OK, there is nothing really special to note here, except that we have created a "Facebook" page for the "Essential Guide To Flash Games". We would really appreciate it if you could go over there and "like" it so it can get a bit of promotion. We might actually buy a Facebook ad to see it it gets us any traffic.
Steve and Jeff Fulton
PS: Yes, we are groveling.
One man Flash Game factory Terry Paton has reviewed our book on his site, and he had some very nice things to say:
"The examples give a great understanding for how game engines work. Once
you've gone through the various chapters and the game tutorials you
should come out the other end knowing how to make a variety of game
engines and have enough insight to develop ones they didn't cover."
It was an unprecedented moment in the history of Atari fandom, and it happened over the past few days. After, it was announced last week that Nolan Bushnell would join the board of directors of Atari SA, the message boards at Atariage.com lit-up with excitement and terror.
Some Atari fans were happy, others, who had darker feelings for Nolan Bushnell, were not so happy. It was a standard, run-of-the-mill internet forums argument. Names were called, guys with "inside info" spoke out, people stated that their childhoods were destroyed, etc. It would have stayed that way, until something really weird happened.
Nolan Bushnell showed-up. Using the name NolanB, a user that knew far too much started to defend himself. Some people thought it was actually Nolan Bushnell's son. However, soon, another Atari personality showed-up, Ted Dabney, followed by legendary coin-op designer Owen R. Rubin. All called-in to both defend Nolan Bushnell, and clear-up inconsistencies. Some were cleared-up, others were not. Nolan B. was confirmed as the real, myth making Nolan Bushnell. History was made.
Eventually Atari co-founder Ted Dabney, a guy who has not had much press about Atari since he left (or was kicked-out) got his own thread and his own love.
It was a very weird and wonderful time for Atari fans. Even Albert, the owner of AtariAge.com seemed both bewildered and excited about the events. If you have any interest in Atari or Atari history, I suggest that you go on over to some of these links and start reading.
It's simply fascinating.
Today "Steve Jobs" published a blog/article/story called "Thoughts On Flash" at Apple.com. It's a painfully boring read, mostly because we've read it all before. He adds nothing new, and in fact, continues to spread lies and 1/2 truths about Adobe and Flash.
His points are so easily debunked, I'm not even sure why he published this:
First, there's 'Open' : The Flex SDK is open source. You do not need Adobe tools to create SWFs. Apple's development tools are proprietary too, and getting restrictive by the day. H.264 is not open source either by the way. End of story.
Second, there's the 'full web': Huh? No, most web sites use Flash and Flash animations. Sorry, that is just the way it is. A few sites have adopted HTML 5 instead, but it's not universal, and not cross-browser compatible. Also, there are at least 100,000+ Flash games on the web, far more than on the iPhone.
Third, there's reliability, security and performance. : Flash has the most security issues and causes the the most crashes, because it is THE MOST USED SOFTWARE platform. End of story. See Windows. Mac OS has been free of a lot of these headaches because people don't write a lot of software directly for it. Viruses are written for Windows because it's everywhere. They exploit the technologies that are the most prevalent. Don't think for a minute that crooks don't target the Mac becasue it "pretty". They don't target it because they don't make much money off of it.
Fourth, there's battery life.: Only video is mentioned, and there is no real evidence given. Games with graphics and sound sap battery life too, no matter what they are built-with. that's just the way the world works. My iPod Touch can only play Yahtzee for about 2 hours before it dies. That's not Flash's fault.
Fifth, there's Touch.: Flash can easily be made to work with touch-based apps. All the events are there in CS5. However, with Apple blocking technological advances, it's much tougher, isn't it? Also, just try to make the HTML 5 Canvas do the same thing. It's painful.
Sixth, the most important reason.: The software layer argument. Yes, all software would run better if it was written in Assembly Language too. The APIs Apple has created are layers that make things inefficient as well. Why not just get rid of it all while you are at it? However, we have come so far from that point developing modern software, that this argument makes no sense at all.
Honestly Jobs, just forget it. Most of us have given-up on your platform (as far as Flash is concerned anyway). You make neat stuff, but the limitations just make our lives much harder as software developers. We *will* learn HTML 5, and we *will* learn the Canvas. We will find workarounds to the enormous deficiencies we have already found right on the surface (no pun intended), and we will get things to look fairly good. That is because, as modern web software developers, we HAVE TO BE FLEXIBLE and willing to learn new things and accept new ideas as well as old ones. I'm sorry that is not that case for Apple or their leadership.
Still, most Flash developers just don't agree with your stand on the technology. A blog that simply reiterates the same tired and debunked arguments is not about to change that.
In the past week as I've been home sick with pneumonia, I've had some time to peruse Dale Dobson's Gaming After 40 blog. I have to say, I really like what I see. Dale takes a skewed and humorous, but loving view at video games. In fact, his view very much parallels ours here at 8bitrocket.com. We love old games, but not so much that we can't find humor in some of the naivety displayed in early game design and marketing.
Anyway, Dale has been creating a "Video Podcast" (sound familiar) for about a year now. Some of his entries are astoundingly interesting. His latest does not disappoint:
Story Of Asteroids The Movie: Takes the old Asteroids read-long record/book and does the impossible: creates a funny and subversive story out of what was once a dreadfully boring kids book:
It's funny, because often I find that Dale covers areas that we here at 8bitrocket.com have covered as well. In fact, last year we wrote our own story about "Asteroids The Movie" :
Top-10 Alternative Ideas for The Universal "Asteroids" Movie
Another interesting video podcast from Dale is Lights, Camera, Action Max, a podcast about the old Action Max console.
This one is especially good, as Dale actually shows a way to make your own hilarious Action Max games! It's also interesting to note, that we here at 8bitrocket.com had our own experiences with the Action Max back in the day. I wrote about it a while back in : Atari Nerd Chronicles: Top 3 Worst Video Game Christmas Presents Ever: Coleco Shooting Gallery, Atari Jaguar, Action Max .
Dale also takes on old video game ads from Electronic Games Magazine, like Joining Xantor's Empire.
You'll recall that here at 8bitrocket.com we have a great fondness for Electronic Games Magazine, so this one is not too far from home either.
Dales also had video podcasts about a ton of other things close to the 8bitrocket.com heart, including:
and even Video Game History (Midway):
There is a a lot more here, so if any of this interests you, go any look at more of Dale's videos. His work is slick, funny, and very informative. He's made some solid fans here at 8bitrocket.com.
Retro Scan: Original Atari ST Action Review - Dungeon Master
I was sifting through the treasure trove that is Steve's garage the other day when I came across a classic issue of ST Action magazine. The issue is May 1988 (the first year of the publication) and it is filled some incredible (to me at least) gems. I will be scanning in a great interview with Jeff Minter later this week, but for this first retro scan I will be showing off the original Dungeon Master review.
If you never read this magazine (and I only know of 2 other people who are sure to have - Rich Davey and Steve Fulton) you will know that they pretty much hated every game that came upon their desks. They were brutal and I don't remember too many games receiving a score over 85%. For example, in the same issue there is a "round-up" of top-down scrolling shooters and the classic Xenon (one of the best shooter games ever released) was given only 85%. They just didn't give too many games really high scores in those days.
Anyway, you will see that they absolutely loved Dungeon Master and so they gave it a 90% (90%! to one of the best games ever made, especially for the time). You have to understand that at the time there was no game quite like Dungeon Master. It was so good that even the USA based magazine Computer Gaming World, which had stopped Atari coverage at least a year before this, gave the game a glowing review.
The pages are jpg quality and still about 500K each, so they may take an extra minute or so to load.
So, There you have it. I'm not sure if these are available elsewhere on the infobaun (maybe Atarimania.com) but I will be adding more from this classic issue soon.
No More Printed Game Manuals For "The Environment", or "Pay Twice For What You Used To Get For Free"
The Gamer's Blog has a very interesting story about Ubi Soft jettisoning printed game manuals as a "green initiative".
"No more man'u'als? Ubisoft announced this week that they will be
ditch'ing the trend of print'ing instruc'tion man'u'als for new games
under the 'green' ini'tia'tive. While no other pub'lish'ers have jumped
on that 'green' train just yet it is likely that oth'ers will
To me, this is the same kind of corporate doublespeak that nets those "we don't wash your towels or sheets every day to save the world" cards in the bathrooms of hotels. The idea is to make you feel guilty for something you have already paid-for, while the business saves a little money.
As Flash game developers, we have been working on the art of the "in-game" manual for a long time, with very mixed results. We know that most people simply skip the instructions and try the "well used" controls (arrows, WASD, space-bar, enter, mouse+mouse button, z,x,.,/).
At the same time, manuals for modern video games have became a joke anyway. 1/2 the space is used-up for the same coockie-cutter messages from from the console makers about "health issues", and at least a 1/3 is a list of credits. The rest contains the most basic information about the game possible, obviously hoping you will rely on in-game tutorials and/or shell-out $19.99 for a hint guide that tells you the information you need to know.
A good example of this is Red Steel II for the Wii. The in-game instructions were good enough to get me started, but I still needed to know one very "midcore" thing: "how do I save the game?"
There was no information any place about this. Even my online searches were fruitless. I finally just had to quit the game and restart to find out that it auto-saves at specific places. However, why such a mystery? If anything should go into the manual, "save game" information seems like a good choice.
With more and more downloadable games, the printed manual has its' days numbered anyway, but please, don't try to sell it to us as a "green" initiative. We know full-well that it's only a matter of time before game companies start offering printed manuals for a "nominal fee", and then we really will be paying extra for something that should have been included in the first place. Why pay once when can pay twice for what we used to get for free?
Sorry big game companies, this is why the future of games is probably on the web. At least here you get what you pay for.
For many years, I naively believed that Nolan Bushnell invented the modern video game. I be lived he created the first video game company (Atari in 1972), I believed he created the first home video game (Atari Pong), and the first cartridge based game system (The Atari 2600). I believed these things because I had read them in magazines, newspapers, books or had seen short history pieces about them on TV back when Atari was a viable company, and I was an impressionable young lad. . However, all of these things have been proven wrong (or at least not entirely true) in the past 15 years. Computer Space was actually built by Ted Dabney AND Nolan Bushnell. Atari was started by Bushnell, Ted Dabney, and a 3rd partner in 1972 but it was called Syzygy. It did not become Atari until legal action (by another company with the same name) forced them to change it. The first home pong was created by Ralph Baer (well, a tennis game anyway), not Bushnell's Atari, and the first cartridge based system was the Fairchild Video Entertainment System. Bushnell is not even the first person to make video games profitable, as Atari was often in the red until Bushnell sold out to Warner Brothers in 1976 and pocketed $28 Million. Why did I believe these things? Because up until books like The First Quarter by Steve Kent arrived, there was no one to tell me otherwise. Many were based on popular myths or misconceptions or were written in books and articles on video game history. Some were hinted at when I interviewed Bushnell in 2007. However, I believe the real reason why I believe these things is because Nolan Bushnell wanted me to believe them, and by extension, I wanted to believe them too.
My belief in these myths has recently been reignited because of the news last week that Nolan Bushnell was added to the board of Directors for Atari S.A., a French based company that was (or was not, who knows these days?) once Infogrames. the company has the slightest, most tenuous ties back to the original Atari that one could possibly imagine (legal ownership of the Atari IP). After this news was announced the message boards at Atari Age lit-up with messages about Nolan Bushnell, calling him a "self promoter" at best, and a "con-man" at the worst. It seems that, over years, within the legions of die-hard Atari fans, cracks have appeared in the gold-plated myth of Nolan Bushnell. Reading through that forum thread at Atari Age can be very interesting, even for someone who used to eat-up every word on Atari that was ever printed. It is easy to see why I was so misguided though: the main guys who have the (alleged) dirt on Bushnell (famed Atari historians Marty Goldberg and Kurt Vendel) have been researching and writing a couple of books on Atari for almost a decade. They have never finished them though, mostly because they keep unearthing information that has so-far never been made public. At the same time, the current set of (mis)information lives on. Even articles I have written on Atari have fallen victim to some of it (if I believe all of what these guys are saying, and I don't necessarily believe it all). At any rate, it's one of the reasons I stopped writing about Atari: There is just too much to write about, but what *is* public knowledge people already think they know. According to Vendel and Goldberg, nearly everything we know about Nolan Bushnell is a half-truth or a lie. They have the goods, and some day soon, we will all get to read about it. I, seriously, can't wait for that day. At the very least, we will start to get a full picture of Bushnell that is not just made-up of press releases.
However, what do we do in the meantime? If it is true that Atari fans have never known the "real" Nolan Bushnell, and everything we have ever been told was self promotion and myth making, where does that leave him? To me, it makes him even larger than life than he ever was before. Bushnell the (alleged) shyster, con man, and back-alley carnival barker (again, read this thread to see what I mean) is in some ways even more interesting than Bushnell the engineer, entrepreneur and inventor. Why? Because he was obviously so damned good at it. If Bushnell has managed to pull the wool over everyone's eyes for so long, he deserves some kind of recognition for creating a nearly impenetrable myth that even kernels of truth shot at it from afar could not bring-down. And what if it is all true? What if Bushnell is a little bit of everything? Does that destroy his myth, or simply enhance it?
Furthermore, the nascent Atari of the 1970's probably needed a larger than life Nolan Bushnell for it to thrive. In my view, for a company to exist in a difficult industry it requires smart people with the ability to work complex problems into sellable products (i.e. Al Alcorn, Ted Dabney, Bob Brown, David Crane Jay Miner, etc). However, for a company to dominate that industry and to create the mind share of a classic Atari (or for example the current-day Apple), it requires something much more. It requires a great manipulator, someone who embodies the spirit of the industry because he created it out of nothing. Because Bushnell was an "idea" guy, and used his relationships with great engineers (Ted Dabney, Al Alcorn, etc.)
to make great products, some people see him as a Steve Jobs character and the various engineers being like Steve Wozniak. This is a close comparison, but then Steve Jobs was very successful after his initial Apple stint, while Bushnell is still looking for a his next great success (although he has had many small ones). Instead, I propose that Bushnell's role in video games is much more like that of the late Malcolm Mclaren.
Huh? Let me explain a bit about Malcolm McLaren. He is best known as the man who managed the band the Sex Pistols into international notoriety in 1977. Through his careful manipulations and posturing, he turned a fairly good rock band into an international phenomenon and by doing so put the whole idea of "Punk Rock" on the map. In some ways, you might call him the "father of Punk" (even though technically that's not true). While he never made much music himself (not punk anyway), he used self-promotion, manipulation, and myth making to create something out of very little, and then rode that wave to fame and notoriety. Sound familiar?
Here are some other odd similarities between Bushnell and McLaren.
- They were contemporaries: Bushnell was born in 1943 while McLaren. was born in 1946.
- Bushnell was an engineer, McLaren's dad was an engineer.
- Both came into their own in 1971: Bushnell with Computer Space, McLaren by opening Let It Rock, an influential clothes shop.
- Both made their big moves in 1972: Bushnell with Atari (Syzygy)Pong, Mclaren. by starting to manage the New York Dolls.
- Both made huge steps in 1975: Bushnell with the home version of Pong which a huge success, McLaren by returning to his roots and renaming his clothing shop to "SEX", which became a legendary outpost for "punk" fashion to come.
- Both made their biggest marks in 1977: Bushnell with the release of the Atari 2600 VCS, Mclaren with the management of the Sex Pistols.
- Both made their myth's after their "creations" were not in their hands any longer: Bushnell with his very public ouster from Atari in 1978 with Chuck E Cheese and his "return" in 1983, and McLaren making the movie "The Great Rock And Roll Swindle" released after the Sex Pistols had broken-up and Sid Vicious was dead (Roger Ebert recently wrote a fascinating story about the creation of this movie that further highlights McLaren's myth-building).
- Both "created" industries that were initially not long-lived: Both the golden age of video games and the idea and ideals of British punk died sometime in the early 1980s, but both sprouted again a few years later and still exist today.
- Neither had any kind of huge success after these events, although both had minor successes (i.e. Bushnell with Chuck E Cheese before it went bankrupt, McLaren with bands like Bow Wow Wow and the song Buffalo Girls).
- Both have since trumpeted their involvement in the creation of each industry, to the possible detriment of others that were involved (i.e. Bushnell lessening the role of Ted Dabney by omission, or McLaren. downplaying the contributions of the Sex Pistols by saying "The Pistols were like my work of art. They were my canvas. ") .
- Bushnell is now popularly known as the "Father Of The Video game Industry" (even though there were many people before and with him that actually did the work), while Malcolm McLaren is generally attributed with creating the phenomenon known as British punk rock and more specifically, The Sex Pistols, even though there were many people before and with him that actually did the work).
- People who study both 70's Atari and 70's British punk would say that these myths overshadowed or replaced the many individuals and important contributions from dozens of people (i.e. Teb Dabney at Atari or Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols) who did not gain the notoriety of a Bushnell or McLaren.
- In reality, the involvement of these "mythical figures" was probably less than they would like you to believe, but at the same time more than some other people involved would like to admit.
With so many similarities, one has to ask, why were both able to create these myths (or alleged myths) about their role new and exciting industries, at about the same time in history? Well, the answer might be that people trusted the press more in the late 1970's and early 80's than maybe any other time in history. Incidents like Watergate seen through the lens of movies like All The Presidents Men showed the press as saviors of world. The ideals of an objective and non-partisan press that held the truth above all else and could be a "savior" was echoed in many other movies as well, like Salvador, and The Killing fields and even popular stuff like Capricorn One, Blue Thunder and The Dead Zone. With all that trust in the popular press, manipulation could be very powerful. If a charismatic "someone" was able to come from a brand-new industry (i.e. video games, punk rock) as a representative of that industry, and the press saw them as a figurehead and an expert, they could be seen as leading voice. Since there were no other real outlets for popular news (no internet, few cable stations), people relied on network news, plus magazines and newspapers to give them the the truth. And if that truth could be manipulated... a myth was born.
However there may be another reason for the creation these "mythical figures", and it's much simpler and less controversial: history favors the winners. History books tends to focus who won wars, who won elections, and who beat the other guy to the patent office. For every Allies there was an Axis, for every Lincoln, there was a George B. McClellan, for every Alexander Graham Bell there was an Elisha Gray, and for every VHS, a Betamax. The British punk band The Damned might have released the first punk single ("New Rose"), but it was the Sex Pistols who"won" with "God Save The Queen" months later because Malcolm McLaren wisely guided the band to release the single the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee Celebration, creating the ultimate controversy. Likewise, if Lester Hogan, the head of Fairchild Semiconductor had played his cards as the "inventor of the programmable home video game" when the Fairchild Video Entertainment System was released in 1976, we might be discussing him instead of Nolan Bushnell. However, Bushnell *was* a winner, and his legacy lives on.
At any rate, I'm not so sure the idea of this "myth making" by Nolan Bushnell is entirely true. I mean, he was the head of Atari at the time, which means that while he might have given his opinions on products, he also had to spend a lot time doing the high level things that heads of companies do. Might he have thought of his input as much more important than it really turned out to be? Is that just a fault of Nolan Bushnell, or the fault of business executives in general? Do people at that level tend to believe their ankle-deep contributions over all parts of the business equate to great products while minimizing the work and input of their subordinates so they can firm their spot in the CEO country club? What if Bushnell really did have a hand in all the great stuff at Atari in the 70's, but some other people just didn't see it that way? Whose perspective is correct? I suppose we will find out another side of the story when Marty Goldberg and Kurt Vendel finally publish their books, and we can see what all the fuss (and vitriol) is all about. In a sense, if history does favor the winners, then the Goldberg/Vendel books might become the "People's History Of Video Games", and alternative history that focuses on the workers and individual contributors more than the leaders, figureheads and winners.
Finally, though, one has to ask the question: Did this alleged subterfuge of a Bushnell (like that of a McLaren) have a sum-total positive effect on the industries involved? To the individual people involved that these myths (allegedly) paved-over and stomped upon, maybe not. However, considering both video games and punk (in spirit) are still very much alive today, I think the answer answer would still be "yes". Myths, it seems, can be a powerful thing, and sometimes, in the hands of charismatic leaders, they are used to sacrifice individual truth for the sake of ego and long-term success. Do I agree with these (alleged) tactics and think they are worth the damage they do to the people involved? Honestly, I'm not sure that I do. However I do respect their influence, and I see them as powerful weapons in the myth-making of legendary figures and industries.
Update: Nolan Bushnell showed-up on the AtariAge.com forums last Monday, and went about refuting most of the claims against him. It is pretty awesome reading that starts about here:
I would have to say that, if you believe this thread, then my assertions above about the "myth making" be more of something that happens when CEOs run companies than really any "transgression" from Bushnell seem to be true. At the same time, the man was able to create an amazing myth around himself, so I stand on that as well.
No Flash On The iPad Problem: Current Popular Social Games
One large potential problem (or opportunity) Apple might face in the near future, because of the lack of a Flash player on the iPod/iPad platform, is compatibility with the current set of popular social games. It is no secret that most of these games are built on the Flash player platform. Will it be a shock to players when when boot up their iPad FaceBook app and cannot play FarmVille?
For many people, the entire internet consists of Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Those used to playing social games for free (and spending their social capital) will be surprised at the pay-to-play and the "just cannot play because we hate the platform" ideals that permeate the iPod/iPad and Apple.
There are already some users asking these questions:
The Wall Street Journal (you know, that tiny ill respected rag) has posted an article on the subject: Questions about Zynga Games on The iPad answers a user's question on the subject.
Of course the answer is no, Zynga Flash Games will not work. Now, I am certain that Apple intends to make a crap-load of money off social games when their own Game Center is released, so you will not find them crying for Zynga any time soon. Will this cause Zynga to create games with *cough* HTML5? Maybe, as their games are not so sophisticated to make this impossible. Safari seems to have the best HTML5 compatibility, but launching a game on that platform is a big investment in "roll your own" as Steve pointed out last week.
As recently as April 20th, the site Mashable reported Farmville Could Be Headed to iPhone, iPad and Andriod. This speculation was based on the some domain names that Zynga has registered, but no official plans have been released.
In a related bit, many companies are banking on the Game Center and iPad. The Inside Social Games blog is reporting that venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers is putting 100 Million into iPad/Mobile applications, including Social Games.
Social games are going to be a HUGE on all mobile devices the same as they are on the current crop of lap tops and desk tops. The current popular of social games are NOT compatible because most are made in Flash and connect to Facebook. Will all of the current social game developers need to move the to Apple Game Center platform or risk losing the next big potential market? Will the iPad Facebook app and popular social games targeting that breakout successful platform move to HTML5/Objective-C as web / downloadable platform? Only time will tell. Right now though, if you play Farmville and want to to see how your agricultural social empire is doing while on the road with only an Apple device, you will have a tough time doing so.
Here at 8bitrocket.com we love game engines and engine reuse. Damn, we even wrote a book about it! It seems that we are not alone.
In a post published today, Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel does a fantastic job defending his use of a game engine he has re-sued and nursed into a dozen or so games over the past 10 years.
Here's a good quote:
"When I start a new game, I spend 3-4 months rewriting the worst or most
dated part of my engine, and then I take that old (but solid) engine
and make the coolest story I can with it. It's a small company. Our
resources are desperately limited. Thus, I don't spend time remaking
things that already work. If my wolf icon looks good, why make a new
wolf icon just for the sake of making a new one? Instead, I focus on the
story, the one thing that truly needs to be all new and excellent."
There is a lot more this story over at Vogel's blog. Most if it is directed at the mainstream game industry, but there isa lot that Flash game developers could take-away too.