XGameStation – A Creative Outlet for an Uncreative World
Sick of the current new game console madness? Want one of the new ones but don't want to stand in lines for hours in the freezing cold or get shot for one ? Perhaps you want one that just works ? Well, if you have a bit of gumption and a smidgeon of get-up-n-go, check out XGameStation.com for their video game development kits. A friend sent me a link to the site hoping I'd mock them… but I won't. This stuff is just cool. Essentially, it looks like they have two platforms - The XGS systems (there are a number of different ones depending on how much assembly you are willing to do) and the HYDRA system . From what I can glean from the website and their forums, the major differences between the two platforms are the XGS is more for hardware hacks and the HYDRA is more for people that are interested in programming (especially if you want to learn multiprocessing programming). The HYDRA can do a lot of things easier (because of its built-in graphics ability) but you can do more overall with the XGS if you know what you are doing.
So you choose a platform, you learn ASM (Assembly language ) and/or SPIN (similar to Basic), and get started. Given that you put the thing together correctly (if you choose one of the more user intensive platforms) what can you expect? Well, anything from pong to early NES from the pictures and demos on the site. Sure, the graphics won't touch the most recent games (or even the not so recent games) but you'll have the ability to brag that you created it yourself. Who knows, with a little skill and a lot of luck, maybe you could farm it around to the major developers. If they see potential (it would have to be on gameplay unless they saw some really creative sprite development), they just might offer you an entry level job.
Of course, this isn't an entry level product. The prices range from around $60 for what looks to be a box full of parts to over $200 for a box full of parts already assembled some cables and a book. Sure, you could almost buy an Xbox 360 for it (you could have bought one on Black Friday at a few places from what I understand) but for those that want to relive the glory days of basic programming….
Sitting in a computer lab in middle school… typing for hours on some sort of computer with a green display and a tiny screen… so excited that my text-based "choose your own adventure" game is coming to life… I've even included a rudimentary security program to keep people from modding it (as if anyone would want to)… after 8+ hours it is done… should I save?... tape drives take SOOOOO long, lets just run it first… Eureka! Success! It works! Even the security works… um… yep, the security works, and now I'm stuck in an infinite loop that I can't get out of so I can save… ARG!
Some life lessons are just painful, and that was one of them. Even more so because this was the second time I lost the game - the first happened because of a power outage (also before saving). For the record, tape backups (I'm talking about cassettes here) suck. I ended up taking some programming classes later but those incidents stayed with me for a long time. I still neurotically save because of them. For others I'm sure getting a chance to be creative with a computer may be something that has been missing from their lives for a long time. After I learned about Basic the next thing I knew people were talking about COBOL, Pascal, C, C+, C++ and more. I just couldn't keep up. But I've always had a soft spot for Basic.
Now, I'm sure there are a bunch of whipper-snappers that would LOVE to poo-poo such and idea. "You mean I have to pay $200 to play PacMan… AND I have to program it myself?!" Fine, take your PS3 that you paid $1000 for on Ebay and eat Doritos until you become one with the couch. Some people like to better themselves. They like to create something from their own hands (or minds since things I create with my hands tend to either fall down, explode, or both) rather than just be able to spew that they got all the gold mushrooms in the Legend of Fat-Boy and Lethargic-Girl game. Creating something is fulfilling. It is enriching. It expands your mind. It also forces you to think about things in a different way. And don't tell me coming up with the least button presses to text message an insult is "creative" 'cause it's not. Trolling forums isn't creative, watching TV isn't creative, and just playing a video game isn't creative. It may take skill to do one or more of those things but it isn't creative.
And therein lies the crux, doesn't it? Plenty of things in life take skill. Some of those may also take a modicum of creativity. But so many things we do now are just rote. You don't even have to think about it. Hell, they even have a car that will park for you ?! What's next? A robot that will spoon feed you while you change channels with your mindlink remote on your in-brain projection TV?! Creativity is one of the things that separate us from the animals. It should be fostered and encouraged and not sublimated by ever increasing levels of technology.
Now some technology actually fosters creativity. Obviously the XGamesStation's products do. Just about all of the home theater products do. Ever try to explain a real home theater to someone that's been living with a TV and VCR for the last 20 years? It's like you lapsed into Klingon. As much as HDMI has promised to make our lives simpler by sending HD video and lossless audio over one cable what it generally does is fall out for no reason, work only for some formats, and generally cost a bunch of money. Hey, I want this stuff to work as much as the next guy but frankly, it just doesn't. So people end up spending the bank on HDMI cables (especially if they refuse to do any research first) just to have to connect analogue cables for Dolby True HD (because there isn't a receiver on the planet that can decode it yet) or component cables because the HDCP handshake won't happen. Who knows why? Half the time, when we investigate, it is just finger pointing and "just wait until HDMI 8.46593720347 comes out, then it will work fine." Yeah right. Creativity? Buy an SACD player, receiver, satellite box, 1080p display, 7.2 speaker system, and one of the HD players and see how few cables you can use to connect it all together. That takes creativity. Extra points if you don't use one of our setup guides .
But that's short term creativity at best… unless you're a true audioholic… then it is a weekly event. No, technology serves to make our lives easier by freeing up our time for leisure activities. Back in the 50's, when thoughts of the future seemed to be filled with images of tech used to free up time to spend with kids, better ourselves, or for the good of humanity, the future seemed full of possibility. But that "possibility" has turned into time navigating automated phone messages, on hold with New Delhi tech support, and an ever expanding work week. Spending a little less time watching the Teutul's fight and a little more time problem solving would do the country good. So grab a retro gaming platform, take up that novel again, work on a car, grab some crayons and paper, learn a skill, or just plain get outside and do something. Introducing a little creativity and less brainless activities can only be a good thing.
And there are plenty of opportunities. I've worked in a number of different jobs and positions ranging from the menial to the highly cerebral. In each I saw people that had carved out a niche for themselves doing the same thing over and over. Any chance for creativity was completely eliminated… by their own hand. On the flip side, I've also seen the most menial of positions filled with completely creative people. Sometimes they've used their creativity to enhance their jobs and sometimes I've seen them use their jobs to fuel their creativity. How many novelists have held the most menial of positions and used them for research opportunities? How many artists wash dishes to pay the bills while spending every moment thinking about and planning their next masterpiece? How many minds came up with some of the greatest inventions and discoveries of our time while sitting under a tree or staring at a sunrise? And how many problems will be solved while watching "reality" TV or diddling a controller? I suppose only time will tell.
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