest videogame appearance in Spider-Man: Edge of Time. In a videogame that can be best described as Spider-Man meets Inception, there are actually two Spider-Men – one from the present (whose alter ego is Peter Parker) and one from the future (alias Miguel O’Hara) who rose to fame in the comic series Spider-Man 2099. Gamers play in either time period, but the game’s “Quantum Causality” feature, causes the actions you make in one era to have an effect in the other (like the cause-and-effect logic in Inception). If that isn’t enough to make your head spin, toss in the villainous antics of The Black Cat and Anti-Venom – and it’s really “game on.”

The present and the future link up in Edge of Time, with the 2099 version of Spider-Man working overtime to protect the original web-slinger from harm…and save the future from being devoured by an ultra-greedy corporation called Alchemax.

STREET FIGHTER x TEKKEN (Capcom/Capcom)
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: March 2, 2012


Two of the greatest fighting games franchises in videogame history come together for the ultimate smack-down in Street Fighter x Tekken.

In a grudge match that could only be described as videogame nirvana, Namco and Capcom are pitting their toughest fighters against each other for the first time in the HD era. Fighters from the Tekken and Street Fighter series  face off together for what gamers are hoping will be the fighting game to end all fighting games. Street Fighter x Tekken (which Capcom translates as “Street Fighter cross Tekken”) pulls in all your favorite characters from Street Fighter (Ryu, Guile, Abel, Chun-Li, Poison, Dhalsim and more) and throws them in Tekken greats (such as Kazuya Mishima, King, Steve Fox and Yoshimitsu). And although this isn’t exactly the first time these two powerhouse rival companies have united to do battle (that honor goes to 2005’s Namco vs. Capcom), it’s the first time that gamers outside of Japan will be able to enjoy the mayhem.

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SKYWARD SWORD (Nintendo EAD/Nintendo)
Platforms: Nintendo Wii
Release Date: Fall 2011


Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is actually a prequel to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

In the latest installment of Nintendo’s legendary Legend of Zelda action/adventure series, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the game FINALLY gets the high-definition treatment and a pick-me-up from the addition of Wii Motion Control Plus technology – which gives Link’s movements (such as shooting an arrow) new precision and power. Swordplay, in particular, is also given special attention, with this game paying attention to details such as how Link’s sword is angled before it cuts something (or somebody).

Nintendo gave additional depth to the environments between dungeons, too. And while the locations may be familiar, Nintendo has slipped in new gameplay surprises. Plus, as we mentioned, this will be the first time Link will be in HD glory.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: SUPER SOLDIER (Next Level Games/Sega)
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS
Release Date: July 19, 2011

Cap’s come a long way — originally debuting in Timely Comics (which evolved into Marvel Comics); Captain America is now starring in his own hit movie.

Captain America is an original superhero; he first appeared in comic books in 1941. But don’t count him out because of his age; his recent live-action feature (Captain America: The First Avenger) had enough muscle to knock the latest “Harry Potter” flick out of the top slot at the Box Office.

Captain America: Super Soldier is almost a companion piece to the movie, and follows the film’s general plot and action. As the Star-Spangled Avenger, Captain America sets out to explore a huge castle that’s been turned into a rogue military installation. Aside from using his own spectacular acrobatics and trusty fists to make his way through this third-person action game, Cap is equipped with his trusty shield, which he can hurl at enemies, protect himself from gunfire, and even scale walls when the need arises. It’s an action game through and through but captures the feeling of the film pretty well.

Get Into Games
Are video games your favorite form of entertainment? Have you ever imagined making your own game? Make your own game ideas come to life by learning video game design or 3D animation. Or explore your passion creating comics. Who knows? In a few years, they could be showcasing your creations at Comic-Con 2020!

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments

Robin Williams: A Dad Who Loves Zelda

In honor of Father’s Day, how about a story about an actor, comedian and father who named his daughter after a video game? Comedy superstar Robin Williams has been in love with Zelda – and we mean the video game – since 1987. So much so, in fact, that he named his daughter after the Nintendo princess.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTQ9RuIc6m4

Robin Williams stars in a Nintendo commercial that features his daughter – Zelda!

Apparently Williams and his wife played The Legend of Zelda fairly often during his wife’s pregnancy and they fell in love with the character’s name. So Dad did what any self-respecting gamer would do: he named his daughter after his favorite Nintendo game. The story behind his daughter’s name has made rounds on the Internet for a few years now, but was only recently confirmed, with Nintendo’s commercial for the Nintendo 3DS The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.

Zelda Commercials Through the Years
Years ago, the original Zelda commercial for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System featured a wild-eyed spokesperson bouncing around, obsessed with Zelda’s name and fearing for creepy-crawlies that he encountered in the game. When compared to the latest Zelda commercial, it doesn’t quite have the same effect:

“Zelda! Zelda! Zeldaaaa!!!!”

What’s In a Name?
It’s not only great to see Nintendo update the commercial, but update the game as well. The Nintendo 3DS The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D refreshes the classic with sparking new graphics, although the formula and story are the same. The N64 version was one of the highest-rated games of all time, and here at DMAC, we have fond memories of the game. Even Zelda (Robin Williams’ daughter) does, too. Here’s a great video of her playing the game, while Dad talks about how she got her name:

And you thought you were the only one crazy about Zelda and Link’s journey! Video games cut across all cultures and all types of people. Are you crazy about video games? Maybe you have an idea for your own creation? Then why not learn how to design a video game? Your creation could be an adventure game like Zelda or an action game. Using the tools video game designers use, you could create the next Zelda.

You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to love great video games or create video games. Just ask Robin Williams! Are you looking forward to Zelda for 3DS?


Okay, so minus the pointy ears and big eyes, you might could argue that Zelda Williams does slightly resemble Princess Zelda.

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posted by Vince Matthews in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments

E3 2011: Day 3, Best of Show

Another E3 has come to an end. It was a show that delivered the goods on several levels, with great games and groundbreaking new systems. But who really won the three-day battle? Let’s take a look…

In yesterday’s DMAC post, we saluted a few standout games of E3 2011, but just to see if we were on target, we thought we’d peek in to see which games the top gaming sites and game magazines were honoring in their 2011 E3 awards. Of course, we’re eager to know: Did we call the winners or miss the mark? Well, while we didn’t bat 1000%, we still came out winners.


A younger Lara Croft helms the latest “Tomb Raider.”

Video-game megasite, IGN devoted extensive coverage to its own E3 awards, announcing nominations in 23 gaming categories. While we won’t list all of the nominations here, we would like to share IGN’s nominations for “Best Overall Game.” (Yeah, we picked six out the ten they picked, and not surprisingly, no Kinect games made their list either…)

1. “Tomb Raider” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
2. “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
3. “Batman: Arkham City”
4. “BioShock Infinite” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
5. “Hitman: Absolution”
6. “Mass Effect 3”
7. “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”
8. “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” (PlayStation 3)
9. “Battlefield 3” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Over at the video-game magazine “GamePro,” a panel of nine critics assembled and were asked to name their “five favorite things from E3″ – a fairly broad category that theoretically could include game systems as well as games and other things from the show.


They all raved about “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” Unfortunately, didn’t get excited about the D&D wanna-be sword-and-sorcery adventure game.

“Rolling Stone’s” “Gear Up” blog featured the analysis of games-industry veteran Scott Steinberg, who cited five of the “most promising” games of E3 2011:

1) “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
2) “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” (PlayStation 3)
3) “Battlefield 3” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
4) “BioShock Infinite” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
5) “Tomb Raider” (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Finally, one group of critics not yet heard were the actual Game Critics Awards. This group of various game magazines picks the best of E3 each year. Nominations for this year’s “Best of E3″ awards won’t be announced until June 21st, with winners to be announced a week later on June 28th. (IGN will announce its “Best of Show” winners on Friday, June 10th.)


He’s bold, beautiful and blowin’ it up. Drake, in “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception”

With another E3 under our belt, we can now only look forward to next year. And how awesome would it be to see your game being introduced at E3 2012? With the right talent and training, it’s a possible dream. Your path to starting your career in building awesome video games begins this summer at Digital Media Academy. DMA offers summer camps and courses that cover all the bases of video game design and creation – and they’re all tailored to individual skill sets and age levels. DMA’s instructors are industry professional who have already walked the path you want to explore, working for companies like Electronic Arts, Microsoft and Nintendo.


EA’s “Battlefield 3.”

From great introductory courses for kids (like Adventures in 2D & 3D Video Game Creation & Game Modding) to 3D Game Creation in Level Design and Character Design, there’s something for everyone. There are even more advanced programs for teens (like courses that teach you how to develop games for Google Android devices, how to develop games for the Internet and how to develop games for the iPhone). What are you waiting for? Stop playing games and start making them.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments