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300th Stupid Blog Entry!

Nathan Strum


Part 1 - Eh, close enough


Sharp-eyed viewers will no doubt notice that this isn't the 300th Stupid Blog Entry... it's the 301st 302nd 305th 307th 310th.


Yeah... I've procrastinated finishing this one a few times. :roll:


However, this entry is about the 300th Stupid Blog Entry, so technically, the title of this entry is correct.


Descriptively speaking.


Back in September, I was planning to write up some massive, over-long entry like I did for the 200th Stupid Blog Entry and 100th Stupid Blog Entry, but then I decided I really didn't feel like doing that at the time. Plus, since I wanted to go ahead and post about some other things, I figured I'd go ahead and just post an empty 300th Stupid Blog Entry, get on with other things, and then maybe get back to it later. (Besides, the blogware hadn't been fixed yet, so it's not like you would have been able to bask in the full awesomeness of such a milestone blog entry anyway.* :roll: )


Once I posted the empty entry, I thought it might be interesting to see what (if any) comments it might generate. Dave Dries mentioned charades, which sounded like a good idea, so I decided to see if anyone would play along with a cartoon version. But that died a quick death, since I suspect nobody got the idea that they were supposed to play along. The best laid plans and all that. :P


It would have looked something like this (you'd have to fill in the parts where he makes the "first word", "first syllable" gestures etc., since I didn't draw those):


For those playing along anyway, the answer was:


Three Hun-Dredd Posts


Although technically, I suppose that's more rebus than charades. Or rather, Raybus.


This post also happened to coincide with yet another (late) mention of the anniversary of my blog, which is now just over five years old. And in the annual tradition of that happening each October, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it's the one time of year Baskin-Robbins carries Pumpkin Pie ice cream. However, it's taken me so long to get around to posting this, that it's now actually December, and I'm not even certain they're still carrying it. :roll:



Part 2 - Sure glad that's over...


The reason for a lack of blog activity (and zero work on any homebrew projects) for some number of months is that I'd been insanely™ busy at work straight through since June, which is unusual at my job. Usually during summer, we're on a reduced work schedule (no summer semester) so it's an opportunity to catch up on maintenance, installations, upgrades, and so forth, plus I have extra free time for my own stuff. Sometimes, we'll have a major project to do, like a construction project, or a major changeover of equipment, or a computer lab overhaul; but almost always it's just one project. Maybe two. This summer though, it was all of the above, and multiples of each. I've never had a summer like this, and I figure I probably had five times the number of projects of any other given summer. I didn't take any vacation time, worked countless extra (unpaid) hours and weekends, and barely got enough done for the semester to start off. To top that off, we ended up having nightmarish server problems that took all semester to solve. (For future reference - it's always the one thing you never expect that causes the most problems. So start there first.) Fortunately, that problem seems to be over and done with now, although I'm still behind on everything else. But at least the big projects are done, and I can start slogging my way through a multi-page to-do list when our Christmas break is over.


Admittedly, despite the headaches and long hours, having buckets of money to spend for once is a pretty nice problem to have. We have fully-opened the HD can of worms, and put the infrastructure in place to make producing and viewing work in HD possible throughout our program's facilities.


Theoretically possible, that is.


Sure hope it works. It kind-of has to. We got rid of all the old stuff. :ponder:


Fortunately, the new Macs we got this summer are phenomenally fast.


How fast?


Well, several years ago, I made this little video: The Games That Time Forgot (MAME Intro) (19 MB QuickTime)


At the time, on a dual 450 MHz G4 PowerMac, it took about one hour to render the final project out from After Effects. Over the years, I've used it as kind of a benchmark to see how fast newer Macs were.


As our Macs improved, that time was cut about in half, then down to maybe 15 or 20 minutes or so the last time I tested it.




55 seconds. :o


It almost renders in real-time.


The scary thing about that, is that these are basically the next-to-low-end Mac Pros.


I wonder what the fast ones can do. :ponder:


I really need to get a new Mac... :(


Apple makes unpacking their products an "event". Everything is very neat and tidy, and there are little plastic peel-off protectors and carefully twisted tie-wraps on everything, and neatly folded white cardboard boxes with peripherals neatly tucked away inside them. It's a very thoughtful presentation, and makes for a nice user experience, if you're buying a new product from them for the first time.


But I'll tell, ya'... after about the first two or three dozen, the novelty starts wearing off. :roll:


Fortunately, we had good helpers this summer (particularly my grad student assistant), without which it would have been impossible to get all this stuff done.


But I'm really, really hoping we don't have this many major projects again all at the same time. And I could have done without all of the extra meetings, too. They wouldn't be so bad, except they were the kind where I had to actually participate. :P



Part 3 - Sure glad that's over - part 2


The last 2600 project I worked on before my schedule went 'ka-blooey' was Turbo.


A few years ago, a long-lost prototype of the 2600 version of Turbo was discovered, then purchased by a collector who decided to make it available for a release through AtariAge.


I was asked to put together reproduction artwork (box, label and manual) for it, so that it would make for a nice package for people to buy. There was just one little problem with it...


The game sucked. :razz:


Although AtariProtos.com says that the game was about 80% complete, I find that a bit optimistic. Maybe there was a later, undiscovered version that was 80% finished, but this prototype was little more than a semi-functional proof-of-concept. It was largely unplayable, and completely lacking in anything remotely resembling "fun".


On the other hand, this is Coleco we're talking about (see also: Zaxxon, Donkey Kong Jr.). So maybe they were just planning to put it out with another 20% tweaking, and call it "good enough".


Anyway, I started working on reproducing the box, manual and label for Turbo, using various sources online (including the poster shown here), and a box and manual from the Intellivision version of Turbo (which Albert picked up from eBay).






It was a time-consuming project, but an interesting exercise to see how close of a reproduction I could come up with. Sort of like forgery, in a way.


Not that I'd ever use my art skills for evil, mind you.


Like forging a parking pass in college to be able to park on campus, for example.


That would be wrong. :ponder:


Anyway, at some point in the process, it was decided that just releasing the prototype as-is and charging what a boxed release would cost would be a bad idea. Even though hard-core completist/collectors probably wouldn't care ("Hey, it's a box on a shelf!"), gamers would, and Turbo would likely appeal to a broader audience of people actually wanting to play something.


So Dennis Debro and Thomas Jentzsch began hacking the game to make it playable, and I was brought in to spruce up the graphics a bit.


This was all well and good, but the whole project became a source of frustration to me, because no amount of hacking was ever going to really turn it into Turbo. At least, not a Turbo that had a reasonable resemblance to the arcade version. The problem had nothing to do with anyone working on the project or the amount of effort put into it, but the simple, unavoidable fact that the original kernel was just too limited to really be Turbo. Short of completely re-writing the game from scratch (which was discussed at one point, but never materialized), there was no way to get some key missing elements into the game: better roadside objects, a better sense of movement, varied scenery (bridges, blind corners, hills, narrow roads), puddles, manual shifting, vertical movement for the player, and probably the most recognizable element from Turbo: the ambulance. Now, some of those may seem like minor details, but combined they really add up to a lot of the "feel" of what made Turbo the game it was. Moreover, they're all details from the original arcade game that are well within the 2600's limitations. Since I first read about Turbo for the 2600 back in the 1983 Electronic Games Software Encyclopedia, I had high hopes - and probably unreasonable ones - that the game would be better than what it ultimately turned out to be.







During the discussions of what could be possible with a scratch-programmed Turbo, it appeared that it would be possible to make a pretty cool looking (and feature complete) version of Turbo on the 2600. Of course, it would still look like a 2600 game - as opposed to say, the Colecovision port - but all of the aforementioned missing items could have been in there. But that never got past the planning stages and some screen mock-ups. It would have required just too much work, and in the end, it would have been an all-new homebrew, and not what Coleco would have done back in the day. So it was decided that a hack would be the most appropriate (and achievable) course of action, with the idea being if Coleco had completed their prototype... how good could it have been?


The list of improvements that did get made is really quite impressive, and a testament to Dennis' and Thomas' programming skills. When you compare the two, the differences between the unmodified prototype and the hacked version are dramatic. The game now has fluid controls, balanced gameplay, good difficulty ramping, proper collision detection, better sound, numerous bug fixes and graphics changes, scoring that matches the arcade game, and much more. And at times, the enhanced version almost feels a little bit like Turbo. Still, between seemingly endless play-testing, and the feeling that in the end it really wasn't very much like Turbo, I was glad when the whole thing was finally over and done with. Burnout (not to be confused with Burnout) had set in.


However, in the months since the project wrapped, I've gained some distance from it, so I'm not as burned out on it as I was. At the time though, not only was I completely disinterested in Turbo, I really didn't have much interest in any other 2600 projects, either. Fortunately (if you can call it that), I got too busy at my job to do any side projects, so that prevented me from burning out any further, and gave me some much-needed time off from the homebrew scene. In fact, I rarely played any 2600 games for several months, except that I became somewhat obsessed with Russell Babylon's 2600 version of Yahtzee in Stella.**


I'd like to see that polished up a little, and released on a cart. It's a great time-killer. :thumbsup:


The irony in all this is that when I finally received my copy of Turbo - it didn't work. In fact, the replacement copy didn't either, which is why I have yet to write a review of it. My suspicion is that my six-switch 2600 is somehow killing the carts, but I won't be able to confirm that until I get #3, and try it in a different console first. ;)


Anyway, given my mostly peripheral involvement in homebrew projects, I can now certainly see why programmers would get burned-out and choose to step away not only from their own projects, but from the whole scene. Hopefully though, we'll see some more of the promising games that have been started brought to completion someday.


You know who you are. ;)



Part 4 - And then...


So now, I'm back into working on homebrew projects again, which brings with it the inevitable "To-Do" list update.


This time though, I'm only going to post info on projects that have shown some signs of life this year. Homebrews have a tendency to go into perpetual hold, so I'll just leave those off, unless or until they re-emerge.


First though, an update on stuff from the last To-Do List.


Completed projects:

  • Duck Attack! label and manual finished, and the game is now on sale in the AA store.
  • K.O. Cruiser label and manual finished, and the game is now on sale in the AA store.
  • Turbo box, label and manual finished, and the game is now on sale in the AA store.
  • Failsafe manual laid-out, and the game is now on sale in the AA store.

Regarding Turbo, I'd listed it before under not one, but two code names in the last To-Do list: "Unreleased Prototype #1" and "Lawyer". Why? Well, originally I used "Unreleased Prototype #1" when all that was planned was just the box, manual and label. Then when it was decided to make a hack, I added a new entry without deleting the first one. Why "Lawyer"? Because. Of course, the irony of that title isn't lost on me, given that the ambulance never actually made it into the game. :roll:


Miscellaneous unfinished projects:

  • AtariVox+ manual and label(s) - still waiting for text
  • Stella at 20 - on indefinite hold, need a new Mac to be able to work on this again
  • MacMAME.net movie reviews - aiming for Summer 2011 to move them to their new site, and update them
  • 2600 Mods Comparison Project - aiming for Summer 2011 for updated tests and a revamped website

And so, onto the current stuff:


Homebrews/Reproductions in active development:

  • "Gut Bomb"† - Game graphics
  • "潍坊"† - Game graphics, gameplay feedback
  • Omicron - Label and manual (sketches started, game is progressing nicely)
  • RPS - Game graphics, label and manual (all in progress, to varying degrees). Bob Montgomery has taken up working on RPS (with Billy Eno's permission), so this may yet see the light of day.
  • "Chun-Li"† - Game graphics, level design (in progress)
  • Chetiry (was "Zombie") - Title screen and other graphics (done), label and manual artwork (sketches started).
  • "Bruce"† - Game graphics (new round of mockups done, more to come). Bruce started out as a purely speculative project. Now there's a preliminary title screen, two WIP display kernels, and two programmers working on the project. Sweet. :cool:
  • "Unreleased prototype #2"† - Title screen bitmap (done); With Dave Dries: Box, label and manual. We decided to scrap our first pass at this, and came up with a better concept. I've started doing some sketches for it.

The reason for using "code names", is that some of these aren't being developed (yet) in public forums. So I figure it's better to assign some obscure name to them, in case the authors don't want attention being drawn to their projects.


I should also point out that I haven't told the homebrew authors which ones are theirs, either. ;)


That said, I'm particularly excited about "Zombie" and "Bruce". "Zombie", because I think it's something people have been clamoring for (and no, it's probably not the one you're thinking of), and it will likely shoot to the top of the AtariAge bestseller list. "Bruce", because if it actually gets finished, it's going to be awesome, and blow people away that it was even attempted in the first place. But realistically, it may be years before it's finished, if at all. But it's very cool that it's even being worked on.


At any rate, I'm glad to be working on 2600 stuff again. :D


* And actually... it's still not fixed.

** Note: there's a bug in Stella that causes the leftmost die to be displayed twice, but it doesn't affect gameplay.

† Indicates code name for unannounced project.


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I think I have a good idea what Zombie is :) I've also been insanely busy recently with travelling, but hopefully this will happen early next year.



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New project:

  • "潍坊"† - Game graphics, gameplay feedback.


  • Omicron - Starting label sketches.
  • "Chun-Li"† - Changed to "In Progress", added level design to list.
  • "Zombie"† - Starting label sketches. Still need to go over the menu graphics a little bit, but the game is nearly done.
  • "Unreleased prototype #2"† - Started new label sketches.


† Indicates code name for unannounced project

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Chris has now posted more information about Chetiry in his blog.


I'm in the process of designing the label now. It's a bit different than anything else I've done, so it's going to be quite a challenge, but it should be pretty cool when finished (if I don't completely screw it up). ;)

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New (old) project:

  • "Gut Bomb" - Game graphics - Another project started some time back that fell by the wayside, but has recently been revived.


  • "Bruce" - Now has a preliminary title screen, two WIP display kernels, and two programmers working on the project. Plus an updated set of mockups.


I'm hoping now that the annual mayhem at work has subsided, I can do some more catching up on some projects.

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Update - removed following project since development appears to be dead:

  • "Space Zombie" - Game graphics (started). No development progress in nearly five years.

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