This also reminded me that I’d also seen his name on early Lucasfilm Game products — he was the one who had to bowdlerize the NES port of Maniac Mansion for the NES! Go read his Expurgation of Maniac Mansionpost, it’s worth it if you’re a fan of that era of adventure game.
If there is a pinball renaissance, as boosters like to claim, it seems to hover somehwere in the middle distance, unless you live in pinball-mad cities like Portland, Ore. In New York, fans still have to work at it, but the rewards are just as sweet. Like great poetry, pinball transports.
Nice writeup from the NYTimes on finding pinball in NYC. So glad that we have Pinballz here in Austin!
Bonus trivia from the article: did you know that pre-famous Tina Fey did the “damsel” voices for the 1997 Williams pinball table Medieval Madness?
Last week I discovered that the batteries in my late 90’s TI-85 had leaked and corroded, and cleaning it up and turning it on first the time in years I lamented the awesome lost ZShell ASM games that I’d loaded the thing up with back in high school (that was one of the best versions of Tetris ever, right?).
And now, news that Portal has an awesome-looking unofficial TI graphing calculator port. I hope somewhere this is bringing some pleasure and enjoyment to some poor kid sitting in a boring class or study hall.
Hey, that’s not a very nice thing to call game developers! Oh, you mean literal slime molds…
British computer scientists are taking inspiration from slime to help them find ways to calculate the shape of a polygon linking points on a surface. Such calculations are fundamental to creating realistic computer graphics for gaming and animated movies. The quicker the calculations can be done, the smoother and more realistic the graphics. …
Adamatzky explains that the slime mould Physarum polycephalum has a complicated lifecycle with fruit bodies, spores, and single-cell amoebae, but in its vegetative, plasmodium, stage it is essentially a single cell containing many cell nuclei. The plasmodium can forage for nutrients and extends tube-like appendages to explore its surroundings and absorb food. As is often the case in natural systems, the network of tubes has evolved to be able to quickly and efficiently absorb nutrients while at the same time using minimal resources to do so.
The Internet will some day be a series of (feeding) tubes?
Game designer Brian Moriarty delivered quite a talk at the 1997 Game Developers Conference, touching on everything from interaction design, emergent play, community-created art, creativity, self expression, and even an unexpected but interesting tangent about 101 Dalmatians. In hindsight, many of subjects he talks about would become evident over the next decade, from the Sims to Etsy to Minecraft to social networking. From Listen! The Potential of Shared Hallucinations:
Before we can learn, before we can grow, we have to be prepared to listen.
What does it mean, to listen?
The word is commonly understood to mean “attentive hearing.”
It has its etymological origin in the archaic verb, list.
“List!” they used to say. “Ssh! List! The wild boar is outside!”
But the verb “list” also means to tilt something to one side.
When a sea vessel leans to starboard or port, it is said to be listing.
So how did the word “list” turn into the verb “listen?”
Because when we try to hear something, we sometimes cock our heads in the direction of the sound.
So to listen means more than to hear attentively.
The word also implies a change of inclination.
A new slant.
To listen is to put ourselves into a receptive attitude.
A position to be re-aligned.
Also worth reading (the talk is also available for watching as a video in the GDC Vault) if you fondly remember the days of Hypercard, MUDs, and when text adventures reigned supreme on AOL, or if you like crazy 1990s Photoshop anaglyphs…
A fan-made port of the pixel font built into the adventure game classics The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. As a bonus, a separate version is available that is properly kerned and hinted. (double bonus: opening the .ttf file in Font Book reveals that the demonstration string for the font reads “You fight like a dairy farmer!”)
A post combining Lucasfilm Games and typography? Immediate reblog!
Steve Kordek, the guy who revolutionized the world of pinball by introducing a machine with the now-familiar electromechanical flippers at the bottom of the playfield (imagine: a player can somewhat control the game!), passed away this week at the age of 100. His 6-decade career started off with remarkable serendipity. From the NY Times obit:
On a visit to his hometown in 1937, he was walking down a street without an umbrella when a torrential rain forced him to step into the lobby of a building he was passing. It was the Genco company. A receptionist asked if he was looking for a job.
“I had never seen a pin game before in my life,” Mr. Kordek told The Chicago Tribune in 2009. For 45 cents an hour, he was soon doing soldering on the company’s production line. …
Mr. Kordek never got tired of the clang, clack and buzz of pinball. “I had more fun in this business than anyone could believe,” he told The Tribune.
Nice write-up by Ars Technica on the ScummVM project’s history and developers. Hard to believe it’s been around for over 10 years already! (also, I hadn’t heard that they had a brief-lived controversial build that supported Eric Chahi’sAnother World, one of the best games of all time…)
I was very happy to have gotten this far. I had the Kid, the Prince of Persia, running and jumping on my screen. I was able to control it and perform all the normal actions. And it felt right. Timing, speed, animations. Of course it was spot on, it was using the original code written by Jordan Mechner, lifted from its Apple II grave and brought back to life, with a new purpose.
At this point I was sure I could do this. It would only be a matter of months. Oh boy, was I wrong.
From the Prince of Persia C64 Development Blog, in which the author writes with excellent detail about his recent hobby attempt to reverse engineer and port the classic computer game to the Commodore64 (warning: lots of posts about pixels, sprites and assembly language debugging – your entertainment value may vary). The original Apple ][ source code for PoP had long ago been lost, but the game’s creator coincidentally posted a handy excerpt of the game’s design documentation as a PDF on his blog, and many other ports existed, so…why not try recreate the original code?
Bonus: Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner has collated his original design notes and journals into a nice 300-page ebook. Neat! I’d love to have a whole series of these for classic games.
Game design is about crafting a micro-economy. Even in an action game, every action the player or an enemy can perform is a stock or a bond or a unit of currency that can be traded for something else. As the screen scrolls from left to right, Super Mario Bros.’s market fluctuates. One fireball can buy one dead koopa. The points at the top of the screen can’t buy anything. Given enough time and a spreadsheet, I could tell you how many dead Goombas a Bowser fireball is worth.
Speaking of the Seattle behemoth, here’s an interesting history of Microsoft Adventure, the first output of the young company’s “consumer products division” in 1979, an early early example of the not-yet-there retail computer game industry:
The story of Microsoft Adventure provides a good early illustration of both the very real technical and marketing acumen of Gates’s company and its genius for ignoring ethical considerations while still staying on the right side of the law. It provides an early example of what was already becoming the company’s modus operandi, one guaranteed to piss off idealistic hackers as much as it would delight its financial backers. And, not incidentally, it also represents a very important moment in the continuing evolution of adventure games. …
But now we come to the elephant in the room: the question of credit. At no place in the Microsoft Adventure program or its accompanying documentation do the names of Crowther and Woods appear. We are told only that “Adventure was originally written in FORTRAN for the DEC PDP-10 computer,” as if it were the result of a sort of software immaculate conception. Needless to say, Crowther and Woods were never contacted by Microsoft at all, and received no royalties whatsoever for a program that by all indications turned into quite a nice seller for the company; it was later ported to the Apple II, and was one of the programs IBM wanted available at day one for the launch of its new PC in 1981. Because Crowther and Woods, immersed in old-school hacker culture as they were, never even considered trying to assert ownership over their creation, Microsoft violated no laws in doing this. However, the ethics of cloning someone else’s game design and lifting all of their text literally verbatum, and then copy protecting it (the irony!) and selling it… well, I don’t think that calling it “ethically dubious” is going too far out on a limb.
The article also has some tech discussion about how Microsoft coder Gordon Letwin managed to squeeze all of the classic Adventure gameplay and text into that newest of new mediums, the floppy, a revolutionary move away from the slow-loading cassette tapes common at the time.
If you love the old Lucasfilm games and want a peek into how their venerable game engine worked from a very technical perspective, you should read this article that walks through a disassembled Maniac Mansion. Extra bonus: Ron Gilbert, the creator of the SCUMM scripting language, drops a lengthy note in the comments section with insider info:
One of the goals I had for the SCUMM system was that non-programers could use it. I wanted SCUMM scripts to look more like movies scripts, so the language got a little too wordy. This goal was never really reached, you always needed to be a programmer. 🙁
actor sandy walk-to 67,8
This is the command that walked an actor to a spot.
actor sandy face-right actor sandy do-animation reach walk-actor razor to-object microwave-oven start-script watch-edna stop-script stop-script watch-edna say-line dave “Don’t be a tuna head.” say-line selected-kid “I don’t want to use that right now.”
I think it’s amazing that they managed to build a script interpreter with preemptive multitasking (game events could happen simultaneously, allowing for multiple ‘actors’ to occupy the same room, the clock in the hallway to function correctly, etc.), clever sprite and scrolling screen management, and fairly non-linear set of puzzles into software originally written for the 8-bit C64 and Apple II era of computers.
Mechanical engineering student Terry Garret plays through a few levels of Bit.Trip.Runner, one of my favorite games of the past year. It’s a very challenging game, with simple actions but difficult timings that are set to fun 8-music and sound effects.
Awesome full sets of sprites and backgrounds ripped from Konami’s 1991 Simpsons arcade game are available over at The Spriters Resource. I could have bought one of those machines with all of the quarters I lost playing it at the bowling alley or pizza parlor or wherever else grubby kids hung out in 1990s suburbia.
I’ve trimmed down Marge’s action sprites here because I’m fascinated by one detail that I’m pretty sure is otherwise depicted nowhere else in the rest of Simpsons canon: Marge’s Life in Hell rabbit ears hidden inside her hair!
Know who assembled the retail boxes and whatnots for the original Secret of Monkey Island launch (including putting together the Dial-A-Pirate™ codewheels, as seen above)? The actual developers! I believe that’s Hal Barwood in the red glasses, and maybe that’s Dave Grossman on the left? If you have positive ID’s on anyone in the photo, let me know! The GameCola blog scored these photos of launch assembly from Tim Schafer’s Facebook page, including this good bit of trivia:
In one of these boxes, the developers slipped a five-dollar bill, signed by the whole team. It hasn’t been seen since.
The game industry’s definitely a bit different these days.
Nobuyoshi Sano (composer on the arcade series Ridge Racer and Tekken) and Yasunori Mitsuda (who worked on Secret of Mana and composed the music for Chrono Trigger, along with a number of other Square games) have started a new studio called Detune to continue their work on bringing synthesizer emulators to the Nintendo DS. Here Sano demos their upcoming KORG M01 release, which replicates the late 1980’s sounds of the KORG M1.
BIT.TRIP.RUNNER, one of the best games I’ve played this summer. A hypnotically synaesthetic music platformer, something like an inspired cross between Vib-Ribbon and Michel Gondry’s Star Guitar video. Well worth the few bucks if you’ve got a Wii.
(Seen above is a run of level 1-11 by YouTube user NintenDaan1, the level that I’m currently stuck playing over and over again trying to get all of the bonus gold…)
In the same way a painting allows us to gaze upon the faces and souls of people from another age, or a book permits us to linger on the thoughts of great figures from history and fiction, videogames can expand our awareness of the world as it is, was, or might be.
Yeah, it’s great. A lot of that is the fans that have kept it alive. When people discovered it, they would be such rabid fans of it they would feel like they were the ones that got it. It was a little too obscure for their friends, maybe, but they were the ones that were getting it. A thing about the old comics I always heard was that people would lend them to their friends and never get them back. It was always this process where you’d be trying to turn someone onto it, which I thought was great. So there was a long stretch where I didn’t do anything with Sam & Max and there were fan sites that were keeping them active, so I attribute that [to the fact] they’re still around.
The Onion A.V. Club catches up with and gets a good interview from my favorite cartoonist Steve Purcell to ask him about Monkey Island, Sinistar, and the new season of Telltale’s adaptation of his creation.
Fun fact: one of the first websites I created way back in 1994 was a Sam & Max fan site with a handful of scans from the comics and related ephemera, so I guess I was one of those fans!
It’s interesting to look back at the hype and spectacle of the early CD-ROM games (with novelties like Myst flying off the shelf the medium was hailed as the savior of declining video game sales) as a parallel to the hype and spectacle of the real 18th Century phantasmagoria and magic lantern parlor theater. From classic gaming site GOG.com’s short editorial piece commemorating their recent addition of Roberta William’s popular 1995 FMV horror game Phantasmagoria:
In the mid-1700s, long before horror pioneers like Alfred Hitchcock, films such as Dracula and Frankenstein, and even cinema itself, the predecessor to horror cinema was born in a tiny coffee shop in Leipzig, Germany. The proprietor of the shop, Johann Schropfer, welcomed patrons with a warm beverage and an invitation to shoot the breeze and some stick in his adjoining billiards room. But the extra attraction of running a table after a long workday didn’t do much to boost Schropfer’s steadily declining patronage. In an effort to drum up business, Schropfer cast out pool tables and converted the billiards parlor into a séance chamber. […]
By the late 1760s, Schropfer’s once-deserted shop had evolved into a hotspot where patrons gasped in awe at ghostly images projected onto smoke, chilling music, ambient sounds, and burning incenses whose aromas were evocative of malevolent forces. The masterful performance put on by Schropfer proved so lucrative that the coffee-shop-owner-turned-showman took his show on the road throughout Europe until 1774, at which time Schropfer, perhaps haunted by the specters he alleged to call forth from the afterlife, took his own life.
From a recent interview with legendary game designers Jordan Mechner (the original Prince of Persia) and Eric Chahi (Another World) on being an auteur in the modern game development environment. Jordan Mechner’s advice to the young designer:
A good friend in another field gave me this piece of advice recently. He said that most people approach things “1-2-3.”
One is the first inspiration, the vision, the excitement. One is gold. One is touched with magic; everyone wants a piece of it.
Two is all the reasons it won’t work, or won’t sell, or could get screwed up; all the difficulties – technical, financial, logistical – that need to be solved.
Three is doing it.
Most people get stuck on two. My friend’s advice was to go in a different order: “1-3-2”. Skip two and go straight to three. I’d never heard it phrased quite this way before, but looking back, the things I’ve done in my life that I’m most glad of, I did them 1-3-2. So that’s my advice too.
[I]t raises the question of how this particular nonsense word came into wide use at MIT. It seems reasonable to pursue this question, and reasonable that there would be some discernable answer. After all, there’s a whole official document, RFC 3092, explaining the etymology of “foobar.” It could be interesting to know what sort of nonsense word “zork” is, since it’s quite a different thing, with very different resonances, to borrow a “nonsense” term from Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll as opposed to Hugo Ball or Tristan Tzara. “Zork,” of course, doesn’t seem to derive from either humorous English nonsense poetry or Dada; the possibilities for its origins are more complex.
From Post Position’s “A Note on the Word ‘Zork’”, investigating the nonsense term that would in the late 70’s would become synonymous with interactive fiction and the birth of popular computer gaming. Maybe Get Lamp will soon clear up some of this for us.
The proprietary 8-bit processors that powered Atari’s home consoles are being resurrected by the Atari History Museum’s Curt Vendel. He’s rebuilding each chip from the fabrication specification data detailed in the original tape-outs he has in his possession, and hopes to be able to crank out brand new replacement chips (the originals have been unavailable to the enthusiast market for years). This looks to my non-engineer eyes like an impressive feat of reverse engineering and history gathering! If nothing else, one can appreciate the high-res circuit scans he’s posted in the discussion thread.
Metallica singer James Hetfield commissioned playfield artist Wade Krause and game developer Tanio Klyce to create a custom Metallica pinball table, and they did just that. Excellent.
For the hardware they sanded down and repurposed an old Earthshaker table (it has a rumble effect gimmick built in, which sort of makes sense for a heavy metal themed game), and created custom music and sound programming using a Gumstix and Arduino Mega microcontroller to keep watch on the original Williams System 11 CPU’s signals. Double excellent.
Katie Couric goes all regulators on some FMV villains in this circa 1990 clip about arcade laserdisc sensation (well, maybe not so much) Mad Dog McCree. It’s kind of sad to see early 90’s tv – the production values on the crummy video game look far more polished than the Today Show’s.
One of the best games of all time, now running experimentally in your browser, demonstrating that the future could be very bright for non-proprietary interactive content on the web. It’s only the first part of the 2nd level (or whatever you want to call the cage-swinging, alien-buddy-meeting scene) and it’s glitchy, but still looks beautiful and smoothly animated (maybe a bit too smooth, due to the <canvas> polygons being all anti-aliased and filtered out of the box). If you’ve never played the original game, an amazing high-res WinXP-compatible remake came out a couple of years back in honor of the 15th anniversary of its original release.
Pressure Cooker was an ambitious exception among its contemporaries. In 1980, most home computer music remained limited to single-voice melodies and lacked dynamic range. Robert “Bob” Yannes, a self-described “electronic music hobbyist,” saw the sound hardware in first-generation microcomputers as “primitive” and suggested that they had been “designed by people who knew nothing about music” (Yannes 1996). In 1981, he began to design a new audio chip for MOS Technology called the SID (Sound Interface Device). In contrast to the kludgy Atari TIA, Yannes intended the SID to be as useful in professional synthesizers as it would be in microcomputers. Later that year, Commodore decided to include MOS Technology’s new SID alongside a dedicated graphics chip in its next microcomputer, the Commodore 64. Unlike the Atari architecture, in which a single piece of hardware controlled both audio and video output, the Commodore machine afforded programmers greater flexibility in their implementation of graphics and sound […]
When I saw this headline linked by Waxy I took it to be an overview of the recent (late 90’s to now) chiptune music craze, but it’s actually a nice little overview of the nearly 30 years old history of writing music on game hardware. Even includes sections on cracktros, the demoscene, and the early advent of trackers, along with some good videos of the relevant technology.
NASA has launched (pardon the sorta pun) a new website for kids called Be a Martian, with various games that allow them to rack up points and earn badges as they learn about the red planet. The interesting twist? The games are actually crowdsourced work, real data sorting through the aligning of map images taken by Mars Odyssey explorer with elevation images from the Mars Global Surveyor project. Kids play a game, NASA gets useful data that’s otherwise hard to get computationally. The Register has a good writeup of the project.
We did manage to fox Psygnosis now and then, and I can lay claim that it took John White an hour to figure out “Its hero time”. When ever psygnosis did some testing, we’d get back a fax with the level name, time taken to complete, and some comments and a difficulty rating. These were usually aound 3-6 minutes, and some general coments on how they found it.
Every now and again though, the fax would be covered in scribbles with the time and comment’s crossed out again and again; this is what we were striving for while we were designing the levels, and it gave us all a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Early 1990’s gamers all surely remember the schlocky FMV games like Sewer Shark (sadly directed by VFX legend John Dykstra!), Night Trap (widely attacked in the U.S. Senate by Joe Lieberman!!), and Double Switch (starring Corey Haim and Debbie Harry!!!), and probably even get a cold chill whenever the name Digital Pictures comes up. Turgid, not much fun, and costing in the millions to produce, they were supposed to revolutionize the home entertainment business (anyone remember the $700 Philips CD-i?).
The side of the story that I hadn’t heard until now is that those were actually ports by the time the Sega CD and 3DO came around. Originally those games were created for a late 1980’s Nolan Bushnell-produced VHS (!!!) system called the Control-Vision, aka the NEMO (short for “Never Ever Mention Outside”, an appropriate moniker). Special circuitry in the system would allow games to be encoded onto multi-track VHS tape, jumping quickly (?) between segments as players push the control buttons.
Going up against the then-$100 NES, and with a competing video tape game system that already failed on the market (World of Wonder’s Action Max), Hasbro wisely pulled the plug on the NEMO. All of the expensive FMV footage that was shot would only make the light of day a few years later, squeezed down to a resolution of 256×224 pixels, mercilessly dithered down to 64 colors at a time.
From a short essay by elTee on Mixnmojo considering “The Secret of Monkey Island” as a satire of and rebuke to Sierra’s adventure games, a major shift in the genre that would signal the end of the (strangely death-obsessed) Quest series:
Did any of you ever play Police Quest? It was an interesting game because it actually expected you to act like a real police officer. I didn’t realise that cops had to perform a 360-degree vehicle check every morning (duh) and so when I drove away, I got a flat tyre outside of the station. If that were LucasFilm Games’ The Secret of The Death Angel, I’d probably be able to get out of the car and change the tyre, but not so in Police Quest with its grimly predictable ‘game over’. But in a weird way, it was more annoying when I finally managed to get that first day at work under my belt and it was time to get changed and head home. There’s a locker room, and I realise I have no idea which one of the lockers is mine – and then I further realise that the game isn’t going to help me out because of the logic that… the character knows which locker it is.
The Secret of Monkey Island throws that kind of crap out from the opening line. Guybrush doesn’t know shit, and that puts him and us on a level playing field. It’s subtle and incredibly liberating.
Very true. You could learn a lot about storytelling and game writing, good and bad, by studying the early adventure games.
Taito’s new Cho Chabudai Gaeshi, a game based on a literal interpretation of the Japanese idiom “flip the table” (chabudai gaeshi). It gladdens my heart to see new weird games being made for the arcade. At least it’s easier to relate to than Boong-Ga Boong-Ga.
As one commenter on Kotaku notes, “If they localized this in the US it’d have to be called ‘F*ck This’”
From The Women of Leisure Suit Larry. I don’t think I could sum it up any better than the post’s author: “there is a seriously ugly and amazing coffee table art book dying to be made out of this”. Hopefully such a coffee table book would include a portion dedicated to the even-more-awkward non-Sierra attempts at smut like Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender.
NewForestar’s NESynth, bringing 8-bit style waveforms to an iPhone app. It supports P2P collaboration with other iPhones, but it if it had a full tracker built into it it’d be killer. The accelerometer-tilt pitch-bending and “Famicom controller mode” are neat additions.
First localized video from the upcoming Phoenix Wright spinoff, “Miles Edgeworth: Turnabout Prosecutor”. Notable for the series is the move to adventure game-style sprites for the character interaction / investigation scenes. Watching this I realized what must be done: we need a hacked ROM of “Streets of Rage” with these sprites of Edgeworth, Gumshoe, and new “sidekick girl” character Kay replacing Alex, Adam, and Blaze! </videogame nerdery>