8bitrocket.com
30Apr/080

Did Atari Make A Version Of "Missile Command" For The Military?

I've been furiously working on the follow-up to my History Of Atari :Part 1 for Gamasutra (it's been so long since the first one that they've probably given-up on it), and I dug up a couple quotes for something that struck me as quite interesting.  It seems that Atari might have designed a version of their hit coin-op Missile Command for the military. It has been well reported that Atari worked on a version of their 1980 coin-op hit Battelzone for the U.S. Military.  Sometime in 1980 Atari was approached by the Army to help create a version of Battlezone to use for combat training.

'There was a group of consultants for the Army a bunch of retired generals and such that approached Atari with the idea that the technology for "Battlezone" could be used to make a training simulator for the then new Infantry Fighting Vehicle. The idea was that such a simulator could be made into a game that would encourage the soldiers to use it. They would learn not only the basic operation of the IFV technology, but would also learn to distinguish between the friendly and enemy vehicle silhouettes. '

-Ed Rotberg (Battlezone programmer) http://www.dadgum.com/halcyon/BOOK/ROTBERG.HTM

While information on the Army Battlezone project is freely available today, in the early 80's it existed as only the reflection of rumor passed around by magazine editors and kids on the playground.   Without any formal information, even more scurrilous rumors (or are they?) evolved pertaining to other Atari games (i.e. Missile Command, released at the same time as Battlezone) and C.I.A. conspiracies. I recently dug up this quote from an issue of Joystik.

'The rumor goes something like this: The Pentagon (or the CIA or the FBI) collaborated with Atari in the development of a realistic video war game. What they were after isn't clear, and the reasoning differs from rumor to rumor. Either the Pentagon wanted to subliminally train future personnel in the art of video. Or the Pentagon wanted to locate and recruit immediately those talented gamesters with the most impressive war-game skills. Whether they found what they were after or whether the story is even true is certainly top-secret information. The game was real enough, however, and was appropriately titled Missile Command.'

-Matthew White, Joystik magazine,Sept. 1982

Of course, Joystik was a Larry Flynt publication, and the magazine was never known for it's "subtle" reporting, but still, is there something to this rumor? Today these conspiracies seem like little more than quaint fantasies, but in 1980's, the era of Reagan, the USSR, War Games and Red Dawn, they were dead serious. While it has never been proven that the U.S. Military was going to use these games for finding the most adept 80's teenage arcade denizens to man 21st century weaponry (that prospect was left to the aliens in both The Last Starfighter movie and in Robert Maxx's book Arcade'oh, and America's Army), but it has been substantiated that they did want to use early 80's video games to train their troops'

' The Army has noticed that the young people they work with like these types of games so they've been asking themselves, Why can't we use this thing?'
-Donald Osbourne Atari Coin-Op Sales VP

'and they wanted both Battelzone and Missile Command. The following quote from the Boston Globe in 1981 seems to support this idea.

'an agreement is being drawn up whereby Atari will produce training prototypes for both the Army's M60A1 Tank and its Chaparral Missile Air Defense System.'

- Nathan Cobb, Boston Globe Staff, September 3, 1981

So my question is this: Did Atari ever design a version of Missile Command for the army, the same way they designed a version of Battlezone for them?

On System16.com there is a description of an unreleased game named Missile Command Deluxe/Missile Command 2.  From the description, it sounds a bit like cooperative 2-player air defense simulator:

"In the early '80s there was a test prototype of a 2-ended MISSILE COMMAND, in a cabinet like an elevated cocktail game you would stand at each end of. The screen was oriented longwise, the planes & satellites came out from the middle, and enemy fire was sent down in both directions to cities at each end of the screen. You had to concentrate on your own cities first, of course, but if you killed the current wave and had rockets left, you could help the other player by launching against enemy fire threatening *his* cities!"

-System16.com

 

Was this a prototype for a game comissioned by the military? Or, was all this work for the U.S. Army stopped before it got off the ground by people like coin-op designer/programmer Ed Rotberg?

'I was vehemently opposed to Atari getting into this sort of business at all. Remember, the world was a very different place in 1981 than it is now. There was still a Soviet Union who was perceived to be our nation's biggest threat. My contention was that many of us engineers had the option to go to work for companies doing military contracting, and we consciously chose to work at a company that was not so involved.'

-Ed Rotberg http://www.dadgum.com/halcyon/BOOK/ROTBERG.HTM

So what really happened with Atari and the military in the early 80's? Did they work on more than just a version of Battelzone? Someone knows the answer. The question is: are they allowed to tell us?

Filed under: Atari Nerd No Comments
24Apr/080

Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up : April. 24, 2008

The latest in Blog entries and articles that might interest Flash game developers.

This week we cover game loops, a cool new retro game (by Squize), a dictionary object framework for game objects, Andre Michelle's new project, lessons in promoting your game, an AS3 CS3 (not Flex) pre-loader, brainstorming games, and a basic guide for beginners in starting to make flash games.

Game Poetry, Game Poetry, Game Poetry. I can't say it enough, but this site RULEZ. Panayoti has a great new entry on Understanding the Game Loop. It discusses creating a deterministic game loop to help prevent the tunneling or pass through negative effect when collision detection is not properly timed.

Please feel free to ENJOY Squize's latest OLD game, MJ 1912. It is a very cool version of Space Invaders. To me it looks like a Bitmap Brothers game. All silvery and shiny with that gray gradient thing they did and selected bright colors. I feel like I'm playing my ST or Amiga emulator. Yes, I'm old, so live with it =). Sorry about the late MUFC goal to draw Blackburn, Squize. Hopefully some GameJacket cash will heal the wound.

Nate, over at Interactive Crap, has a very useful game object framework (using a dictionary object) that is is giving away to those in need. Check out his example also.

Andre Michelle has been going on about his AS3 based audio tool called Hobnox on his site for a while now. Even though I consider myself a little bit of an audiophile, I haven't had time to check it out much yet. It looks like the Zarzazz though. (I know, I know, Bitmap Bros, Minter's Zarjazz. I know what you are asking...can this codger pull a reference that ISN'T from the 80's...sadly, I can't)

Mochiland has a new article by Alex Snyder called Promoting Your Game - Lessons Learned which builds on previous entries that deal with how to make a buck or two in game Flash game development. It takes hard work, dedication, and nice articles like this to get you going.

We have added a new tutorial on creating a preloader for CS3 based AS3 games. It deals with conquering the complexities of preloading a single swf file full of assets while maintaining a working, functional preload sequence - its a little tricky, but not too tricky. - just tricky enough for me to blather on about it for a few 100 words.

http://www.wiliam.com.au/wiliam-blog/brainstorming-a-viral-flash-game has an interesting article (if brief) take Brainstorming a Viral Flash game.

freelanceflashgames.com has a Guide To Flash Game Creation. It is a very nice summary of the steps a beginner should take to start making games and even a little cash.

Filed under: Book Reviews No Comments
23Apr/080

Something Missing In Wisconsin (Update)

OK, so I actually found a place that has "Health Guards" (Protectos, ass gaskets) in Wisconsin.  However, I'm pretty sure they are new to the region. There was a was a sign above the toilet that read.

"Please keep our bathroom clean, use seat protectors"

Now, this might not seem odd at first, but read it again.  Why would using seat protector keep the bathroom "clean".  Isn't it the other way around?  Shouldn't I be keeping myself clean? What exactly do they think we are going to do with these "seat protectors?"

The mystery deepens.

22Apr/081

Tutorial: Preloading Actionscript 3 (AS3) Games in Flash CS3

This sounds like a rather simple topic. If you have a game application where you can load all of you assets externally at run time, then you will probably have no need for a special preloader and can follow any of the current online tutorials (Google AS3 Preloader and you will find some great ones). The preloading method we are going to examine is for games that are constructed inside a single file. This single file method is usually the best way to distribute games to portals. If you have a Mochi Pre-roll ad, it can act like a pre-loader and you will probably be fine, but it will mask the assets exported on the first frame creating pre-load problems. When need to distribute your game as a single file with no pre-roll ad, you will find that your pre-loader image or loader bar will not show up until quite some time has passed and this is not good for your game players (especially Newgrounds and Kongregate users). This problem is created because exporting all of the assets in the first frame forces Flash to load them all in BEFORE your preloader can show up.

The preloader I needed to create had to work within these constraints:

1. All code is in external files, and a single document class (probably a gameLoop of some type) that can control the main time line.
2. All assets are in the library of the.fla. All assets that need to be instantiated at run time are set to export, and have classes associated with them.
3. A document class with as little code as possible on the timeline and as few frames as possible.

The Wrong Solution
Here is what I thought was the right way to do this (it didn't work, obviously).

1. Set all of your exported assets to NOT export on the first frame. (this was correct)
2. Create a two frame movie. Put a stop on the first frame. (this was wrong)
3. Copy each of your exported assets to frame 2 of your movie. (this was partly wrong)
4. Put all sounds in a clip. Each sound on its own layer in frame 2. Put a stop on frame 1.(this was partly wrong)
5. In the loader portion of your document class, use this.loaderInfo.bytesLoaded and compare it to this.loaderInfo.bytesTotal. (this was correct)
6. When they are ==, you move on and start your game. (this was partly wrong)

When I tried this with the bandwidth profiler, my 800K file seemed to load fine,but then bombed with error warnings on every single library object I tried to use.

Back to the drawing board
I searched around the internet and did not find any tutorials on exactly what I needed. None of them seemed to cover assets in the library and how to use them properly. I did get some great help on the Mochi forums because they are filled with game creators who have to deal with the same problems. Though none of the answers I received became my exact final design, I thank KOKOSAN for giving me some much needed guidance when I could find none elsewhere. He helped put into my mind that I needed 3 frames, not 2 and that because CS3 and AS3 don't recognize frames until you pass over them, my assets were being ignored by the movie. So here is the solution I came up with.

The Right Solution (or at least one that works for me)

1. Set all of your exported assets to NOT export on the first frame.
2. Create a three frame movie. Put a stop on the first frame. Put a stop on the third frame.
3. Copy each of your exported assets to an asset holder clip.
4. Inside the asset holder clip, put all of the library assets on frame one, and a stop(); action.
5. Now for the sounds: Each sound on its own layer in frame two of the asset holder.
6. Put the asset holder clip on the stage in Frame 2 of your main movie (outside the viewable region)
7. In the loader portion of your document class, use this.loaderInfo.bytesLoaded and compare it to this.loaderInfo.bytesTotal.
8. When they are == you make sure your timeline plays through frame 2 (it has your asset holder) and stops on frame 3.
9. You are now ready to start using exported assets.

A working Example
Remember, this is the absolute first version that I have been able to get working properly. I have some games that need it right now, and I am sure it can be improved. I just want to share it ASAP in case anyone else finds the urgent need for something like this.

1. Start with a blank .fla file. I named my demoGame.fla, but go ahead and be creative with the name if want.
2. I gave the .fla a document class named GameLoop.
3. Set up your main timeline like this:

This is the most basic implementation. The code on frames 1 and three is simply a stop(); action.
The objects in frame 2 (assets layer) is a movie clip that contains all of your assets and sounds. (we'll get to that in a second).

4. The library looks like this:

Well get to the asset holder in a minute. The Loader_mc is a movie clip with one frame that looks like this:

The textbox is dynamic with an instance name of : loading_txt.
The Loader_mc should have a linkage name of : LoadingBox and it MUST be exported on the first frame, so make it as simple as possible.

The SoundMusic1 is a song to play on the title screen. This is just so I could have a larger asset to load in and also to make sure that sounds are not instantiated until AFTER the load has finished. This was a major problem inside my first version of the preloader and it gave me fits trying to figure out why my sounds and music would not play. It should have an linkage name of SoundMusic1 and should NOT be exported on the first frame.

The titleScreen is pretty bland. Its is a movieClip with the jpg title screen in it that looks like this:

It should have a linkage name of TitleScreen and it should NOT be exported on the first frame.

The assetHolder is a special clip that will hold all of the game assets for preloading purposes. It is constructed in such a way to let Flash load in all of the needed assets, but not have them get in the way of game play
.

The assetHolder has a stop(); action on the first frame. It has a very basic Box with the words ASSET HOLDER in the first frame of the Look layer.
The assets layer has a copy of all of the exported game assets (in this case just the titleScreen)
The music layer holds the game music starting in the second frame so it will not be heard as the game passes over it on the timeline during the loading process (more on that to come).
If you had more sounds and music, you would add a layer for each (because only one sound can exist on a layer) and make sure they start on frame 2.

The Main Stage would look like this (on frame 2).

This is zoomed out at about 200%, you would put the asset holder some place offstage in frame 2 only.

How the Loader Works with the timeline
After the game is preloaded, the GameLoop document class will play the movie, forcing it to pass over frame 2, and sit on frame 3. Flash has now initialized all of the objects in frame 2, and even though they are not physically on frame 3: (notice below that only frame 2 of the assets layer needs to have the assets on the stage).

We sit the play head on frame 3 with no assets off stage to interfere with our game play, speed, etc.

The code
We need 2 classes to make this work. They are pretty simple. One is the GameLoop.as and the other is the LoadingBox.as. The loading box is a simple encapsulation of the functionality needed to display the 100% loaded on the screen. GameLoop is a very basic implementation of a State Driven loop (not an OO state machine, but a simple state pattern). I will explain the code in detail next:

Here is all of the GameLoop.as code.
[cc lang="javascript" width="550"]
/**
* ...
* @author Jeff Fulton
* @version 0.1
*/

package {
import flash.display.MovieClip;
import LoadingBox;
import flash.events.*;
import flash.media.Sound;
import flash.media.SoundChannel;

public class GameLoop extends MovieClip {
public static const STATE_SYSTEM_LOADER:int=0;
public static const STATE_SYSTEM_TITLE:int=1;
public var gameState:int=STATE_SYSTEM_LOADER;
public var loadingBox:LoadingBox;
public var titleScreen:TitleScreen;
public var loaderStarted:Boolean=false;
public var titleStarted:Boolean=false;
public var percentLoaded:int;
public var titleMusic:SoundMusic1;
public var titleMusicChannel:SoundChannel;

public function GameLoop():void {
addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, runGame);

}

public function runGame(e:Event):void {

switch (gameState) {
case STATE_SYSTEM_LOADER:
doLoadScreen();
break;
case STATE_SYSTEM_TITLE:
doTitleScreen();
break;
}
}

public function doLoadScreen():void {
trace((this.loaderInfo.bytesLoaded/this.loaderInfo.bytesTotal)*100);

if (!loaderStarted) {
if (this.loaderInfo.bytesLoaded == this.loaderInfo.bytesTotal) {
finishPreload();
}else{
loadingBox=new LoadingBox();
this.loaderInfo.addEventListener(ProgressEvent.PROGRESS, loadingProgress);
this.loaderInfo.addEventListener(Event.COMPLETE, loadingComplete);
loaderStarted=true;
loadingBox.x=200;
loadingBox.y=200;
addChild(loadingBox);
}
}

}

public function loadingProgress(e:Event):void {
percentLoaded=(this.loaderInfo.bytesLoaded/this.loaderInfo.bytesTotal)*100;
trace(percentLoaded);
loadingBox.update(percentLoaded);
}

public function loadingComplete(e:Event) {
trace("loadingComplete");
removeChild(loadingBox);
loadingBox=null;
this.loaderInfo.removeEventListener(Event.COMPLETE loadingComplete);
this.loaderInfo.removeEventListener(ProgressEvent.PROGRESS, loadingProgress);
finishPreload();

}

public function finishPreload():void {
this.play();
gameState=STATE_SYSTEM_TITLE;
}

public function doTitleScreen():void {
if (!titleStarted && currentFrame==3) {
titleMusic= new SoundMusic1();
titleScreen=new TitleScreen();
titleScreen.x=50;
addChild(titleScreen);
titleMusicChannel=titleMusic.play();
titleStarted=true;

}
}

} // end class

} // end package

[/cc]

I'm not going to go into detail on how to play sounds, instantiate library objects or any of the other standard Flash things I need to so to make this simple loader have something to load, but I will go into detail on how the gameLoop state machine interacts with the loader and allows the game to proceed through the two included states : STATE_SYSTEM_LOADER and STATE_SYSTEM_TITLE;

The state pattern:
Our GameLoop state is controlled by two things. The first is a int variable called gameState. The second is the runGame() method. We define two states as Static Const class variables for our two states. We define them as Static for future use. If we have other classes and objects that need access to these states (and in my gameLoop design I always do), then we can reference them without needing to create another instance of the GameLoop class. In this instance, the GameLoop would be considered part of the Singleton design pattern, but we are not going to go out of our way to follow all of the rules for using the Singleton pattern in this simple example. The two values that the gameState variable can contain are STATE_SYSTEM_LOADER and STATE_SYSTEM_TITLE.

The Constructor
In this simple gameLoop example, the constructor does little more than create an event to run our runGame method constantly. There certainly are better ways to create an actual game loop, and one can be found in my last tutorial Creating an Optimized AS3 Game Timer Loop. The event.ENTER_FRAME event is just the simplest method to get a game running.

The runGame() method
The run game method is the second essential part of our basic state machine. The event.ENTER_FRAME constantly calls this method (12x a second in this example). This method simply switches state based on the current value of the gameState. Now because the actual loaderInfo object is event driven, it would not necessarily be required to create it is part of the state machine. It could have been part of the constructor and we could have started the loop after the game had been loaded. The reason I put things like MochiAds and loaders into the state machine is simple. It lets me turn them off by setting the gameState to a later state. In This way, I will not have to sit through the Mochi Ad and Loader every time I want to test my swf.

The doLoadScreen() method
Before this is run the first time, the loaderStarted variable will be set to false. When it is is false, the init portion of this method is run. The absolute FIRST thing we do it make sure that the SWF hasn't already completely loaded. In the event that the swf is completely loaded before we create the listeners for the COMPLETE event, this, the gameLoop can get stuck in an infinite loop. This is because the loaderInfo.COMPLETE event will have already fired BEFORE we create the event for it.

We check that with this line of code: if (this.loaderInfo.bytesLoaded == this.loaderInfo.bytesTotal). The loaderInfo object is intrinsic to the document class so there is no need to instantiate it or import it before you use it. If the game has already completely loaded, then we bypass the entire loading process and call the finishPrelaod method.

If the load has not already finished, we then create an instance of the LoadingBox class, position it on the screen, and add it to the displayList. We also create two event listeners. The first is the Progress Event of the of the loadeInfo object. This will allow up to monitor the actual load. We monitor the load by calling the loadingProgress() at each progress event step.

The other event listener we create is for the COMPLETE event of the loaderInfo object. This simply fires off when the load is complete.

The last thing we do in the doLoadScreen method's init portion is to ensure that the loaderStarted is set to true.This prevents the init portion from running again.

The loadingProgress() method
This method has one job. It creates a % loaded by dividing the bytesLoaded by the bytesTotal of the loaderInfo object. It then calls the loadingBox..update method to display the new value on the screen. (we'll go into this simple class below).

The loadingComplete() method
This method cleans up the LoadingBox instance, removes it from the displayList, removes our loaderInfo event listeners, and finally calls the finishPreload() method.

The finishPreload() method
This method is called both when we finish our preload AND in the instance where our swf was completely loaded before we got to the STATE_SYSTEM_LOADER state. Its job it to play() the main timeline so it will pass frame 2 with all of our assets on it and sit on frame 3. By doing this we have effectively tricked Flash into recognizing all of our exported objects when we need them. I have no idea if are are actually tricking anything, but sometimes I like to think so =)

The final job of this method is to change our state to the next one. In this example, our state is STATE_SYSTEM_TITLE.

The doTitleScreen() method
The only piece of this method that is related to preloading is the check to see if the currentFrame of the movie is frame 3. The reason we do this is to ensure that before we try to show the title screen or play our music that they are actually ready to be used.

That's it. A preloader inside a very rudimentary (but functional) state machine.

The LoadingBox class
[cc lang="javascript" width="550"]
package {
import flash.display.MovieClip;
import flash.text.TextField;

public class LoadingBox extends MovieClip {

public function LoadingBox() {
trace("loading box");

}

public function update(percent:int):void {
loading_txt.text=String(percent) + "%";
}

} // end class

} // end package

[/cc]

This very simple class is used to update the % in our loading box. There isn't much to describe other than its update receives the current % loaded, and it truncates the number by placing it into an int. Then it casts it as a String for display.

There really is no good way for me to demo this loader here, so the best way to check it out is to Download all of the class files and .fla and try it for yourself.

Send any optimizations you might discover or any bugs you might find to info[at]8bitrocket[dot]com.

21Apr/080

Forgotten Heroes From The Teflon Decade: 80's Metal / Rock / Alt / Country : The Punk – Grudge bridge

I am just now finishing my fourth Chuck Klosterman book. On the subject of music, he is an absolute genius. While his influences in the 80's were mostly Heavy metal and hard rock, Steve and mine tended a little more toward punk/power pop/The Who influenced rock and an early form of alt-country that even fewer people know existed. The thing was that I just really liked rock songs that made me want to bounce my head up and down and put my fist in the air. We had some friends who were into the outer recesses of 80's punk (the Misfits, Sub Humans, etc), friends who were into early 80's Metal (Iron Maiden, early Motley Crue, Metallica), friends who were into British Punk (the Business, Stiff Little Fingers), friends that were into the KROQ alternative (the Smiths, the Cure, etc) and a select few friends who were into what was alternative ROCK of the time (The Cult, U2, Big Country, etc). We all seemed to hang out together on and off and Steve and I were able to digest some of what these these genres offered while finding an appreciation for our own niche of bands that none of them seemed to like or know about (the Nils, The Alarm, Hoodoo Gurus, Husker Du, Soul Asylum, All, the Gear Daddies and many more). I'm not saying that what any of us liked was BETTER than what anyone else liked or that being in one of these niches made us better than the people who listened to top 40 and loved it. Things are never that cut and dry, plus I know for a FACT that I was a complete idiot/nerd/geek/dork through most of the 80's. But, looking back on that time now, I felt that I could have some fun by introducing (or re-introducing) myself and some readers to the bands that I like to call the The Punk - Grudge bridge.

This of course is by no means an exhaustive collection of every band and song that played a part in what I like to think of as the unappreciated bridge between the Punk Rock of the late 70's, early 80's and the grunge rock of the early 90's (as well as the punk-pop and nu-metal that continues until today). While Steve and I lived in a place (Los Angeles) that had a collection of genre specific rock stations - 80's Alternative, Rock, Metal, top 40 rock, etc, we were firmly mired in love of a collection of bands hardly any one has heard of (and were rarely played on any of the stations). My favorite bands of the time are a collection of pretty good rock bands that got little to no radio play, and while some got good reviews from rock journalists, some were absolutely slagged off for no good reason. To me, if a band ROCKED (either in a hard rock or even a medium rock sense) then the music should stand on its own. Too many of the music journalists of the 80's (and even now) had no appreciation for actual music. The worse a band rocked, the better the review. If a band like The Alarm, the Cult, or even Guns and Roses put out a pretty rocking album, the reviews would be awful to middling at best (if the big magazines even bothered to review them). There were a handful of not so good 80's alternative acts that always seem to get good reviews no matter how lame their albums were. The Teflon Decade was built purely on hype and fashion. It seemed if I liked a band or a record, than I was sure to open Spin or Rolling Stone (if they even bothered to cover it) and find a review centered more on the author's hate of the genre, a discussion how unintelligent the bands fans must be, or how unfashionable the band's clothes and hair were. Very little time was spent actually talking about how rocking the actual music was because I swear (from what I read) rock journalists (especially in the 80's) actually HATED music (I might be exaggerating a little, but not much).

I consider there to be three main genres that existed in the 80's that absolutely no one in the music industry or press) wanted to admit were alive and well - Hard Rock, Punk rock / Alternative rock (with guitars not synths) and Alternative Country. The only genre that was allowed to exist combined all three to various degrees of music success (and made shit loads of money) - late 80s' Hair Metal. Like the wonderful Chuck Klosterman (buy and read all of his books NOW), I think think that the Metal / Hard rock of the 80's was culturally significant if only that its excess allowed for the 90's complete non-excess revolt of the Seattle scene to sprout up and take off as anti-Reagan/Bush era cultural landslide. What was absolutely looked upon as freakish when I was a senior in high school (music with guitars that wasn't Def Leopard) became the norm in the 90's - Guitar use was seen as trite and blaise in the 80's, but some how was suddenly life altering in the 90's? What the fuck? 80's Metal / Hard rock also offered us some pretty rocking tunes. On the fringes of the Punk Rock scene were a collection of bands inspired by roots rock (the Long Ryders, Uncle Tupelo) that might have won a few music critics hearts, but were ignored by the vast quantity of major publications. Some of their songs would be absolute hits on CMT today, but were ignored in the 80s'. The same goes for the 100's of local American Bands that were completely IGNORED by alternative radio/ magazines / MTV in the 80's in favor of drugged up Manchester Boys (who made some good tunes, but got much more press than they deserved). There are 100's of examples of bands that SPIN completely ignored. Some they go back and lament now, but most they still continue to pretend never existed.

The reason I want to point this out it because most 80's rock music shows and compilations focus on two distinct genres - Early 80's new Wave and late 80's hair metal. They leave out all of the good stuff in between. I've never seen any one of these shows talk about how close some of the tunes on early 80's Metal (Motley Crue), middle 80's protest rock (The Alarm) or late 80's kick ass rock (Guns and Roses) were very close to what became the Grunge/Pock Rock movements of he 90's These are some of the bands that were flying the torch for rock/punk/etc in the 80's. It's a shame that most went un-noticed because many of the songs are just as good or better than rock hits of today.

Some Metal / Hard Rock tunes

Hollywood - By Junk Yard

My Michelle - By Guns and Roses (the album track played behind a static picture of the Album)

Live Wire - By Motley Crue

Bad Craziness -By D.A.D.

Some Alt Country Tunes

Looking for Lewis and Clark - By The long Ryders

Chickamauga - By Uncle Tupelo

Cut me off - The Gear Daddies (These are hard to find, but believe me on record, this song rocks in a cool country way)

 

Some Alt-Rock/Power Pop Punk like stuff

Tojo - By The Hoodoo Gurus (power pop)

Open Your Eyes - By Lords of the New Church (shlock rock)

Don't want to know if your are lonely (speedy punky pop) - By Husker Du

Nice Guys Don't get Paid - By Soul Asylum (glistening pre-grunge)

Third Light / Across The Border (live) - By The Alarm - very lo-fi but a great clip.(alt country / power pop combo)

18Apr/080

80′s Rock Heros Find A Place For Their Music: Mike Peters , Mitch Easter (Interview)

With record companies falling apart at the seams, and CD sales in the toilet you would think that 80's Guitar artists who are still trying to make music would have it worse than anyone else. They were overlooked at the time, history has not been kind to them, and these days they never get coverage in national publications or large web sites. If it is hard for the big record labels to stay in business right now, then it must be nearly impossible for these (now) little guys to gain enough of a return to continue to create new music...right?

Not necessarily.

One of the earliest users of the internet to market music, Mike Peters from The Alarm, have been consistently creating new music for the past 17 years, and for the past 12 years he has been marketing it, almost exclusively online. In 2000, Mike Peters released a boxed-set of re-released Alarm albums named The Alarm 2000 Collection with a custom dedication CD for $150, and sold scores of them online. In 2002 Peters reformed The Alarm, and sold an on-line subscription of 5 cds and 50+ songs named the In The Poppyfields Bond released over the course of 6 months, and then let fans vote for the song-list that would finally appear on the the 2004 album "In The Poppy Fields". Just last year Peters did the same thing with an 8 CD collection of EPs that will ultimately form the basis of two (possibly) albums to be released later this year. In between Mike Peters has sold scores of other CDs, t-shirts, tickets etc online and his web site at http://www.thealarm.com it has become a huge part of the way he promotes, markets and sells his music. He has done all of this with almost zero major label support. However, even if you have not heard of Mike Peters or The Alarm in the past decade, they are doing well enough to continue making new music, tour, etc. In that time, Mike Peters even beat cancer into remission TWICE and still kept going. Now that is dedication!

Mike Peters is not alone. Guitar hero Mitch Easter started developing the "power-pop" sound in the early 70's in the band The Sneakers (with Chris Stamey of the dBs) before gaining notoriety as a producer in his garage studio ("Drive-In") for early REM records. Easter and his band Let's Active came from the same era as Mike Peters and The Alarm. Even though they sounded completely different (The Alarm = punk influenced guitar rock, Let's Active = glistening guitar power-pop), they shared the same record label (I.R.S.) and found themselves in a similar situation at the end of the 80's: major record labels were not interested in their music. However, just last year Mitch Easter joined the internet revolution and released a new album (Dynamico), his first in 21 years. When I was reading an interview with Easter, I noticed this quote:

"I always thought I would have to get a record deal to put out new music, and because there aren't a lot of people out there who want to hear me right now, I supposed I wouldn't be allowed to do it Now, it's such a do-it-yourself world that everything's changed. Doing it yourself is becoming the only way records are coming out, because the world itself is hip to acquiring music in different ways now." (Steve Wildsmith Nov. 16, 2006 The Daily Times (Knoxville, TN) )

What Easter is saying is that, basically, it is now commercially viable for him to make music again. This hit me like a ton of bricks. The music industry is supposedly dying, yet Mitch Easter and Mike Peters have found a way to make their own music and make it commercially viable at the same time? The situation confirms something that I have felt for a long time: the record industry is not only broken, but may simple be unnecessary (almost) in the 21st century. I recently caught-up with Mitch Easter and talked to him about this exact situation. His answers were very enlightening.

Awkward 80's Rock Blog Guy Surprised to Get Interview With Mitch Easter (Me): Was Drive-In your studio or just where you produced all those great albums? Do you enjoy running your own studio now?  What types of artists do you record?

Mitch Easter: It was my place.  When I was in college I had the idea to start a studio so I wouldn't have to get a real job.  This has panned out OK, more or less.  I'm still at it, and it still has its moments.  It's still mostly "indie rock", whatever that means. In 1999 we opened a "proper" studio, so nowadays we are the posh, expensive place as opposed to the humble garage place.

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): Who were your influences when creating your Let's Active sound? Nuggets/60's Garage, The Shoes/Cheap Trick, or something else entirely?

Uh, I don't remember, exactly.  In high school I was a huge Move fan, but you know, really liking something and being able to copy it are altogether different things!  All those people you mentioned are great, and in the early 80s I was listening to early 80s music, including now-forgotten acts like Altered Images and The Associates...

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): As a producer (some might say one of the BEST ever), sound quality and nuance must be very important.  Do the limitations of MP3 hurt what you can produce in the studio?  What would be your ideal distribution method?

Mitch Easter: You are too kind, re: my producer abilities. Good sound is always a plus, even if "good" has wildly different interpretations.  But I maintain that even the gnarliest sounds deserve a high quality capture and transmission system!  In all but the most compromised of settings, you can detect a well-recorded track.  The trouble with MP3 is that its flaws are less obvious, and some sound OK.   A few years ago people started bringing MP3 players into the studio and connecting them to the little stereo system in the front room.  One time somebody was playing the first Led Zeppelin LP from an MP3 and I didn't realize that was the source, and while I was getting something out of the refrigerator or whatever I remember thinking "I thought that record sounded better than that!"  Which it does, actually.  The actual recording, as heard on LP or even the initial CD run (which wasn't stellar, but still...) is not the sort of softened, hazy and fizzy thing I heard that day!  The MP3 sound reminds me of a shot-up battle flag- you can interpolate what it is supposed to be, but it's full of holes.  In the studio I just don't think about it; I'm just trying to mix the song.  But now we are faced with people approving mixes via emailed MP3s, which seems really convenient but is maybe no better than when this was done with cassettes, and the unexciting knowledge that many people will only ever what you're doing as an MP3.  At least nobody ever considered cassettes the ultimate format or anything!  Everybody accepted the idea that the LP would sound better, but the cassette was good for the car, etc.  Now with today's ultra slick marketing, you've got most of the world's population being told that this sleek internet delivery/iPod world is The Greatest Thing Ever and Totally Modern!!! (and throw that old junk out immediately) and since many people listen with their notions and not their ears, I think we're stuck with a highly compromised arrangement. I would be pretty happy if we had the MP3 world for "the kids" and for convenience, and something like SACD for high quality.  The shadowy business people who decide everything are doubtless thrilled at the potential profits in the non-tangible distribution future, and are happy to hasten the demise of the physical formats.  But I'm 53 and I like to hold that thing I bought in my hands, look at the cover art, etc. and being on the computer all the time sounds like a nightmare to me, even though it is completely OK with young people, I guess.

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): I think you are in a similar position to Mike Peters in that he was around U2 when they began and was influential in some ways to their sound an image, but will probably never get credit for it.  At the same time, the connection to U2 kind of hurt the band.  The same could said for you and REM.  You helped them define their sound, but your connection to them overwhelmed your own work (to a certain extent). Do you struggle to at once, recognize the past, and at the same time try to unshackle from it?

Mitch Easter: Ah well, I was well aware of R.E.M.'s vast appeal- they were really energetic and great on stage when they started, they had a real star guy front person (who was also a good singer!), easy-to-grasp songs, etc. etc. and I never felt remotely in competition with them.  I realized that my charms, such as they were, were a lot more modest and a lot less mainstream than theirs.  So I really enjoyed getting to work on those records and we did a few tours with them in the 80s which were totally good tours.  So I've got no complaints! As for me, it's true that my official reputation is that I'm some kind of flag-waver for a very narrow lightweight pop, which is pretty annoying!  What I like to listen to for fun is way more likely to be Soft Machine Vol. 2 than the sort of thing I'm generally associated with.  But, c'est la vie.  People will think what they will!  I also think I could put out a thrash metal record and it would be called "jangly".  So much for "rock criticism"!  On the other hand, without these associations from the past, I'd totally be a nobody.  So if the jangly squad comes to see me play now, well, thank you very much for attending!  I just think that being too nostalgic is basically a drag; I like a balance- the past was great, and, I hope, so is now!  It is really hard to get people to pay attention to your new stuff sometimes but you have to try anyway.  As for me, I intend to avoid the trap of making boring middle-aged records with too many acoustic guitars and slow tempos! (Editors note: Check out Mitch's new song : Time Warping to see what he means. the thing blows the speakers off!)

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me): .  While the record industry is crumbling, artists like you have found a way to make their work financially rewarding because of the internet.  Do you have any thoughts on this?   

Mitch Easter: No doubt about it, internet communications are surely helpful to somebody like me who isn't going to be part of the latest young person social movement.  But I'm not a million percent enthusiastic about the brave new world of music distribution and creation, either!  It's always a mixed bag.  The old record industry was, of course, corrupt and creepy but it was a useful filter and you could sort of wade through the current offerings without that feeling of "way-too-much-stuff/no quality control" that sort of stops me in my tracks these days!  I think it's high time the old system fell apart, though.  I guess the next challenge will be how to avoid "meet the new boss- same as the old boss"! I'm also appalled that MP3 has become the primary consumer audio standard.  The CD format is pretty much a 1970s system, and now we have something that sounds a lot worse.  CD is slowly on the way out, and SACD, the only improved digital distribution format to be offered, is dead.  This is progress??

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me):The filter.  Yes, the one main issue with the new "distribution" is that getting seen is nearly impossible.  A lot changed with MTV because music became fashion, but is the internet once step beyond that?  Do you think it is is it critical mass, or lowest common denominator?

Mitch Easter: Who knows!  Both??  I think it's mostly a hopeless sea of what is supposed to be a democratic utopia is mostly a mob.  But what are you going to do?  I suppose there must be some sort of mass consciousness at work that makes some things rise above the fray, and it's never been "fair", anyway.  But none of this exactly feels right.  It's a transition, is about all I can conclude as of right now.

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me):I saw that people can purchase your record from a small company for $14.99 or at Amazon.com for $16.99.  Even though Amazon has a higher price-point, which one benefits you, the artist more?

Mitch Easter: The cheap price is from 125 Records, who are friends, and doubtless I get more of that money than I do from Amazon!  Being at a high-profile place like Amazon is, I suppose, a trace of the old record biz, where in a larger sense it's useful to be in a place like that even if the margins are lower.  The problem is always- who will find 125 Records, vs. the omnipresent monolith?

A8RBGSTGIWME(Me):Do you have any future plans for touring and recording?

Mitch Easter: I look forward to recording another disk, which I will do the minute I get some time to do it. (Being in the studio business is the absolute worst job ever if you want to find time to make records!)  As for tours, we played a fair bit across the US last year, and man oh man, what a money-loser!  Between the weak live music scene and the cost of hotels and fuel, it's certainly a labor of love.  I really love playing in front of an audience, but for us small-potatoes types the economics couldn't be worse.  We'll do it again of course. The Dynamico record was mainly an ice-breaker for me, just to get something finished and out the door.  I think it has moments of charm, but it is by no means slick!  Not that I care too much.  Other people can make those perfect records, I'm not really interested in that nearly as much as whatever the inner content is.  But since I am known as a recording guy I suppose it is expected that I'd be ultra careful with my own stuff but it is exactly the opposite!  I appreciate your interest and hope you like it.

I'd like to thank Mitch Easter for his generous answers and gracious nature giving them.

Here are some videos for some great Let's Active songs from the 80's :

Let's Active: Every Dog Has His Day

Let's Active: Every Word Means No

Let's Active: Waters Part

 

Plus, here are couple videos from new Alarm Tracks by Mike Peters from the upcoming albums:

The Alarm: Three 7's Clash

The Alarm: Plastic Carrier Bags

 

18Apr/080

Need the missing AS3 UI Components?

Our good friends at Yahoo have a treasure trove of great AS3 UI components (most of them not found in the CS3 release) in their Developer Network. It's what they call ASTRA or the Actionscript Toolkit for Rich Applications. For AS3, inside CS3, it includes tTee, Menu, Tab Bar, AutoComplete, Charts, AlertManager, Audio Playback and Menu Bar components. There is also ASTRA Flex components is you lean that way. Yahoo provides full documentation and examples for all of the components. This is a great resource for all Flash AS3 developers, especially game developers trying to create that perfect UI experience.

13Apr/080

Best Of Mochi Retro Games: Fluxion


Best Of Mochi Retro Games: Fluxion

A Great Retro Inspired Game Sponsored By Mochi Ads

Instructions: Use the mouse to fly around and left mouse button to fire.

13Apr/080

Best of Mochi retro Games: Space Invaders Defence


Best of Mochi Retro Games: Space Invaders Defense

A Great Retro Inspired Game Sponsored By Mochi Ads

Instructions: A & D or left & right to move
click to shoot
last as long as you can

13Apr/080

80's Guitar Rock: The Alarm: UCLA Spirit Of '86 Celebration Report

i was there Spirit Of '86

Mike Peters of The Alarm returned to UCLA on April 12, 2008 after 22 years to celebrate The Alarm's historic show at UCLA on April 12 1986. This turned out to be a wonderful event for many reasons, not the least of which was the showing of the fully restored Sprit Of '86 concert on a giant screen.

The original concert, 22 years ago, was historic for The Alarm and their fans. It was one of the first ever live satellite broadcasts on TV, and thus it was one of the very early live concerts shown on MTV. As well, this show highlighted The Alarm at the top of their game. as the musicianship and showmanship of the band both reached their peak for this event. The free show had been advertised on the radio and in the papers the week prior, but no one was prepared for the turnout. The expected crowd of 3,000 turned into an expected crowd of 10,000, which ultimately turned into an estimated crowd of 25,000. The barricades at the front of the stage had to be reinforced to keep the masses of people back, and the show almost did not take place. I was there on that day in 1986, and for me it was a very personal, special moment. It was the one day I can recall that my own personal musical taste was shared with (what I perceived to be) the rest of the world. That would never happen again.

Here is a video from YouTube.com from that day's broadcast. This is pretty much the way it looked and sounded in 1986.

The visuals of the concert were always striking, but frankly, the audio was pretty poor. For more than 20 years Alarm fans have asked for a new version of this concert with restored sound. Mike Peters worked for over 5 years to acquire all the original footage, create special features, completely restore the audio, etc. His work was made available last year when the DVD for the Spirit Of '86 show was released on https://www269.safesecureweb.com/21stcentury/ec/store.asp?func=viewproduct&id=368. Here is the promo for that DVD:

To celebrate this DVD release, Mike Peters devised this special show that would allow people to experience the original concert in close proximity to where the actual event took place (the original location, Jann's Steps is now covered by a University Building). The day began about 1:00 when Alarm fabs were asked to jot-down questions for Mike Peters that would be asked during the question and answer period. At about 1:15 world famous D.J. Richard Blade announced the format for the day: the question and answer period/acoustic show followed by a showing of the newly restored Spirit Of '86 video at 3:00, just about the same time as the actual event.


(Richard Blade And Mike Peters)

Richard Blade started the Q&A in expert fashion by asking Mike about his experiences with U2. Mike told an amusing story about introducing Bono to both the harmonica and the acoustic guitar (which elicited a gasp from the audience). However, long-time Alarm, fans and readers of some of my older blogs on this subject should already be aware of just how much influence The Alarm had on formation of U2's persona for world domination...but that's a subject for a later date. After this, Mike played an acoustic version of Unsafe Building, then told a story about John Peel and how The Alarm got their name (basically John Peel sw they were named Alarm Alarm and remarked how so many bands like Duran Duran and Talk Talk has two names, so they shortened it to The Alarm), n Mike then played a short acoustic version of The Toilet's song Alarm Alarm.

(Mike Peters plays Alarm, Alarm. video by Rachel Fulton)

Mike continued by describing the type of set-list The Alarm would play when they opened for U2 in the late 80's, and then played an acoustic version of Shout To The Devil. Richard Blade then asked Mike to talk about Top Of The Pops. Mike relayed the story about The Alarm playing in the USA, and being called back to appear on Top Of The Pops in September 1983 because, even though "68 Guns" was only #54 , they were the only band with a song rising through the charts that was willing to play (Johnny Lydon and PIL told TOYP to" f*ck off"...which is curious because that is the same thing Johnny Lydon said to Mike Peters back in 1976 when Mike e saw the Sex Pistols for the first time and was inspired to create his own band. It seems that Johnny Lydon's propensity to utter the words "f*ck off" were instrumental for The Alarm's success!).

Mike continued by answering some tough questions about the original The Alarm reforming for VH1's "Bands Reunited" and just why they would probably never play as a unit again. He described the series of tragedies that befell the band in and around 1990, and how the original unit became so creatively and personally constrictive over its 15 year span (1976-1991...the Toilets through The Alarm) while they all grew-up and grew apart at the same time. Mike did relay one detail that I had not heard prior. He said that The Alarm had been invited to open for Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers in July/August of 1991, but the tour did not happen because Dave Sharp wanted to tour his own solo record. He also said that if the internet had existed in 1991, the band would have probably never broken-up at all, because they would have had an easy mechanism for communication that would have helped dispel rumors that affected both the fans and the band itself. As for an actual reunion, Mike did not rule-out anything, especially one-off events, but there was nothing planned into the foreseeable future. Mike then played an acoustic version of The Stand, answered a few more questions, played an acoustic version of Blaze Of Glory, and then finished up with a request from Richard Blade to play Rain In The Summertime.

The question and answer portion ended at just about 3:00, the lights went down in the theater, and within a few moments the very memorable words from Martha Quinn blasted through the James Bridge Theater's THX sound system. "...UCLA and around world, IRS recording artists...The Alarm!" With that, the 22 year-old UCLA video was brought to life brilliantly on the James Bridge Theater screen. Since the theater is designed for optimal play of digital recordings, the concert was displayed in full wide-screen for the audience. While the visuals were definitely not HD, they were larger than life and absolutely fascinating to see after so many years. However, the real star of the day was the sound. I'm not sure I've ever experienced fuller, richer audio for a concert ...ever. Mike and his audio team performed a masterful job re-mixing the lost audio from the concert. The sound was exactly how I remembered it on that day in 1986. It was so stunning in fact, that I actually felt myself being lifted back to that time, standing under a tree on that field at UCLA, far back to the right of the stage. For a just a moment I was 16 again, pumping my fist in the air with songs that meant everything to me.

As the concert finished and the credits rolled, Mike Peters snuck down to the front of the stage with his acoustic guitar in one hand, and his son Dylan in the other. When the lights came-up, Mike played We Are The Light for the assembled crowd, just like The Alarm did after the broadcast ended on April 12, 1986. It was the perfect cap to a very special day. The ensuing standing ovation from the audience told the whole story. Mike had successfully brought The Alarm's biggest day to life again with both style and substance. Would you have expected any less?

-Steve Fulton, April 13th, 2008

P. S: After the show I was able to film this short interview with C.D. Taylor (credits here and here ) the director of the Spirit Of '86 concert for MTV. Please excuse my non-existent interviewing skills.

P.P.S :One more thing, when the internet was very new in 1996, I created a "salute" to the Sprit Of '86 for the 10 year anniversary. I still have that site archived in my portfolio. It is very "old school" internet. You can see it here: Spirit Of '86 : A look Back

 

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