Posted on December 24, 2006
Atari Nerd Chronicles #1: The Beginning
While Jeff is starting this blog by instantly working on a new game, I want to take a look back before going forward. There are tons of old games we have worked on, plus many work-in-progress projects, stories and other stuff that I want to archive. If not necessarily for others to read, than just for my own selfish purposes.
I just started reading the book Commodork by Rob O’Hara. The book is not comprehensive history of an era like The First Quarter, or gripping yarn like The Cuckoo’s Egg , but instead,, a very personal story in the vein of Extra Life. It’s is a nice collection of anecdotes and a solid look-back at the BBS days of the 80’s. O’Hara chronicles his love of computers as a kid in Oklahoma, growing up through the 90’s. I recommend it for anyone who is even remotely interested in the days of ‘Personal Computers’ before the IBM compatible behemoth swallowed almost all but very few. Rob’s experiences mirror Jeff and mine pretty closely, except that Rob was a ‘Commode-Door’ junkie and we were solid Atari fans from California. I’ve been trying to write something similar for a long time, focusing on Atari, but I could never really find the right angle to keep the story rolling. Now that Mr. O’Hara has pretty much covered the ground fully (just substitute Atari 800 in your mind for Commodore and the story is pretty much the same), I feel a sense of freedom. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I’ve always felt that the 80’s computer era was story that needed to be told, and I felt the need to tell it, but now that his story is out there, there really is no need to cover the same ground. This is a good, because, while Jeff and I participated in many of the same activities chronicled in Commodork, the most important thing for us was not really covered by Mr. O’Hara: designing and making games.
While we did not officially start writing games until the late 90’s, there were many attempts, false starts, successes and ideas brewing as far back as 1981. Much like Mr. O’Hara, our first real love of computers came from the Apple II. When Jeff and were 11 years old, our friend down the street, Eric Barth got an Apple II computer. We would type all sorts of basic programs in and watch their results. However, the most enjoyable of these were the ‘rockets’. Since the Apple II display was very slow at updating, printing out text to the screen was painful to watch. However, we used this to our advantage to create some of our first ‘entertainment’ on the computer. We would use apple basic ‘Print’ statements to design ridiculously huge ‘rockets’. Then we would ‘launch’ them by running the program. See example below:
In aside from playing ‘MLB Baseball’ and ‘Astrosmash’ on Eric’s Mattel Intellivision, and watching second rate movies on ‘ON TV’ in his living room, this is how we spent most summer nights in 1981. While we did play games on the Apple (my personal favorite was shooter named ‘Ceiling Zero’) programming was what we really loved to do. Any possible way we could start making our own games, even if those ‘games’ were just animations that only worked because of the limitations of the machine we wrote it on, that is where we wanted to be.
Anyway, in honor of those first animations we made on the Apple II, we have decided to call this site, and our collective selves (myself Steve Fulton and my twin brother Jeff Fulton) ‘8-Bit Rocket’. The subtitle ‘Garage Launched Games’ signifies where we are coming from. While we do spend much of our time at our actual jobs (to be revealed later) making web-based games and entertainment, this site is not really about those projects. While we might mention them here, the work here is separate. This site is dedicated to midnight coders, garage games, and making your ideas come alive one hour at a time, at night, while the kids are asleep. It’s about those golden moments, when you are close to nodding off yourself, but your force fingers write that one last line of code so you can feel like you have accomplished something, anything, before the sun comes up and your real life starts again the next morning.