Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

2Aug/11Off

Tomorrow’s Promise

This is the eleventh article in the Where We Came From series.

Alien approaching ship on surface of Fractalus

At first there is nothing except the hot, orange glow of the toxic Fractalus atmosphere. A second later, ragged mountains and valleys fill the cockpit window and the player gasps.

Tomorrow, it appears, is already possible.

It Starts With George Lucas

While producing the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas felt physical model-based special effects were limiting and established the Lucasfilm Computer Division in 1979 to explore the application of computers to special effects work. State of the art hardware was not good enough for the challenges of the big screen so the division’s goal was to prepare for when technology had caught up with the ambition.

Then in 1982, Atari suggested Lucasfilm should diversify its business into video games. A partnership was forged in which Atari paid Lucasfilm $1M to fund the Computer Division's Games Group. In return, Lucasfilm would develop games for Atari’s platforms.

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26Jul/11Off

The Fukushima Syndrome, 2

This is the tenth article in the Where We Came From series.

Last week: Attempting to learn more about the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, I study a complex simulation program that was released on the Atari 400/800 computer in 1981, SCRAM by Chris Crawford. I've read the manual and bought the T-shirt. Now it's time to show this reactor what I'm made of.

Atoms, apparently.

It's probably just me, but I like to visualise the process of nuclear fission as atomic sex. All it takes is just one neutron to penetrate the heart of an atom, to fertilise it. The fertilised atom divides into two and, in this orgasm of reproduction, fires more neutrons into the atomic void. These neutrons find other atoms to fertilise... and the reactor core becomes a vast, self-sustaining sex orgy.

But what happens if the orgy gets out of control? How do you stop nuclear reproduction? Obvious. Nuclear condoms.

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19Jul/11Off

The Fukushima Syndrome, 1

This is the ninth article in the Where We Came From series.

Tsunami impacts roadway

On March 11, 2011, a wall of water made an incursion on the Pacific coast of Japan, travelling six miles inland to erase 15,000 people and the places they lived.

The tsunami also attacked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and took out its generators, leaving the reactor for dead. What followed was a desperate attempt to shut down the reactor's enraged metal heart in a battle that continues to this day. Fukushima is not Chernobyl but the environmental impact remains significant as radioactive material continues to leak from the site.

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13Jul/11Off

The Creative Urge: Peter Liepa

Peter Liepa

Peter Liepa

This is the eighth article in the Where We Came From series.

Yesterday, Electron Dance examined Boulder Dash, an important title in Atari 8-bit gaming genealogy which gave birth to a franchise that still survives to this day.

Today the author of Boulder Dash, Peter Liepa, talks to Electron Dance on mathematical visualization, career choices and why there are no more Peter Liepa games.

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12Jul/11Off

Between A Rock And A Hard Diamond

This is the seventh article in the Where We Came From series.

Toronto, 1982. Peter Liepa, having never written a computer game before, reached out to a local game publisher asking for what kind of ideas might be in vogue. The publisher put him in touch with another programmer, Chris Gray, who had built a game prototype in Atari Basic. It shared some similarities with the arcade game The Pit (Centuri, 1982), in which the player is sent to retrieve jewels from an underground cavern filled with dirt and rocks.

Liepa took on the job of converting it to machine language but felt the game was not compelling enough, so he began pushing the concept in directions he found more interesting. It soon became apparent Gray and Liepa were pursuing divergent design goals and their collaboration broke down to the point where lawyers were eventually needed to resolve ownership of the final product.

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14Jun/11Off

Stanley Kubrick Is Gone

This is the third article in the Where We Came From series.

"When I was 12 years old, I picked up a medical encyclopaedia and it told me, in unequivocal terms, that people with CF die by 13. So I had my middle-age crisis real fast, and every year since about 15 or so feels like getting extra balls on a pinball machine."

1982. While the British belt out Come on Eileen like a football anthem, across the pond, the Atari Program Exchange releases a small game about a salmon swimming upriver. It's an unassuming début for someone who would one day be referred to as the "Stanley Kubrick of game design". But Bill Williams, who always feels like he is living on borrowed time, learns fast.

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24Dec/10Off

The Mistress

Electron Dance commentmeister Badger Commander posted an essay on his blog about why he doesn’t play PC games. This was a flagrant attempt to cover his ass regarding his play-outside-of-my-gaming-comfort-zone "12 games before Christmas" project which looked dangerously incomplete on 21 December. So rather than make a fuss about it in the opening paragraph of an Electron Dance post, I will discuss something else: my personal journey towards PC gamedom.

The personal computer, an organic, indistinct concept, is still with us while the kerb is littered with dead hardware like the Neo Geo, Sega Saturn and the home computer. Mrs. HM often refers to the PC as my mistress, a statement that has nothing to do with the stains on the keyboard and everything to do with the time I spend away from her. But this state of affairs was not by design.

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18Oct/10Off

Was Dirk Benedict Right?

I was never a fan of Battlestar Galactica in the 70s. I was more Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I was more Doctor Who. I was more Sapphire And Steel.

But after Galactica closed its launch tubes for the last time, fans hoped for its eventual return to Earth. Richard Hatch, who played the character of Apollo in the original series, put together a trailer in 1999 for a new Galactica project, a revival dubbed The Second Coming.

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1Sep/10Off

Not Everything Survives Intact

Look, I can be even-handed. Whilst I will vigorously defend the Atari VCS box art to my dying day against all manner of internet yahoos, I can only gaze at Atari television commercials the way a rabbit stares at oncoming headlights. They generate a feeling that can only be described as "The End Times are upon us!"

In the United of Kingdom, I don't recall a great number of Atari VCS adverts, and it was always an event when one came on. I'm not kidding - they were so rare that my father tried to record the damn things on the VCR. The United of American States had a lot more, but it seems that the Americans suffered for this. There is a selection of truly cringing moments over on Milo.

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27Aug/10Off

He Who Judgeth By The Cover…

If it wasn't for having a grand old time watching Inception yesterday, I might be less charitable towards a three-part article that compares box art for Atari 2600 video games with the games themselves. It is a sniggering thing, the child in school mocking our stupid ancestors who thought the world was flat, who somehow should have known better. The sarcastic commentary implies the box art was an over-zealous attempt to hype up what was just a bunch of coloured blocks, a handful of electronic chirps and beeps.

There's nothing wrong with box art being abstract; the only difference is that graphics have now caught up with the ambitions of the box artist.

I condemned Bioshock trailers for not being representative of the actual game; isn't that just the same as the box art issue? No, of course not, I haven't got a hypocritical bone in my body and don't you forget it. The difference is those trailers are doing their damnedest to impress you that this is what the game will be like. No one would look upon box art, particularly in decades past, and expect it to be a fair representation of the game. There was no wool being pulled over anyone's eyes. No one was fooled or shocked that a perfect rendition of a fighter jet was not to be found in the game itself. Box art conjures mood, projects feel.

Why am I so prickly about this? Well, sir, these things are my childhood, my induction into the halls of gaming - and down the line, programming. If any XBOX noobs decide to travel into the past to convince Nolan Bushnell that he should use something a bit more authentic on his boxes, then don't be fucking surprised if I send some Skynet terminators along for the ride to hunt your sorry ass down.

Why don't you have a gander at some of the original Atari game boxes at this wonderful little Atari box art browser?

I have more to say on this, but for now, au revoir my pretties.