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30Dec/080

Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up: Dec 29, 2008

Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up: Dec 29, 2008

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

This time we have:
A new version of Flash Develop; More dev diary and playable demos from Squize; A
very informative Zobieland game postmortem; Creating games with Papervision 3D;
Using Bitmapdata for collisions in a side scroller; The best sites to learn and
discuss Flash; Does your Browser History depict your gender? Whiflash is finally
launched; A Sudoku creator / solver in AS3; Emanuele's in game ad tests, and
more.

Flash Develop 3.0 RC 1.0 is released!
The

latest version
of the incredible piece of software has been released. (Donate
to them
). It includes new Zarjaz such as Live Syntax Error Checking for AS3,
Smart contextual event type completion, and a lot more exciting code head stuff.

Squize's X is coming along very nicely
Over at the
Gamingyourway.com site, Squize has posted some
new builds of his Asteroids (rocks) / Geometry Wars (control) blaster,
X. It is very fun,
looks great and should be a great addition to our
Retro Arcade
if and or when it can be distributed.

Creating A Game With
Papervision 3D
Mochiland has published a very cool new

article by Iain Lobb
that is more discussion than tutorial on the merits of
Papervision and the process needed to make a game with it.

Photon
Storm celebrates the holidays with an Atari ST inspired demo

Rich
posted this last week
, but I am just coming out of a post x-mas stupor and
am finally posting about it, it will also go into my
Atari Nerd
Round Up this week. The music for
his x-mas
card / demo
was taken directly from an Atari ST chip tune.

Using
BitmapData for collision detection in an art-based side scroller

Mark, over at the Ickydime blog, has some very

interesting new posts
on his side scroller game engine. He is creating a
game that needs fluid animation and large characters, so he doesn't want to be
stuck into tile based or even grid based collision checks. His has some good
ideas about how to accomplish this.

Mr Sun's list of tutorial sites
for Flash
I'm happy to see Mr. Sun make a comeback to the world of
blogging, and his latest entry is a very nice collection of the

11 best sites (with tutorials, message boards, etc) for learning Flash/a>..

Freeland Flash Games How To Make A Hit
Freelance Flash Games
has a new feature on

how to make a hit game
. The list features 7 good tips for making games on
any platform.

Zombieland Postmotem

Zombieland
is one kickass game. It reminds me of some of the best NES side scrollers from
yesteryear. You can check out the postmortem on 

Gamingyourway
(and a link from

Game Poetry
).

I have have always been intrigued by Sudoku, but never tried it enough to be
good at it. Here, Emanuele gives you a

nice tutorial on how to write a solver in AS3
. He also has a

nice write up
on the results of his own in-game ad banner tests. He got 2
Paypal donations!

Does your web browsing indicate your gender?
A few weeks back I saw this

link
posted at the I'm
Still Here blog
, but didn't have a chance to check it out. Tom says that he
is 100% male, but because I can't use my computer for too many traditionally
MALE internet activities (what with the little kids running around all the
time), the site seems to think that I am at least 36% female. Pretty funny. It
is based on browser history (which I tend to clean out a lot).  These are
the sites it recognized and listed as making me 36% female: Facebook, Yahoo,
Google, and Miniclip. These sites made me 64% male: IMDB, Weather, and Bestbuy.

Hatu's Whiflash launched
I have been monitoring the
progress of this game for a few months because it reminds me of a few 8/16 bit
classics that I used to love playing (Gateway
to Apshai
,
Temple of
Apshai
) also some modern console games (Baldur's
Gate Dark Alliance
). 
It has
finally been launched on Newgrounds
. I also plan to add this to our
Retro Arcade when (and
if) I can.

As always, visit Flashgameblogs.com/a> for your daily dose...

29Dec/080

Diatribe: I'm a crappy drummer and other Christmas revelations

Diatribe: I'm a crappy drummer and other Christmas revelations

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Two years ago I tried Steve's Guitar Hero 1 on the PS2 and was hooked. Steve
was an actual pioneer with this game, having purchased in a full year (2005)
before it became any kind of a hit. He was ashamed to play the plastic guitar in
front of his wife and kids, but later would learn to embrace the game. Anyway, I
ran out and bought Guitar Hero 2 after trying his #1 for a few days (this was
2006) and then Jeanne bought me #1 for Christmas that same year. When I got 
a Wii, I bought #3, and the 80's edition on the PS2, but never really was very
good at it. Of course I could kick some ass on Easy mode and was able to play
respectably at Medium, but at any higher difficulty I was a mess.

Me being a mess at medium on the plastic guitar is no shameful match for how
completely awful I am at drums in the new World tour version. I can yodel out
enough to at least pass in the singing mode, but when it comes to the expensive
midi drum kit included with the full World Tour set, I am lamer than lame. I
guess that must be because the drum action is a lot closer to the real thing,
while the guitar and possibly the vocals are easy to fake, even for a talentless
drooler like myself, but it takes some real talent to excel at time keeper/ ass
kicker on the drum kit.

I also made the moderate mistake of asking my wife for a lot of Wii games
when really I should have just put down XBOX 360 on my list. Little did I know
that she would splurge passed our set $$ limits and get me everything on my list
(including Boom Blox and the new Medal of Honor games for the Wii). Of course
the Wii is hooked up to the living room 42" TV and so I never get to play any of
the games when I actually have time (11:00 PM - on). This because the sounds
(think cave man grunts and yells)  I make playing games and the volume I
like to play them at would wake up the house in no time.

The reason the 360 would have been better is the head set (which I hope would
allow me to turn the volume down on the TV and hear the games from the ear
phones). Plus, I found some cheap copies of the XBOX only Techno Classic Arcade
(Swimmer, Techmo Bowl) and bought one for Steve and one for me.

I did get a kick out of Medal Of Honor on the Wii because I own a Wii Blaster
and one of the new Nerf Wii guns. Both make playing 1st person shooters a joy.
The problem is that even with the blood turned off, the game is far too violent
for my young son to watch me play - hence the need for non-existent late night
gaming time and a muffler for my dirty clap trap and the TV speaker.  So,
even though I have a living room full of new games, I keep playing New Star
Soccer 4 because it rocks, but also because I can play it in my office and not
wake anyone up.

In that note, my Turquay United squad was promoted from League 2 to League 1
on the back of prolific scorer, 8bitjeff. He scored 48 goals in 46 matches,
which was top in the scorers table (by far, the next hit man  had 16), but
was only good enough for a 4th place finish in the league table. Turquay won the
playoffs in a final against the MK Duns.  8bitjeff was hoping his
performance would lead to some Championship or Premiership offers, but none
came. The promotion has proven costly because even though 8bitjeff has scored
regularly in his league starts (few and far between) during the new promoted
campaign, the manager suddenly has seen fit to put him on bench duty. So, from
averaging a goal + per game with play ratings of 9 and 10, he has dropped to 
5 to 10 minutes of bench duty and game play ratings of 4-5. He got pissed off,
asked for a transfer and hasn't been included in the game day squad since. He
will have to wait until January to hopefully get a couple offers from League 1
squads (at least).

I was able to catch a couple real footie matches today. I watched Fulham draw
Chelsea 2-2 on two Clint Dempsey stunners. One was a chest trap to right foot
flick (with back to to goal) and the second was a 90th minute monster header
equalizer. I took in Blackburn (as I adopted them early in the season, even
though they now are on hard times) and watched them also draw 2-2 (with Man
City). Both were good matches, but Blackburn should have had the win on some
dodgy officiating.

Anyway, how was your Christmas?

Filed under: diatribe No Comments
28Dec/080

Xbox 360 Adventures #1: Netflix

A few months ago I wrote a prediction that the Xbox 360 would soon die an untimely death. Since then the machine has systematically proved me wrong. It has outsold the PS3, and has done very well against the Wii. Microsoft has cut the price and added features that have made their magic box look more an more attractive. However, a few weeks back they announced one feature that made the Xbox a necessary product for me: Netflix streaming. I've been waiting for an easy way to chuck my DVD collection and access movies and TV programs from an online collection for years now. The on-demand portion of FIOS is just OK, but does not include enough content to really be interesting. iTunes charges far too much for old TV programs and movies, and even though you "own" them, you really don't. You can't transfer them, if you lose them you can't re-download them. It's all very user-unfriendly. However, Netflix streaming is quite different. You have a library of 12,000 or so movies and DVDs at your fingertips, all you have to do is select them and start viewing on your PC. However, viewing on a PC/Mac sucks. The holy grail is to be able to select from a huge library and watch them on my HD plasma TV and Bose speaker set-up.

The Xbox 360 now has this feature, and it is awesome.

Setting it up requires a very simple, manual code exchange between your Netflix account and your Xbox. Once that is complete, you select movies on your PC to put into your "On Demand Queue". Once something is in your queue, you can find the movies and TV programs by going to "Video Market Place" on your Xbox 360 and selecting the Netflix "tab". At that point, it's pure magic. Every movie and TV program you have placed in your queue is available for instant viewing. You flip through the box images with the XBox controller, and select the one you would like to view. If it is a TV program, you can also select the episode you would like to see. After that, depending on the speed of your internet connection, the movie/TV program will start in a couple seconds. Since I have a 20 mbps down/ 5 mbps up FIOS connection, it works amazingly well. The picture quality is near-perfect, as is the frame-rate. In fact, I can detect no difference in quality between Netflix/Xbox 360 and my FIOS On Demand...or a DVD for that matter.

OK, so the quality is good, but what are the drawbacks? Well, there are a couple. First, you cannot browse Netflix from the Xbox 360 and add movies/TV programs. You have to do that from a computer. Second, there are not many "new" movies or TV shows available. Most of the content is from prior to 1990, indie, or of dubious quality (read: those DVDs you find at the 99 cent store). Netflix had much more content, but when the studios is found out about the agreement with Microsoft, they pull some of it out. Also, some of the TV shows do not include all the episodes. Some just say something like "this episode only available on DVD". The good news it that Microsoft is planning to use the Netflix agreement to sell Xbox 360s, so you can be damned sure they will use some of their clout ($$$) to loosen up the archives of major studios.

So why do I like it? Well, it all comes down to cheesy classic TV from the 70's and 80's. As a kid I was a huge fan of shows like Emergency, Adam 12 and Battlestar Galactica. The entirety of those series are readily available. Also, available are "kids" (geared to 13 year old boys at the time) adventure series' from the 80's like Knight Rider, the A-Team, Magnum P.I., Miami Vice, Airwolf and a couple season of McGyver. In fact, the only shows I would like to have but are not currently streaming are CHiPs and the Dukes Of Hazzard.

The other type of content in great supply on Netflix streaming are documentaries. You can find most indie and well known docs from the past few years. My current favorites are Supersize Me and King Of Kong, both of which are currently available. As well, some of the content is available in HD. From my tests, the HS streaming worked fairly well. At one point the stream of The Office stopped to "re-adjust", but afterward I saw no loss in quality.

Before i make it sound like this is treasure trove of old movies and TV only, there are a few new things. The Office is there (both US and British), some newer Disney movies and TV shows (for how long who knows?) and many others. Interestingly, many of the new movies available are the same ones that exist on On Demand versions of Showtime and Starz. (It looks like Netflix has agreements with both services).

My suggestion to Microsoft, Netflix, and all the studios who are holding out on this : run a simple commercial tag at the beginning of each movie/TV show that can ne monetized and rev shared between Netflix and the studios. We already have to sit through those on DVDs and at the movie theater anyway. If it means more content will become available, I'm willing to sit through it. Anyway, (except for a couple Wii games) the TV has not been on anything but the 360 since Christmas day. Netflix streaming is all we have been watching and there have been no complaints from anyone in the family. Now I hear that Microsoft might make a deal with Hulu.com to provide more recent TV episodes to the Xbox 360. If that happens, I will have to seriously reconsider my FIOS TV.

24Dec/080

Merry Christmas: A Stocking full of guilt free and legal retro game roms

Merry Christmas: A Stocking full of guilt free and legal retro game roms

While I am fully aware of all the places you can obtain nefarious copies of
all the best retro games in digitized disk or rom format, but I also know of a great
big stocking full of free and legal games that will blow your mind. These are
not simply a collection of old public domain and shareware, but actual
commercial games from the 80's and 90's (and 2000's) that are now freely available for your
gaming pleasure. 

Llamasoft and Jeff Minter Zarjaz!
Lamasoft created some great games in the 80's and 90's across a wide
selection of platforms. They have made many of them legally available for
download to be played on your emulator of choice.  The games include the
classic Andes Attack, Lamatron, Photon Storm all the way to Lamazap on the Atari
Falcon and many others. Check for games on your favorite platform:
Atari 8-Bit,
Atari ST,
Atari Falcon,
Amiga,
Speccy,
C64,
C16, and
Vic 20.

Atari 8bit APX Software
Atari Archives has about 1/2 of the entire Atari 8-bit line of user
created
Atari Program Exchange
commercial software available for free download. Some
of the titles available include

Alien Egg
,

Eastern Front
,

Pro Bowling
,

Galahad And The Holy Grail
, along with a
host of
others
. Here at 8bitrocket, we recent posted
an interview with Chris Crawford
(Eastern Front), where he told a story
about the beginnings to the very innovative APX.

Miner 2049er and Bounty Bob Strikes Back
The official Big 5 Software web site has an

all-in-one emulator and rom pack
for you to use on your PC to play the Atari
8-bit versions of Miner 2049er the sequel, Bounty Bob Strikes Back.

The Atari 8bit.org software library
The Atari8bit.org site has a
nice selection of
games
whose authors and right holders are allowing free downloads. There are
Adventure International titles (Ghost Town Claim Jumper, and others, 
Synapse titles(Protector II,  Claim Jumper, and others), Atari UK (Heart
Break), and others.

Home Brews For Atari Consoles
I Know these are not commercial classic games, but in many cases they
are better than games released back in the day. Atari Age has a selection of
roms available for all Atari Consoles. They have taken down the ones that are
clearly not legal, but have left up the questionable ones and the ones whose
rights holders allow them to be downloaded. Since this article focuses on legal
and guilt free (see below for questionable links for the less inclined to worry
about those things) we will link to those, but you can  browse the entire
Atariage.com
collection
.  Home brew roms for:

The 2600
,

5200
, and
7800
. There are some absolutely fantastic free games in there. Be sure to
check out

Beef Drop
, and

Space Duel
For the 7800 especially.

The Public Domain Roms Site
As sort of a Catch-All, the
Public Domain Roms Site
has a collection of free commercial and PD games that have been put into the
public domain. The site is dedicated to games that are free to play on GPX
emulators, but of course they can be played on any system with suitable
emulator. The systems represented are: Amiga, Atari 2600, Atari ST, C64, Gameboy,
Gensis, Neo Geo Pocket, PC Engine, and the PSX.

PDRoms.com
Not to be confused with the site above, the
PDROMS site has a HUGE selection of legal
roms across EVERY video game console platform you can imagine (no computers
though).

 The Not So Guilt Free
All of the following sites are dedicated to the preservation of games
and systems via emulation. Because of this, they keep extensive collections of
game roms and have put them up for your downloading pleasure. The best way to
use a site like these is to first research a game thoroughly, get yourself
excited about playing it, then download the rom and have a go. These sites are
not designed for you to open up 50 FTP connections and shovelware entire
collections of software to your machine (most that you will never use). There
are ample FTP sites for that purpose, and a simple Google search and a little
effort will have that type of contraband in your hands in no time. I don't
recommend it  though, as it takes much of the joy out of retro gaming to
have EVERYTHING RIGHT AWAY because usually that means you will play nothing...it
just works out that way, I don't know why.

Many of these sites carry a huge collection of Public Domain and Legal Free
roms also (for your clear conscious).

Atari 8bit Games -
www.atarimania.com

2600, 5200, 7800, and Lynx -
www.atariage.com
,
www.Atarimania.com
(2600 and 5200)
Atari ST - Research -
www.atari.st
. Game disk images and research -
www.atarilegend.com
Amiga - www.lemonamiga.com
C64 - www.lemon64.com
Spectrum -

http://www.worldofspectrum.org

That's it. Have a safe and fun holiday season, and keep checking back because
we're not going dark during the holidays, so we'll have new content on an almost
daily basis.

Filed under: Atari Nerd No Comments
24Dec/082

Atari 7800 Christmas: Why The 7800 Was (for 5 weeks anyway) The Best System Ever

Antic Dec. 1986

"Holy crap!"

"What?" Jeff replied. He looked over at me to see that I reading an advertisement in Antic Magazine.

"Look at this...Atari 7800's for sale!"

October of 1986 was a trying time for Atari 8-bit computer nerds Nerds like Jeff and I. We had seen the vastly inferior (to us) Commodore 64 reign supreme for many months. Most software companies were skipping the Atari line in favor of the better selling Commodore machine. After 3 years of serious Atari 8-bit computing, we had pretty much experienced everything there was to get out of the tan wedge-shaped machine from Atari's better days. At the same time, our Atari 2600 seemed very old. We still played it a little, but for the most part it gathered dust in the broken wood TV cabinet in our living room. When we did buy games for it, they were from the Kay Bee Toys bargain bin for a few dollars each. However, by the fall of 1986 the 2600's RF unit had stopped working, and we had no desire to replace it. We still had a stack of 2600 games, but no way to play them. All the commercials on TV were for the Nintendo N.E.S. and it's bizarre robot peripheral B.O.B. As far as we were concerned, Atari video games was dead and cheap crap had taken its place. At the same time, the 16-bit ST computer was on the horizon, but without any U.S. based distribution, it would be many months before we could get our hands on one. Even Atari coin-op games, which had once been the best games in the arcade, had fallen on hard times. With games like Super Mario Bros. and Arkanoid competing for floor space, Atari Games 'contests like Championship Sprint and 720 did not stand much of a chance getting kids to release their quarters.

In short, Atari fans were a very tough spot. Intruders had over-ridden our camp from all sides. Any notion we had back in 1984 that the Tramiels would save Atari was long since destroyed. However, we were still loyal. The Atari "Fuji" symbol was burned into our brains. We had to follow. That is why it was so exciting to see that some of the mail order companies were selling the Atari 7800 and about a dozen different games for rock-bottom prices.

7800 for sales

The 7800 and its' next generation games had looked so awesome in the pages of Electronic Games back in 1984. The machine was backwardly compatible so we could play our orphaned 2600 games. We had to have one. It was an easy sell. We showed our mom, who was only too happy to oblige by ordering us one with two games (Galaga and Food Fight) for Christmas. What we did not realize was that waiting for the 7800 would a be a problem. You see, after we knew the 7800 was on the way, Jeff and I came up an idea. A wonderful awful, terrible, idea. We decided to sell all of our Atari 8-bit computer equipment, save the money, and combine it was any Christmas money plus any birthday money we would get in January, to purchase an Atari ST 16-bit computer as soon as they were available in 1987.

The plan made no sense at all. We were going to spend $100's of dollars for a new Atari computer that probably would not be supported by any software, that was not compatible with any other Atari platform, and that no one else we knew had or was ever going to have.

Sue us, we were Atari Nerds.

In the next month I raced to finish the final game I had purchased for the Atari 800: Ultima IV. I spent many hours every day trying to perfect my avatar. Before school, in the afternoon while I was on the phone with my girlfriend, and late at night after (and instead of) doing homework. By early December I had managed to make it to the room with the Codex, but I never managed to finish the game.At the same time, we started advertising the vast amount of Atari related equipment we had collected over the years for sale. We started by posting on the local bulletin boards SWAMPS and Video BBS. We had 100's of disks, an extra 810 disc drive, 850 interface, Gemini 10X printer, Atari 800, Atari 800xl, 1050 drive ,cables, books, games, etc. By mid-December all but a few 5.25" floppies had been sold, and we pocketed about $400, roughly 10% of what we had spent on everything.

With two weeks until Christmas, a sudden realization hit us: for the first time in 5 years, we were nearly game less. Aside from a Vectrex with a dodgy #1 fire button, we had no games to play what-so-ever. The next 14 days were mostly torture. Jeff and I busied ourselves trying to earn money to pay for two Christmas dances (we were both dating girls from an all girls Catholic school, and they had their own dance, and we had ours at our own all-evil public school), and for gifts for said girls and our families. By the time that mayhem had ended, it was Christmas break and there just a few days to wait until the 25th, and the 7800. Still, being game less. was very difficult. The few days left before Christmas, as moved slower than any days I can recall. While we used to play 8-bit computer games late into the night, now all we had was broadcast T.V. By the 24th we were climbing the walls trying to find something interesting to do.

To say that getting the 7800 on Christmas morning was exciting as getting a 2600 in 1981 or an Atari 800 in 1983 would be over stating the facts a bit. It was cool to get one, but not exactly exciting overall. First off, we knew it was coming, and secondly, we did not have high-hopes for it. Atari Corp. output had been such a disappointment up until that point, that we we held back most of our enthusiasm until after we had the chance to boot the machine and play some games...however when we finally did get it up and running...

we.were.blown.away

Yes, I said. Blown away.

The pack-in game, Pole Position II was near arcade quality. Off hand, I could not find any differences with it than the coin-op. While, the coin-op was also not huge favorite of mine, I could still see how much better this version was than the Pole Position had been for the 8-bit computers. Suitably impressed, we tried the next game, Galaga. Galaga had been one of my favorite coin-ops for several year at that time, and I knew the 7800 version would have to be something special to get me excited for it. Luckily, the people at GCC/Atari (back in 1983/1984 when all the release games for the 7800 were actually produced) had done a remarkable job with the translation. While a few things looked different (the ships were all a bit smaller and less colorful than their arcade counterparts) the game played like an exact copy of Galaga. All the same strategies could be employed, and I could feel that home version would have me playing for a long time.

The 3rd and final game we tried for the 7800 was Food Fight, the GCC/Atari coin-op from 1983. Right from the outset we could tell that game would become the show piece for the 7800. The game was a near exact copy of the Food fight coin-op, still one of the best and most underrated arcade contests ever produced. Jeff and I spent the next couple days playing and replaying all three 7800 games. We are simply amazed at the quality of the games. It was cool to play them in 1986 (almost 1987), but it was difficult to not wonder how good they would have seemed in they had been released as scheduled for Christmas 1984. For a couple die-hard Atari fans, the missed opportunity was almost too much the bear. The 7800 rocked and we were ecstatic about it.

The euphoria was felt for the 7800 did not end with the three games we received Christmas morning. Armed with the desire to experience more of what this amazing machine had to offer, we set-out on an after-Christmas-week quest to find as many games as possible for it. Now, this was 1986, so the week after Christmas was not at all like it is now. In 2008, the week after Christmas is like "Christmas II", with all the gift-card holders scrambling to pick the the fresh meat off hastily re-stocked shelf bones in an attempt to keep that Christmas high for a few days longer. No, back then the shelves after Christmas were bare. Restocking did not happen until late January. For the most part, stores were open to handle returns and complaints and to get ready for the New Years's "White Sales". Needless to say, finding shiny new 7800 games to feed our new-found hunger for titles was rather difficult. After trying the local Targets, K-Marts, Sears' and Kay-Bee's without luck, we finally managed to find a few new games at the Toys R Us in Sherman Oaks, California. Even then, the pickings were very slim. Among the game offerings were Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Dig Dug, Xevious and Asteroids. They were not even displayed on the store floor. Jeff and I spied them in the "video game cage", up high on a shelf (stacked above and behind the reams of Nintendo NES games). The guy working the cage had no idea what we were talking about when we mentioned the 7800, so we had to request each game by name, and he would go through the painful process of searching the stacks as we pointed wildly towards any box that said Atari" or "7800" on the side. Still, the process was worth the effort. At $9.99-$19.99 each the games were an absolute bargain. We picked-up Dig Dug, Xevious, and Asteroids, and took them home to investigate.

Joust 7800 Robotron 7800 Xevious 7800

Dig Dug had been one of my favorite games when it was positioned in the front of the local Manhattan Liquors, next to the Tempest machine). While I had been very disappointed with the 8-bit version of the game, the 7800 one captured much of the "cute" aesthetic missing from the other translations. Simple details, like the inclusion of a text font that closely match the arcade game went along way to separate the 7800 version from all others that came before.

Xevious had always been an intriguing arcade game for me. The first top-down scrolling shooter that I could recall, it offered a ship with two weapons and multiple different types of enemies. It was also insanely difficult. One of the most interesting aspects of the arcade game was the "Eagle" design that you would fly-over when you were close to finishing each level. I was very excited to see this recreated for the 7800. This version captured everything I liked about the arcade game, and had me wondering just were the 7800 could take games of this genre.

Asteroids, however, was the show-stopper.

Officially titled Asteroids 3D, it was the version of Atari's classic coin-op we had been wanting for years. The Atari 2600 version was decent, but sullied with flicker and with asteroids that only moved vertically. At the same time the Atari 8-bit computer version was a slow, jumbled mess and the Atari 5200 was never released because it was unplayable with that system's idiotic controllers. This meant that all the 7800 had to do was play a decent game and it would easily end-up on top. However, instead of just being decent, the 7800 version obliterated all previous efforts. The graphics were updated with a cool 3D look, and game play was nearly identical to the coin-op. Beyond that, it offered two player simultaneous competitive and team modes, something that rare very rare in for console games at the time. Jeff and I were in Asteroids heaven from the moment we inserted the cartridge into the 7800. Aside from short bursts with the other games (including time replaying 2600 favorite like River Raid and Vanguard), Asteroids rarely left the 7800 cartridge slot for the remainder of Christmas vacation.

When school restarted again in January, our desire to play the 7800 did not subside. If anything, we wanted to play it much more. While Asteroids was still a favorite, the other 7800 games started getting a bunch of playing time as well. For at least a week in January 1987, I woke up an hour early just to get a few rounds of Galaga in before school started. Likewise, it was difficult to tear Jeff away from the console after school whole he attempted to master Food Fight. To us, these were simply awesome translations of the arcade games, better than anything we had ever seen or played. By our birthday on late January, we were sucked-in completely. Even though we were saving money for a 16-bit Atari ST computer, we still managed to use a bit of birthday cash to buy the 7800 versions of both Joust and Robotron, neither of which disappointed us in an way. So far the 7800 had not let us down, and we were very surprised, as we did not believe the new Atari had the ability to pull anything like this off. Was Atari Corp. really part of the Next Generation of video games?

Joust 7800 Robotron 7800

Soon after our birthday, Jeff and I visited our friend Wesley Crews' house. Wesley had been on a ski trip for most of Christmas vacation, and we had been too busy right after school started to go over to his house. He was itching to show us his new Christmas gift, a Nintendo N.E.S. I did not have high hopes for it. The commercials for the machine made it look like the Coleco Adam or Mattel Aquarius: bizarre under-powered, over-priced systems with far too many cheap plastic peripherals. The first game he showed us, Duck Hunt, proved the point. It was a light gun game that played like all others from about the same time. The gun did not match-up right to the con-screen cursor, the action was bland, and it all seemed fairly awful. It did not compare well to the nearly pixel-perfect old-school arcade action action on the 7800 in any way. However, the second game we played was another thing entirely. Excite Bike on the N.E.S. looked and played exactly like the Vs. coin-op we had seen in the arcades. The graphics were crisp, the sprites were large, and the action was enthralling. Not only that, but the game allowed players to could create their own tracks and then race on them.

Excite Bike N.E.S.

One other thing we noticed right away were the controllers. Instead of a joystick, they had four arrow buttons, two fire buttons, plus Start and Select buttons. All of these buttons were top-mounted on a rectangular pad. The pad was easy to hold, and the buttons were easy to press. The 7800 had "2 fire button" controllers too, but they were nothing like the Nintendo Controllers. The 7800's "Pro-Line" controllers were difficult to hold, and with buttons on either side of the controller, caused your hand to cramp after a short time. I tried to find some kind of fault with the N.E.S. and the way the games played or were controlled, but honestly, there was nothing I could identify. It played very enjoyable new-style games and it included next generation features that Atari had not even considered in 1983 when the 7800 was first designed. While the Tramiels (who ran Atari Corp.) could have redesigned the 7800 to better compete with the N.E.S., they had released it as-is, and the machine suffered by comparison.

It took about 20 minutes of playing Excite Bike before Jeff and both realized that there would be no future for the 7800. While the Atari system had some great translations of old arcade games, that was all it had. It simply could not match the deep excitement of playing games on the N.E.S. There was an unmistakable, yet indescribable quality to Excite Bike that made us want to play it over and over. This addictive quality did not come from the rinse and repeat game-play of old Atari-style single-screen skill games, but from the depth of game play and the creative tools that seemed to let you play for ever without ever repeating anything.

In a sense, the 7800 became our last goodbye to the golden age of video games. We finally got a chance to play the games that should have saved Atari in 1984 and could have kept them on top long after. However, in 1986/1987, compared to the N.E.S., they looked like far too little, far too late.  The 7800 wasa great little machine, but after being held in dungeon for almost 3 years, it came out looking like the world (one quickly being conquered by Nintendo) had passed it by. The funny thing was, even though we thought it was pretty cool, we were not sold on the N.E.S. either. The "deep" qualities that we liked about Excite Bike were the same things we liked about computer games. The N.E.S. was still just an 8-bit machine, but newer more powerful 16-bit computers were on the horizon. Unlike the 8-bit computer party that we had joined 1/2 a decade too late, we wanted to be into the 16-bit era on the ground-floor.

A couple weeks later, Jeff and I traveled out to Orange California, our pockets filled with the money we had saved since late November, to purchase an Atari ST computer from the back trunk of the guy (his name was Art I believe) who ran the store Computer Games Plus (Honestly , this was the only non-mail order way to purchase an Atari ST at the time). We took that machine home, and embarked on a brand new computer quest that would lead us on all sorts of wild digital adventures. We still played the 7800, (especially Asteroids, Galaga and Food Fight), and over the years, even purchased a few more games for it from the bargain bins. However, it took a far back-seat to the Atari ST. and the amazing 16-bit games that were being (mostly) created in Europe for the machine. In time the 7800 was put into that same broken, wooden TV cabinet in my parents living room that once held our 2600 and never played again: its' memory soon faded away, placed into the same bit-bucket of similar forgotten Atari Nerd dreams...


Hey Atari Fans! Decorate An Atari Christmas Morning
circa 1982 and send it to a friend
23Dec/080

Flashkit Game Challenge #8: Game Reviews

Flashkit Game Challenge #8: Game Reviews

Well, this weekend's game challenge is complete and the brave and talented game developers have submitted entries. The challenge was to make a shoot-em-up style game (in the theme of apocalypse) and all five accomplish this with varying degrees of success. There are a few different threads in the message boards about the contest and even a slight on-going controversy about  whether or not the use of an existing engine was allowed. I have ignored all of that in rating these games. I have simply decided to give each game a score from 0-100% based on what I think I could have achieved given 48 hours of free time to make a game. My non-existent game would have received at 75% on this scale (let's pretend), so any game above 75% is something that am in awe of, and below that means that a 38 year-old dude with 2 kids, a wife, 2 cars, a mortgage, and no free time thinks he could have done better than you =). We'll call this the geezer compare score.

Game #1: Author PhobiK - Apocalypse Jelly Beans

 

Apocalypse Jelly beans (play it here)  is a classic base shooter style game. It is nicely polished for a 48 hour game. The goal is to shoot all of the falling jelly beans and keep them from hitting your turret. The jelly beans fall directly toward your turret, so you must keep moving the gun sight with the arrow keys, aiming for the beans as fast as you can. The gun fires automatically, so you just have to keep the turret moving around the screen and stay alert.

The game looks pretty good, with nice colors and explosions. The sounds are also well done.

8bitrocket geezer compare score 75% - right on the dot. This is probably the quality of game that I would be able to squeeze out in a 48 hour contest.

Game #2: Author Pazil - (No name given)

pazil

No name is provided for this entry, but I'll call it Bear Skin Rug Blaster (play it here). While this one looks a little odd in static form, it is quite dynamic when played interactively. I'm not quite sure what the story is, but you play in a South Park style world as an soldier with a giant green helmet. Your goal is to shoot the zombies (I think). No matter the actual premise, and the lack of visual polish, this game rocks the game design foundations for a 48 hour game. You play in a small, but adequate scrolling world, using the WSAD keys to move the soldier and the mouse to aim and fire your gun. The goal is to kill as many zombies you can before you are eaten (your brain is eaten I presume). You can repair the brown barriers with the space bar to help keep the zombies penned in space. The music and sound effects are quite good, and the game is pretty fun. It is a very unique game and presentation.

8bitrocket geezer compare score 80% - I probably would not have been able to get this far in a single 48 hour period. Maybe close, but the AI probably would have given me fits.

Game #3: Author Jonathanasdf - ICBM

icbm

ICBM (play it here) is a vertical scrolling Asteroids style game where the goal is to make it from the USSR to the USA. You are a missile and I guess when you make it to the USA, you are going to destroy a major city. I'm not quite sure I agree with the premise (neither would Toby Keith), but I do find the game to be pretty decent. It doesn't have much polish, but what is presented is done well. You control the missile by rotating left, right and moving forward and backward all with the arrow keys. There is no inertia or thrust, so the movement is a little like the ship in Gorf except the player can rotate (Asteroids style). You have an unlimited supply of regular bullets and a small  number of smart bombs to get you through each level. Waiting at the end of each is a huge asteroid boss that must be shot many many times to destroy. The game play is very loose with no real physics applied, but that doesn't make it a bad game.

8bitrocket geezer compare score 65% - I was afraid of this. I don't have way way to prove it, but I think I could make a better game in a 48 hour period. (Maybe not). I have never pushed myself that hard. In any case, I don't want Jonathanasdf to be upset with the score because he did quite a nice job given the time constraints.

Game #4: Author XPloder - Notepad Wars

notepadwars

Notepad Wars (play it here) is an outstanding achievement for 2 weeks of game development let alone 2 days!! I don't really know if it fits the shoot-em-up mold, but no matter, it is a great great game.  You play as a pencil that must protect the thumb tack in the middle of the screen. Shapes will float toward the the thumb tack from the outskirts of the screen and you are tasked with drawing shapes to thwart them. Once you draw a shape, the game engine figures out the primary points in the object, draws its own version and sends it careening at the nearest enemy as a defensive missile.  It is great fun and quite impressive.

8bitrocket geezer compare score - 100% - I'm not quite sure what else could have been done to make a better game in only 48 hours. I certainly could not have made a game as good as  this one in 3 weeks let alone 2 days..

Game #5: Author Pseudobot - LHC Defender

lhc

 

LHC Defender (play it here) is also quite an achievement especially given the limited contest time frame. Basically it is a non-scrolling Geometry Wars clone with particle effects and the best game play (for my tastes) of all five games. Everything about this game screams quality - from the title screen, through the instructions, all the way to the game end, visually, it wins hands down in my book. The only short coming is in the sound department, The game is virtually silent and while the other entries seem to have spend a good deal of time on sound, there maybe was an advantage here time-wise in leaving sound design completely out of the game.

8bitrocket geezer compare score - 95% - It would have taken me 48 hours just to make a title screen 1/2 as good as this one has. I would have had a bitchen soundtrack in my title screen though =)

See the official contest results thread.

22Dec/080

In-Depth Interview With Game Philosopher-King, Chris Crawford

Chris Crawford was hired by Atari in 1979 as a VCS programmer. He soon moved to the 8-bit computer line where he programmed one of the influential games of the 8-bit computer era, Eastern Front. For the past 25 years he has worked as a game designer, software evangelist, and has been a pioneer in the area of interactive fiction.

Steve: Can You Describe VCS Development in 1979?

Chris Crawford: It was a very difficult machine to program. You had 128 bytes of RAM, and 2K of ROM space and the video display was driven by the CPU, the 6502 and so basically, most of your code consisted of the drawing code. You drew it one scan-line at a time. Basically you'd frantically load-up the display registers with the display data for one scan line, and then you had to load up the registers with the display data for the next scan-line and you had exactly 76 machine cycles in which to do this..or on average about 35 assembly language commands. That's pretty tight restrictions.

Steve: You did Wizard right, and that never came out?

Chris Crawford:Yes.

Steve: How did you get into the 400 and 800?

Chris Crawford: It's funny, at that time everybody wanted to work on the 400 and 800 because it was so much sexier and powerful.

Steve: It was the 6502, but was the VCS some lesser version of the 6502?

Chris Crawford: No, exact same processor.

Steve: So just less support, memory, chips, etc?

Chris Crawford: Yeah. The 6502 in the 800 was faster. They clocked it at 1.8 MHz, whereas Stella's was 1 MHz. But it had much better video. there was a graphics processor named Antic and Antic handled all of the graphics work ,whereas with Stella the CPU spent most of its time drawing the screen. with Colleen you simply set-up a page display and let that run. There was another processor called Antic and Antic did all the work that the 6502 did in Stella.

Steve: So with Stella you have 1/2 the Mhz and no co-processor?

Chris Crawford: Right, you did not have anywhere near as many CPU cycles to play with. The other thing of course was that Colleen had a lot of memory. the smallest was 8K (as opposed to 128 bytes) and it had a big ROM with all sorts of operating system stuff in it, interfaces for nonvolatile memory and so-forth.

Steve: Did you ever talk to Nolan Bushnell while you were there?

Chris Crawford: No, I never did. The first time I met Nolan Bushnell was, God, years later, I ran into him at a little conference of techies...I forget which one it was.

Steve: When I talked to him he was very much of the opinion that the Atari that he had started was very much based on game design and making games and dealing in that realm and when the Warner guys took over they really had no idea about that business and ran it into the ground. Did you see anything like that when you were there?

Chris Crawford: I think that is partly true. Now, I'm only replaying the scuttlebutt that I heard while I was at Atari, but the story that ran around the programmers (who were fairly disinterested observers I think) was that the VCS initially did very badly and after a time Nolan felt it was time to give-up on the VCS and build something new. He was especially enamored of the home computer. It was such better technology and so his attitude was 'dump this VCS loser and let's put all of our money on the home computer' and the Warner people disagreed. It was Manny Gerard at Warner, the main guy, said 'no, we just need to develop the market some more, we need more games, we need to build-up a bigger software library, we need to give this product time' and so the Warner people refused to abandon the VCS. That was, according to the scuttlebutt, the reason for Nolan to leave.

Steve:From your opinion, from being there, what do you think? The VCS was successful for a couple years, but then its limitations were really what made it die. Do you think Nolan was right, or the guys are Warner were right?

Chris Crawford: The guys at Warner were proved to right because the VCS did not peak until 1982, and Nolan left in '79, so the growth curve continued up steeply in '79. '80, '81 and in fact, what brought Atari down was the E.T. cartridge in Christmas of '82. so even '82 was a magnificent year for Atari and most of Atari's profits came from the VCS, not the home computers and not the coin-op machines.

Steve: When you worked in the Home Computer Division, do you remember a time that it was ever profitable?

Chris Crawford: I wouldn't know the answer but my impression was that they were always spending more money than they were taking in. The home computer did grow and it did enjoy good sales, it was doing well, but they kept adding to the home computer division, investing in it the same way they had done with the VCS, but then the Commodore 64 pulled the rug out from underneath the home computer.

Steve: The pricing rug? They pretty much cut the price in half to being with.

Chris Crawford: Yeah, there was a price-war. At that time when the the Commodore 64 came out there were a number of color computers. There was the Apple, the Atari, Texas Instruments had a machine, Radio Shack had a machine, and there were a couple of other real minor ones. The Commodore 64 came out and it was priced below everybody else, and that forced Atari to drop its price. Basically, Jack Tramiel was moving all of his production overseas, and he was able to lower his prices. There was a steady price-war, and over the period a of months the prices kept going down and down and down. What really killed Atari was they decided to move all the production to Hong Kong. The christmas production was supposed to (christmas was big selling time for these machines),the Hong Kong unit was supposed to come up in August '83.F

Steve: For the XL line?

Chris Crawford: Yeah. They shut-down production in the States expecting the Hong Kong production come on-stream, and the Hong Kong line had problems and didn't come online until November. When Christmas came there were no Atari computers on the shelves.

Steve: I can attest to that. Christmas '83 I asked my dad to but me one and I ended up with an Atari 800 instead, which I loved because it was superior. I certainly remember that Christmas.

Chris Crawford: Yeah, it was an absolute disaster, a catastrophe for Atari and that is what sealed atari's fate. Now there a bunch of other things that greatly contributed to it, but I feel that was the knock-out blow.

Steve: When you were there you designed some of the early games. Didn't you say you worked in a research lab?
Chris Crawford: Yeah. I think had 4 different jobs at Atari. My first job was as a Stella programmer and that lasted 3 months and I wrote one program for Stella named Wizard. After that I was transferred to the Home computer Applications group where I was programming the home computer, and that lasted about 10 months.

Steve: Is that where you made Energy Czar?
Chris Crawford: Energy Czar and SCRAM were made during that time. Then I was promoted to supervisor of the software support group. Our job was to provide technical support to outside programmers. We had a whole package of goodies we provided for free. By the way, the main thing we did was this tour where I would travel around to cities all over the country. We would rent a hotel meeting room, and people could come-in to these seminars where we taught them all about how to program the Atari and I did almost all the work here. I had a real barnstorming style. My job was to wean people away from the Apple to the Atari. I was pushing that line really hard. Somebody in one of the magazines that had come to it said 'Crawford does a show like an old-time evangelist. You half-way expect him to start quoting the bible'. and that is where the term 'software evangelist" arose.

Steve: Really?
Chris Crawford: Yeah, I was the first.

Steve: So you moved on an did Eastern Front which was a huge success?

Chris Crawford: Yes, yes. Although, an interesting point I'll make, Eastern Front was the classic example of technological opportunism. The way many games are designed nowadays...and I'm very critical of technological opportunism. I did it back then. The Atari 800 had this wonderful scrolling capability. I developed a little scrolling map thing just to show off to people this wonderful capability. I remember telling Joel Billings at SSI and number of other people 'boy think of the war game you could make with this'....and they said 'yeah, yeah, yeah'

Steve: You had a history of building war games, right?
Chris Crawford: Yeah, but I hadn't done any on the Atari.

Steve: You did some for Avalon Hill for the Apple?

Chris Crawford: Actually, I did them on the Atari and people ported them over. I did Eastern Front on the 800 initially as a demo, and when I tried to interest war game people into using it, they kind of blew me off. So on the side, on my own, nights and weekends I said 'well, let's see if we can add some units here and move them around. Basically one thing led to another and I ended-up with a war game. I will tell you an important point to make for the readers is that game was TOTAL CRAP before it shipped. The game play was atrocious. It was really dull and boring and I had the good sense to realize 'ship it when it is ready' so I just went back to the drawing board and reconsidered how it was working and made some major changes in its operation. It worked!

Steve: They allowed you to do that at the time?
Chris Crawford: I was doing it on my own, that was the whole deal. If I had been doing this as an official project it probably would have shipped before it was ready.

Steve: Eastern Front went out via APX instead of through the Atari software channel?
Chris Crawford: I showed it to the Atari people, the marketing people, and they said 'oh geez, this will never sell. it's a war game' they said 'you can put it in the Atari Program Exchange". I put it there and it was a huge hit. The next year they came and said 'why don't you do a new version for us that we will release as an official Atari product?" So you know, they were just completely wrong.

Steve: How successful of a product was it for APX?

Chris Crawford: Yeah, it was really the product that made APX. That along with Caverns Of Mars. Those two products together made APX a huge success. By the way, there is a side-story on APX. The guy who cooked up the idea, Dale Yaokum, was trying to explain to the management that there are a lot people out there that like to write programs and if we can publish these programs for them, it's a win-win. The management was not very interested in it. He put together a business plan for it and said 'look, we only need a little bit of money and this thing can be self sufficient and it might make some money.' They very grudgingly agreed to let him do it. And so he did it and very quickly made it into a monster success. It was a major profit center for Atari. They rewarded dale for his initiative by bringing in another guy to be Dale's boss and the other guy didn't know anything about software! The other guy was really hard to work for, so Dale in disgust, quit about a year later. Classic story of executive blunders.

Steve: What did Dale go on to do?

Chris Crawford: He quit APEX and went over to corporate research. He ran a unit that was going to design a "shoot for the moon" new computer. The worked on something with a 286, the absolute newest processor coming out and they were getting pre-samples from Intel. They were were designing that when Atari collapsed. He then got a job at Xerox PARC, then founded his own company. About 10 years ago he sold his company for millions of $$, retired, bought himself an airplane, learned how to fly...he always wanted to be a pilot, and he's now very happily retired.

Steve: In the beginning, did Atari management want to own all the software for the computers?

Chris Crawford: Yes. The attitude of the executives was 'we want to make all the money on the software. We don't want any competitors. They were having competitors with the VCS and the programmers were trying to explain that 'no that's not how it works, you need a big library of software, you need to encourage them' and I was one of the people doing that. Initially they had never quite defined what it was that had to be kept secret. I was the programmer at Atari who had come-in from the outside world and had more contacts with outsiders. I'd be working on Atari software and the phone would ring and it was somebody in Indiana saying 'can I get any of the technical documents?' and I would go over to the main area and get a few of the technical documents, photo-copy them and mail them off. I was sending out...there were enough loopholes that I was able to send out some documents and not get fired.

Steve: But for the most-part, they wanted to keep a lid on all that documentation?

Chris Crawford: Yeah, they wanted it all kept secret. I was sending out some minor stuff and then one day it was sort of like 'the dam broke' and they had an officially policy, 180 degree reversal 'we want to tell everybody about this'. I immediately got on the phone and started calling a bunch of my contacts saying 'hey would you like complete technical documentation on the Atari?' and we shipped a lot of those.

Steve: What did you think of M.U.L.E.?

Chris Crawford: Yeah, and I think this opinion is shared by most of the designers who were active at that time. My belief is that M.U.L.E. was the finest computer game design ever done in terms of the going "with the grain' of the machine. Using the machine to fullest, really understanding what the machine could do. It was just a beautiful design because it was so perfect for the Atari.

Steve: The use of joystick ports, the sound?

Chris Crawford: Not just technical brilliance, design brilliance too. He didn't use a lot of techie tricks, he actually used them in a very creative way and himself made a game that was brilliant.

Steve: It's been 15 years since you've released a game and you are now finishing up Storytron interactive fiction engine which was created out of the relationships in Excalibur in 1983, What is the breakthrough that got Storytron ready to go in 2007?

Chris Crawford: There were many breakthroughs of major developments that I've had to make, and that is one reason why it has taken 15 years. If it was just one technology I had to build then it would have been done years ago. moreover, there is a strong synergistic relationship between these components and so I could not see them all at once. I started work on the basic engine and it in itself was a breakthrough in how it handles drama and so-forth, and it was only one and by itself it was insufficient. I didn't realize that it's biggest problem was that it was very difficult to program then engine, to give the engine the data it needed to tell good stories. That was the engine I did between '91 and about '94 and '95. The next big breakthrough was building the editor that allowed a user to program the engine...to develop the data set required for the engine. It's a very complex data set and it took me a year to that because I had to build a scripting language and the fundamental requirement was...if I was just writing a scripting language for programmers it would have been trivial, I could have knocked it off in a few months, because everybody has done that, but my requirement was that this had to be something accessible to non-technical people.

Steve: So someone like novelist could sit down and use this?

Chris Crawford: Right, but it was still programming and so it's still la huge restriction on the novelist, we are still demanding an enormous amount from him. We wanted to eliminate all unnecessary techiness and that was a huge task. I did a first round on it in period of '94-'98 and it was no where near good enough. It was functional, you could do things with it, but it was still very difficult for people to do things with it. this was the "erazmatron" period. For Storytron I tore it apart and completely re-built the entire thing from scratch and came-up with an even better scripting system. It's still difficult to use. This is like Macromedia Flash. This is non-trivial., but it is also a hell of a lot easier to use than a real programming language.

The 3rd killer problem was the user interface. In erazamatron the user interface, basic internal structure, the basic atom was a 'sentence' and you interacted with people one sentence at a time. That was pretty limiting and it really did constrain the designer rather badly. I'd say the biggest of the breakthroughs was the linguistic system I have in Storytron. Basically it allows the user to speak to the computer in this toy language. It's a very powerful language system. The Story Builder creates words and defines them, and that is process of creating a work in Storytron. You define all the words...of course, defining them is a big job. That's the concept.

Steve: I've read that your plan with Storytron, and this might have been someone's idea of what your plan was, was to create a kind of a myspace like web site where people could come and create their interactive stories and share them with other people. Was that your idea, or someone else's?

Chris Crawford: That's not quite what we are doing. what we have is web site where, when it is fully operational (we are planning for January 1 (2008) and we are on-track) basically anybody who wants to can download the authoring tool and use the authoring tool to create a story world. When they have the story world the way they like it, then they can upload it to us to put into our library. Then any consumer can come along and play story worlds in the library. Our revenue model is that we make money from the consumers playing the story worlds. Revenue is hared with the authors, and wearer aiming for a 50/50 cut.

Steve: Do people subscribe or do they pay per story world?

Chris Crawford: Initially it looks as if we will do pay to play, or fixed fee where you get to play one story world per month or two months or something. Once we have big library we will open it up on subscription basis, however I will say we have not ruled out an ad-based revenue model. We simply had to choose one or the other for our business plan and we felt the subscription based had some advantages and we went with that, but we may end-up ad based. We don't know.

Steve: What's encouraging is that you are actually ready to launch this.

Chris Crawford: Yeah, this thing is definitely coming together.

Steve: So, have you heard in the past anyone describe you as a Don Quixote like character?

Chris Crawford: Oh yeah, I have!

Steve: What do you have to say about that now, now that you are almost finished?

Chris Crawford: You know, they'll see. In fact, I'd like to address the criticism you mentioned 'Crawford hadn't designed a game in 15 years'. The fact is, I have not made any effort what-so-ever to talk to people about games in 15 years. Every single public press...i mean the books i've published, I've published 3 books, one was on Interactivity, one was on Interactive Storytelling, and one was about games, and the publisher approached me, and said 'geez, we'd really like you to write this book'.

Steve: And that book 'On Game Design' pretty much covers all the games you wrote. Period.

Chris Crawford: Yeah, I make no attempt to teach about the current generation of games. All of my public presentations have been at the request of the host. I've never gone out and looked for it, they just call me up and they want me to talk. In a couple cases I've told them, 'I haven't done a game in 15 years', an they say 'well,we still want you'

Steve:You are going to be done soon, do you have anything else to say before we sign off?

Chris Crawford: Well, the Storyton stuff is definitely going to change things. The games industry has gotten stuck in a rut doing the same things over and over again, making fundamental errors a long time ago that are now holding them back. some critical mistakes. I think the first mistake was around 1990 with Wing Commander. Wing commander was very bad for the industry because they bought market-share. They threw an awful lot of money at that game and produced a game that was very expensive. The game never made money, the add-on packets brought them into the black. They did the same thing with each of the subsequent Wing Commander games. The basic game itself ended-up losing money because they spent so much money on the graphics as a result the games industry is now very capital intensive. They send millions of dollars making a game and there is no easy way to build a good game that can get a fair shot in the marketplace. That means they have cut-out one of their best sources of creative input which is all the crazy people out there. the model I like to use for this is, Hollywood has it nailed down and the games industry really should learn from Hollywood here, although it night be too late. Basically there are 8 million people (surveys show) 8 million people in this country will tell pollsters 'yes, I have an idea for a novel I want to write". Out of those 8 million a few hundred thousand apparently, each year actually write something. Out of those few hundred thousand, I think it is something like 10,000 actually produce a manuscript that they ship to a publisher. Out of those 10,000 only a few hundred are published. Out of those few hundred, only a handful actually hit the big time. Maybe a dozen make a goodly amount of money. Out of those dozen, 1 or 2 will be cherry picked to make a movie. Think of it as a pyramid creative base is 8,000,000 ideas and at each level there is a selection that takes place that knocks out 98% of everything. It's a sorting system that takes the very best for the full treatment.

Steve: And you are saying the games industry really does not have that because no small person cam sit-down and write a full-fledged game without $10,000,000 or more?

Chris Crawford: Right now anyone in this country with a word processor can sit-down and write novel and it might be a huge hit.

Steve: Do you think stuff like Storytron (and other technologies) are sort of changing that for small part of games industry?

Chris Crawford: Well ,that is certainly what we are doing with Storytron. We are using the Hollywood model, not the games industry model. My point here I suppose is that this is one of the greatest weaknesses of the games industry. they just can't tap-in to this huge base of creativity. Yes, there are lots of tools that allow you to build interactive fiction or platform games or first person shooters or so-forth, but the problem is, they are starting off with the assumption that you are doing a genre.

Steve: You can't create an interesting game, because the game has already been created for you. you are just editing the game.

Chris Crawford: Yeah. Where did J.K. Rowling come from? She just came out of the woodwork. Same thing with Tom clancy. Classic example of an absolute nobody who had the right combination of talents, he slapped together books and kaboom! The system really worked for him. It picked this guy out of obscurity and generated millions and millions of dollars of wealth. the games industry can't do that.

Steve: So that is really the story of Storytron then? A model that is separate from the games industry to open something up?

Chris Crawford. Yes we have no desire to compete with the games industry on anything. We are a completely separate market.

Steve: Do you think the games industry has a narrow view of what can be called a 'game'?

Chris Crawford: Yeah, in the 80's when I was working in it my feeling was 'let's expand this definition to include all sorts of crazy things, let's make this a medium of expression' and they narrowed it down to 'a hobby' which is not a medium of expression it is a hobby greatly by a small collection of people.

Steve: Do you follow the Nintendo Wii and what's been happening with that?

Chris Crawford: I'm aware of the Wii and the fact it has generated so much excitement and the fact that it really is a radical new concept for the games industry.

Steve: Well it is a radical new concept and I love it myself for those exact reasons, but what I find most interesting about it is the reaction from the "hobbyists" that you described. Almost a fearful reaction that somehow their hobby will be destroyed by something new, some new expanded market, and it might be exactly what you are describing.

Chris Crawford: I was unaware that the old timers were uncomfortable with the Wii.

Steve: Yes, the hardcore gamers are uncomfortable that the Wii is taking market share away from PS3, the Xbox360 and the PC, and the games are more oriented toward multi-player and family oriented stuff. their worry is that it is going to destroy their hobby, which I find quite funny myself.

Chris Crawford: Well there is actually in one sense I suspect the Wii is a continuation of an old evolutionary process that has been going on in all forms of software. The basic sequence here is that you get a piece of software, or a game or whatever. It's successful and there are a bunch of people who really love it, so you come out with version 2. The thing is, that sells primarily to the aficionados who loved version 1. the want something better than version 1, meaning something more complicated than version 1. Version 2 always had more features than version 1. This process continues with version 3,4,5,6 etc. The problem is, by the time you get to version 5, you have built something so hairy that the average beginner can't use it. At that point, somebody else comes in with the new easy to use version, a a clean simple one, and that attracts a new generation of people who are intimidated by the monster version the aficionados like, and this process just keeps going on over and over. The Wii in a sense is something like this. My impression from the software available for it is that it tends to be beginner-level software.

Steve: The games on other systems look so complicated or you need to play online you need to be yelling at people through your microphone. A lot of people don't want to do that.

Chris Crawford: Yeah, it's a regular cycle that software goes through and I fear...I don't know how to stop the cycle. Our work is going to get more and more complicated and at some point will we ebnd up being replaced by someone who is cleaner and easier? It looks like...if you are the guy who owns version 5, you are not going to throw it away, you are stuck with it. It's a tough problem.

Steve: Do you think the web is your next direction for software delivery?

Chris Crawford: There is no question that the web is the future. That's sort of obvious I feel. The web is steadily taking over everything. I'll mention one advantage of the web. Our software is...we don't have to worry about piracy at all. The basic engine that runs everything never runs our web site.

Steve:Right, it can't because it's tied to the back-end

Chris Crawford: Yep.

Steve: You give the Story building engine away for free. Piracy is nothing to you.

Chris Crawford: Yeah, it's a really nice model. I just can't understand why there are people who haven't just abandoned everything else.

 

Note: This interview with Chris Crawford was conducted in September on 2007 as source for my Atari History articles I was (still am?) writting for Gamasutra.com. Since this interview was conducted, Chris Crawford's Storytron site has launched, and both the development tools and the player are now available for download.

22Dec/080

New Star Soccer 4 Chronicles #3

New Star Soccer 4 Chronicles #3

Note: New Star Soccer 4
is a great combination of sports simulation and role-playing game. I have some
time off from my day job, so instead of actually working on any of my own games,
I am feeding my addiction to Simon Read's indie game masterpiec
e.

When we last checked in on 8bitjeff, he was mired in the lower divisions of
Spanish football, squeaking out playing some off the bench for Codiz CF. He soon
tired of playing on 5-10 minutes at the end of matches and asked for a transfer.
He took a pay cut and a prestige hit to go back to National Conference English
football (basically 4th or 5th  division).

overview
(Overview stats screen)

8bitjeff played 130 matches for Hoston of the Northern Conference where he
supplied them with 42 goals, 3 assists and 2 hat tricks over 4 seasons. He
worked hard, saw his skills improve, but didn't see any offers from bigger clubs
who were willing to invest money in a young, brash American with no caps, no
girl friend and only a trailer filled with gym equipment to his name.

A break came when Yurk City, of the National Conference (division 3), needed a
striker on loan. 8bitjeff was all to happy to oblige as he had fallen out of
favor with the Hoston skipper and was riding the pine for almost an entire
season. His 10 game stint with Yurk did not amount to much more than single
goal, but he caught the eye of Second Division bottom feeders, Denegham and was
offered an immediate pay upgrade and contract to play higher division ball.

8bitjeff spent the summer working on his his physical skills and shooting. He
was disappointed to find that his the Yurk club had no plans to play him at
striker but decided to employ his impressive physical traits as a late game
stopper in defensive midfield and center back. During the depressing Fall in
rain drenched Denegham, 8bitjeff was able to manage to a single goal, and
convince his manager to put him on the blocks for a transfer. Turquay United was
in the hunt for a hit man and all of the extra training 8bitjeff had be able to put in 
while awaiting playing time with Yurk was put to good use in the January to
April Turquay campaign. Turquay began January in 18th place, but with 8bitjeff
becoming a fierce force in the box (to the tune of 20 goals in 18 matches), they
were able to raise all the way to 8th place. Still not enough to advance to the
next division, but a marked improvement nonetheless.

training
(training stats screen)

The summer came and 8bitjeff waited patiently for an offer from a Championship
or Premier league club, but none came. His scoring prowess did not go unnoticed
though, as he was offered $2 Million + Boot contract and and $1.5 Million
Clothing contract. With new found money and confidence through the roof,
8bitjeff found himself a pretty little English girl (to spend his money on) and
resigned to helping Turquay into a promotion spot rather than wait for a big
offer from a rich club.

It is now 6 matches into the 2013 campaign and 8bitjeff is doing well, but not
as well as he would like. He has 4 goals and 2 assists so far. Turquay is in the
6th position in the table (13 points), chasing Mk Duns in 1st with 16 points.
Even though he is scoring goals and making assists, his team mates are not fond
of 8bitjeff. He has been having trouble getting them to pass to him when he is
open, so in turn, he takes the ball up himself and fires a lot of wild shots at
the target. 8bitjeff will need to work on his team relations or he will have no
chance to helping the team to promotion but will have to wait for January
transfer offers instead.

relationships
(relationship screen)

Money-wise, 8bitjeff has a lot of cash in the bank, but has not purchased
anything more permanent than a Beach house in hope that he will move to a new
club soon. He is keeping his fingers crossed that he will have a London address
soon. He will continue  working hard on his game, and on making personal
friendships with his team mates in an attempt to smooth put out tensions with
them.

money
(money screen)

8bitjeff is still waiting for a call-up to play for the the USA Nats, but
will probably not get any looks until he can make it to a much bigger club.

Filed under: Game Reviews No Comments
20Dec/080

Flashkit Game Challenge #8 Has Started!

Flashkit Game Challenge #8 Has Started!

The theme this time is SHOOT 'EM UP!!!! Now, that is right up my alley, but unfortunately, I never have more than a few hours a day (at the most) to code or work on the site, so would never be able to compete with the masters at Flastkit (even if I had the time, their Tiger Kung Fu beats my Crane anyway).

The cool thing is that we will be monitoring this contest very closely this weekend and hopefully we will be able to add one or more of the entries to our Retro Arcade when the competition is over.

Check out the official Flashkit thread.

18Dec/080

Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up: Dec 17, 2008

Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up: Dec 17, 2008

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

This time we have: How to create heat seeking missiles in AS2; more on the
Whiflash game beta; How to make a game in Flex; New games in dev at
Gamingyourway.com; A year retrospective for Photon Storm; How to delete Flash
Shared Objects; Box2d tutorials; How to implement the Kongregate API; An AS3
Sound and Music Manager; An update on the $100K Flash game challenge; The 10
most played Mochi games; A Flash game in Time magazine's top 10 2008 video
games; and more

How To Create Heat Seeking Missiles in AS2
Freeactionscript.com has a HUGE number of great tutorials and other various Zarjaz! This week they have a nice entry called Weapons - Heat Seeking Missiles/Rockets/Torpedoes. You can put the code to test with an on site app that let's you fire away. I haven't taken a look at the .fla file provided, but the missiles include quite a number of dynamic effects that slow down my
Flash player quite a bit when too many are fired. If used in moderation though, these would look good and work well for Tower Defense and other similar games.

Whiflash Beta is a kick to play
I had a link a few months back to the hatu.biz game Whiflash. It is a cool action adventure games in the console variety - think Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance (if you have had the pleasure). It is quite fun, well done, and worth a play or two.

How To Make a Game in Flex and MXML
I all in with the "AVOID MXML LIKE THE PLAGUE" crowd because of the heavy extra framework it adds to swf platform based games. But, if you have ever wondered exactly what it takes to create a nice game using all the Flex framework has to offer, then check out this tutorial at brightbulb.com. Matthew shows the reader how to apply Flex and MXML to create a top down shooter (think 1941) in this very long and detailed 10 part series.

See the Masters of the Craft as Their Games Progress from Idea to Fruition
Both Squize and nGfx at the great Gamingyourway.com blog are offering an open look at the progress of their new games. You will be able to check out versions as they are completed and have a chance to comment, etc.
You can check out Squize's X++ here.
He currently is on to build number 4. I had a little trouble getting it to play
passed the title screen in Firefox 3, FP 10 debug player, but in IE 7.0 it
worked great. Those are the types of things that you can expect when you are given a view DIRECTLY into the dev process. Take a look and absorb what you can while he is generous enough to post about it. I still like the "Rotate and Thrust" over 4-way movement and mouse firing, but I'M OLD. The game looks really fun so far.

Not to be outdone. nGfx posted the title screen to his latest. I am sure with Squize posting daily builds of X++, we can probably expect something similar from him also.

A look at the year that was for a hero of mine
Richard
Davey has been creating Flash games for just over a year now. You can read

all about it in his latest blog entry
and you will see that his great new
game has also been accepted for a sponsorship. That's not why he is a hero of
mine, although I do really appreciate what it takes to make so many highly
successful games in your spare time. No, I respect his abilities as a game
programmer and designer, but he is a hero of mine because of a site he no longer
even pays much attention to. As synchronicity would have it, way back in 1997 I
was but a newbie to the world of retro games and emulation. One day I visited
the absolute best Atari ST gaming
site
on the
planet. It was run by Richard (I didn't know it at the time). His site
completely re-started and fueled my passion for retro games and game
programming. I quit my dead end job at the time (Unix Software Engineer for a
newspaper), started creating games (again) and web sites, and found a brand new
career all because of the spark his Little Green Desktop site lit in me. Years
later (this year) Richard emailed me blind, asking for some advice on a game he
was making. It was an Atari ST remake. I didn't recognize his name right away.
When I visited his Photon Storm
Blog
(its name
a tribute to the great Zarjazian, Jeff Minter), I fell over my chair when I
found out his "other" site was Little Green Desktop. Anyway, not to bore you any
more with this story, but what goes around, comes around, and I'm really happy
that Richard's games are doing so well and hope he keeps at it for a long time
to come.

How To Delete Those Pesky Flash Shared Objects
I always
thought the only way to do it was to right-click on a Flash movie in the
browser, click settings, then click on the little folder icon, and drag the
slider to 0 and then back to 100. Over at Ickydime's blog, he has a
nice entry on other methods and a good discussion going
.

A lot more Box2D fun with Emanuele Feronato
I don't know
where he finds the time to keep up his pace, by Emanuele has a two new tutorials
on Box2d:

Compound Objects
and

Debug Re-draw
. As well, he has an entry on

designing the structure of an AS3 game
, and a

cool new logo
.

How to implement the Kongregate API In Your Games
I had
never done this before, but thanks for my buddy Nate, over at the Interactive Crap
blog
,, I can and so can you. Beware, for the uninitiated, it mentions the MVC
pattern, but don't fret, Nate is a gentle host.

An AS3 Sound and Music Manager Class
Colby has done it
again. By IT, I mean designed a new class just as I needed it! Whoohoo, and this
one is a doozy. He offers a very cool and simple

way to handle and manage sounds and music in AS3
.

$99850 left to go in the $100,000 APMID Flash Game Challenge
The premise was that a decent programmer and Flash veteran would jump into the
"game" of creating viral SWF platform games and see how long it would to make
$100,000.

Well, his first update is live
, and he has met some limited success.

Top 10 Most Played Games On Mochi in 2008


Some are a surprise and some are not.

A Flash Game In Time Magazine's Top 10 Video Games For 2008


Forever Hunted
is #8 and you don't have to buy it (unlike EVERY OTHER GAME
IN THE TOP 10). You can simply go to Kongregate and play this masterpiece for
free.

Shoe Attack on Lame Duck Made into Lame Game
It isn't the
worst shooter game made in Flash and it isn't the best. Plus, the guns should
have been removed because they are off putting, and maybe even guarantee the
creator a one-way ticket to "GIT-MO" to hang out with the the real shoe thrower.
If you are interested in how low Flash games can sink (it was a HILARIOUS
incident though, and it warrants a better game),

then check out this one anyway
.

Play With Ric's Melon Effect Sequencer
Used in his cool
game, Nova
Chain
, Ric gives you a chance to play with these
cool fx at his Bedroom
Lab blog
.

Little plug for some cool software. I used Microsoft's Expression Studio 2 to
edit this HTML page. I have had the software for a few months(a gift from a
Microsoft rep who wants us to try Silverlight at my day job) but never tried it
until now. I have to say that the HTML editor is just as good or better than
Dreamweaver.

If you know of a Blog that I should be checking weekly, please send it over
(info{at}8bitrocket[dot]com, or put it in the comments below.

As always, visit Flashgameblogs.com for your daily dose...

 

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