Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Know Your City: St. Louis History Club - Inaugural Meeting

Tomorrow is the first meeting of our “Know Your City: St. Louis History Club”, a monthly gathering where the civic and historically minded can learn, teach, share, and discuss St. Louis history with others who hold the same passions. The event is free and no advance registration is required. We will begin at 6pm at the Blum House - hope to see you there!

Below is a very brief sample of the prepared lesson. After the presentation, the floor will be opened to Q&As and storytelling.

The Gateway Arch is only the start. St. Louis is home to more than one magnificent monument - The Eads Bridge, The Old Courthouse, Busch Stadium, The Cathedral Basilica, and The Wainwright Building are just a few examples of the marvels of engineering and beauty present in St. Louis architecture.

The Old Courthouse

• Originally served as a federal and state courthouse, now operates as a museum.
• First completed in 1828. Renovations continued until 1864.
• The Old Courthouse was the tallest building in St. Louis and Missouri until Union Station was built in 1896.
• 192 ft.
• Architects: Henry Singleton, Robert Mitchell, and William Rumbold.
• Greek Revival style.

Eads Bridge

• Named for designer and builder James Eads.
• At a length of 6,442 ft. the Eads Bridge was the longest arch bridge in the world when it was completed in 1874.
• Road and railway bridge.
• The first true use of steel in a major bridge.
• Encountered intense resistance from steamboat interests.
• National Historic Landmark (1964).

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician 

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Brief History of Fighting Games

     Fighting games are exactly what they sound like but there is a surprisingly deep history and complexity to the genre. Typically, these games feature one-on-one combat, either between a player and computer or two human players, although there are titles that feature team battles. Fights take place in 2D or 3D arenas, are usually divided into rounds (best of three is common), and end when one player’s life bar is depleted. The genre is known for having complex mechanics in which players must learn how to attack, block, counter, deliver special moves, and perform combos (a chain of attacks) through mastery of the game’s controls and precise timing.

     Much of the skill involved in fighting games requires an intimate knowledge of the player’s chosen character and the specific mechanics of the individual title. Because of this steep learning curve, fighting games have transformed into a niche genre, with a dedicated following of talented enthusiasts. Often, players specialize in one specific franchise and the competitive play, whether it be in official tournaments, the local arcade, or on someone’s couch, is arguably the most intense in any multiplayer field.

     The underlying fundamentals of fighting games evolved from boxing and karate games in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as Heavyweight Champ and Karate Champ. Such titles have since spun-off into the sports genre, with an emphasis on realism and simulation in contrast to the fighting genre’s often over-the-top and exaggerated presentation. It was Capcom’s Street Fighter in 1987 that popularized the style as it is known today. Street Fighter pitted animated characters of different martial arts backgrounds against each other and innovated several standards of fighting games, such as blocking, pressure controls, and special “hidden” moves.

     Street Fighter II is what really brought the genre into its own in 1991. Capcom’s sequel ignited the arcade boom of the 1990s and turned the gaming world on its head with its introduction of competitive multiplayer. Street Fighter II remains one of the best selling and most influential games of all time and impacted the direction of the genre like no other title.

     Perhaps the best of the games to follow in Street Fighter’s footsteps was Mortal Kombat. In terms of mechanics and gameplay Mortal Kombat was very similar to its predecessor but its presentation was much more adult and overtly violent. Mortal Kombat quickly gained fame and infamy for its over-the-top gore and grotesque “Fatalities”, in which the victor of a fight could brutally finish (see:kill) their dazed opponent. The game was the subject of several court cases, has been banned in multiple countries, and is credited with spurring the creation of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating system. As a franchise, Mortal Kombat has continued with regular game installments, multiple movies, comic books, action figures, and more.

     Once just a student of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat ended up having nearly as profound of an affect on the industry as Capcom’s title. A wave of copycat games cloned MK’s style, each working to up the ante on the blood and brutality of the other. Most of these titles have faded into the annals of gaming history but a select few, such as Killer Instinct and Primal Rage standout. Mortal Kombat continues to be revered and exalted by game critics and holds numerous records with Guinness World Records.

     Until this point, fighting games had been contained to a 2D graphical and gameplay style. With technological advancements, 3D gameplay opened a new frontier and games such as Tekken and Virtua Fighter pioneered the new possibilities. Tekken quickly grew to be arguably the most competitive franchise in the fighting genre, with an emphasis on balanced gameplay and a serious presentation. Through seven sequels and a couple spin-offs, Tekken has held on to this crown in arcades ever since.

     3D fighting games took over at the turn of the millennium with franchises such as Soul and Dead or Alive innovating the genre with features like weapon based combat and destructible environments. Even Mortal Kombat had to evolve, introducing 3D arenas and alternate fighting styles. Around this time, fighting games started to focus more on home console releases as the glory days of arcades began to wane.

     In recent years, fighting games have undergone a renaissance after the long awaited release of Street Fighter IV. Street Fighter IV utilized 3D character models in a traditional 2D fighting arena, marked the debut of online play to the series, and received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The success of SF IV has already led to the revitalization of its peers, Mortal Kombat and Tekken.

     Another popular modern trend in modern fighting games is the crossover, in which the roster is compiled from all-star sources. The roots of this can be traced to Marvel vs Capcom, in which characters from Capcom’s games such as Street Fighter and Resident Evil squared-off against Marvel comic characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man. In 2008, Midway and DC Comics flipped the coin on this formula with Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. assembles all of their beloved characters, like Mario, Kirby, and Donkey Kong, and throws them into an all out rumble with frantic results. Sony tried to copy this recipe in 2012 with their Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale with their own pantheon of characters.

     It is unclear what the next horizon of fighting games has in store for gamers but it is such a timeless genre that there is no doubt there will be plenty of button-mashing and controller flipping going for a long time to come. Blockbuster franchises like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Super Smash Bros. have received a new jolt from online play and could only be getting warmed up. Until then, there are plenty of classics and contemporary titles to keep us busy. 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Brief History of Role-Playing Games


     A role-playing game, commonly referred to as an RPG, is a deep and complicated experience in which players explore a vast world and slowly develop their character. Most RPGs can be expected to run a minimum of thirty hours and it is not uncommon for them to be much longer. When considering side-quests and the freedom of exploration, RPGs often offer more than 100 hours of gameplay.

     Outside of progressing the story, the onus of RPGs is to level-up and advance the playable character(s) so that they become more powerful and capable of confronting the increasingly challenging enemies in the game. Stats such as attack and defense usually increase automatically with experience that is gained from winning battles or completing tasks but there are often much more advanced attributes to consider and mold and every game has a unique system of presenting such extracurriculars. Almost universally all RPGs use what is known as a level system in which the numerical value directly corresponds with the character’s strengths and achievements. For instance, a character at level fifty is guaranteed to be much more advanced than a level five character. Items and equipment are other significant factors, with the reward of powerful new armor and weapons routinely being an incentive for tasks and battles.

     Thematically, video game RPGs are typically akin to their tabletop counterparts (such as Dungeons & Dragons). While there are exceptions, most RPGs are of the fantasy or science-fiction genres and deal with epic tales of adventure and war. In theory, franchises like Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings would be most suited to being RPGs if they were made into video games (and indeed, they have been).

     There is a variety of sub-genres in the RPG realm but almost all share some basic elements, including a heavy emphasis on exploration, grand storytelling, and the character customization aspects previously discussed. Action RPGs differ slightly from Turn-Based RPGs which are in turn a step away from Tactical RPGs. Recently, a division between Eastern and Western RPGs has come to represent these distinctions and other cultural differences.

     The roots of RPGs in video games can be traced as far back as the 1970s when PC gaming began to try and emulate tabletop games but the gameplay style as it is known today began in earnest with 1986’s Dragon Quest on the Nintendo Entertainment System. A tsunami of similar titles was soon to follow, including The Legend of Zelda, Phantasy Star, and Final Fantasy. These now historic and beloved franchises continued at a steady pace through the 1990s, with each entry advancing and evolving the formula of the previous. Near the end of this generation of RPGs, Nintendo’s Pokemon captivated gamers like few other titles in history have; the Pokemon franchise remains the best-selling RPG of all time.

     In 1997, everything changed with the release of Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. The fifth-generation of consoles was the first to use discs instead of cartridges and it is fair to say that perhaps no genre was more affected by this than the RPG. The new format allowed for much longer and deeper games than before and this is when the trademark depth and complexity of the genre really took hold. The storytelling was also greatly impacted as the new technology allowed for beautiful computer generated “cutscenes” that played out like episodic mini-movies throughout the adventure. Final Fantasy VII is regarded as one of the most important and influential games of all time and continues to be revived and renowned year after year.
     The next big step for RPGs came in 1999 with the online PC game Everquest. While online RPGs had existed for some time, it was Everquest that really pushed them into the mainstream and established the subgenre as its own cultural phenomenon. The Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, known as an MMORPG, allows players from across the globe to connect in the same enormous magical world and progress through the adventure together. Everquest and Diablo II put MMORPGs on the map in a big way and the trend continues today with titles such as World of Warcraft.

     In the current era of gaming, Western RPGs (WRPGs) have eclipsed their Japanese counterparts. Titles such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Mass Effect have redefined the genre to mainstream audiences with darker themes, more mature characters, and faster-paced more action heavy combat systems. While traditional RPGs (JRPGs) persevere, and blockbuster franchises such as Final Fantasy and Pokemon persist, their influence has indisputably waned.

     RPGs of all stripes remain among the most critically acclaimed every year and developers keep finding new ways to reintroduce elements and evolve the style. Like with anything, the power of direction is ultimately left to the consumer and commercial viability. It is likely that gamers will continue to see a hybrid of traditional styles as well as new growth in the genre as the technology advances. We can only wait in breathless anticipation to see what the game makers of tomorrow have in store for role-playing games of the future.

  Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Brief History of First-Person Shooters


    A first-person shooter, commonly referred to as an FPS, places the player in the eyes of the playable character. As the title suggests, the action is viewed through a first-person perspective and is usually centered around gun or weapon based action. Often the only attributes of the player’s character visible are the weapon and the avatar’s hands or arms. First-person shooters are usually mature, violent titles and have grown to be the most successful and popular genre in the current generation of gaming.

     While the roots of the genre can be traced back even further, 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D is generally credited as being the origin point of the style as it is known today. Wolfenstein 3D was released on the PC and thrust players into the role of a captured spy trying to escape from a Nazi prison. In addition to what would become the trademark style and pacing of the genre, Wolfenstein 3D established the perimeters of challenge and success with metrics such as health percentage and ammo count.

    Wolfenstein 3D pioneered today’s first-person shooter but it was 1993’s Doom that put the genre on the map. Doom built off of and evolved the foundation laid by Wolfenstein and expanded the style’s appeal to the mainstream in a ground-breaking way. In Doom, players take control of a space marine fighting waves of demons and monsters invading Mars from hell through a dimensional portal. Doom upped the ante on everything Wolfenstein had established and was a true cultural phenomenon that was investigated by journalists, protested by religious groups, and played by untold millions of gamers. Doom spawned a legion of copycat titles, popularly referred to as “Doom clones”, and irrevocably influenced and changed the video game landscape forever.

    One of the main innovations and advancements in Doom was the multiplayer deathmatch mode, in which players competed against one another in human vs human shootouts. This feature exploded to new popularity with 1997’s Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Having friends over and staying up late to battle it out in fast paced first-person mayhem became a way of life for gamers of all ages. This was probably the zenith of local multiplayer before the evolution of online multiplayer changed everything.

     In the 2000s, competitive online multiplayer has driven the first-person shooter scene to the top of the totem pole in video game genres. Titles such as Counter-Strike, Call of Duty and Halo are among the best selling of all time, thanks in large part to their online “deathmatch” offerings. Players can team-up with friends to compete with other gamers from around the world, earning rewards and rankings to increase their attributes and status in the gaming community. Halo has given life to deeper, more immersive FPS experiences such as Borderlands and Destiny, while the Call of Duty franchise has churned out a new entry annually since 2007’s Modern Warfare, each surpassing the last in new features and sales figures.

     The first-person genre has also seen advancements in the diversity of its essence and concepts. Titles such as Half-Life, Metroid Prime, and Bioshock have taken some of the focus away from frantic “run and gun” gameplay to provide new spins on elements of physics, puzzles, and storytelling. These games, and others like them, prove that the FPS scene doesn’t have to be one dimensional mindless violence and can offer as much depth and complexity as any game type.

    Even as their critical reception wanes, the enduring commercial viability of first-person shooters ensures that there will be plenty of new titles for the foreseeable future. The direction the genre takes is largely in the hands of gamers, as sales figures will dictate what gameplay style is pursued and produced by studios. In any case, the FPS genre has already crowned itself in video game history and has plenty of wind left in its sails. 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, May 09, 2016

Top Ten Reasons We'll Miss Barb and Theo

Library Clerk Theo Tate and Executive Director Barbara Rhodes will both be saying goodbye to the Mississippi Valley Library District this month, as they head for greener pastures. In honor of their departures we have made a list of the top ten reasons the library will miss them.

10) Our staff now has zero women's basketball experts.
09) One of these two is known as "the Lon Chaney of Librarians".
08) Three words - Angry Birds Party!
07) At every staff meeting Barb would spend ten minutes defending The Life of Chris Gaines.
06) They were the A.C. Slater and Principal Belding of this place.
05) Actually, they were the Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope of this place.
04) Our annual Oscar pool will be a lot less exciting now.
03) Advantage, Advantage News.
02) We've grown fond of Barb's insistence that everyone refer to her as the Grand Panjandrum.
01) Obviously, the Ladies' Night.

Posted by Grahm Underwood, Library Clerk

Friday, May 06, 2016

Sponsor Spotlight - Miller & Maack General Contractors

Q. How long have you been in business? 
A. Since 1971. 

Q. Have you always been at this location?
A. Yes. 

Q. Why do your customers choose you? What sets you apart?
A. Hands-on work, local business with high quality work. 

Q. What's your biggest service/product?
A. Remodeling residential and commercial. 

Q. Do you have an online presence you would like to share? 
A. www.millermaack.com

Q. What's your favorite book?
A. "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett 


The Collinsville Library is demonstrating our gratitude to our wonderful sponsors with the "Sponsor Spotlight" blog series. Our deepest appreciation goes to these businesses whose contributions ensure that the library can present even better service to the community. If you would like to become a library sponsor, contact us today at 618-344-1112.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, May 02, 2016

Welcome to New Staff!

Say hello to three new staff members!

Vicky Hart takes the helm today as the new executive director of the Mississippi Valley Library District.  Vicky has a variety of experiences in public libraries, including as past director of the Tri-Township Public Library in Troy, IL.

Ginny York is stepping in as the district-wide youth services technician, a position she held previously at the Collinsville Memorial Library Center.  Ginny enjoys sharing a love of reading with children of all ages and will be leading and coordinating children's activities.

Trevor Wood is our newest clerk.  You'll be seeing him around the building at various stations, and perhaps you can ask this film buff for recommendations and reviews.

Join us in welcoming these great additions to our library and community!

Posted by Kyla Waltermire, Branch Manager-Collinsville