Archive for the Main Category
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main
Back in 2007 I wrote a blog post about a VHS tape I made as a kid. The tape was labeled “MAKING OF MOVIES TAPE” and had five television specials on it: SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Monsters, The Making of Superman: The Movie, and (part of) Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi. Each of these specials originally aired on television, which is how I recorded them.
I’ve transferred most of the specials over to the computer, but for some reason that Raiders of the Lost Ark one is in terrible condition. More than any of the others, that particular special drives the tracking on my new VCR crazy.
Unlike some of those other specials, it turns out Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark was released on VHS as part of a double feature along with another special, The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was able to track down a brand new copy for $10 via Amazon.
The tape arrived in today’s mail, and I wasted no time in ripping off the original plastic and cramming it into my VCR faster than Indiana Jones could crack his whip!
Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first special on the tape and the reason I purchased it, was as wonderful as I remembered it to be. In this special, narrated by Harrison Ford, viewers get a behind the scenes look at some of the stunts that appeared in the first Indiana Jones film. There’s a lot of bonus footage from the “Well of Souls,” in which we get to see pretty much everybody on the set handling approximately 9,000 snakes. There’s also a lot of footage showing how they staged the fight in Marion’s pub, and more of the stunt where Indiana Jones is dragged behind the truck carrying the Ark. The hour-long film also contains some classic footage of stunts being performed along with interviews with some of the film’s stunt men.
I hadn’t seen The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark before, and it begins only a second or two after the first one ends. As a kid I probably would have loved this special. It’s only downfall, if it has one, is that it follows Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark and uses a lot of the exact same footage. There’s less talk about stunt men, but a lot of it just feels like a longer edit of the first special (or perhaps the first special was a tighter edit of this one?). Lots of the behind the scenes clips are the exact same ones that appear in the first special, so watching them back-to-back seems a bit redundant.
I spent a couple hours after work last night dumping these into to the computer, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the VHS tape — either take it to Goodwill or put it back on Amazon to share with somebody else.
Maybe I’ll hide it in a temple and surround it with poison darts and a giant boulder…
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Commodore, Main, Videogames
A friend of mine recently asked me to name five games I would recommend playing all the way through from beginning to end. There are tons of modern games (The Last of Us, Halo, Portal) that have great story lines, but I wanted to go somewhat old school with my list. I also couldn’t possibly limit myself to just five, so instead here are ten games I recommend modern gamers go back and play through from beginning to end. Note that this is different than my list of games that will always stick with me; the games on this post were picked for their memorable story lines and the rewards that come with completing them.
Presented roughly chronological, let’s start at the beginning.
01. Adventureland (Scott Adams, 1978)
It all begins with Adventureland. From Wikipedia:
“Adventureland is an early, formative work of interactive fiction. It was written by Scott Adams, and was not only the first text adventure game to be commercially published and sold for the then-new home computers, but was the first commercially available adventure game of any kind for use on the systems.”
Why you should beat it: Quite simply, because this is where it all began. All roads to computer gaming eventually lead back to these original text adventures. There are many, many text adventures to choose from, including all the great ones released by Infocom, but to really understand where it all began, you should play Adventureland.
When you’re done reading the list, you can play Adventureland online right here.
Although the original was text only, later releases added static pictures for players to look at.
02. Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980)
The Atari 2600’s hardware was somewhat designed with Pong in mind. Pong contains two players (“paddles”), a ball, and a background (in Pong’s case, a simple vertical line dividing the screen). Most of the system’s early games like Combat and Outlaw were technical riffs on this design. Programmers weren’t trying to figure out how to create an adventure game for the Atari 2600 back then — they were all trying to figure out how to make working games using the console’s limited resources. Most of the system’s early games (including the ones I just mentioned) took up 2k of ROM each. That’s way less information than the words in this article.
Inspired by Colossal Cave (the original text adventure), Warren Robinett decided to create an an adventure — unoriginally titled Adventure — for the Atari 2600. He used the Atari’s backgrounds for the mazes, the two “player” sprites for monsters, the “ball” as the player’s avatar, and the “bullets” for additional maze features. He crammed all of this into 4k.
In retrospect Adventure looks incredibly simple and archaic; at the time of its release, it was heralded as imaginative and groundbreaking. According to Wikipedia:
Atari’s Adventure sold one million copies, making it the seventh best selling Atari 2600 game in history. As the first action-adventure video game and first console fantasy game, Adventure established its namesake genres on video game consoles. In addition to being the first graphical adventure game on the Atari 2600 console, it was the first video game to contain a widely known Easter egg, and the first to allow a player to use multiple, portable, on-screen items. The game was also the first to use a fog of war effect in its catacombs, which obscures most of the playing area except for the player’s immediate surroundings. The game has been voted the best Atari 2600 cartridge in numerous polls, and has been noted as a significant step in the advancement of home video games. GamePro ranked it as the 28th most important video game of all time in 2007. In 2010, 1up.com listed it as one of the most important games ever made in its “The Essential 50″ feature.” (Link)
Why you should beat it: Because Adventure was first, and for so, so many game developers, this was the first adventure game they ever played. With 4,096 bytes of code, a few blocky blocks and a dragon that looked like a duck, Adventure showed gamers what video games could be — an adventure.
03. Karateka (Apple II, 1984)
Originally released for the Apple II but quickly ported to other home computer systems, in Karateka players must punch and kick their way through a long line of opponents in order to rescue Princess Mariko, who is being held prisoner by Akuma in his castle. At the time of its release, Karateka was championed for its fluid animation and cinematic experience.
Few martial arts games of the 1980s had plots. The plot of Karate Champ is “keep winning tournaments,” while the plot of Kung Fu Master is “keep punching people until you save Sylvia.” Karateka was different though, and was presented like a mini movie complete with cut scenes and jumps in location as parts of the plot were revealed. When I saw Princess Mariko slump down in her cell for the first time, man, I knew I had to save her.
Karateka also features multiple enemies that can kill you with a single blow, including deadly portcullis and, ultimately, Princess Mariko. There is no saving your game, no bonus lives, and no continuing. In Karateka dead means dead — no happy ending for you.
Why you should beat it: Because both in life and in Karateka, you only get one chance. This game taught me that video games could be tough, fair, and rewarding all at the same time. From finishing off a tough enemy with a triple kick-kick-kick combo to punching Akuma’s bird out of the air in mid-flight, the whole game just seems fun. And for most first time players, the game ends with you being insta-killed, causing them to slap their foreheads and play through the entire game again to rescue the princess. Just like real life, sometimes 99% isn’t enough for a woman.
04. Bard’s Tale III (Interplay/Electronic Arts, 1988)
Wizardry (released by Sir-Tech in 1981) is cited as one of the first D&D-style games to be released for home computers. According to Wikipedia it was the first true party-based role-playing video game, the first dungeon crawl, and the first to feature color graphics. I loved Wizardry, but it wasn’t perfect. Soon, other games inspired by Wizardry came along, improving some of the original’s shortcomings. One of those was Bard’s Tale, released by Interplay and Electronic Arts in 1985. This was followed by Bard’s Tale II in 1986 and what I consider to be the best game in the series, Bard’s Tale III in 1988.
While Wizardry mostly limited players to multiple levels of the same dungeon and Bard’s Tale introduced us to multiple dungeons in the land of Skara Brae, Bard’s Tale III had players travelling to multiple worlds, parallel dimensions, and ultimately through time. It combined the dungeon-crawl layout of the previous games with the ability to enter short parser-based commands in order to handle certain objects.
Why you should beat it: Not only does Bard’s Tale III have a great story that takes place in great locations, but to me it’s the epitome of first-person old-school dungeon crawlers (Ultima be damned). I love this game and has dreamed about wandering around Skara Brae at night, dealing with wandering Wights and Ice Giants. The pixel-drawn animations are charming, the music is creative, and the whole game is enormously rewarding. None of that stupid grinding levels for the sake of grinding levels here (unless you’re starting with a fresh party). Instead it’s all about quest after quest after quest.
05. King’s Quest (Sierra Online, 1984)
King’s Quest holds the title of “first 3D graphical adventure game,” although the definition of 3D as it applies to video games has changed throughout the years. King’s Quest was called 3D because Sir Graham, the protagonist, could move both up and down as well as left and right and could walk behind objects as well as in front of them. It’s a far cry from Oculus Rift, I’ll give you that, but at the time it was still pretty amazing.
King’s Quest was designed to show of the graphic and sound capabilities of IBM’s first foray into home computing, the PCjr. The PCjr launched for $1,269 ($3,000, adjusted for inflation); for that you got 128KB of RAM, a horrible chiclet keyboard, no mouse, and no monitor. (A complete system with a few sensible upgrades brought the price closer to $1,500.) Prior to its release it was predicted that the PCjr would put all other home computing companies out of business, but that didn’t happen. Instead the PCjr was discontinued after three years, after having sold only 500,000 units.
Despite the PCjr itself which is viewed as a flop, the greatest thing to come out of its release was a new line of games made specifically for it. Sierra On-Line was paid in advance to develop a launch title that would show off the PCjr’s capabilities (including its 16 color mode and three voice sound chip, provided by Texas Instruments). That game ended up being King’s Quest.
King’s Quest was the first point-and-click game, a genre that became very popular in the 80s and 90s and died off as other interfaces took favor. In these games you use your computer’s mouse to click on the screen, causing your character to walk to that spot. (Again, I realize that’s not particularly groundbreaking today.) For computer owners without a mouse, you could still control the game using the keyboard’s directional arrow keys. This control scheme was combined with a simple parser that allowed players to interact with this new graphical environment. To pick up a rock you can’t just type “GET ROCK” as you’ll be greeted with “You’re not standing close enough to the rock.” You have to actually stand near things to interact with them.
The plot of King’s Quest is simple and involves gathering three treasures hidden throughout the land. You’ll have to solve small puzzles to retrieve them. As a kid, I struggled with some of the puzzles; as an adult, you’ll struggle with the interface as you’ll constantly be trying to figure out what you can do and what you can’t do.
Why you should beat it: King’s Quest isn’t the best point-and-click adventure of all time, and if you like this style of game there are many better ones you should try including Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max hit the Road, Full Cycle and The Dig. Sierra also released several other series of Quest games including Space Quest, Police Quest, and Hero’s Quest. That being said, it’s always fun to explore the roots of gaming. Better games came from companies like Sierra On-Line’s radical thinking and willingness to throw things to the proverbial castle wall to see what would stick. I found defeating King’s Quest a rewarding experience — and if you do too you’ll be excited to know that not only was the game later remade with better graphics, but there are also seven official sequels which will keep you busy for a long time to come.
06. Another World (Delphine Software, 1991)
In half an hour, Another World manages to tell a complete story. It does this without any spoken or written dialog and with no additional information other than the game presented on the screen. Of course it doesn’t need to show your health information because if anything touches you in this game, you instantly die.
Another World begins with a video showing Lester Knight Chaykin’s particle accelerator being struck by lightning. Even though as we watch the action unfold we know what’s about to happen before Lester does, the moment he is zapped away into the alternate universe the game takes place in is still jarring. The transition from introduction to gameplay is seamless; you will find yourself suddenly controlling the action you were just previously watching. (If you don’t, you will soon find Lester drowning…)
Why you should beat it: The polygon style of graphics used in Another World were very unique at the time, although I suspect many of the techniques invented for this game live on in modern gaming. Even if it didn’t have a groundbreaking art and storytelling style — which it does — it would still be a great game.
I’ll be honest with you: this game gets super hard toward the end and the odds of you beating it are pretty low. If you aren’t compelled to play this game, or don’t get very far after trying, you should at least watch the entire playthrough below on YouTube. It’s 23 minutes long and will spoil the ending for you, but it’s almost as enjoyable to watch as it is to play.
07. Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1987)
By the time Lucasfilm Games had entered the ring, point-and-click adventures had dropped manual parsers and were completely point-and-click games. While some gamers didn’t like losing the control the parser provided, being able to select verbs from a menu and objects from the screen took some of the guesswork out of “what am I supposed to do here” problems gamers previously experienced with these games.
Maniac Mansion introduced a few new ideas to the genre, including the ability to switch between multiple characters in multiple locations in order to solve puzzles, but more than that, it was funny. Really, really funny. I grew up with the Commodore 64 version, although the DOS version is also very good and playable. Some of the 16-bit version like the Amiga don’t look “right” to me. I suppose it comes down to what you’re used to.
Why you should beat it: Because you kind of need to play this one before playing the equally funny Day of the Tentacle. And because no other game on this list allows you to put a hamster in a microwave.
08. The Incredible Machine (Sierra On-Line, 1992)
While many games are about action and strategy, The Incredible Machine is all about puzzle-solving. On each of the game’s 84 levels, you’ll be presented with a puzzle and some tools, and it’s up to you to come up with some sort of Rube Goldberg device in order to complete the level’s goal. Some of the goals are simple (“Pop the balloons”) while others are more complex. On each level you’ll be given some combination of tools to deal with: pulleys, ropes, belts, gears, ramps, scissors, and so on. Many of these tools can be combined to make more complex machines. Guns can be made to fire by connecting their triggers to objects using ropes, for example. Little “motors” (hamster on treadmills) can be started by hitting their cage. All of the tools can be “flipped” left-to-right to modify their actions. For many levels there are often obvious and intended solutions, but you don’t have to solve them that way.
The first 20 levels are “tutorial levels” that pretty much tell you how to solve them. After that, the difficulty ramps up and you are on your own. You’ll spend half your time trying to come up with workable solutions using the few tools you’re given for each level, and the other half trying to make those things work. It’s a fun kind of problem-solving.
The game also comes with a free-form editor mode that allows you to create wacky machines with no restrictions. The Incredible Machine has two direct sequels as well as another similar line of games (The Incredible Toon Machine). Another line of Incredible Machine games (“Contraptions”) were released in the early 00s, and in 2011 the game was added to Apple’s App Store although it has since been retired.
Why you should beat it: Because it’s a game that can be both frustrating and fun at the same time, something that many modern games forget is possible. If you enjoy physics-style games like Crayon Physics, you should check this out. I don’t have to ask you to beat this one; once you get started, you’ll just want to.
09. Fallout (Interplay, 1997)
There were a lot of 8-bit games that tried to recreate post-apocalyptic worlds, but few did it better than Wasteland. Another Interplay/Electronic Arts teaming, Wasteland takes place generations after a nuclear holocaust. While the game is highly revered among classic gamers, for whatever reason the relationship between Interplay and Electronic Arts soured; the Wasteland connection was removed from EA’s planned sequel (Fountain of Dreams), and Interplay’s sequel (Meantime) was cancelled. Even through Interplay no longer retained the rights to Wasteland, ten years later in 1997 they released their own “spiritual” sequel: Fallout.
Although the setting is the same between the two games, Fallout is presented with a more modern interface. Although most of the game’s events play out in real time, combat remains turn based. The main plot of Fallout revolves around the search for water, although players will experience many side plots and tasks along the way. Despite the game’s gritty and bleak setting, Interplay injected the story with tons of humor.
Why you should beat it: Fallout was named “RPG of the Year” by GameSpot in 1997 and in 1988 by Computer Gaming World. PC Gamer once named it the fourth best PC game of all time. Artwork from the game is on display as part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibition.
Fallout is one of the best computer role playing games ever released, period. In 2014 a fan-made sequel to Wasteland was finally released. It’s really good, and in fact the games interface is better than Fallout’s, but Fallout is such a great game that I stuck with it. But if you like it then yeah, definitely check out Wasteland 2 too.
10. Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games, 2012)
Hotline Miami (the newest game on my list by 15 years) takes place in 1989 and is presented in a top-down retro style. After receiving a somewhat cryptic message on your answering machine, as the first chapter begins you will decide what kind of mask to don (rooster, owl, tiger, pig, or horse, each with its own advantages) before walking into an enemy’s building and single-handedly massacring dozens of enemies. Some of them you will knock to the ground and bash their brains in mercilessly with a crowbar or a baseball bat before obtaining an Uzi or a shotgun and really getting the party started.
Throughout the game you’ll discover things are not all as they seem. Your senses will be thrown off by minor changes in levels and items coming and going. You’ll also get killed. A lot. A lot lot lot. Fortunately each level restarts immediately after your demise. Going in with guns blazing didn’t work? Try hiding around a corner with a bat and see if that doesn’t do the trick. Line of sight is important in this game.
The story itself is unsettling. Just when things don’t make sense, they’ll begin to, only to get more confusing again. There’s no point in trying to explain Hotline Miami. I played this game for hours a night every night for a week or two before beating it. It wasn’t until the very end that I understood the entire plot. At least I think I did.
Why you should beat it: Hotline Miami moves fast, plays fast, and gets weird fast. Figuring out how to beat each level is so much fun that you’ll quickly lose track of how many hundreds of lives you’ve violently taken. Which is okay when you’re the good guy, right? At least I think you’re the good guy. The game’s story is good, but more than that it goes to show how effective old school graphics and gameplay can be when done right. Also, Hotline Miami 2 was released last month.
The following games came up while I was brainstorming but eventually fell off the list. They’re all great games and rewarding to play through in their own right: Prince of Persia, Oregon Trail, Ikaruga, Double Dragon, and countless others.
Now it’s your turn. What games do YOU think people need to play through? New or old, doesn’t matter — let’s hear your additions to the list!
Posted at 8:02 am by Rob in Main, My Body and Me
“You are definitely the most interesting person I’ve seen all day.”
A fun phrase to hear in some situations, an eye exam at the Dean McGee Eye Institute not being one of them. After three hours of tests, scans, and evaluations, the optometrist weakly smiled at me and said, “I wish I had better news for you.”
I wish he did, too.
First, he told me I had Horner’s Syndrome. I already knew that, and it’s not a big deal. Horner’s Syndrome is caused by damage to a group of nerves and has a few major symptoms. The dead giveaway is two different colored eyes, followed by (and I’m quoting Wikipedia here) “miosis (a constricted pupil), ptosis (a weak, droopy eyelid), apparent enophthalmus (inset eyeball), plus/minus anhidrosis (decreased sweating).” I don’t think my eyeball is inset, but I do have all the other symptoms: in regards to my green eye, the pupil is constricted and slow reacting, the eyelid slightly droops, and I do not sweat on that side of my head. While some people develop Horner’s Syndrome over time, most people (like me) were simply born with it.
The bigger concern was the results of my eye exam.
Let’s start off with my vision test. In my green eye (the “bad” one), the results of my eye exam were 20/1500. That means that, at least in that eye, objects that are 20 feet away look like they are 1,500 feet away for me. This became pretty clear when, with my good eye covered, I could not read a single letter on an electronic eye chart 8′ away. The eye charts they use are presented on a 24″ monitor, and they will continue to enlarge the letters until one single letter fills the entire 24″ monitor. With my left eye, I can’t read a letter that fills a 24″ monitor from 8′ away.
I had heard of macular degeneration before. Just two weeks ago, Roseanne Barr announced she was going blind from macular degeneration. In my green eye — again, the bad one — I have what’s called macular atrophy.
Here’s a quick eyeball lesson. I didn’t know any of this before yesterday so my apologies if I get any terminology wrong. In the back of your eyeball there’s an area called the macula. Across the macula are tiny bands that allow your retina to focus on things. This is all about your “straight ahead” vision, not peripheral vision. The most common type of Macular Degeneration (dry) is the wearing down of those bands over time. Vision loss is gradual with dry macular degeneration. 90% of the people who have macular degeneration have this type.
Atrophy, unfortunately, is worse. If “degeneration” is the journey, “atrophy” is the final destination. My bands done degenerated. There is no fixing this eye. Even what we call an eye transplant (which is really just a cornea transplant) would not fix this. The good news is, it can’t get any worse in that eye — which is akin to saying, “at least that dog turd can’t get any stinkier.”
Now let’s talk about what I used to call “my good eye,” which I must now call “the better eye.”
In my better eye I am showing signs of Macular Degeneration, which apparently runs in my dad’s side of the family. The doctor said the macula bands in my good eye have already started to degenerate. Usually he only sees this amount of degeneration in his older patients, but… lucky me. There’s no way to repair those degenerated bands. The only “treatment” is to slow down the degeneration.
My doctor referred me to a list of things one can do to slow down macular degeneration. I have personally grouped them into three logical categories.
– Don’t smoke, lose weight, lower your blood pressure: eyeballs require large amounts of oxygen and blood to function. Anything that restricts the flow of oxygen or blood to the eye contributes to macular degeneration.
– Exercise regularly: Again, increasing the flow of oxygen in the bloodstream helps.
– Diet and supplements: Eat a nutritious diet that includes green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruit, fish, and whole grains. Take supplements. Wear sunglasses and hats outdoors.
Based on that:
– I don’t smoke, but I do need to lose weight and lower my blood pressure. That just turned into a priority. Exercising regularly is a part of that.
– I see diet changes in my future. And just in case you don’t think this is serious, Susan brought home my new breakfast regimen last night:
Short of stem cell therapy, exercise, vitamins, and wearing sunglasses are about all I can currently do. (Smoking pot with Roseanne Barr is not an option.) While vitamins and all those other things won’t restore any vision I’ve already lost, it will (can) help me retain what I currently have — which, again, has suddenly become a pretty big priority.
I am sharing all of this not because I am looking for sympathy or prayers or well wishes from anyone but because I am a journalist at heart and have a need to document things around me, good and bad. While my macular degeneration should hopefully be gradual enough that I’m not continually documenting any increases in vision loss, if there’s a major change I’ll definitely provide an update. Other than my own new personal health goals, it’s back to business as usual.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main, Photography
Last weekend, Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop received their Bronze Award. Their are eight girls in Morgan’s troop. At the end of the ceremony, Susan asked me to take a picture of the girls with their certificates.
Unfortunately, that is not the photo I took. After getting all of the girls together I snapped three pictures. This was the best of the three.
The girl on the bottom right is Neveah. She had a really rotten day. She arrived to the ceremony late, did not get to walk across the stage, and did not receive her certificate. That sucks. What sucks more is, Susan was hoping to have copies of this picture printed out and given to all the girls. This kid had a sad day and every time she sees this picture I’m sure she’ll be reminded of that.
So, I tried to fix it.
A few minutes after this picture was taken, I took a few pictures of Neveah and Morgan up on the stage together.
With Photoshop I was able to take Neveah’s head from that picture along with hands and an arm from other girls in the picture. I was also able to copy another one of the girl’s certificates, erased the name off of it, and (as best as I could) added Neveah’s name to it.
I had the roughest time with Neveah’s legs, as she was resting her hands in her lap and fixing that would have required cutting and pasting someone else’s legs into the picture or completely airbrushing over them. In the end I took the easy way out and simply cropped the photo.
I know these are just small digital changes that won’t make that day better for this little girl, but at least she won’t be reminded of it every time she sees this picture.
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main, Mason and Morgan
I’m proud of my daughter, Morgan.
This weekend, Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop received a Bronze Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can achieve. To earn a Bronze Award, Girl Scouts must plan and perform a project that improves the community. Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop worked with a local pet shelter to create blankets for the animals and volunteered their time walking dogs at the shelter.
It makes me proud when my kids think about people other than themselves. I love that Morgan and her friends worked to make Yukon a little better place to live.
I’m also proud of my son, Mason.
Last week, on Monday, Mason learned that his school was having basketball tryouts beginning that afternoon. With only a few hours notice, Mason decided to try out anyway.
Mason tried out against forty or fifty other kids, many of whom currently play basketball for the school. After two days of tryouts he was informed he didn’t make the team. With zero time to prepare for the tryouts, Mason was hoping his YMCA basketball skills would get him chosen. It didn’t work out.
Some of Mason’s classmates made fun of him for even trying.
It makes me proud when my kids try to do things, even if those things are outside of their capabilities or comfort zone. It took a lot of guts for Mason to show up to basketball tryouts and perform in front of a bunch of kids and coaches he didn’t even know, especially with no time to prepare.
I am equally proud of both of my kids. They make it pretty easy to feel that way.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Interactive Fiction, Main
I recently cataloged all of my old Commodore 64 diskettes using DirMaster from Style (highly recommended). While browsing through the list of programs, one title jumped out at me: MAGIT MANSION. That particular title jumped out at me for three reasons: one, because it was located on disk 001 (my very first disk); two, because even though it was located on the front side of the first disk in my collection, somehow I had no memory of ever playing it; and three, somebody didn’t know how to spell MAGGOT.
I fired the game up in an emulator and typed RUN. “Welcome to MAGGIT MANSION,” the screen declared. Great. Not only could the author not spell the word MAGGOT, he couldn’t misspell it the same way twice. Obviously the game was a text adventure, and a primitive looking one at that.
The game begins with the player in the most trite of text adventure locations, the front porch of a haunted house. The last line (“YOU SEE A DOOR HERE.”) prompted me to type “OPEN DOOR”. I did, and soon found myself inside the mansion’s foyer, with options of going west to the living room or east to the kitchen. I decided to head east to check out the kitchen first. While it’s a matter of personal preference, I tend to find that authors of text adventures (especially beginning ones) like to hide needed objects in their virtual kitchens.
Inside the game’s kitchen I was greeted by a floating knife. This scenario immediately set off mental alarms for me. I have spoken and written many times about an identical scenario in Haunted House, a game I played as a child on our TRS-80. The solution in that game, as deceptively simple as it seems, was GET KNIFE. After typing that same command in this game, the game responded with “YOU NOW HAVE THE KNIFE” before unceremoniously dumping me out into BASIC.
That was rude. Let’s try this again.
“WELCOME TO MAGIT MANSION…”
(Yeah, yeah, yeah…)
Thinking there might be more to do outside the house, instead of opening the door I typed “OPEN MAILBOX” and hit enter. (Authors of text adventures also love hiding things in mailboxes.) But instead of interacting with the mailbox, I got the exact same response as before and was automatically moved into the foyer of Magit Mansion. Huh. Again I entered the kitchen to face the enchanted knife. Instead of attempting to take the knife this time, I decided to examine it closer.
“> LOOK KNIFE” [enter].
“YOU NOW HAVE THE KNIFE.”
Seriously, what the hell?
A quick examination of the BASIC code explained the game’s multiple issues: I wrote it.
10 REM MAGIT MANSION
20 BY ROBBIE O’HARA
Upon digging into the code a bit further I found that my “text adventure” wasn’t a text adventure at all. Anything you type while standing on the front porch moves you to inside the house. Entering any room but the kitchen crashes the game, and any command entered within the kitchen takes the knife.
To quote Luke Skywalker’s initial opinion of the Millennium Falcon: “What a piece of junk!” And while Han was quick to defend his ship’s honor, I cannot do the same with MAGIT MANSION. Not only was it incomplete and riddled with misspellings (including the first word of the title), but it wasn’t even a game.
I estimate I wrote MAGIT MANSION back in 1985 or 1986. I graduated high school in 1991. Over the past 20 years I’ve written lots of useful programs, and in 2011 I even wrote my own text adventure. I’ve come a long way since MAGIT MANSION.
You know what they say: fake it until you make it. Take it from me… it works.
Posted at 5:00 pm by Rob in Main
This post is for a subset of a subset of my audience; as such, I’ll keep it brief.
I’m currently recording five different podcasts: You Don’t Know Flack (my retro-tech/story podcast), Sprite Castle (my Commodore 64-themed podcast), No Quarter (an arcade-themed podcast), Throwback Reviews (an 80s movie podcast), and Rusted Metal (an 80s heavy metal podcast). Links to each one of these shows can be found on the left hand side of this website (under the heading “My Podcasts”).
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUBSCRIBE TO ALL FIVE PODCASTS, I have created a new “consolidated” RSS feed. The feeds from all my shows, and any future shows I end up doing, funnel into this one single feed.
Link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/robohara-podcasts (RSS)
Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/robohara-podcasts/id989487448 (iTunes)
Again, I realize that (a) not everyone who reads my blog also listens to my podcasts, and (b) those of you who do may not necessarily be interested in ALL those shows, but for those of you who do and are, subscribing to this new feed is a great way to make sure you don’t miss anything. Those who subscribe to the “catch all” feed may find a few audio surprised here and there along the way. :)
Posted at 7:00 am by Rob in Main, Work
As I recently mentioned, on the on the day of the Alfred P. Murrah bombing I had already turned in my two weeks notice at Best Buy. The bombing took place on April 19, 1995 (a Wednesday), and I started the Monday after that at the FAA. The Monday after the bombing would have been April 24th, which means…
Today is my 20th anniversary with the FAA.
Back in February I wrote about my first day of work at the FAA. As I mentioned in that post, my first job with the FAA was on a national Help Desk. The company that originally hired me was JDL. Back then the Help Desk contract was bid on a year-to-year basis, so there was no guarantee that the same company would be awarded the contract the following year. And if they didn’t retain the contract, there was no guarantee you would get a job with the new company. I was hired during the 8th month of a 12 month contract, and based on what I was told I assumed I would have a job for around five months. Even so, for those five months I would be making almost twice as much as I was bringing home at Best Buy.
As expected, JDL lost the contract at the end of the summer. About the time I had my desk packed up, the new company (Advancia) offered me a raise if I would stay. So, I did. I worked for them for a year before they lost the contract. The next company (BTG) offered me a raise if I would stay. So, I did. Again.
One of the first projects I worked on was physically upgrading workstations. A minimum baseline had been set (a 386 processor with 8 megs of RAM, a 540 MB hard drive. and a 3-COM network card) and every workstation in our organization that didn’t meant those requirements had to be upgraded. This was done by sending small teams of two or three people out to every office across the country and physically performing the upgrades. Within those first 18 months of working there I had spent weeks in Atlanta, Minnesota, Phoenix, St. Louis, and Spokane.
Our part of the FAA was expanding, and word got out that federal jobs were opening for those willing to move. Bryan took a job in San Francisco. Bob took a job in Atlanta.
I took a job in Spokane, Washington.
With help from friends and family, Susan and I packed up our belongings and moved 1,800 miles northwest to Spokane. Susan worked briefly at a local gym before getting hired on by the FAA as well. We were both twenty-three years old. By the spring of 1998 both of us were so lonely and homesick that we decided to move back to Oklahoma. I quit my federal position and was rehired by Advancia in Oklahoma as a contractor back on the same old Help Desk. Susan was able to transfer to another federal position in Oklahoma, and kept her government status.
I worked for Advancia until they lost the contract. Then I worked for one part of Lockheed Martin, and then a different part of Lockheed Martin. It wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to find another federal position within the FAA. I worked for a security group before transferring back to my old job in 2010. Things have changed so much since then and continue to change. I worked in a security department for a while doing security scans. I worked as a domain administrator and enterprise administrator over the network. But mostly, I worked as a jack of all trades, doing what I could for whoever needed help. Some jobs, positions and tasks have been more fun and rewarding than others. Overall, I’ve had fun.
I lost track of all the places I’ve visited for work. Aside from the cities mentioned earlier, off the top of my head I can recall trips to (working roughly west to east): Boise, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tempe, Cheyenne, Denver, Kansas City, D/FW, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Greensboro, South Bend, Chicago, Columbia, Raleigh, Pittsburgh, New York City, and of course Washington DC — not to mention all the states and cities I’ve visited while traveling to and from those cities. Simply mentioning some of those places doesn’t do them justice. I’ve been to Chicago probably half a dozen times over the years, and D.C. at least a dozen.
I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of good friends over the past 20 years. I’ve also drank ungodly amounts of alcohol. If it survives until I retire, I hope someday they name a conference room after my liver. I’ve seen, done, and been through some crazy stuff, from making changes on the fly to 60,000 user accounts to sitting at home during a federal furlough watching CNN day after day, wondering if I was going to be able to make my house payment or not. Oh, and there was that time I accidentally deleted the FAA Administrator’s account…
When I started on the Help Desk back in 1995 there were ten analysts (including myself), two leads, and two support staff. Of those, four (Carol, Johnny, Ron, and myself) remain. Some of the old timers are still around. A lot of them have retired. A few of them died.
I work from home most days now, so I spend a lot of time alone. Even when I go into the office I only encounter one or two co-workers at most. Most of my work is performed virtually and remotely with people who aren’t even in the same state as I am, so there won’t be a big cake waiting for me at the office today (which is good; I’m off work today). The government’s not real big on that sort of thing, anyway. And because I worked for so many different contract companies, there’s nobody that really knows my start date anyway. Even though I’ve been with the FAA for 20 years as of today, I only received my “five years of service pin” last year.
When I took that first Help Desk position I had no idea this job would last more than five months, much less twenty years. Things have changed so much in the past twenty years. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.
Posted at 9:02 am by Rob in Main
The week of April 19, 1995 was my last week at Best Buy. I had turned in my two weeks notice the week prior, and was set to start my new job at the FAA the following week.
I mostly worked evenings at Best Buy, so it was not uncommon for me to still be in bed at 9am. Susan and I were living in a mobile home off of NW 10th and Morgan Road — 10 miles from the Alfred P. Murrah building.
I was laying in bed when I heard my bedroom windows begin to rattle. It felt like a city garbage truck was idling right outside my home. I didn’t think much about it until I realized that our trash normally ran on Tuesday, not Wednesday. I rolled over and peeked out the window, but didn’t see anything.
Now awake, I went to the living room and turned on the television. Reporters were already reporting that “something” had happened downtown — they just didn’t know what yet. I stuck my head out the front door and saw the black plume of smoke rising from downtown for the first time.
I went back to the living room and for some reason, stuck a blank VHS tape in the VCR and hit record.
At that same time, Susan was working at a medical supply company. Her building was six miles away from the Alfred P. MUrrah building. She said that she was sitting at the front desk when the blinds in the front windows all swung away from the window and then crashed back into the glass. She and her co-workers went outside to investigate as they were sure “a truck had hit our building.” A few minutes later, a spouse of one of her co-workers called the office to tell them “something bad had happened downtown” and to “start getting medical supplies ready.”
For most of the day I sat at home by myself, watching the drama unfold in real time. There were so many bits of misinformation released that day. Early on, authorities were on the search for Middle Eastern men. There was also the moment when authorities found, or at least thought they found, a second device. The official explanation was that the second device was a training device that had originally been in the building. There was a lot of confusion that morning.
I went to work that evening. Best Buy was one of the donation centers. We had gathered flashlights and batteries from the store to donate, and customers were dropping off boots and cases of water and a few other items. We had a wooden pallet at work full of those things. I don’t remember if someone picked them up or if someone dropped it off downtown.
During that time I was spending a lot of time of IRC (internet chat). I logged in and began relaying information. This was before almost anyone had a cell phone — and even if they did, the phones were so jacked up that it was almost impossible to get a call connected. I sat on IRC for days, relaying information back and forth to people in other parts of the country.
The week after the bombing, I reported for work at the FAA. It has never been lost on me that like many of the people who were killed that day, I too am a federal worker. Most of those people had absolutely nothing to do with Timothy McVeigh’s vendetta against the government. I’m quite sure the 19 kids that were killed in the daycare didn’t.
It didn’t take long before people began hearing names of victims that they recognized. My second-cousin worked in the daycare of the Alfred P. Murrah building and was killed. A classmate’s father was also killed in the blast. More than that, throughout the years we’ve met many people who were survivors of the blast. Susan has two or three co-workers who were in the Murrah building that day. I worked with a guy for a while who told me he was trapped in the building for hours after the explosion and actually made a tourniquet out of a network cable to stop his leg from bleeding before he was rescued.
I’ve taken friends visiting from out of town down to the Murrah Memorial a few times. Every time, it’s hard. Every time I stand in front of those 168 chairs that represent the 168 people who died that day, I get choked up. Every time I stand in front of those 19 smaller chairs that represent the children that died in the daycare, I lose it. I’ve been through the museum next door exactly once. I recommend everybody go through it. If you’re interested, I’ll pay your way and drop you off at the door. I don’t think I could do it again.
Sometimes when we go downtown Susan points out the church across the street from the Murrah building. She had gone down there four days before the bombing to find out about having our wedding there. We were going to get married in that church and have our reception in Leadership Square. That obviously didn’t happen.
They say “time heals all wounds.” I don’t know that it does. With no real direct connection to the explosion, I still feel sad when I go down to the memorial. I still get choked up when they talk about the kids that were killed. Oklahoma City is much different than it was 20 years ago. The MAPS project revitalized Bricktown. We now have the OKC Thunder. But even though downtown Oklahoma City may look different, nobody who lives here will ever forget what it looked and felt like downtown 20 years ago.
April 19. 9:02 AM.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Main
I think I get choked up more easily than I used to. I definitely get choked up more often than I used to. One thing that consistently chokes me up is seeing people die.
President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 (10 years before I was born).Last month I had this book called Four Days as a kid that documented those four days in November (from Kennedy’s assassination to his burial). One page had several stills from the famous Zapruder film, including the horrific frame 313 that shows Kennedy’s head literally exploding. In frame 312, his head is in one piece. In frame 313, it explodes. I remember flipping back and forth between those two frames over and over. In frame 312, the President is alive. In frame 313, he is not. I remember feeling curious and shocked and disturbed by seeing that picture, but I don’t remember feeling sad.
Last month I did an episode of You Don’t Know Flack about tornadoes. While doing research for the show I watched May’s Fury, a special released by KFOR, along with several Youtube clips of both the May 3rd, 1999 tornado and the May 20, 2013 tornado, each of which hit Oklahoma. Each time the tornado struck a populated area like Chickasha, Moore, or Midwest City, I knew that I was seeing people die — perhaps not directly on screen, but as those massive tornadoes ripped their way through populated areas and you could see debris being hurled in every direction you just know that you are witnessing people losing their lives. And I got choked up.
You would think I would be more callous to it by now. Last week I turned on the evening news and watched a police officer shoot a man in the back, killing him. No warning, no disclaimer, no nothing — just, “so, this happened today,” followed by pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.
I love true crime books. I enjoy reading about how the bad guys commit crimes and how the good guys track them down. I’ve read all about Timothy McVeigh, and the Branch Davidians, the Turner Diaries, and all kinds of conspiracy theories surrounding that day. I love reading about that stuff and talking about that stuff.
But every time I drive through downtown Oklahoma City and drive past the Murrah Memorial, every time I see pictures and video from that April morning of smoke billowing from my hometown, every time April 19th rolls around, I think of the 168 people that died there that day.
And then I get choked up.