8bitrocket.com
31Jul/070

Creating Custom Events In Flash AS3 (ActionScript 3)

I've only been working with Flash AS3 for a very short time, but I'm already very happy with it. Even though it is not as accessible as AS2, the power of the new language features are unmistakable. One very powerful feature of AS3 is the built-in event handling. Event handing has existed in Flash as far back as Flash 5, but with AS3 Adobe has forced the issue to the point where using events is really no longer a choice. If you want to create any sort of efficient AS3 application, you will have to learn event handling.

Basic event handling is fairly straight-forward. We'll start-out by creating a simple game that uses events. This "game" will randomly place circles on the screen that need to be clicked-on. We will start by creating a Game class. The first EventListener required for this Game class to work is an an Event that is fired for onEnterFrame. The code addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, run) makes the Ball class listen for ENTER_FRAME events and when one is fired, it calls the run() function.

The run() function is used to create new balls on the screen. There is a 10% chance a new ball will be created every frame. After a ball is created, we want to have our game class listen for a CLICKED event from the ball. This event will fire when the mouse is clicked on ball. We will use this event to remove the ball from our Balls array, and score points for the player. The line of code tempBall.addEventListener(Ball.CLICKED, ballClicked); makes sure that our Game class will listen for a CLICKED event. The code below illustrates the complete Game class.

[cc lang="javascript" width="550"]/**
* ...
* @author Default
* @version 0.1
*/

package {
import flash.display.MovieClip;
import flash.text.TextField;
import flash.events.Event;
import flash.events.MouseEvent;
public class Game extends MovieClip{
private var balls:Array;
private var score:int;
public function Game() {
balls = new Array();
addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, run);
score = 0;

}

public function run(e:Event):void {
var tempVar:Number = Math.floor(Math.random() * 100);
if (tempVar > 90) {
trace("create ball");
var rx:int = Math.floor(Math.random() * 550);
var ry:int = 0;
var tempBall:Ball = new Ball(rx,ry);
tempBall.addEventListener(Ball.CLICKED, ballClicked);
balls.push(tempBall);
addChild(tempBall);
}

for (var i:int = 0; i < balls.length; i++) {
balls[i].run();
}

}

public function ballClicked(e:ScoreEvent) {
trace("Clicked:"+ Ball(e.target));
for (var i:int = balls.length-1; i >= 0; i ) {
if (balls[i] == e.target) {
removeChild(balls[i]);
balls.splice(i,1);
score+=e.score;
ScoreText.text = score.toString(); ;
}

}

}

}
}
[/cc]

To shed more light on what the ballClicked() function is doing in the Game class, I must first show you the code for the Ball class:

[cc lang="javascript" width="550"]package {
import flash.display.MovieClip;
import flash.events.Event;
import flash.events.MouseEvent;
public class Ball extends MovieClip{
static public var CLICKED:String = "clicked";
public var down:Boolean;
public var speed:int =3;
public function Ball(tx:Number, ty:Number) {
x = tx;
y = ty;
addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, mouseClicked);
down=true;

}

public function mouseClicked(e:MouseEvent):void {
dispatchEvent(new ScoreEvent(speed,CLICKED));
}

public function run():void {
if (down){
y += speed;
if (y > 400) {
speed++;
down=false;
}

} else {
y -= speed;
if (y < 0) {
speed++;
down=true;
}
}

}
}

}
[/cc]

This class starts out a lot like the Game class. In the constructor we add this line of code to listen for a mouse CLICK event: addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, mouseClicked); To facilitate this we add a variable named CLICKED as String -"clicked". This will function our our event identifier. The code looks like this: static public var CLICKED:String = "clicked"; We also need to add a function named mouseClicked that will be called when the Ball hears a MouseEvent.CLICKED event. The run() method of this class (called from the Game class' run() method) move the Ball up and down the screen as the ball "bounces" off the top or bottom, it's speed increases. This "speed" is what we use for "score". The faster the Ball, the more points the player scores.

This is where our problem arises. We need to dispatch an event back to our Game class that does two things: tells Game that a ball was clicked, and provide a score based on the speed of the Ball. We cannot do this with a regular Event, because we need to attach the score to message. Instead, we create our own Event that extends Event named "ScoreEvent" and send that event instead. Here is what what class looks like:

 

[cc lang="javascript" width="550"]package {
import flash.events.Event;
public class ScoreEvent extends Event{
public var score:int;
public function ScoreEvent(scr:int, type:String, bubbles:Boolean = false, cancelable:Boolean = false){
super(type, bubbles,cancelable);
score = scr;
}
}

}
[/cc]

ScoreEvent takes the same parameters as an Event class, but adds a scr which is used to set its score property. Before we do that, we call the Base Class with super(type, bubbles,cancelable); to make sure we initialize the MouseEvent as if it was a standard Event. Now Let's go back and look at the code for the Game class's ballClicked function;:

[cc lang="javascript" width="550"] public function ballClicked(e:ScoreEvent) {
trace("Clicked:"+ Ball(e.target));
for (var i:int = balls.length-1; i >= 0; i ) {
if (balls[i] == e.target) {
removeChild(balls[i]);
balls.splice(i,1);
score+=e.score;
ScoreText.text = score.toString(); ;
}

}

}
[/cc]

Recall that we set-up the game class to call ballClicked when a CLICKED event was fired from Ball: tempBall.addEventListener(Ball.CLICKED, ballClicked); This function simply finds the Ball that was clicked on my looping through the balls array and trying to match the ScoreEvent's target property to the Ball that fired it. When we find one, we increase score by the score set in ScoreEvent's score property.

There are probably many other ways to solve this problem with the score, and other Events that could be used to listen to mouse clicks and fire events, but this tutorial simply illustrates how to create a custom Event and use it in your code.

Download the sample code here.

 

 

Filed under: Tutorials No Comments
31Jul/070

Required Playing – Atari 2600 Dragonstomper.

In 1981 a small company named Arcadia was formed with the purpose of cashing in on the craze that was home video games. The company was quickly renamed Starpath when it was learned that at least one copyright was already registered with an association to video games (Emersion Arcadia) and was in use. This small group of bright individuals set out not, like so many others, to just slap retread game carts on the video game world , but to create something new, and maybe something brilliant. This team of industry veterans and young hot shots spent most of a year, fueled by caffeine and junk food, reverse engineering the Atari 2600. The result was a keen knowledge of the inner workings of the hardware and an invention that would result in some of the finest 8-bit games ever made. The Starpath Supercharger allowed the Atari 2600 to access 6K of ram as opposed to the 128 bytes that others had to work with. Also, it made use of cheap cassette tapes to store and load game rom and data as necessary. Unfortunately, the game industry died well before the Supercharger could completely revolutionize the industry. In its wake though, the code warriors who crafted this device and its fine software library, would go on to make a huge impact on the 80's video game industry. The Supercharger is an item that is sought after and coveted by collectors today. The games remain some of the very few Atari 2600 games to never have a public free release, but were released as a CD Rom called Stella Gets a new Brain in 1999.

Steve and I grabbed an Arcadia Supercharger in the first allotment sold to stores in 1982. I'm sure if we hadn't sold it to get a Vectrex a few years later it could possibly be worth some good money on Ebay today. We had Phaser Patrol and Communist Mutants from Space originally, and also purchased Escape From the Mind Master, Dragonstomper, and Frogger not long after. These games were as good as any computer games we had played, and some, like Escape and Dragonstomper had a level of depth we had yet to experience. Also they were inexpensive! A quality Starpath game could be had for under 20 bucks at the time. Other, inferior games, were selling for almost twice that price.

Stephen Landum was the designer and programmer for Dragonstomper. He also created Communist Mutants from Space, Frogger, and Suicide Mission for the Supercharger. He would go on to survive the video game crash as Epyx purchased Starpath in its wake. There, he was a principal designer and game programmer on the Handy portable (Later bought or stolen by Atari and renamed the Lynx - stories abound on the subject). His Blue Lightening is still considered to be one of the great Lynx games. He is also credited with programming and or creating such classics as Summer Games, Pit Stop II, and the Temple of Apshai Trilogy. Stephen was also instrumental in creating the 3DO game console.

 

(Box Cover and back)

Dragonstomper, originally titled Excalibur, was in the first wave of games released by Starpath. Other notable first-wave titles were Phaser Patrol (Star Raiders like game), Fireball (an interesting take on Breakout), Communist Mutants From Space (Galxian like game), and Suicide Mission (Asteroids). Dragonstomper was one of the first true role playing games modeled on Dungeons and Dragons released for the 2600. I remember Steve and I spending hours in front of the living room TV patiently collecting enough gold and magic items to make it to the town. We persevered and eventually beat the game in what turned out to be one of our first true video game triumphs.

Dragonstomper is probably best appreciated for its innovative music, easy to use interface, and multiple solutions to problems. For example, you can win the game in more than one way - kill dragon or just steal the amulet back. You can also traverse the cave to the dragon with rope, or by jumping down and then healing yourself (if you forgot to buy rope). The simple menu interface using just a 4-way stick and a single button was as elegant as anything today, while the hilarious music tracks (i'm in the money!) that trigger during game play are create a perfect atmosphere. It was also the first taste of real roleplaying on a home console, and an amazing achievment forther 2600.

Dragonstomper takes place in three different locations, each needing a separate load from the cassette media. You begin the game by traveling the Enchanted Countryside in an attempt to obtain the magic, items, and gold necessary to make it across the bridge and into the Oppressed Village. Once in the village, your task is to buy weapons, items and magic necessary to defeat the dragon. You can also attempt to recruit warriors from the village to join you in your quest. The final stage of the game is the journey through the Dragon's cave and eventual final battle.

The provided story is seems pretty standard today, but was ahead of its time in comparison to other early 80's console titles: You are the Dragonstomper, the only hero capable of defeating a dragon obsessed with evil. This dragon obtained his power by tricking a power hungry druid into dropping a powerful magic amulet in his cave. The dragon used the amulet to kill, oppress, scare the villagers into submission. The once powerful king's brave knights have become the dragon's evil henchmen, so no one, not even the King's  powerful wizard can stop him.

You begin the game with 400 gold, and enough strength (23) and dexterity (23) to put up a fight against a few of the evil creatures inhabiting the land. You must fight your way to better items, weapons, and magic, while keeping a careful watch on your strength. If it reaches 0 you must reset the game to resurrect yourself. This section of the game is huge by Atari 2600 standards. There are 20 screens full of landscape to explore.

Your on-screen avatar is little more than a simple rectangle, but what a powerful rectangle he turns out to be. You begin your quest with a few gold and no weapons. As you fight your way around the landscape, you will find many items of use and collect much gold in the process. Some of these items (charms, crosses, potions, rings and staffs) are enchanted with magic that help to increase (or in some cases decrease) your two basic stats (strength and dexterity). The effect is random until you use an item for the first time. Once the effect is set (increase or mildly decrease you stat)s, it stays the same until you reset the game. You start the game with 23 in each basic stat. You don't gain experience points (ala DnD) but your simple goal is to increase your strength (basically hit points combined with DnD strength) and dexterity as much has possible. . This will allow you to become the fierce warrior needed to defeat the evil dragon.

You can visit a church and donate gold to increase your strength. There are many other places to visit such as castles, huts. temples, grass lands and more. Most buildings will be locked until you find a suitable key (a very important, but scarce resource), or have an axe to break down the door.You must battle snakes, demons, beetles, monkeys slime, maniacs, ghouls, spiders and more. There are 9 different places to visit, 11 items and weapons, and 12 different creatures to do battle with. The hand axe is the only hand to hand weapon you can find and it greatly improves you ability in close combat. Visiting places basically results in you being attacked or receiving one of the game objects. Also, there are various traps scattered around the countryside and you must avoid them or hope you have a high enough dexterity to get out quickly.

The higher your dexterity, the harder it is for you to be hit by monsters, and the easier they will be able to be hit by you. The higher your strength, the better you will do in battle, and the longer you will live. You will be repeatedly attacked while on your quest. The fighting action takes places via a simple menu interface. You can run from most battles without too much trouble and this will be extremely important early on as your strength will be sapped and it replenishes very slowly without cleric or magical help.

To make it across the bridge and into the Oppressed Village, you must have 1500 in gold with a strength and dexterity at max (52 each). Again, there is an alternative method of gaining access, if you can figure out what the bridge guard will take as a bribe. In town you will be able to spend your acquired gold on a number of items that will increase your chances of defeating the dragon and stealing back the amulet crystal. You can purchase magical scrolls such as BLAST, FLASH, PROTECT, UNLOCK, VISION, and STUN in the magic shop. Blast will take some serious damage from an enemy combatant, while the others will aide you in various ways. Flash will light up an area of the cave, protect will help confuse the enemy into missing their strike on your avatar, unlock will remove magic barriers and help emancipate the amulet crystal.The stun spell will freeze your enemy, while the vision scroll will allow you to see traps.

You can also equip yourself with healing elixirs (increase dexterity), medicine (cure poisons), vitamins (increase strength) at the hospital, and even buy a longbow, rope, lanterns and other equipment at the trade shop. You have the ability to sell off all of your unneeded equipment from part one and use the money on these and other important items. This is good because only the hand axe really is of any use in the third part of the game. If you have enough gold (or precious gems) left, you can attempt to recruit at least one of the three warriors in town to join you in the quest.

 

When you have finished shopping and recruiting, it is time to load part three and head into the Dragon's cave. Before you make it to the dragon, you will have to avoid guardians, pits, poison darts, and more. Make sure you have enough medicine, rope and other items to help you through this section. Once in the dragons lair, it's a fight to the death. Ranged weapons, magic, and a lot of healing potions are needed to succeed. You don't even have to kill the dragon if you can some how get to the locked away amulet crystal (the unlock scroll should help), the game will be won.

Dragionstomper is an excellent game. It holds interest even today. Casual and hardcore game designers of today should pay reverence to titles such as these. Not only was it innovative in every way, but it has that virtually unknown and almost impossible to create quality that makes you want to keep playing until you finish, no matter what your real world responsibilities may be.

Besides Stephen Landrum, here is a brief bio on some of the other brillant people who worked at Starpath:

Craig Nelson was a hardware engineer at Starpath. His knowledge of the 2600, from having worked at Atari, was pivotal for the small company. He was the principal designer of the Supercharger hardware. He is also credited with creating the legendary Rogue title for Epyx.

Scott Nelson was Craig's brother and as a game programmer he created Fireball and Survival Island for the Supercharger. Scott also moved on to Epyx (like some of his fellow Starpath brothers) and programmed versions of Summer Games I &II, The Games Winter and Summer, as well as Chips Challenge (Lynx), and the Secret of Monkey Island. His name has shown up on some more recent Midway titles such as Gauntlet 7 Sorrows for the PS2.

Dennis Caswell created Escape From the Mindmaster, Labyrinth, Party Mix and Phaser Patrol for the Supercharger. At Epyx, Dennis created one of the all-time great 8bit classics, Impossible Mission.

Steve Hales was 19 when he became a programmer for Starpath. He created the Asteroids-like game, Suicide mission. He went on to program such classics as Fort Apocalypse, California Games and Sim City, as well as many other games up until the mid '90s.

Halcyon Days Interview with Steve Hales

8bitrocket article on Steve Hales' Fort Apocalypse

The Unofficial Epyx & Summer Games Homepage (Interview with Stephen Landrum)

Forbes magazine comparing the 2600 and the xbox 360 - with a discussion Dragonstomper

Atari Protos Dragonstomper Page

Filed under: Atari Nerd No Comments
29Jul/070

Required Reading: Classic Computer Magazine Archive

Class Computer Magazine Museum

The Classic Computer Magazine Archive (http://www.atarimagazines.com) boasts several complete or nearly complete magazine archives, mostly from the 1980's. The archive concentrates on Atari Computer magazines. It was once called AtariMagzines.com (and still holds that particular URL). However, it now contains archives for other magazines as well, including a very comprehensive archive of Compute!, the best multi-system computer magazine ever published . Nearly all the magazines are in HTML format, making it very easy to search and find articles that might be of interest. Currently the archive boasts the following collections:

In case you are wondering why you would want to read these old magazines (besides the obvious reasons like: "they are awesome"), there are many classic reviews and interviews to be had within these pages. Mostly, the "back-in-the-day" writing style is both matter-of-fact, and charming. Many of these magazines have BASIC and ASSEMBLY program listings that you can use with Atari, Apple and Commodore emulators to further explore these old systems. However, what is most interesting about these magazines is the sense of "place" they create for a by-gone era. The sense of awe and importance placed on nearly every new release and breakthrough is both refreshing and depressing. Refreshing because it is great to read authors who truly enjoyed and were fascinated with computing as hobby. Depressing because you can see this "era of discovery" disappearing with each successive issue.

Some notable reviews of Atari 8-bit and 16-bit computer games in the archive:

Notable interviews with famous computer and game development icons of the era::

 

Filed under: Book Reviews No Comments
26Jul/070

Required Reading: The Art Of Computer Game Design by Chris Crawford (free online book)

cover

By all rights, Chris Crawford's book The Art Of computer Game Design  should be a mere relic in the eyes of modern game designers. Sure, in 1984 it was the first serious book written by a computer game designer/programmer about the design of games, but at 23 years old it would seem to be too old to hold any really useful information about the design of modern games, right? Wrong. With "casual" games taking center-stage thanks to the efforts of web-based game programmers, the Nintendo DS & Wii consoles, plus the XBox Live Arcade, the lessons of early game designer/programmers like Crawford can be both handy, and at times, down-right golden. As well, designers of games for any level or platform could do well to digest some of the more universal topics in this book.

Crawford first chapter, "What Is A Game?" does a fine job of setting the tone for what lies ahead. Crawford jumps right-in with a serious discussion of why game are important to humans, about conflict, and the importance of interaction in video and computer games. This is not a book that is steeped in the details of implementation, or the exact features of any one game type, but instead it is designed to make the reader really think about games and exactly what they are trying to accomplish when designing/programming a game. The key take-away from this chapter are Crawford's thoughts on "interaction". Basically, without interaction you don't have a game, and in Crawford's world, quality of interaction is directly proportional to the quality of your game.

The second chapter in the book, "Why Do People Play Games?" takes a deep look at the motivations people have for playing games. Crawford, while admitting that many people play games for differing reasons (exploration, proving oneself, social, etc.), states that much of the desire of playing games comes from an innate human need to "learn". Crawford writes

"I claim that the fundamental motivation for all game-playing is to learn. This is the original motivation for game-playing, and surely retains much of its importance...I must qualify my claim that the fundamental motivation for all game-play is to learn. First, the educational motivation may not be conscious. Indeed, it may well take the form of a vague predilection to play games. The fact that this motivation may be unconscious does not lessen its import; indeed, the fact would lend credence to the assertion that learning is a truly fundamental motivation."

Crawford does not say that every game should be "educational", but that the process of learning is part of why people play games. As game designers and programmers we can learn to create more addictive games by tapping into this need. Giving players the ability to learn patterns or discover the "hidden" rules beneath the game's surface are just a couple ways of satisfying this need without hitting players over the head with "lessons".

Crawford's third chapter, "A Taxonomy Of Computer Games" is light on text, but surprisingly complete in scope, even though it was compiled in 1982. While it focuses on the prevalent type of game for the age (arcade style contests), this is not all that bad in particular for programmers/designers of web-based games because the lion's share of on-line games still fall into this category. What is surprising from his list are how few game genres have been created since 1982. First-Person shooters fall under "Skill And Action", "Real Time Strategy" in War games, the "Sims" style games in the "relationship" category. The only genre he does not specifically cover is MMORPGs, but he does state "So far, however, few games have been marketed that truly capture the spirit of D&D", which in some sense, is the point of MMORPGs.

Chapter Four "Game Technologies" seems like it would veer the farthest from modern games, but again, Crawford talks in such universal terms that his lessons are still very useful today. His thoughts on game interfaces and information interaction between the game and the player, and how they effect the success of game are still extremely important , as are his feelings on keeping the game design "clean" and free of special-case elements that don't support the main functions of the game. Crawford even takes the role of an prophet of sorts, pointing out that one of the most compelling thing about computer games is " is their ability to utilize data transfer over telephone lines for game play. The use of telecommunications for game play makes possible game structures that are out of the reach of other technologies. It allows us to create games with huge numbers of players. "

Chapter 5 "The Game Design Sequence" is a complete strategy for designing and developing a game. While it is very light on the actual programming implementation, Crawford's main idea is that the research, planning and design of your game are much more important than the programming phase .Crawford writes "Seldom has a game failed solely because the programmer lacked the requisite programming skills. Games have failed to live up to their potential because the programmer did not expend enough effort, or rushed the job..." Crawford's experience with games he "did not" finish are very important here. His thoughts on "aborting" a project before you have invested too much effort is something I plan to tape to my wall:

"The last and most crucial decision is the decision to abort the game or proceed. It should be made now, before you commit to programming the game. Do not hesitate to abort the game now; even if you abort now you will still have I earned a great deal and can say that the effort was worthwhile. A decision to give up at a later stage will entail a real loss, so give this option careful consideration now while you can still do it without major loss. Abort if the game no longer excites you. Abort if you have doubts about its likelihood of success. Abort if you are unsure that you can successfully implement it. I have in my files nearly a hundred game ideas; of these, I have explored at length some 30 to 40. Of these, all but eight were aborted in the design stage"

Chapter 6 "Design Techniques And Ideals" is a grab-bag of sorts containing content on a variety of topics that dig deeper into game design. These include game balancing, learning curves, and the relationships of game opponents. Not all of these will be useful to everyone, but then Crawford's main thrust of this chapter is not necessarily the digestion of all these topics. Instead, Crawford encourages style and technique for creating games. It appears that Crawford is saying "this is how I do it, you might not do it this way, but find some way to do it, and stick with it."

Chapter 7: "The Future Of Computer Games" is an extremely interesting read. especially for something written in 1982. Crawford plays the role of prophet again, but this time for an entire chapter. His thoughts on how personal computers will transform society are especially compelling:

"We therefore expect that personal computers will change the face of American society. We expect that networking will allow more Americans to participate in economic activities from the home, decreasing the load on transportation and accelerating the pace of economic life. The ease of manipulating information will give information an even more prominent role in our society. Our financial system will become less dependent on currency. Our lives will be changed by these machines."

Even more compelling are Crawford's thoughts on what computer and video games would become as they moved to the mass market:

As computer games become a mass market item, they will fall prey to the homogenizing forces of the mass market. The emphasis will not be on originality or creativity, but rather on adhering to the time-honored formulas. Just as movies and television fell prey to the formulas of sex and violence, cops and robbers, sitcoms, and the other mechanical incantations of the mass media, so too will games fall victim to the tyranny of the mass market. (Are my biases showing?) We will see an emphasis on delivering the same game over and over in new clothing. My guess is that we are already caught in the grip of this force, for we are producing little more than variations on a single theme: "blast the monsters!". This has sold well, so we stick with it.

Chapter 8 "The Development Of Excalibur" is an interesting "warts and all" view into Chris Crawford using some of the techniques he previously described in the design of a game. This chapter is fascinating, but to get the most out of it you need to really you enjoy the history of Atari, or have owned and played the Excalibur game on an Atari 800 computer. For Chris Crawford, Excalibur was the first battle in a life-long quest to create a game that modeled true human relationships.

Not everything in the book translates completely. and some of the ideas in the book show their age. In Chapter 4 Crawford advises programmers "as you look over your program listing, you should inspect each byte and ask yourself, 'Am I getting my money's worth from this byte?', an idea that seems rather naive in this day of ultra-fast machines, gigabytes of memory. Ditto goes for the discussion of "memory maps" in Chapter 5. However, the basic concepts of these ideas still hold a lot of truth. Efficient programming can make the performance of the game much better and maintainability of the code far easier than a sloppy design. As well, Flash game programmers in particular should be familiar with trying to compress every byte they can out of graphics, sounds, and even their own code to create a game with a reasonable download size. Also, some of the language in the book might make the actual content seem less than useful, which would be a mistake. For instance, Crawford's use of the term "artificial smarts" instead of "artificial intelligence" in Chapter 6 might seem quaint, but the lesson of the chapter is still valuable.

In the mid-1990's, long after this book was published, Chris Crawford became as pariah of sorts to the game industry because he continued to beat the drum on the topics he so eloquently states in "Chapter 7 The Future Of Computer Games". After being kicked out of the Game Developers Conference, a gathering he himself created, he left the game industry completely. Actually, to be fair, the game industry left him. It's really too bad, because people who can see 23 years into the future like Crawford did in 1984 should be leaders in the game industry, not shoved aside so the alpha-squad can make excuses for churning out the same games over and over. Crawford resurfaced a few years ago with another great book named "On Game Design" that further refined his game development techniques. He is currently finishing up the beta version of his interactive fiction system "Storytron", an idea that saw it's genesis in the final pages of The Art Of computer Game Design.

Note: The Art Of computer Game Design has been freely available online since 1997.

Filed under: Book Reviews No Comments
26Jul/070

Required Reading: Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss

lwb

Lucky Wander Boy (Plume, 2003), by D.B. Weiss, chronicles the fictional exploits of one Adam Pennyman, a 30-something dot.com copywriter with a gorgeous Polish girlfriend he seems incapable of pleasing, and nagging wander-lust that keeps him forever unsatisfied. This protagonist of Weiss's brilliantly paced, and hilarious novel is a recently awakened classic gaming fan who is working on a book named the "Catalog of Obsolete Entertainments" or "COE" for short. The COE when finished promises to be a complete listing of important classic games each described in great detail as to their game play, artistry, and their significance alongside important literature, movies, philosophy, etc.,

Weiss blends several different writing styles (straight easy to read prose, undergraduate-level compare/contrast essays, technical writing, movie scripts) into a completely engaging first-person account of Adam Pennyman's search for "meaning" while sifting through the nostalgia of his childhood. Adam's work on the COE begins with MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) a program that plays old coin-ops on your computer), but leads him to other emulators and bonafide classic games (Donkey Kong, Mr. Do, Pac Man, etc.), and finally to the game fictional Lucky Wander Boy, a machine so rare that no ROM is available, and few if any arcade cabinets are still in existence. It's this game and the fact that Adam never reached its elusive 3rd level, that drives the story through three distinct "acts" to it's satisfying conclusion.

The story is told in the first person, as Adam describes to the reader his introduction, and subsequent immersion into the world of classic video games. We learn about the most important game Adam played as young boy, "Microsurgeon" for the Mattel Intellivision, and why video games became so important to him. We travel to with from Los Angeles, across the country, and around the world. All the while we watch Adam get more and more immersed in his quest, and we see the effect it has on the people around him. We learn early on about the stability of Adam's mind, and at points, begin to questions his interpretation of the events that he is describing.

Lucky Wander Boy is filled with characters and locations that are so true to life, you can imagine them as real people: Adam's uber-geek love interest Clio, the dot.bomb "Portal Entertainment" where Adam works, the guys who fill a classic gaming convention, the arcade Adam frequented as a kid. As well, the actual history and classic gaming details are mostly accurate, and better yet, chosen to have a maximum effect on the story. The promised land of destiny Adam visits with Clio at the end of the book's second act is so perfect, you'll think "yep, that's where this HAD to take place" and at the same time kick yourself for not figuring out the location in the first place. The book finishes in a way that all my favorite books finish. There are no tricks or twists, or "she's a he!" 180's that turn your emotional investment in the material into a moot point. It ends that way it should end. All points in the story lead to its inevitable conclusion, and better yet, you probably will not see it coming until it all unfolds before you.

(note: This review originally appeared on http://www.gamerdad.com)

Filed under: Book Reviews No Comments
26Jul/070

Required Reading: Extra Life By David S. Bennahum

Extra Life

The experience of growing up at the dawn of the video and computer game age is one that I know all-to-well. Video games and computers exploded at the end of the 70's and have became an increasingly larger part of daily life ever since. However, while video games and computers are accepted as main-stream in 2007, that was not always the case. There was a time, not too long ago, when the world was not necessarily convinced about the transformative nature of electronic entertainment and communication. As my dad used to tell me, "the struggle is a much more interesting story than just the victory", yet it seems that this particular struggle is sorely under-represented on the book shelf.

The book Extra Life By David S. Bennahum is a great little book that takes this struggle to heart. It is both a memoir and coming-of-age story set dead-center in the golden age of video and computer games. The author grew up on coin-op video games, and for his Bar Mitzvah received the greatest gift any kid could have received at the time: An Atari 800 computer. Bennahum digs into the true feelings of kids at the time that suddenly found themselves owners of a wonderous new toy: a home computer. He details his own exploits with software, programming, and the social aspect of being a computer user (read: geek) in the 80's. Some of the most compelling content comes later in the book, when Bennahum describes his time in high school computer classes. Anyone who took a computer class in high school in the 80's will instantly recognize the little "kingdoms" created by teachers and students alike. Bennahum expertly paints a picture of the high school computer lab: a place whose denizens want nothing more than to live in an electronic world of their own making, be damned the world outside. The fact that this "world of their making" would one day become mainstream and move beyond their wildest expectations makes the story even more compelling.

Extra Life was published almost 10 years ago, just as the World Wide Web was tightening it's grip on the computer world. I suppose that this might be why it was not extremely popular when it was first published. The future was at hand, and this book was anchored to the past. However, in 2007, with the web 10 years in the mainstream, and the craze for it still unabated, books like this are important. They show that while technology might be different, people stay pretty much the same. The same obsession and power mongering that permeates the Web 2.0 world today, existed in the 80's, but in a much more limited form. However, so do the immesely positive aspects of the medium. The power of discovery of, learning with, and programming a computer has only become more powerful in the 21st century. As the news media clings to increasingly negative stories of the world wide web, it's good to read something that reminds us of the uniquely transformative power of the digital world.

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21Jul/070

An 16-bit road less traveled: Atari ST (and Amiga) Games – 16-bit degrees of separation #1.

I started with 8-bit degrees of separation last week where I investigated some rare/forgotten Atari 800 games. This week I'll take my investigation up to the 16-bit level. Here is how the game is played. First I choose a random Atari ST game, then I search out related games, developers and companies to find other games of note. This becomes especially fun when we find gems that we never new of or ones that got little notice when in their prime. Today we start with a little known, but very fun shoot-em-up called Foundations Waste. We'll follow that to related games including: Hyperdrome, Hell Raisers (Liberators), and Teen Age Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles. Because the Atari ST was the computer I had, we'll focus on those versions, although all 4 of these games were released for the Amiga as well.

Foundation's Waste
Foundation's Waste was released by Exocet Software in 1988. Our friend, Brandon Crist had this one. Atari ST games were not easy to come by in the USA. We had to drive an hour to an import shop in Orange, California called Computer Games + to find good ST games. We had to purchase most new games almost sight-unseen in those early days. This was because the import magazines were always months behind the street dates, and of course there was no Internet. Also, we weren't into the pirate scene much, so we paid hard cash for many many ST games. We had to rely on a good bit of quality color packaging with relatively high ST Action scores printed on the game packaging before we would lay out the $25-35 necessary to bring one of these babies home. In one of our very first forays to CG+, Brandon bought this game, and I remember being very pleased by it.

It looks like this game was imported and released here by a company called Scorpion. Also released as an Amiga Port, the ST version was programmed by Erroll Ellison and Martyn Bysh. The absolutely brilliant "chip tune" in the game was created by W Beben. The graphics in both versions were created by Alan Tompkins.

(Above: Foundation's Waste being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )

When we first played this game, we were absolutely amazed by the graphics (especially the explosions) and the music. I'm pretty sure we forgave the loose controls and high difficulty because of the euphoria of playing 16-bit games at home. It is still a very well made scrolling shooter with some nice bolt-on weapons and varied level graphics, but it definitely has the Atari ST / Amiga 80's loose/light weight quality to it. It's hard to describe as anything other than the physics are too loose and everything sort of pops like a balloon when hit. It could be because most developers opted for music only over music and sound FX. This was probably due to the lousy 3-voice chip the Tramiels slapped into the original ST rather than laziness on the developers part. The ported Amiga versions of games with the exact same sounds and music as the ST versions can be attributed to that laziness though. I have never played the Amiga version of this game so I can't tell if it plays as loose with the same lack of sound, but I wouldn't be surprised. This was the ST's time to shine in the UK and the Amiga wouldn't overtake it for at least another year or so. For that reason. most games were made on the ST first, and then machine code was ported straight to the Amiga (with some modifications for I/O, operting system, etc) without upgrading them.

I wish there was a trained version out there (there very well may be) because I find it way to difficult to play as an emulated game. I do remember it being easier on the real ST (at least the controls). It is well worth a try just to hear the very nice tune that was created specifically for the game.

I remember reading some reviews of this game. It was dismissed as a scrolling shooter clone. It was indeed, but at the time, on the ST, it was one of the few available for our arcade loving hearts.

Little Green Desktop's Foundation's Waste Page

Chris Edgar's Automation Disk Catalog (Foundation's Waste is on #027)

Rating (1-10): 6. Nice FX and music, but loose physics and controls make it a chore to complete.

 

Hyperdome
We're staying with Exocet software for the time being to check out another scrolling shooter called Hyperdrome. This is yet another game that did get a US release by Scorpion, although I never remember seeing or playing it back in the 80's. I did read and buy START regularly, and I found a review (below), so maybe I did read about it once. I actively searched out good bolt-on weapon, scrolling shooters back then, but like I said, information on all games was very very scarce. This title was released in 1989 for both the ST and the AMIGA. I haven't been able to find out which was created first, but 1989 would mark the very beginnings of the Amiga platform 16-bit dominance, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was first made on either platform. It's difficult to find detailed developer information on ST titles as there are not as many good sites on the computer as there are on the AMIGA. It seems that a company called Microwish did the actual game development on the Amiga. Little Green Desktop has them listed as the developer for the ST version of Zynaps (they also did the AMIGA version), I don't think it is a stretch to assume they did both 16-bit computer versions.

The game title screen says they game was programmed by MJ Bysh and MA Hamilton. It also gives Graphic credit to GP Felix. I have no idea if those are real names or not. Also, surprisingly, no music credit is given. MJ Bysh quite probably is the Martyn Bush above who is listed as a programmer on Foundation's Waste. LemonAmiga.com has the Amiga programmers listed as being the same, and the music listed as W Beben (the same as Foundation's Waste).

(Above: Hyperdrome being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )

Hyperdrome is a horizontal scrolling shooter where the object is to add weaponry to your ship as you blast through the detailed levels. Like most 16-bit shooters, this game is difficult and unforgiving. Unlike Foundations waste, I find the weight of the craft to be a little bit more pleasing, and the physics seem a tad more realistic (how realistic can a space shooter really be?). Everything seems more solid, as if a little more went into making it feel more like and arcade game (obviously R-Type is what they are going for). The weight, gravity and mass all seem a little more in proportion than in Foundation;s waste. The music and visual effects are good. The music is only in the title screen on this one, while the sound FX are on during play with no music. This seems to help add that weight factor to game, as you can hear things being destroyed, and the enemies don't seem to just pop like silent balloons when hit.

In the game, you fly your ship, dodge everything, shoot everything and pick up glowing power ups, left by destroyed enemy. The power ups are spent by pressing the spacebar when the right hand-side indicator is on the weapon you desire. Like many 80's games, it suffers from the unforgiving fact that one hit to your fighter craft will destroy it. The game is played in such close quarters, it would have been nice for another idea on ship lives to be used (such has an energy bar, etc).

Archived START Magazine Review of Hyperdrome

Little Green Desktop's Hyperdrome Page Page

Chris Edgar's Automation Disk Catalog (Hyperdrome s on #034)

Rating (1-10): 6. Nice FX, A little tighter than Foundation's Waste, but the game is not as well thought out, and even more difficult.

 

Hell Raisers
For the next game, I decided to further investigate the development team of Martyn J Bysh (programming), Gary Felix (graphics), and Wally Beben (music). I used the Atari Legend Site to find another game by the three, and then Chris Edgar's Automation disk catalog to find an ST disk version of the game to try. All three are also listed at LemonAmiga.com as having done the AMIGA version. Hell Raisers was also released by Exocet in 1988, and I am starting to get the distinct impression that Exocet might have consisted of mainly these three guys. I am probably over simplifying, but at least the 16-bit team was pretty much a small operation. sharing resources across multiple games on the 68000 platforms.

This is another game with an excellent chip-tune (during the start menu) by Wally Beben. It would seem that he was one of the greats of the era and I will have to do more research into what else he might have done with his obvious talents. The whole team was starting to fire on all cylinders in this game. It is a platform side scroller with HUGE sprites. In game, you get FX and no music. The sound FX are decent, and the graphics are very well done. The game still suffers a little form the one-hit and your dead style of the 80's, but the slower pace exploration aspect of this title make it a little more palatable than the fast action shooters above.

(Above: Hell Raisers (Liberators?) being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )

It is interesting to note that 1/2 of the game screen is taken up by the title Liberators. I'm not sure if legal reasons made them change the name or not, but the title screen says Hell Raisers that obviously differs from the game screen. This is an Automation pirate version, so it could be a pre-release of some type. If you know the real story, send me an email to info@8bitrocket.com.

I the game, you play the role of Liberator (hence the game's second title). You must clear the sectors of Hell Raisers (game's first title) Battle Bots and other assorted bad dudes. The first portion is a platform side scroller. Once you clear this part, you will reach your ship and take off into airspace. Here, you fly low over the planet's surface and pretty much do what you do in all of the game by these three - blow stuff up! I have not been able to get to that screen yet, but if you do, or have an cheats or a version with a training mode, please send me an email to: info@8bitrocket.com. I have tried typing "rigged" + 2 spaces at the high score screen (LemonAimga.com cheat), but it doesn't seem to work on the ST version.

This is the best of the lot so far. This development team seems to be firing on all cylinders and I can't wait to see what they come up with next in my investigation.

Little Green Desktop's Hell Raisers Page

Chris Edgar's Automation Disk Catalog (Hell Raisers is on #191)

Atari Legend Hell Raisers Page

Rating (1-10): 7. Good game. Still very difficult, but the animation, sound FX, music, and game programming are well done.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles
For the final game I decided to leave Exocet but stay with Martyn Bysh as a programmer and search out one of his later games. Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles was released by Image Works in 1990. It was developed by Probe, who did all manner of great arcade ports for the ST including 1943 and Side Arms. The development team consisted of Martyn Bysh on code duties, Martin Walker on music, and Hugh Riley pounding out the visuals. The Amiga version was done by the same development team only the music was composed by Jeroen Tel. - or so all of the internet sites say.

This is supposedly an arcade port of a game I never played. I don't seem to have a MAME rom for it, so we'll be discussing only the merits / faults of the ST version as opposed to any other versions or comparisons.

After firing up the Automation version, I notice some discrepancies with my online sources. One, the ST developer is Daisysoft (Probe is given a producing credit) , and the credited dev team is completely different: Programming by Devin Sorrell, Graphics by Mark Knowles (and Debbie Sorrell), with music by Sound Images. Maybe Martin Walker was Sound Images. I am sure the original dev team worked on the Amiga version and the ST listed dev team did the ST port.

This was supposedly a conversion of a coin-op, but after reading some comments about it on Little Green Desktop, it seems that is was not. In any case, it looks like ST Action magazine was not too pleased with the game and give it a score of 38%! I hope it's better than that.

(Above: TMNHT being played with the Atari ST Steem Emulator )

Contrary to ST Action, what you get is a very decent, fun platform game. It's very colorful and well done. It seems to push the limits of the ST a bit because the machine seems to have trouble keeping up with all of the moving objects, so frame rate appears to suffer as a result. That doesn't mean it was well coded, because I have seen the ST do some amazing things and surely a game such as this should not push its limits. Anyhow, it includes both music and sound FX at the same time, which, while not too rare in Euro ST games, is an achievement given the hardware limitations. Still, it suffers from having very loose to controls, and the characters float too much. As with most mid-level quality ST games, the physics need work. This is yet another example of a game where the weight of objects, and gravity forced on them to not match the relative mass of the objects. Also, the single button ST controls leave a lot to be desired, but the developer did the absolute best they could with what they had to work with.

All that being said, I would play this game again. Your character doesn't die at first hit, and the game seems to have been thought out very well. The goal is to rescue a news reporter who has been kidnapped and taken to the sewers. There are various objects, weapons, and power ups to collect that will aide you in your mission. Pressing the Space Bar will allow you to select between them.

This is a large, fun game. The instructions are at lemonamiga.com, so if you desire a go at it, you should file up the emulator an take a look.

Atari Legend TMNHT Page

Chris Edgar's Automation Disk Catalog (TMNHT is on #392)

Lemon Amiga TMNHT Instructions Page

Little Green Desktop's Hell TMNHT Page

Rating (1-10): 7. Good game. Nice FX, colors, sound, and animation. Physics a a little loose, but fun to play.

Conclusion
That's it for this week. We started and ended with a couple pretty decent titles. None of them will win any awards, but it was fun to search out these games. Whether you are an ST or Amiga fan, these 4 games will give you some arcade fun for a few minutes ar least. Next time we will investigate more 16-bit games, I hope you join us.

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21Jul/070

Required Reading: "On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise And Fall Of Commodore" by Brian Bagnall

on the edge

I have to admit, when I avoided reading On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise And Fall Of Commodore by Brian Bagnall for about 12 months for one reason: Commodore. The name makes me throw-up in mouth a little. Being an ardent and fastidious Atari fan, a book about Commodore seemed to be too much to bear. I had to live through Commodore destroying the market for the best home computer ever made (The Atari 800) back in the 80's, why would I want to re-live it again? Why would I want to read some Commodore fan-boy's account of his favorite computer?

Well, I was wrong. After reading Brian Bagnall's book, I have a new appreciation for Commodore and its early engineers (mostly Chuck Peddle). Bagnall's book is far from a fan-boy tome, but instead a very professional "alternate" history of the personal computer. It's a history that other great books like Fire In The Valley by Freiberger and Swain ,Accidental Empires by Bob Cringely, and and the criminally underrated Hackers by Steven Levy missed when they were first written. Disregarding the absurd notion that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak invented "personal computer", Bagnall digs back to the early beginnings of the microprocessor that made the first round of viable personal computers afforable: the MOS Technologies 6502. Using a multitude of interviews and other sources, the author takes us into meetings, engineering sessions, and trade shows demostrations, taking the time to painstakingly paint a picture of the real pioneers who created the personal computer.

The picture Bagnall creates is not all rosey. Commodore, and later Atari, head Jack Tramiel does not get any kind of reprieve (although his sons are painted in light I had not read before). Tramiel used the same "business is war" tactics at Commdore that most Atari fans should be fully aware of after his tenure at the worlds's first video game company. Bagnall focuses on the the mistakes as well of the triumphs, painting an overall picture that is far from the fan-boy account I was expecting. For Atari fans, there is some good content here. Back-story information on the creation of Atari products, parallel stories of the Amiga that will make Atari ST fans nod their heads in agreement, and good solid content on Atari engineer Jay Miner as well as others. Don't be mistaken though, the story is really all Commodore, and what a story it is! I found myself really getting into the characters and their stories, and surprisingly, rooting for their victories and wincing at their tragedies. The book reads like a good novel, with heroes, villains and an inescapable yet fitting conclusion that, while not surprising, is worth 500+ pages of reading to get there.

I want to recommend this book, but I can't. Why? Because Bagnall has a new version coming out in September. With new content, photos, and a sorely needed index, I'd wait until that version is released before picking it up. After that though, ANY fan of early non-Apple/IBM computers would be doing themselves a disservice by not reading this book. Let's just hope that next time out Bagnall will use his considerable talents to write a companion tome about the best personal computer ever made, the Atari 800.

 

 

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14Jul/070

An 8-bit road less traveled: Atari 800 Games – 8-bit degrees of separation.

I have loads and loads of Atari 800 games to play via emulation. I have tried nearly 1100 in my quest to try every game available. Today I decided to play Atari 8-bit degrees of separation. I will start with one random 8-bit Atari 800 game, play it, review it, and then follow its legendary path to other games. It will be a fun ride, so hold on to your hats for the wildest ride in the 8-bit wilderness.

 

Candy Factory
The first game is Gebelli Software's Candy Factory, released in 1982, and programmed by Eric Knopp . Knopp would later go on to program Space Dungeon, Mario Bros, and Moon Patrol for the 5200 as well as various Epyx 8-bit games such as The Games, Winter Edition. It's interesting to note, that Nasir Gebelli ,who helped found Sirus Software and his own namesake company, would later take his considerable skills to Square and develop the legendary NES game, Final Fantasy..

(Above: Candy factory being played with the Atari 800 Win Emulator )

As you can see, Candy Factory owes at least some of its heritage to Donkey Kong - the level screen above being almost an exact copy of that game's 3rd screen. It's a pretty decent platformer with good visual and sound effects. Nothing to blows the doors off, but everything is well made for an early Atari 800 game. You control a little bouncing head that must traverse the various screens and pick up what I guess are candies. You must collect as many of the candies you can, avoid the baddies, climb the ladders to the top of the screen and finally exit off the top. You get bonus points for doing this before the bonus count-down reaches zero.

After playing for a few minutes, I can tell you that is is very difficult. When you move left and right, your on-screen head bounces in the direction you push, which is a unique method of movement, but it results in some pretty frustrating game play. The "action button" will jump over baddies and gaps in platforms, but I found it pretty difficult to use. In any case, it is worth a look via emulation if you desire a challenging platfomrer.

Atari Mania Candy Factory Page (Rom download available).

Rating (1-10): 5 (Better than your average Atari 2600 game, not as good as most good Atari 800 games)

 

Andromeda
I vaguely remember Gebelli software from the 80's but I had no idea what other games they made for the Atari 8-bit computers. I decided that my next "degree" would be to try out one of their other games and see where that led.

Andromeda, programmed by Jamie Cummings (of Solitaire Group) was also released in 1982 by Gebelli Software. In Andromeda, you control a cell (Andromeda) and attempt to keep it alive for a long a possible. The idea is to make Andromeda larger by "eating" fat and other good cells and avoiding antibodies. When Andromeda is "normal size" it can be killed by antibodies. When Andromeda is large it can kill antibodies.

(Above: Andromeda being played with the Atari 800 Win Emulator )

In the above picture, you can see the fat calls are the green ones and the blood vessels are the purple ones. You must avoid the "+", "X" and other antibodies until you eat enough to become large. You can eat blood vessels, but they slow you down. In any case this is a very "pac-man" like game not the Boulderdash cone I thought it was going to be. It isn't a bad game, and while not a great use oft the Atari 8-bit's abilities, it has nice music, sounds, and a few good effects. It's obvious that Gebelli employed the abilities of some good young Atari 8-bit programmers before its demise in 1983. If they had remained in business longer, maybe they could have made some better games. Jamie Cummins went on to create some Amiga games such as Larry Bird, Dr J One on One.

Atari Mania Andromeda Page (Rom download available).

Rating (1-10): 5 (Better than your average Atari 2600 game, not as good as most good Atari 800 games)

 

Night Strike
With apologies to Gebelli, I was now tired of his early 8-bit releases and decided to look further at games programmed by the Solitaire Group. They were the developers of Andromeda above, and even though it wasn't my favorite game of all time, I figured I might find some good games by looking at a developer rather than a publisher.

Solitaire group created a number of games for early 8-bit computers, and after taking a look at their catalog of games on AtariMania.com, I chose a game called Night Strike, programmed by A. Y. Kobayashi and published by TG Software. TG released one other pretty good Atari 8-bit game called Abracadabra.

In Night Strike you play the role of a tank, defending a city from invading planes. Your tank can fire 3 different weapons, 2 of which are detonated in the air with a second press of the fire button.

(Above: Night Strike being played with the Atari 800 Win Emulator )

The game is a little like a combination of Atari 2600 Air Sea Battle, and Missile Command. It is fun for a few minuets of blasting action, but not much more. It is pretty difficult, but not a bad game. It shows little polish that you might expect from a great 8-bit release.

Atari Mania Night Strike Page (Rom download available).

Rating (1-10): 6 (Would make an above average 2600 game, not as good as most as most good Atari 800 games)

 

Spelunker
I had to stretch a little to get to a much better Atari 8-bit game. I was going to check out some other TG releases, but I decided to move in a new direction. Solitaire Group made one game for Broderbund called "Track Attack". Instead of trying out this game, I decided it was a valid part of 8-bit degrees of separation to try out another Broderbund game. I went through their catalog and found one in Spelunker. This is what makes 8-bit degrees of separation so fun - finding some link between two games (even bad ones). In the end, you can find decent games to play via emulation, or to purchase on ebay and play on real hardware. This is one such game.

Broderbund is one of the few companies from the early 80's that is still around in one form or another.They pretty much release productivity, educational, and budget game titles now, but they were a legendary publisher and developers of 8-bit games. Spelunker was originally created by Tim Martin and MicroGrphicImage, but later bought and released by Broderbund and ported to the C=64 and NES.

(Above:Spelunker being played with the Atari 800 Win Emulator )

The goal of the game is to traverse down through the cave and obtain the treasure at the bottom.You must avoid natural obstacles such as pits and rocks (can be blown up), bats who want to dump their deadly guano on you, and interestingly, the ghost of a fellow, dead spelunker. The player searches for items to help him such as dynamite, flares and keys. Each has a special use to aid the spelunker in his quest. There are 6 levels, and each level consists of a number of screens. It is a rather large game, and it is very fun to play. It is a complete BITCH though and it becomes insanely difficult to complete.

Rating (1-10): 8 (As good as the best 2600 games, but still not as good as the best 800 games. The early looking visuals leave a little to be desired).

Atari Mania Spelunker Page (Rom download available).

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9Jul/070

Bob Cringely Finally Discovers Flash!

I don't know how I missed this.  I've been reading Bob Cringely's column at pbs.org for the past 10 years or so, and I've always had a love/hate relationship with it.  Bob was one of the first people to embrace "Geek" culture. His book "Accidental Empires" is a must-read for anyone interested in the computer industry, as is watching his documentary "Truimph Of The Nerds".  However, Cringely also tends to focus on the "winners" only, and his histories  gloss over great innovators and technologies that did not end-up, in hindsight, to win the day.   For instance, the Atari/Commodore Home computer wars probably influenced computers and the home computer industry as much as anything else in the 80's, yet I've never seen him write one word about it.  Ditto for the effect games have had on the industry.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago Bob finally wrote about something near and dear to my heart: Flash.  In this column "An Air Of Invisibility"  Cingley points out that Flash's "invisibility" (the fact that it has gone past ubiquitous and now just expected) puts Adobe in a very good position to fight-off things like Microsoft Silverlight and Java FX.   I could not agree more.  

Check out the article over at http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/2007/pulpit_20070629_002360.html

   
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