Pierre Menard's The Asteroids
September 14, 2018 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Pierre Menard's The Asteroids: Like Menard, I didn't want to merely copy or emulate, and I wrote it using relatively modern tools, but at the same time, the closer I could get to the 1979 game, the better. Also, like Menard's Quixote, my game is a failure in the sense that it isn't exactly Asteroids. [via mefi projects]
posted by chavenet (5 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
As a fan of Borges and retro space games, I love it.
posted by justkevin at 9:52 AM on September 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

posted by pjmoy at 1:41 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

like Menard's Quixote, my game is a failure

I thought Menard’s Quixote was a success?
posted by Segundus at 2:33 PM on September 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I thought Menard’s Quixote was a success?

Only in the moment of it's conception.
It was all downhill after that.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:05 AM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Menard conceived of his Asteroids in September of 1998, a mere 9 months after the release of Robotron 64, a typical, even paradigmatic, reimagining of the seminal 2D classic Robotron: 2084 using the 3D graphics of the Nintendo 64 console. As such, Menard's Asteroids can only be seen as a deliberate rejection of the turn-of-the-century videogame zeitgeist which saw the entire history of video games through the lens of the new 3D graphics processing technology.

In 1999, making a video game was widely seen as a work of translation. Landmark works such as Mario 64, Tomb Raider, and Ocarina of Time reimagined traditional 2D gameplay in 3D spaces. Even games like RayForce, Yoshi's Story, or the aforementioned Robotron 64, confined as they were to a single plane, could only conceive of video game graphics in terms of polygons. Games that continued using sprites for technical reasons such as Doom, the Donkey Kong Country series, or Mario Kart 64 based their sprites on pre-rendered 3D models so as to affect the appearance of polygonal graphics.

In this context, Menard's Asteroids stands athwart the march of history and shouts, Stop!

The design of the 1979 Asteroids was clearly an attempt to escape the confines of a single flat screen, to create a space that is boundless, if not endless; planar, but topologically toroidal.

Menard's 1999 Asteroids, however, represents a flattening, a confinement. The player's viewpoint, accustomed in other games to following an avatar as it traverses space, is now locked in place, able only to witness the ship's endlessly wrapping path, a futile attempt to escape the bounds of the single screen.

In the 1979 Asteroids, space ships, asteroids, and even letters and numbers are composed by the direct motion of an electron beam from vertex to vertex. But Menard's game is composed of jagged sprites, groups of discrete pixels, using thousands of colors to alias those pixels into approximations of pure, straight monochrome lines. This futile attempt to create vectorized lines with crude pixels stands as a reproach to the video game industry of 1999's attempts to create smooth shapes with the even cruder polygons.

But in 2018, Ben Bittner's re-invention of Menard as a video game developer comes after the indie game Renaissance of the 2000s. Steam and Humble Bundles, Xbox Live and PSN, websites and cell phone app stores overflow with games that celebrate, recreate, and build on every era of video game development.

In graphics, Flash games produced a fusion: vector graphics rendered on pixelated screens. The Playstation 3 showcased its high-resolution graphics with flOw, producing figures nigh-indistinguishable from straight lines. AAE and VectorMAME developed techniques for emulating the vector graphics of Asteroids itself on high-resolution displays.

In the context of a video game landscape that contains everything from Pong to Overwatch, from Zork to Skyrim, the impulse to create Asteroids, choosing elemental gameplay, well-defined scope, simple shapes drawn with straight lines: all these are purely aesthetic and ludic decisions. In the modern video game color palette, red and green, gold and purple, black and white, are all equally available and the artist may choose according to her taste. In 2018, all that is necessary to create Asteroids is the desire to play Asteroids.
posted by straight at 9:41 AM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

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