Wednesday night for Mason’s birthday, Susan, the kids and I attended the Thunder vs. Hornets game. From the moment we found our seats and sat down I knew there were going to be problems. The people sitting directly behind us were already drunk and being loud and belligerent. This was 20 minutes before tip off.
You know you’re going to be dealing with obnoxious drunks when they shout “USA YEAH MAN WOO!” during the opening prayer, which is exactly what happened. A few minutes into the game, the two guys directly behind us began shouting “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” That is a perfectly acceptable thing to do when your team — or any team, really — is on defense. It’s moronic to do so when the home team is shooting free throws. Later, during one of the timeouts, the Redneck Duo discussed whether or not they could hit a player from there with their hunting bow. The longer the game went on, the louder these two got.
At the end of the first quarter, one of the guys left to go buy three beers even though the venue is only supposed to sell you two at a time. When he returned, he told the stranger next to him how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” When his other buddy returned behind us, he told him how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” Then when his girlfriend returned to her seat, he told her how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” During the third telling of the story, we all chimed in and did the punch line with him — “damn, that was fast!” Annoying.
Right after those three beers is then the f-bombs started. F this game, F the Hornets, F everybody. I finally turned around and told them to watch the F-bombs. Then they returned to yelling “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” and whistling so loud that every time they did it Morgan would jump and plug her ears with her fingers. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with people enjoying a game, but a modicum of self-control in public is expected. Shortly after asking them to refrain from using the F-word, I heard them say, “F them, we paid our $10!”
When Susan had had enough she texted guest services. At the beginning of every game, fans are told that if someone is being unruly, you can text a number and they will send someone over to address the issue. So she did, and the response she got back was, “go find an usher.” This was during the middle of the second quarter and we were sitting in seats 14, 15, 16 and 17 in the nosebleed section. Finding an usher is not the easiest thing to do at that point.
And so with about a minute left in the first half, we decided to leave. For the record, this is when *I* began dropping f-bombs, out of the range of my children’s ears (I hope). When I stood up and turned around … let’s just say, words were exchanged. The drunker of the two told me what he thought about me and I told him what I was about to do to him. After a long stare down Susan began pulling me in one direction and this drunk buffoon continued yelling about his “19 and 0 record,” which could have only referred to cow tipping.
Out in the hallway Susan found a vendor and complained about the people to him. The man said he couldn’t leave his station, but began actively looking for an usher. We had already received that advice, via text. After 5 minutes of standing around, we did eventually find an usher, who asked where the group was sitting. Susan then asked if we could be relocated somewhere else and the usher shook his head no. And then we left, with one kid (Morgan) confused and the other one crying because we had just left the game on his birthday. On the way home we stopped by Cold Stone Creamery and had some ice cream. When that didn’t cheer him up, we stopped by GameStop and bought him a copy of NBA2K13 for the PS3. Thank god that cheered him up because I was about to go broke.
When CiCi’s Pizza first opened their doors they charged $2.99 for their all you can eat pizza buffet. What I dislike most about CiCi’s isn’t their pizza (although it can be pretty bad) — it’s being around people that can only afford $2.99 pizza. (It really is the dearth of humanity.) I now feel the same way about the nosebleed section at Chesapeake Arena. The problem with buying $10 tickets is that you end up sitting by people who can only afford $10 tickets. (At our last game, it was a row of Hispanic kids who spent half the game kicking our chairs, and the other half kicking me in the head.) It’s a shame because I don’t think you should have to expect to put up with things like that. I don’t think that “comes with the territory” just because you bought cheaper seats.
Susan sent a follow up message to the Thunder organization, so we’ll see what if anything comes of that. We have tickets to three more games and we’re debating on whether to hang on to them or sell them. I’d rather buy one or two pairs of semi-expensive tickets next year than half a dozen pairs of cheap ones and have to deal with this again. Unacceptable.
This morning on Facebook one of my friends forwarded me the link to a news story on MSN.com. The story is about video games as financial investments, and references the current auction of an Air Raid cartridge which is currently selling for $20,000. I wrote a bit about the last Air Raid cart found, which sold for $36k. That’s not really the story here.
When I clicked on the link, I saw something familiar — a picture of my old game room!
Here is a link to the article. It’s always surprising to see a picture of the inside of your house on the internet, especially when the picture is almost 10 years old.
In 2004, an AP reporter interviewed me in regards to a story about retro games making a comeback. After interviewing me over the phone, the AP sent a photographer out to the house and shot some pictures. That led to this story, which again, ran in 2004. The picture MSN used in this morning’s article was recycled from that 2004 photo shoot.
It’s a little hard to tell because of the angle, and things are definitely messier in this shot, but here are the same shelves about a year later. As you can see I ended up painting the shelves black. The walls remained green.
This weekend marked the 9th annual Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I attended the first show in 2003 as a spectator, but have participated as a presenter (almost) every year since then.
Along for the ride this year were my friends Robb and Steve, who I previously mentioned flew in from Colorado and New York (respectively) to attend the show. Robb Sherwin is, among other things, the author of the award winning interactive fiction game Cryptozookeeper. Steve and Robb have known each other since the BBS days.
Photo by Brandon Staggs
Since our local NBA team (the Oklahoma City Thunder) are currently in the NBA Finals, I decided to go with a basketball theme this year.
Due to a slight table misconfiguration I only ended up with one table instead of two this year, but we made it work by just cramming everything together and leaving a few things under the table. From left to right we had my NES playing Double Dribble, my (blue development) PlayStation running NBA Showtime, and my Commodore 64 running a couple of different games, including One on One and Street Sports Basketball. I wouldn’t say I had the most popular table at the convention, but lots of sports fans stopped by to play a few quick games of basketball. At the table I also had a playlist of basketball-related songs and sports anthems going throughout the day, playing songs like “Basketball Jones,” “We Will Rock You,” and of course the parody song “Beard Like Harden.” I apologize to the people across the aisle from me who got bombarded with this music all day long.
Along with all the console and computer games available to buy and play, there were also several pinball machines and arcade games set up to play at the show. These are machines that are brought in by private owners and set up for people to play for free all day long. They’re a great hit every year and really add to the show.
Besides games, there were a lot of other game-related items on display and up for sale, including these animation cells over at Drew Stone’s table. I probably should have bought one of these when I had the chance.
Photo by Earl Green
You may notice that I’ve had to borrow a few photos from my friends Brandon and Earl for this post. That’s because, before I knew it, the show was winding down. I only got out from behind my table a few times, and when I got home I found I had only taken a dozen or so photographs … so I went to Facebook and borrowed a few from other people. I added the ones I took to my photo album of the show along with theirs, renaming them to give them proper credit.
Photo by Earl Green
Photo by Earl Green
Although OVGE is pretty console gaming-centric, Ed Martin brought another giant stack of retro Apple computer hardware, along with an impressive spread of classic boxed text adventures.
Several local groups and websites were on hand this year, including Nintendo Okie who did a live podcast from the show. They did a decent job of capturing some of the in-show action going on throughout the day.
Brandon Staggs also uploaded this video of OVGE 2012 to YouTube. He did a great job of capturing all of the booths there. You can catch my basketball-themed table just after the 2:30 mark.
Thanks to everybody who came out to OVGE this year and everyone who stopped by and said hey. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of OVGE, and I know people are already talking about what they will be bringing to next year’s show. I know I am!
The 9th Annual (wow!) Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE) will take place this Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As always, I and some friends will have a table set up and once again the entire hall will be filled with people buying, selling, and playing video games.
At my table this year, I will be joined by two friends: award-winning Interactive Fiction author Robb “Ice Cream Jonsey” Sherwin, and the creator of the infamous remote controlled phone video, Steve “Aardvark” Davis. Additionally, I will be sharing a bit of table space with Charles “Ubikuberalles” Pearson, who will be showing off some of his game-related creations.
To attend this show, Sherwin is flying in from Denver, Colorado; Davis, from New York; and Pearson, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you enjoy old video games and live closer to Tulsa, Oklahoma than any of those guys, you should make an attempt to be there.
Anyone who hasn’t been to one or is on the fence about attending can check out my photo albums. I have pictures of the shows going back to the first year (2003).
Here’s a picture of my table from last year, where Sherwin, my friend Jeff, and I ran a table dedicated to text adventures. At the show we had text adventures running on a Commodore 64, an Apple II, an Amiga, a DOS machine, an ancient portable TRS-80, and even an iPad.
Speaking of my buddy Jeff, he has since moved out of state and won’t be able to attend this year’s show. While Jeff tries to stay behind the scenes, he is the one that keeps me organized and makes stuff happen. For the past five years, Jeff has been the one who helped me watch my table when I had to run to the bathroom or free me up when I was mingling with visitors, who helped me set up and break down my displays, and keep things running smoothly. Jeff has been an integral part of my displays for the past five years, and will sorely be missed. I will be pouring out a bottle of Croyn Royal Black on the ground in honor of his absence. (I would never actually do that; Jeff would kill me for wasting good Crown like that!)
I passed on the opportunity to have dinner with Robb Sherwin back in 2007 when the two of us were (separately) attending the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. “He’s funny, you’re funny, come have dinner with us,” said mutual friend Jason Scott. Unfortunately I already had plans to visit the Pinball Hall of Fame with other friends of mine that evening, so I had to decline the offer. Their pack of nerds went one way, my pack of nerds went another, and fate was postponed for a couple of years.
Since then, Sherwin and I became mutual fans of each another’s work. He purchased my book Commodork and gave it glowing review. I, in turn, fell in love with Sherwin’s writing style, both in his text adventures and on his multiple websites. In June of 2010 while visiting Denver, I was able to swing by Sherwin’s place and check out his collection of arcade games; earlier this summer while visiting the Oklahoma Video Game Expo, he was able to check out mine. Along with our mutual love of classic arcade games, we also share common interests in old computers, video games, and of course, text adventures.
Summary: Robb Sherwin and I know one other. If you’re looking for a completely neutral and unbiased review of Cryptozookeeper, this may not be the one for you. (That being said, I’ll still be writing it.)
And now, on with the review.
Like most gamers, I drifted away from the world of text adventures around the time graphics, sound and joysticks were invented. I played my share of text-based games in the early 1980s, but quickly moved on to “the graphical stuff” and didn’t revisit the genre until my interest was re-piqued by Jason Scott’s documentary Get Lamp.
There’s a reason the genre tends to identify with the more modern term “Interactive Fiction” versus the classic label of “Text Adventure”: Cryptozookeeper is roughly 600 megabytes in size, mostly due to the game’s graphics and 70-song soundtrack. To put that in perspective, the entire text of the Bible is 1.2 megabytes. (For the Devil sends the Beast with wrath, because he knows his downloads are short.) The game’s interface consists of four windows: a picture of who you’re talking to, a picture of where you’re at, a status update window, and the game’s text. Each of these windows are constantly changing depending on who you’re focused on and where you are, giving you a visual glimpse into the twisted world around you. This is not your father’s text adventure, in more ways than one.
In Cryptozookeeper players become William Ezekiel Vest, a man stuck in swarthy Christmas City, a town that’s part-nightmare, part-dark comedy. Things here are a little sick, a little twisted, and a little goofy in this place where the X-Files meets Nightmare on Elm Street: Part 3. In the game’s first location, players must solve a puzzle involving a dog named Puzzle. Assuming you outwit Igor Cytserz’s killer mutt, you’ll be gifted a vial of alien marrow from which DNA can be extracted. This package sets in motion a series of events in which Vest meets, interacts, and travels with multiple NPCs, traversing the city to find and collect DNA samples, all while solving classic IF puzzles along the way.
Midway through the game, Crypto morphs into a Monster Rancher-style game in which cryptids (creatures unknown to modern science) are created by mixing and matching your previously discovered DNA samples. Players have the freedom to create whatever kind and how ever many cryptids they want. Players will then spend time pitting these cryptids against other cryptids in order to level them up in order to finally face … well, I don’t know because I’m still leveling them up. But I’ll bet it’ll be a humdinger of a battle when I get there. While the battling cryptids contain varying attributes, the battles are mostly luck-based and randomly decided (I just had my Bigfoot unceremoniously defeated by an Aardvark). Fortunately your cryptids never truly “die” — instead they end up back at the pen, where they recuperate after a bit of resting.
The dialogue system used within Crypto is interesting in that the game-related topics each NPC knows about appear in color. (“I see you brought some DNA with you.”) The Tads.org article on NPC conversations refers to this style as “hyperlinked replies”. The advantage of hyperlinked replies is, you’ll never walk away from an NPC without gaining all the knowledge you are supposed to receive. (Typing “Topics PERSON” will list any you missed.) The disadvantage of this style is, conversations quickly become a laundry list of topics to be checked off until none remain. To be honest I’ve played all the major IF conversational styles (“free form”, “menu driven”, and “hyperlinked”) and they all have advantages and disadvantages. While free form conversations feel the most interactive, they leave the most to chance (and can lead players down a slippery “guess the noun” slope).The other two don’t allow for as much freedom; then again, they don’t allow for as much floundering around, either. As an author, I can appreciate forced dialogue systems for no other fact than I would hate to waste exposition (or worse, a great joke) on dark nooks and crannies that players may never encounter. Worse yet, put a game-advancing tidbit in there and watch your players’ progress grind to a halt.
Like all of Robb Sherwin’s games, the world of and characters within Christmas City is a conglomeration of pop culture references and technobabble. Sherwin entertains as earnestly as he offends. There are jokes about baseball and stigmata and trolls who edit Wikipedia entries. Not every joke sticks and I doubt everyone will get all the references (I know I missed some), but the ones I did get made me laugh. As with his previous games, Sherwin’s strong suit continues to be his writing.
If there’s any downside to Cryptozookeeper it’s that parts of it are insanely hard. I struggled with some of the puzzles for days, which, in all honesty, could be more of a reflection on my relative inexperience and re-introduction to text-based games than on the game. Some of the puzzles took me days to solve, and at least one side-plot involving an exorcism (I can’t tell if solving it was integral to “beating” the game yet or not) I can honestly say I have would never, ever solved on my own. This particular puzzle boils down to coming up with a single word, which I ultimately came up with after pleading with the author via e-mail. Cryptozookeeper may be enjoyed by beginning gamers, but it probably won’t be defeated by one.
From the text to the puzzles, Cryptozookeeper is a challenging game. It’s a game that engages players on multiple cylinders. I’m guessing the subject matter, language, and puzzles may not strike a nerve with all IF gamers, but for the ones it does, Cryptozookeeper is a guaranteed good time.
My parents brought home our first home Pong console in the fall of 1977, shortly after I turned four-years-old. The following year we upgraded to a Magnavox Odyssey 2, and in 1979 we purchased an Atari 2600. I have literally been playing video games my entire life; I’m a grown up gamer that grew up gaming. I’ve watched the video game technology grow and expand infinitely, back from its humble monochrome roots in the late 1970s to the hi-definition graphics, digital surround sound audio, and online multi-player gaming experiences we take for granted today.
When you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s impossible not to compare and contrast the new with the old. As a technical kind of guy this often plays itself out in numbers. Comparing the processing power and storage capacity of today’s modern marvels to the systems of yesteryear results in some mind-blowing revelations. I once downloaded a zip file that contained the ROMs of every Atari 2600 game known at that time. The file was 3 megabytes in size. A complete archive of every official US Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is slightly larger at just over 100 megabytes. Realizing that I have enough memory to store complete copies of the Atari 2600, NES, SNES and Sega Genesis game libraries on my phone reminds us of how far we’ve come in the couple of decades. In the year 2000, I had a Nokia cell phone that was capable of playing a port of Snake (an arcade game from 1976). Ten years later, I bought an iPhone that plays Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (THPS2).
Cramming a skateboarding game originally designed to play on the Sony PlayStation into an iPhone requires a level of technical wizardry that is impressive, but not surprising. If you really want to understand what technical wizardry is — if you really want to learn about a world where every byte (nay, bit!) counted, you’ll need to go back almost 30 years to the Atari 2600 platform. While it is indeed impressive that in 2010 Activision was able to render a three-dimensional world in which you can maneuver a virtual Tony Hawk around in, it is more impressive to me that in 1982 Activision released Pitfall!, a game that contained 32 treasures spread across 255 unique rooms containing varying combinations tar pits, water holes, quicksand, rolling logs, campfires, snapping crocodiles, scorpions and swinging vines … all in 4k worth of code.
If that last fact made your jaw drop, or caused you to smile, or sent chills down your spine, or got any sort of physical reaction out of you at all … then Racing the Beam is for you.
Written by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost, Racing the Beam chronicles (in technical depth) the development of six seminal Atari 2600 games: Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall!, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. With the development of each game, readers are exposed to the capabilities (read: limitations) of the Atari 2600 platform. From a hardware perspective the 2600 was developed to play variations of Combat and Pong, and only contained the ability to render five moving objects (two players, two bullets, one ball) at a time, and had 128 bytes of RAM in which to do it. The random, colorful explosions in Yars’ Revenge and the smooth, parallax scrolling in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back become all the more impressive in that context. In order to perform some of those complicated tasks, programmers found themselves literally racing the television’s electron beam down the television display.
Each game discussed within the book marks a milestone in the life of the Atari 2600, whether it’s the evolution of text adventures into a graphical environment (Adventure), the birth of movie licensed-games (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), or the genre of arcade-to-console conversions (Pac-Man). None of these games were developed within a vacuum, and the book does a good job of encapsulating not only the technical achievements of each game, but also the historical context in which they were developed. The chapter about Yars’ Revenge, for example, talks about the game’s roots as a port of Star Castle, and compares and contrasts the game with Atari’s Asteroids. The game’s Easter Egg, the code used for the seemingly random level-ending explosions, and its unique sonic landscape are all discussed in detail.
At multiple times throughout the book, Racing the Beam reminds us that these classic games weren’t compiled by teams of skilled programmers, but rather were labors of love, quite often imagined, developed, and programmed by a single individual. While general concepts and technical knowledge was passed along between programmers, because of the way these games were designed it was difficult to recycle and/or share specific code among projects. The concept of having different people work on graphics, sound, and gameplay mechanics would not come to pass for a few more years. The book does a good job of introducing us to these men behind the keyboards.
Racing the Beam is not always an easy read. While the anecdotes and memories documented within are both interesting and informative, the book occasionally delves deep into the technical hows-and-whys involved in producing these games. I encountered some conversational hurdles as I waded through information regarding Atari’s TIA chip (the 2600’s sound and graphics chip), clock cycles and horizontal and vertical blanks — interesting Jeopardy material to be sure, but definitely deeper reading than your average light-hearted romp down retrospective lane.
Upon finishing this book you will never again look at the background trees in Pitfall or Pac-Man’s flashing ghosts in the same way. While not an encapsulating history of the Atari 2600 itself, Racing the Beam does an excellent job of explaining the demonstrating the hurdles and limitations early programmers had to overcome in order to create great video games.
(One final thought: this review contains almost 6,000 characters, approximately 2,000 more than any of the Atari 2600 games dissected in Racing the Beam. Food for thought.)
Last week at the 27th annual Chaos Communication Congress (CCC), a group calling themselves “fail0verflow” displayed the single-most important PlayStation 3 hack to date. A few months from now, when everybody who wants one has a modified PS3, you’ll be able to point your finger back to fail0verflow’s CCC presentation and say, “that is where is all began.”
Just like the original Xbox, the PlayStation 3′s defenses didn’t fall to pirates, but to Linux experts. The quickest way to have your security precautions ripped out of your device, run up the flagpole and laughed at is to prevent people from running Linux on it. In fact, the general consensus has been all along that since the PlayStation 3 allowed users to install Linux on an unmodified console, Linux hackers have had no incentive to tinker with the console’s security measures. As a result, the PS3 has remain “unbroken” for over four years, the longest of any modern console. However in the late spring of 2009, Sony removed the OtherOS feature from PlayStation 3′s through a mandatory (if you want to play online and/or new games) BIOS upgrade. While this made a lot of PlayStation 3 owners mad, it apparently made fail0verflow really mad.
The reason your PS3 (or any game console) won’t play a copied disc is because games must be digitally signed. As with any encryption, this digital handshake requires a private key and a public key. A PlayStation 3, using its private key, examines public keys and, based on its findings, determines whether or not to execute the code. This is why games you buy off the shelf will run on your PS3, but a copy of that same game will not.
(Old mod chips for the original PlayStation used to trick consoles by returning the right answer, regardless of what the question was. The PS1 was looking for region codes instead of digitally encrypted signatures, but the concept was the same. When a backup copy was inserted into the original PlayStation, the console would ask, “should I play this game?” The console checked for the region code and, when it could not be found, would reply with “no.” That response was sent back through the modchip, who slyly changed it to “yes!”)
While digging through the PlayStation 3, fail0verflow didn’t just find a private key — they found the private key. The master root encryption key. Using this key, hackers can generate working public keys. With valid public keys, hackers can boot anything they want on the PS3. There are two important things to note here. One, is that this key is included in the PlayStation 3′s hardware. It does not appear that a BIOS upgrade can change the master key. And two, changing the key could cause all PlayStation 3 games to stop working — so that’s not very likely. fail0verflow went looking for this key in the name of Linux. Other folks may not be so kind.
You know how there’s that one guy that takes things to another level? In the hacking world, that guy is GeoHot. GeoHot perfected the iPhone jailbreak; if your iPhone is jailbroken, you owe it to GeoHot. The PlayStation 3 has been a thorn in GeoHot’s side for quite some time now. He’s picked at it, poked at it, and even released a couple of hacks that were eventually closed up by Sony. fail0verflow announced that within the next month, they plan on releasing some tools that will allow the homebrew and hacking communities to start looking at the PS3. GeoHot said to hell with that, and posted the master key on his website.
Click to Enlarge
Right now, this kid’s house is probably surrounded by lawyers. Or assassins. Or both.
Now, I don’t know what to do with that number, and chances are you don’t either, but you can get your booty there are people that do, people that have been waiting four long years for those numbers. The PS3′s homebrew and hacking scenes are about to light up. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Last year, a hack was released that allowed gamers to connect USB hard drives to their Nintendo Wiis, allowing them to store copies of their games (and play them) from the hard drive. While this sounded really cool, the last time I looked at it the instructions were fairly complicated, and I didn’t have any real incentive to get it working. Fast forward to this past weekend, when I found my copy of Rock Band had been chewed beyond repair by either the dog or the five-year-old (surprisingly similar bite patterns). After finding that, I decided to set aside a couple of hours over the weekend to finally get this hack working.
When finished, this hack allows you to (A) backup your Wii game discs to an external USB hard drive, and (B) play those backed up games directly from the hard drive, alleviating the need for the original discs. While warranty voiding, both of those actions are legal. The hack also allows you to (C) illegally download Wii games from the Internet, copy them to the USB drive, and play them on your Wii. With great power comes great responsibility.
There are several sets of instructions floating around for performing this hack. I chose to use the one on Lifehacker.com, simply because I’ve used some of their tutorials before, and they tend to be easy to follow.
Hardware-wise, all you need is a USB hard drive, an SD card, and a modded Wii (hard or soft, doesn’t matter) to pull off this hack. That being said, it should be noted that the “Wii USB HD Hack” is not a single hack at all — it’s series of hacks. You’ll also need the Homebrew Channel installed on your Wii, which I didn’t have. Each step of the tutorial seemed to send me on a 5-10 minute digital goose chase across the Internet. To get the Homebrew Channel, I had to install BannerBomb. With the Homebrew channel installed, I had to run DOP-Mii v12 to exploit the Trucha Bug. With that installed, I was able to add the cIOS Installer. With that, I was able to install both USB Loader GX and the forwarder (so USB Loader GX appears as a channel when you first turn on your Wii).
The Lifehacker tutorial says that the whole process should take “5-10 minutes”. It took me around two hours. One reason for this was I (foolishly) was using the computer in my office to download everything, but the Wii is located in our living room. I’d estimate half of my two hours was spent walking back and forth between rooms. Also, I may have moved slower than the average person because each step I previously mentioned could, if performed incorrectly, brick your console. (For those of you not familiar with the term, that means permanently destroying a device to the point where it effectively becomes an expensive “brick”.) So yeah, I read each step very carefully.
And believe me, I was plenty nervous. Many of the steps and programs involved connect to the Internet from your Wii to download exploit code to run. Setting aside the whole “I am running code from people I don’t trust or even know” angle, there are so many things that could go wrong along the way that my palms were sweaty the entire time. Each time I attempt something like this, I just assume whatever I’m working on will end up irrevocably broken. That way, if things don’t work out, I’m not too disappointed.
In this case however, things did work out. After two hours of work, I now have a “USB Loader GX” channel on my Wii that allows the kids to pick their games from a menu and play them without ever touching my original games. USB Loader downloads cover images from the Internet, so even Morgan (who is just learning to read) can easily find the games she wants to play. The USB Loader GX front in is faily configurable. You can sort games alphabetically, by “most played”, or even by rank (you can rate each game from 1-5 stars).
If you want to access your external HD from your PC, you’ll need one additional program: WBFS Manager. With it, you can extract your dumped games back into burnable ISO images. What’s amazing to me is, each Wii ISO image is 4.3 gig, but when stored on the hard drive, many of them are less than a gig in size (one was less than 200 meg!). This isn’t compression — this is the actual size of the code stored on the disc.
This hack isn’t for everybody. (In fact, it won’t even work for everybody — those with the latest 4.3 update can’t play. Sorry.) If, however, you have lost games due to the scratches and smudges from pets or children, this may be something you should look into. Installation is fairly simple if you follow the guide. Like all mods and hacks this voids your warranty and could potentially get you banned from online play someday in the future, so you’ll have to decide whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks for you personally.
(I’m not sure who I wrote this for or where I submitted it to, but I found it on my hard drive and decided to post it here before deleting it. Enjoy!)
In one of the earliest copyright lawsuits involving video games, Atari Corporation sued Magnavox over the release of their 1981 game K.C. Munchkin, claiming it was a direct rip-off of Pac-Man. Although Atari had previously purchased exclusive rights to publish the first home version of Pac-Man, they had not yet released their (infamously bad) conversion for the Atari 2600 when Magnavox beat them to the punch. Magnavox won the original lawsuit, but Atari had the ruling overturned on appeal, forcing Magnavox to pull Munchkin from store shelves. While Atari may have managed to temporarily stop its competitors from releasing Pac-Clones on home gaming consoles, they had no such luck in the realm of personal computers. As Pac-Mania swept the country so did generic Pac-Clones, invading every retro-computing nook and cranny.
One of the earliest Pac-Clones was Scarfman for the TRS-80 Models I and III, written by Philip Oliver and published by Cornsoft Group in 1981. Scarfman set many precedents that Pac-Clones would follow for years to come. The basics of the game are the same as Pac-Man: avoid ghosts while eating dots. Eating a larger power pellet makes the ghosts themselves edible for a short period of time as well. What’s different are the details; for example, there are five ghosts and five power pellets instead of four. Another obvious difference is that the maze does not resemble the original arcade version. This is partly due to the fact that the arcade version of Pac-Man is displayed on a vertical monitor, whereas computer monitors are conventionally horizontal. Rather than trying to force a round peg into a square hole, most Pac-Clone authors opted to simply redesign their mazes to fit the shape of a normal computer monitor. This worked in the favor of computer programmers, who hoped that unique maze designs would keep them from being sued.
That same year (1981) saw the release of Taxman, written by Brian Fitzgerald and published by H.A.L. Labs for the Apple II. H.A.L. Labs had hoped to escape Atari’s wrath by changing a few minor details in Taxman. The ghosts were reborn as insects and squids and given new names, and the bonus fruits were changed into random objects (a cactus?), but the changes were not enough to ward off the long arm of Atari’s lawyers. With a lawsuit looming, H.A.L. Labs withdrew Taxman from the market and either sold or surrendered (I’ve read both versions) the Taxman source code to Atari. After making a few minor graphical updates, Atarisoft re-released Taxman as Pac-Man for the Apple II. H.A.L. Labs went back to the drawing board and released Super Taxman 2, which was similar to Taxman/Pac-Man but used different mazes. Years later, H.A.L. Labs rechristened themselves HAL Laboratory and went on to develop the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. franchises. Taxman programmer Brian Fitzgerald also remained in the game business. You can find his name in the credits of games such as Dark Seed, StarCraft, Diablo I and II, Warcraft II and III, and World of Warcraft.
Unfortunately for Atari, so many Pac-Clones began popping up that their lawyers did not have the time to pursue them all. By 1982 dozens if not hundreds of Pac-Clones had been released, many by small companies that financially weren’t worth legally pursuing. One such clone was Snack Attack, written by Dan Illowsky and published by Datamost. One look at Snack Attack will tell you it is nothing like Pac-Man at all. Instead of a hungry yellow Pac-Man, players controlled a hungry white whale. See? Not the same! Instead of the ghosts being red, blue, pink and yellow, in Snack Attack they are red, blue, green and purple. That’s completely different! And finally, while the dots in Pac-Man are yellow, the dots in Snack Attack are purple and green. Obviously Snack Attack is nothing like Pac-Man at all.
One of the biggest problems Atari had in fighting these waves of generic clones was that many of them were considered to be better than the official Atarisoft versions! (Then again, almost anything is considered to be better than Atari’s version of Pac-Man for the 2600.) Acornsoft’s 1982 release Snapper for the BBC Micro looked nearly identical to the arcade version of Pac-Man, down to the mazes and characters. Again, under the threat of legal action, Acornsoft withdrew and re-released the game with altered graphics (the main character magically sprouted legs and found a green cowboy hat). H.A.L. Labs, whom Apple had sued for their release of Taxman, obtained the license to release home Pac-Man ports in Japan. H.A.L.’s version of Pac-Man for the VIC-20 is superior to Atarisoft’s official version (and beat Atarisoft’s version to market by two full years). To avoid marketing confusion between the two versions, Commodore changed the name to Jelly Monster for its US release.
Some Pac-Clones attempted to avoid the courtroom by creating similar (but not too similar!) maze games. Munch Man for the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A saw a small Pac-shaped character “laying down links” versus eating dots. Another popular maze game, Lock ‘n’ Chase, had players controlling a thief and collecting coins and money bags instead of dots and power pellets. Several other games such as Lady Bug, Amidar, Mouse Trap and Make Trax used similar “maze” concepts, but made enough changes to keep their respective publishers out of hot water.
Other developers simply ignored Atari’s copyright, hoping to fly below the company’s legal radar. Here are just a few known Pac-Clones from the First Church of Pac-Man’s list of False Idols: Ack!-Man, Bac-Man, Dac-Man, Hac-Man, SnackMan, Mac-Man, Plaque Man, Wack-Man, Crap-Man, Chomp, Chomper, Chomper-Man, Gobble-Man, Mouth-Man, Munch Man, and TrashMan, among others. And don’t forget Pac-Bar, PacBoy, Pac-Classic, Pac-Em, Pac-Guy, Packman, PacMac, Pac-Maniac, Pac-Men, Pac-Mon, Pac-PC, PacWar, Pakacuda, Pax, PC-Man, Pucman, and simply Pacman, which, as the site’s webmaster noted, is “just a hyphen away from copyright infringement.”
And if the market wasn’t already flooded with Pac-Clones, it surely was after the release of Data Trek’s Maze Craze Construction Set. Written by Eric Hammond, Maze Craze Construction Set for the Apple II allowed creative Pac-fans to design their own maze games. The program’s editing tools allowed everything from maze layouts to the design and attributes of each individual character to be modified. As a kid I made my own Pac-Clone using the program. I made my game as close to Pac-Man as I could, with the only difference being that in my version, Pac-Man was constantly moving backwards. Its name was naM-caP.
One of the most interesting innovations in the world of Pac-Clones was the transition from two dimensions to three. In 1982, Scott Elder released 3-D Man (also released as 3D Pac Man), a first-person Pac-Clone for the Commodore 64 that literally put players down in Pac-Man’s trenches! Due to the visual limitations of a first person maze game, Elder included a radar on the side of the screen to show players the layout of the maze. The same concept was used the following year in 3-Demon for the IBM PC.
As home computer technology advanced throughout the years, so did the quality of Pac-Clones. Specifically with the advent of VGA and SVGA graphics on DOS machines, colorful Pac-Clones continued to appear. One early popular version was CD-Man, which had players eating dots (of course) while running away from animated spiders. By the mid-to-late 1990s, emulators were powerful and fast enough to run the original Pac-Man arcade code; and yet still, programmers continue to crank out Pac-Clones. Due to the proliferation of the World Wide Web, over the past ten years creators of generic Pac-Clones have migrated to the Internet. There are now hundreds of Pac-Clones online today, written in languages such as Java and Flash. Due to the portability of these languages, many of these Pac-Clones can be now downloaded and played on your cell phone or iPod.
If the thought of playing a Pac-Clone on a small cell phone screen doesn’t sound like much fun, consider Tiny PacMan, a flash-based Pac-Clone which is played on a grid of 10 pixels by 10 pixels. On my monitor, the entire maze appears smaller than my thumbnail. There’s only one ghost (a green pixel) and the dots are flashing purple which, thank goodness, makes them easier to see on such a small scale. The “ghost” gets faster with each level cleared which theoretically makes the game harder. The hardest part for me is simply seeing what’s going on.
One of the newest additions to the Pac-Clone family takes us full circle, back to one of the oldest forms of computer gaming that predates Pac-Man itself: text adventures. Pac-Txt (pac-txt.com) begins by displaying a descriptive paragraph to players: “You awaken in a large complex, slightly disoriented. Glowing dots hover mouth level near you in every direction. Off in the distance you hear the faint howling of what you can only imagine must be some sort of ghost or several ghosts.” Like classic text adventures, the game is played solely through issuing text commands, typed into an interpretor; all information about the game is delivered to players via text as well. Typing “LOOK” and hitting [ENTER] reveals, “You are in a long corridor. You may go forward or backward and there are glowing dots in every direction. There is a glowing dot hovering near you.” EAT DOT [ENTER]. “You have eaten the glowing dot.”
Through years legal battles it has been determined that while specific characters can be trademarked, specific styles or genres of games cannot. And thanks to that ruling, we have more than twenty-five years worth of Pac-Clones available for us to “gobble” up.
The second annual Oklahoma Electronic Game Expo (OEGE) took place Saturday, April 11th, 2009 at Oklahoma City Community College. OEGE was actually a weekend-long event for me, as out-of-town friends of mine began trickling in Friday afternoon.
Not to be confused with the similarly named Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE), OEGE is organized and thrown by a local college club/group. While the focus of OVGE is (mostly retro) video games, the theme of OEGE is a little more difficult to discern. It’s definitely different than your run-of-the-mill gaming convention; it’s more like a trade show. The focus really wasn’t on buying and selling old games. (There were only three people there selling video games, and two of them were friends of mine who ended up hanging out at my house Saturday night.) Of the fifteen or so vendors who made it to the show, half of them weren’t selling anything at all.
The coolest stuff for me personally at the show was the retro stuff. Local circuit bending musician TV Death Squad performed live for an hour during the show. When I saw a couple of punks carrying in a bunch of DJ equipment I was fearing for the worst, but TV Death Squad turned out to be really entertaining. Halfway through their set, the DJ handed Mason and Morgan hacked joysticks that played different sounds and samples and let them jam along to the music he was playing.
OEGE 2009 also marked the debut of Earl “Phosphor Dot Fossils” Green’s second PDF DVD. Both PDF volumes (Volume I and Volume II) feature three hours of chronological video game footage, commercials, facts and trivia. If you like footage of old games or enjoy things like Pop-Up Video, you will love these DVDs. If you didn’t pick them up at the show, check out Earl’s site and pick them up there for $20 shipped to anywhere in the US. I think there’s a special two-volume set just around the corner as well.
Fellow author Brett Weiss, author of Classic Home Video Games, 1972-1984: A Complete Reference Guide was also in attendance. Brett’s always a cool guy to catch up with, and along with his books he was also one of the three tables selling old games (along with Phosphor Dot Fossils and fellow game collector 98Pacecar).
And then there was my table. Last year at OVGE I tried doing too many things at once: demonstrating arcade parts, running a Commodore demo, selling a gaggle of video game stuff and (of course) signing and selling books. At OEGE I decided to simplify things and just sell books. Armed with only the bare essentials (including a box of books and two impressive signs printed by Paco over at Action Signs and Design in Norman — seriously, give Paco a call at (405) 364-3879 for all your vinyl sign and banner printing needs and tell him I sent you!) I set up my space and, along with my buddy Jeff, spent the majority of the day making sad puppy dog eyes at college students as they walked by and sneered at “the guy selling books.”
I was scheduled to give my presentation “Collecting Arcade Games” at 2:30pm, but at exactly 2:30pm there were only three other people besides me in the room, and two of them were my friend Jeff and my son Mason. I waited another ten minutes before starting and at that point there were almost 20 people in the room so I figured that was as good as it was going to get. (Unfortunately my speech was scheduled right during the highlight of the big game tournament, which is where 2/3 of the attendees were by that point in time.) A few other people trickled in late but no one left early, so that was a good sign. As always I started off okay, got really nervous five minutes into the presentation, and calmed down another five minutes later. I’m sure if I saw a video of my presentation (and it was filmed by the college) I’m sure I would hate it, but it felt … well, it didn’t feel like the worst presentation I ever gave, so I guess that’s good. There were no technical difficulties and I was exactly on time so, eh, it was what it was. There were a few people in the crowd smiling and nodding so it felt like I connected with at least a few people.
I connected with a few others during the show. I’m terrible with names but there was the musician kid with the long hair, the kid who I talked to about writing fiction (everybody under 25 is a kid to me these days), and the staff member who I talked to about DOS and old luggable computers and Linux and BBSes. Several years ago at OVGE I found that if I put out modern systems I got a lot of kids standing around playing my stuff all day, and when I put old stuff out I get interesting people to talk to. I also learned that if you put out candy you will have the most popular booth at the show. I skipped the candy this year and played it low key.
As always, my buddy Jeff was indispensable at the show. Jeff helped me run the table, wrangle up Mason, keep an eye on things when I would wander off to take pictures, and basically be “the responsible one”. I could not have done it without him. Again.
Speaking of pictures, I just installed ZenPhoto tonight so I might as well put my OEGE pictures there. Check it out and tell me how it compares to the other (Picasa) albums. I can tell you this — the ZenPhoto album looks like a lot less maintenance when it comes to adding new pictures and I suspect (if it runs okay) I will move everything over to it very shortly.
Thanks to Susan for helping with the house and the party planning. Thanks to everybody who bought a book, came to my presentation, or just stopped by the table to chat. Thanks to Paco for the rush job on the signs, and Drew Stone for doing such a good job on the show. Thanks to Brian, Ginger, Emmy, Darren, Steve, Earl, Charles, Dad, Linda, Doug, and everybody else who came out to the show or hung out at the house this weekend. And finally, extra special thanks to Jeff for putting up with my kookiness and spending his entire Saturday helping me out.
Susan flies out to DC tomorrow; she’ll be gone Monday through Thursday afternoon; Thursday morning, I hit the road for Cleveland. Sometime between now and then, I have to install our new home camera/security system. I’m really looking forward to next weekend, and I’m kind of looking forward to next weekend being over.