GameSpite Quarterly Issue 3
The Encyclopedia of 8-Bit Heroes
Buy this issue in a handy print version (280 pages, $16) for convenient reference next time you need to look up a snarky explanation of classic videogame characters. Also available in a hardcover deluxe edition (314 pages, $40) featuring more than 30 pages of extra content.
Foreword: We Could be (8-Bit) Heroes
Gaming's 8-bit era was huge—so huge, in fact, that's difficult to pin an exact date on its beginning and end. It began sometime in the '70s, when arcade cabinets and home consoles made the transition from analog innards to integrated circuitry. And yet so effective (and economical) were 8-bit chips like the Zilog Z-80 that they remained in use for decades, powering game systems well into this century. It wasn't until Nintendo rolled out the Game Boy Advance and put the handheld's Color precursor quietly to rest in 2001 that the last major 8-bit system finally left the stage of gaming history—a 25-plus-year run for gaming's most enduring generation of technology.
Right around the time GBA showed up, people were realizing that drawing distinctions between differing degrees of computing bandwidth was an increasingly silly method of defining their gaming experience. The Dreamcast was technically a 128-bit system, and the PlayStation 2 256-bit—but the actual differences between the two devices were fairly marginal had little to do with the bit pipelines that had long served as gaming's generational divide. These days, the power of a system is measured more in its actual performance than the numbers attached to some nebulous bit of innards, if even that; that the Wii exists as part of the same hardware generation as PlayStation 3 is a final, insulting slap to the faces of the technology-obsessed.
But back in the 8-bit era, the numbers really did make a difference. The gulf between the NES and Super NES was enormous; the span between Master System and Genesis irreconcilable. And the 16-bit arcade boards of the late '80s were impossibly far beyond the capabilities of the 8-bit home systems that were enjoying their heyday. So, developers got creative. They learned to maximize performance on their humble consoles. NES programmers devised clever memory trickery techniques to make the system exceed what its creators ever intended; Spectrum owners were treated to similar trickery that gave the United Kingdom's favorite micro far more oomph than Sir Clive could ever have conceived.
The 8-bit era—from its earliest arcade days to the twilight years of Game Boy—became the crucible in which the medium was truly formed. The nascent ping-pong and shooting games of the ur-arcade years took on shape and definition with the help of 8-bit processors. Genres were invented and refined; single-screen platformers became side-scrollers, which in turn developed into massive, free-roaming adventures; sports games evolved beyond mere abstractions to clear representations of the events in question and eventually to advanced simulations. Pen-and-paper role-playing games became computerized exercises in number-crunching, and then developed sophisticated narrative sensibilities. If Pong and Spacewar! were gaming's groundbreaking, 8-bit machines established its foundations, its framework, and its drywall.
For those of us who experienced the medium's childhood in our own youth, these old games have a powerful appeal—and the characters who gave them life became our companions through all sorts of adventures. Many have endured through the years, transcending technology to become standbys, even icons. And those who haven't are still remembered fondly by gamers who spent countless hours surviving impossible adventures with them.
This issue is a tribute to those heroes. It's not necessarily a useful index, mind you; most entries seem to have been written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and sorting fact from fabrication is an exercise best left to the reader. But those who recall the 8-bit days with fondness will appreciate each article's gentle brushes with truth, not to mention the winking inside references to the things we know now and the playground rumors of days gone by. It's edutainment at its finest. And by "finest," I mean "least reliable."
November 30, 2009
In This Issue
Perfect Rental Games by Tomm Hulett*
Noir in Games, Part 1 by Wesley Fenlon*
New Game + Winter 09/10 by Jeremy Parish*
Please note that not all content appears in the Standard and Budget editions due to space constraints. The Deluxe edition is 314 pages, Standard is 280, and Budget is 160; certain edits have been made in order to keep the paperback editions at specific price points.
A * denotes content exclusive to the Deluxe edition.
A ± denotes content included in the Standard edition but not the Budget edition.
All text and original artwork ©2009 its respective author. Screenshots ©1979-2009 the original work's respective publisher. Copyrighted images used under the terms of fair use. Editing, layouts and design by Jeremy Parish. Copy editing thanks to Patrick Carr.