[games] Go play wipEout in a web browser … ‘The source code for the classic PSX launch title wipEout was leaked in 2022. A few month ago I finally sat down to take a look at it. The result is a (nearly) complete rewrite that compiles to Windows, Linux, macOS and WASM.’
[gaming] John Romero on the birth of id Software … An excerpt from John Romero’s autobiography Doom Guy. ‘The ability to program games that move so smoothly on the horizontal axis within the game world was earth-shattering technology. It meant we could write games for the PC that rivaled the games created for gaming systems like Nintendo, Sega, and Atari without the need for their specialized hardware. Players didn’t need to invest in a new console! All they needed was a PC and the game files. Nowadays, this is what venture capitalists mean when they talk about “disruption.”’
[games] Arcade Authorship – High Score Table Credits … Designers of early video games sneaked their initials into high score tables as credits – this article expands the initials into names. ‘The practice was birthed in a time both when displaying any but the most crucial text on screen was novel and the value of people making the games by the companies themselves was poorly thought of. Sneaking one’s name into the game had precedent before high score tables, yet with their advent it became a subculture. Sometimes rebellious, sometimes intricate, and oftentimes serving as an aspiration for high score chasers, this phenomenon largely of the 1980s was one of the few ways game creators could signal themselves to game players.’
[et] Fixing E.T. for the Atari 2600 … A deep dive into Atari’s infamous E.T. 2600 video game. Turns out it’s not so bad after all… ‘Why is E.T. green? You need to ask Howard Scott Warshaw about that. E.T. is brown, however, not green. There is absolutely no reason why the game shouldn’t use a proper color for E.T.’
[mac] Moof-A-Day: Early Macintosh Software … A fantastic, playable collection of early-era Macintosh software added to daily and cracked by 4am, a modern day software cracker of 1980s-era Apple software. ‘In late 2013, I acquired a real Apple //e and bought a few lots of original disks on eBay, mostly arcade games that I had acquired illicitly in my youth: Sneakers, Repton, Dino Eggs. To my surprise, the originals had more content than I remembered! Sneakers has an animated boot sequence. Repton has a multi-page introduction that explains the “back story” of the game. So I set out to create “complete” cracks that faithfully reproduced the original experience. I decided to document my methods because I enjoy technical writing and because I had admired the classic crackers who had done so. I decided to leave out the crack screens, although a handful of my early cracks do have Easter eggs where you can see “4am” if you know how to trigger it.’
[games] Curry with the GOAT: Jeff Minter on 40 years operating on the far side … Interview with Jeff Minter on his long history as a game creator. ‘ That’s the thing about being a proper game designer – you can set out and no matter what goes on, you encounter hardship but you know you’ve made this journey a million times before, you know you can make it to the other side, you know the day will dawn where you’ll find that one thing that works and you’ve just got to fucking stick to it. I get frustrated with people saying they started making this game and the moment an obstacle comes up they throw their arms up and say I’m not going to do this anymore. The number one skill in making a game is completion! Bring the thing through – make the thing! ‘
[games] Jason Brassard Spent His Lifetime Collecting the Rarest Video Games. Until the Heist … A true-crime story about the robbery of a pristine collection of video games and the emotional cost of losing it. ‘Generations of games had been lost to attics, yard sales, and garbage bins, and enthusiasts like Brassard had become sentimental about finding and possessing them. A culture, and then a market, had bloomed around such wistful longings. It’s fair to assume most humans have played a video game—the emotional capital of playing and loving a game 30 years ago is one of the reasons games that old have become desirable. In the summer of 2021, a sealed copy of the first print of Super Mario Bros. for the NES sold for $2 million at auction. A copy of The Legend of Zelda went for nearly $900,000. A pristine, never-opened copy of Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million.’
[akira] A Collection of Every Akira Video Game Ever Made … ‘Akira was one of my favorite films as a teen and I remember hearing rumors of a video game version, but I could never find it. Eventually, I just filed it away as a myth, like the supposed Akira live action film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Not only are these games real though, you can even be able to play them thanks to ROM archivists…’
[speccy] Celebrating 40 years of ZX Spectrum ❤️ 💛 💚 💙 … A look at what’s happening with the ZX Spectrum forty years after it’s creation. ‘Can you believe it still has a large and active community creating new content, archiving old content, and hacking on all sorts of hardware?’
[tech] Watch an AI Outplay Tetris … There’s something slightly uncanny about watching this AI coolly and efficiently beat NES Tetris. More details here.‘Like human players, Cannon’s impressive StackRabbit AI gets better at playing Tetris through repeatedly playing and analyzing the game to develop improved strategies. But unlike human players, StackRabbit has nerves of steel and doesn’t start to panic as the ever-growing stack of tetrominoes approaches the top of the play board, which it pairs with lightning-quick reflexes to play one of the most mesmerizing and impressive rounds of Tetris you’ve probably ever seen.’
[games] Creating Lode Runner … How the classic 8-bit platformer game Lode Runner was created. ‘The manner in which James’s system worked made the monsters seem to have intelligence – they’d often pause rather than home in on you. “And what made the game really interesting was they ran all this logic to determine if they were going to make this one move, left or right, but you could then jump off a platform and end up falling halfway down the screen. At that point, all bets were off, because your position changed so quickly,” says James, adding that – as you might have guessed – “a lot of the fun for me was applying the logic to different levels and not necessarily playing the game!”’ [More: Looking back at Lode Runner]
[retrogaming] In the ’80s, she was a video game pioneer. Today, no one can find her … The search for Vietnamese woman who programmed an Atari 2600 games featuring one of the first female characters in gaming. ‘Firsthand accounts from the few Apollo developers with an online presence don’t even remember who she was, exactly, other than knowing she was Vietnamese and determined to get hired. These developers assume she must be called Ban Tran, because that’s what fan sites say her name was. But they’re not sure; they can’t quite recall. Where did the fan sites get the name in the first place? Like Score before her, Tran’s contribution to video games is hanging by a thread.’
[adventure] 1982: The Hobbit … A look back at The Hobbit – a ground-breaking adventure game from 8-bit era. ‘But Megler loved the game’s unpredictability. “I didn’t make any attempt to stop that,” she said of unexpected NPC deaths, “because I thought it was cool.” Unlike Adventure, you never knew quite what would happen when you booted up her game. It was exactly the kind of nondeterministic serendipity she had hoped to create: “I was really aiming for something like life, where the outcome is the result of many independent occurrences and decisions by many people, and sometimes things just don’t work out… I actively wanted the unpredictability.”’
[games] The making of Frankie Goes To Hollywood … The story behind how an 8bit Computer Game was created around the 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood. ‘Denton Designs began group brainstorming, Gibson and Noble on the ZX Spectrum (and latterly, Amstrad), Graham ‘Kenny’ Everett and Karen Davies the Commodore 64, with Fred Gray on sound duties and Steve Cain overseeing both versions. “We spent a LOT of time discussing and going round in circles with ideas, again and again,” recalls Noble. “It was a hard transition, from the music into something concrete, with playability.” Help and ideas from Ocean were slim, as Gibson remembers. “It was like, ‘Go away and produce a blockbuster game.”‘
[games] Looking Back at Lode Runner … A nicely-done history / appreciation of the 1983 computer game. ‘Playing each level entails first experimenting and dying — dying a lot — until you can devise a thoroughgoing plan for how to tackle it. Then, it’s just a matter of executing the plan perfectly; this is where the action elements come into play. The levels in Lode Runner are dynamic enough that getting through them doesn’t require stumbling across a single rote, set-piece solution envisioned by the designer; there’s space here for player creativity, space for variation, space for quick thinking that gets you out of an unanticipated jam — or that fails to do so just when you believe you’re on the brink of victory.’
[doom] OK Doomer … A great look at playing Doom in 2020. ‘ Doom’s “2.5D” graphics, though primitive by modern standards, help it pull off things that are far more difficult to do with today’s software tooling. You experience the game as 3D, but the game’s level design and movement patterns are more or less reflective of 2D arcade shooters like Robotron, Geometry Wars, Commando, or Smash TV. You move incredibly fast (50 scale miles per hour!) through non-linear explorable levels that are designed to optimize play rather than look realistic. You fight diverse hordes of slow-moving enemies (compared to you at least!) that are individually weak but collectively quite dangerous. At the higher difficulty levels (Ultraviolence is really the best way to play), your only hope of survival is raw speed and cunning. The stylized abstraction of the game makes it feel like a strange, nightmarish vision you are hallucinating, which gets progressively more terrifying as the early infested techbase levels transition into hell itself.’
[games] The mysterious origins of an uncrackable video game … The BBC looks at video game archaeology and in particular an Atari 2600 Game called Entombed. ‘During their research, Aycock and Copplestone were able to interview one of the people involved in [Entombed’s] production, Steve Sidley. He too remembered being confused by the table at the time. “I couldn’t unscramble it,” he told the researchers. And he claimed it had been the work of a programmer who developed it while not entirely sober: “He told me it came upon him when he was drunk and whacked out of his brain.” Aycock tried to contact the programmer in question but got no response. Maybe no-one ever really understood the logic of the algorithm. But there it is, in a 1982 Atari game, posing a seemingly unanswerable question.’
[games] An Oral History of ‘Snake’ on Nokia … How the Snake Game came to be installed on Nokia phones. ‘We made it so the hardest level is actually as fast as the snake can possibly go. Considering screen-refresh rates, and how fast the software could calculate the next snake position, I needed to add delays in the slower levels to give more time between steps. In the fastest level, there is no delay and thus no way to make it faster than that. But it wouldn’t be so fast that it would crash the phone.’
[games] Bandersnatch: the game that killed a company and inspired a Black Mirror episode … The true story of the never-released ZX Spectrum game Bandersnatch. ‘In fact, according to programmer John Gibson in a 2001 interview, it was looking likely that even with 176K, “[Bandersnatch] was around half finished and we’d already used up all the ROM so a major design rethink would have been necessary to get it finished.” As such, the final package was more likely to cost around £60 – ten times what a normal game would cost. Would you drop £450 on a Switch game? With every passing week, Bandersnatch was growing more arms and legs and was turning into something much bigger than anyone could have anticipated. This was no longer a simple game release: it was suddenly part game, part hardware launch, part box full of merchandise and other tat.’
[doom] Reflections on DOOM’s Development … John Romero on 25 years of Doom. ‘We couldn’t wait to see what players would do with our game, so we made sure it was open and available to modify all the data we had. We had hoped people would change textures, sounds, and make lots of new levels. We were enabling players to let us play their creations finally. It was a major move that would eventually end up with us releasing the source code. Open your game and your fans will own it, and keep it alive after you’re gone.’
[games] Pokémon: The 20-year fad … A look at why Pokémon has been so popular for so long. ‘Make no mistake: The concept of trading and collecting is baked into Pokémon at its primal level. The game’s motto, “Gotta catch ’em all,” turns one of the central conceptual pillars of video game design into an explicit marketing tagline. Like socialization, acquisition has always been woven into the fabric of gaming. Eating bonus fruit for more points; gathering 100 coins for a 1-up; earning fancy hats to wear into your next team deathmatch: Pokémon applies that element to a real-world analog — bug collecting — but adds a fantasy element in which those virtual combat beetles appear as cute, memorable creatures of all stripes.’
[arcade] Atari Asteroids: Creating a Vector Arcade Classic … the inside story behind Atari Asteroids. ‘Production started in late 1979. In an interview back in 1981, Mary Takatsuno, a marketing analyst at Atari, gave an interesting insight to the reaction to the game within the company: “Asteroids is the only game that ever stopped production lines in our plant. At break time, the entire assembly line would run over to play the machines that were ready to be shipped out. With other games, the guys would just assemble them and box them up, and that was that. But with Asteroids, nobody wanted to work.”‘
[jsw] Reader, it me… Man still knows where all the rooms are in Jet Set Willy … ‘It’s all still there, rotating around in my head, every room, every item, every inch of that marvellous multi-coloured blocky mansion. Even when I’ve forgotten my own name I reckon I’ll still know how to get that tricky item in The Orangery.’
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[games] The Enduring Legacy of Zork … looking back at the impact of the first commercial text adventure … ‘Vibrant, witty writing set Zork apart. It had no graphics, but lines like “Phosphorescent mosses, fed by a trickle of water from some unseen source above, make [the crystal grotto] glow and sparkle with every color of the rainbow” helped players envision the “Great Underground Empire” they were exploring as they brandished such weapons as glowing “Elvish swords.” “We played with language just like we played with computers,” says Daniels. Wordplay also cropped up in irreverent character names such as “Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive” and “The Wizard of Frobozz.”’
[tech ] The Doom of Your Memories Doesn’t Really Exist … On reinventing classic video games… ‘That’s what digital media does: it allows us to create alternate histories, versions of our gaming past that better match our heightened expectations. And as our expectations change, as our memories shift and gather junk data with age, so, too, can we return to our old passions with those shifts intact, remaking them to suit us. Brutal Doom recently added weapons from the new Doom, taking new ideas that seem appropriately Doom-y and rewriting them into the game’s past. There’s not just one Doom, or one Super Mario, or one Half-Life. As we modify and reimagine these games, we’ve created dozens, hundreds, each signifying an alternate version of videogaming’s past.’
[gaming] Everything I Knew about Graphic Design I Learned from Ultimate Play the Game … Remembering Ultimate Play the Game – and the imapact they had on UK Gaming in the 1980s … ‘Everything about Ultimate Play The Game was kind of mysterious and seductive. The company’s name itself didn’t really make a lot of sense in and of itself, but that merely added to the mystique. An Ultimate game felt like a coherent package. The company had an identity. Even before you got to play an Ultimate game the artwork was selling you on the promise; they had a distinct visual style that was unlike anything else. The chrome airbrushing of the company logo, the box artwork – later, the games came packaged in special custom boxes, which made them feel even more special – which was usually reflected in the loading screens… Potentially, I loved all of that more than I did playing the games.’
[games] These Mysterious Symbols Have Been in 19 Video Games and No One Knows Why … interesting video games mystery from Vice Gaming … ‘Either way, the sigils and glyphs have all the makings of an alternate-reality game (ARG), where players collaborate on solving a mystery spread across the digital and physical world. Some of the most famous ARGs, like Halo 2’s “I Love Bees,” had participants standing at pay phones waiting for secret messages to push them one step closer to answers. Other clues have been known to be spectrographically hidden in audio files. To wit: One sigil was found by decoding the morse code hidden in another sigil found in the otherwise innocuous mobile game Slide the Shakes. The morse code spelled out a set of coordinates in Los Angeles, California, which led someone to find a hidden USB drive. On that drive was—of course—another sigil.’
[doom] Doom was video gaming’s punk moment … a look back at Doom … ‘People talk about how Reservoir Dogs made violence into ballet – well Doom turned it into a mosh pit. In Doom, violence was the communicative medium of the world. And it was astonishing, breathtaking fun. All great popular works simultaneously reflect and re-construct the subculture they emerge from. They have an energy that crackles with life and youth, you feel it under your skin, it bursts through your veins like adrenaline. Doom dragged video game design away from the structures set out by the 1980s arcades and set a new blueprint. It told us that things were going to be different from now on and you’d better be ready.’
[gaming] The man who made ‘the worst video game in history’ … How Atari’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was made… ‘Warshaw’s stock was high at Atari. The 24-year-old had just finished the video game of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg considered Warshaw a “certifiable genius” and 36 hours earlier Warshaw had been hand-picked for their next collaboration. “It was a day that will live in infamy in my life forever,” says Warshaw. “I was sitting in my office and I get a call from the Atari CEO. He said, ‘Howard, we need the ET video game done. Can you do it?’ “And I said, ‘Absolutely, yes I can!'” Games for the Atari 2600 were distributed on cartridges that took weeks to manufacture. If ET was to be in the shops for Christmas, Warshaw had a tight deadline…’
[sonic] The Michael Jackson Video Game Conspiracy … Did Michael Jackson write soundtrack music For Sonic 3?… ‘As the 1990s wore on, Sega lost a crucial round of the console wars to a resurgent Nintendo and upstart Sony. Ben Mallison remained a Jackson and Sonic fan. But as he entered his teen years, something about Sonic 3 started to tug at him. There was something weird about that Sonic 3 music, and he couldn’t figure it out. Then one day, it came to him. “Huh,” Ben thought. “That Sonic music sure sounds like Michael Jackson.” “I’ve always been musically inclined and have a knack for noticing stuff like samples or ripoffs in songs,” he says. But he didn’t have any way to share his theory with the world. For that, Ben had to wait for the Internet…’
[games] Behind a pizza-slice smile: the dark side of Pac-Man… a look at Pac-man’s dark heart … ‘Researcher Alex Wade draws comparisons between Pac-Man’s inescapable maze and the Labyrinths imagined by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges – the exits are just entrances to other parts of the whole. Similarly, comic writer Zach Weiner, has pictured the game as a sort of terrifying Kafka-esque nightmare, in which a man wakes up to find he has been reduced to a living mouth that must consume to survive. This ties in with another interpretation of Pac-Man as the ultimate modern shopper, trapped in a cycle of meaningless consumption and endless binging on electronic treats in a sterile technological landscape. “He is the pure consumer,” wrote Poole in Trigger Happy.’
Inserting and removing socketed electronic assemblies had, until then, been an activity reserved for trained technicians, engineers, and military personnel. Taking a sensitive circuit board and putting it into the hands of a consumer—who might be prone to stepping on it, dunking it in the toilet, or leaving it baking in the sun—posed a considerable design challenge. Obviously, the board needed a protective shell of some kind.
Talesfore zeroed in immediately on the familiar form of the 8-track tape cartridge, an audio recording format which gained significant traction in the 1970s through its use in car audio systems. Relatively rugged, easy to insert and remove with one hand, and vibration-resistant, the 8-track tape proliferated where the comparatively delicate vinyl record feared to tread. He chose a shape and size for his new game cartridge enclosure that closely matched the 8-track tape standard. Then he added ribbing around the edges for improved grip, and selected a bright yellow plastic color to make a statement. Cartridges were the true star of the show, he figured, so they deserved to stand out.
[arcade] Polybius (video game) … fascinating urban myth about a arcade video game from the early 1980’s that mentally disturbed it’s players then disappeared … ‘Polybius is a theoretical arcade cabinet.’
…There’s a half-expected (but still surprising) guest appearance from what I would be willing to bet is a young Christopher Hitchens. In a diverting rant about the increasing presence of voice effects in games, Amis recalls his first exposure to such gimmickry at a bar in Paris on New Year’s Day, 1980:
I was with a friend, a hard-drinking journalist, who had drunk roughly three times as much Calvados as I had drunk the night before. And I had drunk a lot of Calvados the night before. I called for coffee, croissants, juice; with a frown the barman also obeyed my friend’s croaked request for a glass of Calvados.
Then we heard, from nowhere, a deep, guttural, Dalek-like voice which seemed to say: “Heed! Gorgar! Heed! Gorgar … speaks!
“… Now what the hell was that?” asked my friend.
“I think it was one of the machines,” I said, rising in wonder.
“I’ve had it,” said my friend with finality. “I can’t cope with this,” he explained as he stumbled from the bar.
[crime] Yorkshire Ripper loves Wii Bowling … ‘[Peter] Sutcliffe – convicted in 1981 of murdering 13 women – has a fondness for Wii Bowling, a source at the Berkshire-based hospital told the newspaper, adding that the murderer has played the game while watched by Robert Napper, the killer of Rachel Nickell.’
[games] Spacewar – Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums — a profile of Spacewar (one of the first computer games) and the personalities behind it by Stewart Brand from Rolling Stone magazine in 1972 … ‘Spacewar as a parable is almost too pat. It was the illegitimate child of the marrying of computers and graphic displays. It was part of no one’s grand scheme. It served no grand theory. It was the enthusiasm of irresponsible youngsters. It was disreputably competitive (“You killed me, Tovar!”). It was an administrative headache. It was merely delightful. Yet Spacewar, if anyone cared to notice, was a flawless crystal ball of things to come in computer science and computer use…’ [via del.icio.us]
[retro-games] Masters of their Universe — extract from Backroom Boys by Francis Spufford about the creation of the computer game Elite … ‘In 1982, popularised science hadn’t yet risen above the horizon in Britain as a cultural phenomenon. No chaos theory as a universal reference point; not much evolutionary biology, since Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould were only then beginning to make their mark on public consciousness; no cosmology deployed à la Stephen Hawking as a modern replacement for religious truths. In particular, computing in its DIY phase didn’t resonate as it would later. You wouldn’t have found French literary theorists writing about cyberspace in 1982, any more than they’d have written about household plumbing. Computers weren’t glamorous. The result of all this was that what Braben and Bell achieved together while they were at Cambridge was, effectively, invisible.’
[games] Jeff Minter interview by B3ta … ‘Q: What imagery was rejected from the Attack of the Mutant Camels games? A: I drew the line at exposing my innocent young gamers to images of Margaret Thatcher. Hallucinogenic imagery and implied bestiality seemed mild by comparison.’