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).
Atari 8-bit Computers (Most released by Epyx, produced by Lucasfilm Games
Atari 5200 (Releases by Atari, developed by Lucasfilm games)
Atari 7800 (Released by Atari)
Atari ST Computers (Developed or Published by Lucasfilm/Lucas Arts Games)
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.
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:
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.
For the 4th of July, here is an Atari 2600 inspired fireworks demo in HTML5. Click the mouse button to explode a firework shell. This demo was originally designed to test our particle FX engine for the HTML Canvas with an object pool.
While I don't have enough time this morning to go through all the code, here is a quick run-down on what is going on.
var particleManager = new ParticleExplosionManager(context);
Then we listen listen for a "mousedown" event,
This is a new column named "I Wish I Had Made That!" where we explore games that are so close to our hearts, that we wish we had made them ourselves. In fact, most will be games that we started and never finished, and someone has beaten us to the punch. The first game in this series is Dragon Fantasy from Muteki Corp.
Dragon Fantasy is an iOS (plus Mac and PC) homage to classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, games that were, in-turn, inspired by early American computer games like Phantasie and Ultima. Muteki is an American company, inspired by Japanese games, that were originally inspired by games from America, so it feels like this games has come full-circle and returned to its' roots.
Dragon Fantasy has the nuances of the JRPG ironed out to an exacting degree.
Weird monsters? Check.
Extremely linear gameplay? Check.
Story elements woven into game at regular intervals? Check.
Grinding required? Check.
Random battles: Check.
Conservative Save Points: Check.
8-bit Graphic Splendor? Check.
A addictive quality that keep you coming back for more? Check Check Check.
The guys at Muteki have done their homework with this one. The game feels like a genuine JRPG in almost every way. It reminds me very much of Final Fantasy 1 (or just Final Fantasy), which is my all-time favorite game in this category.
On iOS, the game plays smoothly and is easy to control. Input is very simple: drag your finger to move Ogden (your avatar), and make selections from menus. However, simple is fine in this case and that simplicity masks a very sophisticated ramping structure that appears to perfectly emulate the games that inspired it. It's also funny, or at least tries to be funny, which is 1/2 the battle.
Why Do I With I Had Made It?
So why do I wish *I* had made this? Well, because I've always wanted to create an RPG like this, and these guys beat me to it. In fact, we have been planning an RPG since about 1987 using overhead maps and turn-based combat. It was not based on a JRPG, but on the Phantasie series from SSI (designed by Winston Douglas Wood). Still, since Phantasie was one of the precursors to JRPGs (The Japanese were so keen on it that Phantasie IV was Japan only release), it still feels related.
Our game was going to be based on California History And Legends with a time travel element back to the old west. We were designing it on the Atari ST with STOS, but time got the best of us, and we never finished it after we moved onto DOS PCs in the early 90's. However, Dragon Fantasy shows me that it can be done on new devices, if the proper care is taken to get the nuances right.
One thing that intrigued me about Dragon Fantasy is that the main character was inspired by the deceased father of one of the developers. In fact, this is why I plunked down my money in the first place, as I believe in supporting those kinds of efforts. I really like the idea of commemorating someone in game like this. It's something I plan to do for my father some day soon. Since we traveled through California together on all sorts of adventures, making my dad the main character in an exhumed (no pun intended) California RPG might be a good choice. It also might get me to finally finish the game.
Dragon Fantasy is great game that has inspired me to play and be creative at the same time. What else can you ask from a piece of software? Get Dragon Fantasy now from iTunes for $2.99 (it's well worth the price you spoiled cheapskates) or PC And Mac for a couple dollars more. If you are into classic JRPGs, don't miss it. A plussed-up 16-bit era sequel is planned as well.
When I was little my dad told me a single story about World War II. He told no stories about his time in the army other than this single story.
It was about the day he knew he was going to die.
He was in Italy in 1945 serving with 10th Mountain Division in the Army. The next day his unit was going to be sent to the front. At the time, the "front" in Italy was murder machine: mountain fighting against German 88 artillery. His entire unit knew they were being sent into the abyss, so they thought there would be no real consequences from sneaking into to town to visit the bar the night before to salute their final days on earth.
However, there were consequences. The unit was caught, and my dad was singled out. He was sent to the rear, and spent the rest of the war in a laundry unit. He experienced no greater humiliation in his life than this event. After that day, my dad never considered himself a veteran, and never once took advantage of any "veteran" benefit , gathering, or anything else that had to do with World War II. He pretended like his time in the in WWII did not exist.
My dad's brother was named John Fulton Jr. When the two were growing up, the two did not get along. Their dad, a semi-famous illustrator named John Russell Fulton became violent as the boys grew older and money got tight in the depression. In 1931, to save the boys from getting hurt, their mom sent them to Manumit, a liberal co-op boarding school. They both spent the majority of their childhoods scurried away at that school. They both hated it, and seemingly, John blamed his brother, my dad, for the situation.
While my dad loved to play "war" games like Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, kick the can and hide n' seek at Manumit, his brother never partook in any of them. Instead, John was very quiet. We loved big band music, and collected lobby cards from his favorite band leaders. He was not a soldier in any way, but after high school John was drafted into the Army.
John was in Company L in the 83rd. Unlike my father, who lusted to fight the Germans ( my dad lied about his age when he was 17, so he could join-up as fast as possible), John begrudgingly fell into a combat as an ace shot bazookaman. He was fighting in Belgium in October 1944, when his unit got pinned down by a German sniper. John volunteered to use his weapon to clear the barbed wire that was blocking his company from gaining ground. During this act John cleared the barbed wire, but was shot and killed by the German sniper. PFC John Fulton Jr. was awarded the Silver Star for bravery for his action on the Battlefield in Belgium.
I heard this story many times growing up from my father. My dad was as proud of his brother's service as he was ashamed of his own.
However, my dad never told me the full story of why he was sent to laundry unit in World War II until we were hiking in Mammoth on one of our last camping trips in the late-1990's. We had recently watched the movie Saving Private Ryan together and I noticed this movie affected him a lot more than the other WWII movies we watched together, but I did not understand the reason why.
By that time in my life, I was old enough to hear the full story of my dad's service in WWII and as we hiked, he finally let it out. In Italy, his unit had gone indeed AWOL to visit the local town the night before being sent to the front. However, they were not visiting the bar, they were visiting the local town whore. There was a long line outside the door (and I assume my father was in it, he never said), but before his unit made it "inside", they were caught by some MPs. They all got in trouble, and things were not happy for them for some time.
However, this had nothing to do with why he was sent to the rear. My dad was spared because of the Sole Survivor Policy that spared the last living son if a sibling had already been killed in combat. My dad was just like the "Ryan" in "Saving Private Ryan". This act weighed heavily on my dad's heart. At the end of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks character tells Ryan to "earn this" in reference to his ticket home. I'm sure my dad sent a lot of time calculating if he himself had "earned it" or not.
In the summer of 1998, my dad made his first and only trek to the cemetary in Europe where his brother has rested since the end of World War II. It took 53 years and my sister getting married in Germany to get him to face the reality of what had occurred so long ago. When he returned he pieced together a memorial to his brother that adorned the wall outside his bedroom up until his death last year. The images that accompany this story are from that memorial. Photos and medals that my dad had hidden away for 1/2 a century greeted him every day as he woke up. There was no hiding the truth any longer.
I think my father finally realized that John's death allowed my him to live. The army spared him, and my dad went on to become an college graduate, actor, husband, father, motor-cross racer, soccer coach, illustrator, Civil War collector, amateur treasure hunter, and a grand father. All things his brother never got the chance to become. Instead, PFC John Fulton became an image. The photo that leads this story is the last known image of PFC John Fulton. It is a photo of a serious looking young man. A man who became an unlikely hero when people needed him most. By giving his life for his country, he also gave his life so my father would live, and in turn, his sacrifice allowed me to exist. As far as I'm concerned, my dad lived an amazing life to the fullest extent possible, and more than than "earned" his own ticket home.
And that is why I salute both of them on this, and every other, Memorial Day.
Thanks again Dad and Uncle John,
We spent the last day of our short trip to Yosemite visiting the Mariposa Grove, an expansive area with a collection of giant Sequoia trees in the southern part of the National park. As we walked through the grove, crunching through the spring snow in our water-proof hiking shoes, my mind was far away from programming, games, or the Atari Pong Development Challenge.
Mariposa Grove is an odd sort of Redwood forest. Unlike the overwhelming expanse of giant trees in Sequoia National Park, Redwood National Park, or even the Santa Cruz mountains, the the giant trees of Yosemite are sparse and hard to find. The long hiking paths meander through the trees as a way of locating the remaining spectacles, which are few and far between. When you see a giant tree, it stands out against other trees in the forest forming a striking figure. Since logging was a huge business in the area in the 1800's, it was apparent that few remaining giant redwoods in the grove were saved when the National Park was formed. My mind wandered back to imagine just what the grove might have looked like if every tree was giant. What a magnificent scene that would have made.
When we reached the Grizzly Tree, one of the few true giants in the grove a thought struck me. The few remaining giant trees reminded me of the my heroes, the giants of the early video game industry: Alcorn, Baer, Bushnell, Crane, Crawford, Fulop, Harris, Jarvis, Logg, and Robinett just to name a few. The industry they built was clear-cut in 80's and decimated...yet they still remain, standing tall, scattered among the multitudes and throngs of upstart game designers and developers that arrived in their wake.
I'm one of those upstarts. Not at all famous, and not nearly as accomplished as I'd like to imagine, but inspired by the giant veterans of the video game world to try to accomplish great things. For me, the Atari Pong Game Development Challenge comes down to just this: standing on the shoulders of giants and building on what came before to make something new. The game of Pong might need to be "re-imagined" for a 21st Century audience, but I can't forget what made it great in the first place. There was a simple elegance to the instructions that were pasted to the first Pong machines that read: "avoid missing ball for high score." Those words, and the idea that inspired them, are what made Pong a game great, and in turn, what made video games into a phenomenon that still exists today. They will guide me as I work to finish my prototype.
Coming on the heels of Adobe's Premium Features for Flash (developers will be required to pay Adobe 9% of revenue above $50,000 if they use certain high-tech features), comes a new, upcoming feature for Adobe flash CS6.0 : Metered Usage For ActionScript.
Announced today, Adobe will start charging developers per centimeter of written ActionScript code. A new feature of the Flash IDE will be the "Meter Stick", an interface element that will run along the left side of the ActionScript editor, tallying up the value of the ActionScript in an open .as file. When a .fla is exported, the entire value of all included .as files will be displayed in the export Window. Before the .fla can be compiled into a .swf, .ipa, or .apk, payment must be rendered. Adobe will accept only Discover, Paypal, or Facebook Credits as legal tender for the transaction. Once payment is made, the .fla will export to the target format , and the developer can show the output to their client, boss, or do whatever they want with it.
An Adobe spokesman said of the new feature "Adobe recognizes that the web still runs on Flash, no matter what Apple and Microsoft would have you think, and we believe we should be fairly compensated for that reality. The best way to do this is to charge for ActionScript usage."
When asked the question "why can't developers just put all of their code on one line?" the Adobe spokesman said "We already thought of that. Adobe has defined a line as "128 bytes or a carriage return, whichever comes first." When asked if developers will have to pay every time they export their code, the Adobe spokesman said "Oh no, no of course not. We will use a heuristic algorithm to find the differences from the last export. The developer will only have to pay for the changes. Hey, we might be crafty, but were not evil."
Last year when I was doing Facebook game development (and hating life) for a large, monstrous gaming company, we had a lot of trouble getting the Firefox Flash plug-in for FireBug to work correctly and show internal trace's exceptions, etc. So, I never used it. This last Friday, while making a new Facebook Canvas game for a client, I was faced with needing to see my traces, etc outside of the IDE or Flash Develop. So, I installed the new version, called FlashFireBug and it fucking rocks! It does everything I need from just as if I am in the IDE looking at the output window. I'm pretty sure you need the debug version of the Flash player to get it to work properly, but even if that is the case, it certainly is worth the effort.
By Jeff Fulton