8bitrocket.com
1Jun/141

Claw Hammer

(Note: My dad died 3 years ago today.  This is story I've written reminds me of everything my dad stood for in life, and in death.  I apologize for its' length. )
Claw Hammer by Steve Fulton

clawhammer

When I was 7 years old my dad gave me a claw hammer.

It was summertime, just after a particularly wet spring. So wet in fact, that the roof of our garage leaked in several places. My dad decided to fix it himself.

It was a Saturday morning. I was on the couch watching The Superfriends.

“We are going to Builder’s Emporium” my dad declared.
He was in the kitchen, going through his normal routine before he left the house.
He finished his coffee.
He opened the vitamin cupboard, and took out a handful of pills to supplement his day.
He grabbed a handful of raw pecans, a banana, and headed out the screen door.

My brother and I followed behind him.

We climbed into my dad’s white, 4-door, International pickup truck, and headed out on whatever quest he had in mind.

As we drove, my dad told us the plan.

“We need to fix the garage roof, and you two are going to help me.”

My brother and I stayed silent, listening to hear what this meant.

“Before I met your mom, I was worked on roofing job in Seattle. We can fix the entire garage roof ourselves.”

I had no idea what this plan entailed, but if my dad was into it, then I was going along with it, no questions asked.

We drove a couple of miles, down to the corner of Inglewood and Manhattan Beach Blvd, and parked in the Builder’s Emporium parking lot.

At the store, my dad filled a cart with all the things we needed for the job: rolls of roofing tile, tar paper, and a huge box of roofing nails.

As he pushed the cart towards checkout, he said “wait, one more thing.”

He took a detour down the tool aisle, and stopped in the hammer section. He looked around a bit, and then chose two identical hammers from the racks. They both had iron claws painted black, with solid wood handles. He gave one to my brother, and one to me.

“Tools of the trade” he said, “There is nothing more useful, than a good claw hammer.”
He turned the cart around, and we headed to the checkout lanes. My brother and I each carried our new claw hammers to the checkout.

---

“I’ll pay you each 50 cents an hour, but you have to do everything I say.” My dad told us.

My brother and I were standing in the back-back, behind the garage, next to a pile of roofing supplies, listening.

“First thing, get your hammers”

My brother and I both went for the supplies at the same time. I reached for my hammer, but my brother was sure it was his. We were 7 year old twin brothers who shared everything. Sometimes we just wanted to stake claim to something of our own.

We started to argue.

“That’s mine!” I said.
“No, it’s mine!” my brother responded.

I grabbed the handle, and my brother grabbed the claw, each pulling in the opposite direction.

“Stop!” I said.

“No!” my brother said.

My dad quietly watched this for a bit, then he spoke.

“Do you want me to get you two girls a couple purses so you can fight this one out?”

It was inappropriate.
It was not politically correct in the least.
It was totally my dad.
It stung.
And It worked.

I stopped in my tracks and let go of the hammer. My brother took it, and I picked up the identical one next to it. We both stood at attention and listened to what my dad said next..

He started-up like nothing had happened.

“First, we need to remove the existing tiles from the garage. You do it like this...”

My dad climbed onto the roof of the garage. It was a very short climb, as the back-back was about 8 feet higher in elevation, than the ground the garage stood upon. This meant you could easily access the roof from there. Even 7 year old boys could do it with the help of a step stool. My dad stood up on the roof, and walked over to a row of tiles, sat down, and started pulling-up on one of the rectangular pieces. The tile gave-way just enough to pull the end of the existing nails out. He then slipped the claw of his hammer underneath them, and pulled them out. Then he grabbed the tile with a gloved hand, yanked it out, and tossed it in the brush of the back-back. He put the old nails in an empty Folger’s coffee can.

“One down, a thousand to go!” he said. “Now, get up here and get started”.

Besides a hammer, my dad supplied us both with a pair of gloves, and a pair of goggles, just in case something got near our eyes. My brother and I both climbed up on the roof using a step stool, and started working.

The first tiles were difficult, but after a few, we got the hang of it.
I jammed the claw of the hammer underneath a tile, and twisted it down, pushing the handle towards the garage roof. The tile sprang up, exposing the nails that had once held it in place. I removed the naisl with my gloved hand, and put them in the coffee can, just like my dad showed me.

What would have been impossible for a 7 year old kid without without the tool, became a simple task, repeatable task with a claw hammer.

After an hour, my dad announced “You each just earned 50 cents!”

The idea of getting 50 cents and hour was as much motivation as my brother and I needed. Even though the sun was hot and beading down on us, we kept going for at least another three hours before we stopped for lunch.

After lunch we spent the rest of the day up on the roof with my dad, pulling up tiles with the claw side of the hammer, removing the nails and putting them into the Folger’s can, and throwing the tiles into the back yard.

As we worked, my dad told my brother and I stories about his childhood.

“Your grannie and gramps sent my brother John and I to a boarding school named Manumit when we were kids. “ he started.

“Why did they send you there?” I asked.

My dad took a long pause before he answered. He pulled out the tile he was working on, and tossed it off the roof. It hit the ground a bit harder than the ones he had previously thrown.

“Umm, because it was the Great Depression and they didn’t have any money to keep us around. The school was on a farm in New York state. It was like an orphanage for kids whose parents had to work in the city. As long as we worked on the farm, we could go to the school for free.”

“What did you do there?” my brother asked?

“Well, we farmed, we camped, we fished, we even got to ride horses sometimes. There was a movie theater and a store in town where we could buy 6 pieces of candy for a penny.“

“It sounds like fun” I said.

“I hated every minute of it.” My dad said. “They sent me there when I was four years old. One day My mom, dad, John, I, and Poochie my dog were a happy family, and the next day my mom drove us out to the end of a road and dropped us off. She never told us what was happening. She just drove away and the people at the school took us in. “

“How long were you there?” my brother asked.

“Eight years. Until I went to high school. I never saw Poochie again. My parents moved to a small apartment in New York, so there was no room for us. We were allowed to come home just a couple days a year. “

I could not imagine this. I’d lived in the same house with my twin brother, two sisters. mom, dad, and two cats for 7 years. It had always been that way, and would always be that way.

He continued.

“I recall, the first winter, when I realized we would not be going home for Christmas. I begged my mom to send me my ice skates, so at the very least, I could skate on the pond at the school. She never sent them. In the summer we didn’t go home either. Instead we were sent to live with family friends in Pennsylvania. My brother hated me for it.”

“Your brother hated you?” I asked. I looked over at my brother. We argued sometimes, but we never hated each other.

“Oh yeah. He was older than me. He blamed me for having to go away. He said ‘everything was fine until you came along.’ He beat the crap out of me any chance he got. “

My dad stopped pulling up nails and looked up at my brother and I. We had both stopped using our hammers so we could hear what he had to say.

“I told myself at the time” he started “ if I ever had kids of my own, I would never send them away and I would never make them go to boarding school. “

He continued his pause, and then he reached down pulled up a fresh tile, removing the nails.

That conversation was over.

My brother started back up too. We worked the rest of the afternoon. We managed to pull all the tiles off the roof by about 5:30 that evening.

“Time to knock off. “ my dad said to us.
“ Good work men. That was 10 hours today, so you each earned $5.00. Let’s get out early tomorrow so we can get up here and finish the job”

My brother and I went into the house and ate a dinner of chili and hot dogs, our usual Saturday meal. By 7:00 that night, both my brother and I were tired and sore and ready for bed. We went into our room and got out our Stat-O-Matic baseball game.

“Five dollars each!” I said as I pulled the first batter from my stack of player discs.

I layed down Babe Ruth on the spinner, and flicked the arrow.

“Yeah!” my brother said, “what should we do?”

“Hmm. Maybe we can go to Toys R’ Us? tomorrow” I said.

“Toys R US!, yeah!” My brother replied.

The spinner stopped on “Strikeout”. Babe Ruth hit a lot of home runs in his days, but struck out even more.

“Ok!” I said, “We’ll see if mom will take us tomorrow afternoon. And don’t forget, If we work hard enough, we can make even more money.”

As always, I went to sleep in my own bed that night. It was not much of bed mind you, as it it was just a ½ a piece of a foam mattress laid on-top of a piece of plywood. My brother had the same. Yet sleep felt comfortable, and nice. I was in my own house, with my brother, sisters, cats, and my parents. It was not the Great Depression and I was not at some boarding school in New York, away from everything I knew and loved.
----

We woke up Sunday morning, and both jumped out of bed ready for the work day.
It was still early when we went out to the kitchen to see what was going on. My mom was at her seat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and playing solitaire. My dad was at the the counter, grinding corn to make his own corn cakes. Next to the grinder was bowl of my dad’s most infamous health concoction: grape juice, egg whites and pecans. We kids affectionately called it “Dad’s Pink Party Puke.”

“We will start working in an hour boys” my dad said.

This gave my brother and I just enough time to get dressed, eat a couple corn cakes, and watch the a ½ hour or of Tom Hatten’s Popeye show on Channel 5. My dad made corn cakes with blueberries that time, which meant I spent a lot of that time eating around them, as the texture was a bit like biting into a dead spider on piece of cardboard.

Just after an episode of Super Chicken, my dad announced that it was time get back out and finish the job.

--

My dad spent the first 1/2 hour preparing the tar paper for the roofing job. We watched him roll out the the tar paper to approximately the length of the roof, then then cut it. He did this several times until he had enough to cover the whole thing.

My brother and I climbed up onto the now bare roof from the back-back, and helped my dad lay down the tar paper in long strips, then nail it into place. After starting each nail with a few taps, my dad showed us how to swing the hammer down with the whole of our forearms, instead of just bending the swing at the wrist. By using the whole forearm to swing, we could knock most nails in with a single hit.

As we worked, it was hard to think of anything else, but what we might buy at Toys R Us that afternoon with the money we made from the job. What could we get? Would there be any toys from that new movie “Star Wars” everyone was talking about? What about some new dominoes so we could build an even longer trail to knock down? The possibilities seemed endless.

As we worked, my dad started his stories again, after some prompting from my brother and I.

“What was it like to live at a boarding school dad?”

“We played lots of games like hide and go seek and kick the can. I loved those games, but my brother hated them. “ He said.

“Why did he hate them?” I asked?

“I don’t know why John hated them. He just did. I always felt that if he liked those games more, and played them with us, he would not have gotten killed in World War II”

“Uncle John was killed in World War II?” My brother asked.

We were nailing the ends of the tar paper down, making sure to pull it straight so that it left no creases where rain water could slip inside.

“In Belgium” My dad said, “In 1944. He was killed by sniper. He won a Silver Star for bravery. ”

I stopped to think about think about that. I had an uncle named John. He was my dad’s brother. He died 33 years before I ever had a chance to meet him.

We finished laying down the tar paper in a couple hours, and it was time to roll out the the actual roofing tile, and nail it down. My dad rolled out the long strips of tile on the driveway, and measured them. He cut them with a large pair of shears, rolled them back up,and had my brother and I carry them up the stairs to the back back. My dad then laid them long ways across the garage roof, and we all helped nailed them down. We made sure to overlap them to so any water rolling down the roof would not fall through the cracks.

“Did you fight in World War II dad?” I asked him.

“No, no. I was in the army, but I did not fight. I was only 17, so I lied about my age to join-up. I was in the 11th Mountain Division. We were sent to Italy. Our troops were getting mowed down in the mountains, and our turn was coming. The night before they were going to send our entire unit to the front, I snuck out with some guys and we got caught. They sent us back behind the lines, and I never saw any action.”

“Oh.” I replied. It was the only thing I could get out.

My dad showed us how to line up the nails and space them out to get just enough coverage, while also making them look uniform. Since the tiles was thicker than the tar paper, hammering the nails took two or three tries with my new hammer, but after I got the hang of it, it became a two step process: start the nail with tap while holding it, let go and slam the nail in with a good wallop using the forearm approach. The feeling of the nails going through the tile, paper and and into the wood was intensely satisfying. Each one felt like little accomplishment, like real work was getting done.

As I hammered, I tried to fathom my dad’s last burst of information. This is what it sounded like to me at 7 years old:

My dad was one day away from dying in World War II, and then by some random chance, he was saved, and that’s the only reason I exist right now, up on this roof, hammering nails with him and my brother on this very day. Any slight change in what had occurred, an order that came a day late, a stray bullet, a torpedo from submarine, and my dad would have ended up dead like his brother. None of this, not the hammer, the roofing tiles, my family, nor me would be here right now.

The whole of the universe felt like it was suffocating me at that moment. The world felt fragile, yet vast and lonely. Big things were out of my control and I wanted to scream.

But before I could get out a sound, I felt the hammer in my hand. I looked at the roof we had spent the weekend fixing. The image helped me calm down. I hammered in the the nail I was holding in my hand, then reached for another.

---

We finished-up the roof by 4:00 in the afternoon that Sunday.
My dad did not say anything directly to us, but I could tell he was happy with our work. We put in 6 more hours that day, which meant we had worked a total of 16 hours that weekend. At $.50 an hour that meant we each made $8.00.

We put our tools in the garage, and my dad took us directly to his room, and paid my brother and I immediately. He gave us each the $8.00 in Bicentennial quarters.

“Mom is going to take us to Toy’s ‘R Us” now!” my brother told my dad in an excited voice.

My dad gave us both a concerned look.

“You worked hard for that money,” he said”, “but don’t let it burn a hole in your pocket.”

My brother and I didn’t respond, but just stood there and looked at him. After a moment, he spoke.

“I have a migraine”.

That was our cue to leave his room.

He laid down on his bed and closed his eyes.

“Turn off the light and shut the door when you leave” he instructed us.

And so I did.

----

Soon were in my mom’s Datsun 710 station wagon, on our way to Toys R. Us. I felt the stack of quarters in my pocket. I’d never had that much money in my entire life. It felt good and hefty. I slipped my hand between the quarters, and let them fall between the spaces in my fingers.

I’d never been to Toys R Us before with my own money to spend. I imagined all the wonderful things I could buy with my money. Money I had earned working with my dad and my brother.

When we got to Toys R Us, I was overwhelmed by all the things on the shelves,
The aisles were crammed to the ceiling with amazing looking boxes and packages. All of them made promises of the joy and fun they held inside. As I walked down each aisles, I kept my hand in my pocket, making sure the quarters were still there. Making sure it was all real.

Thoughts swirled through my head:

Did I really work all weekend and earn all this money?
Did we really just re-tile the entire garage roof?

We zig-zagged down the aisles, up one, and down the other, looking at everything. The shelves were stacked with things I’d only ever seen before in a Sear’s catalog: art kits, wood-working sets, erector sets, chemistry sets, rows and rows and rows of die-cast cars, play sets, GI Joe, plastic soldiers, stacks and stacks of board games, and too many other things to fathom. We turned down the sporting goods aisle looking at the bikes, and fiber glass skateboards. Most everything was more expensive than the $8.00 I had in my pocket, but the possibility of it all was still thrilling. Then, next to the roller skates I saw a pair of ice skates, on clearance because they were far out of season.

The ice skates reminded me of the pond at Manumit school, and how my dad probably never had $8.00 in his pocket when he was a kid, how he probably never worked all weekend with his dad and brother, and how he probably never took a trip to a store like Toys R Us with his mom.

More thoughts swirled through my head.

My dad really did live at a boarding school when he was four years old.
My uncle John really did die from a German sniper in World War II.

I found myself getting less and less enthusiastic about spending my money.

But I couldn’t leave empty handed.

In the back of Toys R Us, we found the bargain aisle. Lots of old toys, with their orange Toys R Us prices tages slashed with a red marker, and new prices scribbled on.

My dad had a love for bargains. He told us all the time to search for quality things at good prices. The bargain aisle in a toy store was his type of place.

My brother and I looked up and down that aisles until we found found a couple pretty cool toys for cheap: a cardboard Planet Of The Apes play set, and a 8” Wild Bill Hickock cowboy action action figure. Together they cost $1.50 plus tax.

They were also both things I thought my dad would like and approve of. We had watched “Planet Of The Apes” together on TV, and he loved cowboys.

We showed them to my mom and she agreed that the toys looked good for their price.
My brother and I bought one of each, and left the store.

When we got home, my dad was asleep with migraine in his room. My brother and I opened our toys on the living room floor, and played with them for the rest of Sunday until it was time to take a bath, and watch Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

When my dad emerged from his room, just before bedtime we showed him the action figures and playsets we had bought with the money we had earned over the weekend.

His migraine had broken, and I saw a rare smile on his face as my brother and I showed him our purchases.

“It’s from the Planet Of The Apes! and it only cost fifty cents!” My brother told him as he looked over the cardboard apes fortress.

“Not bad…” he said, nodding his head, and pushing his lower-lip out to show that he approved.

“And this is ‘Wild Bill Hickok’” I said as I raised my new action action figure in the air, “he only cost a dollar”

“Very good purchases boys” he told us, “and the best part is, you have most of your money left-over for another day”
---

Within a couple years those cardboard playsets and 8” actions figures were just a memory. The Planet Of The Apes fortress got mixed in with Hot Wheels, Tinker Toys, Erector Set pieces, and beams from a Girder and Panel set. The apes got lost or broken, and the cardboard snaps that held the walls together stopped connecting. Wild Bill Hickok (who was joined shortly after by “Cochise” and “Davy Crockett”, also from the bargain bin), lost his weapons, and then lost his place in my heart, which soon had room only for Star Wars, LEGO and Atari.

The Builder’s Emporium is gone now, sent to Chapter 11 many years ago by the likes of Home Depot and Lowes.

The Toy’s R’ Us is also gone, closed many years ago to make way for a mall expansion. An expansion for a mall that no now longer exists either.

The tile roof on the garage is gone too, replaced, 20 years later when the roof began leaking again.

And my dad is gone, but I still have the stories of his youth, his brother, and World War II and still find myself thinking about them every day.

But that hammer, it’s still with me.

It hangs in my garage as I write this, waiting to be used on my next project.

The same hammer my dad bought for me one summer day so we could fix the garage roof together over a long, hot, and unforgettable weekend in 1977.

The claw hammer my dad gave me when I was 7 years old.

Filed under: Atari Nerd 1 Comment
26Nov/134

Atari 8-bit Computer Demon Attack (1982) – Full Boxed Edition (all the old crap in my attic)

By Jeff Fulton

Today we are going to take a look at one of a small handful of Atari 8-bit computer game cartridges that I have stowed in my attic. This time the game is Demon Attack, one of the most popular Atari 2600 games, but this version is for the Atari computers. Without a translator disk, this will not work on an XL or XE computer.

Originally released in 1982, this is the original Atari 8-bit Computer version of Demon Attack - Full Boxed Edition. Rob Fulop was the original designer / programmer for the Atari 2600 version, while Dave Johnson is credited with coding effort on this version.

There were many fewer of these produced for the Atari computers than for the 2600, but it is essentially the exact same game. It is an excellent title for both systems. It was also released for these systems (according to Wikipedia): Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Intellivision, Odyssey², PC Booter, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, TRS-80.

Below this comprehensive set of photos of the un-boxing, you will find you-tube videos to compare some of the various versions.

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_box_front

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_box_front

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_box_back

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_box_back

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_inside_contents

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_inside_contents

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_cart_in_holder

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_cart_in_holder

 

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_cart_front

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_cart_front

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_cart_top

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_cart_top

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instruction_fronts

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instruction_fronts

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_page1_page2

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_page1_page2

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_page_3_page_4

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_page_3_page_4

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_page_5_page_6

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_page_5_page_6

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_back

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_instructions_back

 

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_warrenty_card_front

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_warrenty_card_front

 

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_warrenty_card_address

atari_8bit_computer_demon_attack_warrenty_card_address

 

Video of just the Atari 8-bit computer edition (by Highretrogamelord89):

A comparison of the 2600 and Intellivision versions (by IntellivisionDude)

Super Demon Attack for the Ti-994a (niceandgames)

Next time I'll be tackling cassette from my collection by the band the Jam.

21Oct/130

RETRO: The Multi-Format, Throw-Back Video Game Magazine : Kickstarter

We here at 8bitrocket.com are huge fans of the UK based Retro-Gamer Magazine.   It is the one bright spot on the physical magazine landscape that is otherwise a dried-up and dust bowl of screaming previews and AAA me-too shouting.   We need more magazine like it, and now a new Kickstarter promises a new publication that should please retro game fans world-wide.

"RETRO will be a magazine you will want to own and keep forever as part of your gaming collections.  RETRO will be offered in BOTH digital and print editions and published bi-monthly starting January 2014.  Backers will receive the Premier Issue this December!  Each issue will be a minimum of 52-pages, utilize a maximum of 4-pages of ads and will feature high quality gloss print and thick stock cover.  And ALL PRINT subscriptions will include the digital enhanced versions free! "

RETRO is the brainchild of Mike Kennedy from GameGavel.com.     You can back it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/socalmike/retro-the-multi-format-throw-back-video-game-magaz?ref=search

Filed under: Atari Nerd No Comments
2Sep/130

Atari 8-bit Computer Games Played with The Syzygy Company’s new Classic 2 USB Stick

I received a review version the the new Syzygy Company's Classic Atari 2600 stick a couple months ago. It was right as my mom was going in and out of the hospital, so I didn't get a chance to review it them, but now I have a little extra time, so I can do a nice little write up.  First of all, these are awesome, so go buy one if you play any emulated Atari, C=64, ST, or Amiga games on your PC or Mac.

USB Classic Atari Joystick

USB Classic Atari Joystick

This version of the Classic USB Stick is slightly different than the original from a few years back.  it's sturdier (I broke the first version and re-glued it back together like 25 times but it always continued to work), and it actually comes in two pieces. The stick screws into the base.  I'm not  sure why, but it does makes it easier to send in the mail. I think it makes for easy replacing too.

So, now, on to the games.   There are some very good classic Atari 8-bit computer joystick crunchers  that need a good 8-position stick rather than a set of emulated keys, an analog stick or a D-Pad.  Here how each fared while testing on the Altirra Emulator.

 Pac Man

pacman

pacman

 

Control in Pacman is judged by how well the on-screen avatar will "corner" at quick speeds. I don't think this version has ever had the best cornering capability, but the USB Stick does a pretty good job of emulating the arcade action. It's not quite as precise as the arcade cabinet, but it does work much better than an analog stick or the cursor keys.  To better test the stick, I next tried MS. Pacman, which was a much better conversion for all systems.

 Ms. Pacman

 

mspacman

mspacman

Now this is more like it. The cornering and control is much more precise than in the original and is a joy to play. I'm not certain why the original doesn't work as well, but it was one of the first games available by Atari for the computers, so maybe the joystick routines were improved by the time Ms. Pacman was released.

Donkey Kong

DonkeyKong

DonkeyKong

Again, just as with Ms. Pacman, this title really shines with an 8-ways stick. It is one of the best home versions on Donkey Kong (one of only a small handful to have all 4 original screens), but it is also a technical marvel given the small size (16k cart rom).  Running, jumping, turning around at speed, and everything else needed to have "Jumpman" save his girl is easily accomplished with the spot on controls.

Berzerk

 

Berzerk

Berzerk

Berzerk, especially the Emulated versions, requires very precise control. The kind of control that only a classic era joystick can provide. This because you need almost pixel perfect screen placement to shoot and dodge around the corners as the enemy robots are seriously viscous and will stop at nothing to "KILL THE HUMANOID".  The Atari 8-bit version of the game is excellent, containing all of the speech, graphics, speed and arcade awesomeness of the original arcade version.  The USB Stick holds up just as well as the conversion, offering precise screen positioning as well as firing.

Conclsuion

The new Syzygy Company's Classic Atari 2600 stick is more than worth the currently discounted price of $15.99. It is well constructed, and above all else, mimics old-skool controls so well, you will think you are playing on the original hardware.

12Aug/130

Video: Chris Crawford On the “Good Old Days Of Games” From GDC 2011.

We are finally back with something interesting.  Here is a link to a video Gamasutra just posted of a talk by Chris Crawford from GDC 2011 entitled "The Good Old Days Of Games"

 

We will have more updates here soon.

 

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4May/130

ATASCII Tile Sheets

ATASCII Tile Sheets

So, I have been knocking around the idea of making some games that mimic the old Atari computer aesthetic in both graphics and sounds.  These games will just be for fun and they will probably be just game starters - single level game to demonstrate or duplicate a game type.  It might be a retro game or even a new style game, but being a complete and total Atari 800 nerd, I thought it would be fun to make the games look like they were built to run on the old Atari 8-bit computers.

I have not yet started the scrolling shooter that was going to be my first game (will it be in Flash, HTML5, Corona, or something else), but to get my creative ideas flowing, I decided to try and find some Atascii tables on the internet (I did, at http://joyfulcoder.net/atascii/) and turn them into 3 png tile sheets:  an 8x8, a 16x16, and a 32 x 32 set of the full 256 characters (including inverse video).  I thought it would be fun to make games using these.   I figured that I would share them with anyone who wanted to use them.

atascii_tilesheet8x8

atascii_tilesheet8x8

 

atascii_tilesheet16x16

atascii_tilesheet16x16

 

atascii_tilesheet32x32

atascii_tilesheet32x32

To make it interesting, the first person who uses these tiles (go ahead and be creative and color them any way you like) to make a decent version of Star Castle (in any language you prefer, as long as I can play it on my PC (browser or not) will get a complimentary signed copy of the new version of our book. I only have a single copy to give away though. This is NOT a contest or any type.  I just want to encourage creativity in any way I can.

HTML5 Canvas 2nd Edition

HTML5 Canvas 2nd Edition

 

3Jan/130

Book Review: Atari Inc. : Business Is Fun

 

My review of the new book,  Atari Inc. Business Is Fun,  by Curt Vendel and Marty Goldberg is up over at Gamasutra.com

Here is an excerpt:

 Atari Inc: Business Is Fun  is an exciting, messy, sprawling tour-de-force that fills in a lot missing gaps for Atari fans worldwide.   The book reads like 800 page manifesto attempting to right-wrongs and clear-up misconceptions about Atari.  At its’ core, this 800 page behemoth aims to prove one main fact to Atari aficionados:  That Nolan Bushnell, “King Pong”,  was not solely responsible for the success of Atari.   If that is, indeed, its’‘ primary goal, the book succeeds famously.

The text weaves asynchronously, with various levels of detail,  throughout the history of Atari, treading ground that has rarely been covered before.   The authors unearthed documents, memos, company newsletters, and legal settlements that have never been previously published.  They also interviewed dozens of people: everyone from Atari engineers to executives and their secretaries, so they could form a full picture of the first successful video game company. What emerges is a tale that attempts to correct inaccuracies and bust the myths of Atari’s past.

Read the full review here.

-Steve Fulton

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%.

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