Feature Article

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Full-length feature articles.
Keith Burgun's picture

My Philosophy and the Tale of 100 Rogues

In December of 2008, a friend of mine was asked by his boss to create an iPhone game for their company.  He and I were already engaged in some independent game development, so he said "I know just the guy to help us!"  That guy's name is... me! 

Keith's Picture!
Pictured: My Face (got stuck like that long ago)

I'm a writer, artist, musician, and even a little bit programmer, but I usually introduce myself to people as a game designer.  Most indie developers (or pros, for that matter) don't refer to themselves in this way - if a person designed and programmed a game they'll usually say they're the programmer or software engineer.  Game design is too often an afterthought - something that someone just does - despite the fact that it is the most important element (and the only necessary element) to creating games.  After all, you can create a game with nothing but words (like the game "Ghost") or nothing but rocks (like the game "Let's Throw Rocks At Each Other").  Game design is so ubiquitous to the human experience that we do it all the time without necessarily even realizing it.  As children, we practiced the art of game design when we would tell our friends "Ok!  You can't touch the rugs!"  And then if that was too hard, we'd practice our game balancing skills by "patching" our game - perhaps by saying something like "alright, well, you can touch the rug as long as you have your hands on the table."  Children understand the craft of game design without anyone explaining it to them, and yet so many in video game development in particular seem to lose sight of this as adults.  I have many theories for why this happens;  it's often the technological arms-race that we get sucked into, or a feeling like our games have to be more than just games to be worth anyone's time, or perhaps we just get lost in the theming of a game.  With my first commercial game, I was determined to not let any of those things happen.

Bill Loguidice's picture

VideoBrain Family Computer Model 101 - Semi-Forensic Photo Blowout!

As followers of Armchair Arcade well know, I've been discussing the groundbreaking, but unsuccessful and rare, VideoBrain computer system, which was developed in 1977, for quite some time now, including most recently here, and of course initially here. As you may also know, I've recently combined my two VideoBrain computers into one working franken-unit, and, as a result, had an opportunity to photograph some of the system's more intimate details. What follows below are those photos. In the next Armchair Arcade TV episode, I'm covering Midnight Mutants for the Atari 7800, which will be followed by episodes on Teenage Driver for the Ohio Scientific computer, and coverage of the games and software for the VideoBrain (Midnight Mutants will hit first--I'm not sure which of the other two will follow right after). You'll see in one of the VideoBrain photos below a game variation in the Gladiator game, which, for 1977, might have one of the most impressive in-game special effects I know of for the time. In any case, enjoy these photos, and don't forget to click through any you want to super-size:

Bill Loguidice's picture

Interview with Lou Galie on the Many Myths of the Timex Spectrum Clones

I am pleased to announce that I have been given permission to publish an article by Bruno Florindo and Andrew Owen entitled, American Cousins, which features a fascinating interview with Lou Galie, Senior Vice President of Technology at Timex Group USA Inc and former Director of Engineering for the Timex Computer Corporation. The article tells the story of Timex's transition from their successful Sinclair ZX81-based budget computer, Timex Sinclair 1000, to the company's last two personal computing products in the US, the Timex Sinclair 1500, an updated Timex Sinclair 1000, and the Timex Sinclair 2068, an enhanced pseudo-clone of the UK's popular ZX Spectrum. You can read the PDF article originally intended for the fanzine Byte High No Limit by downloading the attachment below or simply clicking here. In the future, I will be providing more coverage of the complete series of Timex and Spectrum computers from my personal collection, so be sure to stay tuned. Many thanks to Andrew and Bruno for the article.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Home Computer Designations of the Late 1970s: A Feature Article

So, do you think today's computing landscape of desktops, laptops, notebooks, smart phones, tablet computers, and netbooks - among other designations - is confusing? Imagine a computing landscape with no particular point of reference outside of mainframes and terminals. That's exactly what it was like in the world of personal computing from the mid-1970's to the start of the 1980's. The terms "laptop" and "notebook" were still several years away, with "portable" computers describing those systems you carried about like an overstuffed suitcase and ran off of AC power (like the Osborne 1 [1981], Compaq Portable [1983], or the Commodore SX-64 [1984]), a form factor many of us more accurately refer to today as "transportable" computers.

In any case, continuing along the same line of thinking started with my blog post, "Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?", or my related segment on Armchair Arcade Radio - Episode 1 (and with which I will pursue a somewhat similar theme in Episode 2), I thought I would describe how the 1979 book by noted writer Steve Ditlea, Simple Guide to Home Computers, classified the personal computing landscape of that time.

First off, in Part I, Home Computer Fundamentals, under Chapter 1, The Home Computer Revolution, it calls the Altair 8800, the "world's first home computer". In Part II, Choosing a Home Computer, and specifically Chapter 7, it starts off with "Programmable Video Games" (which is the name of the chapter). The systems he designates as programmable video games (and in the last part of the chapter refers to them as "starter units") are the "Odyssey2 Computer Video Game System", the "Bally Professional Arcade", "Cybervision 2001", and the "VideoBrain". Ditlea calls the Odyssey2 a "price breakthrough", though it's arguable to me if the North American version of the Odyssey2 ever really qualified as a computer in the traditional sense. It does in fact offer a very nice Computer Programming cartridge - which is mentioned in the book - but never any ability to save your output. If it qualifies under that scenario, then the BASIC Programming cartridge for the Atari 2600 would also make that console a computer, albeit even more primitive than what was offered on the Odyssey2. At least in the case of the Atari 2600, though, Spectravideo did eventually come through in 1983 with the CompuMate add-on, which not only added a keyboard and a reasonable BASIC, but the ability to save your data to tape.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?

Commodore PET 2001-8Based on a lively discussion over at AtariAge, I finally have what appears to be independent confirmation of what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with the BASIC programming language was. For purposes of definition, "first recognizable modern day personal computer" means a pre-assembled (non-kit) computer with a built-in display output (typically to a monitor early on and later to a TV) and full keyboard. The BASIC part means having some type of operating system with BASIC commands, preferably (though not required to be) in ROM. Now, we all know the holy trinity of 1977, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80, which were released (meaning not just announced, but actually available to buy and, more importantly, use) in that magical year, in that order, and each of which set the standard for all others to follow. Logic would dictate then that the first computer to fit our definition would be the Apple II. However, as the French would say au contraire mon frere. After some total misses were brought up, one computer in particular began to generate some legitimate consideration, the Processor Technology SOL-20 (SOL 20; NOTE: Though apparently far less popular, the reduced feature-set SOL 10 was also available). Unfortunately, there is a criminal lack of historical information related to both the company and the computer, so pinning down a release date for the pre-assembled version was difficult (as was customary for the time, kit versions were available--even the Apple II could be bought as a kit, though the Commodore PET and TRS-80 could not). While I've been able to briefly handle a fully operational SOL-20 in the past, due to its high cost on today's open market (easily north of $400 with often questionable functionality), I've been unable to acquire one, so my first-hand knowledge of the system is decidedly limited.

AtariAge user "desiv", was the first to find this article, which is a report from a gentleman who had a computer store at the time and pretty much pegged a general availability of 1976 for the SOL-20. Not satisfied with this single account (for one thing, there were a few mis-remembrances in there, like saying the SOL-20 was never sold as a kit), I decided to end the debate (if only primarily with myself) once and for all by checking my personal library's materials for another contemporary perspective. Luckily, I found one.

According to my copy of Owning Your Home Computer (The Complete Illustrated Guide) (1980) by Robert L. Perry, on page 49, "About the same time [mid-1975], Robert Marsh, a computer engineer, founded Processor Technology, which marketed the first computer complete with keyboard and video screen--SOL, the first personal computer deserving the name." and "Except for the first version of the Processor Technology personal computer, called SOL, there was no complete home computer at the beginning of 1977." Then he goes on to talk about the usual suspects, Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Exidy Sorcerer and Ohio Scientific Challenger, as being introduced that year (of course actual availability is a different issue).

He mentions another challenger a bit later, the Polymorphic 8800, which was introduced in 1976, which contained connections for a video monitor and a cassette recorder (as well as BASIC in ROM). Unfortunately, you had to add your own keyboard, which disqualifies it. He then talks a bit more about the SOL 20, "The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).

Perry then devotes some time to the second generation of kit computers, like the RCA Cosmac Elf II, and Heathkit H-8. Then, towards the end of page 54, he starts in with the TRS-80, leads into the PET, talks about the Apple I and II, the Ohio Scientific Challenger, the Compucolor 8001, and the Exidy Sorcerer (which he says, correctly, was introduced in the Spring of 1978).

On another note, he devotes Chapter 5 to "The Newest Home Computers", which, given sufficient publishing lead time for this 1980 book, would have placed most of these releases between 1978 - 1979, which falls in line with what we already know well (of course, some, like the Mattel Keyboard Component, were only ANNOUNCED at this time and would still be some time away). These systems include: Sinclair ZX80, APF Imagination Machine, Interact Model One, Mattel Intellivision (with Keyboard Component), TI-99/4 (not the 4A), Bally Professional Arcade, and HP-85.

On a final note, in Chapter 6, "The Handiest Home Computers", he discusses the TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II/III, Ohio Scientific Challenger series, Compucolor II, Exidy Sorcerer, and the Atari 400/800. Definitely a good book, and definitely an end to the "mystery". Nevertheless, if you want all of the usual qualifiers above and BASIC to reside in ROM, you're still looking at the Apple II, which was released in June 1977.

Any thoughts out there to the contrary?

Chris Kennedy's picture

Building a Retro Gaming PC - Part 3

I had planned to discuss software a bit with Part 3, however I've decided to focus on the hardware changes I have made to this system since Part 2. Some of these improvements have taken old hardware and replaced it with old hardware of higher quality. Other improvements have replaced old hardware with new hardware made in recent years. Nevertheless, the system remains retro. Taking old hardware and modifying it with the intention to slightly modernize it always creates the fear in me that my purist membership card will be revoked. While I have great appreciation for emulation and the programming behind it (I am a programmer, myself), I prefer the real hardware over emulation any day of the week.
Bill Loguidice's picture

The Top Free Browser-based Videogame and Computer Emulator Sites - July 2010 Edition

Alcazar - The Forgotten Fortress (Activision, 1985; ColecoVision) via Retro UprisingAlcazar - The Forgotten Fortress
(Activision, 1985; ColecoVision)
via Retro Uprising
I'd like to provide the latest update to my list of working emulator sites for various platforms. All of these enable play directly within your browser, so there's no sticky business of downloading software and finding the necessary game files to get it all going. These are all great sites and we should all show our support. This is the "July 2010" edition of the list and, naturally, I'd love to keep adding to it, so suggest away. Here goes:

* 2600online.com - Play various Atari 2600 Video Computer Systems games
* Another World (aka, Out of this World; 1991)
* Atari.com - Play select Atari 2600 and Atari arcade favorites
* BBC Micro News - Parrot - News stories and a speech synthesizer directly from a cluster of BBC Micros
* c64s.com - Play various Commodore 64 games
* First-Person Tetris (NES version)
* Freearcade.com (Scott Adams section) - Play various Scott Adams/Adventure International text adventures
* Google Pac-Man - The popular browser-based re-imagining of the classic arcade game
* JEMU - Emulate and play on the Acorn BBC Model B, Amstrad CPC464, Dick Smith VZ-300, Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K, Sinclair ZX80, and Sinclair ZX81
* JSVecX - Play GCE/Milton Bradley Vectrex games in your browser
* nintendo8.com - Play Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)/Famicom games
* Play Infocom Adventures Online
* The Gallery of Zork - Play the Infocom games online
* Retro Uprising - Play a wide range of videogame and computer systems (arcade, Atari, Coleco, Nintendo, Sega, etc.) in your browser and through a custom software interface
* Sandy White's Ant Attack
* Sarien.net - Play Sierra adventure games
* SC-3000 Survivors - Play Sega SC-3000/SG-1000 games
* Timex/Sinclair 1000 Emulator
* Virtual Apple 2 - Play Apple II and IIGS games
* Virtual Atari - Play Atari 2600 games
* vNES - Play Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)/Famicom games
* ZX81 Software, Books and Hardware Collection - Play ZX81/Timex Sinclair 1000 games

Chris Kennedy's picture

Building a Retro Gaming PC - Part 2

Let's continue the Retro Gaming PC Adventure(TM), shall we?

Since my first post, the machine has gone through a few minor revisions. I went with the Pentium build, and the system is coming along nicely. I'll detail some of the specs here.
Chris Kennedy's picture

Building a Retro Gaming PC - Part 1

Dosbox.

I have to start this blog entry with that word because it is the most common response I receive upon stating that I am building an old PC. Emulation is great, but this is the real thing. I am going to build a retro PC. My question to you is - Which hardware would you use to build a classic gaming PC?

Christina Loguidice's picture

It's Fun to Play at the Y.M.C.A.

Bill and I recently received a flier in the mail from our local YMCA and went to check it out yesterday. The facility is about 3 miles from our home, and having membership there also gives us membership to a facility about 10 miles away. Both facilities have the typical YMCA offerings, including Olympic-sized pools, basketball courts, exercise room with strength training equipment and free weights, and various exercise studios, where you can take a host of classes. As we found out yesterday, their Zumba class is extremely popular. If you do not know what Zumba is, which we did not, it “fuses hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that will blow you away” per the description on the official Zumba Website. Many people showed up just for that class and left immediately after discovering it was canceled for the holiday weekend; forget about getting physical activity any other way, sadly it was “Zumba or nothing” for them!

The YMCA a little further from our home is slightly nicer and also has an indoor track and a small exergaming studio, which contains a few interactive gaming bikes, one DanceDanceRevolution or DDR (see Chapter 3 of Vintage Games) set-up with medium-grade dance pads, and one Wii console set at an angle by the doorway. While the studio was a little underwhelming and it would have been nice to see a bit more equipment, some exercise accessories (such as weights, step risers, etc), and a slightly larger room, we appreciate the fact that the facility offers an exergaming option. Certainly, it is possible that their set-up is more than adequate. The room was empty when we were there and the equipment looked to be in very good shape, so we would love to know how much traffic it gets. Regardless, its presence is an indication of the ever-growing exergaming trend.

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