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from pixels on the run

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?!?!

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.)

from monkeyshins


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 me better than nonboom years would have.

from interview with steve harter, creator of crossroads and crossroads ii

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 amenable 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.

from beep bop boop

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.

from atariparty

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.

from books to read and games to play

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.

from earth defense force 1817

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!

from absolutely phoneme-inal!


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.

from that was the end

(1 comment)
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://kirk.is/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

from sprinkle


--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?

from the funnest of all funspots

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."

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

from such a tease


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

from happy sad sredavni

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.

from the endless city

Click to see:

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

from snakebits!

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.

from the pr3vent trilogy

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

from heartchers!


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

from May 22, 2013

Some days I spent up to three hours in the arcade after school, dimly aware that we were the first people, ever, to be doing these things. We were feeling something [the adults] never had--a physical link into the world of the fictional--through the tiny skeletal muscles of the arm to the joystick to the tiny person on the screen, a person in an imagined world. It was crude but real.
Austin Grossman, "You".

from thoughts on binge gaming

Some of my thoughts of a super-productive staycation have been thwarted by the arrival of the video game "Earth Defense Force 2025", a solid sequel to my (previous) favorite B-movie game "EDF 2017". I am enjoying the heck out of it, honestly- it mashes together two of my favorite things in video games: gun battles with simple tactical decisions to be made (what the earlier game had in spades) and flying and gliding over a city's landscape. (thanks to the addition of a Valkyrie-like character with a jet pack.) Plus, Spoiler: flame throwing dragons. They're done quite beautifully, often set against a moody twilight time... pity you have to shoot them!

"Binge gaming" seems to be my preferred way of consuming games these days... but it makes me ponder why this type of gaming is so appealing in general- it certainly has its tedious moments! And it's a bit hard to defend as a cerebral exercise. I think it's a combination of two things: a viscerally appealing simulation of exciting things I can't do in the real world (flying, saving the earth from endless hoards of homicidal robots and giant insects) along with an environment were dogged persistence guarantees success, and where it doesn't, these days that's probably a "fault" of the game designer and not the player.

I think overall I'm more relaxed playing the game all Tuesday and Wednesday night than I was coding up my own game all day Monday; no angst eating, almost no ducking over to twitter or Facebook to get away.

I do wish I had a gaming buddy... it has an excellent splitscreen mode. I played the earlier title with my Jonathan and it was a great bonding time... alas he's a family guy now and I am on my own.

from loaded4bear

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:

from on the realities of retrogames

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"

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

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


from the many faces of donkey kong

One of my new favorite blogs is Supper Mario Broth. Besides the awesome name and header image of the famous brothers eating soup, it has a great range of Nintendo ephemera and lately details about glitches and "behind the scenes" various 3D Mario games use. (2D pixel games are generally too flat to have much behind the scenes, so to speak.)

Anyway, with Mario handing things off Olympic-wise (and my own month long "Best Of" Photos series done) what better time to start a week or so showing off the stuff I liked most when I did a deep backlog dive last month or so.

Today's topic: the many faces of Donkey Kong...

Diamond rings are basically pet rocks.

from August 23, 2016

Dieting and Weight Talk Are Bad for All Adolescents, Says American Academy of Pediatrics Ugh. My usual approach in talking with young people is, you know, just talking with them, kind of as a adults, and trying to take their point of view, and admitting what sucks but then discussing what you can do about it. Sounds like that kind of straightforward talk might be counter-productive about weight, which is an issue near to my heart because I have worked out strategies that more or less work for me but it's still a grind. Gotta be careful with not advising kids I play an avuncular role with, probably especially the females.
More from Supper Mario Broth: I've always liked when the games play with the logos and iconography of their characters...

Clouds are a glimpse into the mighty power of fluid dynamics, complicated equations made real and actual and gorgeous, painted across the sky.
Phil Plait

from August 24, 2016

More from Supper Mario Broth - the many cross-platform faces of Donkey Kong...

And there is another, subtler reason you might find yourself convinced that things are getting worse and worse, which is that our expectations outpace reality. That is, things do improve – but we raise our expectations for how much better they ought to be at a faster rate, creating the illusion that progress has gone into reverse.
Oliver Burkeman

The answer is that life is really, really good. I am a complex enough being that I can hold in my heart the understanding that we are really, really fucked, and at the same time that life is really, really good. I am full of rage, sorrow, joy, love, hate, despair, happiness, dissatisfaction, and a thousand other feelings. We are really fucked. Life is still really good.
Derrick Jensen

(Both of those last quotes from The Guardian's How to stay happy when the sky is falling in.)

from August 25, 2016

More from Supper Mario Broth - animations.

from August 26, 2016

Final selections from Supper Mario Broth...

"The pencil is mightier than the pen."
Robert Pirsig.
I just finished his second book, "Lila: An Inquiry into Morals". While "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" made a path through through reconciling Western classical vs romantic analysis to a singular Tao-like sense of "Quality", this one describes a struggle of Static Patterns (roughly, what's known to work) vs Dynamic Patterns (the boundary pushing into new spaces). He also claims all static patterns of value can be divided into a hierarchy of inorganic, biologic, social, and intellectual - each level depends on the stability of the preceding one. I'm not sure if I have full buy-in but his exploration of the concepts speaks to arguments I have with some of my friends; I see them as rather reactionary, they see me as a bit hippy-dippy, but in some ways its their concern with the social patterns and preserving that base vs my interest in boundaries and finding out where we can go.
Western New York combines the brains of the South, the culture of the Midwest, the hospitality of New England and the climate of Hoth.

What Reality are Trump People Living In? This is more nuanced and interesting than some earlier work on how Conservatives have a stronger "disgust" reaction, or even my view of everyone has a circle of empathy, and the liberal impulse is to expand it so you have more people on your side, and the conservative impulse is to retract it so as to keep potential cheaters out.
Liz and I are Going to see this guy Sunday in Worcester:

from May 2, 2017

Earliest Bowser and Donkey Kong arcade drawings

via SupperMarioBroth

from June 21, 2017

Wrote this on my devblog the other day, a tribute to the artists behind SimTunes and the core of Magic Pengel, reposting it here:

I've always liked software that let the user make something - from Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set to the make-a-game fun without programming Klik N' Play, there have been some great examples of that over the years.

I want to write briefly about two creators, Toshio Iwai and Takeo Igarashi both of who made original UIs letting users exercise their creativity. Each creator's work was then used in separate commercial products in the 90s and 00s, products that deserve more recognition than they get.

Toshio Iwai is a multimedia artist. He may be best known for Electroplankton, a fairly early but very limited release for the Nintendo DS- his name appears on the packaging for it, an unusual-for-Nintendo recognition of singular artistic creation.

Electroplankton is not quite a game, not quite an instrument... it consists of ten different interfaces for making music and sounds of various types...

This was not Iwai's first multi-part collaboration with Nintendo - that would be the 4-part Sound Fantasy. One of those parts was based on his earlier work Musical Insects. This concept, 4 musical bugs, each one playing a different instrument that sounded at various pitches as the bug waddled over different colored tiles laid out on a blank canvas, got parlayed by Maxis into a nifty package called SimTunes. I guess this trailer gives you the overview about as well as anything:

This program was a terrific and playful mini-sequencer and paint program. Kids and Adults could focus on the sound, the look, or both. Just out of college, I remember setting it up with versions of Groove is in the Heart and "Alphabetter", a replacement for the alphabet song that I hope catches on but I'm sure never will. I appreciated that it had different palettes - for example, limiting the painted notes to a specific scale or modality, such as my favorite "Blues Scale" and an aspiring kid or adult could easily apply music theory they had or learn something new.

More recently Iwai collaborated with Yamaha to make the Tenori-On, a sequencer grid of lights. (I was almost ashamed at using a ThinkGeek knock off called the Bliptronic 5000, 'til I realized it was about 1/10 the price... and about 1/10 the functionality, but still.) I also found this overview of his art installations.

Takeo Igarashi seems to be more of a computer scientist than an artist, but his UI implementations are at least as impressive.  His academic homepage is of the ancient variety, and sadly most of his demos are a serious pain to get running in this day and age where Java on the desktop is all but forgotten. Still, his Smooth Teddy interface is remarkable; the user draws basic 2D shapes that then get rendered into 3D shapes.

The most straight forward descendent of the "Smooth Teddy" family is MagicalSketch 3D for iOS, a somewhat pricey (by app standards) tool, but one that promises to be an easy path to modeling for 3D print. (I haven't played much with Microsoft's "Paint 3D" but I think they would be well-served licensing out the core model.)

The finest rendition of this concept, however, is Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color for the Playstation 2. I feel it's a shame it didn't go by a more direct translation of its Japanese name, "Doodle Kingdom", because this project (a joint production with some collaboration from Studio Ghibli (of "My Neighbor Tortoro" and "Spirited Away" fame) deserves more attention than it ever got. (A "Pengel" is a Pen-Angel, I think a little helper sprite in the game. I'm not sure to whom they were trying to market with a name like that.)

Because not only can you doodle in 3D - your creations come to surprisingly charming life. Here's a Let's Play of it:

The editor works by letting you indicate what you're drawing (body, arm, wing, etc) - this knowledge is then incorporated to inform various animations (Walk, Tackle, Jump, Dance, etc) and the effect can be stunning- here's what a talented artist can make with its editor:

It's so delightful to sketch something out and then have it frolic around the "practice field".

Unfortunately, the game is horribly marred by ... well, too much game-ness. In some ways the body you construct doesn't do much to determine how your creation interacts with its virtual physical universe, it's just raw numeric material for a probability based monster battler ala Pokemon, with Rock-Paper-Scissors type strengths and weaknesses. Also, they limit the amount of "ink" you have to draw lines with, and then make the game about fighting monsters so you can get more ink to make your own creations that much more powerful, rather than creative.

There was a semi-sequel for the Game Cube called Amazing Island and one for the PS2 called Graffiti Kingdom. I remember getting absolutely stuck early on in Amazing Island and some utterly crap minigame, and if memory serves, Graffiti Kingdom tried to codify its editor too much, and lost much of the organic charm of the original.

Finally, I'd like to make one honorable mention for a game with a kind of brilliant editor built-in (though I don't believe there's a singular artistic vision behind it) - Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts + Bolts:

 This is by far the best "game" of everything I've talked about here - it starts with a gorgeous Mario 64-esque hub (looking like someone said "what if we ran all those pretty colors of the N64 into the kind of engine we can make today?)  with all these delightful themed subworlds, but each as if you can see the gears behind the walls work. Each subworld has multiple challenges that you build various vehicles to beat: cars, of course, but also boats and planes and flying balloons and sumo-karts etc. At first I thought all the creations were ugly and orthogonal-looking (VERY reminiscent of the old Capsela toys) but then the delight of making a car where the design really matters in a cartoon-physics kind of way takes over (and you can put on enough bolt-y bits to improve the look quite a lot.) And as you get more parts (there's that game-ness) you can go back and try for higher "medals", but the challenge level is generally well done, and the level of backtracking needed is negligible.

(And a small group of super-hard-core fans have really stretched the editor system to the limit, making these absurdly heavy jet-powered walking mechs in a game that was never meant to have any such thing...a joy to behold.)

Anyway, I love stuff like this, making a easy enough for a beginner but rich and engrossing enough to reward continued play (rather than a quick doodle and a "meh") is a tremendous feat. (Though I did once get a few people digging my own online Jack-O-Lantern maker) Both of these people and their works (and Banjo-Kazooie) deserve much admiration.

from June 23, 2017

Jeremy Penner has started a podcast about hyper-indie games, the art of the small, personal game project and the communities that support them... and I was his first interview, talking about my perennial mashup JoustPong, but ranging from programming home computers in the 1980s to online things like Processing now.

We talked a while back, and I was worried I would find my own voice unlistenable now, but it's not as awful as I had feared. It's kind of weird that I slip into the cadence that I can now recognize from some podcasts I listen to, even though I just started listening to them in general.

via I Want This 1923 Prediction For the American City of the Future To Be Real


from the robotic ruler of the river of no return

River Raid was one of the finest games produced for the Atari 2600. One of the first vertically scrolling shooters, this game was remarkably well designed. While the enemies (copters and boats and later small jets) could only threaten the player with menacing kamikaze moves upon approach, the constantly diminishing fuel supply would lead the player to recklessly hightail it down the "River of No Return" to pass over replenishing fuel depots, a tension-provoking detail most other games of the era couldn't match. And I am going to introduce you to the games indisputable conqueror.

First, a note about the game's author, Carol Shaw- the first professional female video game designer. This game is her singular masterpiece (I don't think many people really look back that fondly on "3-D Tic Tac Toe", and the 1-on-1 Pong-like action of her "Polo" tie-in game never saw the light of day...) This interview has her talking about her experience. But her peers thought she was great, designer Mike Albaugh said
I would have to include Carol Shaw, who was simply the best programmer of the 6502 and probably one of the best programmers period....in particular, [she] did the [2600] kernels, the tricky bit that actually gets the picture on the screen for a number of games that she didn't fully do the games for. She was the go-to gal for that sort of stuff.
As a guy who wrote an original Atari 2600 from scratch in assembly , I know how tricky that kernel stuff is... (and true confession, my game ended up having its kernel tweaked by genius Paul Slocum anyway.)

One of the cleverest bits of River Raid is its use of pseudorandom number generators to generate section after section of the river - this let the game pack in a consistent, huge game playing field even though the whole cartridge was only 4K bytes of ROM. The levels alternated between straight sections and split sections and went on practically forever.

Over a decade ago I got to wondering about how far the river went, and got so far as having B. Watson generate this image of the first 4 sections, guaranteed to bring a bit of nostalgia to the 80's gamer heart:
(Of course the funny thing about posting this kind of image is that River Raid scrolls from the bottom, but webpages scroll from the top...) That project to map out more of the river never went anywhere, but this AtariAge thread gets revived from time to time... and I would say, the indisputable Ruler of the River of No Return (and one of the participants in that thread) is one "Lord Tom"

For starters, here's Lord Tom's map of the first 600 river sections...

And how does Lord Tom know what the first 600 sections look like? I contacted him at AtariAge (such a damn fine resource!) and he said
To make the map, I wrote a Lua script for use in the BizHawk emulator that essentially cheated through the game with the plane offscreen somewhere, taking screen-shots of each enemy/terrain slot along the way (32 per map section). I assembled these into the big map with a simple Java app.
But that wasn't enough for Lord Tom. He's a member of the "TAS Community" - Tool Assisted Speedruns, folks who learn how to let machines help them drive through to the ending of games faster than any human ever could. They don't cheat - the actual code of the game is sacrosanct - but by abusing every input available to them they're like the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar getting ready to dive back into the Matrix, mastering the code behind the world that lets, say, Mario move like a crazy drug-fueld Ninja, or in Lord Tom's case, to build a frickin' robot to play the game better than any human (or 'bot) in history ever has. Specifically, to get the maximum possible score of 1,000,000 (or in Activision speak, !!!!!!) That looks like this:

To give that robot a script, he built a replica of River Raid in Java, one that could reproduce all the twists and turns and boats and helicopters and fuel tanks that that little cartridge's algorithm could churn out with incredible precision, and then used it to power something like the "Many Worlds Interpretation" of Quantum Physics, plotting out a millions of possible futures for each frame, then pruning and working the best 150,000 or so, until he got a damn near optimal path. (And to give you an idea of this robot's skill about this, not only does this well-nigh perfect path take an hour twenty to get to that million points, Activision would send you a patch designating you a "River Raider" if you sent in a photograph showing that you got 15,000!)

So, in his own words:
Yes, due to the technique I used for solving the game, I had to write a Java simulator, which I think ended up being something like 10,000 times faster than trying to do the bot computations through the emulator. And I only simulated the game's logic/state; I didn't actually output a display or sound, though in the grand scheme of things that would have been easy enough to do.

The solving algorithm focused heavily on fuel and (of course) score. Since fuel is consumed at the same rate regardless of speed, it's best to almost always go full throttle. There are a few terrain exceptions, and the other main exceptions are slow-downs to get extra fuel or manipulate which enemies move/don't move to make them easier to kill.

For fuel, I basically looked at the map and plotted out how far I'd get for each life (once fuel becomes rare, it's better score-wise to die for a full tank than to keep slowing down to milk depots). Then for various points along the route (e.g. section 5, 10th enemy) I'd specify a minimum fuel to have -- any solution paths with less fuel would be killed.

The only non-survivable states in the game relate to fuel, and then very limited times when e.g. you can't slow down fast enough to clear terrain, or avoid an enemy that's about to hit you.

Other than that, it was pure heuristic; 30 times a second it would simulate paths with each possible input, eliminate duplicates and deaths, and periodically score them and keep the best several thousand. To handle islands, I stipulated that a certain # of paths would always be kept alive on each side of the screen. As I recall, the algorithm would score and cull several times each section; it never really "looked ahead" at all, just periodically compared outcomes for 500,000 or so input possibilities and kept the best ones.

I think all in all, I calculate the bot simulated over 2 trillion game states to complete the game. 
You can read even more details at his TASVideos Submission Page, but I think you get the idea here.

Amazing. I've done Atari coding and even some Java-based "tool assistants" (to get photorealistic images into the long-lost site pixeltime, or to remove the scrolling credits from still backdrops) but nothing that comes ANYWHERE NEAR what Lord Tom (or Carol Shaw, for that matter) has done.

from on the new zelda

Videogame Nerdery Ahoy! (Got a lot more long-winded than I planned) I'm trying to figure out if I should stick with the new Zelda, if it's a good investment of time for me. It's high quality in many ways, but the cooking/crafting doesn't grab me, the endless treadmill of "get a weapon, wear out a weapon" rankles (especially with the limited inventory slots that cost a lot to improve), and in general I'm not as engaged as I would have hoped.

While in some ways the game has that "more than one way to solve a problem" approach, 90% of those feel like something clever the programmers thought of first and then coded in, rather than an organic, player-driven combination of basic interactive elements. They give you a cool "magnet" tractor beam power that you can only use in carefully defined areas, magic bombs that can't really aim and take forever to damage anything anyway, a "freeze time" thing that A. is misnamed (it's more about messing with certain object's kinetic energy, but I guess they thought "kinetic energy" that was too fancy a term) and B. also only works hardly anywhere...

I guess the game doesn't resonate for me in two critical directions; one is the world-building. "Far Cry"s, which feels like such a big influence, do a much better job of painting "living breathing" worlds that mask the fact that they exist only as a place for the player's story to take place in. Vs Zeldas: Link, is (spoiler alert?) the knight errant destined to come back and fix everything in Hyrule, and by the way here are all these precious little mini-dungeons scattered about to test his mettle and build him up gradually for doing so.

Which leads to the second game theme Zelda does, one I respect intellectually but don't find deeply engaging: the classic "from zero to hero" journey, the grind up of gathering intrinsic strength and various add-ons that lets the player slowly grow into the role destiny (or rather, the game designer) has laid out for them. I know in the real world I have a blind-spot for personal growth; people seem to be about the same to me on the inside throughout their lives (Hmm, this is probably why preschooler's incompetence so startles me... Like, "C'mon, color in the lines! Focus! I can talk with you, you have the raw physical control here, why can't you do this?") It's troublesome for me in life- I tend to feel like I can gain knowledge of how to do things, but the process of "growing" a skillset per se seems.... I don't know, unlikely. I assume at some point quantitative skill improvement can become qualitative ability increase, but I never really *feel* it. (Similarly, even in a game, "practicing and getting better" is sometimes indistinguishable from "try and try again until I get lucky and can move on"...)

It's why I feel Mario games have more in common with Grand Theft Auto than they do with Zelda games or Metroid games. Mario is the same guy, with about the same skillset, at the start of the game as he is at the end, there's no "take away all your skills at the game start so you can grow 'em back", and so is the protagonist of a GTA game, he just has more access to vehicles and money and weapons. (Conversely, Mario games have even more of that "this world exists only for the player to experience" than even the Zelda games, but still).

Also, now that I think about it, the physics of this latest Zelda are all too down-to-earth. Link jumps about as well as I do, more or less. He's a much better wall climber, but that's a plodding straining process. He's got a glider, but that's only a slow parachute with a bit of horizontal movement. He can do some tractor-beam/grav-gun manipulations, but only in certain designated areas and times. Compared to a later Saints Row and those games' joyful leaping, bounding, running up the side of buildings, magic grabbing and blasting nearly anything, or Just Cause's kinetic soaring and goofy playground of "link two things together with a wire and see what happens"... those games have more of what I come to video games for, superhuman empowerment fantasies set with visuals and interactions convincing enough to be viscerally enjoyable. (and while Zelda has plenty of mooks to dispatch for its adolescent empowerment fantasy, other games serve 'em up and knock 'em down wholesale -- sword combat is still pretty much a one-on-one, retail experience in Zelda....)

This went on much further than I expected. I'd love to hear from folks who dig the game what works for them, hopefully I've done a good enough job couching my critique as highly subjective, as I puzzle out (so to speak) why a game that is clearly so good in so many ways is on the bubble for me making time to play through...

Trump thinks health insurance is priced like life insurance. This makes Bush Sr's "amazement" about the supermarket checkout scanner (grossly exaggerated, tbh) makes him look like Joe Sixpack, relative to Trump. He truly has no idea, but claims everything is easy.

from November 5, 2017

Played through the main story mode of Super Mario Odyssey yesterday- I muscled through that in pretty much a day, but there's a lot more to explore in it. Yeah the plot is the same lame old Damsel in Distress (made a bit worse by the "and Bowser is plundering all these themed lands for wedding gifts", and a big wedding scene at the end, though tempered by Peach saying forget both of you, I'm not your damn trophy and am going off on my own adventure) but its capture mechanic ("Remember kids! Keep on a hat lest you get possessed by Mario!") really delivered in one of the main things I play video games for: engaging physics and alternate controls. Taking over a Tropical Wiggler to stretch around a bend (with subtle squeezebox sound effects) or using a Poki's beak to sproing up a wall are visceral delights.

I'm impressed too by the Switch, I was thinking that the ability to play away from the TV like a tablet or Gameboy wouldn't be that useful since I don't have a commute, but it really adds some nice options , playing in bed, or in the living room when something else is on television, etc.

from December 27, 2017

Finished up "Blaster Master Zero" last night, a Switch remake of the NES original - thoughtfully modernized, and without the hockey-stick difficulty curve of the original's last level. The tank based rolling and jumping sections - jump, then press back to check your inertia and stop from rolling off the next platform - remains one of the most satisfying bit of physics in all 2D gaming.

Also, the Switch with its "play the same game on a TV or a mini-tablet-with-thumbsticks" is pure genius - I wonder how powerful it is? Mario Odyssey was so impressive, but could it play, say, GTA5? If not, that means it's not as powerful as a 12-year-old Xbox 360 (But also reinforces my idea that the 2001 GameCube was the time when Nintendo got enough power to do most of the games it wanted to make, and 360/PS3 for everyone else, since we had all those PS3/PS4, 360/Xbox One dual ports.)
The Daily Routines of Various Famous and Productive People. Rhythm is key.

from zelda is life. maybe.

Been grinding through the new Zelda (sometimes 'til like 3AM, which isn't all that wise.)

I gave the game a shot last summer on Wii U, but it didn't stick; I got anxious and irritated with the way all weapons wear down and break, with the seemingly fiddly cooking system, with the difficulty of some of the "Test of Strength" battle shrines.

Listening to the Watch Out For Fireballs! podcast on it helped my second try on Switch go better - especially one of the casters joking how sometimes when he got to a "test of strength" he'd be like Grandpa Simpson walking into the 'burlesque house': take off his hat, see Bart at the desk, U-turn, put on his hat, exit, whistling all the while.

Historically Zelda and Metroid, with their "from chump to champ" arcs, have never resonated for me the way Mario and GTA have - the protaganist of the latter two games is, from a play-control perspective, about the same dude at the end as the beginning, and that's always felt more true to my Fixed-Mindset intuitions - new skills might be practiced but the intrinsic core is unchanging.

So right now I'm trying to parlay my enjoyment of Zelda -- the satisfaction of growing a character, returning to an area where a terrible frustrating enemy is now a cakewalk, the ok-ness of leaving a challenge alone for a long while and (maybe) coming back to it later, the games lovely sense of how there's often more than one way to do it -- into a life lesson.

For instance: Right now I'm frustrated as hell at how hard it is to apply my html-ish mojo into writing standalone apps for iphones and android devices. There's "PhoneGap" that seemed the most promising but not only has the iPhone-part of their "hello world" entry been removed from the app store, the version for Android doesn't seem to work on modern device. So it seems like probably a different approach is required, and I should come back to this later, or enlist a cheat sheet (like I do with the game), or I should try a different approach.

Of course, the Zelda-to-real-life mapping is terribly imperfect. In video games progress is quantified, consistently immediately rewarded, and back-sliding doesn't really exist... all factors missing from actual learning in life.

Anyway, fun game. Actually, startlingly gorgeous in parts, and with a does of bittersweet melancholy.

from the future of games is here

The publisher Usborne has a long history of great tech books for kids - that link even has downloadable copies of their 80s book. One book not on that page (but available at Annarchive, a repository I've contributed to) is this book, "Computer and Video Games: How They Work and How To Win"
(honestly more about the working than the winning!)

One of my favorite parts of it growing up was this page, on the future of video games:

click for full size

But this panel stuck in my mind the most:

Back then, I was versed enough in the ways of "LCD" to dismiss that the kind of graphics shown were a fantasy! LCDs were what gave us the canonical "Game and Watch" look of detailed but non-overlapping game display elements. And even on a TV, what kind of game could look like that?

Of course I was wrong. Gameboys used LCDs as pixels, and even smartphones are LCDs, all the way up to the OLED days where we live now. And while I'm not sure what kind of game with motorbikes would have an angle quite like that for play, it's certainly in the realm of what we've had in our hands for the last decade.

(Handheld or no, 3D game worlds have become astonishingly beautiful and detailed. My superniece has persuaded me to keep with Red Dead Redemption 2 because it's so realistic, and man... it really is jawdropping, compared to the sprites of the 80s and 90s.)
You can now legally compost dead bodies in Washington state Love this idea. Americans are so uptight about how we deal with dearly departed - it's like we deny our mortality by preserving our old form as long as possible - and make our loved ones left behind vulnerable to all kinds of profiteers! There is beauty in being able to live on in the ecosphere in a purposeful way.

Año 2020
Vídeo de instagram @pianolitopeter pic.twitter.com/T2vtVAau7x

— Josef Ajram Tares (@josefajram) November 1, 2020

Not to count chickens but doesn't this look nice? It took my breath away during my "slightly-less-doomed"-scrolling

from Private Screenings, Games Magazine December 1982

As a kid, I loved reviews of video games, especially if they were colorful. I just managed to trackdown one of my favorites that someone scanned online - the December 1982 copy of Games magazine (All I remembered was that it had a time travelling detecting story "The Hemlock Kiss-Off"). I was really taken by monkeyshines, a game I wouldn't even see footage of for years, there's something so weirdly appealing to me about autonomous little monkeys...

Also, "Microsurgeon" certainly has a memorable screenshot:

trying to figure out if the machines schools in the 80s had were mimeograph or ditto machines. haven't thought of that weird purple ink ina long time... hard to explain to a kid in age of photocopies and printers. almost as weird as microfiche.
Nothing bums me out like finding quotes I put on my blog from a book I don't recall reading. It's like a reminder of how quickly any mark I leave on the world is likely to be eroded away, I can't reliably place a mark on my own psyche!
Speaking of old video games... On the FB Atari Age group Herb Branan writes "The warranty card I found in the box for a Magnavox Odyssey 3000, circa late 70's."

Question #8 is just amazing. Such a weird way cart before the horse way of thinking about what a player might like in a game... (also the salary ranges and the lack of zip code in the address are quite telling of the time.)

from December 17, 2020

Went back to play original NES Super Mario Brothers, a game I'm not sure I've actually ever beaten, making heavy use of Switch's "rewind" feature. I had forgotten how unforging it was - probably the origin of "Nintendo Hard", the weird bad synergy between "Arcade games give you 3 lives and entertainment to fill those little bursts" and "home games now can and should have a lot of content and give many hours of playtime to make up their cost".

I gave up on world 7-4, which is a weird, unmarked puzzle that feels like an infinite loop but actually you have to take certain top or bottom paths or something. (I thought only the final 8-4 level did that.)

Supposedly the "All Star" version added in audio feedback to tell the player they chose the correct or incorrect path, but it left me with this:

Hot Take: Donkey Kong is a much better game than Super Mario Brothers.