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  • Crowdfunded book project: Shareware Heroes

    So this book project was brought to my attention the other day, and I figured I'd give it a mention over here: Shareware Heroes: Independent Games at the Dawn of the Internet

    I'm not in love with the industry-centric framing of the pitch video, but I'm extremely excited to see others take shareware history seriously. The author promises to conduct lots of first-hand interviews with various people involved in shareware, which, you won't be surprised to hear, I think is absurdly valuable work. I can't be the only one out there interviewing folks about this stuff, I'm far too slow!

    posted in Casual
  • RE: Episode 6: Shawn Hargreaves discussion thread

    I'd say every tool has its "grain", and Allegro's bread and butter was really "draw bitmaps on top of other bitmaps", with certain effects like scaling and rotation being very easy to add. But other things, which may have been straightforward if you had written the blitting code and were able to make tweaks to it, were much more difficult.

    I remember putting together a demo game to show off my "skills" in the early TPU days, where I tried to build the most audiovisually impressive thing I could. The thing that gave me the most trouble: I wanted to reproduce the end-of-level screen-melting effect from Doom, and getting that to run fast was hard.

    That game also had:

    • a pretty 3D fractal landscape generated by a VistaPro demo I got from a book called Virtual Reality Madness & More
    • huge 3d-rendered characters modeled in a tool called Imagine (I couldn't figure out how to texture pupils on his googly sphere eyes, so I just drew them on afterwards in NeoPaint and hoped I got them in vaguely the same place every frame (I didn't))
    • a title screen that I'm pretty sure had both gratuitous scaling and rotation
    • oh, and I animated some extruded text as a "company logo" in I think maybe TrueSpace 3D?
    • custom fonts EVERYWHERE; I feel like I must've had a tool for Windows that would export a TTF font as a bitmap that Allegro knew how to treat as a bitmap font. But if you wanted text in your game, you were probably gonna export a bitmap font. All I used it for was, like, "press start", and displaying your score, but I'm sure I had at least two fonts.

    I definitely remember having to do a lot of fiddling to mash everything from these random sources into a sensible 256-colour palette. I had specialized commandline tools for palette generation & re-importing.

    In general, I had a bunch of disparate free-or-pirated tools for creating visuals, and I used them about as naively as you could possibly imagine, and I suspect that had a lot to do with how my games ended up looking. It probably was not far off from the process that people making OHRRPGCE games were going through. Even my 3D stuff was made in tools that were designed to be accessible. I had a copy of 3DS Max, but I couldn't figure out how to make it do anything - I just knew it was "professional".

    posted in Podcast
  • RE: Episode 6: Shawn Hargreaves discussion thread

    Glad you enjoyed it!
    Regarding making timelines clearer, that's a fine point - I tend to be pretty muddy about what things happened when until I start digging into the wayback machine. I could certainly do some homework ahead of time and anchor questions with that information in the future.

    I'd say the timeline looks roughly like:

    posted in Podcast
  • Episode 6: Shawn Hargreaves discussion thread

    some floating cubes that say "dead pigs cant fly."
    Episode 6 show notes are here!

    At one point in the interview, I assert that the General MIDI standard was based on the instrument choice of the Roland Sound Canvas. It turns out this is half-true; I had misremembered a story from The Fat Man on Game Audio, which incidentally is probably my favourite book ever written on the subject of the video game industry. If you can track down the book, I definitely recommend doing so, but here's the timeline as he lays it out:

    • General MIDI is created as a standard. It defines 128 instruments.
    • The Roland Sound Canvas is released as the first General MIDI sound card.
    • George "The Fat Man" Sanger decides to compose the soundtrack of The 7th Guest using General MIDI, in order to attempt to ensure the music will sound OK for future sound cards. It is the first game to have its score written in General MIDI. He uses the Sound Canvas as the baseline because there are no other General MIDI cards out there yet.
    • More sound cards touting General MIDI compatibility are released. His soundtrack sounds awful. He discovers to his horror that General MIDI does not define any standard for the dynamics of an instrument - how loud it is, or even what pitch middle C should sound.
    • Fat Labs is founded to basically make sure The 7th Guest doesn't sound awful on new sound cards. Google "Fat Labs General MIDI" and you'll find a number of press releases from the 90s proudly proclaiming that their sound card has earned "The Fat Seal".
    • Eventually the MIDI standards committee accedes that the only sensible solution is to take whatever dynamics Roland used for their Sound Canvas samples and use them as the standard for all cards going forward.

    There are also a lot of DOS games that come out around this time that credit The Fat Man for their General MIDI FM patches for Adlib cards - this is because he bundled it with the popular MIDAS Sound System library, that allowed DOS games to support the vast numbers of incompatible sound cards that were being
    released at that point.

    Knowing this story is what made me wonder, wait, where did Allegro get its General MIDI instrument patches from? And I got sufficiently curious about this that I dug into the source code, and found the following comment:

    /*  These instrument definitions are taken from the MID-KIT library by
     *  John Pollard. Many thanks to him for letting me use his patches: I
     *  wouldn't have enjoyed the task of coming up with a set of my own.
     */
    

    Further digging reveals that MID-KIT was a shareware library that provided sound and music routines for DOS for the Watcom C compiler. Registration was $50 for a "link the binary with your software" license, and you could get the source code for $600. The author, John Pollard, credits Jean-Paul Mikkers, original creator of the Mikmod library, for assistance and some code. (One thing I had forgotten was that mikmod was also once shareware, though the $25 registration fee was only required for those using it commercially.)

    Shawn doesn't remember any details about this; he assumes he must've went looking for existing software that had already solved this problem, and then simply asked the author for help.

    Why is this important or even interesting to anyone? Part of what I'm interested in uncovering as part of this podcast is the invisible support networks and ecosystems that made games possible. It's too easy to imagine Shawn toiling away in isolation to produce the first draft of Allegro, and then support and code contributions just spontaneously flowing in his direction. But when you dig into questions like this, you quickly discover a bunch of people sharing knowledge, asking questions, and helping each other out.

    Thanks for sticking with me during this extremely dorky and overly technical aside about MIDI. Now: If you had any personal experience using Allegro, or playing games that came out of the loose Allegro community, this would be a good thread in which to talk about it!

    posted in Podcast
  • Jeremy Penner and Mattie Brice discuss Glorious Trainwrecks

    So I went to Babycastles and spoke with Mattie Brice about Glorious Trainwrecks and its history! It was a really good time, and I suspect the following hour-and-a-half-long video may be interesting to people who enjoy listening to the podcast.
    Youtube Video

    posted in Communities
  • RE: Episode 5: Leonard Richardson discussion thread

    Gosh, yeah, the Minecraft project is SO huge. Like, it's not just terabytes of random zip files, he took the time to build tools to analyze and make it digestable. So if you want to explore a representative sampling of random Minecraft maps from the archive, there's The Reef maps. If you want a bunch of data to build Mastodon bots with, there's The Minecraft Geologic Survey. It must have been an enormous amount of effort to put all that stuff together. And pretty much once a year he takes another huge sample.

    He also has the Ephemeral Software Collection which, among other things, scrapes jam games from Github. Important work!

    posted in Podcast
  • Episode 5: Leonard Richardson discussion thread

    robotfindskitten OpenGL screenshot with Intellivision text overlaid
    Episode 5 show notes are here!

    In the interview, Leonard was a little uncertain about the exact chronology of the contest that led to the robotfindskitten game; after we spoke, he was kind enough to pass on an email from Pete Peterson II, definitively nailing down the story:

    Jake Berendes had a "contest" with his friends -- I think while in
    high school -- called "robotfindskitten". In his words (as I recall
    them), both submissions involved a kitten suffering at the hands of a
    robot. There is a picture I saved from his website, but I can't
    remember the source of it (e.g., I don't know if he drew it, or if a
    friend drew it for him). I've attached the image I have.
     
    I loved the idea of the super broad and intriguingly named "contest"
    "robotfindskitten", so I thought I would use Nerth Pork as a venue to
    have the robotfindskitten contest. As you know, you're the only person
    who submitted something. I was expecting poems, or pictures, or
    stories, so I was absolutely delighted when the submission was a video
    game.

    I didn't realize Leonard had written a fan song for a Klik & Play game until after the interview was recorded, or I would have pestered him about that. So I pestered him via email instead! He sent me his copy of the game that he had archived from his BBS, along with the description that he'd written at the time:

    CHOP.ZIP Size: 414,647 | A very dumb Windoze game called Choppy the
    Date: 01/11/96 DL's: 0 | Pork Chop.

    Extended description:
    You're a pork chop (surprise) and you shoot various weapons at non
    sequiter baddies like hamburgers and mops. The final boss guy is a big
    head who throws his eyeballs at you. It's bizarre, but that's good. It's
    one of the best attempts at an action game for Windoze that I've ever
    seen. I even went so far as to write a song called "Choppy The Pork
    Chop" which is officially endorsed by the game's creator even. Here it
    goes:
     
    Presumably I had the lyrics in the extended description but they didn't get picked up when I dumped the file. I had never heard of Klik & Play, didn't know it was a tool, and remember being pretty impressed that someone had put in all this effort to program a pointless game.
     
    Jeremy: I'm sure the story of how the creator gave your song an official endorsement amounts to "I emailed him and he responded positively" but I am absolutely delighted by that detail.
     
    Leonard: I did email the author and he responded positively, that's the story, but the secret part of the story is that this was probably the first Internet email I ever sent. Certainly the first one I sent that got a response.

    Choppy the Pork Chop, hooray!

    posted in Podcast
  • RE: Interview with Judith Pintar at The Digital Antiquarian

    It's really worth a try! I really like how it switches back and forth between the physical reality that the protagonist lives in, and the suprisingly detailed MS-DOS simulation. It's pretty astounding what it manages to do with the AGS engine.

    You can play Cosmoserve on the Internet Archive in your browser, of course!

    (I wonder if I still have the atrocious AGS game I made as a preteen somewhere...)

    posted in Organizations and People
  • RE: ABA Games' HenyaG

    Haha, I just tried Googling it and the only other English-language thing I dug up is me talking about it with @kirkjerk 12 years ago on the Gamer's Quarter forums. I guess I was the only one who gave it a try?

    (In that thread I also mention Ball2 and Igzo the Dolphin, which my recent post about on the gamemaking.social forums was what reminded me about HenyaG. Weird how memory is linked that way.)

    posted in Tools
  • ABA Games' HenyaG

    Many people are probably familiar with Kenta Cho, or ABA Games - a Japanese freeware developer who is most famous for making interesting shmups with graphics built from abstract shapes in the early 2000s. Games like Torus Trooper, rRootage, and Tumiki Fighters, which became Blast Works on the Wii.

    What I've never seen anyone discuss is his game-making tool for the Palm Pilot, HenyaG.

    I want to say I discovered it around 2004. I loved my Palm III; I used to systematically browse through Palm freeware sites and download literally everything that looked interesting. I would have been starting to be active in the Insert Credit / Gamer's Quarter forum community, which would have clued me into Kenta Cho's work. I suspect that the venn diagram of "Japanese indie shmup enthusiasts" and "Palm enthusiasts who constantly seek out novel weird free stuff" had a small overlap, but there I was, inside it. And Kenta Cho had a fairly significant selection of Palm freeware on his website.

    HenyaG is a tool for making single-image LCD-type games. You draw on a single canvas, and then define rules for when sections of it turn on and off. There are a small amount of events (button presses, timers, random probability, and testing if objects are visible or not), and a small number of possible actions (turn object visible or invisible, score a point, lose a life), but that's enough for an interesting possibility space. There's a decent tutorial, which made much less sense when run through Google Translate in 2004 than it does today.

    From what I remember, it had one fatal downfall: when you drew an object, you could draw it anywhere on the canvas; but when you turned that object off, it would erase everything in its entire bounding box. So if you had objects with any amount of overlap, the screen would quickly become a garbled mess. The tutorial seems to suggest that this was a problem only "to save memory while editing" and wouldn't be a problem "during the actual game"; perhaps I never figured out how to run my game properly.

    Anyway, I've always thought it was a really interesting idea for a constrained game making tool, and that it was a shame that nobody ever really noticed it. Looking at it now, I think it's also built to run on the desktop using this weird cross-platform Java-like VM that ran on the Palm called Waba. If anyone gets that going, definitely let me know.

    posted in Tools

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