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Ports, Trademarks, and Originals


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#1 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 9:20 AM

This may be awkward timing to start this topic, considering that I've been plugging Juno First every chance I get, but I was reading the topic in the Colecovision forum that pushed the idea that it ONLY makes sense to do arcade ports, and it kind of ticked me off. So I really want to bust open this issue because it's been gnawing at me for a long time.

It's my opinion that the hobby has kind of lost sight of the creative process of making new game designs, and is almost exclusively concerned with either porting coinop games or adapting trademarked properties from movies, TV, comic books, etc.. (usually with hacks).

Now, I don't think ports are necessarily a bad idea. On the Vectrex for instance, the official library left huge gaps just waiting to be filled, and homebrews have done just that. I also like the technical challenges of porting coinop games to the 2600. Juno First with all of the moving objects is a good example. Prince of Persia is hopefully going to be another example.

But I think when the inevitable topic of "what would you like to see next for a homebrew" the assumption is that we're talking about which PORT would you like to see next. The idea that someone would come up with a totally original game, like Oystron which I hold up as the gold standard, is not even considered. And in the Coleco thread people are making a justification why originals are a bad idea that sounds like the marketing department of Infogrames! "Sorry, new ideas are too risky. Known properties will sell better." Is this what the hobby has turned into?

And I'm not sure this way of thinking is a homebrew thing. This is true of all entertainment in general, where everything seems to be a remake, a reboot, or a "port" from one medium to another (superheroes and graphic novels being the big thing right now).

Now most if not all of us have MAME and if we want the perfect arcade experience we can have it. And so many of these games have been played to death already, I'm wondering how much true play value some of them offer rather than just getting put on the shelf as a collector's item? But remember when you brought home that new Activision game and popped it in for the first time? That was a new experience. A new play mechanic. A new theme. That has value and I just don't see a lot of appreciation for that in the homebrew scene these days.

When I was interviewing Tod Frye, paraphrasing him, he said that management at Atari Inc., after the success of Space Invaders, went from thinking that coinop ports were a good thing to do, to thinking that they were the ONLY thing to do. And while this was lucrative, it was not very creative. Activision on the other hand tried to avoid ports, and while Kaboom was inspired by Avalanche, Megamania by Astro Blaster, and Dragster from Drag Race, none were advertised as direct ports. As such I think the Activision catalog stands by itself more as a creative body of work.

So I'm not saying ports are bad, but I really would like to see more passion for new game ideas. It's so easy to take that creative short-cut and start from a preexisting idea. That's something that you really have to resist because once you go down the port route, there is almost an endless number of ideas to cop if you count everything that's come and gone in the industry. You have to make a commitment to start from a blank slate and I don't see a lot of people doing that, nor do I see many people other than myself even clamoring for that. So it's a self-reinforcing thing.

My feeling is that homebrewing becomes too routine or (dare I say, corporate?) if it's only about "what do we port next".

Edited by mos6507, Thu Nov 5, 2009 9:22 AM.


#2 Cebus Capucinis OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 9:52 AM

You have to remember, however, that the majority of the userbase for vintage and collector electronics like the VCS, ColecoVision, Intellivision, etc. is primarily interested in it for nostalgia purposes. Original homebrews do not reinforce that nostalgic feeling as much as popping in a homebrew of a remembered arcade game from the era, even if it were never on the system to begin with.

I think it basically boils down to demand. People generally demand ports of arcade classics for the aforementioned reason and others. Homebrewers thus have more incentive to develop these titles rather than work on an original title.

I agree with you on quite a bit of this. The original homebrews are just as cool if not better in some ways. I'm currently chomping away at Mean Santa and that game is both original and incredibly addicting.

We need ports to help with that nostalgia and garner excitement, but we also need those originals to push the envelope and see what can be done.

One really can't exist without the other, and a balance of both is optimal.

#3 youki ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 10:31 AM

Another point , it is that it is lot of easier, in general, for a developper to do a game port than an original game.

For a port, the developper have only to concentrate more or less on technical things . To make an original game it is another challenge, you have to find a game mechanics that works and be addictive , you have to imagine a graphic theme , an then write the game and solve technical challenges. Design a good game
is not easy. It is even harder than develop. There is lot of bad game that are very good technically. (for instance : Shadow of beast on Amiga (ok..no so bad...but no so good in term of gameplay))

So one way to go , is to take "existing" concept and try to adapt to another game.

For my First Homebrew "Ghost'n Zombies" on colecovision. I didn't want spend time on game "concept". I wanted to learn the console. So i take a game that seemed oversized for a colecovision , and tried to get "the spirit" of the game and put it in the coleco. That was a very good way to learn the limit of the console! :) the result is something between a port and an original game. My next game , however, will be 100% original as i don't need to spend time to learn the console , i can use that time to design a new game.

#4 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 11:27 AM

You have to remember, however, that the majority of the userbase for vintage and collector electronics like the VCS, ColecoVision, Intellivision, etc. is primarily interested in it for nostalgia purposes.


But there is a fine line between nostalgia and boredom. Like if I turn on classic radio, I can not stand listening to "Taking Care of Business" by BTO anymore. There is a long list of coinop titles that, no matter how good they are, have been done to death on every platform imaginable. Am I going to get a nostalgia high playing Ms. Pac-Man on yet another console? Probably not. That was the reason I chose Death Race 10 years ago, because it was obscure and could not even be emulated in Mame.

Now, I don't want to insult anybody's efforts, but let's look at what's in the store for the 7800. Every single one of them is a port (Beef Drop being Burgertime) of a well known coin-op except for Wasp.

The ironic thing is that one of the criticisms that people here made of Atari's handling of the 7800 was that they commissioned yet another batch of aging coin-op ports rather than doing new games the way Nintendo did for the NES. And 25 years onward we're still doing just that.

The question is, is this really want people want to see the most or what they've become conditioned to expect due to the lack of originals? Is it the chicken or the egg?

This thread is meant to be provocative because I think the hobby deserves a little introspection. I think things have gotten a little too formulaic and predictable lately.

Edited by mos6507, Thu Nov 5, 2009 11:32 AM.


#5 jaybird3rd ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 11:37 AM

Well, first of all, it doesn't surprise me that somebody on the ColecoVision boards would say that "it only makes sense to do arcade ports," since the ColecoVision was almost nothing but arcade ports. That's why, at a time when emulation of the originals is readily available (as you point out), there's almost no reason to own a ColecoVision, at least in my opinion.

But I wholeheartedly agree that we need something more than ports of existing games, however excellent those ports might be. I remember the Todd Frye interview, and I think I can understand how frustrating it must have been in both the consumer and coin-op divisions at Atari in the early 1980s. On the one hand, Atari had a brilliant game production system with consumer and coin-op under one roof: new game ideas were tested and proven in the arcade, and then mass-marketed using the technology that was available in home consoles and computers. But on the other hand, the coin-op developers who came up with the original ideas weren't seeing any of the generous royalties that the 2600 programmers enjoyed (during the time when there were royalties), and the 2600 programmers probably had ideas of their own that they would have much preferred to do.

I can understand how the economics of the business pushed it in that direction, but now that those factors no longer apply, there's no reason that developers should be limited to ports from other systems. I can certainly see why someone would want to start out with doing a port, given how difficult it is to learn the intricacies of a new platform and develop new game ideas at the same time. But once programmers know the capabilities of the platform of their choice, they shouldn't continue to rely on the crutch of preexisting ideas, but should feel free to branch out and experiment and refine their own ideas into something totally new. I've got several ideas of my own that I'm looking forward to implementing, including a new board game and a variety of puzzle games, all of which would work well on a classic console. They may not be as popular or as marketable as a port of some big-name arcade space shooter, but in my opinion, popularity and marketability are not in and of themselves the proper reasons for investing one's time and effort in developing games for obsolete platforms. The primary motivator of the greatest creative people was not those who might enjoy or use their creations, but their own need to create.

Charles Murray wrote something in his book Human Accomplishment about creative work that I think is relevant here:

A story is told about the medieval stone masons who carved the gargoyles that adorn the great Gothic cathedrals. Sometimes their creations were positioned high upon the cathedral, hidden behind cornices or otherwise blocked from view, invisible from any vantage point on the ground. They sculpted these gargoyles as carefully as any of the others, even knowing that once the cathedral was completed and the scaffolding was taken down, their work would remain forever unseen by any human eye. It was said that they carved for the eye of God. That, written in a thousand variations, is the story of human accomplishment. (Page 458)


One other issue I might mention ... as much as I love the 2600, I'd love to see more people developing games for something else. I think the overemphasis on the 2600 is another factor limiting developers' creativity. Notwithstanding the wonderful flexibility and versatility of the 2600 architecture, there's only so much you can do with it before you begin copying or elaborating upon old ideas. I think that's one reason we've seen add-ons such as the Harmony cartridge, the AtariVox, and so on. I have no desire to downplay the contributions of the people who have created these add-ons; I'm impressed by their skill and they've accomplished some wonderful things, certainly more than I could ever do given my limited knowledge of hardware. Just the same, I must say that I have very mixed feelings about these products. Putting a SuperChip inside a 2600 cartridge to add a little more memory or bankswitching a 32K ROM into a 4K address space is one thing; that's simply extending capabilities that the console already has. But adding on external coprocessors and sound chips and other modern upgrades dilutes the platform, transforming it into something totally different. There are other classic platforms out there that offer these capabilities (and more!) already, and in my opinion, the people who genuinely need these capabilities for their games would do better to adopt one of those platforms, rather than (in effect) creating a new platform out of upgrades bolted onto the 2600 and developing for that. Personally, I'm starting out on the 7800, and will also develop for the TI 99/4A someday, because those are platforms that have more creative potential and that don't get enough support (although I'm glad to see that the 7800 is finally getting more attention).

If nothing else, consider this: some of the best gameplay ideas from the 2600 came about because of the developers' need to work around certain limitations and quirks of the hardware. The nature of the platform itself added a certain distinctive "flavor" to the games, and that was equally true of the Intellivision and the Odyssey^2. Stretching that metaphor even further, the classic console and computer lineup is like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and no matter how much you dress it up, the 2600 is just the same old meatloaf at this point. Developers should try serving up something else, and collectors and players alike should have the courage to break their old eating habits and see what else is on the table.

Edited by jaybird3rd, Thu Nov 5, 2009 11:39 AM.


#6 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 11:50 AM

What I'm seeing lately is games get more complicated and require more collaboration in the art department. So already it's moving beyond the one-person-one-game metaphor. And that's still with the 2600. Once you move off onto the 5200/8-bit or anything more elaborate than that, then games can get hopelessly lost in the process of creating graphical assets. I think this explains why the 2600 and the Vectrex remain the preeminent homebrew platforms. The 2600 has a pretty hard limit, even with banked ROMs, on the artwork, and the Vectrex is just line graphics. Then you look at something like the Jaguar which can host some pretty elaborate stuff, even if you just look at 2D gaming, and you'll never see a homebrew that looks like, let's say, Rayman. So simpler platforms provide a convenient rationalization for limited graphics. You're both doing everything the platform can do and everything your rudimentary artistic skills and limited schedule can produce.

#7 jaybird3rd ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 12:01 PM

What I'm seeing lately is games get more complicated and require more collaboration in the art department. So already it's moving beyond the one-person-one-game metaphor. And that's still with the 2600. Once you move off onto the 5200/8-bit or anything more elaborate than that, then games can get hopelessly lost in the process of creating graphical assets. I think this explains why the 2600 and the Vectrex remain the preeminent homebrew platforms. The 2600 has a pretty hard limit, even with banked ROMs, on the artwork, and the Vectrex is just line graphics. Then you look at something like the Jaguar which can host some pretty elaborate stuff, even if you just look at 2D gaming, and you'll never see a homebrew that looks like, let's say, Rayman. So simpler platforms provide a convenient rationalization for limited graphics. You're both doing everything the platform can do and everything your rudimentary artistic skills and limited schedule can produce.

That's very true. One of the things I like about the 7800 is that it strikes just the right balance: it has enough display power to liberate the programmer from the limitations of the 2600's player-missile graphics architecture, but doesn't add so much capability that the games necessarily require a pixel artist to look their best. The most widely used 7800 display modes have the same resolution as the 2600, only with more colors and more moving objects. I think someone with the right mix of technical and artistic ability can push the 7800 to its limits, too. Of course, this all depends on the type of game one is trying to do.

#8 accousticguitar OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 12:42 PM

I agree with CebusCapucinis, an original game is not going to sell as well as a well known arcade port. That being said, my second homebrew is a totally original game (as far as I know). :D

#9 jrok OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 1:22 PM

It may also be a byproduct of the culture at large. For at least the past 15 years, producers have focused their efforts on recycling TV shows, films, comic books and video games based on proven intellectual properties they already own or license, rather than take risks on untested material. This seems completely relevant in terms of their world. The science of marketing has grown tenfold over that period in step with the speed of information processing, and nobody wants to be known as the person who took a big-budget risk on a colossal flop.

When it comes to homebrews, there might be some runoff. It's strange, but the dynamic probably isn't even as different as it seems on the surface. None of us are working with massive budgets and teams of producers, but the sheer amount of personal time a programmer invests in finishing a game for a classic system is probably tantmount to this. And a flop of a homebrew could be more deeply and personally disapointing then the multimillion dollar movie that tanks on its second weekend. Even if it's just a hobby, who wants to spend hundreds if not thousands of hours of their lives creating something that nobody wants to play and enjoy? Setting out to make a accurate port for an extremely limited console requires tremendous knowledge, resourcefulness and creative problem solving. But designing an original, popular game purely from your imagination is probably even more challenging, even if it's just with a deck of cards or a rock and a stick. Not only is there the whole matter of "there's nothing new under the sun" to conquer, but if people dislike your game then the whole damn thing is your fault.

Edited by jrok, Thu Nov 5, 2009 2:29 PM.


#10 batari OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 2:10 PM

This thread is meant to be provocative because I think the hobby deserves a little introspection. I think things have gotten a little too formulaic and predictable lately.

I agree with the general sentiment here. As much as I think e.g Ladybug is an amazing techncal achievement, I can't get excited about it. In particular, Ladybug is one of the least original games - it even displays the self-test text on startup. It's kind of neat that such a faithful port can be created the for 2600, but it's so close, I might as well fire up MAME.

Obscure ports are OK with me, though. For example, Crazy Balloon is my favorite of Manuel's games because of this.

Some of my sentiment comes from my youth when I tried my hand at game design. My brother and some friends designed games on notebook and graph paper and wrote some in BASIC and started on a major project that was to be 100% assembly. These games were original and we even wrote "original games" on the folders where we kept the documents and on the disk labels where we kept the programs.

One other issue I might mention ... as much as I love the 2600, I'd love to see more people developing games for something else. I think the overemphasis on the 2600 is another factor limiting developers' creativity. Notwithstanding the wonderful flexibility and versatility of the 2600 architecture, there's only so much you can do with it before you begin copying or elaborating upon old ideas. I think that's one reason we've seen add-ons such as the Harmony cartridge, the AtariVox, and so on. I have no desire to downplay the contributions of the people who have created these add-ons; I'm impressed by their skill and they've accomplished some wonderful things, certainly more than I could ever do given my limited knowledge of hardware. Just the same, I must say that I have very mixed feelings about these products. Putting a SuperChip inside a 2600 cartridge to add a little more memory or bankswitching a 32K ROM into a 4K address space is one thing; that's simply extending capabilities that the console already has. But adding on external coprocessors and sound chips and other modern upgrades dilutes the platform, transforming it into something totally different.

I disagree that addon hardware necessarily dilutes the system. It depends on how the hardware is used. Adding an actual Superchip isn't any different, functionally, than using SRAM and PLD chips to perform the same functions, or even using a microprocessor to perform the task of the Superchip. In a sense, harvesting actual Superchips for games sort of defeats part of the creative process itself, in that hardware design was definitely a part of the process back then and harvesting chips is circumventing part of that process.

For that matter, it should not be considered "cheating" to use modern hardware to functionally simulate anything that was possible and practical in the 80's. That includes bankswitching schemes with lots of RAM, or things like Pitfall II's DPC chip.

Many schemes beyond just "standard" bankswitching and Superchip were all possible in the 80's with custom silicon, and could be produced for low unit cost given big budgets and production quantities. One thing Melody/Harmony does is make these capabilities possible and practical to homebrewers for homebrew budgets and in homebrew quantities.

While you can use the modern hardware to extend the capabilities beyond what would be possible or practical in the 80's, it doesn't have to be used that way.

There are other classic platforms out there that offer these capabilities (and more!) already, and in my opinion, the people who genuinely need these capabilities for their games would do better to adopt one of those platforms, rather than (in effect) creating a new platform out of upgrades bolted onto the 2600 and developing for that. Personally, I'm starting out on the 7800, and will also develop for the TI 99/4A someday, because those are platforms that have more creative potential and that don't get enough support (although I'm glad to see that the 7800 is finally getting more attention).

Even with a coprocessor that does actual copressing, the 2600 is still a 2600 and still limited by the TIA chip.

Edited by batari, Thu Nov 5, 2009 2:11 PM.


#11 eshu OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 3:03 PM

I was just saying on another thread how interesting it is how different peoples attitude to writing homebrew is. As mos6507 pointed out the issue goes right back to the original developers:

When I was interviewing Tod Frye, paraphrasing him, he said that management at Atari Inc., after the success of Space Invaders, went from thinking that coinop ports were a good thing to do, to thinking that they were the ONLY thing to do. And while this was lucrative, it was not very creative. Activision on the other hand tried to avoid ports, and while Kaboom was inspired by Avalanche, Megamania by Astro Blaster, and Dragster from Drag Race, none were advertised as direct ports. As such I think the Activision catalog stands by itself more as a creative body of work.


It's also interesting that the different developers had very different attitudes to various effects on the 2600, activision achieved some amazing things while almost completely avoiding flicker while atari achieved some great results with "intelligent" flicker.

I don't think there is any need to think one point of view is superior to another, they are just different.

One other issue I might mention ... as much as I love the 2600, I'd love to see more people developing games for something else. I think the overemphasis on the 2600 is another factor limiting developers' creativity. Notwithstanding the wonderful flexibility and versatility of the 2600 architecture, there's only so much you can do with it before you begin copying or elaborating upon old ideas.


From a personal perspective it's the TIA that drew me towards the 2600 - it's a truly unique and intrigueing part of the 2600's architecture, and I think there's still a bit of juice left in the old girl yet - I think it can still be pushed further than it ever has been before. But it's this that draws me towards writing original games (disclaimer: I'm not a "completer-finisher" so don't expect anything soon ;) ) which can be more tailored to the limitations and features of the TIA. From my limited understanding of display lists I understand there are also unique opportunities on the various atari systems which use these. I'm also a terrible perfectionist when it comes to these things and the scale of 2600 (small) gives me the best chance of ever actually finishing anything.

I agree with CebusCapucinis, an original game is not going to sell as well as a well known arcade port. That being said, my second homebrew is a totally original game (as far as I know).


Again this is just my opinion but I do find it mad that people talk about sales. Like many others on these boards I'm sure, some of my work involves coding in assembler. If I was to charge for a job that required the same amount of time, and was of the same technical level as writing a worthwile game for the 2600 (in assembler)- I would expect the cost to go into tens and more likely hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course anyone wants as many people as possible to play and enjoy there game - but why not just post the binary for free, then if your game is at all interesting, your bound to get a fair few people to at least try it. If anyone's motivation for writing homebrew is financial gain then they are doing the wrong thing.

I can understand that some people are also producing the hardware themselves and so have to take on certain financial burdens to do so, but if they can afford the time to write the thing I don't see how they could not be able to afford to take a small financial loss.

A story is told about the medieval stone masons who carved the gargoyles that adorn the great Gothic cathedrals. Sometimes their creations were positioned high upon the cathedral, hidden behind cornices or otherwise blocked from view, invisible from any vantage point on the ground. They sculpted these gargoyles as carefully as any of the others, even knowing that once the cathedral was completed and the scaffolding was taken down, their work would remain forever unseen by any human eye. It was said that they carved for the eye of God. That, written in a thousand variations, is the story of human accomplishment. (Page 458)


That is an amazing quote and probably sums up far more eloquently than I could most of what I wanted to say on the subject :)

EDIT: I also wanted to mention Dungeon, which certainly couldn't be called a port and seems to be getting some pretty good feedback on the forums.

Edited by eshu, Thu Nov 5, 2009 3:06 PM.


#12 VectorGamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 3:16 PM

I don't understand - home brewers are not forced to write ports so therefore how does this inhibit the creation of original home brews?

Are you asking for brain storming threads regarding the development of original home brews? I have some ideas, but nobody's going to code them. That's probably why everyone just comes up with a list of arcade ports that would be essential to the ColecoVision library.

Reading across these forums I've gotten the impression that the home brew artists are going to develop what they want to develop. What's the typical response:

Gamer: I have an idea for a great game. Flying lobsters invade planet Earth and you are a hyena that must defend mankind by spraying them with French's yellow mustard. Every so often a power pellet appears that when you chomp on it a Boxcar Willie song comes on which in effect acts as a smart bomb and annihilates everything on the screen.

Home Brewer: So learn how to code and write it yourself.

#13 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:14 PM

I don't understand - home brewers are not forced to write ports so therefore how does this inhibit the creation of original home brews?


It's not about overt force. It's about a cultural inertia. When I first got into the hobby, we thought we were a weirdos being interested in these old systems. But now it seems like all entertainment these days is pop culture recycling. So the retro stuff couldn't be any more mainstream. Hence the 2600 sticks, the commercial emulators, the Playstation Network. To me, having a new game on a classic system is all the nostalgia I need. It doesn't have to itself be a port of a 20+ year old coinop game for me to feel the retro vibe. Maybe I'm weird that way.

Edited by mos6507, Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:21 PM.


#14 jaybird3rd ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:15 PM

I disagree that addon hardware necessarily dilutes the system. It depends on how the hardware is used.

I understand your points. I can see how the Harmony cartridge is in some ways a logical extension of the kinds of additions that were made to the 2600 architecture during the system's lifetime. I'm going to develop my thoughts further on expansion versus dilution in the context of game hardware and how I draw the line between the two, but that would distract from the purpose of this thread. My remarks on that subject, and on the relative merits of the 2600 as a hobby development platform in particular, were really secondary concerns.

The primary issue, it seems, is: what is motivating hobby developers to prefer the old and familiar game ideas that they choose, as opposed to something more offbeat or original? If they're motivated primarily by money or attention (or, put differently, if they're wary of creating anything "too unusual" for fear that it won't sell well), why have they chosen decades-old consoles as their platform of choice instead of something more mainstream? And, as Glenn asked earlier, is the demand for ports a result of developers making little else, or do developers choose ports because the market won't accept anything else?

#15 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:23 PM

BTW, most of the original game ideas I do see have been in the holiday carts, and they sell like hotcakes. Of course, those are "themed" so maybe they don't count.

#16 batari OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:56 PM

The primary issue, it seems, is: what is motivating hobby developers to prefer the old and familiar game ideas that they choose, as opposed to something more offbeat or original? If they're motivated primarily by money or attention (or, put differently, if they're wary of creating anything "too unusual" for fear that it won't sell well), why have they chosen decades-old consoles as their platform of choice instead of something more mainstream? And, as Glenn asked earlier, is the demand for ports a result of developers making little else, or do developers choose ports because the market won't accept anything else?

I played games of course, but I was also very interested in how they were created. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who sat at the kitchen table with colored pencils and graph paper as a kid, hoping to come up with the next great game. Somehow, recreating arcade favorites was not in the equation here.

Some of my best memories as a youth were programming on the family computer and being so engrossed by it, day turned into night but I didn't get up to even turn on the light, so I programmed by the light of the monitor, sometimes until the birds started chirping the next morning. Of course those were BASIC games but it was fun nonetheless.

I would have loved to write games for the 2600, and I tried to talk my parents into buying me a "Frob" (look it up) but that was a pipe dream.

By the time I was skilled enough to create something meaningful, the platforms I grew up on lost their relevance and so did my motivation.

#17 GroovyBee OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:57 PM

One of the things I like about the 7800 is that it strikes just the right balance: it has enough display power to liberate the programmer from the limitations of the 2600's player-missile graphics architecture, but doesn't add so much capability that the games necessarily require a pixel artist to look their best.


The 7800 games I've developed with the help of a pixel artist have been much more fun to work on. Its good to work in a little team. You end up bringing the best out in each other. Plus, it leaves me to concentratre on developing the code to make the graphics do their stuff :D. The artists also do a far better job of the graphics than I ever could.

The most widely used 7800 display modes have the same resolution as the 2600, only with more colors and more moving objects. I think someone with the right mix of technical and artistic ability can push the 7800 to its limits, too. Of course, this all depends on the type of game one is trying to do.


Looking at the back catalogue of the 7800 none of the games have made me think "Hmm... Wonder how they did that?". I don't think the games of its heyday pushed the machine to the ragged edge. Many of the games could have been done so much better. More colours, use of DLIs etc would have made the games outstanding.

Reading across these forums I've gotten the impression that the home brew artists are going to develop what they want to develop. What's the typical response:


The problem is "the vision". The person with the game idea (AKA "the vision") and the preson who is the programmer will almost certainly have different ideas about what is achievable e.g. sprite sizes, colours, background etc. You also need the passion and the time to make the vision come true. Unless the vision is yours (speaking as a developer) it can be hard to motivate yourself to work on it.

#18 VectorGamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 5:00 PM

To me, having a new game on a classic system is all the nostalgia I need. It doesn't have to itself be a port of a 20+ year old coinop game for me to feel the retro vibe. Maybe I'm weird that way.


F 'em. If I had the talent I would write "Hyena vs. the Flying Lobsters" game (which is sounding pretty good, I might add!) and if it didn't sell who cares...it should be as you said a hobby that you can enjoy and not a job

#19 jaybird3rd ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 5:25 PM

I played games of course, but I was also very interested in how they were created. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who sat at the kitchen table with colored pencils and graph paper as a kid, hoping to come up with the next great game. Somehow, recreating arcade favorites was not in the equation here.

Some of my best memories as a youth were programming on the family computer and being so engrossed by it, day turned into night but I didn't get up to even turn on the light, so I programmed by the light of the monitor, sometimes until the birds started chirping the next morning. Of course those were BASIC games but it was fun nonetheless.

I did the same thing. When I was six or seven, I'd sit in front of my 99/4A with graph paper and would convert my drawings to hex codes for use in my BASIC programs. I'd watch the liquid-smooth graphics on the 2600 and drive myself crazy trying to do something similar on the 99/4A, programming until late at night and wondering why I couldn't get it to work. I didn't realize until years later that programming in assembly allowed you to do certain things that BASIC (at least on the 99/4A) couldn't; I thought at the time that everyone used BASIC because that was all I had ever seen. It's too bad nobody gave me a copy of the TI Editor/Assembler cartridge and the 99/4A hardware manual; I bet I could have figured it all out, even at that age.

For me, it wasn't about recreating my favorite arcade games (I don't think I had ever been to an arcade at that time), and I never thought my ideas would make a ton of money; I just knew my ideas were good and I needed to see them out in the world. I don't think my motivation was all that different from that of most creative people, and now that I understand the process of game development infinitely better than I did back then, it's still what motivates me. That motivation would totally disappear if I knew I was only going to be rehashing somebody else's old game, which is why it's so sad to see such a large percentage of non-original content from hobby developers. I don't want to see how well they can port someone else's game ideas; I want to see their ideas!

Edited by jaybird3rd, Thu Nov 5, 2009 5:58 PM.


#20 accousticguitar OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 8:01 PM

I'm not really a programmer, but when I saw Dodge It on the Phosphor Dot Fossils Level 2 video I thought "Wow, what a great game! I wonder why it hasn't been ported to the 2600." I don't have a Fairchild Channel F, and I likely never will, so playing the game on the original hardware was out of the question. As far as I was concerned, the game needed to be programmed on the 2600 so I could enjoy playing it. Thanks to batari Basic, I was able to make it happen.

#21 Legend OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Nov 5, 2009 8:21 PM

I think new ideas and concepts in homebrews would be better than ports in my opinion. I like classic gaming like 2600 for more than just nostalgia. I like them because they are genuinely fun games and many of them can be picked up and played for short periods of time and be satisfied by it.

I love to play brand new games for 2600 like Dungeon, Melbourne Tatty and Pirate. I don't really think market should be the main focus to determine whether to make a port or an original game. Most people who make homebrews these days are in it more for the challenge and as a hobby as opposed to making money. That's my understanding anyways.

I think the new originals like Charge, Circus Galactus, and the Hero Quest Themed shooter games look like great fun to play.

For new ports, I think they should at least add some new innovations, variations, or improvements to make them a unique version of the original for the platform they are being developed for. Like Flap Ping or Medieval Mayhem.

I know when I'm done with my move and all the other life issues I have to deal with, I'm going to pick up my first 2600 game I'm designing and it's an original game based on a board game I designed years ago that I think will translate over to 2600 well.

Edited by Legend, Thu Nov 5, 2009 8:27 PM.


#22 Richard H. OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Nov 6, 2009 9:18 AM

I think that's one reason we've seen add-ons such as the the AtariVox.

Just the same, I must say that I have very mixed feelings about these products.

I disagree, many 8-bit computers of the time had add-on speech synths, using very similar tech to the AVox.

#23 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Nov 6, 2009 9:59 AM

IMHO, I see add-ons as a catalyst. Homebrewing for the 2600 has now been going on for about as long as the Atari 2600 was originally on the market! Pretty amazing, isn't it? And I've watched the homebrew scene go through phases. The early days were spent kind of developing a standard bag of tricks. Finding the most efficient path to do certain tasks like determine when to draw sprites, read paddles, etc... Come up with useful techniques like the multisprite trick that was used for Space Instigators. Back in the day that intellectual property was hidden in corporate silos and was only filtered from company to company via subterfuge. So once that was opened up, and everyone was collaborating, we started to see a level of spit and polish that was rare even back then. This kind of culminated with the various hacks and improvements of the original games like trackball support in Missile Command, balloons in River Raid, and the Dennis Debro redo of Pac-Man. And then you have the amazing music engines that are being used, like the multichannel technique in Stella's Stocking. So it's clear to me that the top homebrewers today are at or beyond where the best and brightest were back in the day, due to the combination of open collaboration, a much better toolset, and the freedom to use large banked ROMs. Likewise, the barrier to entry is lower than ever with Batari BASIC which is also good for the hobby.

I just think game design has been kind of devalued in this whole evolution. Since most of the technical hurdles have been overcome, maybe it's time to focus a little more on that. I mean, isn't the whole manifesto in favor of classic games that it's all about the gameplay? Well, what is it that makes a classic game special? What gets you into the zone? You know, the theory. When you port a successful game, you don't ever learn anything about that. You're just leveraging a play pattern that is already tuned to perfection. It's really kind of a left/brain right/brain thing, which is why maybe it's not such a bad idea for developers to work in pairs, a designer/coder, or for there to be a clear goal from the start for playtesters to act as de-facto designers via committee.

But in order to do that, developers have to exercise a little humility, and give up some creative control. That's sometimes been a challenge, I think. But the best homebrews (ports included) that I've seen produced tend to come from developers who are keen listeners and who are very responsive to feedback. A game like Oystron was molded like a sculpture. Most of the chisel marks were put there by the feedback from Stellalist. Some of the less enjoyable homebrews (and I won't name names) were victims of developers who would either veto suggestions or never ever opened up their games for feedback to begin with.

Edited by mos6507, Fri Nov 6, 2009 10:06 AM.


#24 SpiceWare OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Nov 6, 2009 10:05 AM

I think that's one reason we've seen add-ons such as the the AtariVox.

Just the same, I must say that I have very mixed feelings about these products.

I disagree, many 8-bit computers of the time had add-on speech synths, using very similar tech to the AVox.

For the consoles competing with the 2600 as well - The Voice for the Odyssey 2 and Intellivoice for Intellivision.

#25 SpiceWare OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Nov 6, 2009 10:24 AM

My thoughts

1) the challenge - because of it's primitive video hardware, writing games for the 2600 is more challenging than writing for other consoles. The challenge was a big part of the appeal for me.

2) the nostalgia - we had a 2600 and I'd switched to computers with a VIC 20 in 81, thus the later consoles hold no attraction to me.

3) arcade vs original - don't worry about what others say - code for what you are interested in, else there's a good chance it won't even get finished.

4) new ad-ons - go for it - coding isn't the only creative endeavor. People often forget that.




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