Posted on May 25, 2018
Our world is a mess, at least the human part of it is a mess, and the mess is going to be super hard to clean up because it’s humungous. At the core of the mess humanity has made of itself and the planet we live on is one of the deadly sins… Greed.
What is greed? That’s a long and philosophical debate that’s probably out of the scope of a retro computer blog but I’m going to tackle it anyhow, only because I think that vintage computing may hold some of the answers–at least on an abstract level–to the problems humanity faces moving forward. What’s greed though? I think at the core, greed is having or using more of anything than is needed.
Greed has been good, just ask Gordon Gekko, in a lot of ways. There is all sorts of fantastic decadent artwork and culture that has sprung from greed. We wouldn’t have Rococo if it weren’t for greed. By the same token, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of the amazing computer technologies we enjoy today as well. Our entire digital platform as a species is based on a greed for processing power and data and for the innovation, that type of greed has been good. However, our culture of more and more and more and more on top of that has had dire consequences.
Humanity is moving into a critical phase where we might just as easily destroy ourselves as make the next evolutionary leap. Humans take a greed perspective by default because it’s a safe bet. Worried about getting hungry? Store a crap load of food. Think your neighbor might steal your horse? Kill him, and then kill his entire family so that you don’t have to worry about revenge. Want to make a fun game for a computer? Throw a crapload of processing power and memory at your project and it will be awesome. As we move forward as a species, this is a terrible way to look at things. It’s not only going to ensure that we destroy ourselves, it’s going to make us weak when we have to start dealing with dwindling resources on a planet with way too many people. What can we do? How do we get over this greed thing? I think that things like Pico-8 hold, at least in abstract, the answer.
Pico-8 is a “Fantasy Console.” That’s what the guy who created it calls it. I think that Pico-8 is more of virtual console, because it’s pretty much real and not pretend, so not so much a fantasy. I think of a fantasy as my dream of marrying Erin Gray circa 1980, it’s never gonna happen. But Pico-8 is happening, and people, including myself, are making, sharing and playing awesome little games with it.
That’s right, you can make, play and share games or programs on the “Fantasy” console, but back to why Pico-8 solves the problem of greed; the resources you use to develop your games are incredibly limited. Okay, Pico-8 isn’t Atari VCS limited, but it’s still limited as crap. I won’t bore you with the technicalities, you can bore yourself with that when you try Pico-8 out, but I’ll tell you that if you want to make a game that’s even slightly more extensive than Space Invaders that you’re going to have to use some creative resource management. And it’s that skill that I believe is lacking in many of the problem solvers of the Western world; we just use way too much to do way too little. Developing on Pico-8 can help to alleviate some of the propensity for greed that first worlders suffer from. But enough about all that, lets look at some fun aspects of the Fantasy Console.
Pico-8 is only $15, and games are free. You can get Pico-8 and another title called Voxatron for $20–I haven’t tried Voxatron yet but I will–both are supposedly pre-release beta or alpha, but you can do plenty with either of them. Pico-8 has lots of free games that have been created by members of the community. You don’t have to own a copy to play the games online, and you can publish any of your games on the Pico-8 BBS, or on your own website if you want. You need to buy a copy if you want to develop games, and you need some programming knowledge (not much) to get started developing. Pico-8 uses the programming language Lua, that is very well documented in it’s own right, and the Pico-8 documentation is all you really need. You can run the console on a PC, Mac, Linux, or even a Raspberry Pi.
I think the best part about Pico-8 for me personally is that it has an intentionally limited scope. I can’t get all crazy Don Quixote on it because I’m limited. And that not only means a good deal more creativity comes out, but it also means that I’ll finish a project. Not to un-toot my own horn, but I do tend to start projects, expand their scope, and never finish the project … Because I made it too big. However, Pico-8 keeps me well constrained! I was able to complete a rather good game, if I do say so myself, without going all nutty project scope crazy. I’m just saying that if you’re a big dreamer like me Pico-8 is good medicine for getting things done.
I could say a bunch more but I think it’s best for anyone interested to just go and check out the Pico-8 Website. There you’ll get all the info and the good stuff. And, like I said, Pico-8 can teach you, your kids, your students, your neighbor who’s family you killed because you were worried about loosing your horse, how to do more with less. And that’s the only way we’re ever going to have a chance in hot hinges of hades of finding solutions to that ball of problems that might just make us the next dinosaurs for the insect people to find and put in their museums in a hundred million years.
Posted on May 24, 2018
Was it the late 90’s or early 2000’s when the thing to do was to name your band “The <insert lead singer name here> Project?” Yeah it was around that time I think, I even knew some girl who had a band with that very name (her name rather than <insert lead singer name here>); you get the point.
I’m making my own band (project), but this one is an Atari 2600 (VCS) deal. I’m going full bore retro-head geek and finally making a home-brew game for Atari 2600–maybe. But! Like all good projects this one spun way off the cake as I expanded the scope so wide that it’s anyone’s guess if I’ll ever complete it, but dammit it’s still fun to take that journey isn’t it? Therefore, I’m going to (in the words of a university professor I had in business school) “eat the elephant one bite at a time.” And this elephant is a big and retro bad girl, she’s a man-eater and this is why:
I started out by stumbling on an Atari 2600 cartridge shell that I have the ability to print on thingverse.com, that led to a dream I’ve always had of making my own cartridge game. I’ve been down this road before and I have 20 empty 2600 cartridges, a 4k eeprom, an eeprom burner, and a stack of old cartridge boards from the last time I wanted to do this and never followed through. In my mind this just means I’m ready to go forward with my quest for a home-brewed Atari game that’s not purely virtual. And the fever was reignited by that damn 3D printer file. Now I don’t NEED to print out a cartridge shell, I have 20 empty ones, but for some reason, I guess it’s the potential to make 20+ Atari games, I’m all hot to do this. And the printable atari cart takes like 12 hours to print, so it’s incredibly inefficient and so even more appealing to me.
In my mind the project has started and I’m a future retro-game tycoon with offices in the financial district of Los Angeles and a marketing budget that allows for Super Bowl adds. Yes, I will be the one to bring retro-games to the masses and it will all start on my Etsy store. Never mind that this is a niche market in a niche market, my classical training in marketing tells me that once I get some influencers as early adopters, this new Atari 2600 game business is going to start flying like Saturn V. Ah, but I don’t have ( a working) Atari 2600! No problem, I’ll add more sauce to this project by deciding that the best thing ever is for me to NOT to buy a working 2600 on eBay, but rather to buy a working Atari Flashback 2 and mod it with a cartridge slot. And yes, I already have that bad boy on order and I’m downloading the 3D prints for the cart slot right now.
This project has gone from probably doable, but not gonna get done, to no chance in hell of ever getting done. One bite at at time though. And I’ve ignored the main focus of the whole thing: programing the game in the first place–I’m gong to use Batari Basic. So, here’s the list of things to do, and why this is the OVERVIEW. This list is in order of what SHOULD happen first, second… But I’ll be honest, it will probably happen in a much more haphazard manner:
- Part I – Program the Game
- Part II – Write the Game ROM to an EEPROM
- Part III – Decorate a Cart
- Part IV – Make the Innards of the Cart
- Part V – Mod the Flashback 2 to Play Carts
- Part VI – Test My Game
Sheesh, this looks like a lot of work and I’ve only listed the top level tasks. One bite at a time. Anyhow, I’m going to continue to share my progress on my Quixotic quest to publish my own Atari 2600 game like 35 years late. I hope you continue to follow the progress, learn with me, go bananas with me… Let’s do this.
Stay tuned for more on this thing. Will I get it done? How long will it take? We shall see.
Posted on May 7, 2018
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the end of Atari, it was the beginning of Nintendo. Back in 83, due to market saturation, the video game market crashed. It was a video game recession that lasted for two years and put the brakes on home video game systems in the United States.
There’s probably a lot of theories and opinions out there about all the nuances of 83, but it’s hard to dispute what ended it… Nintendo. Not just any Nintendo, the Nintendo Entertainment System.
I think there was a lot of fear in the video game industry due to 83. Companies didn’t want to take a risk on video game systems while Atari 2600’s were being blown out for $50 at Thrifty Drug, and Toys R Us was selling games for $5 with a $5 rebate. Nope, things were pretty grim. But what I think they missed is that the enthusiasm of young gamers like myself at the time was not waining in the least, we just wanted something better, something new.
And that new thing was NES. It was for sure better. The graphics were unbelievable for the time, in fact they were as good as an arcade game, Super Mario Brothers to be exact. The graphics on the NES home system Super Mario Brothers were the same as the graphics in the arcade. That doesn’t seem like a big deal in todays world where you carry a supercomputer that’s connected to the world network in your pocket but back in 85 the same graphics as the arcade was a big deal. First off, Super Mario Brothers in the arcade was already state of the art, all those shaded pipes and Mario (or Luigi) got big when you ate the mushroom, and there were discernible textures… That crap was real to us kids.
Besides the amazing graphics and arcade experience NES came with a Robot and a light gun. Now I never got the robot because I bought an NES later when they started offering the core, but if you got an NES in 85 you got a light gun and a robot. I think the light gun was probably a lot more fun than the robot, but it was a robot so you just wanted it because it was a robot. Neither one of those accessories translated into long term gaming trends–do you use a light gun or a robot on any of your modern video games? If you do please send me a link to where I get that game. However, the robot and the gun were marketing hooks that sold NES systems and by extension NES games.
That’s how Nintendo ended up dominating the video game world, with a robot and a gun. I mean I guess if you have a robot and a gun you’re ahead of any game, but the folks at Nintendo understood what it was that we kids wanted and they delivered. That’s what business is all about, figure out your target market and serve them a heaping pile of what it is they want. Nintendo solved the problem of not having a system that was as good as the arcade and it included a gun and a robot that solved the problem of wanting something different. It worked, they sold a zillion of um.
Today the video game market is a lot different. I don’t pretend to understand what the kids want now, I just know they want things I couldn’t even imaging when I was a kid and it’s all because Nintendo figured out how to sell video games at a time when just about everyone else had given up on them. That’s what marketing is all about baby.
Posted on May 6, 2018
Air combat simplified. You are the only hope for the base in your Skyfox fighter plane. It’s supersonic, it has laser guns, and an autopilot that finds enemies. You can train or fight in a full invasion. It’s an out of the blue original with an unoriginal storyline but no actual popular culture root for the specific Skyfox story. It has a short comic strip on the inside of the box and that’s the extent of our understanding of the Skybox universe. That’s how a lot of games were back then, out of the blue originals with fantastic story lines that weren’t formulated by marketing focus groups or quantitative data about what target demographics want. Skyfox and the games like it were pure imagination.
I still have this game in the original box, that’s quite an accomplishment seeing as I probably got it around 1987 or so. I don’t play the original for fear of wearing this treasure out (that’s how I feel about all my originals), so I’ve been playing Skyfox on my VICE emulator.
This game is challenging but fast paced enough to keep you going back after each death. Lots and lots of enemies to kill, not like some of the old simulators that make you fly around for virtual hours looking for something to shoot at before you run out of fuel. You do run out of fuel kinda fast in Skyfox and for some reason when you do you explode.
It’s a good thing that cars don’t explode when you run out of gas because if they did I’d have been dead like ten times now. In Skyfox you die when you run out of gas, so don’t fly at full speed the whole time. Besides if you do you risk flying by the enemies so fast you can’t shoot them.
I think my favorite thing about Skyfox is the autopilot. When you can’t find enemies just push the “a” key and you get taken to things to shoot. I also like that you launch when you start in a totally Battlestar Galactica-esque launch bay thing (I feel like Starbuck). The graphics need a commendation too, they are as full color as the C64 is capable of and made to appear as 3D as possible.
Since I have Skyfox in the box, it means that I must have purchased it at Toys ‘R’ Us (RIP), because I seem to remember it behind the plexiglass display with the tickets you pulled out to take to the register (I miss that method of buying games). I’m sure it cost $9.99, that’s what most of the C64 games cost at TRU in the late 80’s because they were blowing um out. C64 games took up valuable shelf space in a world where NES and SEGA were just beginning to dominate.
When Nintendo took over it was the end of an era but the beginning of a new one. The C64 began a decline at the dawn of the NES era so games like Skyfox became less and less prevalent. When Nintendo began its takeover it restarted a system of homogeny of games that temporarily stifled the eclectic nature of the game industry as a whole. For a little while there wasn’t room for the out of the blue originals like Skyfox.
Now we live in a world where variety is endless. However, I think that the reign of Nintendo–while it revitalized the industry–may have had the unintentional effect of killing the untamed imagination in games of the future. I’m just speculating but almost all games, commercial or independent, today seem to lack that unleashed creativity that was present in the early days. It’s probably just a function of an art form maturing and there are bound to be periods to come of games that are new types of expression–the art form is very new by historical standards. Projects like Pico-8, I think, are bringing new unfettered expression to video games. We shall see.
All academic discussion aside, Skyfox is worth a go on your favorite C64 emulator. Maybe you’ll get farther in it than I have so far, maybe you’ll see what I mean by unfettered creativity, or maybe you’ll hate the game and call me a liar. Whatever the outcome, may you save the base from the enemy always.
Posted on May 5, 2018
Here’s a list of things / behaviors that might indicate that you’re a retro-computing (retropute) nerd:
- You use apt-get to install Mame
- You have more than two C64s in a closet
- You clean out your storage space and find about 50 Atari and NES cartridges you forgot you owned
- You have the 80’s Pac Man cartoon on DVD
- You have the 80’s Qbert cartoon DVD on your Amazon wishlist
- Over the years you have owned at least two different versions of Dragons Lair
- Over the years you have owned at least two different versions of Space Ace
- You can hum all the C64 Ultima IV tunes
- You listen to SID tunes
- You think that Spotify should have SID tracks
- You know what SID is
- You know what a 6510 is
- You know how to program a 6510 with assembly
- You remember when Apple was to Commodore as Microsoft is to Apple
- You owned a Coleco anything
- You remember the video game crash of 83
- You own a VIC 20
- You own a TRS 80
- You own an Atari anything
- You consider Nintendo 64 to be a “newer system”
- You were pretty sure the graphics couldn’t get better than SNES
- You have a Raspberry PI dedicated to Retropi
- You finished an Ultima game
- You’ve used telnet to play Moria
- You’ve used telnet to play any MUD
- You know what GOPHER was
- You know what WAIS was
- You have an SDF account
- You own a modem < 14400
- You know that AOL was called Quantum Link
- You have ever visited a BBS
- You have booted or do boot programs with a tape drive
- You still call applications “programs”
- You hate that they changed programing to “coding” (Why?)
- You own at least one coffee table book about Atari
- You dig chip tunes
- You write music on a tracker
- You still own at least one CRT
- You own a TV/Game switch
- You own at least one Mac Classic
- You own an Apple II
- you ever used Lynx to browse the web
- Your first ISP was a Unix Shell account
- You have a Pac Man t-shirt
- You think the best 3D graphics are isometric
- You bought Target’s handheld Oregon Trail without looking at the price
- You have finished 8bit Zelda
- You have finished 8bit Metroid
- You have, or you wish you had, a 1571 drive
- You think the best robots were produced by Tomy
Posted on May 4, 2018
A seriously hard game that came out for NES around the same time as Metroid. Actually, I think they came out at the exact same time but whatever. The first time I saw Kid Icarus I was at a friends house–I always checked out the best games at friend’s houses–and we called it, Kid Ic-are-us because we didn’t realize it was a shout out to the Icarus of Greek mythology. I was amazed this game when I first saw it, the graphics were astounding, and the gameplay was fun and original. But it was hard as hell, and even as a tween I wasn’t all about playing video games at the expense of all else, I mean this was puberty onset time and girls were getting particularly interesting.
In my tweens, girls and video games hadn’t made the full meld that they have today. I mean its not unusual to find gamer girls today who ride skateboards and call themselves nerds, as in: “Oh my god! I’m such a nerd!” Quick side note, if you say “Oh my god! I’m such a nerd!” you aren’t a nerd. I’m a nerd. Playing some video games on your X-box does not a nerd make. If you know what apt-get install mame means than you might be a nerd. I should do a “you might be a nerd” list.
Back to Kid Icarus. It was always something of a gold standard for me. I never got a copy in my youth so my experience with it was limited. That made it this totally mysterious and attractive game that I always wanted but never really had the opportunity to get into. It’s kinda like when you’re a NERD and the pretty girl never talks to you so you build up this idea that she’s really rad, then you grow up and date the pretty girl and realize that the REAL nerd girl was the best choice after all. Not that that’s what happened to me 🙂
Anyhow, Kid Icarus was the pretty girl because I bought a copy on eBay years later, like five years ago, and started playing it, and found that it’s way too hard to be worth the effort of finishing. But it’s a fun game and cool, and if I had unlimited time on my hands–and I don’t–I might spend my days attempting to kill Medusa or whatever the ultimate goal of the game is.
Posted on May 3, 2018
Today I want you kids in the audience to get a picture of what it was like growing up in the 80’s video game wise and do it with one of my favorite games, Tapper. Video games in the 80’s were pretty rad, but they were especially rad in the arcade. They weren’t as rad at home even if you had Colecovision. I’m talking early 80’s here like 83 (I would have been 9). I had an Atari 2600, and the deficit between a game you played in the arcade vs. the Atari 2600 version was pretty wide.
You don’t have those problems today. Today there are no REAL arcades–please don’t say Dave n Busters, that’s not a real arcade. The best games today are played at home on home systems that would have been considered science fiction miracles or world domination level supercomputers back in 83. During my formative years you did what you could to get anything that resembled the rad games in the arcade. Tapper is an excellent example of how this went down.
As a kid you went down to the local arcade–my favorite was called Westworld–and you played some cool game, one of them was Tapper. Tapper looked like this when you played it:
Pretty cool right? Probably as good as it got in 83 as far as graphics go. Next you were out and about at a store that sold games (Toys R Us, SEARS) and you saw TAPPER, the game you just played in the Arcade the other day. Wow! If you had an Atari you would be able to play Tapper at home!
If you were smart you would look at the back of the box and see what the graphics looked like, if not you were in for a surprise…
And to be honest you didn’t care. These were very good graphics for a home system, the game played… er, kind of the same, maybe slower with less embellishment, but it played about the same. This was the way it was, and when other game systems began to become available the goal became to get games that were as close the their arcade counterparts as possible. You could never quite do it, but you tired. Colecovision was better, and Atari had the 5200 that was better, but you never did get the full arcade experience. Until… Nintendo.
I’ll leave that for another day.
Posted on May 2, 2018
Little Computer People that is. A unique game that I played a little back in the 80’s on the ole C64. Is it a game? I guess, it’s more of a human Tamagotchi before Tamagotchi existed. I guess you might consider it AI, because AI is technically when you design something to act like an intelligence (not to be confused with Machine Learning). If it is AI it’s not advanced at all but charming none the less. Charming and fun for that matter although I’m not sure how long one can sit messing around with a little dude in a house with his dog–apparently quite a long time since I’ve been playing it every night. That’s what this software title (game?) is, it’s you doing stuff like delivering dog food and patting a little virtual dude in a little virtual house. You can even ask him to do stuff by typing requests such as “please play the piano.” Sometimes he does the things you ask and other times not, it’s all about his mood. You can even play games with him, like poker.
This was a brilliant idea for a game. It’s fun and you don’t just shoot stuff. I like games that are about other stuff besides killing stuff. I mean we all love games where you kill and destroy, but I’m a lover not a fighter some days, so I tend to prefer peace loving games like this one sometimes. You can easily get sucked into LCP, it’s a tiny house world of its own. I’m having a blast with the little dude in the one I started up–his name is Ian. He’s already played the piano twice and we played Poker and Anagrams this evening.
I’m going to give this game or whatever it is five stars out of five stars even though I don’t rate games at this point, but if I did rate games I would give this the top score or stars or whatever. That’s because LCP is fun, cool, and original. It is definitely a software title that was way ahead of its time.
Posted on May 1, 2018
Long ago, when processing power was slow and we didn’t realize it because 1 Mhz seemed fine. And back when I thought a hard disk was a 3.5″ floppy, because it was hard and not floppy. And back in a time when swapping floppies was just the way it was and you could still talk to an operator on the phone… There was Movie Maker. I mean Photoshop was still in B&W and you had to have a very expensive Mac to run it. And although Amiga blew everything out of the water, only professionals had what it took to to do actual computer animation. And so, there was this little retail software tittle that came on four floppies calls Move Maker, and it was actually fairly good when you consider the era.
I had a copy of Movie Maker as a kid, and I’ll tell you right now that I could NEVER figure out how to use it. It’s not that it’s hard to use, it’s just that when I was a kid I was dumb as a bag of hammers and anything that involved reading any type of instructions was out of the question for me. So I looked at the pretty box and played Ultima IV instead. The funny thing is, I always looked at Move Maker as a sort of aspirational title that I would someday utilize to make great C64 movies. I never did, until today.
Real quick, I’d like to point out that I’m good with modern multimedia tools. I’m professional level with the Adobe Creative Suite, and have created designs and animation for a number of years. Still I’ve never quite reconciled my failure to ever do anything with Movie Maker. This morning I got a hair up my ass to go ahead and try to figure out how to use it and see what I missed all those many years ago.
So I found the disk images at this website, and the manual at this one, and I proceeded to figure out how to use Move Maker. It’s not that tough. The only really annoying thing is that you have to swap disks all the time because back in the day a 1541 floppy drive disk held like 300K or something and we take for granted our incredible data storage capacity these days–there are micro SD cards that can hold 500 hours of video.
I followed the tutorial in the Movie Maker manual and I was able to make a very simple little video complete with scrolling titles a background image and an animated robot with blinking eyes. I think I could do a lot more with this program it I took a little time to get the hang of the workflow, but it is very tedious for pretty mild results. The thing is that this gives anyone who wants to bother with it a very authentic 8bit movie experience. Authenticity is the key here rather than performance. And sometimes it’s authenticity your going for. As much as digital photography has taken over the world, you still can’t beat the authenticity of a film photo. Sure everything is better about a digital picture, but I think it’s the flaws in our analog world that make things really beautiful. In the same way an 8bit movie made on an 8bit computer (emulator) with all the flaws and limits that are native to the scheme has a certain something that no amount of simulation can achieve.
I’m looking at Movie Maker a lot like I did when I was a kid. I see potential. Maybe I won’t make a full length animated 8bit movie, but maybe I’ll make some delightful shorts that capture that bygone age of disk swapping and telephone operators.
Posted on April 30, 2018
As far as twitch games go I’m old school. I like shooting at stuff that’s moving across the screen before it comes to get me. That’s how the timeless classic Space Invaders works, and I like Space Invaders. Atlantis is a lot like Space Invaders in that you need to shoot stuff before it comes to get you. But Atlantis, in my opinion, has a lot more storyline going on, so I’m even more partial to Atlantis.
Atlantis is a game about protecting a city, the city is Atlantis. It’s pretty much left to the players imagination as to why the city is under attack and by whom. The enemy is a lot of flying attack vehicles, maybe spaceships or something, that eventually use some sort of destruction ray to destroy city buildings if they get get to a low enough altitude. If you loose all your buildings then you loose. The buildings appear to be under water and I imagine that’s the Atlantis part of the story. As a player you are in charge of three defense guns that protect the city. The center gun shoots straight up and the other two shoot diagonal
In all honesty this is a super simple game with very little variation. It just gets harder and harder as the enemy ships get faster and more abundant. The strength of the game is not the game play, it’s the potential for the players to use their imagination as they play. I think that’s what’s missing from the really advanced games we have available today. The insane lifelike worlds that get created now leave little for the player to imagine. But a game like Atlantis left everything to be imagined and as a kid I did just that, and I still do when I play the game today.
Here are some of the things I’ve always wondered or thought about while immersed in protecting the city:
Is this enemy ship a side view and it looks like a Star Trek Federation ship, or does it have a transparent round pod on the front? I like to go with it’s a round transparent pod because I like crap like that.
Why are the attack ships so freaking huge? I mean they’re like the size of buildings and they have more than one window on the side. They look a little like Star Wars Star Destroyers or something. I like to imagine that this invasion is on a capital ship scale because the invaders are from another planet and this is their attack/colonization force.
Who lives in the small size buildings? I like to imagine that these are exclusive condos where the crème de la crème of Atlantis live up in the hills near the water surface, and the main defense gun.
Why do you need an underwater bridge? Is this an underwater bridge or is it just some sort of power station, or maybe a fancy dwelling, or even a prison? I like to go with underwater bridge.
These are just a few of the musings that always come up when I play Atlantis. All in all I love this game. I might play it now!