Jeff will be out for a few days as his baby son was born today. However, the boy has a few "complications", and it would be really cool if any of you out there who have enjoyed and made use of his tutorials, ideas, games, etc. could think positive thoughts, send prayers, etc. that his son (my nephew) will be OK. That's it. Thanks.
Tutorial Update: Basic Blit with Transparency
Super cool 8bitrocket.com reader, MR. K, asked a very interesting question today. He asked if this tutorial included transparency because both the screen background and the helicopter background are black. Some how I completely missed that point when I created the original tutorial. The answer is that of course blitting can be done against a complex background with transparency, but the sprite sheet I used was didn't have any transparency, and my background was just a black square. Opps!
Sure enough, the original tile sheet was a png file, but it had a solid non-transparent background. So, I opened up the tile sheet in Fireworks, selected the background with the selection tool and deleted it out. I saved it off as a png file and re-imported it into Flash. The new file looks like this:
Since our site has a dark gray background, you can tell right away the difference between that file and this one from the original tutorial.
The difference is HUGE. As the original file created a set of sprite tiles with a big black square around them.
I also created a 400x400 background tile to use as a background:
When they are put together, they look like this:
Very few code changes were needed, I just referenced a library item as the background instead of instantiating a black square. The tile sheet in my code was already set to use transparency, so no other changes were needed.
All of the new source files are here
Terry Paton, who's great retro inspired games have been featured on these pages, has a incredible set of code and templates free for all to use.
Some of my favorite include:
The Flame Particle Class
The Map Scroller
The Viewable range
The Shuffle Grid
The follow the mouse rotation
Nodes Part 4 and wiring
The stretchy Box
Steam or smoke with bitmapdata
and many many many more!!!
It's great for Terry to share so much of his great code with all of use.
A selection blogs, articles, tutorials, games, and more that might be on interest to Flash game developers (or any other game developers).
This week we have things you can learn from creative programmers, a couple entries on sponsorships and contests, game planning, path finding, creating a game arcade portal, a new site full of Flash tutorial goodness, Google's attempt to search inside .swfs, and more...
First off, LifeDev has an excellent, thought provoking article called Creative Code: 14 Ways to Learn From Creative Programmers. Glen has some great things to say about how programmers can be and need to be creative when they code. Since there are so many different ways to do the same thing in code, it really is a creative medium. I think that gets lost on a lot of people who don't understand what programmers really do. It is a Left and Right brain activity at the same time. Thanks to the He-Man, Alan "Mr Hot wheels" Donnelly for pointing this one out. And Alan, even though Empire Strikes back is technically a better movie than A New Hope (its darker, the Hoth battle rocks and at least one hand gets light sabared off), it didn't change an entire generation of kids and films the way Episode IV did. For that reason alone, I consider A new Hope the best of the bunch.
Freelance Flash Games has a slew of new updates, including a list of the best Flash Game Sponsors, and 10 Things to Consider when Planning a Game. I am especially a fan of #1: Be sure it interests you. Game making should be fun. If it feels like work, then you should try a different idea.
8Bitrocket Brother At Arms, Scotty D. has a nice write up on the upcoming ability for Google to search inside of Flash Movies. I read about this last week, and have been intrigued at the possibilities. It's great that Yahoo and Google are basically bucking popular trends and not simply hating on Flash, but actually trying to help the situation.
Chris Rock at Sokay.net has posted a wonderful tutorial on how to path find around irregular objects. Using a system he calls North Star, he has created a simply amazing algorithm for path finding, and he wants YOU to have it too.
Emanuele Feronato doesn't rest much, does he? Along with his usual selection of game engine tutorials that he seems to whip up at an astonishing rate is a new two part series that will interest any budding Game Portal operator, Creating a Flash Arcade Site Using WordPress Part 1, and Part 2.
tutorio.us is a brand new beta site that is attempting to create a full Flash Game Development curriculum using existing and future web tutorials. They don't have any of ours up yet, but maybe they will soon.
Mr Sun Studios explores the topic of difficulty settings in Flash games, and also gives a lot of insight into the development and sponsor process for his latest game, Xylophone Master. He is right, Flashgamelicense has helped us with Addicting Games in the passed and I can't say enough good things about both of them.
Just in case I haven't mentioned it enough already, we opened up our Royalty Free Music Loop library to all game devs to use...
Here is a list of games that are keeping me from working on my own games...
Pandemic 2 on Addictinggames.com
Super Marine on Hallpass.com
Alien UFO on Mind Jolt
Charlie The Duck on Gameshot.org
Monster's Den on Gamebrew.com
Protector Reclaiming the Throne on Knogregate.com
Inquisitive Dave on New Grounds
New Royalty Free Music Loop Section!
Our brand new royalty free music loop section has just launched. I took the "BETA" off tonight and added another 100 or so new pieces of music. Over the last 10 years Steve and I have produced close to 300 custom songs for various projects. Some made it live, but many did not. What we have done is create 11khz 8bit mono versions that are easily downloadable and digested on the web. They all sound very close to the 44khz 16-bit stereo versions and are perfect to use in any Flash game project. Since they are already compressed, you should play with the custom sound export settings for each inside of Flash to ensure they will export and sound the way you like. One advantage of adding small sound files to your .FLA is much smaller .fla files than with 44khz wav source files . They are provided free of charge as long as we receive credit and a link back to our site. This is part of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The original 44khz 16-bit stereo versions are also available for a modest license fee if you cannot link back to our site or need a high quality version. Please email us if you have any questions. We are flexible and deals for multiple 44khz loops, etc can be struck if needed.
Micro Retro Mash-Up
I have spend about 2 and 1/2 hours so far on my 24 hour game challenge. The first game is going to be a modified version of Air-Sea Battle. I am going to create 8-10 24hour games and add them all to one casual game called 8bitrocket Micro Retro Mash-Up. The new music section took up all of my work time this weekend, so I didn't make any progress on the game yet. I should be well into game object design in Fireworks by the time I write about it next.
I get a lot of email about our blitting tutorials. One of the most asked questions is whether it really is worth it to spend lot of game programming time to do a blit for your objects. I like all questions, and will even answer that one again any time via email, but here is my standard answer again. NO! If you have to ask the question, then it might not be right for you. If you only have a few game objects on your screen and need to make a game quickly, then there is no real reason to do a blit. BUT, if you get in the habit of using blitting for all of your arcade/action games, you will reap the benefits when it doesn't make sense. Many people write to tell me that they timed it and using blitting was not faster that using standard display list operations. That is probably correct, especially if you read this. I did a lot of speed tests by profiling different types of rendering and blitting actually uses up MORE MEMORY and more PROCESSOR than using standard rendering. The point is that once you get passed a few 100 objects on the screen (very easy with particles), you will find that blitting will allow you to push more and more to the screen faster and faster. So, if you start using blitting for your simple games, you will be ready when you choose or are asked to create a game that demands more than the standard rendering engine can provide.
Classic Game Fonts
The Pickford brothers have been creating great games for many many years. During that time they have created some very nice bitmap fonts. Guess what? They want you to be able to use them too. Check then out and then give the rest of their site a thorough browse. The list of games they have made is simply amazing. I'm sure you have played at least one if not more.
We just put live a new section here at 8bitrocket.com. The Music Section has been transformed into a place to listen to and download looping music files and sound effects for use in your Flash Games. The beta currently has only about 45 of the 100's we will have for offer shortly. All files are 11khz mono 8-bit wav formatted files and we are offering them under the Creative Commons and 8bitrocket Value Added Licenses.
The Creative Commons Attribution license basically states that you are free to use the sounds and music in a work (commercial or non commercial) as long as you give 8bitrocket.com credit and provide a link back to our site. The 8bitrocket Value Added License is an addendum to the Creative Commons Attribution License and it allows the dowloader to use the 11khz files in any work they deem fit as long as that work in not simply a collection of music loops re-packaged for sale or even for free. The work must be creative in nature and add value to the music loop in some way.
If you would like a higher quality 44khz 16 bit stereo version of any loop, follow the download link for the loop you are interested in and you can request to purchase a 1 time commercial non-attribution license or an unlimited use non-attribution license. This means if you want to use some of our sounds or music in a game, but cannot provide credit and a link back to our site, you have the ability to purchase a license that will allow you to use the files without giving us credit. These commercial license files are CD quality to boot.
8bitrocket Goes Backstage
I usually don't talk about this, but besides working on Flash web sites and games at my day job and in my spare time, I also run the official web site for the 80's new wave/rock band The Alarm. I struck-up a friendship with the lead singer of The Alarm, Mike Peters in 1995 when I wrote an article about The Alarm for Goldmine magazine (at the the time ,the leading magazine for record collectors). Soon after, Mike asked me to run his web site, and for the past 13 years I have done just that. In that time, I have become pretty good friends with Mr. Peters. Our children have played together, he has come over to my house, etc. As well, I have had the privilege (Jeff and my wife as well) to have the opportunity to go front and back-stage at nearly every small-to-medium sized concert venue in Southern California as Mike Peters has toured with various bands and solo and played live in the L. A. area. In that time, I've come to realize something that I try to tell people when they ask about going "back-stage". Going "back-stage" is really nothing special at all. In fact, especially if you like music, all the best stuff happens "on-stage". Back-stage is simply place where: the band gets dressed, the band drys the sweat from themselves after playing live, a drink or two get consumed, and various hangers-on (myself included) try to not look out-of-place while trying to figure out why they are there in the first place. That's pretty-much it. It's very hard to convince people of this fact if they have never experienced it for themselves, but in all honestly, back-stage is usually nothing special. In fact, sometimes back-stage in literally nothing at all. Take the back-stage at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. It's nothing more than an attic in which the most interesting thing you might "discover" is a head injury if you stand-up too quickly. Ditto for the House Of Blues in Anaheim where back stage is little more than staircase and small room. This is in sharp contrast to back-stage at the House Of Blues in Hollywood that actually contains among other things, a private club named "The Founder's Room". However, they are so up-tight about it that they have a dress-code!?!? How un "rock and roll" is that? Maybe it's "blusey" and I simply don't get it.
Anyway, last night was one of the few times time in the past 13 years when "back-stage" felt like what I had always imagined it would be when I was a wide-eyed kid. Actually that is not true. It felt like what "back-stage" would feel like if you had a dream about going back-stage. Not necessarily a "dream" like it was utterly amazing, but one of those random dreams where events unfold-on top of each other in such an inexplicable way that it only really makes sense while you are having the dream. On a summer tour with The Fixx and The English Beat, The Alarm had just ripped-apart a fantastic set (Three Sevens Clash, My Town, Fight back, 68 Guns, Situation Under Control, The Stand, The Alarm Calling, Rescue Me, Spirit Of '76/45 RPM) at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. Mike Peters had asked me to come back-stage after the show, but, for the life of me, I could not find the entrance. After looking for about 15 minutes my wife suggested calling his cell phone. Now, if you have ever tried to talk on cell phone in a general admission concert venue while a band is playing, you will know just how difficult it is to get any kind of reception, much less hear anything on the phone. Still, I tried it, and low and behold Mike Peters answered. In fact, he was clear-as-day, and he instructed me to find the "Exit" doors to the right of the stage, and go through, because that was back-stage. Second to the cell phone reception, this was the next odd dream-like moment of the evening. I've never known a back-stage to be through "Exit" doors on the side of a venue. At least, I've never noticed it. Anyway, Mike told me he would find us after we went through the doors and into the back-stage. Since we had not done this "back-stage" thing in a bout a year, I had to collect the knowledge I had acquired over the years about how to act when attempting to go back-stage (most of which was culled John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies). The most important thing to do, I recalled, was to "act like you are supposed to be there". I tried to look "in place" when I walked up to the guarded door in my best "I'm supposed to be here" swagger, but it was for nothing. The orange "All Access" wrist-band that had given us at the will-call window took care of the guard at the door, and soon enough we were through to an alley-way outside the venue that led to a gauntlet of people with a similar "why am I here again?" look that my wife and I were sporting. You see, this was the third bizarre, dream-like occurrence of the night, as "back-stage" turned out to be "out side". It was a bit baffling
Next, we made our way down through the crowd towards a door that led back into the building and to the stage. I looked into the door, and instantly the guard said "oh, you have an orange band, you can go through". 'going through" was not currently in the plan, but since I did not want to seem like I did not know what I was doing, I went. However, instead of leading back-stage to where Mike might be (a dressing room, a private bar, etc.), it led to the ACTUAL backstage, or in this case the side-stage, where The Fixx were playing through their set. In all the times I'd been back-stage, I'd never actually been ON THE STAGE, and especially while band was playing,which was quite cool. This was the fourth dream-like occurrence as I can recall many nightmares I've had about going on stage and playing in band and trying to please the crowd with my complete lack of talent or ability. However, this time we simply watched the band from the side for bit. I noted that the sound was much better back there, then in the venue proper. In a way, I was sort of shocked at how cool it was to be on the side-stage watching band play. The other people there looked predictably bored, but I was pretty jazzed about it. The thought crossed my mind that maybe there is something to this elusive back-stage after-all, I'd just never been at the right "back-stage" before. Anyway, my wife and I turned back and as we did we saw the guitarist from The Alarm, James Stevenson coming up a set of stairs that led down towards the actual dressing rooms. James is very "rock and roll" in that he keeps his stage persona "on" after the show to some extent. I never know what to say to him, so I just waved. He was cool though, and he told us that he had not seen Mike (it must have been obvious that was why we were there). "That's odd", I thought, since Mike had told us to come back, but now he had disappeared. Just my luck, I was now officially an aimless hanger-on (my wife is excused because she was simply there to support me) looking exactly like an aimless hanger-on back-stage. We went back outside again, and stopped by the fence at the head of the people gauntlet. I looked at my wife, and back towards a gate that led through to the alley-way behind the venue. I was just about to ask my wife if she wanted to leave, when I head a vaguely familiar voice say "'eh Mike!", I turned around to see Mike Peters walking through the alley gate, and greeted by Billy Duffy, and Ian Ashbury, the guitarist and lead vocalist from The Cult. I'd met Billy Duffy before (I stole the ball and scored a goal on his team during a 5-a-side soccer game in Wales 10 years ago, but that's a whole different story), but I'd never seen Ian Ashbury in person before. Again, it was like a weird dream where random people from the 80's start showing-up unannounced. I half expected to Adam Ant and Captain Sensible enjoying a cup of tea around the next corner. Anyway, Ashbury looks a lot like Steven Tyler these days, and in a massive cliche, he's much shorter in person than I imagined.
So, the next cool, dream-like part came next. Mike had seen my wife and I waiting, and just after he greeted Ian and Billy, he kind of moved them aside, greeted my wife and I, told us to follow him back through the gate to the tour bus. I may not be describing this in the most effective way, but essence, Mike blew-off the better half of The Cult so he could chat with my wife and I in private. See what I mean about this seeming like a dream? And again, not necessarily "good dream", but weird one in which the cool guys get blown-off and the dorks get first-class treatment. (Ok, maybe that is a *good* dream!) Anyway, Mike really wanted to show us their tour bus, because: 1.), It was rock and roll to have a tour bus, and 2., he was really happy about it. However, the back-stage experience took an even more surreal turn as we entered the bus. Sitting behind a computer mixing songs for the next Alarm album was ex-Guns And Roses and Supernova guitarist and Gilby Clarke. What struck me about Mr. Clarke, was that, other than the Mac-Book in front of him, he was he overwhelmingly dripped of Hollywood rock and roll star. He just did not let-up. The clothes, the hair, the tattoos, and everything else ...except for the fact that he was exceedingly polite. As well, so was the gentleman sitting across the aisle from him, Slim Jim Phantom the drummer for the Stray Cats. However, he did looked bored an a bit annoyed. Didn't anyone tell him that back-stage is usually that way? Of course he already knew that. Anyhow, Mike led my wife and I to the back of the bus, and we sat down for a chat about the show, the new album, etc. The bus itself had a wood-lined interior with gold-inlay. It looked just like you would imagine a band's tour bus might looked like. Anyway, we sat to chat for a about 15 minutes about music and kids and stuff, and then "the Alarm" literally went off. Well, it was Slim Jim and Gilby Clarke actually. They were obviously waiting for Mike, and while they were polite, the were obviously not too happy that the "geek squad" was invading the rock and roll shrine (the tour bus). The funny part, and the final surreal, dream-like moment, was that Mike sort of blew-them-off himself in a way (but not really). Since Mike is such good guy, he tried to be polite, wanting to continue our visit, but instead my wife and I excused ourselves, said goodbye, and left the bus. I've always felt that in these types of situations it is never good to over-stay your welcome. As we left the bus I stopped just for a second to tell Gilby Clarke that I thought his mixes for the current Alarm album "Guerrilla Tactics" were great, and he replied with a warm "well thanks man." And all was cool. We left the bus, went through the gate, up the side of building past the people trying to look like they had a reason to be there, and for split second I thought to myself, "wait, I *did* have a reason to be here" However, that pompously ridiculous thought fleeted away as we left the theater, got back in the Honda CRV, and headed out of the rock and roll "dream sequence" and back to the baby sitter, the kids, and real, honest life.
After examining the concept I have so far, I have decided that this game may not be very fun to play. So, I have merged my ideas for the Air Sea Battle game with my idea for a casual game based on a collection of smaller retro games.This will allow me to plan and execute each of the retro games in a 24 hours of dev time (maybe less). This will result in a much more robust game final. Air-Sea Battle will remain one of the games, but I will scope it down to fit in the mini retro theme. With 24 hours for each of the mini games, I will have time to make something pretty decent for each. I will be re-using some of the games I have already created, so there will be both a Pac man and an Asteroids, as well as other games I have been working on: Gravitar, Boids of Death, Berzerk, etc. Each level will progressively get more difficult. This also fits the Point Blank concept I have been running with for progression through the levels. This concept will also allow me to make small versions of a number of games that have been swimming up in my noggin.
There are multiple ways to create a game design document. We have a simple game, so we are going to use a simple model of a scope document that found in the excellent book, Game Design, A Practical Approach
Flash CS3/AS3 for web browsers
Shooter/Arcade, casual puzzle
8bitrocket Mini Retro Challenge (current name) will be a casual game where the user must connect 4 squares together in a row: vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. This is a one player game but the player is going up against the computer in a unique way. The player chooses a square on a 4x4 grid and then is tasked with completing a level of a retro game with in certain constraints. If the level is completed satisfactorily, the player wins the square. If the player fails to finish, the computer will get the square. If the player is able to connect 4 of his own squares together, he will beat the level and move on to the next, if not, or if the computer wins, the game is over. I will refer to the overall game as the 4x4 game from now on.
I will have 8-10 different retro games included. Since there are 16 squares, some may need to be repeated on a level. When a 4x4 level is started, the player will see a logo for the retro game that needs to be beaten in order to complete the level. If two Asteroids squares are next to one another (for instance), the first one he selects will play Asteroids level 1 (or whatever the current level is). If he completes that level, then he will get to play the next level when he chooses the Asteroids game the next time. If he loses and the computer takes the 4x4 square, then he will have to play Asteroids level 1 again (if he chooses to play it again). On 4x4 level 1 there will be 4 retro games available to play. A new retro game will be added each 4x4 level until they have all been discovered. The level passed in any one retro game will carry over to the next level of the 4x4 game, so the player chooses to play 4 levels of Asteroids on 4x4 level 1, if he chooses to play Asteroids on 4x4 level 2, then he will start at Asteroids level 5.
The goal is to complete all 30 levels and be crowned Mini-Retro Champion. The score for each game will be added to a total score. As well, bonus multipliers and other features will be added. An attempt will be made to make the higher scoring games more difficult and bonus points will be award such as multipliers for playing higher/harder levels of a game.
The actual final number of levels will depend on the number of retro games I complete and the suitable max level for each.
Features (the games I have though of so far)
4x4 Game: A 4x4 grid tic-tac-toe like game. There is no CENTER square in tic-tac-toe, so this will add a little more strategy. The player must create a 4 in a row line vertically, horizontally, or diagonally to move on to the next level. If a player cannot take the square by beating the retro game level associated with it, the computer will take that square. If the computer gets 4 in a row, the game is over.
Here are my current ideas for mini retro games to be included:
Air Battle: Similar to what was discussed before, but I will take one solid game concept and run with it. At the moment, I plan to give the player a limited amount of time to destroy a certain number of air craft from a stationary cannon that can be "rotated" left and right in 30 degree increments. The aircraft will come by in waves, with some being bombs that that player must avoid shooting. Once a wave is complete, another will be added until time runs out. The player will need to destroy a increasing % of total enemy in the time limit with a given ammo limit. The player will be able to shoot clocks to add time and bullets to add ammo.
Rock Battle: The player's ship is sent into the middle of an asteroid field and must destroy all of the rocks with out being smashed. Power ups include rapid fire and shields. If the player is hit by a rock with no shields left, he doesn't pass the level.
Boid Battle: This is very similar to Demon Attack. The player must destroy all of the swarming mechanical birds. They shoot back and when hit they split and dive bomb. Double fire and shields will be the power ups.
Micro Chip Maze Battle: The player must travel the mazes pac man style and collect all of the micro chips. He is being chased by computer bugs. Can attack them back is he collects a memory power up module.
Gravity Battle: Play player must navigate around a planet with his Rock Battle ship. He wins by shooting all of the enemy cities with in the time limit. He loses if time runs out or he crashes into the planet. Gravity will be constantly pulling him toward the surface of the planet. Power ups are shields and time.
Defense Battle: The Player is encamped in the tower in the middle of the screen. His tower has a limited number of shields and must be protected from on coming enemy. Power ups will be rapid fire, enemy freeze, shields
Here are more basic concepts that I have been kicking around. They represent many similar retro games.
Helicopter Rescue: The player must fly behind enemy lines, and destroy enemy bunkers to free captives. Tanks and other ordinance will fire up at him. He must land to save the prisoners?
Robot Battle: Similar to Berzerk, the player must run through a room, shoot all of the robots and make it to the exit with out touching the walls of being shot by any robots.
River Battle: Fly up the river, destroy the bridges, and aircraft. Don't run out of fuel or get destroyed to completed the level.
Tube Battle: The player is in the center with multiple horizontal tubes to his left and right. He can move up and down and shoot left and right down each tube to destroy oncoming enemy.
Space Castle Battle: The player must battle an encamped enemy star castle style.
Bug Battle: The Bugs are attacking the flowers. Kill them before they kill you or steal all of your flowers.
That's 12. They are certainly not earth shatteringly original, but I want the player to feel like they are familiar. I think this concept will combine the Gorf and Point Blank features I wanted to create for this game, but it will be big enough to maybe be sponsored or go on GameJacket or Mochi. My next step is to start creating some basic old skool visuals for the Air Battle game.
One last thing. All of these games will be created using the most optimized game loop I can create, bitmap blitting, event listeners, and a new simplified game object model. Why do this if I can't do it that way I want?
I took a break from game making tonight to focus on a subject that fascinated me in the 80's and early 90's but absolutely scares the bee-jeezus out of me now: Hackers! (always with the exclamation points, FULTON!). Anyway, the word hacker means many things to many people. In the early days in was applied to dudes who just wanted to explore computers and technology. They started out exploring the early time sharing punch card systems at universities, and later entire networks. Before long, the term started to be applied (by clueless media) to all nefarious activity that included computer technology of some sort - game pirates, virus creators, and now even email spammers and kiddies running automated sql injection hacks. To me, those are criminals plain and simple, and the term hacker really applies to people who like to explore technology for the fun of it. So, how does this relate to games? The first computer and video games were created by hackers. From early space war games to Pong, and all through the 80's, individuals with a desire to explore technology were are at the forefront of game creation. And most were in fact, hackers. Anyway, the reason I bring this is up is because I always kind of considered myself a hacker, even though I never broke into any systems or applied any of my skill to even moderately nefarious activities. To me hacking was just exploring my computer and software. I would later find that I unknowingly was following a "hacker ethic" and still do to this day. The hacker ethic, started by MIT and other university hackers in the 60's, focused on free use of technology, free exploration, free information of how things work, and tinkering (or hacking) things to make then better.
In the 80's, if you had any type of home computer, you were in for a really wild ride. Also, you were invariably, a hacker. In some cases, just finding software was an adventure as there certainly weren't mall stores that catered to home computing. There were a few chain shops that focused on business PCs and even a few that would stock the odd game here and there, but mom and pop shops and mail order PO boxes were the bread and butter locations for home computer sofytware. Anyone who bought an early 80's machine had to be a hacker in some way. Just getting software to run was sometimes a cryptic chore, but it was always rewarding to see your freshly purchased game or app fill the screen for the first time. All machines came with some type of basic built in and in most, the disk operating system (or tape system) was controlled by commands in the basic interpreter. It was like having a different flavor of incompatible Unix for each companies' machine. In 1984, Steve and I joined the even smaller collection of ultra nerds who were using 300 Baud modems to connect to local BBS. This certainly was an explorers realm early on that was later taken over by pirates, virus creators, and script kiddies. Early on though, ingenious hackers (the right kind) were creating their own BBS software, running boards, and keeping the hacker ethic alive in the 80's. Since users all had access to a language of some sort, the entire world of that box sitting on their bedroom floor was open to them for exploration. From small games to peeking poking memory locations to see what havoc could be brought, home computers were fun tools aimed at the bedroom hacker.
So, besides just playing with my Atari computers, I was always fascinated by stories of the ultra skilled hackers of the day. Certainly, the movie War Games played a huge part in that fascination. It is definitely worth your time if you haven't seen it. Sure some of it is corn ball, but it was much more realistic depiction of early 80's hacking than the travesty that came out in the late 90's called Hackers was to 90's criminal hackers.
If anyone else is interested in reading about the explorer style hackers that fascinate me, then you should check out the 8bitrocket Hacker Required Reading List .
1. The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage - By Cliff Stoll - My mom bought this for me when she found out I was interested in computers (she didn't realize it all through the 80's). This original came out in 1989 and it tells the story of Cliff's real life tracking of a hacker through Berkeley astronomy computer systems. This is the book that peaked my interest to anything hacker related. It set in place my fascination with the explorer hacker (and the tracker of those hackers). It turns out the hackers in this book were criminals, and they were caught, so it made me feel good about the world of computing. There might be some criminals in the computer world, but they were getting caught, so it all made sense. To me, Cliff was the right kind of hacker - an explorer of systems and a computer enthusiast as well as a scientist, while the "hackers" were actually just bad dudes who used a computer to commit crimes.
2. After reading The Cuckoo's egg, Steve found Cyberpunk at the library he worked for. The book was written by Katie Hafner with help from New York Times technology columnist, John Markoff. Host hackers consider it a hatchet job but it certainly is an enjoyable read. It is broken up into three separate stories on 80's computer system explorers. They were all considered criminals by the authors, but to me only one of the stories included a real criminal. That part ironically was a story about the actual West German hackers that Cliff Stoll tracked down in his book. The other two stories included a fascinating account of the early exploits of the Kevin Mitnick, and an unfortunate story of a worm release by Robert Tappin Morris. Kevin Mitnick is one person whose unfortinate story stuck a chord with me. Simply put, he was vilified as the computer devil at a time when NO ONE in law enforcement or media understood a thing about computers. Today, his exploits wouldn't amount to much more than a slap on the wrist, but back then, he was unjustly used as a poster boy for a scared society coming to grips with the end of the cold war and the emergence of a new digital age. He scared people because they didn't know what to be scared of.
3. Hackers By Steven Levy. This certainly in NOT a novelization of the terrible Angelina Jolie movie. It is a well told set of biographical stories depicting 3 distinct eras of computer hackers (not the criminal types) who were exploring technology. Part one consumes the 60's and the MIT Model Railroad club who were some of the first to coin the term HACK. It meant a clever improvement on a system (the same as it does in some circles today). All the characters in these stories were devoted to the "Hacker Ethic" - open systems, free exploration, and information sharing among other things. The second story concerns the 70's mavericks who were born from the 60's Hacker Ethic and went on to build the first personal computers. The third story was the most fascinating to me as it concerns the original Sierra On-line's game development, and one of my heroes, John Harris. He was an Atari 800 game programming genius, who was able to use his considerable skills to write the most optimized games the system had ever seen. This was the first book that taught me what a hacker really was, and that the criminals who were getting the moniker in the press were nothing but computer hooligans (probably smarter than most West Ham firm members though).
4. Just for fun: the story of an accidental revolutionary - By LINUS TORVALDS. This isn't easy to find. but it is an inspiring story of the creation of Linux written as an autobiographical account. Linus is one of the major modern day flag wavers for the "hacker ethic".
5. The Soul Of A New Machine - by Tracy Kidder. We were assigned this book in college, but I never read it. About 3 years ago I broke it out and found an absolutely fascinating story of how mini computers were built in the '80s. Anyone interested in computers or exploring technology should give this a read.
6. Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date - By Robert X. Cringely. This is a much longer and more detailed account covering the same time span (roughly) as Steven Levy's Hacker's second act. This book is somewhat controversial, but it is a good read. Steve Wozniak, especially, refutes some of the stories in this book, so it is best to also read the next one...
7. iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It - by Steve Wozniak. This book is written in a very conversational tone by someone who knows he is brilliant. It gives Steve's account of his early years and especially the creation of the Apple I, and II. Steve's hatred of design by committee, and his love of computer games (he created the arcade game Breakout by Atar,) drew me from page 1.
8. The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick - by Jonathan Littman. I know this one is about a supposed criminal, but after reading this account, you will probably feel otherwise. There were about 3 or 4 books written about the 1990's capture of Kevin Mitnick, and this one is the best of the bunch. Jonathan Littman's account comes from actual conversations he had with Kevin as the supposed Dark Side Hacker was on the run from a parole violation (he never should have been in jail in the first place). Anyway, no matter the actual legal circumstances, or the questionable legalities of some of his actions, Kevin Mitnick was actually more a part of the hacker ethic than anything else. I can't wait until his personal account can be published.
There are more, but this is a pretty good start. If you are interested in the subject, but don't want to buy any books, then Google "The Hacker Ethic", "Cliff Stoll", or "Kevin Mitnick". You will find some very interesting reading.
Or there abouts. I have been thinking a lot lately about how I am going to have time to create viral, ad supported games when my second child is born in a couple weeks. I have been through this before and the time schedules for the entire house will be completely boondoggled into a spaghetti mess when the boy comes out in early August. I have not been mass producing games lately anyway, as creative blockage, illness, day jobs, and various other life problems have taken a huge byte (sic) out of my time at 8bitrocket towers. Besides making games, I also want to keep up a steady flow of tutorials to give something back to the community I have come to really like. Material suitable for posting takes a lot longer than I would like, as even the smallest tutorial needs a fair bit of proofreading and re-writes (not that you can tell by some of the garbage we have posted, while we do try to edit them, time is fleeting...).
In any case, I was thinking about tackling this is a whole new way. I have been playing a lot of emulated Atari 2600 games lately, and I notice that most of the early efforts are really quite simple yet very fun and playable. They were by no means easy to code on the 2600 with its 128 bytes (not Kbytes) of ram, scan-line based screen updates, and lackluster sprite system. I was thinking that I could build a simple game loop engine and the repeatedly populate it with games built in 24 hours of Flash AS3 programming time (not one day, but 24 hours). Those hours might be spread over 2 weeks, but in the end I would have a nice set of new games (based on 2600 style games) that can be added to the site, put on game Jacket or Mochi, or maybe combined into a much larger game.
I would give myself a schedule something like :
2 Hours to research and plan
4 Hours to build simple sprite, sprite sheets, etc
10 Hours on the game engine
4 Hours to fit all of my graphics into the game engine
4 Hours of clean-up, Mochi Bot, Mochi/GameJacket
That would be roughly 24 hours to make a simple game. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a clone of a 2600 game, but using an existing game as inspiration, I would attempt to create something just as addictive and simple. This is probably not going to be a easy task, as simple and addictive are things we always strive for, but I would really need to stick to the plan to get something decent completed. I like to optimize and code and re-code things and play with new ways of doing the same thing. This causes my game dev time to take much longer than it should some times. So, in the case of these games, I would NOT do those things until the NEXT game. I would need to keep careful notes of what changes and optimizations I want for the next game while creating the current game and be disciplined not to monkey with something that works in favor of repeated optimizations. I also need to build up a new entity framework, and game loop that has all of the basic game sprite functions built in for blitting. If I don't have time for that, since none of these games will have too many objects on the screen anyway, I might use some built-in Flash rendering techniques (who said that?). Anyway, it will be a learning experience and after I complete a game, I will write a tutorial on some aspect of the game development, or maybe one on how to create that type of game quickly in Flash.
So, after looking as the launch titles for the Atari 2600, I have decided to start with a classic that I played with Steve at Target (or was it Fedmart or TwoGuys then?) - Air Sea battle.
Image Courtesy of Atariage.com
I don't think I will have two players and it looks relatively simple. I want it to be fun though, so I will need to dig deep into the game play variations and options to find enough fun stuff to do. These early Atari games always had a huge number of interesting variations. In my next diatribe, I will discuss my findings on this game and how I intend to proceed.