The Nerd Issue: Game Developers, Platforms and Places to Play
Microsoft: Only Kinect
Say what you will about Windows, the Zune, Bing and other much maligned Microsoft products. The Redmond-based behemoth has kicked some major butt in the gaming world. It 2001 it entered the console gaming arena with the Xbox and, in 2005, cemented its position with the Xbox 360. Aside from sharp graphics and smooth gameplay, the 360 advanced the idea of an online marketplace and gamer achievements, and sold more than 40 million units since its debut. Last November, Microsoft blurred the line between game and gamer with the Kinect, a sophisticated set of cameras and microphones that literally turn the player into the controller. If only they could make Microsoft Word so seamless.
Nintendo of America: Wheee!
Based in Redmond since 1982, Nintendo of America has been at the forefront of every gaming generation leap, and has dominated the AV ports of televisions since its 1985 release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). (Last fall marked the 25th anniversary of beloved goomba-stomping plumbers, the Super Mario Bros.) In 1996, the N64 brought video games out of flat graphics into the colorful 3-D world and, in 2001, upgraded us from cartridges to discs with the GameCube. In 2006, Nintendo released the Wii, which pioneered motion gaming and brought computer gameplay to entire families—the unfortunate side effect being the braggadocio of high-score moms.
VIDEO GAME DEVELOPERS
Background: After moving from Chicago to Redmond in 2001, Bungie released Halo: Combat Evolved, a game that would change first-person shooter (FPS) games forever.
Known for: Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo Reach (FPS; PC/Xbox/360) introduced multiplayer gamers to the hyper-pious alien collective known as The Covenant and the nightmare-inducing alien parasite known as The Flood.
What’s new: Bungie officially confirmed in multiple interviews that Halo Reach was the last installment of the Halo series and that the company would be turning its attention toward a new project. bungie.net
Background: Founded in Bellevue in 1996, Valve specializes in complex games with detailed plots and cutting-edge physics. In 2007, Valve released Steam, a hugely successful online gaming platform that manages more than 1,100 games.
Known for: The Orange Box (PC/360), arguably the holy trinity of gameplay, which includes Valve’s critically acclaimed Half-Life 2 (FPS), the wildly successful Portal (FPS/Puzzle) and the fast-paced, team-oriented Team Fortress 2 (FPS).
What’s new: Scheduled for release this year, Portal 2 will serve up all new physics-defying shenanigans. valvesoftware.com/games
Background: In 2000, Belltown-based Popcap set out to develop games that were instantly addictive—and succeeded with Bejeweled. Since then, Popcap has won more than 100 awards and developed more than 50 games.
Known for: Bejeweled, Bejeweled 2 and Bejeweled 3 (PC/mobile), all puzzles of the “Match 3” variety (match three gems of the same type to clear the screen). Bejeweled is the only puzzle game other than Tetris to be inducted into the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame.
What’s new: Bejeweled 3, released in December, features HD visuals and fluid gameplay. popcap.com
Get real with live opponents (And avoid video controller calluses) with these low-tech games
Wizards of the Coast (Renton, founded 1990) The butt of countless nerd jokes, Dungeons & Dragons has been granting gamers access to fantastic worlds since 1974. (Wizards of the Coast acquired the game in 1997.) Armed with a handful of dice, some intricately drawn maps and ever-evolving character sheets, players dive head first into the tabletop role-playing game intent on slaying foul beasts and leveling up. Wizards of the Coast also produces the trading-card game Magic: The Gathering and the recently released Magic: The Gathering—Tactics (for PC/PS3). wizards.com
Privateer Press (Bellevue, founded 2000) Privateer found success with its steampunk-themed tabletop game Warmachine, in which players side with factions, such as the technologically advanced Cygnar or the imperialistic Khador, and build armies. Detailed plastic and metal miniatures are often hand-painted by serious players. Companion game Hordes focuses on the “savage” factions of the world. privateerpress.com
Screenlife (Seattle, founded 2001) In 2002, Screenlife took the “board” out of board game with Scene-It?, a trivia game played via DVD. Also available for video game consoles and mobile phones, Scene-It? tests knowledge of film, television and pop culture. Since its debut, nearly 20 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide. screenlifegames.com
Cranium Inc. (Seattle, founded 1998; ) Developed by former Microsoft employees, the elaborate board game Cranium was an instant success, requiring players to use talents from singing, drawing and sculpting to pantomiming, spelling and spouting trivia. Hasbro acquired the company in 2008 and shuttered the Seattle office a year later. Game over. hasbro.com/games/cranium
THE ART OF THE ARCADE
Redmond resident Steve Wiebe was the first person to achieve more than 1 million points in the original Donkey Kong arcade game (his battle to stay on top was the focus of the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters). In 2010, Wiebe regained the Donkey Kong champion title by scoring 1,064,500 points. RRJohn McAllister, a Seattle locksmith, broke the Asteroids high score last spring during a 58-hour playing spree with 41,338,740 points!
But Wait, There’s More
Watch for these other local video game developers making their mark
Monolith (Kirkland): With dimly lit, pulse-accelerating FPSs like F.E.A.R. and Condemned, Monolith developers keep us on the edges of our seats with eerie suspense and jolting action. lith.com/games
Cyan Worlds Inc. (Spokane): Revisit your gaming roots with the beautiful and mysterious PC classic Myst. If you can’t find a computer with a floppy-disk drive, don’t fret: Myst, among other Cyan Worlds creations, is available for iPhone. cyanworlds.com
Big Fish Games (Seattle): Founded by former RealNetworks executive Paul Thelen and boasting a new game every day, Big Fish offers hundreds of downloadable games for cheap, turning downtime into playtime. bigfishgames.com
Novel Inc. (Redmond): This company is getting attention from gaming media outlets for its upcoming MMORTS (massively multiplayer online real-time strategy) game Empire and State. novelincorporated.com
Runic Games (Seattle): Small and scrappy, Runic made a splash in 2009 with the single-player role-playing game Torchlight, set in a monster-filled mining town. Watch for the sequel—expanded for multiplayer play—this year. runicgames.com