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*4

PAX PRIME!

There were some really cool games at Pax Prime, but nothing really stood out as weird or anything. What did stand out was two pieces of sweet cosplay.

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This lady basically won PAX for this awesome Isabelle cosplay. After I took this picture she set off some small fireworks and then clapped politely. 

The next day while trolling street passes on floor 2, I met this lady, whose dark Nook cosplay revealed that he’d been busted for extorting players out of their money! Another excellent effort.

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I wish I’d thought to ask her to remove her badge for the shot. It probably doesn’t matter anyway, given the quality of the image. (I was rocking a little 3MP burner phone during Pax because my 15 billion megapixel Lumia 1020 took a dirt nap while skateboarding right after Gamescom.)

Anyway, if the world had more Animal Crossing cosplay, it would be a better place.

Oh I guess there were one or two semi-strange games on display. First was this game I keep calling CAT-ASTROPHY but is actually called CATLATERAL DAMAGE by Chris Chung in partnership with Fire Hose Games. It’s a first person game where you’re a cat and you wreck stuff, like a cat.

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It’s pretty cute, although I think CAT-ASTROPHE would be a better name.

The other game was called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which is a pretty cool name for a game. The game is neat. One person wears a VR headset, enabling them to see and manipulate a bomb none of the other players can see. The other players have a (paper) manual, which the VR person can’t see. VR person describes the bomb while the rest of the team frantically searches the manual for disarming steps.

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So you get a lot of people screaming things like “can you see wires? which wire is on top? is it yellow? Cut the blue wire now!” and stuff like that, all as a timer clicks down.

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It’s exactly like solving a math story problem, which, if you like math story problems (and I do), is really, really fun. There are some things the game does to keep it from being a simple exercise as well, which is pretty neat.

NOTE: For some reason links aren’t working tonight, so… no links.

*53

Gamescom!

[UPDATE!! Someone commented and directed me towards the creators of Not Tetris and Not Pac-Man, the awesomely named team Stabyourself.net!]

I love videogame tradeshows and conventions. You never know when you’re going to turn a corner and be like “holy cow, what the heck is that!?” and be exposed to some crazy new (or old) game.

So of course at Gamescom I head straight to Hall 10.2, home of old reliables like the crazy German Pac-Man board game, the 24 hour CaseMod Challenge, a new-every-year-and-always-amazing diorama of a retro desk setup that caps off a *fantastic* retro section, and this year, Not Pac-Man and Not Tetris.

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Kinda makes you want to throw up, huh? The pieces rotate freely, out of your control, bouncing off each other with Box2D physics and turning Tetris from an orderly game of planning and compacting into total anarchy. That screen has no glitches, you frequently “clear” just pieces of blocks. Having been trained by years of Tetris, I found Not Tetris extremely difficult to play, and even harder to grok. Horrifying and awesome!

In contrast, Not Pac-Man was almost pleasant, adding steering controls and gravity and enabling players to rotate the screen to move around the maze. This video captures my second play through, and I was already getting the hang of it, even playing one handed while recording. You can see a little Not Tetris in there as well.

Those were the two weirdest things I played at Gamescom, although there were some neat LED-based large scale games in a few booths, and some really interesting looking experimental things in the student area.

Oh, and I thought this Europe-only Magnavox Odyssey 2 with a built-in black and white TV was pretty neat too. I want one! (Its Euro name was called the Phillips Videopak g7200)  

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I was too dazed by the games and dazzled by the flyers for JagFest DE (The German Atari Jaguar gathering) to get any contact info for Not Pac-Man or Not Tetris, sorry! YOu can get a little more Videopak g7200 info here.

*2

Mega Karaoke

I don’t know if it’s that strange, but I’m desperate to procrastinate at work, but not so desperate that I’m ready to start editing my 6,000 word manifesto on Rival Schools: United by Fate, so this is going to have to do.

Sega made this cool Karaoke adapter for the MegaDrive, and there’s one for sale on ebay right now. Dave Voyles spotted it and gave me the heads up. Karaoke is sort of weird, I guess, but I really want someone I know to buy this, so we can see the ultimate franken-console — a MegaDrive with MegaCD, MegaKaraoke and the 32X, topped with an XBVND holding Sonic and Knuckles locked on to Sonic 3.

Heck, maybe get a Pro Action Replay or a Game Genie in there too.

Anyway, the Karaoke thing just passes through the audio from the Genesis but has some hardware to do the usual effects — removing the vocals, adding chorus, and changing the tone of the inputs. And it supports dual mics for all your Summer Nights duet needs! I find the industrial design really nice in early 90s tech style, although not $5,000 nice, which is the asking price on eBay.

(In case you accidentally clicked that Summer Nights link, I have embedded a nice fan video of the Epoxies “Everything Looks Beautiful on Video” here to clean your ears.)

*6
I scanned this to share from the Incredibly Strange Games library. Then I promptly lost the book, which is really frustrating.
I suspect it was accidentally donated to Goodwill, so hopefully someone got it and is enjoying, ideally with an genuine Texas Instruments LED calculator like the one my dad had that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

I scanned this to share from the Incredibly Strange Games library. Then I promptly lost the book, which is really frustrating.

I suspect it was accidentally donated to Goodwill, so hopefully someone got it and is enjoying, ideally with an genuine Texas Instruments LED calculator like the one my dad had that I wasn’t allowed to touch.

*3

Cassettecast #1, for your listening pleasure

Frank and Brandon and I made this a long time ago… Late 2011? Early 2012? I can’t really remember. It debuted at GDC 2012. For years it was only available as the A-Side of the cassette that accompanies Incredibly Strange Games 3, and via the shadowy network of traders who pass along podcasts on cassette up and down the west coast, but now it’s finally online!

It took a while. Right after I mastered it and send it off to the cassette replication place in Canada my Mac hard drive crashed and I lost the master files. Then Carrie’s boombox broke and my Volvo with a tape player got totalled, so I had no way to even play this tape, until I remembered my Tomy Omnibot. So here, in glorious robotic lo-fi mono is the first incredibly strange games cassettecast.

obscurevideogames:

hello - Bravoman aka Beraboh Man (Namco - TG16 - 1990)

Here it is in glorious obscurevideogames gif format!

obscurevideogames:

hello - Bravoman aka Beraboh Man (Namco - TG16 - 1990)

Here it is in glorious obscurevideogames gif format!

*5
*16
Just arrived in the mail, the weirdest power fantasy of the 16-bit era

Just arrived in the mail, the weirdest power fantasy of the 16-bit era

Do you recall the least popular microprocessor of all?

When you think about the CPUs of classic gaming machines, chances are you think of the venerable MOS Technology 6502, which powered the NES (as well as the Apple II, the C64 and the Atari 800), or Federico Faggin’s triumph, the Z-80, which powered the TRS-80, the ZX-80/Timex Sinclair and the GameBoy and GameBoy Color.*

imageBut spare a thought for the RCA 1802, an extremely weird 8-bit processor (its architecture is nothing like Z-80 or 6502, both of which are pretty similar) that can do things like run at super-low, non-standard clock speeds (like, it doesn’t need to always run at the same speed from instruction to instruction) and is so low powered that it is still used in Africa for pay phones, since it can be run on the power in the phone line alone. Oh, and it also spawned the first dedicated computer language for videogames…

imageAnyway, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The chip, known as the COSMAC 1802, was used in a couple of hella early hobbyist microcomputers, notably the COSMAC ELF, a project you could find the plans for in Popular Electronics. Around the same time Apple starting offering the 4K Apple II, the first real consumer micro, dedicated hobbyists who were outgrowing the ELF’s 256 bytes of RAM (32 bytes of which were taken up by the training wheels of the OS, “a program that makes the computer easier to use,” could solder together a 1024 byte expansion board, and add a 64 x 128 display using RCA’s CDP-1861 PIXIE graphics chip. One of the most impressive visual hacks was to turn the 64 x 128 display into a virtual 64 x 32 display, changing it from having horizontal rectangle pixels to vertical rectangle pixels, and enabling it to run graphics at realtime speeds.

Folks who just wanted an 1802-based computer without all the soldering could order a COSMAC VIP directly from RCA for $245 (compare this to the Apple II’s launch price of $1300), which upped the ELF’s  RAM to 2K, and included the PIXIE display, a cool plastic case, hex-keyboard, etc. 

I won’t lie: Researching the 1802 can be sort of tough, leading to lots of websites last updated in 2006, with “under construction” gifs. It’s sort of telling that the best emulator for the COSMAC ELF is for the Palm Pilot (the PDA, not the HP-era mobile phone PalmOS).

But, if you persevere enough, you find some really fun, interesting, and important gaming connections.

imageFirst is the RCA Studio II, the second game system that used removable ROM cartridges. It ran at the tricky 64 x 32 resolution (looking at videos online, I’m pretty sure it supported 64 x 128 as well), but featured 512 bytes of RAM, double that of an ELF. It came with some built-in games, and had the neat feature that its power adapter was also its display adapter. It even had some clones in Europe and Japan before being swept into the dustbin of history when the Atari 2600 shipped a few months later. 

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There were also some games for the awesomely named Cybervision 2001, Montgomery Ward’s brief 1978 entry into the personal computer business. This $399 1802-based machine added color to the equation. It’s also one of the most obscure and rare micros ever made; there are just not many machines or “cybersettes” of games in the wild.  It was finding a Cybervision ad in an old Ward’s catalog that sent me on my 1802 vision quest and led me to CHIP-8…

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Much more interesting than any of the 1802-based machines is the CHIP-8 language, which has the distinction of being  the first ever programming tool designed specifically to make creating videogames easier. If you’re looking for the earliest ancestor of GameMaker and Unity, CHIP-8 is at the start of the family tree.**

Joseph Weisbecker, RCA’s microprocessor R&D genius, who designed the 1802, the VIP, and the Studio II (it’s easy to think of him as RCA’s Ralph Baer) also wrote CHIP-8, an interpreted language which used a virtual machine to ease game development. It’s pretty impressive.

To modern eyes, the commands look a lot like assembly, but it’s dead simple to manipulate the pixels onscreen and work with inputs. And wIth the 592 instructions you could fit into the 2K COSMAC VIP after you keyed in the 512 bytes of CHIP-8 itself, you could write a fairly sophisticated game. The VIC manual includes 24 game suggestions such as:

9. LUNAR LANDING - Program a graphic lunar landing game.

10. COLLIDE - Try to maneuver a spot from one edge of the screen to the other without hittingrandomly moving obstacles.

as well as full listings for various games.

With commands like:

0222 F065 VO:VO=MI
0224 4000 SKIP;VO NE 00
0226 121C GO 021C
0228 7301 V3+01
022A 4300 SKIP;V3 NE 00
022C 121C GO 021C
022E 2232 DO 0232

writing in CHIP-8 may not seem that user friendly, but compared to the straight machine code of CHIP-8 itself, it’s pretty good.

imageBecause it’s both incredibly tiny and pretty easy to use, the elegant CHIP-8 has been ported to everything, notably a lot of calculators. There’s also a somewhat active CHIP-8 scene (there was an update last January, anyway) over at Chip8.com, which also houses the definitive CHIP-8 game library online, near complete docs for the VIP, the VIPER fanzine archive, and links to the various CHIP-8 interpreters and emulators for almost every hardware platform under the sun.

It’s kind of cool to think that with CHIP-8 you couple probably run Tetris on a lot of satellites that have 1802’s at their core, and the 1802 is interesting to look back on as a fascinating oddball processor.

To me though, Weisbecker’s real legacy is CHIP-8 itself, a programming language that may be limited application-wise today to graphing calculators, but whose impetus lives on in powerful tools like Game Maker and Unity that are helping creators generate some of the most interesting videogames around today.

Postscript: Like all weird 8-bit microprocessors worth their salt, the 1802 is still available, from INTERSIL, in their Space and Harsh Environments line, chugging away in milspec temperatures from -55C to 125C. 

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Footnotes:
* I have a really funny story about my mother-in-law and the Z-80, but I’ll save it for another time. I will say she is the only person I’ve ever met who literally had AOL for Dummies next to the the IBM 360 System Operators manual on the bookshelf in her computer room — she is deceptively knowledgeable about machine code!

** While people were certainly using BASIC and other “high level” languages to make games before CHIP-8 arrive, CHIP-8 was the first language specifically created not to “teach the fundamentals of computer science” but to make it easy to create games with a computer.

*7
Super sad news today that Charlie Bellfield, Sega VP of PR during the Dreamcast era passed away yesterday. It’s easy to take shots at marketing or PR, but everyone in the game industry knows that a good PR person is worth their weight in gold. And personally and professionally, Charles, sometimes known as Charles Charlie Charles of the Fabulous Charles Brothers, was absolutely one of the best. Later, when he was at Capcom. he was responsible for the call to release the E3 multiplayer demo of Lost Planet publicly via Xbox Live, months before the game came out. It was a bold (and risky) move at the time, and had never been attempted previously on console. Needless to say, it paid off, and helped give Capcom huge momentum in the early Xbox 360 generation.
We’ll miss you Mr. Bellfield!

Super sad news today that Charlie Bellfield, Sega VP of PR during the Dreamcast era passed away yesterday. It’s easy to take shots at marketing or PR, but everyone in the game industry knows that a good PR person is worth their weight in gold. And personally and professionally, Charles, sometimes known as Charles Charlie Charles of the Fabulous Charles Brothers, was absolutely one of the best.

Later, when he was at Capcom. he was responsible for the call to release the E3 multiplayer demo of Lost Planet publicly via Xbox Live, months before the game came out. It was a bold (and risky) move at the time, and had never been attempted previously on console. Needless to say, it paid off, and helped give Capcom huge momentum in the early Xbox 360 generation.

We’ll miss you Mr. Bellfield!