pixels on the runvideogames

October 23, 2001

I've always loved the Mattel Intellivision "Running Man". I was always jealous, I was never able to make a good running animation as a kid in the 1980s, playing with sprite editors and the like. Though I never understood that line through his waist either. (I made this animation by clipping a banner from some website...sorry don't know which one, probably one of the ones linked to from this Intellivision page.)

This guy featured in Tron Deadly Discs for the 2600, one of my favorites...

Quote of the Moment
"If women like it, it's erotica. If men like it, it's pornography. WTF?!?!"
--Lord Kano on Slashdot a while back.

Link of the Moment
Windows XP's new default background seems to be taking its cue from a certain children's show...what's next, Barney Device Drivers? (You can see the full story here.)


April 14, 2002

Insert your token and you'll see Adam and Eve who are about to be evolved into bananas by the angry monkey at the top. You must take quick action. You are a dedicated Christian Creationist at the bottom of the screen who must carefully climb the archaeological ladder and rescue the desperate couple up above. You must avoid secular humanists, textbooks, barrels of supposedly prehistoric fossils, evil paleontologists, and the entire United States Supreme Court. When the going gets tough, just press the "lawsuit" button which allows you to jump over obstacles and make it to the top. If after three tries you are unsuccessful, stop playing this game and move to game entitled "Christian School".
--From a 1982 "Wittenburg Door" feature, Christian Video Arcade. This magazine (now just The Door) is a Christian satire magazine that I've always respected. I finally webified this article from an issue I've been keeping around all these years, mostly because I liked the faked screenshots and font play.

Quote of the Moment
"Three years ago I took that HTML course and I was on top of the world--now look at me."
--Overhead conversation of a Burger King Manager. I guess the hope is that some of the people who were johnny-come-latelies to the tech world with the dotcom explosion have been pushed back to their preboom careers. I kind of console myself that think I'm doing what I'd be doing even there never had been an Internet boom, though obviously it's treated be better than nonboom years would have.

interview with steve harter, creator of crossroads and crossroads iivideogames

April 13, 2006

A while back ClassicGaming.com published my review of the obscure-ish C=64 classics Crossroads and Crossroads II... but somehow I neglected to mention the games author, Steve Harter. Recently I found a different tribute page by a gal named dessgeega... (her site is also the source of yesterday's Starfox 2 link)...in later correspondance she mentioned that Steve Harter had written her about her site. It turns out Steve was ammenable to an e-mail conversation with me, and agreed to let me edit into the interview format below. (Anything that doesn't seem to flow, that's due to my faults as an interview editor...)
How old were you when you wrote Crossroads? Did you do anything else for the C=64, or any other of those systems?

I was 17 at the time when I developed CR1. I also did a couple more "magazine" games unrelated to Crossroads for the C64. They basically helped my pay for college (in computer science of course).

Really?? How well did those magazines pay?

I said "helped pay" ;) For CR2 it was like $5,000 including upfront and royalties but back in the 80s that went a long way...

I kick myself though for not trying to make Crossroads a bit better and getting a cartridge publisher -- I assume the royalties would have been much better.

Could be! Though I never thought of the C=64 as being much of a cartridge machine. And, in retrospect, I think Crossroads was retro even then or maybe... arcade-y, relative to that era's trend of longer games with bigger and more involved worlds.

I wonder if I worked on the cartridge version if I would have tried to do a big world too... something with a story line or an arena playoff theme perhaps with a real ending (not just a game over) --

How well was the game received?

I got a few fan letters forwarded from Compute -- for one kid I gave him a workaround so he could have more than 9 shields because he was upset that the other characters could have more than 9 (he was right).

As a gamer, I'm mostly interested in multiplayer games through the ages, and Crossroads has a fantastic Co-op or Compete factor. Plus I've noticed that most any game that does a good job of throwing a swarm of enemies at you tends to catch my attention. I've always said that Crossroads was special for making you feel like just one more monster type among other monsters....

I really enjoy playing games with other (human) players -- all of the four games I created for the C64 were two-player simultaneous that basically limited the game to an overhead view (before split screen became feasible)

I've always admired how skillfully Crossroads uses the C=64's character graphics, especially with having characters move in half-character steps, other character-based games weren't so fine-grained... Did your ideas about the possibilities of character-based graphics drive the design of the game, or vice-versa?

The idea of a lot of characters moving around the screen with AI interested me such as Robotron and Wizard of Wor. But making a Robotron-style game perform for the c64 would have been impossible due to all of the pixel blits and collision detection needed since there could only be 8 sprites. So I started tinkering with a Wizard of Wor style game that could use characters instead of pixel blits or sprites and thus thought of using one- and two-character transition animation.

Did you come up with all the monsters and names on your own?

I created all everything in the game on my own (characters, sounds, etc) but Compute named the characters and did the magazine artwork.

Do you recall how the monster allies/enemies rules worked? Were some especially bitter rivals? How did the AI work in general?

Well the yellow, red and blue were friends, light tan guy and horse thing were friends, two grey soldiers were friends, I think the rest were enemies. Nothing in the AI for being more bitter over one enemy vs. another

The core AI aspects of CR are based on how far he can see, if he runs or chases other enemies and who the friends are. I wish I could have done more here, such as worms that would take up more than one character block. I also wish I would have made one change to the game: for an "eating" character I wish I would have given him an extra shield every time he took one from someone. It would have completely changed the game.

That snake I idea sounds awesome... but those eating lemonsharks were tough already!

How did you manage to keep the players moving at a constant speed, even as the monsters were slogged down?

For the constant speed of the two players and their bullets, I basically set a "heartbeat" variable in the interrupt loop (every 1\60th sec) that the main (infinite) loop checked after every non-player character was displayed. The player's bullets move at full speed so if you look at the player's bullets every 1\60th of a second they move one half of a character. There is also an algorithm used to speed up the other characters over time based upon another heartbeat variable.

Oh, so the speedup isn't just a byproduct of a fully loaded processor? I was thinking about Lore Sjoeberg's Book of Ratings quote about Space Invaders:
As you killed off the low-res interplanetary menace, the remaining would-be conquerors, fueled by revenge and freed-up CPU cycles, would steadily increase in speed, until one last Invader would be zipping across your screen like a Yorkie on crystal meth.
I always thought that applied to CR as well...

It does increase in speed if characters are killed too fast, but eventually will slow down if you don't keep killing more of them too fast. I don't remember the algorithm off the top of my head, but it adjusts a tiny bit faster\slower every few seconds to try to find the best fit for the current level and how long you have been playing the current level. The first level starts out painfully slow for the little players, and I think by level 16 or so it is running at full speed even with a few enemies.

Such attention to detail!

What about those cool explosions? Are those sprites, or direct pixel drawing, or what?

The explosions\implosions are sprites. I now wish I wouldn't have displayed the score at the end though -- too korny. To save magazine space, the sprites are randomly created during bootstrapping so are different every time you run the game. I think there are four sets of explosions generated so they also vary for a single game session too.

Did that mean there were only 8 explosions possible at once?

Yes, they just cycle through

Did you do line of site for monsters? I was thinking that limited vision, besides being more realistic, also would mean less computation.

Yes I think the blue fleas could only see like 4-5 spaces which definitely cut down on the computation

I remember trying to pick up assembly programming on the C=64 but it totally kicked my pre-adolescent butt... I finally manged to make my own game for the Atari 2600 in ASM, and even though it's known to be a tough platform, in some ways the stripped-down environment might be easier to get a handle on...

I would dread coding the 2600, I agree that it would be harder IMO to write a playable game on the 2600 than the C64. The C64's support for customizable character set, SID, sprites, smooth scrolling and memory size just made it an awesome game machine at the time. I learned ASM because BASIC was just too slow for anything. Two books I couldn't have lived without were "mapping the 64" and a 6510 assembly language reference (I still have these). I actually used Compute's crappy free LADS assembler because I was too poor to buy one (thus the reason why I got into cheap paper magazine games).

Other tidbits about the game:
1) In CR2 the dog at level 20 becoming stronger and aggressive
2) I put my initials in one of the mazes in CR2, as did Randy T. did for the sample maze in the Maze Editor he wrote for CR2
3) There is also a rare bug that causes a hidden wall to be added, but I didn't try too hard to fix that since I thought it was an interesting effect
4) CR1 doesn't have my name in the game because Compute blanked it out before publishing. The CR2 version I sent Compute did not have my name scroll by, but if someone typed in the program from the magazine or if the game detected the loader for those who bought the disk then my name was shown. The check for the typed-in program worked because Compute always put 0's in the last few fill bytes of the last line of program but they were normally 255's in memory. So I basically got my name there without them knowing about it.

That's really clever, I love it! About that loyal dog... would it ever turn on you if you shot it? (Or am I just thinking of Nethack?)

No it doesn't turn on you... It would have been funny though. It's been a while since I've gotten to level 20+ though...

What do you think of the Crossroads fansites, and the interest in retro gaming in general?

Just a couple years ago I installed a C64 emulator with the CR2 ROM and got teary eyed (it was probably 10 years prior to that the last time I fired up my C64 and played it). I also got teary eyed the first time I got MAME working and played some old classics. So I definitely understand this retro gaming thing. Today I enjoy playing CR2 via emulator with my 7-year old son -- it's funny but he can beat me at Mario Kart but doesn't have a chance against me in CR2.

Have you seen XRoads, a port of the game to X-Windows?

I never tried try the XRoads port but would like to. I gotta get started on the port to a modern console ;-) I think it would be cool though to create the retro port plus a newer, online version of the game where each character could be a real person.

Well, thanks very much for your time and insightful answers!

Thank you, it's been fun talking about this
Dessgeega's tribute page has a video of the gameplay, and my classicgaming.com review has the downloads...it's worth checking out, this game didn't receive nearly enough attention.

beep bop boopvideogames

April 19, 2006

Game and Map of the Moment

--I made this map playing through INVADER... you play a little lost Space Invader trying to get home, with only John Wu-style dual-wielded laser guns for protection. It's a lovely short story of a homebrew retrogame, a great way to spend an evening. It has an interesting mechanic where you can only shoot sideways, sports finely-tuned boards where you can just barely squeak by, and a forgiving nature where you can keep trying a level 'til you get it. It's Windows-only (and a few PCs seem to have trouble with it and its DirectX nature... plus sometimes it take a bit to load after you start it up) but it's a great download (headed by the same gal who did the Crossroads page I linked to a few days back...she may also be plotting a sequel to that.)

Anecdote of the Moment
I gave Ksenia a lift to the T this morning. Since I'm going to my yoga class after work, I was carrying my PJ-style pants I wear for that. She said "Nice Pants". I was going to suggest that she follow that up with the rest of that pick-up line, "bet they'd look great on my bedroom floor!" but then I realized, no, she's already seen these pants on the bedroom floor... along with too many other clothes, especially when we let the laundry go to long, and to be honest they don't look all that great there.

Video of the Moment
Via boingboing, India Traffic...wow.


December 10, 2007

So, I realized I spent a little too much time making the following graphic of running Atari 2600 characters yesterday:

It's kind of cool 'cause you can put it end to end:

(That's Berzerk's shootist, Burgertime's Chef, Donkey Kong's Mario, HERO's hero, Fast Eddie, Tron Deadly Discs' Tron, Jungle Hunt's Adventurer, Keystone Kaper's Kop, Mountain King's would-be king, and Pitfall Harry.)

When I thought back to what it took to make those, it seems a little crazy: Yeesh! No wonder it killed an afternoon/evening. It's quite a little Virtual Crafts project, but I get the feeling it somehow garners less respect than, say, knitting something would.

My housemate wrote about his irritation with people who say "You must have too much free time on your hands.". And while I agree with him, that's an absolutely rude, dismissive, and small-souled thing to say, in at least this case I could almost see their point.

I need to get some tools to automate manipulating animated GIFs, that would have sped things up.

Exchange of the Moment
Aunt Susan: "See? Aren't I just the lowest-maintenance relative you have?"
Me: "Well... there's my dad. We just have to mow over where he's buried! But I think we contract out to a guy for that."
--2007.12.09. Ah, macabre humor. My favorite!

Sports of the Moment
So the Patriots won an important game yesterday, with a dominating second half against the #1 Defense Steelers, and kept thoughts of a perfect season alive. In the week-long leadup, one of the Steelers was dumb enough to "guarantee" a victory, and Brady took special pride in burning him several times during the game.

Just for fun (and out of respect, not schadenfreude) I hit fansite "Stillers.com" (gotta appreciate the name) and read stuff like this article. That article and a few others rip on the Patriot's fanbase, not just for being fair-weatherish (not utterly unfounded, but I suspect most hardcore, longterm fandbases like the Steelers and the Packers put down roots in the rich soil of a phenomenal team run and accompanying bandwagon) but because the Red Sox are still first in the hearts and minds in the area.

To which I can only reply, neener-neener.

books to read and games to playvideogames

January 10, 2008
Just Read: Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Lathe of Heaven"
Excellent quick sci-fi read, future discussion topic for my UU Covenant group. It starts with a Twilight Zone-esque conceit of a man whose "effective dreams" can reshape reality, creating an alternative earth with its own history and only he and the people witnessing the dream have any idea there was another path. It becomes a brilliant debate between the positivism of the man's therapist (who has a machine that helps induce deep dreaming and implants dream suggestions that he hopes will remake the world in a better way) and the natural Taoism of the man, who is deathly afraid of exercising a right he doesn't have to reforge the universe.

Just Played: "Earth Defense Force 2017" on the Xbox 360
Fantastic B-movie of a game! A Scifi run-around and shoot things, with hundreds of giant ants, spiders, and walking robots marauding through cites with buildings that can be brought down by an errant rocket blast (doesn't really hurt you or the city, it seems... its rebuilt by the next level.) It also features some truly colossal enemies, like walkers about 3 or 4 times the size of a Star Wars AT-AT, and HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE spaceships that silently hang over the city in much the way that bricks don't.

It touches so many sci fi movie and literature tropes: So it's just fantastic. Watching the giant ants swarm up and over walls, engulfing the Seattle Space Needle-like tower in the distance, a Walker emerging from the fire and smoke from the wreckage of one of his brothers, guns blazing... really impressive.

It was odd though, the setting is Japan, and when the battle seems to be going poorly for humanity, the commander's radio broadcast goes with a theme of "well, we're screwed as a planet against this alien invasion, but let us show them how a real fighting force dies!" It made me think about the Japanese ferocity at the end of WW2...

Quote of the Moment
"Well, with a sharp enough instrument, almost any passageway of the head becomes a path to the brain."
--Erica Bial (paraphrased.) The conversation started with a reference those little ear lobsters from "Wrath of Kahn" and then devolved into various movies' way of invading the brain, like that one Schwarzenegger flick with big red bulb that gets pulled out of the nose.

earth defense force 1817videogames

January 12, 2008
As a bit of a gag for Glorious Trainwrecks I made a Klik & Play tribute to that Earth Defense Force 2017 game I was praising the other day I made an homage, or parody, or something:

Earth Defense Force 1817

Featuring Soldier Seeking Bugs, Huge Hovering Spacecraft, and Robotron-esque Run and Gun Controls!

absolutely phoneme-inal!videogames

January 21, 2008

To view this content, you need to install Java from java.com
phoneme - source - built with processing

I've made a lot of nerdy things in my time but this might well take the cake. The phonetically spelled words drift down, type the word and press return to destroy it. It's not very polished (except for the way the solved invader collapses) but not bad for a bit over 2 hours.

In the pre-KotM time I grabbed the "2of12inf" word list from 12dicts, and then crossed referenced it with the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary at KotM-time. (I found a link to the latter when I was looking for some kind of downloadable rhyming dictionary file... I had a different game in mind but couldn't find the resources for it.)

The core game idea is kind of fun I think. It's an interesting challenge to phonetically suss out a word, and then it becomes a bit of a spelling challenge.

that was the endvideogames

September 2, 2008

Pac-Man Ends
Last week crummy.com Leonard (whom I might be meeting up with this week) wrote about this awesome article on the kill screen, where certain classic video games that seem meant to run forever run into some kind of Ragnarok, often seemingly because the player has gotten to farther than the programmers thought anyone could get.

Leonard wrote:
Before I go on, let me make my position clear: I am a total video game nerd (though not a particularly angry one). Songs have I written and stories that draw from this pixelated well. My cohort has a fascination with video games: old ones, new ones, the people who make them, the ones we make ourselves, their distribution mechanisms, their similarities and basic building blocks, the ways we push ourselves to best them, the stories we tell about them, the relationships they create and mediate.

So don't take it as "Get a life!" when I say there's nothing special about the games themselves. Like books, they only have the power we give them. Pac-Man has a bug. It's not even an Easter Egg. There's nothing to unlock. The kill screen is not in the realm of the meant. If you spend years mastering Pac-Man and prefer it to Ms. Pac-Man because it's totally deterministic, why get mystical about the way it crashes at the end? This is real life, not Lucky Wander Boy.
My response was as follows...

Some pretty cool links...

Galaga Ends
I guess I'd counter with... why NOT get a little mystical about it? In an age where science seems to suggest that metaphor and relationships are a more valid use of religion than a literal explanation of why things are, I think people are free to find mysticism where they'd like.

(also for people who might not know Lucky Wander Boy, I quoted a bit from the Pac-Man meditation here: http://kirkjerk.com/2003/03/28/ )

The Pac-Man kill screen feels like... I dunno, like coming to the edge of the Matrix, of sailing to the place on the map where "There Be Dragons".

"The kill screen is not in the realm of the meant." - absolutely! You seem to be conflating found, interpreted meaning with authorial intent. The microcosm collapsing because of programmer oversight, as the natural product of code that otherwise seems fine, sturdy, and lovely, seems to have a potential for profundity that, say, a reward intermission screen showing Pac-Man winging off to the beyond, would never have. (Or for that matter, a patch either locking in level 255 forever, or looping back to cherries.)

Heck, even the patterns that let these players get to that point are in some ways transcendent... I've read about the surprising depth of personality used for the Pac-Man monsters, and it's a byproduct of that determinism that allows for this almost meta-game of perfect score plotting... have you ever seen a perfect play video? It's all about waiting in certain spots 'til the ghost waves finally coalesce and then pouncing... not very fun to watch or do, except in a meta-sense, and certainly not what was "meant" by the programmers.

loresjoberg I think metal fans enjoy a level of unirony that's difficult for other populations to grasp. (dunno if unirony==sincerity)
Caught some of a TNG marathon, (OLPC recovery). Enjoyable, but- wow, the Treknobabble and "end of episode reset" can get pretty intense!
Just figured out how to get to my earliest Twitter posts - need to do some personal archiving, I'd hate to lose what's now my insta-journal
Note to websites: white on black text burns into the eyes. STOP IT. (hint: for these idiot sites, hit ctrl-A for ugly but readable colors)
I get so outraged at minor frustrations. It's an unsuccess of the imagination: I envision a world w/o this traffic, or this PC glitch, and-
"let me introduce you to the wikiway, my friend, where blowhard cranks are lionized" --SJ of OLPC, encouraging me to forego disclaimers


February 1, 2010

--The game my team and I made for the 2010 Global Game Jam - "Sprinkle". Here is the game page for the Northestern University College of Creative Industries site where my team of 5 toiled from Friday 5PM 'til Sunday 3PM.

The game might be a little more complex than we intended - we were trying to go for not needing text, but... on the Title Screen click to get started. For the first level, you are able to drag the leaf... that's the only hint I'm gonna give. (Unless someone asks.) There are 9 boards in all, including the title and win screen.

"The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a war."
--E. B. White
Do I have any friends near SF who could help me with an art exhibit proposal? http://www.kokoromi.org/gamma4/one-button-objects/
"...but the length promises larger ideas than the film finally delivers."
--Janet Maslin (NY Times) on "Boogie Nights". Nice (midly) out of context quote, considering...
http://www.cleveland.com/living/index.ssf/2010/02/bill_watterson_creator_of_belo.html Calvin and Hobbes creator after the fact
Whoa. Bite a granny smith apple while eating a Bit O' Honey. Instant Ersatz Caramel Apple! Yum.
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-january-28-2010/speech-therapy - did the Republicans really set up their own SotU rebuttal podium? US of GOP?

the funnest of all funspotsvideogames

November 15, 2010

Leonard was visiting, up from NYC, and we decided to take an impromptu field trip to Funspot, home of the American Classic Arcade Museum, what the Boston Globe calls "the Louvre of the '8-bit' world."

My favorite new (to me) old game was probably the first controversial game, Death Race -- you and a buddy compete in running down "gremlins" (probably changed to placate moralists) who give a thoroughly unpleasant squeal and they transform into a tombstone that then blocks the progress of your death-on-wheels car.

I liked it quite a lot.

Leonard was more staid.

Leonard playing a comically undersized game he remembered from his dentist's office, "Leprechaun".

I got the high score in Gyruss!

And Pengo. Though it looks like I was the first person to play that day. Still, still I got through many levels, honed from years of experience in the Atari 2600 version years prior... Leonard didn't know there was a "kick the wall to stun enemies" trick. Though as I cruched Sno-Bee egg after egg (to stop new Sbo-Bees from form to replace their squished-by-sliding-ice-block comarades I wondered if this game would have been as popular if it had been called "The Sno-Bee Holocaust".

"I don't have any solution but I certainly admire the problem."
--Ashleigh Brilliant

such a teasevideogames

January 29, 2011

what's kirk been
up to this weekend?

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It's kind of awesome being the sole programmer for a well-scoped gamejam game, bringing team member's ideas to actuality...
"I like to make games the way I like to watch movies -- on my ass."
--Nick Garza on my Global Game Jam team

happy sad sredavnivideogames

February 1, 2011

So even though SREDAVNI didn't show my team's artist's at their most technical, it had some enjoyable art, some of which didn't get used in the final cut of the game.

Here was the original crew of aliens:
Later though, in lieu of a credit screen, we decided to retool the invaders so they lined up with members of the team:
(I'm the one with the glasses, natch.)

Right now they're marching in lockstep, but if you put the mouse over one group, they will be very happy, and the other group will be sad. (We didn't end up using the Happy/Sad states in the actual game.)

I think the invaders were mostly done by Kelly Atwood though Yue Li (who pitched the original idea) might have done work on them as well.
"Everybody is trapped, more or less. The best you can hope for is to understand your trap and make terms with it, tooth by tooth."
--Robertson Davis
http://is.gd/Sbk61Q - what's the right always kvetching about? "Activist judges"? Jeez.

Snow Biking is crazy fun. Accent on the crazy. And the fun.
http://waxy.org/2011/02/metagames_games_about_games/ I enjoyed reading about and trying some games that think about their box.

the endless cityvideogamestoy

February 2, 2011

To view this content, you need to install Java from java.com
sredavnicity - source - built with processing

One final miniproject based on sredavni -- we came up with a cute little city generator, and this applet just scrolls it forever.

This applet has a secret though - each piece also has a destroyed version, so if you press the mouse, you see the alternate-reality, post-apocalyptic view of the city.

Again, I think the city pieces are mostly the work of Kelly Atwood.

"Really, sex and laughter do go very well together and I wondered-- and I still do-- which is more important."
--Hermione Gingold
http://tinyurl.com/yf73ff9 Norman Rockwell, The Photographer
http://strn.gr/1459327 http://bit.ly/hyOJVn -- Michael Jackson's Stuff. Not as appealing as the old shots of his arcade, but still.
Cracked pointed me to info on Octave Chanute - besides being an information sharing aviation pioneer, he has a totally awesome name.
http://www.lettersofnote.com/2011/02/mickey-mantles-outstanding-experience.html - it's fellatio.
"Snow moval is a much more accurate term than snow removal. #justpushingitaround #SnOMG"


January 29, 2012

So this weekend my team of 4 or so made this game:

click to play

(Here's the official ggj site about it.) It came out well. I was especially pleased with the level of graphic design we got on it. It's a variant of Snake/Nibbles, where you're a snake who has to protect its gems from the maurading peasants. Unlike traditional "Snake", you can cross your own body, and in fact you have to bite your own tail, because this was this year's official GGJ theme:
That's the Ouroboros (Can I just say that is a crazily sexually charged image? Such a weirdly wonderful combination of the masculine phallus and a more feminine/Yonic shape...)

Some teams at MIT/Gambit took it literally (like Hoopsnake who absolutely had the funniest entry) and others as a more figurative symbol of recurrence and rebirth.

My favorite other entry was Sleepwalking Backwards, an emo-ish (in a good way) art piece that actually ran on a C=64.

So it was a good weekend. Like last year's sredavni (invaders backwards) I'm a little worried that my project was a bit of a genre piece, but I guess if a bunch of people are going to sink a whole weekend into something, it makes sense to be a bit conservative and end up with a fun quality thing, rather than force something to be more experimental.

the pr3vent trilogygameramblevideogames

April 19, 2012

So Anna Anthropy has written a book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. As you might guess from the subtitle ("How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form") the book is a rallying cry for the idea that everyone should make games.

I liked the book a lot, but there was a point of emphasis that didn't resonate for me, and I decided to try to put my response into game form. Actually, I was inspired to write not one, not two, but THREE games! I present the "Pr3vent Trilogy: DESPERADO DORIS, PEACEMAKER, and NERD NEEDS IDEA, BADLY". You can play any one you want, and I hope you pay attention to its message, whichever one you choose:

OK, so what's this about?

In her book Anthropy writes about the game: Calamity Annie (which is terrific btw, and you should go download and play it immediately)
There’s a videogame about a dyke who convinces her girlfriend to stop drinking. Mainstream gamer culture by and large does not know about this game. I know about this game because I made it.
The thing is I was lucky enough to be a playtester for this game (though admittedly never hunkered down to get good enough at it to see the plot conclude) but if someone asked me what it was "about", I would have said it was about gunfighting (the primary "play mechanic" is a very clever translation of the good 'ol Western gunduel into mouse-and-screen form, where you have to keep your mouse-driven crosshairs holstered 'til it's time to draw.) The story was a nice touch, but at the time I considered it mere "flavor text", the stuff that often adds layers of meaning to a game, but could be taken away or radically modified without changing the game's core.

In the book though Anthropy emphasizes the story-telling aspect of game-making and she has lead by example (her very personal dys4ia- another game you should play online right now, and this one you don't even have to download, just play online) but as a gamemaker, I just want to say: it's ok if the story is an afterthought, and it's valid when the purpose of making a game is to explore gameplay rather than to model to an external theme. My impression from reading the book, especially the lovely and poetic section What to Make a Game About? which begins
Your dog, your cat, your child, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mother, your father, your grandmother, your friends, your imaginary friends, your summer vacation, your winter in the mountains, your childhood home, your current home, your future home, your first job, your worst job, the job you wish you had.
and continues for 10 more paragraphs and well over 100 more suggestions, is that she considers this central to the gamemaking mandate, and I'd just like to remind folks: it's ok if your game isn't "about" much of anything at all. (Personally, this is why I think videogames are interesting-- you can tell stories in many media, but only with videogames can you make real time, viscerally pleasing interactions.)

So, that off my chest, I want to ramble about one more thing: this book talks a lot about how gamemaking is a possibility for nearly everyone, and that you can make many fine games and tell many crucial stories as a lone auteur, or with the help of a few friends-- and I know the author's disdain for most big-budget "AAA" titles. But still, I have to grapple with the limitations of the tools the amateur has... there are certain kinds of game experience that are still far removed from what an individual can make on their own. In particular, there is a certain thrill and meaning present in games that strive for "living breathing worlds", ones that can put a player in a world close enough to our own that the empowerment ("I can fly!", for example) and differences (the permission to have a casual disregard for life and limb and property, for example) have greater resonance. These games have something you can feel in your gut in a way you won't with a retro, 2D, or otherwise iconically presented game.

I was trying to think of where the worlds of what an amateur can do and full, rich worlds overlap. The mod-ing community comes to mind: people who rip into the binary guts of, say, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and make it more their own. If I try to envision a more general purpose "gameworld construction kit", something with the open-ness of ZZT but a world more like our own, it ends up looking a bit like "Second Life" which as far as I can tell is the most dedicated attempt to make Cyberspace and VR as presented in 80s and 90s cyberpunk a reality. I've never gotten into that realm, though I appreciate how it has been open to people creating in it, and sometimes even being financially rewarded for their creative efforts. (Though in practice I think the appeal is more for people who really dig creating an alternate persona for themselves than for 3D-physics junkies like me.)

Anyway, go get this book, and then go make some games!
"Life is an illusion, but an illusion we must take seriously."
--Aldous Huxley


January 28, 2013

So I spent this weekend at the 2013 Global Game Jam, MIT Game Lab edition. My team of 3 made a head to head retro-style shoot 'em up for multitouch tablet devices such as iPad. You can play the result at http://heartchers.alienbill.com/ (our team page is http://globalgamejam.org/2013/heartchers )
After a 2 day break for game jam, back to morning jogs. Pleased to observe that the "measure your BMI by lightly zapping your feet" scale puts it at 26.9, .6 less than a simple height-and-weight measurement, though I take all of that with a grain of salt.
"The essence of man has the form of a question."
--Kundera paraphrasing Heideger


January 25, 2015
The fruit of my weekend at GGJ, an original Atari 2600 game: See the Game Home Page

My teammates were cool, the music was GREAT, and the cover art was kind of brilliant:

on the realities of retrogamesvideogamesramble

September 9, 2015
This past spring I had an online dialog with Chris Federico, keeper of Orphaned Computers & Game Systems and author of The Classic-Gaming Bookcast - $0.99 well spent for any fan of old games.

One way he adds to his enjoyment of games is to make up his own backstory for them - for a great example of this kind of thing, see his co-author's Adam Trionfo's "Before Reading the Manual" on their review of the obscure Spectravision game "Gas Hog". At one point in our conversation I explained my own reasons for why that seemed kind of alien to me. Recently he mentioned some of my ideas had stuck with him and he asked if I would explicate, possibly for partial inclusion in a future edition of his "Bookcast"... this is what I came up with.

There are two ways to think about the story behind specific retro videogames... for some players, the pixels and bleeps and blurps of an older game are like the shadows in Plato's Cave, technology used to crudely reveal a bigger, "more real" story going on. (The manual might give one explanation of the reality thus represented, but there's nothing stopping players from constructing their own, as you've demonstrated in your bookcast...) The screen for Intellivision's "AD&D: Cloudy Mountain" may just be showing some green and yellow squares (like a kid might have made with graph paper and some markers) but this type of player can see the slime-covered stonework, hear the echo from some unseen dripping water, smell the smoke of the flickering torches lining the walls in their metal holders. And these players' experience is probably the richer for it.

For me, however, the appeal of old games has always been their self-contained aspect: each Atari cartridge in the large collection I lucked into was its own microcosm with its own rules of physics and creatures and boundaries. The eponymous Superman of the Atari cartridge wasn't just a reflection of the muscled, flying hero of the Comic Book; he was a new pixel Superman, fighting crime in his limited pixel world, jailing pixel Lex Luthor and getting kisses from pixel Lois Lane. He's unbothered by Mister Mxyzptlk not because the programmer chose to direct his programming "camera lens" on a particular day in the life of the comicbook hero, but because for Atari 2600 Superman, this is the full extent of what the world- what the universe- is.

The advantage of this less literary, more literal approach to game story is that it embraces the limitations of player action, it doesn't have to explain it away: Take Crossroads, for the C=64; your little guy fires down the corridor. If a bullet wraps around the screen and hits him in the back, he takes damage. He doesn't have the option to hide against a wall, to maybe dig a trench for protection, to play with ricochet or shoot out a light or light a torch, or to do anything but shoot at a 90 degree angle directly down the hallway, square in the center. The universe, the range of possibility, is fully circumscribed. Of course, it's not devoid of higher-level interpretation: I see a little man, I see a bullet, I see various monsters duking it out, I don't just see splashes of pixels following abstract rules and displaying the results of various computations... as a player I bring recognition and thus a kind of meaning to the display and to the interaction, but that's my understanding from a privileged, god-like view into a self-contained universe, not the recognition of the pixels of a retelling of some other, more visceral fiction.

A damn stylus, thanks Apple! To quote Gruber: "Finally"

the interpretive screenshots of "invasion of the space invaders"videogamescool

October 20, 2015
Martin Amis is an English novelist. One of the very strangest bits of his career, the most out of character for him as an author, was a guide to video games (with a weird, jaded "streetwise" view of culture around the arcades, then in its prime) called Invasion of the Space Invaders. The author generally won't talk about the book, and as The Million's 2012 review of it quotes Sam Leith:
Anything a writer disowns is of interest, particularly if it’s a frivolous thing and particularly if, like Amis, you take seriousness seriously.
On a whim I bought a copy of this hard to find book (I think I paid a bit over $100 for it a few years ago; currently the one copy listed on Amazon is going for north of $500) Recently I undid the binding of my copy and scanned it in and sent it to Anna Anthropy for Annarchive, her repository of old shareware and other video game historical artifacts- you can download the full copy there, and it's kind of an amazing piece, though as Anna points out full of casual homophobia, racism, and a surprising amount of references to child prostitution.

But there's also overwrought gameplay advice prose like this for Pac-Man:
Do I take risks in order to gobble up the fruit symbol in the middle of the screen? I do not, and neither should you. Like the fat and harmless saucer in Missile Command (q.v.), the fruit symbol is there simply to tempt you into hubristic sorties. Bag it
PacMan player, be not proud, nor too macho, and you will prosper on the dotted screen.
There was another great quote:
"That seems to be the psychology behind Atari. You can never win, and you always can get better."
--Major Robinson on Battlezone et al in Martin Amis' "Invasion of the Space Invaders"
Besides the prose (and referring to Steve Jobs as "Atari's Steve Jobs") what I find most striking about the book are the obviously reconstructed screenshots. I guess in an era where video games were tough to photograph (presumably in smoky arcades with cranky owners) it made sense to hire graphic artists to recreate the shots... sometimes that can be done for artistic effect (like all those Activision boxart screenshots) but my feeling is these were made to look relatively authentic (and I left out a few actual screenshots they included, like for Frogger and Turbo.)

Centipede probably first made me think about how odd the "screenshots" were, because Centipede seems to have been travelling back up, something that can never happen in the game:

Other shots had distinctive tells, like the wall-eyed enemies in its take on Pac-Man:

Actually, Pac-Man is especially jolting because he (semi-charmingly) calls the enemies "The PacMen" and the player's character "The Lemon", or more specifically "the dot-munching Lemon that goes whackawhackawhackawhacka". (To be fair, there has long been some confusion if the enemies are "monsters", "ghosts" or "ghost monsters".)

Their Donkey Kong interpretation has the Jumpman bald and sans cap.

The book has a lot of other incidental art as well...
That's kind of an early example of a long tradition of "Donkey Kong not looking quite like he does on the arcade game itself".

The remaining examples are all space shooters or similar:

Missile Command:





Other random art... I sort of like how this one implies the spaceship pilot might be longing for a home planet, or maybe just bringing forth the idea the space station IS home:

And to end with the beginning, we'd be amiss not mention the Amis cover:

The amount of snark in that guy's stance is impressive (PS: Introduction by Steven Spielberg! Strange times.)

I do wonder what technique, presumably analog, was used to get the pixel effect in all of the screenshots.