8bitrocket.com
30Oct/110

Goodbye Dad, Hello "Code Writer's Block"

My dad died just about 5 months ago.  In that time, I have done lots of things.  I have written a ton of blog entries (some good, some okay, and many bad ones), I have changed jobs, read at least 10 books, and started to play hardcore video games (i.e Gears Of War 2, Dragon Age) again after many years.  However, there is one thing I have not done.  I have not written a single line of code for any project other than what was necessary for work.

The morning of June 1st started like any other.  After dropping my girls off at school, I sat down at my computer to continue working on a version of "progressive" Breakout in HTML5.  I wanted to include a version of the game in my book, HTML5 Canvas, but the deadline was too short for me to finish.  I recall, that morning, I planned to work on the in-game sounds and if there was time, add some power-ups that could be caught with the paddle (ala Arakanoid).

I had just sat down to start programming, when my sister called me and insisted I get to my parents house immediately because my dad was "not doing well".   2 hours later my dad's body was carried out of the the house on stretcher, and with it, went my desire to write any code that I was not contractually obligated to create.   At first, I didn't really notice.  I was working so hard for my day job that my inability to write personal code did not surface often. However in August,when I took a business trip to San Francisco, I copied some personal work (including the HTML5 breakout game) to my computer in-case I had time to look at it when I was gone.  I never touched the code, and in fact, I realized that I  did not want to touch it.  Ever.  I've been trying to figure out the reason "why?" ever since.

I've sat down to write blog entries many times in the past 5 months.  Even though this blog rarely gets read or linked these days, I still spend countless hours researching, writing, and re-writing stories in the hopes that something will stick like the days of old, and with it, people will come streaming back to the site in droves.   In all of that time, I could have, very easily, written some code for a personal project.  In fact, instead of writing this piece, I could have opened up text file and coded some HTML5 JavaScript to test in Chrome, or opened Flash CS5 and debugged one of the countless  1/2 finished games that are waiting for a bit of my attentionon my hard drive.   However, I just can't get myself to do it.  I don't have "writer's block", I have "code writer's block" and I know I can't be truly happy until I find a way out of it.

I don't have to think very hard to arrive at a simple explanation for my "code writer's block."  I was working on personal code when my dad died, and until I get over that moment, there is no way to move on.   Sure, this is probably true.  I spent my dad's final months working for a company that afforded me nearly zero time to spend with him, and I'm obviously mad at myself for not visiting him more often.    Why was I spending my limited spare time writing vanity code instead of spending those final few precious minutes with my father as his life slipped away?

However, I think there is more to it than that.  My dad was never keen on my career choice.  When I graduated from high school, he wanted me to become a real-estate broker. He did not want me to get stuck in a 9-5, spirit-killing, life-sucking job like the one he had at Hughes Aircraft for the last 20 years of his working life.  I think that he felt that a real-estate broker would have the freedom to not get bored with life, and to spend time doing interesting things besides wasting away in an office.

To me though, the idea of being a  "real-estate broker" (no offense to those who might love that kind of work) was the exact type of spirit-killing, life-sucking job that he feared. Instead, I got a job programming for a software company, and worked my way into making games, which was my goal all along (even if I did not fully realize it along the way).   However, in the 18 years I was writing software, web sites, games and applications while my dad was still alive, he was only ever interested in one thing I created: an interactive fireworks show that I played on my TV via the Nintendo Wii Opera Browser for the 4th Of July 2007.  Nothing else interested him in the slightest.  It's one of the reasons I still post that application to the site every year.

Maybe I was trying to prove to my dad, for 18 years, that I had chosen the right path.  I was not bored and I did not feel that I was doing anything spirit-killing or life sucking by programming for a living. In fact, it was quite the opposite.  I was making games for kids (even games for my own kids, which was the best part of it all), and I loved every second of it.   However, he never understood it, or if he did, he failed to ever express it to me in any way.  So when my dad died, my need to prove to him that I had done the right thing with my life died too.  When I watched his covered body being pushed into that back of a nondescript van, and taken away forever,  my need to write personal code (at least for him to see), went with it.

But none of that is fair.  It's not fair to my wife (who asks me to make apps for her) or my kids (who are still waiting for games I've promised for years).  It's not fair to my brother who likes to play my games, nor is it fair to book company who want a revision. It's also not fair to me, because I like writing code.  No actually, I love writing code.  I love it like no other activity in the world.   I especially like writing code that I am not obligated to write: the kind of code that comes from the pure joy of making something come alive.  So I need to find a way out of this "code writer's block" and I'm going to try right now.

My died died after deteriorating for years suffering from Dementia.   Maybe the only way I can deal with his death and start coding for myself again, is to make a game about fighting Dementia.  It was something I simply could not do while he was alive, but maybe I can do it now.   I have no idea what a game about fighting Dementia would be about.  Maybe it's about shooting fading photos until they appear whole again?  Maybe it's an iOS game that uses motion sensing to get brain-wave patterns back  in order?  Maybe it's just a regular shooter that gets harder and harder to play as the images fade in and out and the controls stop working. Whatever it might be, it's not important right now.  What's important is that I write some code that is for me, and for me alone.

Here goes:

package {
	import flash.display.MovieClip;
	import flash.events.*;

	public class DementiaGame extends
                flash.display.MovieClip{

		public function DementiaGame() {
			addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME,
                        gameLoop);
		}
		public function gameLoop(e:Event): void {
			trace("A Game About Fighting");
			trace("Dementia Goes Here");
		}
	}
}

Okay.  It's not much, but it is a start.  I just wrote that class and saved it to new folder, and made it the default document for a new .fla file.  That might not sound like a big step, but after 5 months of pure nothing, it's huge.  Can I start the process of "moving on" now?    If I can actually finish this game, then I will know the answer.
-Steve Fulton

27Oct/110

Flash Is Dead? Games Volume Grows And Multi-player Pays Off: An Interview With Mochi Media

Recently we caught-up with Alexander Shen from Mochi Media to ask him about the state of Mochi and viral Flash Games.  His responses are truly enlightening.  Far from Flash being dead and buried, it appears that both the volume of Flash games, and the success stories of Flash game developers are still very strong.

Can you bring us up to speed on Mochi in 2011? What new features have you guys released?  What is in the pipeline?

Mochi is continuing to move forward for 2011 as we continue to build out both our online games property (mochigames.com) and the tools we offer.  Our GAME Fund is still on track with offering both primary and sitelock licenses to games, which is great since we can continue to help sponsor games that were sacrificing other revenue streams just to get sponsored (e.g. micro transactions, ads, etc.).  Our tools offerings include a new and updated game feed generator for publishers, achievements and the new "white label" solution for our LiveUpdates solution.

What is the volume of Flash games going through the Mochi system these days?

The daily submission and release of new games has increased since last year.  Looking at it from a two years ago, it seems like daily submissions are up by roughly ~33%.

You recently had an issue with Taito over the Space Invaders IP.  Can you explain what happened?  Has this spread to other IP?

I think it was a pretty straight forward thing. Some games were approved based on our ad approval requirements and Taito sent us a standard take down notice for said games that infringed on copyright, even though the uploaders of those games stated they had permission to legally do the upload.  We then complied and removed them from our system.  We're very respectful of any take down notices we get and are quite on top of it and quick to move.

What are the most popular games on Mochi right now?

You can actually see that list over at mochigames.com.  Some of the more popular titles are SAS3, BTD4, Mike Shadow: I Paid For It, Learn 2 Fly 2 and the Flipline games (Papa's Taco-Mia, Burgeria, Freezeria).

Is the Coins system doing well for you guys?

The Coins system continues to do well as we continue to integrate more MMOs into the mochigames.com property. The general Flash game playing populous still feel that anything Flash should be 100% free or at least the people who feel that way are the vocal majority.  That, however, doesn't stop other players from spending money in games, especially ones that are deeper and require a larger commitment of time and focus.  What I do see, however, is larger justification for spending occurring in games that are able to do proper multiplayer integrations.  Now it's not necessarily a case in "just to beat the game", but to do something to be better than everyone else.  The "vanity option" becomes clearly prevalent in this case.

Is there anything you would recommend for Flash devs who want to be successful with Mochi and Flash game portals?

Some of the most important things a developer can do is not only to build great games and to release frequently (we can't all be Blizzard, banking on the one release every 5 years and making millions, amirite?).  With that you then will realize how powerful a brand can be.  The first thought that comes to mind is the Berzerk Studios guys.  Those guys have built an amazing brand for themselves.  It's not to say that their games aren't good (they really are), but their name carries so much weight that it naturally inflates the prices they get for their sponsorships.  I'm very happy for them and wish for their continued success!  It also reminds me of any racing game a LongAnimals team/duo makes.  Those things just print cash (Drift Runners is still one of my favorite racers, btw).

I also feel that the Mochi APIs are becoming more robust and definitely adding things that more developers can use even if they're not interested in the ad component.  With the addition of achievements and the "white label" LiveUpdates, we've really listened to the community to implement things that can benefit all the players in the space. We're maturing and now have the ability to build things more easily the community asks for.

How is the relationship with Shanda?

Working with Shanda has continued to be great.  They have a relatively hands-off approach since they understand that our strengths lie in understanding and being a part of the Flash game/API space.  They let us do what we do best.  They support our decisions and we're very lucky to be able to be backed financially in such a way to allow for further progression in our tools development as well as game property development (MMOs, sponsorships, etc.).  It's really been great and I couldn't have really asked for more at this point.

 

 

26Oct/110

iOS 5 Has SUPERCHARGED the HTML5 Canvas

Wow! Just freaking wow!

My current two gigs are both HTML5 gigs, so that book we wrote is getting a lot of use. One of the apps is first-person game that is basically a simple shooter with some animation and sound. While a game like that will run at 40FPS in most desktop browsers, the  mobile browsers will run at half that rate if you are lucky.

For example, on an iPhone 4 I got about 15-20 FPS, on a Vizio Google Pad I got about the same and on an iPad 2 Igot about 22 FPS...until freaking today!!!!

I updated the iPad2 to versio 5.0 and now the game runs at full freaking speed. In fact, there is virtually no difference (aside from gesture coding) between the way the app runs on a desktop and how it runs on on iPad 2.  I had Steve test it on his iPhone 4 with iOS 5 and he is seeing the same type of full performance.  AWESOME!!!

This is AMAZING. The Performance is even better than the Flash Cs5.5 to Air app performance.

I can't wait to test out a PhoneGap app with this. It might even be better performance than Corona.

It looks like everyone else is going to have to catch up to Apple here, as being able to utilize the GPU for the Canvas makes it a Flash killer for sure!!!  (although I love Flash and don't want it to go away any time soon).  What we need is a Flash-like app that we can use to create HTML5 Canvas apps...Adobe?

 

 

Filed under: HTML 5 Canvas No Comments
25Oct/110

Pinball Mania! "Special When Lit" on Netflix and "The Pinball Arcade" For Nearly Every Platform That Matters

When my wife and I first met, we spent countless hours playing pinball together.    In the mid 1990's you could still find a pinball machine at most pizza parlors and multiple machines at arcades and bowling alleys.  Our standard playing style was to find a machine we liked (i.e. The Machine: Bride Of Pinbot) that gave three plays for a dollar.  We would each play our own game the with two credits, then share the machine with the last, each playing one of the flippers.   In some ways, the cooperation of trying to keep the ball in play at the same time taught me a lot about what marriage and family is all about.  We played this way this pretty much until our first baby was born, and then we had to quit.  Since 1998, we have played pinball only a handful of times together, and to be honest, I really miss it.

Most of the pinball machines are gone now, but that doesn't mean people out there don't remember them well, or want to recreate the experience.  Two fairly new offerings do just that.  The first is the movie Special When Lit, now available on Netflix on demand.  This from documentary 2009 covers the history, enthusiasts, players, collectors, designers and manufacturers of pinball.    The production values are top-notch, and the story is enthralling.  The trailer is below.

The second new offering is The Pinball Arcade from Farsight Studios, the same company that developed Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection (read our original, glowing review from 2008 here), arguably the best pinball simulation ever made.    This time it looks like they done it again, offering the game as downloadable app that can be updated with more tables as they are finished and released.  They are preparing this game for iOS, Android, XBox Live, 3Ds, PC, Mac, The Playstation Network, and PSVita for release in 2012.   Needless to say, we are very excited about this.   You can view the trailer for the game here:

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
24Oct/110

The Day Wii Played Hooky : How My Family Loved And Lost The Nintendo Wii

By Steve Fulton

Wii Sports

In 2006 my family played hooky: All 5 of us.  It was a Monday in November.  The previous day I had gotten-up very early to stand-in line at the local Target.  It was rumored that they would have about 100 Nintendo Wii consoles available first come, first served. In my pocket was $450 dollar in cash that I had earned from publishing an article about Atari history Gamasutra.com.  I used that money in particular because I felt it was like the changing of the guard: old invested into new.   I was an Atari kid, and because of that, I had never owned a Nintendo system in my life.   I went from Atari 2600 directly to an Atari 800 computer, and then an Atari ST.  I bypassed the Nintendo age completely.   Because of this, there was no nostalgia in my heart for the Nintendo brand.   The Wii was going to have to live on it's own merits: there were no 20 year old memories that would help float it into the success column in our house.

The line at Target moved very quickly, and when I got to the front, I picked out a Wii console, Wii Play (packed with an extra Wii-Mote), Elabits, Legend Of Zelda Twilight Prinicess, and an extra Nunchuck.   I packed it all into my car, took it home, and hid it from my kids for Christmas.  Then the yearning started.  I needed to try it. I decided I wanted to play the console to make sure that it worked.  Christmas would suck if it didn't work, right?

I asked my wife Dawn what I should do.   She reminded me that we already had enough stuff for kids for Christmas, and suggested that I open the console and set-it-up to play immediately.    To be honest, I could tell that her interest was piqued too.  She had never had a Nintendo console herself (save for the one at the Teen center she worked at in the mid 1990's), and we had both been impressed by the Wii demo DVD I brought home from E3 that year.  I needed no more convincing, however I still hesitated because  imagined  the Wii would make an awesome Christmas surprise (though the kids were  had never really expressed an interest in it).  I waited all day Sunday, and finally opened up the console and set-up Sunday night for everyone to see.

My family was instantly interested.  Dawn and I spent most of the night creating Mii representations of ourselves. Before it got too late, we put in the Wii Sports disc to try it out.  The first game we tried was Bowling, and my family was pulled into the contest immediately.  We played through one game (and Dawn kicked my ass), and then realized it was too late to continue.   I imagined we all went to bed that night with Wii dreams dancing in our heads, but in reality, it they were probably just in mine.

When I woke up Monday morning, I ran down stairs and started-up the Wii so I could test another one of the games on the Wii Sports disc.   The first game I tried was golf.  My 8 year old came down the stairs, and asked to play too.  It was still early so I said yes.  Soon after my wife came down with the baby, and sat on the couch next to us.  Just a bit later, my 4 year old sleepily walked down the stairs and ask to play.  I don't recall the exact events that transpired, but the decision was soon made that no one was going to work or school that day.

Wii decided to play hooky.
The rest of the family made Mii characters.  My 4 year old tried to spell her name with the Wii-mote, but it came out "DC Nughman", and that stuck as her nickname for few years until she got really tired of it .  After that, we tried out the other Wii games I had purchased.  This is where I should have gotten a clue, but it passed me by.  All of the other games were, honestly, not successful. Elebits was supposed to be kind of like Katmari Damacy, but proved too frustrating to play.  Wii Play was like demo disc of failed controller experiments. Even Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess left me cold.  Since none of us had any built-in nostalgia for the Zelda franchise,  the game came came off as slow but promising.  However it was single-player game and we were having such a good time playing as a family, we quickly went back to Wii Sports.   Outside of maybe one other  session, none of those three game were played in our house after that day.

Still, Wii Sports was good enough.  We continued playing all day and into the afternoon.  We traded the Wii-motes back and forth for Bowling, Tennis, Golf and Baseball.  We even tried Boxing, but it proved a bit too much with the nunchuck tether slapping us in the face as we tried to do battle. Still,   it was a great family day, one of the most memorable we've had, and the Nintendo Wii had given it to us.  I thought it would be the first of many such days we would spend as family together with the Nintendo Wii.  I had never been a Nintendo fan-boy, but at that moment, I was sold.  I had the urge to get ALL the games for the Wii, and then use the Virtual Console, go back and play all the games I has missed too.

Soon after though, things started to fall apart.   My next purchase, Excite Truck failed to set the family alight.   Warioware Smooth Moves proved far too difficult for the family to play ,and Cooking Mama just did not control as well as the DS game.     While both Carnival Games and Williams Pinball showed some promise, Mario Party was a mess that got played exactly once, EA Playground simply did not hold the same appeal as Wii Sports, and Metroid Prime 3 was too traditional to appeal to the family.

This game is far worse than ET on the 2600.

I recall Dawn telling me one day, as we tried another failed game, and went back to Wii Sports that she felt the Wii was a "Bait And Switch."  It had a lot of promise, but the games after Wii Sports never lived up to it.   She had a point.   At the time I was playing Williams Pinball religiously, but it was not really a "Wii" game at all.  (It remains my favorite game on the console.)  We also bought a ton of kids games, but most were simply awful.   The worst game we ever bought for the Wii was iCarly 2, a game that I don't think was even play tested before it was released. With games like that,   the kids expected that the  games we bought for the Wii would be hard to control, look terrible, and not be fun to play. Bait and Switch indeed.

However, I was not ready to give-up.  I started buying Virtual Console games in earnest in an attempt to rekindle the fire with some classic Nintendo Goodness.   The original Super Mario Bros. was the first, and it proved to be a mild success.  Dawn had spent many days playing the game with the kids at the Teen Center when she worked there in the 90's, and we had a few good sessions until it proved too difficult to continue.    I also bought the first few Zelda games, hoping to see what all the fuss was about, but to be honest, I just did not see it.  They were were Okay, but they did not really interest me. I was not immune the fact that the game was a huge advance in console video games when it was released, and putting my head into that of a 10 year old in 1987, I could see why they would have liked it or even loved it.  However, that same year I was playing Dungeon Master on my Atari ST, such a vastly superior game in every way, there was no way I would have been drawn into Zelda or the Nintendo console.  In fact, most of the the NES and Super NES games I bought from the Virtual Console (Save for Super Mario Bros. 3) were disappointing when compared to the Atari ST and PC/DOS games I played ion the same time period when they were originally released.  So much for manufactured nostalgia grabbing me.  As well, there was something else that really irked me about the Virtual Console: the almost complete absence of American and European games.  It was as if the paltry eight Commodore 64 games available were Nintendo's big middle finger to all the games and history of the 80's that both influenced their creations and made their success possible.

Still, I was not ready to give up.  So I bought Wii Fit and it became a sort of Wii Rennasiance in our house.   Again, all of us were in the living room trying to ski or balance stuff, or hula-hoop.  However, it too proved short-lived.  For all of it's usefulness, Wii Fit was mostly a single player game.  The promise of the entire family playing together was lost in the cumbersome interface of switching players.     More games were bought, and played once: Super Mario Galaxy, Animal Crossing, Wii Zapper, Thrillville,  Big Brain Academy,  and many others.  Even Super Paper Mario, a sequel to Paper Mario 1000 Year Door , agame my daughter and I had bought used, played and loved on the Wii, failed to gather much interest.     The only successful games in our house, versions Karaoke Revolution, Guitar Hero,  games that we could truly all play together but also titles that were available for any game system.  Watching my wife and daughters sing songs in those games made me feel a bit that that first day we played hooky with the Wii.  I wanted the feeling to continue.

So, I kept believing in the Wii.  In 2009 I bought game that I figured would change everything, and for a while, it did.  Boom Blocks appeared to be the game the Wii was made for.     It used the Wii-mote perfectly, and the whole family could sit around and play it.  Encouraged, I invested in the Wii Sports Resort and Wii Motion Plus in the belief that Nintendo was finally getting back to the roots of what made the Wii great, and by extension, what my family loved about it.  However, for some reason, that game never made a huge impression.  I, myself, loved the sword fighting, but the family lost interest quickly.   Furthermore, the Wii Motion Plus drained the Wiimote batteries at an incredible rate.   When Nintendo failed to follow-up Wii Sports Resort with any significant Wii-motion Plus titles, I removed the devices for good.  The last full retail game I bought for the console was Wii Party, and it was similar failure in my house.   Since then, besides cheap, red-tagged, marked-down games found on the end-caps at Target bought for he kids as fodder for cheap afternoon of entertainment,  I have pretty given-up on the Wii.
Last year I bought the Kinect for our Xbox 360.  Instantly, the same old family feeling entered out living room.    We all played Kinect Adventures together, and Kinect Sports was a huge hit.  While the Kinect has its' own particular issues, it was successful and accessible enough to get the whole family interested.   While we don't have a lot of time these days to play Kinect, when we do play as family, it works out pretty well.    My middle daughter, ("DC Nughman"), is currrently obsessed with Fruit Ninja.   My oldest daughter loves Ping Pong on Kinect Sports.  My youngest is now begging for the Seseme Street game for Christmas after we played the demo. At the same time, My wife and I play games like You Don't Know Jack and we all watch Netflix in HD on the 360.  As well, all sorts of games are available for download instantly for the 360, in all  genres and from all around the world. Sure there are no Nintendo games, but then we have all those already anyway don't we? In a sense, the Xbox 360 with Kinect out-Wii'd the Wii by actually delivering the whole family entertainment experience that the Wii promised but never delivered.

When the Kinect arrived, I moved the Nintendo Wii to the small TV upstairs, relegating it to obscurity.  It's still hooked up, with Boom Blocks firmly set as the game that is played the most...but not very often .  Still, I was not ready to give-up on Nintendo.  Not until I saw the Wii U at E3 and realized that they have pretty much lost the plot.    The Wii was a great system in search of software that did not exist.  In the end, it might have been the best bowling simulator ever made, but it's promise of pulling the family together was lost in sea of shovel-ware and empty promises.   Still, I've got the memories of that first glorious day, the day my entire family played hooky so we could all experience the Nintendo Wii together. Even if the console never lived up to its' promise of of truly great family experiences, I am still thankful for that first, best time playing Wii Sports and imagining the greater gatherings to come.

-8bitsteve

 

 

22Oct/110

Sometimes Destiny Lies Between The Lines or How 4th Grade Isn’t Necessarily The End Of The World

By Steve Fulton

I sat next to Michael Jackson in the 4th grade.  Not that Michael Jackson, but Mike Jackson, my friend since he moved from England to  attend our Kindergarten at Pennekamp Elementary school in 1975.

Mike, I and my brother had been friends since he arrived from the UK, and we had been in just about every class together until Ms. Goldsmith's 4th grade classroom in 1979.   We did all the stuff that normal kids at the time would do.   We rode bikes, played army men and Godzilla, and we shot realistic guns at each other on the school grounds. We even made plans to move into a huge house together with all of our other friends in the neighborhood when we grew-up.

In November 1979, Mike invited us to his birthday party at Straw Hat Pizza.  Straw Hat Birthday parties were always awesome. They always included double-cut slices of pizza with huge cheese bubbles, pitchers of root beer, free rides on the mechanical horse, silent movies, and  especially, video games. Straw Hat was one of the only local places that had arcade games, so it was a no-miss event for sure.

There was one kid though, that I'm pretty sure was not at Mike's birthday party: Stanley Jones (not his real name).  This is not a knock on Mike, because except for when we were in Kindergarten, not too many people invited Stanley to much of anything.   Stanley had been in our Kindergarten class for a short time, and we played with him on the playground. The one thing I liked the most about Stanley was his enormous toothy grin, a smile he displayed with complete honesty at any given chance. However soon after Kindergarten started Stanley was moved to the "Resource" classroom.  "Resource" was separate room where kids from all grades went who needed special attention.   Stanley went there off and on, leaving Kindergarten class, and returning to play with us. Then then one day he left, and never came back.

Soon after Mike's 4th grade  birthday party, he and I were sitting in our classroom, working on a math ditto.  Math was my favorite subject in the 4th grade, but as I was zooming through the the purple ink on the page, I glanced at Mike's paper to see how he was doing.   I noticed that Mike had not answered a single question. Instead, he was doodling,  drawing some amazing little illustration of space ships in-between the questions. Soon after, Ms. Goldsmith came by and chastised Mike for not being further along on his work.  I felt sorry for Mike.  I remember thinking, "What was he going to do in his life he never learned his Math?" " How could he live in the big house together with all of our friends when we grew-up if he never made it out of school?"

If the prospect of Mike's future bothered me a little bit, the prospect of Stanley's future stuck in the back of my head.   I wondered if Stanley would ever be allowed back into a regular classroom, but it never happened.   Kids like Stanley were often left behind, as the throngs of students passed them by in the halls.  Besides some of the more popular kids saying mean stuff under their breath at them as they passed, they were hardly even acknowledged.  I never joined in, but instead was the kind of coward that just watched and never said anything to defend them, even when Stanley was the target.

There was very little understanding among us of Stanley or his particular issues, and I'm sure there were good reasons for us not being told. Still, a little information would have gone a long way.  He and the other kids in "Resource" were sequestered away, partially for their own good and I'm sure, partially for ours.   Whatever issues befell Stanley and whatever his thoughts and feelings were about it, I never knew.  He was just whisked away  where we hardly ever saw him.

I do recall speaking to Stanley on occasion, and in the 4th grade, he and his "Resource" class started to appear on the blacktop when we were out playing for morning recess.  At that point, Stanley appeared defeated, or at the very least, exasperated.  The huge smile he displayed in Kindergarten was long gone, replaced with a sort of knowing grimace.  I'm sure the years since we all had class together had not been easy.  Kids in the 70's could be very creative with their cruelty, and I'm sure Stanley was the recipient of much of it. Eventually, I believe, Stanley was put back a grade, but he did manage to make it all the way through Mira Costa High School and graduate.  However, by then, I had lost complete track of him.

At the same time, Mike, my brother Jeff and I remained pretty good friends through most of our school years.  We went on to Begg Junior High School, where we continued to be friends.  We played video games together, and we traded Atari 800 games in early 80's. We hung out together for our first couple years of high school, listening to Depeche Mode and getting into all sorts of trouble.  We even got caught together by mom after we snuck a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps into a screening of 2010 at the Mann Theater, and reeked of it afterward.  However, as people are wont to do,  we grew apart.   By the time we graduated from high school,  I'm not sure we even said goodbye to one another.

Nearly 12 years later, I was working at Mattel Toys ,building web sites and games.  I was working in the I.T. department, which traditionally is all about things like databases, spreadsheets, HR systems, and making sure the computer network is working.  However, I had been hired to build web sites for an IBM AS/400, and worked myself up to building ecommerce sites, then to consumer web sites and games.  Since my main customers were the brand web teams in the marketing department, I spent most of my time working with them, co-located in another building away from I.T.   The regular I.T. department had hard time understanding what I did, and game development in particular was the hardest for them to grasp.    It was a constant struggle to get I.T. management to understand that games were essential to the success of the consumer web sites (our sites which were some of the most visited kids web sites on the internet).   I never planned it this, way, but here I was, working between the lines, serving two masters: customers who wanted games and web sites and could not understand I.T., and my bosses in I.T. who could never grasp that games were what made our projects success in the first place.

Lo and behold, one day a new artist walked in, and it was Mike Jackson.   He had most of the spent the previous decade working on all sorts of graphic design projects, including a PC game by Steve Meretzky named The Space Bar.   Mattel hired him to design web sites, and he began working on HotWheels.com among other boy branded projects, none of which were things I was building, since I was mostly working girl's branded sites and games at the time.

About 3 years later, Mike and I got the chance to work on a project together. HotWheels.com wanted to add some Flash games to the site, and they had tapped us to both to a build game for the Monster Jam license.   I spent a few days mocking-up a game that used some basic mathematical slope calculations to move objects down a hill, and when it was ready, I showed it to Mike so he could start designing graphics for it.   As I was demoing the game for Mike, a thought struck me:  When we were sitting next to each other in the 4th grade, I worried for nothing.  My destiny might have been working out those Math problems, but Mike's was not.  His destiny was in-between the lines of that math ditto, and his doodles were worth more than those math problems ever could have been, at least to him.

A few weeks into the game project, Mike and I attended a child testing session at the Imagination Center at Mattel in the main tower building.  We were both happy to see that our game was the favorite among the kids testing that day.   On the elevator ride up to the Cafe for lunch, we were talking about the game, when the car stopped on the 2nd floor and in walked none other than Stanley Jones.   He was working on the mail crew at Mattel.  Mike and I both greeted Stanley, and asked him how he had been.  With a huge grin on his face, Stanley told us he was living in house in Manhattan Beach with his family, and how much he loved his job delivering the mail.

When we got off the elevator later and walked back to our building, I turned to Mike and asked him, "Hey, when we were in Kindergarten, did you ever think you, I and Stanley Jones would all be working at the same place almost 30 years later?"

"Never" he replied.

 

Click To Play The Game

By the way, the game,  Crashzilla Crusher,  turned out okay. While the game looks primitive by today's standard, the kids in 2003 LOVED it.  The game was played millions of times, and it proved the Hot Wheels brass that we should make even more games down the line.   We went on to produce over 200 games for Mattel web sites, making them some of the most successful kids web sites in history.

However, Mike and I never got to work on another project together like Crashzilla Crusher.  Mike got moved around to other projects and managers who did not appreciate his skills, and soon he left to work for Sony Imageworks.  I stayed at Mattel for many more years.  The web team moved to several different buildings, before ending up in the main Mattel building, where we stayed until I left.  Even though Mike was gone, I saw Stanley Jones more often, delivering the mail and and doing other odd jobs on our floor. Sometimes he recognized me, and other times not.  On the good days,  we often talked in passing about the Hometown Fair, and the beach volleyball tournaments he watched when he walked to the beach  He even lamented one time about how he missed all of the kids we went to kindergarten with, and wondered what had happened to them.

On my last day at Mattel, as I was carrying my boxes out of the building, Stanley rode the elevator down with me.  He told me again about where he lived, and how much he liked his job at Mattel.  Sometimes he told the same stories more than once, but I never mentioned it to him. One of my last memories from my 15 years at Mattel was Stanley's smiling face disappearing into the elevator as I walked out into my future.   When I think of Mattel now, I like to think of Stanley Jones, happy, riding the elevator with the mail cart and talking to people as he walks the cavernous floors and back-ways of the Mattel corporate headquarters, hopefully finding success and happiness in his life, working between the lines just like Mike Jackson, and just like me.

-8bitsteve

19Oct/110

Our Favorite Viral Videos About The Games And Web Business

Code Monkey

Jonathan Coulton's classic song about the life of a software developer.  One of the all-time best songs ever written.

 

Angry Video Game Nerd : Atari 5200

So this is not just a video, but a whole series.  The AVGN is now an institution, but he started as just a regular insane video game collector with a dream.  His Atari 5200 video is my favorite, but he has videos for all sorts of classic games and console.

Other great AVGN videos: [ET][Jaguar and  Jaguar 2][Power Glove]

15Oct/110

Cracked.com's 4 Worst Things About Writing For The Internet Can Be Applied To Games Too

Cracked.com, one of my favirote site right now, published a story last week named "The 4 Worst Thing About Writing For The Internet" .  It's a great read, and a the same time, you could apply all of the four things to making games, and it would be just as valid.

I don't want to ruin their article, so go read it, and then come back and tell us:  have you had all the same experiences with your games?  We have.

 

 

14Oct/110

iWoz: The "Steve" I Always Liked Was Wozniak

With all the hoopla about the passing of world's greatest technology dictator and reality distortion master last week (okay, and the greatest tech visionary of the last 20 years, but's who's counting?), it appeared that, once again, Steve Woziank got buried under the praise for his short-time partner, Steve Jobs.

A bunch of news stories appeared today on how The Woz was first in-line to buy the new iPhone 4S.  Not because he "had" to buy it himself, but because he "wanted" to buy it himself.  He still gets that organic thrill from buying some kind of cool device for the first time.   The Woz has always been a tech geek, and always will be one.  His early success with Apple simply allowed him to live out his technology fantasies, unabated, for the rest of his life.

Wozniak "wrote" a book a few years ago named iWoz, and it's a fascinating read for many reasons.   Most of it was "dictated" to a writer,  and because of this, it reads like a stream of conscious  from a brilliant mind.  Stories are told several times, or out of order then back-tracked, and re-told.  Details are left out, then filled in. Emotions are absent, then laid fore-bare for everyone to see.   It's like no book I've ever read, and far from being confusing and frustrating, it was also one of the most enlightening biographies I've ever read.

It's obvious to me that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak represented the Yin and Yang of Silicon Valley: The masterful public showman vs. the private technological genius.  While I truly appreciate the that the former role is the one that makes fortunes and builds egos in the technology world, please excuse me if I identify with, and ultimately build my list of personal heroes, out of the latter.

-8bitsteve

13Oct/110

Just So You Know Who You Are Dealing With Here: A Note From 1985

Just in case you had no idea who you are dealing with when you come to this site, here is note we wrote our mom in 1985.  She saved it.  That has to mean something.


This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.