Thursday, September 06, 2007


In Which Electric Dilintia Becomes a Platform for Narcissistic Self-Promotion

So a new video game has unexpectedly hit my radar, due for release in November. But as exciting as it's been to find out about Harvey Birdman (and as heartbreaking as it's been to find out that Capcom is publishing the title, rather than producing it), this news is even bigger than that. For me, anyway.

There's a new homebrew game called Melbourne Tatty being produced for the Atari 2600. And it's really only significant because I wrote it.

Thanks to a door prize that my dad won at a company picnic when I was little -- an old Timex/Sinclair TV computer whose RAM cleared out if you touched it wrong -- I've been programming pretty much since I learned how to read. It's always been an ambition of mine to make real video games -- as in, games that enjoyed popularity beyond the people I ate lunch with in high school and/or games that had more than just a text-based interface. It just so happened that getting an Atari Flashback 2 led me to the homebrew community, which in turn led me to a ludicrously simple system for Atari programming, which led to an output of three or four games over the past year, which led to an email from someone in the Atari Age forums who wanted to produce and sell one of the games I wrote.

And you know, it would be neat if I could write the article about what it's like to be a self-made software developer, churning out cutting edge games from my basement, but the truth is, I feel like I'm just an accessory to this process that's just exploding all around me.

First, of course, there's one of my best friends, James Cliffe, who inspired me with the premise and also named the game for me. As I was putting it together, I posted rough drafts of the binary to the Atari Age forums, where I received no end of helpful suggestions on how to turn my ill-formed piece of crap into something playable. So I went on sort of... scotch taping features onto it until it resembled something that could be confused for a video game.

And then I lost interest in it for about a year.

That's when I got the email from a guy who calls himself neotokeo. He got Fred Quimby, the creator of the programming language I use, to fix all of the bugs and clean up all of the sound and graphics issues that I just plain couldn't be bothered with. The end result is beautiful, at least as cool looking as some of Atari's earliest games. Took him three days to fix stuff I'd been sitting on for a year. And then he got a guy who calls himself Atariboy to create label art and a full-page comic strip ad for the game. He turned my vague back story and blocky sprites into real characters and basically single-handedly invented the setting.

And all the time, I'm just sitting here, oooing and ahhhing. I'm not paying these guys anything -- in fact, I'm getting royalties for every cartridge that sells. The whole experience has been very humiliating, in the sense that it's given me a profound sense of humility. I've always thought that homebrewers were essentially tiny gods, creating these awe-inspiring projects through an act of sheer will, but here I find myself surrounded by people who are much more talented than me, who all seem to have some sort of mysterious affection for this weird little game I made.

The whole thing's just beyond cool. Certainly a reason for me to drag my Atari out of the closet again.


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