Over at Producto Studios, we are doing far more than just making it into the semi-finals of the Pong Developer Challenge.
Here’s a fun cartoon we just wrapped up working with our buddy Michael Bly and his new studio Balihoo Productions. It’s a timeline on the history of gas pumps for GE. How do you make that fun? We took a trip back in time and livened it up with a tribute to the look of some of our favorite classic cartoons. Awesome character design and animation by long-time partner Les Harper and cool retro music loop by David Ortega. Check out the golden voiced Joe Lamachia narrating and magic flute from Joe Brogan. Thanks guys! And thanks for the fun job Michael!
(Atari Book Press Release)
Authors tell the fun and inspirational stories behind the iconic founding brand of the video game industry.
New York, June 27th, 2012 -- Today, people ask, “Do you play video games?" but in the 70’s and 80's, people asked, “Do you play ATARI?" The video game historian team of Martin Goldberg and Curt Vendel have poured their blood, sweat and lifelong passion into writing the definitive book on the history of the very first video game industry icon, Atari Inc.
Hundreds of pages and over seven years in the making, ‘Atari Inc. – Business Is Fun’ is the TRUE, unvarnished accounting of a brand that became not just a household name, but a cultural phenomenon. Published by Syzygy Company Press, it's now available for pre-order at _ataribook.com <http://ataribook.com/>_ and will be available from Amazon.com on July 27th.
With this book, we really wanted to make it more about the stories and people that worked there" said Goldberg, former site director of IGN/Gamespy's ClassicGaming.Com and a current freelancer for Retro Gamer magazine. "More then just the usual facts, figures, and oft repeated personalities, really give fans an unparalleled look in to what it was like to work at a place that created fun for a living."
Goldberg and Vendel’s goal was to create a lasting tribute to the unsung heroes who created the Atari legacy, but through the course of their interviews and painstaking research, wound up having just as much fun compiling the history as the people who lived the history did. Thousands of original documents and internal resources were procured in the creation of this book and intertwined with hundreds of interviews with former Atari employees and company founders – ALL in a concentrated effort to document exactly what it was like to work at one of the most influential electronic entertainment companies of all time.
Vendel, founder of the Atari History Museum - the only organization dedicated to the preservation and archiving of Atari's history, said "To most people, Atari was the logo, the hardware and a culmination of myths and lore almost as treasured as the products themselves. What most people never knew were the hearts and souls that created the company, the real lives that unfolded within its hallways. So many triumphs and defeats, arguments and inspirations, that all germinated in to incredible products, games...as well as spectacular blunders. This is about the people of Atari, and the story of going from a risky idea in an industry that didn't exist to smiles, laughs, arguments and defeats while holding onto the wildest ride in high-tech history."
Atari Inc. - Business Is Fun is an entertaining and enlightened adventure, taking the reader on as close to a first-person journey as they can possibly experience, providing never-before told stories by the people that worked there, exposing the reader to the hearts and souls that created the company - the real lives that unfolded within its hallways, rather than just recanting the usual facts, figures, and lore which has been repeated over and over in so many prior publications.
Regardless of whether you’re a ‘gamer geek’ or an aficionado of biographies, history or corporate intrigue, Atari Inc. - Business Is Fun has it all – and offers readers an unparalleled look into the inner workings of what it was like to work in Silicon Valley in the 1970’s and 1980's… and what it was like to work at the most outrageous and innovative company founded to date whose sole intent was to create FUN for a living!
About The Authors
Martin Goldberg - A writer and programmer in the video game industry, Goldberg has had a lifelong fascination with all things electronic entertainment since first playing PONG and Tank as a child at his local arcadesin the 70's. As the former site director of IGN/GameSpy's 'ClassicGaming.Com' and a current freelancer for Retro Gamer magazine, Goldberg has been writing about video games for 13 years. Along with Dan Loosen and Gary Heil, Goldberg is also a co-founder of the Midwest Gaming Classic, one of the largest electronic entertainment expos in the United States open to the general public. In 2004, Goldberg also founded the Electronic Entertainment Museum (E2M), a non-profit archive whose mission is to help preserve the history and artifacts of the video game and home computer industries. In line with this goal, he's also a member of the International Game Development Association's (IGDA) Game Preservation SIG, a hub and community for those interested in digital game preservation and history.
Curt Vendel - A former IT Systems Engineer, Vendel is also a self-taught Electrical Engineer with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science. In the 1980’s, Vendel had begun collecting Atari products, engineering logs, schematics, drawings, and technical materials from former Atari employees - even making trips to Atari’s buildings in California to salvage Atari’s valuable history from its dumpsters. Founding the Atari History Museum in 1998, the Atari History Museum archives have amassed over 15,000 files, folders and documents, two archival rooms of schematics, mechanical drawings, artwork and PC board films. Vendel is frequently tapped as a valued resource for Atari insight and archival information by Atari, SA., Atari Interactive, numerous research institutions, trade publications and entertainment magazines, television networks and movie studios.
A preview of the book is available at _www.ataribook.com_
For more information -
Web: _ataribook.com <http://ataribook.com/>_
Facebook: _facebook.com/syzygycompany <http://facebook.com/syzygycompany>_
This is a new column named "I Wish I Had Made That!" where we explore games that are so close to our hearts, that we wish we had made them ourselves. In fact, most will be games that we started and never finished, and someone has beaten us to the punch. The first game in this series is Dragon Fantasy from Muteki Corp.
Dragon Fantasy is an iOS (plus Mac and PC) homage to classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, games that were, in-turn, inspired by early American computer games like Phantasie and Ultima. Muteki is an American company, inspired by Japanese games, that were originally inspired by games from America, so it feels like this games has come full-circle and returned to its' roots.
Dragon Fantasy has the nuances of the JRPG ironed out to an exacting degree.
Weird monsters? Check.
Extremely linear gameplay? Check.
Story elements woven into game at regular intervals? Check.
Grinding required? Check.
Random battles: Check.
Conservative Save Points: Check.
8-bit Graphic Splendor? Check.
A addictive quality that keep you coming back for more? Check Check Check.
The guys at Muteki have done their homework with this one. The game feels like a genuine JRPG in almost every way. It reminds me very much of Final Fantasy 1 (or just Final Fantasy), which is my all-time favorite game in this category.
On iOS, the game plays smoothly and is easy to control. Input is very simple: drag your finger to move Ogden (your avatar), and make selections from menus. However, simple is fine in this case and that simplicity masks a very sophisticated ramping structure that appears to perfectly emulate the games that inspired it. It's also funny, or at least tries to be funny, which is 1/2 the battle.
Why Do I With I Had Made It?
So why do I wish *I* had made this? Well, because I've always wanted to create an RPG like this, and these guys beat me to it. In fact, we have been planning an RPG since about 1987 using overhead maps and turn-based combat. It was not based on a JRPG, but on the Phantasie series from SSI (designed by Winston Douglas Wood). Still, since Phantasie was one of the precursors to JRPGs (The Japanese were so keen on it that Phantasie IV was Japan only release), it still feels related.
Our game was going to be based on California History And Legends with a time travel element back to the old west. We were designing it on the Atari ST with STOS, but time got the best of us, and we never finished it after we moved onto DOS PCs in the early 90's. However, Dragon Fantasy shows me that it can be done on new devices, if the proper care is taken to get the nuances right.
One thing that intrigued me about Dragon Fantasy is that the main character was inspired by the deceased father of one of the developers. In fact, this is why I plunked down my money in the first place, as I believe in supporting those kinds of efforts. I really like the idea of commemorating someone in game like this. It's something I plan to do for my father some day soon. Since we traveled through California together on all sorts of adventures, making my dad the main character in an exhumed (no pun intended) California RPG might be a good choice. It also might get me to finally finish the game.
Dragon Fantasy is great game that has inspired me to play and be creative at the same time. What else can you ask from a piece of software? Get Dragon Fantasy now from iTunes for $2.99 (it's well worth the price you spoiled cheapskates) or PC And Mac for a couple dollars more. If you are into classic JRPGs, don't miss it. A plussed-up 16-bit era sequel is planned as well.
I've searched for the past few days to find comments on the Atari Pong Developer Challenge, and most everything I've read gives us a very small chance of getting any further in the contest. The only positive comments I have seen are for AR Pong and Pong World, both very good looking games. We knew we were taking a risk by going full-on retro-evolved with our entry, and it looks like it will not pay off. The response to our video is telling, with 3 "dislikes" to counter 1 "like" (which is from me...how pathetic), so by all indications, we've simply made people mad. I saw that some of the other videos were heavy on the "dislikes" as well, so it's quite possible that someone came through and just hit "dislike" on everything, but it doesn't really matter. The reality is, we did not hit "the nostalgic Atari nerve" we were trying to reach.
Our question should have been: "Does that nostalgic Atari nerve even exist?" Our problem might be that we just love classic Atari too much. We love Atari the same way younger generations love Nintendo and the Sony. We don't think Atari ever got a fair shake, and we want to see it held in as high esteem as the companies that came after. However, by doing that, we probably missed the point. The idea was to "modernize" Pong, not drown it in hardcore nostalgia. Still, I'm happy we stuck to our guns, even if it means our chances are just a sliver of the size of our hopes.
Anyway, unless something drastic occurs, this will be one of my last transmissions about the contest. I need to reflect heavily on what it all meant and why we even entered in the first place.
On the good side, I have a new HTML5 Canvas tutorial I'm working on and we have another Atari-related HTML5 Canvas game that we cannot reveal just yet. Things are looking bright, but I today I wish they were just a bit brighter.
Atari has posted the finalist videos for the Pong Developer Challenge, ours included. Only 15 of 20 videos made the cut, so either some were not up to snuff, or five of the 20 semi-finalists did not made the deadline. By the way, the competition looks TOUGH.
Our approach was a very traditional version of Pong, but only with one player. It's a combination of a Bit.Trip.Beat and a game like Furu Furu Park that mashes-up coin-up game play through tons of short levels. We decided to make our game a "trip" through the first 10 (or so) years of Atari coin-ops because we are Atari nerds. Unabashedly, we love old school, and we love Atari. The music is retro, the look and feel is retro, but the game play is evolved a bit beyond what Pong became in the 70's. From the looks of it, our chances are really slim. Still, we made a game that we would want to play, and we will, even if we are the only ones who ever get to see it!
Here is out video below:
This week I spent a couple days on-site at "a very large technology company in the Silicon Valley", working for a technical education company named Marakana, teaching a class on the HTML5 Canvas. Before I visited, I knew very little about the company. I knew they were an I.T. company. I knew that my previous employer, a very large consumer goods that employed me for 15 years, relied on their products. However, I had very little idea about the vast depth and breadth of this Silicon Valley company's operations. While I can't really go into detail about what I saw on the inside, I will say that I was very impressed by the company. They seem to place a high value on the education of their employees which I found exciting and refreshing. At the same time, their employees were a wonderfully diverse and interesting group of people. They reminded me of the early years at my previous employer, when technical employees felt respected and supported.
Anyway, here are some lessons I learned about both the HTML5 Canvas and about teaching to a highly skilled and technical audience.
Lessons Learned About The State Of HTML5 Canvas Development
- Video is hot.
HTML5 video is a hot topic. Video on the Canvas even hotter. Ways to get video to work on mobile scorching to the touch. I had to pull out all the video examples from my HTML5 Canvas book just to satiate the audience.
- People want animation above static images (duh!)
This probably seems obvious, but people want to know to to create animation on the Canvas. All of my exercises about displaying images, text and drawing were fine, but almost universally people said "and..." because in reality, most of that can be done in other ways in standard HTML. However, when we got to the animation, things started clicking. Animating text in a loop, tile-based animation with images, physics and math based animation, displaying and cutting apart video for the "matching game", and the "drag and drop " exercise all were very well received. It's simply not enough to say that Canvas can "display things", people want to see it all move and then find out how to do it.
- People want to know the best way to do things
Everyone (that I talked to) wants to know the "why" and "when" to implement different HTML5 technologies (DOM, CSS, Canvas, etc.). There is a lot of existential angst about this topic. When Flash was king, there was a very finite set of "best practices" for creating animations an games on the web. However, with HTML5, there is still no clear winner. I personally love the Canvas, but that doesn't mean it's right for everything. Many people only want to learn what is the "best" way to do things. While that is possible within the realm of certain technologies, from a broader perspective, that might not be possible right now unless you consider the exact needs of any one particular project,.
- Flash made things easier.
This is just true. When Flash was the dominate technology, it was easier to know the right answer for any particular situation.
Lessons learned about teaching classes to a technical audience.
- Three examples per topic seem like enough (easy, medium, difficult)
Three examples and exercises should suffice. One should be really basic, one should be add complexity, and the last one should "blow the roof" off with something amazing the students were not expecting.
- Exercises should not be "typing in whole programs"
This came very quickly as the students started my exercises. No one wants to type a complete program into their editor, and it takes up too much time to do it anyway. Instead, let students load in a complete program, and them assign 3-5 tasks for them to perform on the basic code. The first ones should be things that show they can get around in the code (change the text, chnage the color), while the later ones should show understanding of the concepts (i.e make the balls bounce off the walls, rotate the image on the fly, make the area clickable, etc.)
- Remember to take breaks
Students wants break. they need them. I was so excited about the topic, I forgot. Even me, who usually needs to a break every 45 minutes, was going for 3-4 hours at a time.
- Industry experience is appreciated
The students definitely appreciated the outside experience I brought to the material. They seemed to like hearing that customers were asking for certain technologies, or that certain things worked or did not work in real-world projects. They did not want me to read from a script. They liked a little bit of spontaneity, and they liked it when I got up draw stuff on the whiteboard. Anything to change things up, and show that the class was not a rote, by the numbers experience was greatly appreciated.
A couple days ago was the deadline to have our demo and video submission for the Atari Pong Developer challenge . However, since I was travelling to San Jose teach a class on the HTML5 Canvas at Cisco this week, there is no way I could upload our submission on the day it was due. That means I had to be finished last Monday.
I raced to the office that morning so I could compile our app on the Mac in-house with all the proper black magic for provisioning profiles and and certificates already set-up. Atari gave us four devices to add to the list, and I wanted to make sure it all got completed on-time before I had to leave for the airport.
There were some hiccups with Drop Box, and provisioning, but for the most part it went smoothly, and everything was submitted on time. With little drama to accompany the submission, I was left trying to figure out what it all meant.
My original intention when submitting a game to the contest was to see if the modern Atari had any interest in my "left of center" bizarre ideas about "post-retro" and "retro evolved" games. The design document I submitted originally was was basically a take on bit.trip.beat with the levels inspired by Atari's vast collections of coin-up games from the 70's . Games that many people have never so much as seen, nor played.
They liked the concept (with some reservations), ad then it was my turn to create a demo. The demo should have been "easy" to make, but it turned out to be much more difficult that I planned. It's was supposed to be Pong mashed-up with other Atari coin-ops, but by the time I finished the initial engine, it became "Pong Mashed-up with other Pong coin-ops"....or simply. Pong. At the last minute I threw-in a set of levels based on "Asteroids" just to show what that kind of mash-up might look like. Now don't get me wrong, the game played exactly like I intended, but maybe just a bit too close to one-player version of Pong.
Another concession I had to make was to remove the "audio visualization" from the game screen. These were dynamic run-time created animations based on the song that was currently playing. They were placed in the background to give the game a hypnotic feel to go along with the techno soundtrack. In the allotted time, I simply could not optimize them enough to keep the game running at an acceptable frame rate, so I moved them to the between level screen. They still work, but they ae just not as impressive as if they lived on the actual game screen.
To make-up for this omission, I tried to cram as much content in as possible, I finished 20 levels, added a trainer, upgrades to buy (simulated in this version) between level introductions to the coin-ops with bits of Atari history, color-cycling Atari animations, an FPO art design borrowed directly from the Atari Space Race arcade flyer, and probably a few other touches that I'm forgetting, but it was all deeply steeped in Atari nostalgia.
We also were required to create a video for our submission. I was not sure how to proceed with this at first, but ultimately it became a another nostalgia piece. A mostly black and white video punctuated with the audio visualizations and game-play footage, with logos and Atari game flyers moving quickly by in the background. If anything I tipped my hand as being a huge Atari-Nerd, which may or may not be a detriment. At any rate the video shows how I wanted the game to look if I could get it optimized.
When my dad was my age, back in about 1970, he decided to start a new hobby: racing motorcycles. He always wanted to race motorcycles, but he had to wait until his 40's when he had the extra time and internal fortitude to make it a reality. My dad was pretty good at riding motor-cycles. He was the oldest guy (by far) in his Motorcycle Club (The Dusters), and he never won any races. However, he kept doing it, with one plan in mind: to finish the races. He did not finish a lot of races, but in one of them, not only did he finish, but he came in 3rd place. He received a tiny trophy (the only trophy he ever received) and that he put up on desk, where it gathered dust for 30 years. The trophy and the placment didn't matter. He did what he set out to do, he finished. The rest was frosting.
It was a great lesson to learn from him. In fact, the past month has been like a weird Atari dream for me. I've always wanted to "work" for Atari in some capacity, and the time between the announcements of semi-finalists and the demo submission deadline, I was living in a state of "Atari" consciousness. They liked my design document (which was promising), now all I had to do was get them a demo by June 5th. While my ultimate dream would be to win, I have to be realistic, I probably have no real chance to win the Pong Developer Challenge. However, I still feel like a winner. My dream of "working" for Atari came true, even if it was in a very odd and not altogether straightforward way, but then maybe most dreams are realized in ways we never imagined. And after all, I did manage to cross the finish-line (for the demo portion anyway), and that feels like some kind of win, even if it's just in my head.
This is a story only a few people know. But it has been a year now and I think I am ready to tell it to anyone who is willing to read it.
Early in the morning, June 1, 2011, I had a vivid dream. I don't ever remember my dreams, but this one was too incredible not to remember. It was probably 4:30 AM and I received a phone call from my father. He said that he was in jail and that it was bad and that he didn't think he was going to be making it out this time. At the time, my father had been bed ridden with encephalitis, at home, in hospice going on 2 months. He had not been able to talk in more than a sigh or a painful grunt for at least 3 months and it had been over a year since he had been able to fully complete his thoughts and convey the exact meaning of what he wanted to say. Aside from that fact that this was the first full conversation I had had with my father in over a year, the dream was odd as my father had never been in jail (that I know of), and I could vividly feel holding a real phone, and hearing his voice as if it was right there with me in the room.
At 8:30 AM, Steve Fulton (my brother) called and told me that I better get to my mom's house quickly because dad was not doing well. As I arrived I noticed that the hospital bed side bars and the way he curled up in the fetal position on the mattress must have seemed exactly like a jail to him. Encephalitis is a swelling of the brain that slowly takes away the sufferers ability to perform voluntary and involuntary actions. My father's body had become a prison cell. I was lucky to see his chest rise and fall one last faint time and feel his energy (whatever you might believe it to be) in the room for a short time before it was gone.
Neither my mom, my brother, or my sisters remember having the same dream that I had, and I have not had a vivid dream like it since. Sometimes I feel guilty that I was given this one final gift from my father, but it proved to me that even though his body was failing, his soul was not. I don't know if he was saying good bye, or trying to get me to change what had been a pretty awful work and life situation at the time. What ever his intentions (or my minds made up intentions), I decided it was the literal and figurative "wake up call I needed".
Since that day I have dedicated myself to improving and or changing every aspect of my life: How I work, how I treat myself mentally, how I treat myself physically, what I eat, who I communicate with, how much time I spend with my family, and especially how I treat other people. I am far from perfect in any of these areas, but I am trying every day to improve. I know I was lucky to have had a good relationship with my father as so many people I know did not. Every day, when I wake up, when I am running down on that strand, when I am working on a programming problem, or when I am simply talking to a family member or a friend, that vivid phone call dream comes back into my mind. It doesn't make me sad any more to think of it, but it makes me happy, and excited for the future.
We only have a short time to make our mark on the world. You don't have to be a superstar to the world or a hero to the masses, but you can be a superstar to your friends and family and a hero to your children. It's never too late to make your mark, no matter how small a mark it needs to be. Just treat people the way you want to be treated, and let them know if they are special to you. That was the gift I was given in that dream but your everyday actions can have the same effect on the people you work with, play with and even just casually see on the street.
So, in the words of Bill, from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, "Be Excellent to each other".