THE GAME SCHOLAR

From Manci Games – June 2004

Welcome to the first installment of The Game Scholar. In this column I’ll bring you anecdotes from the wonderful world of videogaming’s past, present and future. No matter the era, I’ll always put it into an historical perspective. What you won’t find here are game reviews or strategy tips. What you will find here is stuff about gadgets you’ve tried, things you might have heard about before, and just maybe… if I’m really lucky… some things you never knew existed. If you have any questions, or have an idea for a future column, please write to me at gamescholar@rolentapress.com.

This month I’m going to talk about Sony’s recently-introduced Eye Toy. Initially, I thought this was one of the coolest devices to come out in years! Then it dawned on me that getting your image into a videogame wasn’t really anything new. After all, Ralph Baer, the father of videogames, invented such a device in 1983 to reward high-scoring arcade gamers. Just about everyone has typed their initials into an arcade game or two, but Ralph’s idea was a novel one: Let’s put the gamer’s face on the screen instead! In theory, it was a grand idea. But, as often happens in the real world, it drew completely unexpected results. During test marketing of the device, quick-witted gamers “mooned” the camera instead of smiling for it, thus dooming the experiment to instant failure, at least for the time being.

Nintendo tried it again in 1998 when it released the Game Boy Camera, which even included a game where you could put your face over the on-screen character and make it seem like you were in the game. Another gimmick was the ability to print out stickers via the Game Boy Printer. Whoop-de-doo, right?

On the whole, the Camera was a novelty piece that came, saw, and didn’t conquer, thanks in large part to its poor image quality and monochrome color-set. Well, that… and all of the mortified parents stickers who were finding stickers of little Johnny’s “moonshine.”

So that brings us to Sony’s Eye Toy, which, while not original, really puts an inventive spin on the idea of marrying a camera with a videogame device. Unlike the previous attempts of joining videogames with cameras, Sony’s attempt comes off pretty well. The image quality from the $49.99 camera is surprisingly good, and the package even includes Eye Toy: Play, an assortment of fun but pointless games.

Think about it. How exciting would you find a game where you had to wipe soap bubbles from an on-screen window — the object of one of ETP’s games — using a controller? Yet such a game is indeed fun (and exhausting) when you’re the on-screen character, wiping the window with your hands and arms.

The question then becomes: how long will the appeal last after repeated plays? When you try it for the first time, you’ll probably have hours of fun washing windows, playing soccer, or engaging in any of the other activities that come with ETP. The harsh reality is these games lack substance, and after you’ve gotten over the novelty of seeing yourself on the screen, you’re going to want to do something else… like clip the dog’s toenails, or watch paint dry.

In order to keep the Eye Toy entertaining Sony has to release more sophisticated games for it. They do have Eye Toy: Groove, sort of an Eye Toy meets Dance Dance Revolution, slated for release. If you’re into rhythm/music games, you’re in luck. Otherwise, just keep watching paint dry until a third Eye Toy collection is released. Or you could always follow the inspiration of that unknown arcade player from nearly twenty years ago and play some soccer his way! Now that might be interesting!

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