8bitrocket Retro-Game And DIY Game Development News Update

New Book About Atari 8-Bit computers!

A new book, Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation by veteran tech writer Jamie Lendino was released last week by Ziff Davis.    The book looks mighty interesting, but so far there is no news about the actual contents.  We here at 8bitrocket.com have copies jetting our way right now.  We will have a full review very soon.   Here is what the marketing blurb says about the book:

Atari 8-bit computers are the first machines that truly bridged the divide between video game players and home computer enthusiasts. The Atari 400 and 800 signaled the start of a new era in computing. Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation is the first book to cover what made Atari’s groundbreaking computer line great: its excellent graphics and sound, flexible programming environment, and wide support from the burgeoning home computer community.

Newsbits

Garage/Indie Hombew Game Development

Show And Podcast Highlights

 

Links:

As always, here is our growing list of links we find interesting.

Fultonbot’s 1983 Atari VCS Quest: The Absent Minded Collector

The “pile of stuff” in the photo to the left is a collection of 36 years worth of “absent-minded” Atari 2600/7800 collecting.   I say “Absent Minded”  as I was never really serious about  collecting games.  My feelings for the VCS/2600 and 7800 were what I would call “uncomfortable nostalgia”.   I loved my Atari video games in their halcyon days, but after I discovered computers, and after the original Bushnell founded Atari Inc. morphed into the Frankenstein’s monster of the Tramiel led Atari Corp., I was less thrilled by the thought of Atari.  As pointless as this may seem, I became more of an “activist” for the memory of the first great video game company than just a fan of the games.

This was especially true in the late 80’s, when Nintendo dominated and it felt like the entire industry I knew as a kid had been totally forgotten.  The whole “Atari buried games at Alamorgodo”  rumor that floated in the ether unconfirmed for so many years, bouncing around the echo chamber of Atari fandom, only made this image of a metaphorical “burial” feel more like a real, actual thing (which it turns out, it kinda actually was.)

By 1984, the era of “my” games was dead, put in the ground, and would never been heard from again.

Buried forever.

I felt like my devotion to the memory of Atari was a bit silly.   I questioned if the strong feelings I had for the games in my youth were just a factor of my limited resources, limited world view, and limited experience, more than anything that was really special about the era.  But then I was never truly convinced either way.

Over the years I have dabbled with retro Atari video games mostly through emulation.  The “game collections” that appeared with the PSX and PC in the 90’s, all the way through the recent releases on Steam and PS4/Xbox  were my idea of an comfortable compromise.   With those collections,  I could get a bit of the nuance of those old games,  and maybe have a laugh at them too.   They were not really “good” were they?  Compared to the 33 years history of gaming after the fall of Atari Inc., they were embarrassing, right?   They were 78 RPM records, Beta-Max, 8-Track Tapes: curious links to the past, but with no real relevance in the modern world.   Their impact on culture long-since forgotten, by-passed, or paved-over by the advent of post-modernity.

So I was absent minded about my collecting.   It felt like my love for Atari was more lyrical than practical, More poetic than playful, but at the same time, more important than simple nostalgia.  I didn’t want to make a checklist of games I needed , I wanted to make a checklist of feelings and emotions tied to my life growing up playing those games.   I wanted to figure out why Atari meant so much now, not just explore it’s impact 30 years ago. I wanted to  take a look outside to see  what factors led to the “meaning” I felt in my head,  even though from the outside it  have must looked look so silly and inconsequential.

In 2017, I’m being far more concrete about my love for Atari.  I’ve decided that I want to replace all the games I “lost” in the 80’s by embarking on a quest is to replicate my collection as it was in 1983. I’ve made an actual checklist, and I want to find some actual games. However, I still feel like I need to catalog my feeling about said games as I find them.   I have come to the conclusion, as well, that I ultimately want to find what is known as CIB versions of the games (Complete In Box), as opposed to loose cartridges.  However, I will collect a loose cartridge if that is the only choice.

From my search through all of the Atari stuff I found in the garage in the pile above, this is what I found:


2600 Loose

Football (M-Network Korea),AstroBlast (M-Network),Armour Ambush (M-Network) *2, Chopper Command (blue cart),Adventure *2 ,Video Pinball,Space War,Breakout (yellow text label),Donkey Kong,Berzerk *2 (one gross one okay),Super Challenge Baseball (M-Network),Space Jockey (vid-tec, us games),Football Realsports Soccer (1988),Space Attack (M-Network),Demon Attack (one silver one  blue),Encoungter At L-5,Video Olympics,Asteroids (Tele games),E.T.,Ms. PacMan,Atlantis,Trick Shot,Outlaw (no top label),International Soccer (M-Network),Grand Prix (blue),Haunted House,Moon Patrol,Star Castle,Space Cavern (no top label),Warlords (tele games),Ice Hockey (gross),Space Invaders (1980),Kangaroo (1987),California Games,Raiders Of The Lost Ark,Combat (01),Realsports Vollyball x 2 (1982 and 1987),Megamania (gross),Cosmic Ark,River Raid (Blue),Super Breakout,Bugs,SSsnake,Vanguard (1987),Boxing (Acitivsion blue),Riddle Of The Sphinx,Night Driver,Fire Fighter,Empire Strikes Back,Realsports Tennis (1988),Yars Revenge,Midnight Magic (red)

2600 Boxed

Commando,Realsports Football (1988),Battlezone (1983),Space Invaders (red 1988),Pac-Man (1988),Phoenix (1988),Dig Dug (1988),Ms. Pac-Man (1988),Galaxian (1983),Jungle Hunt (1988),Enduro (poor),Kangaroo (1988),Defender II (red 1988),Gravitar (red, 1988),Super Football (red, 1988)

 


So from the above, it looks like I have found about 1/2 dozen of my old games in boxes.   But if you looks closer, some of those games are not from the correct era.  Many of the games that have the date 1988  attached, and are  Atari Corp. (not Atari Inc.)  re-releases that have different packaging than the ones I had from 1981-1984.  If I want to be a true stickler about this, true my roots and true to the nuances of the classic games and packaging, I probably can’t accept those games as true representations of my quest.   If I could not buy it back in the correct era, it’s not a real replacement, is it?  The jury is still out and I reserve the right to change my mind because I’m making up the rules here.

After all of that, here is the current status of Fultonbot’s Atari VCS quest:

Current Quest Status (As Of 3/18/2017)

Color Coding Key:

X = No copy of any kind   
X = Copy has some issues (loose, back condition)
X = Acceptable , but might not be correct version
X = Exact right version from pre-crash era

Fantastic Voyage (20th Century Fox)

X

Fast Eddie (20th Century Fox)

 X

Turmoil (20th Century Fox

 X

3D-Tic-Tac-Toe (Atari)

 X

Adventure  (Atari) Loose

X

Air-Sea Battle  (Atari)

 X

Asteroids (Atari)    Loose, telegames, sticker

X

Basketball (Atari)

 X

Battlezone (Atari)   CIB  1983

X

Berzerk  (Atari)    Loose

X

Bowling (Atari)

 X

Breakout (Atari)    Loose

X

Canyon Bomber (Atari)

 X

Circus Atari (Atari)

 X

Codebreaker (Atari)

 X

Combat (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Defender (Atari)

 X

Dodge ‘Em (Atari)

 X

E.T.  (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Flag Capture  (Atari)

 X

Football  (Atari)

 X

Galaxian (Atari)   CIB  1983

X

Golf  (Atari)

 X

Hangman  (Atari)

 X

Haunted House  (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Home Run  (Atari)

 X

Human Cannonball  (Atari)

 X

Indy 500  (Atari)

 X

Jungle Hunt  (Atari)    CIB, 1988

X

Kangaroo  (Atari)    CIB, 1988

X

Maze Craze  (Atari)

 X

Midnight Magic (7800 Era)  (Atari)    Loose

X

Miniature Golf  (Atari)

 X

Missile Command  (Atari)

 X

Ms. Pac-Man  (Atari)   CIB, 1988

X

Night Driver  (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Othello  (Atari)

 X

Outlaw  (Atari)    Loose

X

Pac-Man  (Atari)   CIB, 1988

X

Pele’s Soccer  (Atari)

 X

Phoenix (Atari)   CIB,  1988

X

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Realsports Baseball (Atari)

 X

Realsports Football (Atari)   CIB,  1988

X

 

Realsports Soccer (Atari)

 X

Realsports Tennis (Atari)    Loose

X

Realsports Volleyball (Atari)    Loose

X

Sky Diver (Atari)

 X

Slot Racers (Atari)

 X

Solaris (7800 Era) (Atari)

 X

Space Invaders (Atari)    CIB, 1988 red box

X

Space War (Atari)

 X

Street Racer (Atari)

 X

Super Breakout (Atari)    Loose

X

Superman (Atari)

 X

Surround (Atari)

 X

Vanguard (Atari)    Loose, damaged

X

Video Olympics (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Video Pinball (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Warlords (Atari)    Loose, TeleGames

X

Yar’s Revenge (Atari)    Loose, sticker

X

Barnstorming (Activision)

 X

Boxing (Activision)    Loose, Blue Label

X

Chopper Command (Activision)  

X

Dragster (Activision)

 X

Enduro (Activision)    CIB, Poor

X

Freeway (Activision)

 X

Grand Prix (Activision)    Loose, Blue label

X

Ice Hockey (Activision)    Loose, dirty label

X

 

Kaboom! (Activision)

 X

Keystone Kapers (Activision)

 X

Laser Blast (Activision)

 X

Megamania (Activision)    Loose, dirty label

X

Pitfall (Activision)

 X

Plaque Attack (Activision)

 X

River Raid (Activision)    Loose, blue label
Not working

X

Robot Tank (Activision)

 X

Sea Quest (Activision)

 X

Skiing (Activision)

 X

Sky Jinks (Activision)

 X

Space Shuttle (Activision)

 X

Stampede (Activision)

 X

Star Master (Activision)

 X

Tennis (Activision)

 X

Journey Escape (Data Age)

 X

Lost Luggage (Games By Apollo)

X

Space Cavern (Games By Apollo)    Loose, sticker

X

Tunnel Runner (CBS Electronics)

 X

Donkey Kong (Coleco)    Loose

 X

Venture (Coleco)

 X

Atlantis (Imagic)    Loose, sticker

X

Cosmic Ark (Imagic)    Loose, sticker

X

Demon Attack (Imagic)    Loose, sticker

X

Dragonfire (Imagic)

 X

Firefighter (Imagic)    Loose, sticker

X

Moonsweeper (Imagic)

 X

Riddle Of The Sphinx (Imagic)    Loose, sticker

X

Star Voyager (Imagic)

 X

Armour Ambush (M-Network)

 X

Astroblast (M-Network)    Loose

X

Frogs And Flies (M-Network)

 X

Lock N’Chase (M-Network)

 X

Super Challenge Baseball (M-Network)    Loose

X

Frogger (Parker Brothers)

 X

Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (Parker Brothers)    Loose

X

Reactor (Parker Brothers)

 X

Gangster Alley (Spectravision)

 X

Planet Patrol (Spectravision)

 X

Communist Mutants From Space (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Dragon Stomper (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Escape From The Mindmaster (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Fireball (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Frogger (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Killer Satellites (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Phaser Patrol (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Suicide Mission (Starpath Supercharger)

 X

Fast Food (Telesys)

 X

Jawbreaker (Tigervision)

 X

Marauder  (Tigervision)

 X

Polaris  (Tigervision)

 X

Space Jockey (US Games)    Loose

X

So yeah, there is still a LONG way to go  in this quest.  Interestingly, I’ve just received a lead on a few more CIB (Complete In Box) carts that could put a significant dent in the missing games on the list.
I’ll have another update soon.

problem_solving_sheet

De-Motivational Engineering Problem Solving Worksheet from 1989 applies now more than ever

(warning, some adult language is in this post)

By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)

Problem Solving Flow Chart

Problem Solving Flow Chart

When my dad left his job at Hughes Aircraft in 1989, he gave my brother, Steve, and I a lot of advice and a whole bunch of de-motivational type stuff that had been hanging around his office.  We share the same sense of humor, so if you know me, then you know that I used to have some of the same style of stuff around my office at various jobs to keep the troupes laughing through the hard times. My favorite used to be the one with all of the hands laying on top of one another that said “Meetings, none of us is as dumb as all of us”.

One that Steve and I had hanging over our Atari computer at home said,
“To Error is Human, it Takes a Computer to Really Fuck Things Up”.

This one I found yesterday in a box of stuff in the garage.  I had actually preserved it pretty well in a binder, along with things like “Itchy and Scratchy Comic #1”, and my hilarious certificate from Mira Costa High School for achievement in Computer Class (a 1980’s computer class in high school was Romper Room compared to today).

In any case, this flow chart can be applied  to  to any job, it is pretty hilarious, and shows that not much has changed in the last 30 years. It is especially applicable to coding and engineering jobs, but I bet you will see parallels to every type of work.

It has now become my favorite of all time.  Enjoy. Share. Give Credit.

Ballad Of Atari: 1982-1984

Ballad Of Atari: 1982

E.T. And Pac-Man
Not The Worst, Yet Not The Best
The Gamers Notice

 

 

 


Ballad Of Atari: 1983

800XL
Flag Ship. Work Horse.  All That Jazz.
Cliches Of Awesome

 

 

 


Ballad Of Atari: 1984

GCC designs
The 7800
Last ditch hope for games

Dead End Game Development: There Is No Such Thing As Free Beer

 

Note: “Game Development Dead end” is new blog series where we tell the stories behind games that were never finished or released (most of the time,  for good reasons.)    For every game a developer releases, usually there are 10 more sitting 1/2 finished on their hard drive.  This series aims to let some those ideas, no matter how terrible, get their chance to live.

In 2008 we moved out of our house and into a hotel for 4+ weeks, waiting for the occupants of our new to vacate so we could move-in.     In that time, I wrote a blog named “Dispatches From A Transient Programmer” as I attempted to make game named “Free beer”. Here, for the first time, is whole sordid tale of the game Free Beer, with brand-new Epilogue describing why it was never finished.

 

 


JULY 6TH, 2008: DISPATCHES FROM A TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #1: THE MOVE

I believe that crime stories in the local newspaper are written in way to make the reader feel more comfortable about their surroundings, no matter how awful the story, so that people will stay put and continue to buy newspapers. A good example of this is the use of the word “transient”. Sometimes I will read story about, for example, someone being stabbed on the street. “Oh my Lord, how awful” I think, but as read further, I see that the the author of the story describes the victim as a “transient”, and I feel a sense of relief. “Oh, well, that’s not me, only transients get stabbed on the street.” You see Transients are bad news. They don’t live any where in particular, at least not in your town, or they are just passing through. There is almost a sense that they deserve what they got because the word transient just sounds so negative. I bring this up because I, and my family have become transients. We are the enemy of society.

Let me explain. We decided to buy a new house a couple months back. We were running out of space for our 3 girls, and out of patience with our neighbors. We found a new house about 1 mile away, put in an offer, and things started rolling. Soon, our house was on the market and we sold it much quicker than we anticipated. The sellers of the house we were buying needed a long escrow, and when everything was said and done, we ended up with a 25 days between when we had to be out of our house, and into a new one. We now have a gap in our living arrangements and the world is simply not set-up for these kinds of gaps. We are now living in a hotel, and are in effect, transients…for the month of July. On the good side, we have no wired phone, gas, electric, water, cable, internet, long distance, or home security bills. We get free breakfast daily, and a access to a pool daily. On the other hand, I’m so used the cushy life of having a “home” that adjusting is very difficult. For instance, where do I have mail sent? My Goozex habit on hold. The Wii will not connect through the hotel Wifi, so no WiiConnect24. As well, hotel internet access is slow and it’s not encrypted. I can’t really do any late-night programming work without waking anyone up. Also, the TV channel section in the room is terrible. With no Disney Channel or Food Network our family’s TV habit will be severely hampered. I did locate some of the Disney Channel shows on the Disney XD web site, but so far I have not found any way to watch the Food Network online. Who got kicked out on “The Next Food Network Star” last night? F*ck if I know.

Anyway, this is the first dispatch from the transient programmer. I’ll have more inside information from the outskirts of society as it becomes available.


July 9th, 2008:  DISPATCHES FROM A TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #2: FREE BEER

As a transient programmer (with a family) we are living in a “suite” hotel.  I never realized the the true purpose of these establishments until a few weeks ago when I went looking for a place for us to stay during our “gap”. At a regular hotel, you get a room, a couple beds, a bathroom, and the distinct feeling that you are paying too much for too little. However, this suite hotel is designed for extended stays. While it costs just about the same as any other fairly decent hotel (that is, far too much), it offers all sorts of useful amenities. First, they allow pets, so my girls can have their cat around. They also have free breakfast, BBQs and tables, a sports court, nice new plasma TVs in every room. They also have FREE BEER. Yes, that is right. FREE BEER. Four nights a week they have “happy hour” in which you can get a free (although fairly slim) meal, and FREE BEER. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of another hotel that gives FREE BEER, but we found one with FREE BEER.

The FREE BEER though, does not mask the fact that the internet connection is slow and shared by everyone. This must be what all the nay sayers were talking about when they said cable modems would be useless because everyone in the neighborhood would share the same data pipe. That situation never materialized at my old home. The cable modem was always fast…when it was up. Time Warner however could not guarantee any sort of uptime and that is why I switched to FIOS the day it came available. We were basking the in the digital glow of 15mbps for months in our old house, but now we are in a room sharing a single connection with 100’s of other guests. The slowness of the connection makes any sort if online development impossible. Everything has to be built off-line and tested offline, and then uploaded at the last possible minute for a final test in production. If something goes wrong, rolling back can take 10 times longer than I’m used to. It sucks.

Another oddity about staying in one of these long-term hotels is the people you meet who are also staying for a long term. On Monday I noticed a VP from our department sitting at a table during happy hour enjoying the FREE BEER. It just so happens that he is very friendly and one of the best VPs we have. He came over to talk to to my family comment on the FREE BEER. The funny thing was that he and his family are kind of in the same “transient” position were are in, however the scale is to such a different degree that it is laughable. While my family is scrimping, saving and struggling to edge-up to a slightly larger house to support the growing needs of our children, he is living in the hotel because he is having a mansion built in the best part of town but had to move out of the house he was renting (also in the best part of town) because it was sold in a foreclosure sale. He told us straight out that the “novelty” of the suite hotel would wear off quickly. So, while I’m beating myself-up trying to design some kind of game as quickly as possible that might make me a few extra $$$ to offset the cost of our current albeit odd, but inadvertently and expensive lavish housing situation, he’s lamenting the fact that the place is not really up to his usual standards. Oh well, for now the playing field is level. We both get the same crappy internet connection, we both have an awkward time time trying to explain to everyone we know that we no longer have a permanent street address, and four times a week, we get to enjoy the crisp taste of FREE BEER on tap. Did I mention the FREE BEER?


JULY 14th, 2008:  DISPATCHES FROM THE TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #3: DIGITAL DREAM HOME?

I’ve been working for the past few days on a game to salute one of the “amenities” at the hotel here, namely the “Free Beer”. The game is named “Free Beer” and in it, you simply make an attempt to drink as much “free beer” as possible before you get too drunk to control the game. I’m not kidding. I should have it finished in the next couple days and then I’ll see if anyone has the “cajones” to sponsor it. If not, I’ll put it up here with a Game Jacket. I don’t think Mochi will accept it because it has mature content (sort of).

However, today I don’t want to write just about “free beer” again, but about the idea of a “Dream House”. While my family is currently biding their time until we can move into our next “dream home” we visited Disneyland today which purports to now have on display the ultimate “Dream Home“. Woe be to us if their idea of a “Dream Home” comes true though. Apparently to Disneyland (and their partners HP and Microsoft), a “Dream Home” is simply a bunch of nicely decorated rooms that consist of dozens upon dozens of HP branded LCD screens of every shape and size imaginable running various forms of Windows Vista. As well as being used for such mundane tasks and computing, watching TV and blogging on the internet, these these “screens” also take the place of photos, paintings, holiday decorations, board games, audio systems, security systems, climate control systems and any other task you can imagine an LCD screen attached to a Windows operating system might be able to perform. To some extent, the “Dream Home” elicited a faint “neato” from my brain as we walked through it. Especially the “story telling” room, which transformed into a showplace for the most amazing telling of Peter Pan my kids have ever been enthralled with. However, most of the rest of this “Dream Home” was simply exhausting.

Look, I’m no luddite when it comes to technology. I welcome plasma TVs and LCD displays for computers and lap-tops. They have crisp visuals,, take-up little space, and look really cool. However, the effect of dozens and dozens LCD screens in the Disneyland “Dream Home” showing family photos, famous art work (most likely rife with DRM), videos, etc. did not make us want to stay very long, but instead had us running for the exists. Some of the ideas in-fact, simply did not work as well as their real-world physical counter-parts. For instance, they tried to show how a camera and projection screen could replace a standard mirror. However, the effect was muddy and hard to see. A regular mirror would have been far better. On top of that, many of the LCDs were blue-screened with media errors and OS problems. It was a constant reminder that a virus or worm of significant threat would have this “Dream Home” rebooting and scanning more often than it was helping and entertaining. I’m not sure what final product the designers of this “Dream Home” were trying to create, but I’m pretty sure that the “Windows Kernel Error meets digital Cold-War bunker” loaf they pinched out was not what they intended. There is just so much virtual reality I can take before I feel like my head will implode.

Anyway, waiting to get into our own new “dream home” is excruciating. Even though it is certainly not on the scale of what Disney was trying to off-load, it is still a nice step-up from the veritable cave that had us crawling over each other just a couple weeks ago. The Disney Dream Home did teach me something though. We certainly don’t have to fill our new house with every gadget under the sun to be happy. If this experience has taught me one thing it’s that our family was “overly entertained” in our old house (something my wife has been trying to get through to me for many years). In the hotel we have one computer and about a dozen TV channels right now and everyone seems to be adjusting just fine. We certainly don’t need the “dream” of having an LCD screen of every imaginable configuration in every corner of our new house. While The Disneyland “Dream Home” did inspire me to buy a couple new digital picture frames, it will be long time before you’ll find an LCD screen in the backyard offering BBQ tips, or my family putting together a virtual jigsaw puzzle on on 50 x 50 LCD touch-screen. We’ll take the box of 500 pieces and try it on the floor, thank you very much.


JULY 21, 2008:  DISPATCHES FROM THE TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #4: STUFF I TOOK FOR GRANTED: THEN AND NOW

Now that I have moved out of my single-family house, and I have been back visiting my parents often at their house where I grew-up, I realize that I will probably never be able to provide my kids with the same type of house that I grew-up in. Yes, I can get them a bigger house with more stuff, but I don’t think I can ever provide them the comforting nuances of in a 70’s/80’s suburban neighborhood. Given that, here is a list of “Things I took For Granted As a Kid Growing Up In A Single Family House In Middle-Class Neighborhood In The 70’s and 80’s”

  1. A Front Yard that could be played-in
  2. A Tree that could be climbed
  3. A long drive-way that could be used for multiple games and to park cars
  4. Visiting friends houses on the street and not having my parents worry about were I was going.
  5. A garage that balls could be kicked against, thrown against, etc.
  6. Room for a basketball hoop and game of one-on-one
  7. The freedom to ride my bike any where wanted
  8. My safe feeling of having my dad coming home from work
  9. Mom coming back from the supermarket with bags filled with food
  10. A street filled with single-family homes each with a front and back yard.
  11. A House with a regular address with only numbers (i.e. with no #A, 1/2. Unit 1, etc).
  12. Coming home when the street lights turned-on
  13. All kids sent outside to play instead of inside to play video games
  14. Available parking…on both sides of the street
  15. Walking places
  16. Marathon candy bars and Bubble-Up soda in a returnable bottle
  17. Big Wheels.
  18. Playing guns, ditch ’em, etc. at the local school and not having the SWAT Team called-in.
  19. > Zero Tolerance
  20. Paperboys with bad aim
  21. Playing Atari 2600 games and wishing I had one.

On the same note, now that I’ve been living in a hotel, I’ve realized that there are tons of things I simply took for granted when I owned my own place. Many of these are things that I never knew I wanted until I did not have them any longer. Now I can’t wait to get them back.

Things I Took for Granted When Living In a House And Not a Hotel

  1. My own parking space
  2. More than 13 TV channels
  3. Secure, encrypted Internet access
  4. A wired phone that did not charge 50 cents a minute.
  5. Light switches that turned on lights that they logically should turn on
  6. A temperature Control system that could be turned off
  7. My own artwork/photos on the walls.
  8. A place to have mail sent.
  9. My own garbage can.
  10. A place to wash clothes that did not cost $3.00 per load (including drying).
  11. A refrigerator that did not freeze everything.
  12. An oven
  13. A lock on my door I trusted
  14. A printer (I didn’t take mine)
  15. An answering machine
  16. A doorbell
  17. A modicum of privacy
  18. A junk drawer
  19. An array of readily available tools
  20. An unlimited supply of filtered drinking water
  21. Sunlight
  22. A bed that did not hurt my back
  23. Multi-ply toilet paper
  24. Removable coat hangers
  25. More than two chairs for 5 people
  26. The option to let the cat go outside
  27. The option to let the cat crap outside
  28. The sounds and smells of home
  29. Space to have people visit
  30. Being able to relax
  31. Fences and gates
  32. A sense of control

We still have 10 days on this Transient sojourn. It will be 10 days too many. I thought I would have a demo of the “Free Beer” game today, but that will have to wait until next time.


JULY 29, 2008:  THE TRANSIENT PROGRAMMER #5: THE LAST DAY, FREE BEER REVISITED

OK, so this happens to be the last day I will spend as a transient” programmer. By 7:30 tomorrow I will finally have another house to move-into. However, tonight has been pretty difficult. It’s 4:00 AM, and sleep is not coming easily. The hotel got old about 2 weeks ago. That is when my family started to notice little things that separate a hotel room from an actual home. First of all, no matter how they try to hide it, the hotel room is built on an unforgiving concrete slab. After a while you realize that, besides the decor and room separation, the actual building is one-step away from being a garage. Next is that aforementioned decor. I suppose if you are staying in a hotel for 1 or 2 nights, the decor is not really an issue. However, over 25 days it has time to sink-in. This room has the most offensive red and black striped carpet I have ever witnessed in any establishment. As well, the pictures on the walls, and furniture all match this color scheme with deadly accuracy. Honestly, it’s like a Freddie Krueger bachelor pad in here. As well, the low quality of the fixtures has become readily apparent with each passing day. The showers now dribble, the light sockets are falling our of the lamps, etc. It’s odd how we put up with these things though. If this was not a long-term stay, we would asked for another room weeks ago.

However, the one constant throughout the entire stay has been the FREE BEER. Nearly every night my wife and I have enjoyed a glass of FREE BEER. We have not gone over-board, and we have kept our consumption of the FREE BEER fairly low, but we still enjoy it. We may have stopped eating the food the hotel provides last week, but not the FREE BEER. The FREE BEER has never let us down. To that end, I have been developing a new game named FREE BEER to launch on the site. I’m not sure about the moral value of game where the main goal is to “capture” as much FREE BEER as you can before you run out of time, but while living in a hotel with fixtures that are falling apart, resting my feet on horror-movie carpet while trying to bide the time my 5th consecutive night of insomnia, it sure seems like a fun idea. My next transmission will be the Alpha version of the game.


March 24th, 2017: FREE BEER – EPILOGUE

Map Screen

There was never an “Alpha” version of Free Beer.   The game never saw the light of any day, and I’d pretty much forgotten about it for almost 10 years until last week when I decided I wanted to try-out this new column about Dead End Game Development.

When I searched this site for mention of the game, I was surprised to find that I created some pretty significant blog posts around the game.  If you made it through the above, you’ve read them all.

Free Beer was never finished for a multitude of reasons, but I think the most significant is that, when all is told, it was really only interesting to me when I was holed-up in that hotel, marveling at the free beer 4 nights a week.   Also, it was not a particularly good idea, and when you get down do it, was just a crass attempt to be “funny” but with no real humor.

Buy hey, this was smack dab in the middle of the “Flash Game Era”, when almost any idea, no matter how weird or crass, could become a hit game.

The game was pretty basic.  You use the arrow keys to move.  You try to “drink” (run over) as ,any beers as possible in the allotted time.    The more you drink the harder it is to control.   Each level adds new challenges to make it harder to finish. The “map” screen was placeholder.  I used an image-processed Google Map of my old neighborhood. The reasons for using my old neighborhood instead of new neighborhood are lost to time, but it leave me to speculate about my true mental state at the time: was I really happy about leaving?

I found another game on my hard drive related to this one.  It was named “Free Candy”, and it was dated in October 2008.  The only difference in the other version is that instead of disembodied head  you controlled a jack-o-lantern.

“Free Beer” was never meant to be.  It was one of my windmills tilted.  A flash of an idea born out of boredom and necessity to keep idle hands busy.  It falls into the category of  what I call a “vacation brainstorm”: the types of ideas that fill your head and seem plausible because you have removed yourself from your regular, daily schedule.   There was no audience for it.  No place where it worked.  Like most dead end game development projects, it lived a rich life inside my head and on my hard drive,   but no where else.    It’s story is really the story of transition.  Of being a a transient, and how that concept can play on a person’s mental state.  It’s less a game then, then a very personal view into my own mind in the summer of 2008.  A living journal of life in flux.

Click image below to play the Free Beer prototype:
(turn your volume down, as it starts loud and can’t be controlled in this version)

 

 

Ballad Of Atari: 1981

Ballad Of Atari: 1981 (part 1)

Never Ending Walls
Fall Down To My Bouncing Ball
In Super Breakout

 

 

 

 


Ballad Of Atari: 1981(part 2)

Ugly Garden Gnome
Hides Within The Mushroom Field
Shoots Gross Insects Dead

in_the_wild_no2

Atari In the Wild No. 2: 2600, 5200, 400/800/XL/XE Carts

This is the second installment of “In The Wild”.  In this series, I do first impression reviews of games I have added to my collection of carts for old Atari Systems. In the Wild refers to me having found these while shopping at local retro gaming stores, and other non-ebay sources.

This is my first time going to a very local store (that usually doesn’t have many Atari carts) and finding many carts for all three major Atari 8-bit Cart systems (no Jag or Lynx unfortunately).  I clean and test everything on my 4 port 5200, my Atari 7800 (for 2600 and 7800 games), and my 130XE Atari computer.   Today was a great day with so many finds and nearly 1/2 of them games I will play again and again.

All images were taken by me while playing the actual carts on the actual hardware. All quality wrinkles can be chalked to to real life, bad video connections, odd camera angles and the tired editing of a middle aged man playing with old video games.

in_the_wild_no2

in_the_wild_no2

Airlock (2600) – DataAge, 1982. AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce).  AtariAge Average Critic Score 54%

airlock_cart

airlock_cart – James?

There isn’t much of a game here. Now, I didn’t read the instructions, and rarely do for these first impression finds, but I did read a couple reviews to see what I was supposed to do. It seems like you need to get out of a submarine of some sort before it fills up with water. You start at the bottom of the screen and must collect some odd hanging object(s) on each platform before your air runs out. The graphics are terrible. And by terrible I don’t mean by NES or Playstation 4 standards, I mean by PONG standards. By this time the 2600 had been out for 5 years and some of the better titles were being made. I’m not sure my brother and I ever had this, and if we did, it would have been a $1-$5 KB toys pick-up after the crash. The sounds are ok, but the game play it is just about as bad as it gets. Play in emulation and you’ll see what I mean. You can try all 2600 games at Atarimania.com.

airlock_screen

airlock_screen

I was never able to get off the bottom platform (I’m the orange thing). For a 2600 game, if you can’t just pick up and play and have fun with a little bit of instruction, it probably will not be put back in the machine very often.  I hope “James”, whose name is scrawled on the cart, got some fun out of it, but I did not.

First Impression score: 2/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.

 

Warplock (2600) – Dataage, 1982. AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 72%

warplock_cart

warplock_cart – James? He had some crappy games.

Another game that “James” owned before I got my hands on it. This is a piss poor version of Activision’s Megamania that uses the paddle controllers. You have a single life and you are attacked by “waves” (1-3 enemy per game “level”) that I could get to. It might be my paddles, but I was not able to control the centering of the “gun” at the bottom well. (not that I’d want to really try too hard). You get 1 point for each hit on a “alien?” and your game is over if they hit you are you are hit by a “bomb?” that they drop.

warplock_screen

warplock_screen  I know this screen looks awful. There isn’t much game and mostly reflection of me. You’re not missing much.

What can I say, “James” had terrible games in his collection.  This one I might go back to.  The sounds and graphics are minimal, as is the fun.

First Impression Score 3/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.

 

Summer Games (2600) – Epyx 1987. Atariage Rarity 4 (scarce +).  videogamecritic.com review score B+

summer_games_cart

summer_games_cart – yes. it’s dirty. Every version I have seen looks like this.

This game alone was worth the trip to the game store.  I don’t know the technical aspects of the cart, but it seems to add both ram and bank-switched ROM to the VCS (2600). You definitely need the instructions to play the 7 events, but very few are of the “joystick waggler” variety (I’m looking at you Activision Decathlon).

summer_games_screen

summer_games_screen – It took my son and I like 30 minutes to figure out where the lens flare was coming from. We never did, so this is the ugly pic we have. Luckily, you can google all of these games and get great video and pics – but even a video of Warplock isn’t going to make it look any better.

This definitely merits more play time.  Very nice graphics and pretty decent sound. May very well be a sleeper top 20 game in the 2600 library.

First Impression Score 8/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.

 

Superman (2600) – Atari 1979. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 45%

superman_cart

superman cart

Many people consider this an absolute classic (not the average review scores though) for the 2600. A pre-cursor to the classic Adventure.  Without the instruction manual, this is game is an absolute mess. It’s from 1979, so consider it a peer of the Homerun, Football, and Golf era of 2K flickery Atari VCS carts.  I had trouble doing much, but I think it will be better once I read the manual on AtariAge.  I think there is potential here, but it certainly needs patience and at least a little reading to figure out.

superman_screen

superman_screen

Sound and graphic wise, it is a lot of a flickery mess of screens that seem to work like the Winchester Mystery House in placement and design.

First Impression Score 4/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A.

Burger Time (2600) – Mattel 1982. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 57%

burgertime_cart

burgertime_cart

Since I play all of my games 2600 games on a 7800, i was initially fooled into thinking this cart didn’t work. They use the difficulty switches for the number of players and to the pause the game. So with both switches in the A position, the game would never start.  I paused the game. (what?). I found a manual scan online and read through enough to figure out how to get the game started. This is one game where I seriously do not agree with the internet critics. Yes, the graphics are mostly just blocks, and when you throw salt the game freezes for a second, but by god does it play a fun version of BurgerTime. The music is good, the sounds goods, the animation and game play a little slow, but heck, it’s 10X better than Air or Warp Lock.

burgertime_screen

burgertime screen

Don’t let the naysayers tell you the game is awful, research this one for yourself. You may not like it, but I sure did. This stays in the play again pile for a while!

First Impression Score 7/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on B.

Smurf Rescue (2600) – Coleco 1982 AtariAge Rarity 4 (scarce +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 72%

smurf_rescue_cart

smurf_rescue_cart – Yep this cart is DIRTY. If you look closely, you can see that I took the photo on top of  my 130XE with the Ultimate Cart plugged in.

Now, this is another game where I differ with the internet critics. It sucks! I give it a -1. Why? Because it I literally broke by original 2600 joystick trying to jump the first fence.  Ok, That -1 is because I’m pissed, and I know of two CX-40’s at the local Book Off that I can get for $5.00 each, and will even super glue this one back together.

broken_stick

broken_stick – Looking at it now, this might have been a Atari Flashback replica stick. I still haven’t fixed it.  SMS stick to rescue.

This actually is a very good looking, good sounding game that I just suck at.  You walk from left to right through contiguous screens of nasties to finally rescue Smurfette.  Very well made, but a bitch to play (at least for me and my CX-40)

smurf_rescue_screen

smurf_rescue_screen – colorful, well made, but ultimately frustrating game (at least for me and my joystick)

First Impression Score 7/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on B.
Second Impression Score -1/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on B. Broke my joystick and I can’t get by the first fence.

 

Dolphin (2600) – Activision 1983 AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 78%

dolphin_cart

dolphin cart – like all aged Activision carts, this one is dirty. It seems Atari had the best Cart label ideas.

Dolphin is an innovative VCS game that uses sound effects in interesting ways to give the player clues about what is occurring (particularity where the “hole” in the upcoming vertical line of sea horses, blocking the way, is located).  This game makes the mistake of  giving the player a side view perspective to control a creature that can see in front of himself (or herself). It’s kind of neat, but gets frustrating very quickly.  High pitched tones mean the “hole” or “break” the Dolphin can swim through is higher up the screen and low tones mean it is further down. No matter what, I could never really dodge octopus that chases the dolphin easily, and never saw the seagull that does a Pac-man turn the tables and lets the Dolphin chase the octopus.

dolphin_screen

dolphin_screen – Is the government adding vapor trails to my game screens?

In any case, the game looks and sounds awesome. A very “Activisiony” looking game with a very “Activisiony” play mechanic (simple, but hard to master).

First Impression Score 6/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A

Fishing Derby (2600) – Activision 1980 AtariAge Rarity 3 (scarce). AtariAge Average Critic Score 79%

fishing_derby_cart

fishing_derby_cart

Fishing Derby is an absolute classic and a joy to play.  One of the Best looking and playing VCS games of the time, and maybe all time. You and a computer player or a second player sit on the docks, and use your fishing poles to try and catch fish. The lower they are in the water, the more points you receive for reeling them in.

fishing_derby_screen

fishing_derby_screen

There is a shark that will knock your line and free a fish that you are reeling.   This is one of the games that put David Crane on the map, and turned Activision into a super star company.

First Impression Score 9/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A

Star Fox (2600) – 1983 Mythicon AtariAge Rarity 4 (scarce +).  videogamecritic.com ratijng F-

star_fox_cart

star fox_cart – They put a lot more effort into the cart then they did the game

From a couple of the best VCS games ever to one of the absolute worst. Now, I didn’t think it was an F-, but there is very little redeeming about this generic defender style clone.  I like what your ship looks like. In fact, it looks like something I probably drew on graph paper back in grade school when I “designing” my own Atari games.  The game play consists of you spastically trying to pick up crystals at the bottom of the screen and shooting at really evil baddies. There is a strange happy face in the top left that really creeps me out.

star_fox_screen

star_fox_screen – why is it smiling that evil smile at me?

I was never able to pick up a crystal because as you near the bottom of the screen you can’t move horizontally any more. It makes the game suck.  I guess you might be under water, because there seem to be row boats in the sky above.

I have no idea really. The whole thing is too fast, and really not fun. It gets a couple points only because of the design of the player ship.

First Impression Score 2/10 – play settings – Game 1, difficulty switches both on A

Super Breakout (Atari 400/800/XL/XE) – Atari 1979 Average User Score 8.1 / 10 – Atarimania.com. Rarity NA

super_breakout_cart

super breakout cart

It doesn’t hurt that progressive Super Breakout is one of my all time favorite variations, and that the Atari 8-bit computer version is my favorite version of breakout. I was really lucky to find this cart.  All Atari 8-bit carts are pretty rare, and no one spends much time calculating how rare, but in my local travels to the various game stores in out area (4) I have never found one. This game is an absolute, unadulterated classic.

super_breakout_screen

super_breakout_screen

This was The Tetris of its time. If you haven’t played a version, pick up an emulator, or try to get this or the 2600 version. The best way to play is with the original Paddle controllers. You will NOT be disappointed.

First Impression Score 10/10 – play settings – Game 2, Progressive

 

Berzerk (5200) – Atari 1983. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 92%

 

berzerk_cart

berzerk cart

 

This IS the Arcade classic. If you have never seen or played Berzerk, look it up. This version is almost 100% identical to the coin-op and really shows what can be done with the Atari Computer/5200/XE Game System Hardware (all share the same chip set and code base, save for controller functions on the 5200).

berzerk_5200_screen

berzerk_5200_screen

What else can I say, but play this puppy. I didn’t experience any control problems, and had a blast (literally), kicking Robot Butt.

NOT TO BE MISSED!

First Impression Score 10/10 – play settings – Game 1, one player.

Space Dungeon (5200) – Atari 1983. AtariAge Rarity 2 (common +). AtariAge Average Critic Score 97%

space_dungeon_cart

space_dungeon_cart

Space Dungeon requires 2 working 5200 controllers (and is a breaker of them also). I don’t have a “coupler” to hold two sticks at the same time, but the game is fun anyway. One stick is used to move and the other to shoot, giving you ultimate control (once you get used to it) Some people have called it a cross between Robotron and Venture, but I to me it is the best parts of Robotron, Berzerk, and and Gantlet.

space_dungeon_screen

space_dungeon_screen

You have a radar map that shows you the rooms you need to go to and in each you pick up treasure and blast enemies. There is a wide variety of treasure and enemy to shoot.   This game is not rare, but I had never played it before. It shows off the best of what the 5200 can do, and just plain rips.  You won’t want to put it down.

First Impression Score 10/10 – play settings – Game 1, one player.

Linkstorm!: 8bitrocket Retro Gaming News Update

IDW To Release Atari Themed Board Games

Images (c) IDW Games

IDW Games, designers and distributors of a multitude of games (including the magnificent The Game) have signed a deal to create board games based on Atari properties.  The first will be Centipede in September 2017, followed Asteroids and Missile Command.   The games will be deagined by John Gilmour, co-deasigner of Dead Of Winter.

The IDW web site describes the games as

Set to capture the feel of these classic titles, the Atari line of board games are fun, intense and fast-paced. While each game in the series will play differently from the others, they will all have you nostalgic for the days of being hunched over a CRT in a dark arcade with your eyes on the prize: top of the high-score chart.

You can find out more here: IDW Games

The Arcade Blogger

This is not really news, but I love this blog!  Tony Temple over at The Arcade Blogger runs his site as “A UK based blog about the preservation and history of Classic Arcade Video Games from the 70s and 80s.”  He has a particular affection for the game Missile Command, which I can totally appreciate, as I created my own version named “Flak Cannon” for our book, The Essential Guide To Flash Games.   His most recent story is named “A Hole In The Atari Battlezone Story“, which is an in-depth dive into oddities in the Battlezone cabinet.   I look forward to visiting this site often

Image (c) Amazon.com

Art Of Atari Poster Book Now On Pre-Sale

The follow-up to Tim Lapetino’s magnificent The Art Of Atari is coming in June of this year.  The Art Of Atari Poster Book: 40 pages of removable, flammable posters of classic Atari art for an MSRP of $24.99.

This one looks awesome!  I’m sure the iconic Atari images included in their poster formwill adorn games rooms, man-caves, barcades and the like for decades to come.

 

 

 

 

Links:

As always, here is our growing list of links we find interesting.

 

 

 

 

Ballad Of Atari: 1980

Ballad Of Atari: 1980 (part 1)

VCS Breaks Through
Sales Sky Rocket With Space
Invaders Cartridge

 

 

 


Ballad Of Atari: 1980 (part 2)

Atari Is The
Fastest Growing Company
Ever Recorded

Review: Lucky Wander Boy plus Interview With Author D.B. Weiss

(note: An edited version of  this review originally appeared on http://www.gamerdad.com in 2003)

 For the past 9 months, I have ventured passed the realm of the “Classic Game Fan” to a destination that can only be described as the absurd.  I have been a fan of Atari since around 1977.  I’ve owned every major system (and most minor ones) produced by the company in both its glory, and not-so-glorious days.  I have been fascinated by it’s history and lore ever since I was 7 years old after played Combat! for the first time. in TV section in the back of Fedmart.  In the past few years, books like Steven Kent’s The First Quarter , Wilson/Demaria’s  High Score and Leonard Herman’s Phoenix have covered the early history of Atari in great detail, but have left out much of it’s fascinating and intricate second life (beginning in 1984) as Atari Corp. and Atari Games.  Around December of last year, I decided it was time that someone rectify the situation.  I’m not sure why I thought I, was that person, but delusions of grandeur might have played a small but significant part.  In the span of a few weeks, using online and printed resources, I collected an 1800 page document filled with articles and stories, interviews and miscellaneous facts about Atari.  In the ensuing months, I boiled down a subset of those pages into 180 page “timeline” of important  Atari dates and events, with literally no end in sight.  In that time, I collected 1000’s more articles, magazines, copyright, trademark, patent records, and haunted web sites like www.atariage.com, www.atariprotos.com, www.atarimagazines.com, www.atari-museum.com , all to help create a full-picture of this landmark and storied company.   eBay stole much of my money as I bid on old Atari books, magazines, and catalogues.  I emailed questions to dozens old programmers associated with Atari such as Scott Adams (Adventures) , Peter Oliphant (Mr. Cool, Wall War) and Chris Crawford (Easter Front, Energy Czar) just to see if they would answer my queries (most did).  Some nights in the past 9 months I spent 5-8 hours straight sifting through BBS posts from the mid-80’s to find elusive release dates and trivia to add to the timeline.   The online editions of Ebesco magazine and Proquest Newspaper databases became new discoveries, offering  tidal-waves of headlines and articles that still call for my attention.  I spent too many lunch-hours (some stretching the name “lunch hour” to it’s extreme) at the local library, scanning microfilm of long-lost newspapers for articles and advertisements that might have that one last piece of information to make MY history better than any others.

As I got deeper and deeper into this project, I started to neglect other “free-time” activities so I could add to the “document”.  I stopped playing video games, programming, web site work, watching TV and anything that might get in the way of the my goal: the ultimate history of Atari.   However, as each one of these sacrifices  piled-up I started hearing a voice in my mind that would not go away.  The voice kept asking  “why am I really doing this?, what is this for?”  It was just a faint whisper at the beginning, but as the months droned-on, I started hearing it more and more, at ever-increasing levels of volume.  By June of this year, the sound of that voice rose to a level that could not be ignored.  It was like all the projects and plans I had sacrificed for the “Atari Project” were clamoring to become important to me again.  My original plan was to create a complete timeline of Atari, and then add to it my own numerous observations and experiences to make it the ultimate account of Atari’s effect on our culture.    I questioned the whole idea of the “Atari Project” itself.  I thought, “what kind of person spends this much time on something they suspect  was a lost-cause to begin with?  Just the idea of working on the document began to make me physically ill.    When Mr. Andrew Bub. gave me the chance to write for this website, I took it as a opportunity to distance myself from the “Atari Project”, hone my neophyte writing skills, and try to figure out just what it was I was trying to accomplish in the first place.

A few days ago I finished reading an amazing book that put most of my “Atari Project” into the proper perspective.  Lucky Wander Boy (Plume, 2003) by D.B. Weiss chronicles the fictional exploits of one Adam Pennyman, a 30-something dot.com copywriter with a gorgeous Polish girlfriend he seems incapable of pleasing, and nagging wander-lust that keeps him forever unsatisfied.  This protagonist of Weiss’s brilliantly paced, and hilarious novel is a recently awakened classic gaming fan who is working on a book named the “Catalog Of Obsolete Entertainments” or “COE” for short.  The COE when finished, promises to be a complete listing of important classic games each described in great detail as to their game play, artistry, and their significance alongside important literature, movies, philosophy, etc.

In other words, Adam’s project is not unlike a much more literate and well-read version of my Atari Project.  At first this repelled me from reading too much of the story because if it was a full-on satire, it might “hit too close to home”, confirming my suspicions that my own project was completely without merit, nailing its lid shut forever.

Since I possessed a slight fear of the book itself,  I eased into it’s pages.  It took me several days to traverse the first few chapters.  I was slowly convincing myself that this book was not something to be afraid of. About ¼ of the way through my outlook turned cautiously optimistic, taking me only a few days to reach the mid-point of the story.   I still was not sure if the unfolding events would hit me too hard, knocking the wind out of my “Atari Project”, but I’d reached the point of no return.  The book was so good, it didn’t seem to matter anymore what the sum-total affect would be.   At that point, I was fully engulfed, my appetite for the text became voracious, and I managed to finish the rest of the book in just a few hours.

Whatever my fears might have been, this well-written first novel from D.B. Weiss got my attention, and it wasn’t just because of its classic video-game content.

Weiss blends several different writing styles (straight easy to read prose, undergraduate-level compare/contrast essays, technical writing, movie scripts) into a completely engaging first-person account of Adam Pennyman’s search for “meaning” while sifting through the nostalgia of his childhood.  Adam’s work on the COE begins with MAME, but leads him to other emulators and bonafide classic games (Donkey Kong, Mr. Do, Pac Man, etc.), and finally to the game fictional Lucky Wander Boy, a machine so rare that no ROM is available, and few if any arcade cabinets are still in existence.    It’s this game and the fact that Adam never reached it’s elusive 3rd level, that drives the story through three distinct “acts” to it’s satisfying conclusion.

The story is told in the first person, as Adam describes to the reader his introduction, and subsequent immersion into the world of classic video games.   We learn about the most important game Adam played as young boy , “Microsurgeon” for the Mattel Intellivision, and why video games became so important to him.  We travel to with from  Los Angeles, across the  country, and around the world.  All the while we watch Adam get more and more immersed in his quest, and we see the effect it has on the people around him.  We learn early on about the stability of Adam’s mind, and at points, begin to question his interpretation of the events that he is describing.

Lucky Wander Boy is filled with characters and locations that are so true to life, you can imagine them as real people:  Adam’s  uber-geek love interest Clio, the dot.bomb “Portal Entertainment” where Adam works, the guys who fill a classic gaming convention, the arcade Adam frequented as a kid.  As well, the actual history and classic gaming details are mostly accurate, and better yet, chosen to have a maximum effect on the story.   The promised land of destiny Adam visits with Clio at the end of the book’s second act is so perfect, you’ll think “yep, that’s where this HAD to take place” and at the same time kick yourself for not figuring out the location in the first place.   The book finishes in a way that all my favorite books finish. There are no tricks or twists, or  “she’s a he!” 180’s that turn your emotional investment in the material into  a moot point.   It ends that way it should end.  All points in the story lead to its inevitable conclusion, and better yet, you probably will not see it coming until it all unfolds before you.

Initially after finishing Lucky Wander Boy , the fears for my “Atari Project” were realized.  Not only did I want to stop working on it, I wanted to toss  it out the window.   Why did I even think I could complete such a thing? In some ways, Weiss’ book covers some of the same ground that I wanted cover, but in such a vastly superior and engaging way it would make any straight-telling of video game nostalgia seem ironic by comparison.    I decided I needed to know more about the book.   I contacted Mr. Weiss, and he agreed to an interview.  He was kind and gracious enough to respond to me very quickly.   The following is transcript  (this contains a few minor spoilers).

 

Q: How did you get started writing?

I’ve always written things. I remember my first stories were written on that thick-lined, horizontal paper they used in grade school. I never really stopped.

Q: What kind of response has the book received?

It’s been overwhelmingly favorable — much better than I thought. A lot of people who don’t particularly care about videogames read it and wrote to tell me they liked it anyway. But I was worried that the gaming
community would have a lot of nasty things to say about it because I got ‘x’ or ‘y’ wrong, but 95% of the gamers I’ve talked to about the book haven’t been like that at all. They related to it, and were happy to be represented in a novel.

Q: What is your favorite part of LWB?

Ah… definitely the “bad movie script” excerpt. However hard I worked on the best-written five pages in the book, I worked four times that hard on those bad screenplay pages. Tons of research. I think those five or so pages really capture the essence of a hidden genre, usually (and thankfully) invisible to the public.

Q: Where did the idea for the “Catalog Of Obsolete Entertainments” come from?

I’d wanted to do a piece of videogame-related fiction for a long time, and I knew from the beginning it was
going to involve something like the Catalogue — i.e., a videogame obsessive’s thoughts about the games he’s played. The actual story came afterwards.

Q: The details of “Classic Games” are quite extensive and fairly accurate in  LWB. You seemed nail the hardcore classic game fan  “Classic. Video. Games. as well as the lore and trappings of conventions and  attitudes.    Are you a  classic games fan, or are you just a great  researcher?

I am a classic (and current) gaming fan, and it was my enthusiasm for the subject that pushed me through the research. There was a lot of research — at the outset, I wasn’t nearly involved enough with the games
to write the book (or hadn’t been for years). So it was a combination of the two. As research goes, playing 5 hours of Tempest is a pretty sweet deal.

Q: Anya Budna seems like the geek ideal of a  “comic  book” woman, while Clio  seems to be the opposite “ideal” geek woman who not  only likes the same geek  stuff as a geek, but actively participates.  Neither  seem to be the answer  for Adam.  Were you attempting to show these two  sides of the “geek ideal  woman?

Well, I’ll just say that the questions Adam has to answer for himself before any kind of meaningful interaction with any woman (or anyone else, for that matter) are possible precede any questions about whatkind of woman is right for him. Necessary changes being made, he and Clio would probably work prettywell as a couple. The question is: Can (or should) the necessary changes be made? Okay, that’s pretty
muddled. I’ll stop there.

Q: At a couple points in the story I starting  thinking that Anya might not  even be a real character, but just a figment of  Adam’s imagination.  Was  this intentional, or just a figment of “my  imagination”?

Hmmm… I hate scotching any interpretation of the book that sounds better than what I had in mind… I did intend her to be real, but I also intended for his extreme unreliability (especially toward the end) to make his story as a whole problematic. So I guess my intentions were working at cross purposes there.

Q: The structure of the story starts out seeming very chaotic, but by the end seems finely tuned and crafted.  Did you start the book knowing where it  was going to end?

I did know more or less how it was going to end. Didn’t quite know how I was going to get there, but I
always like to keep some notion of an ending in mind, to get me through that long, dangerous middle.

 Q: As well, the details of working for a “dot.com”  type operation are far  too close to reality to be mere figments of your  imagination.  Do you have  any experience working in the environment?

I did some copywriting for an internet outfit that shall remain unnamed. They’re actually still solvent
and going strong, which sets them apart from the company in the book.


Q: Are there any other portions of the book that are autobiographical?

Some settings and physical details of people and places were stolen from life, but by and large the thing is made up. My life doesn’t have the excitement and/or level of obsession necessary for a good story. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I destroyed anyone’s place of business with a battle axe.

Q: Even though LWB is specifically about classic  video games, so you think the themes are universal to other forms of “Geek” > (even as far as the “sports geek”) as described by Adam in one of his COE entries?

Oh, definitely. I think you could have written a very similar book about beekeeping, or wine collecting, or
even sports fixations… oh, wait. Someone did write that last one. Someone named Fred Exley. It’s called A
FAN’S NOTES, and it’s better than LUCKY WANDER BOY. Never mind.

Q: Do you liken the “surreal” aspect of classic games to that of early Hollywood movies, where the technicals kept the  images from looking real, but added to the transcendental aspect of the stories?

I’ll still watch some silent movies — say, Murnau’s FAUST, or Dreyer’s VAMPYR — and feel that the
jury-rigged in-camera effects they used were more effective for conveying the particular altered realities they were trying to convey than any CGI could have been. And to use Marshall McLuhan’s terminology, they were “cooler” — they required your own participation to fill in the wonderful or horrible details, to bridge the gap between what you were seeing and what you would be seeing and feeling if you were in that situation. So yes, I think the exact same thing could be said about early videogames.

Q: Adam has many misconceptions about LWB that lead  to his own inaccurate  conclusions about its origins, and its meaning.  Do  you believe that media  like games, books, movies, etc. have a life of their  own, beyond what the authors/creators intended?

That’s why I don’t like to go into too much detail about what this or that aspect of the book “means.” The life books have in readers’ minds is often every bit as interesting and vibrant as the life they have in their authors’ minds.

Q: Do you think people tend to find meaning in  things that are foreign or  “mysterious” even if they might be rather mundane to the indigenous population?

They do if involvement with something scarce, foreign or unique is important to their sense of who they are. Things are often found in translation when something is taken out of its indigenous sphere and into some other context, I think.

Q: In LWB, Adam was affected by video games at a fairly young age (early teens). What are your views on the effects, positive or negative, that video games may have on young kids today?

That’s a big question. They’re not going to make anybody kill anybody if they weren’t going to do that
anyway, but beyond that, I’m pretty biased. I mean, my best friend’s son is 3, and I’m like the devil in the
corner, badgering them to let him come over to my house and play Xbox, even though the controller is 10
times too big for his hands.

 Q: Do you think those effects are any different with today’s hyper-realistic games?

Ah, I don’t know. People were up in arms about Death Race, they were up in arms about Berserk, and Double Dragon and Mortal Kombat and Quake and GTAIII, and each time it’s “Okay, forget about that last one… this one is different.” The gory details are still so far from even the stuff you see on network TV, I
really don’t worry about it much at this point.

Q: If you had kids, what kinds of games would you let them play?

Well, not having kids (yet), that’s an easy one for me to shoot my mouth off about, isn’t it? I think it
would be so dependent on the kids themselves, especially once they hit 11, 12, 13, that it’s hard to
answer. I imagine that once they got to high school, I would no longer have the will (or the ability) to keep
them away from anything they wanted to play. I came from a home where the parental control in the
book/movie/music/videogame department was fabulously lax. If I wanted to check out NAKED LUNCH at 13… no problems there. I was forbidden to rent, say, a pornographic movie, or FACES OF DEATH… so I watched them at someone else’s house. Despite these years of mental poisoning, I made it through, with no police  record that I know of, and am now a more or less productive citizen — because my parents were
parents. They were always there for me, they were always a part of my life, they always made sure the
lines of communication were open. I’d probably follow their example. Remembering back, it seems to me a lot of parental ‘culture proscriptions’ were a sort of quick fix parenting, in lieu of communication — which
is so much more difficult than Just Saying No.

Q: Are you working on another novel?

Yep. 17th century Germany. Not much in the way of videogames back then.

It took me a few about 24 hours to digest Mr. Weiss’ answers.  I could not decided if he had inspired me to continue my “Atari Project”, or just forget it altogether.  I tried to think of Lucky Wander Boy in terms of my own work, and an idea occurred to me.  With my “Atari Project” I was trying to place “meaning” on my Atari experiences, but I was never sure if that “meaning” would arise from annals Atari itself, or instead,  from my vigorous quest to find it.    I quickly sent Mr. Weiss a follow-up question, asking him if the same was true for Adam in Lucky Wander Boy.  I asked him:

 

Q: Do you think Adam actually found true “meaning” in Lucky Wander Boy, or
instead, did meaning arise from the quest itself, no matter what the final
discovery may have been?

 

He never responded, and I took that as my answer.  Sure, he might have simply thought I was a raving lunatic (the jury is still out), but no answer can still be an answer.  Like Mr. Weiss said in the interview, he hates “ scotching any interpretation of the book that sounds better than what I had in mind”, and that is all that mattered.  I was getting my answer, no matter what the author intended, and while Lucky Wander Boy spurred it on, it really came from myself.

 

I began to understand that the story is not really about classic video games at all, but instead, it is a universal story about the need to search for your own feelings, and discover your own meaning in whatever it is you are exploring in life..  The book is less an indictment of fandom, than it is wildy funny and surreal journey of someone who starts on a  video game “vision quest”, that turns into an completely self-obsorbed and obsessive journey to find “meaning” from nostalgia in the modern world.  In that sense, there just might be space for anyone to write their own account of what their past has meant to them, and how it affects their present.  Last night, for the first time in several months, I visited www.atariprotos.com, a web site dedicated to prototype Atari 2600/5200/7800 cartridges.    There were a few new entries, so I broke out my “Atari Document” and filled in a few spots that had before been left blank.   My Atari Project did not seem “dead” at that moment, but simply in hibernation waiting for me to return to it.   There were real reasons why I wanted to complete the project and while there is no guarantee it will ever be finished, or that anyone will ever want to read it, I feel compelled to continue with it.  I may never find “meaning” within the seemingly random facts, and dates of my Atari Timeline, but just like Adam in Lucky Wander Boy by taking it to it’s conclusion, I just might find the “meaning” within myself that compelled me to start the project in the first place.

 

Kid Factor: Don’t even try to read Lucky Wander Boy to your kids, it’s simply not that kind of book.  Some of the material may be objectionable, but to be honest, most kids just won’t “get” what is happening in the first place. I think the book is best read by readers aged 25+ who are just starting to realize the actual sweating, claustrophobic, panic that nostalgia can generate.    This is not just a good book, but a great piece of literature.  Mature high school students who have “cool” English teachers, could probably get away with writing a paper on this book, as it’s as good or better than some of the “classic” literature I consumed “back-in-the-day”.   I recommend D.B. Weiss’s Lucky Wander Boy  to anyone who enjoys a little thinking with their reading,  to any fan of classic video games, and especially to anyone who ever “geeked-out” attempting to find “meaning” in things that other might find silly or trivial.

 

Update:  D.B. Weiss is now a writer, producer and director for Game Of Thrones on HBO.  Lucky Wander Boy was released as “Video Games” in 2014 for the French Market.  His book on 17th Century Germany, as far I can tell, was never released.

 

 

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