Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is the the best book about video games you will read this year.  However, this is not a history book, nor is it a personal narrative.  Instead, Ready Player One history lesson in 80's pop culture wrapped inside an engaging sci-fi story.

The story is set in the mid 21st century, after all the disasters that threaten to befall the world right now, come to pass: peak oil, global warming, famine, drought, long-term massive unemployment, etc.  The one bright spot (if you can call it that) is the OASIS,  an online world in the vein of World Of Warcraft that has usurped the internet, and has became the defacto "reality" for most of the world's population.

Just before he died, James Halliday, the creator of OASIS devised a game , inspired by Atari's Adventure, by hiding an Easter Egg somewhere in the OASIS that would grant the winner full control of OASIS and access to his vast fortune.  He gave one clue , and as the book opens, the world has been trying to figure out that single clue for five straight years, with no avail.

The hero of the story, Wade, is an everyman who has been affected by the worldwide downturn as much as anyone else.  He is a "gunter", the name given to people who spend all their time trying to figure out how to find Halliday's Easter Egg.   His story and the pathway to the Easter Egg form the narrative of the book.

I will give no more away, except to say that this is also the perfect book for 8bitrocket.com.  Cline goes to great lengths to include bits of nostalgia that will suit every taste...but much of it centers on the era of Golden Age, 8-bit, Atari.  Since James Halliday was an 80's fanatic, all of the gunters have enveloped themselves in the most minute 80's trivia imaginable, trying to find clues to find the egg.  This gives the author an excuse to weave the games, tv shows, movies, music, etc. from the 80's  in a futuristic setting .It also keeps the story moving without it becoming  a pure nostalgia piece.   It was a brilliant move, as it allows the author space to set the book the future and the past at the same time without attempting some kind of time travelling mechanic.  In fact, in a way, this book sort of warns of a situation in our not-too-distant future, where there is no "past" at all, and everything just exists in the present.

Ready Player One is a  fun, accessible page turner that will appeal to anyone who enjoys video games, the 80's, dystopic sci-fi, mysteries, or any combination of those topics. With this book and Lucky Wander Boy, we now have a "collection" of great novels based on video game nostalgia to put onto our required reading shelf.




Mid-Core Update: Wikipedia, And A Mid-Core Life, 8bitrocket.com Update


Just when we thought we had put a cap on the whole Mid-Core thing, we've had two interesting developments in that area in the past week.  First, back in 2008 there was a group of loyal readers who made an attempt to get the term "Mid-core" added to Wikipedia.  They were not successful, and we did not pursue it our selves because our self-loathing tendencies.   However, I just noticed today that the term has actually made it onto Wikipedia. Sure, we are not credited anywhere (an article about us from Joystiq *is* credited though).  So there you go.  three years later, and the little thing does have some legs.

A Mid-Core Life

More importantly though, is a new blog named A Mid-Core Life written by  Erick Vallejos for the Belmont Shore-Naples Patch.   Erick contacted us asking permission to use the name, and we happily agreed to let him use it.  He even credits us throughout his first entry.   Good luck Erick.  We'll be checking back periodically to see how your Mid-Core life is going.

8bitrocket.com Update

And if you are interested out Mid-Core lives  here at 8bitrocket.com are pretty rocky right now.  However, we're trying to get everything back on track.  Our goal is to reach 1500 stories by the end of the year, which means we will need to work triple or quradruple time to make our goal.   However, there is just so much going on right now in Flash, Mobile, Social, HTML5 and video games right now, it's really not a matter of content, just the time to write the stories and create our editorials.


We Use Xtra Normal To Make A Sub-Par Video About Flash Games And Intellectual Property

Here is our first attempt at using xtranormal to make a video.  This was obviously inspired by this video we posted a couple weeks ago.

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Jamie Lendino Of PC Mag Admits To Loving The Atari 800

Today, in an article named Steve Jobs: End of an Era Jamie Lendino uses the editorial good will created by Steve Job's resignation to wax nostalgic about his days with his Atari 800.  It reads a bit like an 8bitrocket.com piece.

"Needless to say, that Atari computer made a tremendous impression on me. Just as how today's kids won't ever know a world without the Web, cell phones, and hyper-realistic game graphics, I've never known a world without personal computers. I lived and breathed them."

It's short but sweet and worth reading.

(Thanks to Eric Barth for pointing us to this)

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Taito is going after unlicensed Space Invaders re-makes

The news has been filled recently with game companies using legal means to go after trademark and copyright offenders who infringe on classic and retro intellectual property. The latest to come across our news feed is that Taito (now part of Square Enix) has been "all up in Mochi's grill", asking that they remove all games named Space Invaders and any game that uses its unique visuals or sounds. The area of patent, trademark, and copyright law is murky when  it comes to video and computer game entertainment, so we can't officially tell what exact games they might be targeting.

It's always a good idea to use your own graphics, sounds, and names in your games, even if you are making a "tribute", especially if it is for commercial use.   Game play usually is not something to which a copyright can be applied, but patents can be applied to systems and algorithms that solve specific problems. There is a lot of confusion over on this Mochi thread. If you have any insight into what is going on with Taito, or just on the various laws involved, please leave it in our comments, or hop over to the Mochi thread and let people know what you have to offer

And now, just in case you missed it the first time around, here is our classic take on the situation.

Skript Kitty Vs. Intellectual Property

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Update: Atari is *not necessarily* Targeting Hobbyists

Yesterday we posted a story about Atari targeting a German maker of 8-bit software, and the owner of atari2600.com.    The atari2600.com complaint was real, and the owner of the site has relinquished his rights to the name.

However, the it looks like the comlaint against the German aoftware maker was a mistake by Atari. Curt Vendel on the AtariAge.com forums asked the author to clear-it-up, and since we posted it, we will too.  Here are Curt's words to the German software author:

"Its my understanding that you have been contacted back by Atari and they have apologized for the misunderstanding. It would be good for you to share that with everyone so that people see that this situation is sorting itself out in regards to the misperception that Atari was going after hobbyist authors and their games at least."

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Legend Of Grimrock : Dungeon Master For The 21st Century

OK, here is a really promising upcoming RPG for the PC/Mac/iOs named Legend Of Grimrock.  It's by a set of four Finnish game vets, and it looks like a must-play for fans of classic computer RPGs like Dungeon Master.

Filed under: Atari ST No Comments

Amazing! Learn The Basics Of Programming With Codeacademy!

I just saw this today.

Codeacademy is fantastic!  It's an interactive learning tool for non-developers, kids or anyone else to learn program using JavaScript.

Using Codeacademy reminded me of using my Atari 800 back in 1984 and 1985.  Back then, people used to create all sorts of learning tools similar to thins one.  It's not flashy, but it *is* perfect, step-by step, interactive way to learn something cool.

Even though I know I have a solid knowledge of JavaScript, I still might go through this tool, as it is just so much fun!

Check it out.

Filed under: HTML 5 Canvas No Comments

Atari Pulls Out The Lawyers And Threatens To Sue Hobbyists

It can be argued (pretty heavily I might add) that Atari fandom is the only thing that has kept the Atari name from falling completely into obscurity.   Long before Infogrames changed their name to Atari back in 2003, it was sites like Atariage.com and AtariMuseum.com that kept the name afloat and alive in cyberspace.

However, now that the new slimmed-down and focused Atari is busy mining their past to create mobile and social games, they appear to have a new tactic to keep the Atari name alive: lawsuits.

AtariUser.com reported yesterday that Atari had sent a letter to the owner of the domain name Atari2600.org, asking them to hand over the URL immediately.  The person who owns the domain has had it for almost a decade, and one wonders why Atari is taking this action now. Also,  bizarrely, they have  targeted an enthusiast German Atari 8-bit software developer named Starsoft Berlin, who makes demo disks based on 8-bit code for the Atari 800...which is perfectly legal and has been done for more than 30 years.

The website, which is in German, has now added the following text in English to it's side-bar:

This website does only contain software that is under free licenses. Many of the software available to download here is done by myselves. Most (even maybe none) of the programmes where coded, when ATARI Inc. (or their successors) did´nt support the machines anymore - they are written for - actively.

One look at the site and it's offerings and it would appear that this text shouldn't even be necessary. They offer their own software written by themselves for the Atari 8-bit.  something literally 10000's of other people have done before. (Heck, we ourselves received 50 download credits from the DeathStar BBS back in 1984 for creating our own Atari Basic version of The Price Is Right!, as well as made and uploaded countless other programs back-in-the-dayThat's what you did with an 8-bit computer!)

One wonders though, what Atari and/or their lawyers might be up to.  Suing over domain names and hobbyist software is either the start of something bigger, or a testing of the waters to see if they can litigate themselves market share.  Still, it's a disturbing trend that we would like to get some insight into.

Atari has used us as a mouthpiece for some of their retro remakes, and we have enjoyed that relationship.  It would be cool if someone from Atari could clue us into what might be happening here.  You can always contact us a info@8bitrocket.com.

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The 8bit Game: Digesting Bruce Lee By Datasoft Software (1984)

Bruce Lee is an 8-bit computer platformer / beat-em-up that is fondly remembered by owners of almost any 8-bit computer system from the early 1980's. The first version was programmed by Ron Fortier (with visuals by Kelly Day) in 1983 for the Atari 8-bit computer line (400, 800, XL and then forthcoming XE lines). The game was quickly ported to the C64, Apple II, and DOS machines. It would be released by US Gold in the UK for the Spectrum, BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC and MSX machines a year later.

The basic goal of the game is to control your Bruce Lee character through 20 screens of increasing puzzle and difficultly while collecting paper lanterns on each. To foil the player's progress, a black-clad Ninja and Green Sumo wrestler ("Yamo") chase him and attempt to kick, punch and make him fall to his death. Like Zeppelin , Bruce Lee has unique multi=player features that allow a second player to assume the role of Yamo to thwart Bruce Lee on his mission. This was a game that Steve and I picked up at Gemco, I remember the C64 version was in demo mode with the Atari 800 version ready for anyone to play. It didn't take much time for us to figure that this cool game was worth the $24.95 it would separate from the combined cash stash in our two O.P. "ripper" wallets.

Here is a new video of the game being played (by me) in the Atari 800 Win Emulator:

During game-play, the player has a number of moves he can employ to try and knock-out the Ninja and Yamo. The best is a two-foot flying kick that is initiated by running in a direction and pressing the fire button. This devastating move will stun the baddie. Two hits and the Ninja or three to Yamo and they must re-spawn and try all over again to down our joystick controlled hero. The player can also chop (hit with his hand while standing, jump, lean, climb and duck. It sounds pretty standard by today's measures, but the fluidity and freedom of motion (climb up a fence and leap to the next ledge) were very unique to computer (and video) games at this point in time. It my not have been the first to employ these types of actions, but it simply perfected them in such a way that made all other platformers we played before this pale in comparison.

The player must collect all (or most of the lanterns) in each room to open the door to the next chamber. All of this collecting has a purpose, which is to gain infinite wealth and immortality (not bad) from a Wizard that is supposed to be in one of the chambers. There are vines to climb, ladders and lattice to negotiate, and even a strange magical wave of particles that needs to be ridden. Also, more dangers than just just the Ninja or Yamo await the intrepid Mr. Lee. as explosions, gaps in the floor, electrical shocks, and strange panning lights all start to show up in later levels to add serious challenges. The fight against the illusive Wizard, who has the ability to shoot fire balls pretty rapidly, is the final battle in the game.

I don't remember being able to finish this one until we found a "trainer version" on-line (probably after the game was released in the UK). I do remember Steve, and I, along with our buddy, Mike Jackson playing this one a lot in 8th grade. It was definitely one of our favorite games top play with a group of people because of the various ways in which 2 or three people could combine efforts to play with and against each other (only two could actually control the action at the same time with a third taking turns as Bruce Lee).

Ron Fortier went on to create both Conan and the Zaxxon port for the Atari 8-bit computers. I fondly remember both as very good games.  It would take quite a long article to describe all of the great titles that DataSoft released for the Atari and other 8-bit machines in the 80's.  Like Synapse, they were a prolific developer of great 8-bit games but they are sadly almost completely forgotten today.

Further Reading / Exploring
The Atari Mania Bruce Lee Page
The Atari Cave Bruce Lee Page (with some platform graphic comparisons).
The Strategy Wiki Bruce Lee Page
The Lemon 64 Bruce Lee Page

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