Excerpt From The Diary Of An Atari Nerd

Note: Here is a piece of creative non-fiction.  I've changed the names, and compacted some events, but everything is true that happened.  I've been toying with the idea of creating a fictionalized diary based on real events for a long time.  The article in the last section is the real article printed in the newspaper.  This was also inspired by The Diary Of Adrian Mole.

-Steve Fulton

Thursday Nov. 17 1983

A weird thing happened to me today in computer lab.  I was helping a class of kids in my grade with a writing assignment on Bank Street Writer.  I always hate to work with kids in my own grade.  It’s much better to help 6th and 7th graders.  It’s easier to be someone else around them. To kids in my grade I will always be me, but to younger kids I can be like a superhero, showing them how to do things they can’t do on their own.  Anyway, there are not enough computers for every kid, so the classes pair up. After the last time a class of 8th graders came in, Ms. Brown told me  that I  “had to” ask everyone if they need help.

I walked around behind everyone, whispering advice about loading files, and saving text.

As it turned out, Bryce and Chance were working together, a dangerous combination.  So I waited until the last possible minute to see what they were up to.  Predictably, they were both struggling over a single paragraph about surfing.

I asked them if they needed any help.

“Bro, how do you spell ‘barrel’?” Byrce asked, not turning his head

“Dude, I don’t think ‘gnarly’ starts with an ‘n” Chance interjected although not actually responding to his question.

I told them that they should use the spell check.  I reached over them to the keyboard and  I selected the word “narlly” and pressed the Apple key.

Bryce looked at me and said “Smell check!”, and then snorted a laugh.  Chance joined in, and laughed like it was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.

When they were finished, Bryce looked at me.


“Seriously bro, what happened to you?”

“Yeah dude, you could still be cool” Chance continued,

“Get rid of this black sweatshirt, cut your hair”

“And stop playing with these computers all the time” Bryce added

They both laughed again together again.


“Okay guys, sure” I told them.  Then I left as quickly as possible.  I hid in the last row of computers for the rest of the period.  I put my projects disk in the Apple disc drive and loaded up the Koala Art program to work on my drawing.  When Ms. Brown looked over, I pretended to help the kid in the computer next to me.  From her vantage point at the front of the room, Ms. Brown could not see that the seat was empty.  


Friday Nov. 18th 1983

Actual school classes were uneventful today. I played one game of handball at snack time, but at lunch I  spent my time by volleyball court #8, you know, the one way at the end by the old shed that holds broken lockers.  The court  with the sagging net and ripped upper-right hand corner. We’ve been coming down to practice sometimes  at lunch since the beginning of the month. John Sheldon has this idea that we should enter the March tournament as a team.  To be honest, we’ve been force-fed volleyball since  the day we entered 6th grade, all of us: John, Dave Gregory, Christian Bolden, Shane Tanaka, Barry Kendon, Rich Marksson, my brother and I, we are pretty good at volleyball...for a normal school.  However, this is not a normal school.  The high school we feed into regularly wins State Volleyball Championships.  The city prides itself on volleyball.  The beach is filled with pro volleyball players on any given day.  If all we did was play volleyball every minute of our lives, we still would not be good enough to compete on any level.  Still though, John wants to play in the tournament, and, secretly, I do too.

As we were playing the second game today, Brad Fenders and Brent Jacobs grabbed the volleyball from the sideline as they walked by.

“Hey look, the ‘tards are playing a game” Brad said.

“Give us the ball back” John replied.  He said it in a tired, bored voice.  The kind of voice that said ‘we’ve been through this many times before and it got old in the 6th grade.’

Then John did something I’ve never seen him do.  He walked right up to Brad and tried to take the ball.

“Woah there Godzilla!” Brad said

He passed the ball to Brent in the air, just out of John’s reach. who proceeded to hold it behind his back, again, just out of John’s reach.

The rest of us stayed silent and still.  I wanted to help John, but I also wanted to stay out of firing line of Brad and Brent and their group. I think everyone else felt the same.  We liked John, but we also didn’t mind that he was the focus of the wrath and not us.

Brent taunted John, “You volleyball stars gonna enter the tournament year?”

John did not answer.

“What’s your team’s name gonna be?” Brad demanded.

“Just give me my ball back” John said, ignoring the question and lunging towards the ball.


“I bet it’s The Metalers!”  Brent yelled back to Brad as he held the ball high.

“Come On Feel The Noise!” Brad said, as he pulled the ball away from John yet again.

“Quiet Riot is not even a metal band, now give me my ball” John yelled. jumped higher than ever, just missing it.  


I think Brad and Brent sensed that they had squeezed enough out of the their ball kidnapping, and finished with a final shot.


“Whatever spaz” Brent said, as he turned and drop-kicked the ball to the lower soccer field.

“Faced!” Brent yelled.

“I was just kidding.  Can’t you take a joke?”


They both laughed and walked towards the #1 court.

John and Rich ran down to get the ball.  By the time they returned, lunch was over.


Saturday Nov. 19th 1983

I was up most of the night thinking about the incident with Bryce and Chance.  I had been good friends with both of them in the past.  Bryce, my twin brother and I started the 5th grade pretty much inseparable.  Bryce invited us to an open house at his dad’s work (a defense contractor that made satellites). All three of us plus Ricky and Mark were in the talent show together  We performed a skit we wrote  named “What happens when your mother is away.”  My brother and I played the kids, and Ricky was our dad.  He kept messing things up, and he did stuff like leave the iron on too long.  Bryce played a door-to-door salesman  who ended up getting a pie in the face.  Mark played  the pie machine. As far as I could tell, it was a huge hit.  Bryce also performed a solo version of “Puff The Magic Dragon” that his mom insisted he sing.

Soon after, Bryce’s attitude changed subtly.  He stopped calling to hang out.  However, he still responded when I called, so I thought everything was okay.

That same year, Chance invited my brother and I over for sleep-over, and we trick or treated on Halloween together.   He seemed like a really cool guy, and it was nice to have a new friend who filled some of the gap left by Bryce.

Later in the year, things changed.   Bryce and Chance hung out more and more.

They both cut their hair, and rode skateboards everywhere.    One time in class our teacher was talking to us about how to be nice to people that you don’t like.  Bryce shared his method.  When he didn’t like someone any longer, he stopped calling them.  He would still respond if they called, but he would not go out of his way to call them.

I felt like a garbage truck hit me.  Bryce was not my friend any more.


The nice thing is, that realization is like a bee sting.  It only really hurts badly the first time you feel it.  Once it happens over and over with different people. you get used to it.   These days, I expect it.  When I meet someone new, I try to figure out how long it will be until they are no longer my friend.  If they last longer than I expect, it’s like a win all around!

I spent the morning watching  cartoons in a daze.  I played “ghetto baseball” with my brother outside.   I didn’t even attempt to take nap, as I have not been able to fall asleep during the day since I was 3 years old.

TV tonight was all about NBC. On Silver Spoons Ricky daydreamed that he was the president of the United States and then proceeded to start WWIII!  Weird.  There is this movie named “The Day After” that everyone is talking about.  It's on tomorrow.  It’s about World War III.  I can’t wait to see it.


Sunday Nov. 20th 1983

I poured over the ads in the sunday L.A. Times today.  Still, no one was selling the Atari 800XL yet.  It was supposed to be released months ago.  How could I get one for Christmas if no one was selling it?   My dad finally caved in and told my brother and I he would get us a computer this year, but everything seemed to be against the idea.  Where are the computers Atari?

I sat on the couch all morning watching The Tom Hatten Popeye show.  It bled into The Family Film Festival’s showing of The Swiss Family Robinson before I realized 1/2 the day wizzed by.

I thought about Chance and Bryce again.  I decided that, in their own way, they were trying to be nice.   I mean, they suggested ways for me to be more like them, right?  The trouble is, I don’t want to be like them.   Why would I want to act stupid all the time and spend lunch time at school pouring over issues of High Times looking at photos of marijuana buds?   Plus, to me, surfers were the enemy.  My older sisters had told me over and over again how the surfers had ruined everything.  The surfers were the ones who threw food at them at school.  The surfers were the ones who beat-up their friends.  The surfers were the ones who invaded the punk clubs and invented slam-dancing.  The last thing I wanted to be was a surfer.  The one thing I admired about them though, was that they had chosen something to be.  When will I find my thing to be?

Listened to Dr. Demento tonight.  The top-5 were as follows

  • #5 Stinky Breath - Doctor Badbreath
  • #4 The Scotsman - Bryan Bowers
  • #3 Marvin I Love You - Marvin The Paranoid Android
  • #2 My Bologna - "Weird Al" Yankovic
  • #1 Ice Box Man - George Carlin

Note: “Ice Box Man” by George Carlin may be the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

Holy Shit.  

“The Day After” was just about the scariest thing I’ve ever watched.  Even scarier than “Carrie”, and that’s saying a lot.   

I can’t get this one scene out of my head.   The nuclear bombs hit, and then there is a flash, and seconds later, people just disappeared.  Like they never existed.

Never existed.


Monday November 21st 1983

Still reeling from “The Day After”.

I only had dreams about nuclear war last night.

Not much else I can say today.


Wednesday Nov. 23rd 1983


This was printed in the Begg Flyer today.  My first published work. Note: my job in the lab is a computer aid, so I really tried to pump up my work.  

It not this glamorous, believe me.


Computer Lab :  Begg Flyer, Nov. 23, 1983

By Steve Fulton

In the back right hand corner of the Learning Lab, Room 23 are the Begg School’s very own Apple computers.  Although not used to their full potential, these computers help students with learning problems, to do better in whatever subjects they are sent to work with.  They also provide a course of information retrieving never before available  to Begg School.  This source is called software.   Software is the disk program that can be run on the computers.  This software includes science programs, math programs, English programs and many others.

How can these computers be operated?   How can students be taught how to use the computers or programs?  The answer is Computer Aides.

The Computer Aide is one of the small groups of students that have been trained to teach other students how to use computers.

A Computer Aides job are as follows:  1. They must see if any student need help using the computers. 2. They see if the teachers need any help. 3. They use utility programs and work on their own programs.

Most of the Computer aides use the third job, to play games or use Logo (a graphics program), but the Aides that are really into computers and programming make their own programs.  Two of these programs are Spelling Magic, a spelling educational game, and Arithmetic Clash; a mathematical space game.

The prime reason of the computer aides is to introduce computers to students at Begg School, and in my opinion, they are doing a pretty good job of it!

So the next time you are sent to the Learning Lab, ask the teacher if you can use a computer. It might change your life!


Begg School has recently received 25 new computers donated by a company named Pertec.  As soon as they are set up, you may be using one with your English class.

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Atari Vault : Multi-Player Breathes New Life Into Age-Old Games


I spent much of last weekend attempting to get a multi-player games started with someone, anyone, on the internet. It was not a game of Star Wars Battlefront, or Words With Friends, or even Clash Royale.

It was a game of Atari 2600/VCS Basic Math.

Let me back-up a bit.

Basic Math was released as part of a new Steam-only, PC-only release from Atari named Atari Vault. When Atari Vault was released last Friday, my initial reaction was negative.  While it includes 100 games (18 coin-ops, 82 Atari 2600/VCS games), they are pretty much the same games Atari has been publishing for the past 2 decades.

My thoughts ran like this: "Why do they always release the same old batch of unlicensed 2600 titles and arcade games?"

Atari has a rich history that goes far beyond what we've seen in past titles like Atari:80 Classic Games and Atari Anthology.

"Where are the 5200, 7800, Lynx and Jaguar games?  Why can't Atari let people try the 8-bit computer version of 'Star Raiders', once called the best computer game ever made, or judge for themselves if 'doing the math' would have helped the Jaguar succeed?"

" Where are the odd an wonderful coin-ops from the 70's and early 1980's?     Where is Shark Jaws, one of the first violent coin-ops?  What about X's and O's Atari Football or Food Fight?  Where are the licensed coin-ops like Pole Position and Did Dug? Where is  the remarkable Rick Mauer designed Space Invaders for the VCS, the game that arguably jump-started the console era?"

" Where is the Star Wars coin-op, maybe the best golden age video game ever produced?"

 To me the Atari story cannot be told  unless people can play the whole history of Atari.  They need to the play VCS/2600 versions of E.T. and Pac-Man and judge for themselves whether they are "the worst games ever made" (hint: they are not).  

However, I'm a bonafide Atari Nerd, so there is no way I would pass-up this collection.   I also love Steam, as it has revolutionized my enjoyment of PC games.    Atari Vault was developed by Code Mystics, who have been involved in many emulated retro collections  over the years, so I knew there was a pedigree of knowledge and quality to back-up the title.

When I was searching through the games list in Atari Vault, I noticed one named Basic Math that I vaguely recall playing at my friend's  house in 1978, the first time I played an Atari 2600.      It was one of the first games that Atari produced with the original VCS in 1977.   I had not thought about Basic Math (also known as Fun With Numbers) in almost 4 decades.

As I recalled,  all you did was use the joystick to answer simple math problems.  I maybe played it once,  because even back then, I was not easily amused by educational video games.   It had to  feel like an arcade game or I was out.


However, the interface for Basic Math was intriguing.  The 3D box spun in-place pleasingly.    The interface and visuals developer Code Mystics created for Atari Vault are very well-done.  I felt them tugging me gently back  to a specific time and place in my childhood, which I suppose is the goal in a nostalgia product like Atari Vault.    They made me want to "open" the box and see what was inside.


Feeling A Bit Atari Today






Applesoft BASIC JavaScript Emulator: My First Game (from 1979)


I found this emulator the other day : Applesoft BASIC in JavaScript   last week while at GDC, and it got me thinking about the first games I wrote on my friend Eric's Apple II back in the 70's .  I was 9 years old when I first touched the keyboard of an Apple II and wrote my first program.  The power I felt while touching that keyboard was indescribable.   I went directly to the library and checked out a couple book about programming in BASIC, wrote programs in notebooks, and then begged Eric to let me try them out.

As the years passed, I never had access to the programs that Eric, my brother, and I typed into the Apple II.  They are locked on disks that Eric still owns, 1000's of miles away.  However I do recall one of  the very  first (if not the first) real "games" we wrote together.  It was a "Guess The Number" game.    After building elaborate ASCII rockets with "PRINT" commands for days, Eric's dad (A computer engineer at Hughes Aircraft)  taught us about about "IF-THEN" and "GOTO" statements and then we went to town.

Because I have not seen the game in 35 years, I rewrote it using the emulator.   My favorite discovery was the "FLASH" command.   I had forgotten about it, but when I saw it in the reference guide, it sent me back decades.  It was a  magical command to me when I was 9 years old.  It seemed like, with "FLASH", I could create a real "reward" for winning the game. Finding the roots of my love for computers, programming, and making games does not take an extensive search.  It's pretty much right here in these 20-odd lines of code.

50 MAGICNUMBER% = INT(RND(1)*100)+1
60 LET TURNS% = 0
90 TURNS% = TURNS% + 1
130 PRINT "<<LOWER" 140 GOTO 80 150 PRINT "HIGHER>>"
160 GOTO 80
220 GET K$
230 GOTO 10

-Steve Fulton

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Celebrate the Web’s 25th Anniversary with O’Reilly – 50% off all Web Dev e-books

So you have been waiting to get your hot little hands on a new bo0k to compete in the emerging market for web and HTML5 (for mobile and web). O'Reilly makes it easier today with 50% all e-books related to web development in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the web. Keep your skills up to date, or just have some fun late night Kindle reading on the Canvas and CSS3. Put doown that 50 Shades of Grey and pick up 50 ways to make a new web site to replace that stodgy old thing you call a "web presence" form 2008 or before.

RT @OReillyMedia Deal/Day: Celebrate the Web's 25th Birthday + Save 50% on All Web Development Ebooks + Videos #web25

HTML5 Canvas 2nd Edition

HTML5 Canvas 2nd Edition

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To Coin A phrase: “Flappy Birded”

Phrase: Flappy Birded (Verb)
Definition: Used when a the internet-at-large destroys an honest and earnest individual because said person had the audacity to become successful. Usually occurs when said person is not already famous  or is not deemed to be "legitimate" or "worthy" of success, and or when the product they have produced is deemed to be not "of consequence."  This can happen most often  when the requirements to become "legitimate",  "worthy"  and "of consequence" are arbitrary or not clearly defined.
Usage: "That forum just flappy birded a guy on youtube with 20,000,000 views of his video of a cat walking on a piano"
See Also: Jealousy, Envy, Cult of Personality

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Gone Home : Is The Fullbright Company The New Infocom?

I just finished ”Gone Home”, a new, indie, PC game developed by the Fullbright Company. At $19.99 (through Steam) it’s the most expensive PC game I have bought in a long time, and clocking in at just about 3 hours, the shortest.

In “Gone Home” you play a young adult returning home after a year abroad.   During that year, your parents and sister have moved houses and moved on with their lives.  The character you play, just like you, is not familiar with any of the surroundings in the game.  When you start  it appears that no one is home and you have no idea what happened to them.   The main focus of the ensuing 3 hours (or so) of game play is a mature,  emotionally intense story that unfolds as you search this new space, looking for your family.

As a player, you traverse the house, examining everything you find.   Much of the game involves reading the text on ephemera left around the house, and listening to audio clips.  There are a few "locked gates" that help funnel the narrative, but no traditional puzzles.   The focus of this game is for the player to piece together the story by observing found objects in 3D space.   Nearly every object in the house can be picked up and examined.   Sinks, and toilets work, drawers, doors and  cabinets open, TVs and cassette players operate as in the real world.

The realistic nature of everything inside the house is necessary because the house itself is an enigma.  It’s a winding, cavernous space  that feels more like an RPG dungeon than a dwelling.   Areas in the house remain off limits until the time it is necessary to continue the narrative, but don’t make sense if this was indeed, a real-world space where people lived.   Far from detracting from the game however, this simply adds to overall curiously foreboding atmosphere of the game.  Instead of being wholly realistic, Gone Home works on transcendental level. The various rooms and passages represent the ways families relate, separate, come together, and hide from each other.   Exploring those connections and disconnections is the heart of the game.

“Gone Home” feels like an Infocom game from the 80’s.   Infocom made the best interactive fiction of that period,  but by the end of the decade they were out of business. They could not find a way to tell their mature, text-based stories in world of SVGA graphics and first-person shooters     It has taken almost 25 years, but the Fullbright Company may have found the solution with Gone Home.  The way Gone Home weaves a compelling story into an interactive world is nothing short of artistic achievement.    I have not felt this close to a virtual house and its' inhabitants since fumbling my way through Infocom’s The Witness in 1984.

The best part of Gone Home is how you feel when it is over.  Like the best books or movies, the game is hard to shake after the credits roll.  The characters feel like real people, and you want to know how the story turns out for all of them, how all the loose ends fit together.   However, you also get the feelings that not all the answers are in the game.  Just like real life, sometimes things don’t make sense.  Sometimes things are just the way they are.  In the era of Free-To-Play games,  $19.99 for a 3 hour experience might seem like a questionable value.  However, after finishing Gone Home, I certainly don’t feel like I paid too much for too little.    I may have only played Gone Home for a few hours, but I have a feeling it will play within me for many years to come.

-Steve Fulton


Comprehensive List of Lucas Arts Titles Released for Classic Atari Machines

By Jeff Fulton (@8bitrocket on twitter)

To the majority of the public, Atari died in 1983 and is relegated to hipster t-shirts and trucker hats with ironic joysticks on them.  While 90% of the USA and 70% of the UK gamers were playing with their C-64's, Nintendo's, Spectrums, Amigas, and the like, there were a large number of game players who stuck by the various Atari incarnations and their machines of varying quality.  The first Lucas Arts games were actually made as a partnership between Atari and Lucas to create the most advanced games possible for the Atari 8-bit machines (800XL computer  and 5200 console). If you read thorough (the otherwise fantastic) Retro Gamer magazine you would be hard-pressed to even know  that Atari existed after 1984. The Magazine has the Amiga, Speccy and c=64 so far up its butt (in a nice way) that incredible titles released for the Atari 7800, ST, Lynx, 2600, Atari-8bit and even the Jaguar are relegated to the "Spinal Tap Where are they now  radio ads". To help rectify this injustice slightly, I have compiled a list of the Lucas Arts titles released for the Classic Atari Machines (actually there are no non-classic machines other than the Flashback consoles).

Their Finest Hour - ST Action Magazine

Their Finest Hour - ST Action Magazine


Atari 8-bit Computers (Most released by Epyx, produced by Lucasfilm Games

The Eidolon

Koronis Rift

Rescue on Fractalus!

Atari 5200 (Releases by Atari, developed by Lucasfilm games)


Rescue on Fractalus!

Atari 7800 (Released by Atari)


Atari ST Computers (Developed  or Published by Lucasfilm/Lucas Arts Games)

Battlehawks 1942

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - The Action Game

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - The Graphic Adventure (SCUMM engine)


Manic Mansion

Night Shift

Pipe Dream

The Secret of Monkey Island

Their Finest Hour - The Battle of Britain

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

Yes, there were many more titles released for the Amiga and C=64, but it seems like the Atari computer titles are always relegated to "Oh yeah, there might have been other versions also". If they name the ST version at all, it is usually with a disparaging remark like "The Amiga 500 version was nothing more then an ST port", never actually talking about the quality of the ST games. In fact, in most instances I will see a game comparison in a magazine (looking at you Retro Gamer) where it will show a 3 color ugly screen of blobs (Speccy version)  along with a colorful ST version and seemingly the Speccy version is always called out for being the better port.  There is so much Atari ST and Atari 8-bit computer hate and indifference out there in the magazine and on-line world that it sometimes makes me ill just to read retro reviews or publications.  Yes, the Amiga was an awesome machine, but the ST certainly was no slouch in the game department.  We happily played our original 1040 ST from 1987 all the way through 1993, when we finally had to get a PC for work reasons.  Even then, there was no game as good as an ST game on the 386DX40 until Wolf3d came out.




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Enthusiasts Plan Kickstarter Campaign To Buy Atari Assets And Run It Like It’s 1977 All Over Again

The current company that holds the Atari brand and assets is filing for bankruptcy and planning to sell everything to the highest bidder   That fact is not as much news as an update to the "when will Atari go bankrupt again" section of the Atari entry on Wikipedia.  What *is* news is the fact that we now live in the D.I.Y., crowd funded,  Kickstarter era that allows for "crazy ideas that just might work". In the case of Atari, it's the loyal fans who have spun up an idea that is simply too good to fail, but probably will anyway:

The fans want to buy Atari.

Over at AtariAge.com, the preeminent spot on the interwebs for Atari enthusiasts, an idea was sprung today to take back Atari for the fans.  The effort is being spearheaded by Curt Vendel (recent co-author of Atari Inc.: Business Is Fun).  The idea is to buy Atari' assets when they go up for auction, then start a new company then embraces fan efforts and the true history and legacy of the company.

Even though the idea seems outlandish, what if it came to be?  What if every dollar you contributed to a Kickstarter.com campaign turned into a share of stock in a video game company?   I'm not sure the SEC would let it fly just yet, but that's a matter for others to figure out.

For now, my thoughts (and my $20 or so) are behind owning a piece of video game history.  Will it work? You can check out the idea and the progress here:






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In His Latest Column, Bob Cringley Finally Tackles The Current State Of I.T.

Bob Cringley has finally done it.  He has finally written a column that tries to tackle the current sad state of corporate IT.  You have to read until the end, but in a single paragraph he crystalizes the issue:

"Against this we have a cadre of IT workers who have been slowly boiled like frogs put into a cold pot. By the time they realize what’s happened these people are cooked. They are not just resentful but in many cases resentful and useless, having been so damaged by their work experience. They just want things to go back the way there were but this will never happen."

You can read the rest here.

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