Willy Wonka had a great idea.
Wonkavision, as the story goes, was a sort of television that let you reach into the screen and pull a candy bar right out of the picture.
Trade Wonkabars for videogames, and you get GameTap - an online service that works like a television, but lets you play the games in addition to just watching shows about them.
With piles of titles in stock and a flashy, video-enhanced interface, GameTap works like an on-demand cable channel for old games. Missed "Planescape: Torment" when it came out in 1999? Log on and the twisted classic is only a short download away. Enjoyed watching that retrospective on late '80s culture? Click on the "Rampage" game icon and relive your mall arcade days all over again.
As one of the Turner Broadcasting System's properties, you could say that GameTap is sort of like the Cartoon Network of gaming. In fact, GameTap is the Cartoon Network of gaming. Both follow the identical model of taking old stuff that has lost a little attention with the mass market, cleaning it up, building a dramatic platform filled with eye-catching graphics, and then offering it to fans as something new.
Even better, GameTap will sell you back your gaming memories for only $9.95 a month.
Forget about trying to find your Atari 2600 in your parents' basement. Everything you want is here. "Adventure," "Combat" and "Yars Revenge." You can blast back to the days of the Intellivision or relive your heroic text-based graphic adventures in the "Ultima" series.
As the GameTap library grows, you will find new adventures of the LucasArts game "Sam and Max" or see the long-canceled "Myst Online" project "Uru" brought back to life.
At 700 games and counting, the GameTap archive hosts a staggering amount of content. That's not to say there aren't gaps. You won't find a single Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony game, for example. But with new titles added weekly, it's still like having access to the Library of Congress of games.
True to its TV roots, GameTap offers plenty of streaming program content featuring music, movies and, of course, more games. A recent report on the granddaddy of gaming conventions, Gen Con, dove into the intersection between board game and videogame cultures.
For years people debated whether the set-top box would have a Microsoft, Sony or DirectTV logo on the front. If GameTap is any indication, the future of the media is the cable model brought to computers. For a low monthly cost, GameTap combines the cable ethos of endless choice and focused programming with the interactive possibilities of the PC. By doing this, GameTap opens the door for a more casual form of game play, where channel surfing takes the form of grazing through dozens of games. This might rankle hardcore gamers who are used to obsessively focusing on one game at a time. But it's good news for the rest of us.
Who's It For: With almost 700 games and counting, it's fair to say that there's something for everyone on "GameTap." Whether it's seeing how rusty your "Space Invaders" skills have grown, or playing through a favorite Dreamcast game, you can always find something enjoyable.
If You Like This, Try That: If you like the idea of having access to lots of new and interesting games, check out the independent game publisher www.manifestogames.com. Most of the titles have a try-before-you-buy option, so you can be sure you are getting what you pay for.
Best Part: GameTap is at its best when helping you find an old friend, like "Frogger" or "Defender," and spending the evening catching up.
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