8bitrocket.com
26Dec/120

The Run Cycle – Running Sick After Christmas

The Literal Run Cycle - Running Sick After Christmas

The Run Cycle

The Run Cycle

The Day After Christmas Run is never an easy one. This year it was especially difficult because I have been battling a nasty sinus infection over the last week or so and I have not run for 10 days (and only 2 times in 4 months before that).  I have not been completely idle over those 10 days, having done a few difficult classes at the gym, but I have not run during that time. NOTHING has the same effect on my body than a run does.

So, today I took my tired, infection and Christmas treat weakened body to the local track just to get the legs moving for a few miles and to hopefully burn off some of the avalanche of tasty, but  terrible for me,  food I have been ingesting over the last week. Overall it was a success.  I did 5 miles, running (jogging really) 90% of the distance and stopped in the middle to do a few burpees, v-ups,  and pull-ups.  I can't say it was absolutely the easiest workout I have ever done, but the 5 months ago version of me would have considered in barley a workout at all.

My foot is still recovering from surgery, but I didn't have any pain from the running or the burpees.  Afterward it swelled up a bit and the incision/infection point was a little sore, but all in all, it seems to feel 80-90% healed, even if it doesn't look it.

12-26-12 Run Foot

12-26-12 Run Foot

Again, I ran in my Saucony Kinvara 3's. They are my favorite shoe at the moment, and they are stuffed with an extra thick custom insole from Road Runner.  My feet feel fine, and I  don't have any pain in the bottom of either foot, so, I win! Bonus =).

My sickness - I have been battling a nasty upper-respiratory infection that took me out of commission for a couple days completely, but even though it has not subsided completely I figured I would test out my lung fitness a little.  I did not have any ill effects from the run, but I did take an inhaler along that I used one time during the run. The wind was out in force today, and so my allergies were kicked up in full swing.   Even with all of that against me, it seems like the actual run was a success and I didn't make myself any worse than I was, in fact, it might have actually helped me as now, 3 hours later,I feel better than I did before I started and might even be able to make it to the double circuit / spin 2 hour class that I sometimes go to on Thursday mornings.

That's not to say that I fetl 100%.  Here is a picture of the old tired version of me from right after I finished the run, just then realizing tat I left my mixed bottle of Recoverite at home and would have to wait another 10 minutes before I could get my paws on it.

12-26-12 Run Tired

12-26-12 Run Tired

So, what does this have to do with gaming or 8bitrocket, Producto, Atari, development, etc?I don't have any pithy juxtapositions on running through code bugs and running through sickness (although, now that I mention it, that would be an interesting one for next time).

I have not been working since Friday, but there is some news to report on that front.    First, Steve and I finished all of the first draft chapter revisions for the second edition of our HTML5 Canvas book.  Second, I received an iCade (Thanks, Jeanne!) for Christmas, so I can play all of the Atari, Vectrex, Activision, and Namco classic games I want (and can afford) with arcade-like controls using the iPad.  Third, I started Business is Fun, the Atari history book (like a "Peoples History of Atari") by Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel.  A full review will show up here some time soon.

Happy coding and running to you all. (or what ever you do that makes you both angry and happy at the same time).

17Dec/120

The Literal Run Cycle #1

Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)

This is a blog that usually deals with game design / programming, retro-gaming and other nostalgia.   It is not a fitness blog by any means, but since running and overall fitness is a big part of what keeps me going on a daily basis, I wanted to start what I hope will be more of an inspirational look at what the life of an avid, but amateur 42 year old runner is like.  Right now, I am actually starting over.  Literally, starting from ground zero with my running.  I had foot surgery on October 4th, 2012 and did not run at all the month before the surgery. I have only started jogging again, doing 5 easy miles 1 or 2 times a week. By easy I mean EASY. I actually walk part of each mile and jog the rest and then repeat.  To keep my overall fitness up, I also workout most days of the week, but take at least one rest day to recover.  When I could not run, I would walk fast, do the spin bike or the elliptical, and take weight and circuit training classes or see a personal trainer.   Because of this, I have been able to ease myself back into jogging without too much difficultly. My heart rate is really good during the jogging portions and it drops dramatically during the walk intervals. I owe all of that to the trainers and equipment at the Beach Cities Health District Center for Health and Fitness as well as the well trained staff at the Beach Cities Orthopedics Physical Therapy (not related to one another).

So, as  I would like to figure out a way to relate this series of blog entries to  the rest of my life and work, I am calling it the "The Run Cycle".  Anyone who has had to do animation of any type knows what a walk or run cycle is. It is a series of drawn frames that when played in succession simulate to the eye a natural walk or run style movement for a character.   For a recent project I needed a place-holder for a "run cycle" before the animators created one, so I "borrowed" and cleaned up a set of images I found on the internet.  We would never use someone else's work for production, but while in development, I needed something to show the animators what I wanted to accomplish.  Here is the "run cycle" that I provided to them as a base.

Run Cycle

Run Cycle

I actually added the Saucony Kinvara 3's to each frame just for these frames just for this series of blog entries. Saucony is my favorite brand of running / racing shoe. I don't see that many people out there with them, so they are unique and always have the coolest designs. That's what's really important, right, that you look cool while injuring yourself running? Anyway, I chose the Kinvara 2 because it was light weight, but sturdy and flexible. I also combine my shoes with the thickest Road Runner Sports created custom insoles to ensure my feet are as protected as they can be. The new Kinvara's 3's feel like you are running on air and are so light that I hardly notice that they are even on. Enough ad-man slinging for them. They are not paying me for this, but I just wanted to make sure that the bases were covered.

Here is my current pair though, and nestled inside is that thick, comfy Road Runner custom insole:

Kinvara3

Kinvara3

The game should be in the iOS store some time soon, and obviously, the real one will not use this run cycle, but I like it enough to use it as the logo for this series of blog entries.

So, does the world really need another amateur running blog? No, not really. I am pretty sure there are far too many out there now, and obviously, most people want to read what the experts do, but who knows. Since I am starting at ground zero, maybe I can inspire someone else to get out there, especially someone (like me) who spends most of their time behind a desk all day long.

So, about my most recent run. Yesterday morning, I took off on a wood-chip trail run in Manhattan Beach, but needed to derail to the harder concrete strand when I hit a part of the trail that is being repaired. Here is a map and basic Garmin summary details from this moderate training session:

run-12-16-summary

run-12-16-summary

12-16-run Map

12-16-run Map

To compare this to my pre-surgery runs, on a "long run day", or even a moderate run day, my average mile pace would be around 8:00 - 9:00 minutes with some a little faster. Right now, with the walking and jogging, I am at about 12:28. I am not pushing it and really not too tired when I finish, so my fitness it still pretty good. Here is a picture of my current left foot. It has not completely healed, so I am being cautious with it.

Toe 12-16

Toe 12-16

My next run is this Wednesday on an all-weather track. I will be doing the same basic format: Walk the first 1/4 or every mile and then jog the next 3/4. Between then and now I have a personal training session that will help keep my body in good working order for when I hit the track.

We also have the launch of our new game into the Apple store, and I am trying to complete the final chapter of the second edition of a the HTML5 Canvas book I am working on with Steve (8bitsteve), my brother. Sometimes it is hard to fit it all in.

One last thing. Let's not forget the names of the 20 little ones and 6 care givers who bravely tried to keep them safe last Friday:
CHARLOTTE, DANIEL, RACHEL, OLIVIA, JOSEPHINE, ANA, DYLAN, DAWN, MADELEINE, CATHERINE, CHASE, JESSE, JAMES, GRACE, ANNE MARIE, EMILIE, JACK, NOAH, CAROLINE, JESSICA, AVIELLE, LAUREN, MARY, VICTORIA, BENJAMIN, ALLISON. May they rest in peace and their sacrifice help make some changes to the current state of affairs in the USA.

16Dec/120

Friday was a Tough Day for a Deadline, but HTML5 Canvas 2nd Edition Is Nearly Complete

By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)

Tough Day for a Deadline, but HTML5 Canvas 2nd Edition Is Nearly Complete

There will be no Atari video game retrospectives this weekend on 8bitrocket. Far too many little ones will not get to experience their own version of the same thing, never have a chance to write about it some day, and never have the joy of spending another holiday season with their families. Our hearts are broken here at 8bitrocket towers. For a site dedicated to things we loved as children and exploring how to re-visit and re-create those memories in many different ways, we just can't celebrate anything like that right now. What we have is work though, and as anyone who is trying to make it without any corporate backing knows, work MUST go on, no matter what happens, or food doesn't make it on the table, health insurance premiums are not paid for, car loans and housing payments go un-paid and life just kind of stops and spins like a proverbial hamster on a habitrail.

First, here is a list of the first names of all the brave little ones and their hero protectors that didn't make it out safely.
I can't fathom the evil that would do such a thing:

CHARLOTTE, DANIEL, RACHEL, OLIVIA, JOSEPHINE, ANA, DYLAN, DAWN, MADELEINE, CATHERINE, CHASE, JESSE, JAMES, GRACE, ANNE MARIE, EMILIE, JACK, NOAH, CAROLINE, JESSICA, AVIELLE, LAUREN, MARY, VICTORIA, BENJAMIN, ALLISON

So, with a heavy heart and tears welling up, I crashed through some technical barriers I was experiencing and finally completed chapter 9 of the Second Edition of our HTML5 Canvas book for O'Reilly.

All of the chapters have been updated, revised, and re-written to add new content and replace out-dated or incomplete ideas that simply were not possible on the Canvas when we started on this project 2 and 1/2 years ago. My major focus has been adding in more game development content to the various chapters (especially the two game specific chapters) to have a more complete reference guide for the budding and experienced HTML5 Canvas game developers. Not that the first edition was limited in scope at all, but there was no time or space to cover some subjects that we really wanted to cover, and some that were impossible until this point. I have been working on chapters 8 and 9 (Game Essentials 1 and 2) for the last few months, shoring them up to provide a much better set of tools for myself and anyone who buys the new edition. Steve has been working on updating the physics, sounds, video, text chapters and adding anything new he finds that might be useful across the the entire book.

It has not been easy, especially since the deadline was Friday (a tragic day to even think about work), but I was finally able to get a revised 2nd edition of chapter 9 (Game Essentials Part 2)  complete and to the publisher for a first look. The two game chapters (8, and 9) and the image chapter (4) have been re-written to add in things that I wanted in the first edition but just didn't have time to fit in: Pixel-based collision detection, A* Pathfinding, Fine and Coarse tile-based world scrolling, and more. I know Steve has been busy adding in Box 2D content and other goodies to his chapters. There is just one chapter left to do for me, number 10. It deals with using Phone-Gap to create a HTML5 based iOS native application, and we are adding in the concept porting a browser game to a touch interface. The first part needs to be re-written 100% as everything about PhoneGap, xCode and the iOS portal has been completely re-vamped since the first edition. Also, more and more people are publishing games on the internet to target mobile browsers and we wanted to add in some "secret sauce" that we have uncovered to make this a little easier of a transition for the developer.

Here are some images from the various chapters that I have written to help give you an idea of what game subjects I have been covering and how they will be presented in the new edition (Tentative publish date March 2013).

Pixel Based Collisions

Pixel Based Collisions

AStar on the Canvas

AStar on the Canvas

Fine Scrolling

Fine Scrolling

 

I am starting on chapter 10 today, so hopefully the entire first draft will be complete by the middle of the week and then it is on to technical reviewer revisions and Chicago Book of Style red lines to fix.

9Dec/120

Back on the re-hab trail…literally.

By Jeff D. Fulton

Back on the re-hab trail...literally.

Kinvara3

Kinvara3

From June through July of 2012 I was cooking through a training plan that would have had me doing a personal record time for a 1/2 Marathon. The race was the Rock N Roll LA 1/2 and I was really looking forward to it and then doing even better at the 1/13/13 LA 1/2 Marathon for another personal best. That was to be the ultimate special day because it would have been my deceased father's birthday, and as he is the one that started me on running I felt it would be a great tribute to him to kick some ass in that race.

Unfortunately, my body had different ideas. After a 14 mile run, with Wesley Crews, in August, my foot left foot didn't feel right. The big toe was painful, but ice seemed to do the trick. I did a few more weeks of 30-40 miles planned runs but unfortunately the pain became permanent. Obviously, this proved to me that there was something very wrong with my foot. I was diagnosed with bone spurs and needed surgery right away to correct it. I was told that just letting it go would result in me not being able to run or jog and worse, or it might degenerate into arthritis.

I stopped running altogether in September and had the surgery October 4th. It was much more painful than I ever imagined and the bone spurs were deeper and bigger than the doctor originally thought. I also had complications at the incision point where the stitches became infected. This caused me to become a single-legged, bandage wrapped, iodine and gauze covered limper for the better part of the next two months. I couldn't do much in the way of training on my feet, so I combined some of my own anemic spin workouts, with weights, elliptical, and the rowing machine to make a sort of hybrid, yet really boring set of interchangeable routines that helped to keep the extra weight off but I could feel my fitness level slipping away.

Toe right after surgery

Toe right after surgery

At the beginning of November I was able to start combining limited weight training classes with physical therapy and the a-fore-mentioned hybrid routines to get some version of a decent workout. The problem was that walking fast, jogging at all, or doing anything that resembled a lunge with my left foot would cause immense pain both inside my foot and it the infected incision point.

So, I waited, and did my moderate workouts and physical therapy for the next 40 days until this weekend. Right up until last Wednesday my toe would hurt any time I did a lunge. After my physical therapy session on Thursday that pain almost completely subsided. I was able to do a full weight training session on Friday morning, including the lunges, and only had a very minor amount of pain during and afterward. Since I have what the doctor told me would be my final visit with him this upcoming Tuesday and what he felt would be my final physical therapy appt oh Monday, I figured that I better test out my foot for real...

I so did, today. I went for the first 5 miles I have jogged in nearly 4 months along the wood chip trail in Manhattan and Hermosa Beach. It wasn't a complete jog, I walked 1/4 mile then jogged 1/4 and then repeated that for five 12-13 minute miles. My legs were a little tired about 1/2 though, and my toe hurt a little, but I was able to make it though the entire 5 miles. My heart rate was kept in check because of the spin and elliptical workouts I have been doing, so this turned out to be little more than a mild interval workout. My goal is to do this one time a week for the next month and see how much of the walking can be replaced with jogging over that time.

There won't be any races in my future. I hope to re-build up a base of mileage over the first 6 months of the year and then get back into a few competitions. I don't have a plan other than that. I'm not pre-signing up for any races (lost a lot of $$ on three races during my down time because of that). My hope is to get to a fitness level where I can easily run 20 miles a week, combined with other training, and then just pick up races as I find them to use as workout replacements. No more expensive training plans, no more 40+ mile weeks. Maybe in time I will get back there again, but for now, I plan to hit the trails as much as possible on my jogging (then later running days) and just keep it light and fun.

That's the literal (and figurative) comeback trail. I hope to stay injury free for as long as possible.

9Dec/121

A young Chris Crawford teaches the Magic of Atari 8-bit computer graphics (3 videos)

By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)

Way back when Atari was trying to capture home computer market share from the Apples and Commodores of the world, they created the first ever Evangelist Position in consumer software development. Chris Crawford was tasked with informing the world about the magical capabilities of the Atari 400/800 computers and how they could be used to create incredible (at the time) applications that were far ahead of the contemporary competing home systems.

Atari Computer Enthusiast Support

Atari Computer Enthusiast Support

Under the name Atari Computer Enthusiast Support, Crawford created videos, manuals, demos, his own incredible games, and also circled the nation, bringing the magic of the Atari systems to user groups and software developers. This project resulted in unprecedented growth in the library of Atari computer software (especially games) and a 2-3 year span (1981-1983) where there was no better system on the market for games. The entertainment value of 8-bits was ignored by Atari from 1984-1986, but they resurrected the platform and tried to push out the XE Game system with new titles and rep-packaged older games. That was too little, too late.

Luckily for us, we had an Atari 800 (then later an 800XL) right at the end of 1983, before the C=64 virtually shredded the market and became the gaming system pre-cursor to the NES. In fact. There was still an abundance of software available for the Atari computers between after 1984 with many new and incredible games to come (Ultima IV anyone?).

In fact, to personal computer game players, there really was no video game crash, because as Atari stumbled, Commodore took the reigns with the inexpensive C=64 and the games market for personal computers continued on despite the crash of the much larger video game market. With companies making cash hand over fist in the Commodore market, they still put out a limited number of titles for the Atari 8-bits. When the XE (repackaged Atari 800XL computers) were introduced to the European market at cheap prices, an influx of game software again came to the Atari machines. I can only think that these videos and other information provided early helped the new developers harness the power of the systems.

Video #1 Overview of all graphics features

Video #2 Player Missile Graphics, Color Registers, Re-definable Character Sets

Video #3 Display List Interrupts, Vertical Blank Interrupts, Hardware Scrolling

Anyone who programmed on an Amiga will quickly see that many of the features of that awesome machine came straight it's old brother, the Atari 8-bit computer systems. This is because they were designed by the same teams.

8Dec/120

Atari 400/800 8bit computer games released by Atari in 1981

By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)

Atari 400/800 8bit computer games released by Atari in 1981. Atari was still not on board with the 400/800 as entertainment machines (mostly because of cost), so only 4 titles were released, 3 arcade conversions and an Atari Program Exchange edu-tainment title.

 

 

Games in this video (links to Atarimania.com)
Asteroids 

Centipede

Missile Command

My First Alphabet

8-bit inspired filler music produced by 8bitrocket Studios

 

 

7Dec/121

Retro Atari 8-Bit Computer Gaming – Commando for the XE Game System

By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)

Retro Atari 8-Bit Computer Gaming - Commando for the XE Game System

Commando for the Atari XE Game system was supposed to be released in 1989 by Atari for the limited re-birth of the Atari 8-bit computer systems. Sculptured Software developed this game, Crossbow, Dark Chambers (funny as this was already released as Dandy years before), as well as many other games for the Atari computers to help breathe life back into the platform. The XE Game system was not a complete failure, as it did sell quite a few units, but in was a relatively small number when compared to the NES or even the Atari 7800 systems sold during the same period. It had one thing going for it though: It was compatible with 99% of the games released over the previous 10 years (on cartridge) for the Atari 8-bit computer systems and was fully compatible with the Atari 65XE computer and peripherals. The great thing about the XEGS was that it allowed Atari to bring some new cool games to the 8-bits in these later years. I was well into the Atari ST by this time, so I never had a chance to play these games on an actual system.

Commando Tittle Screen Atari XEGS

Commando Tittle Screen Atari XEGS

While this game was developed in the late days of Atari XE games, it should be able to be played on an Atari computer with 64K of memory. I chose to play it in the Altirra Emulator with the Legacy Engineering USB Classic Atari Joy Stick, so I didn't have to worry about what actual hardware it was supposed to work on back then. This version seems to be a fully playable and complete, but unreleased version.


Me playing Commando on the Altirra Emulator

To say that I am pleasantly surprised by the quality, fun, and overall presentation of this title would be a major understatement. Commando is a pretty simply run up the screen and blast everything in sight style game, but it is a game type that was sorrily lacking in the Atari 8-bit catalog. While the C=64 had versions of pretty much of every arcade title known to man developed for it, after 1986, if you wanted a new game for for Atari 8-bit computer, you had to rely on a small number European imports or the few companies that were still supporting the Atari computers in the USA. The pipeline of great games almost dried up over night.

This version is not quite as colorful as the 7800 or NES versions, and the music, while very made made was not a sensation like the C=64 version. Those versions can all be compared in this video: Commando 8-bit Compare on You Tube.

Commando Dropoff Screen Atari XEGS

Commando Dropoff Screen Atari XEGS

The visuals, sounds, music, animation, use of color, and similarity to the arcade machine (given the limitation of the then 10 year old hardware) are outstanding. As you run up the screen, blasting all of the enemy combatants with your machine gun, you can pull back on the stick when firing to launch a grenade. Your job is to stay alive for as long as possible, picking up more grenades, and killing the occasional boss.

Commando Game-PlayScreen Atari XEGS

Commando Game-PlayScreen Atari XEGS

Other info and tid-bits
The Wikipedia Page For Commando
The Atari Mania Page For Commando
The Altirra Emulator Page
The Full set of XEGS roms for play on the emulator

Get a new Classic version 2 of the Legacy Engineering Atari 2600 USB Joystick. Perfect for Emulator Retro-Gaming.

Final Verdict:
Compared to the entire catalog of Atari 8-bit software, especially arcade conversions, this title rises above most others. I give it a 90%.

3Dec/120

Atari 400/800 8-bit Games From 1980

Most of these games were hold over releases from the 8-bit computer launch in 1979. Some might have been finished in 1979 but were not available until 1980. Includes the unreleased demo of "Saucer".

Check out the links to the AtariMania.com pages for these games.

Games:
Space Invaders (Rob Fulop's weird version)

States And Capitals,

European Countries And Capitals

Hangman

Blackjack

Kingdom

 Saucer

 SCRAM (Chris Crawford),

Energy Czar (Chris Crawford)

 Star Raiders (Doug Neubauer).

-Steve A. Fulton (8bitsteve)

1Dec/120

Retro Atari Lynx Gaming: Zarlor Mercenary

By 8bitjeff (Jeff D. Fulton)

One of the first games we had for the Atari Lynx was Zarlor Mercenary.   I remember purchasing it at the Manhattan Village mall in the B-Dalton Software Etc when they still sold Atari products (they even had a shelf of Atari ST and Jaguar games!).   Zarlor Mercenary is a hand melting, vertical scrolling,  button thrasher, space blaster that made great use of the entire power of the Atari Color Hand-Held.  It was better than any game we had played on an NES or Sega Master System, and was closer to Atari ST quality.  The only problem was the screen size (and view-able angles of the Lynx) and the cramping hands from trying to press 4 non-ergonomic buttons at the same time.

 

 

The Sound from the Lynx was much better than on the video. The screen capture software doesn't do a good job on Windows 8 sound and it seems to tax Handy a little bit.

The game consists of 6 levels, multiple weapons to pick-up and purchase and the ability to have 3 different types pf weapons at your disposal at the same time, all controlled by different buttons - hence the button mashing, hand cramping action. The Main gun shoots 2 shots forward and can be upgraded in the shop to shoot in multiple directions. Also, lasers and smart bombs can also be obtained and activated by those separate action buttons.

Before you start the game you also have a choice of 7 different pilots, who each bring a little extra to the game. The game could also be played by up to 4 people via the ComLynx cable.

The Wikipedia page has a really nice description of the 6 levels and 7 pilots.

From that Wikipedia oage there is a nice description of the various power-ups:

"After each mission there is a shop run by the Merchant of Venus. Here you can purchase and sell extra items. These include extra ships, which is like buying extra life's. Speed Up, Wing Cannons, Super Shield (regenerating shielding), Power Shots, Laser, Auto Fire, Mega Bomb, Back Shooter and Side Shooter. There are also two items for use in multiplayer mode. Invisibility so you can hide from other players and Back stabber which will attack your allied friends and not the enemy as well as protecting your loot so you don't lose it in that life."

Zarlar Mercenary Opening

Zarlor Mercenary Opening

Zarlar Mercenary Level 1 Start

Zarlor Mercenary Level 1 Start

Zarlor Mercenary Level 2 Start

Zarlor Mercenary Level 2 Start

Atari Age has a great page for Zarlor Mercenary, so you can check that out for more screen shots, the game rom and a link to the Handy Emulator to try it for for self.

The Title was actually created by Epyx and programmed by Chuck Summerville (who also programmed the awesome Chip's Challenge). While later games in the Lynx Library would take even more advantage of its strengths, the original Epyx titles were some of the best for the system. Steve and I were early adopters to the Lynx and we ate up the first carts that were on the Market. Zarlor Mercenary was released in 1990 in the second wave of games by Epyx for the system. It was evident that Chuck and the team at Epyx were the premier developers for the Lynx because they knew the hardware inside and out (Epyx developed the system and sold it to Atari).

Verdict
Zarlor Mercanary is pure class. For me it is the cream of the Lynx Library. The only problem I have with the game is the need for so much button mashing, but it still gets a 95%.

 

1Dec/120

Video: Atari 8-bit Computer Games From 1979

 

When Atari released the 400 and 800 computers in 1979, they were afraid they would not be taken seriously, so they did not emphasized the game playing ability of their machines.    These first five games (Basketball, 3D Tic Tac Toe Video Easel, Computer Chess, and Super Breakout) only hinted at what was to come later.

 

   
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