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RIP Alex Leavens


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#1 Dutchman2000 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 9:07 AM

I recently learned through research, that Alex Leavens died in December of 2002.

He was the author of several 2600 games: Crazy Climber, Boing!, Gorf, Star Gunner, The Impossible Game, Kickman and Bouncing Baby Monkeys.

The last 3 are games he wrote but were never released.

#2 Tempest OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 10:53 AM

:sad:

I'm always so sad when I hear about things like this...

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#3 Godzilla OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:05 AM

Man, that is sad, always brings a tear to hear of a classic era atari programmer going to the big sexy in the sky.

Have those last three ever been found?

Edited by Godzilla, Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:06 AM.


#4 Mindfield OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:08 AM

He must have been a freelance if he ended up writing games for Atari, First Star and Telesys. (Notice all of these games are pretty rare, too. :-)) Sad to hear of his passing, he did some good work. :-(

#5 Christophero Sly OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:21 AM

I have an old gaming magazine that features an interview with him where he talks about some of those unreleased games. There are a few photos of him too. He looked very young. He couldn't have been much more than 50, if even that, when he passed. Sad.

#6 Dutchman2000 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:30 AM

Christophero-

Would you be able to scan this interview in and post it? I think it was called "Magic Alex"

#7 yuppicide OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:49 AM

That's sad. I would like to see the interview as well if anyone has it.

Wonder if anyone has any screenshots of the unfinished games..

#8 Christophero Sly OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 12:10 PM

Christophero-

Would you be able to scan this interview in and post it?  I think it was called "Magic Alex"

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Unfortunately, I don't have a scanner.

#9 Bruce Tomlin OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 12:23 PM

Christophero-

Would you be able to scan this interview in and post it?  I think it was called "Magic Alex"

I've got it. That magazine was next on my list of whole magazines to scan, so I was going to have to scan that article anyhow. I'll see if I can OCR it too and post the text and pictures separately.

#10 Lauren Tyler OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 2:02 PM

Better late than never.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Leavens, and know that even your games were rare, many still play them to this day, and you will always be remembered for your contributions to the Atari 2600.


You know, I've often wondered what would happen if a notable figure from the days of the Atari happened to die? Would it be on the homepage or just in the respective forum?

#11 Bruce Tomlin OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 10:43 PM

Magic Alex

Alex Leavens designed Gorf, Crazy Climber, and Stargunner.
He also levitates his wife.
By Dan Gutman
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN HARDING

VGP: You're probably the only video game designer who also does magic.
AL: Actually, I know at least two other designers who do magic. There seems to be some creative link between the two professions. I think it's a need to blow people's minds. A magician wants to pull you into his little reality, do something impossible, and leave you amazed. A designer wants to do the same thing.
VGP: What kind of tricks do you do?
AL: Mostly sleight-of-hand tricks--card tricks, coin tricks. I started when I saw Doug Henning in The Magic Show when I was 12. The trick in the photo is when I levitate a test tube and make the cork pop out into your hand. You can be standing two feet away, and you won't be able to figure out how I do it.
VGP: So how do you do it?
AL: I'm not telling!
VGP: Then how about telling us about your latest games?
AL: Sure. I've got two coming out. The Impossible Game is an Atari VCS game by Telesys, who I designed Stargunner for. It's a puzzle game, sort of like Rubik's Cube. You don't blow anything up and nobody gets hurt--it's strictly a mental challenge.
VGP: How did it come about?
AL: They called me and said, "Design a puzzle game. We'll call it 'The Impossible Game.'"
VGP: Is it impossible?
AL: Just about. If you take the number eight and raise it to the 21st power, that is the total possible number of moves in the game. Out of all that, there is just one correct path.
VGP: Has anybody solved it yet?
AL: No, but if you do, something very spectacular happens, both visually and auditorally.
VGP: What is it?
AL: I'm not telling!
VGP: Then tell us about the other game.
AL: That's Soap Suds, another VCS game by First Star Software. It's kind of Q*Bertesque. You run around a rectangular grid while this big soap bubble is chasing you.
VGP: How close is it to Q*Bert?
AL: It's the same type of game, it's not the same game. Just like Pac-Man opened up the field of maze games, the people who designed Q*Bert opened up a new area of game play--attempting to change things while being hunted. Actually, Soap Suds started out as The Emphysema Game--you were a pair of lungs trying to avoid a heart attack. A lot of people liked that idea, but a lot were grossed out by it too.
VGP: You seem to like oddball games.
AL: Yeah. Gorf and Stargunner were both real adrenaline games. Basically you could pick them up and flail on them--just shoot everything in sight. On games like those, you've got to disconnect your synapses and just make a straight linkup between your eyes and your hands--take your brain entirely out of the circuit, you know? You have to make yourself into a reflex machine. The same goes for a game like Kaboom, by Activision. But every once in a while you want to work on an off-the-wall, goofball game. I've done three of them--Crazy Climber, Kickman, and Bouncing Baby Monkeys.
VGP: Tell us about them.
AL: Well, two of them may never exist. I designed Kickman for Midway a few years ago when they were thinking of entering the home game market. (Ed. note: A version of Kickman is coming from CBS Electronics). Bouncing Baby Monkeys was based on an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. It's about this drunken stork that delivers Bugs to a gorilla family, thinking he is their baby.
VGP: Take Pitfall, a game that is known for its graphics. If they were to take away some of the graphics, what could they have added to the game play?
AL: Well, this is second guessing, but if I'd sacrificed some of the graphics I could have, let's see, maybe put in animals instead of just rolling barrels. Maybe you'd be able to go up the trees. It's hard to say. But I'd say Pitfall is a good balance between graphics and game play.
VGP: You design games for several companies. Do they ever ask you to change the graphics or game play of a game?
AL: Sure. I was asked to put additional character sets into Stargunner. That was an intelligent choice. Sometimes a designer is too close to the game to see what should be improved.
VGP: What did you have originally?
AL: I just had the flying saucers and I was flat out of memory. I was at 4K, totally jammed, and they asked for two more character sets. I went, "Ohhhhhhh!"
VGP: How did you squeeze them in?
AL: I used a sledgehammer. I code compressed. There are literally hundreds of ways of finding a byte or two bytes. You see, when you start working on the game you don't always consider total efficiency. Then you get to the end and you're scrambling around for a couple of bytes. You can usually go back through your old code and kind of bludgeon it--bludgeon out an extra ten or twenty bytes. I managed to get 110 bytes out of Stargunner, so I could fit the other character sets in.
VGP: And that really improved the game. Have you ever received any stupid requests from companies?
AL: Oh, sure. There was this one company who shall remain nameless that asked me to design a maze game for them. I said okay, sure, and I went away and programmed it. I came back and they looked at it and said, "Oh, no, no, no. We wanted narrower pathways and we wanted power pills and..." All they wanted was someone to give them a Pac-Man ripoff.
VGP: Alex, have we pushed the Atari VCS as far as it can go?
AL: I don't think so. There are a lot of programmers who are under the impression that you can only support so many objects on a scan line because you only have so many cycles to draw something on the TV. I agreed with that thinking, but recently I've worked out a way of supporting more objects that I thought possible.
VGP: How do you do that?
AL: Well, I don't want to talk about it a whole lot, but it's strictly a programming trick, a way of writing code most efficiently that will fit into the given time you have to draw a scan line. You have 76 cycles and this is a fixed constant. You can't do anything about the time, so what you have to do is compress your code. I've discovered a way of making it do more than one thing at a time and have those two things both be meaningful.
VGP: But you're not going to tell us what it is?
AL: I sure am not. I could talk about it in a general way which would put other programmers on the scent of the trail. Or I can talk about it in specific way and every programmer who reads this will know how to do it. It's something I just don't want to give up right now.
VGP: How did you get to be so smart so fast?
AL: I'm a voracious reader--and that's a piece of advice.
VGP: So all the kids who read the magazine should read voraciously, and find out what "voracious" means.
AL: Right. Find out what voracious means before you start reading.
VGP: So rather than playing video games, they should be reading?
AL: Video games are a lot of fun. I play a lot of them and will continue to do so. But reading is the best way we have found to transmit information from one person to another. Read everything. I just read an article about this device that lets doctors take a patient, run him through this machine, and get a three dimensional picture of, say, his heart. And they can rotate the heart in space, look at it from different angles, and even cut it in half. Wow! That blows my mind! That's great! I read a lot because that's how you find out what's going on. Read the video magazines. Read the audio magazines. Read the science magazines. I read it all and I'm fascinated by it all. I think that's very important--to maintain a sense of wonder and excitement. You shouldn't be afraid of the future.

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#12 CPUWIZ OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 10:52 PM

Thanks a lot for that, Bruce. :thumbsup:

#13 hhwolfman OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jul 5, 2005 11:01 PM

Thanks a lot for that, Bruce.  :thumbsup:

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Yeah thanks bud. Man he was a youngster when writing those programs. RIP MY ATARI Btother. :)

#14 Godzilla OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 6, 2005 9:07 AM

Man, now I want to see those titles more than ever :-)

Wonder how many objects per scan line he managed....

Someone who is code smart can interpret what he is hinting at, maybe?

#15 Bruce Tomlin OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 6, 2005 9:41 AM

When I was proofreading, I got the idea he might have been referring to the use of illegal instructions.

"I've discovered a way of making it do more than one thing at a time and have those two things both be meaningful."

The useful illegal instructions (LAX, DCP, etc.) indeed "do more than one [meaningful] thing at a time". I never figured this out before, because I hadn't used illegal instructions until last year. And they're essential for squeezing the last drop out of a scan line.

EDIT: I just noticed... he said "have those two things both be meaningful". Not three, not more. It's gotta be illegal instructions.

Edited by Bruce Tomlin, Wed Jul 6, 2005 9:46 AM.


#16 BuzzTron451 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 6, 2005 10:24 AM

Belated rest in peace, Leavens. :( But thank you for your contribution to the Atari universe. :) So, any chance those last three games would ever get leaked? Kickman and TIG sound interesting. 'Tis a shame they didn't get published; that is, if they haven't already (doesn't have a clue). :P

#17 Tempest OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Jul 6, 2005 10:47 AM

To the best of my knowledge none of those games have turned up. The Impossible Game was seen at a CES show, and Bouncing Baby Monkeys *may* have also been demoed. Kickman has shown up in advertisements, but I don't think anything more of it has been seen.

VGP: And that really improved the game. Have you ever received any stupid requests from companies?
AL: Oh, sure. There was this one company who shall remain nameless that asked me to design a maze game for them. I said okay, sure, and I went away and programmed it. I came back and they looked at it and said, "Oh, no, no, no. We wanted narrower pathways and we wanted power pills and..." All they wanted was someone to give them a Pac-Man ripoff.


I wonder what game this was?

Tempest

#18 bobcurtiss OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 1:57 PM

I stumbled across this forum thread today and I'm very sad to learn that Alex is gone. He was only 43 when he passed.

 

I knew Alex personally. We shared an office at Bally Midway in 1982, working on 2600 games together. After about a year we both did work for a company called Roklan. Alex was a very intense person, always high energy. We used to team up on one of the arcade games that had a two player cooperative mode and rack up some high scores.

 

I remember testing Crazy Climber while he was working on it, and he tested a game I was working on, Solar Fox. Probably nobody knows that he and I worked together on designing the preliminary screen display for Ms. PacMan during the very early stage of that game's development.

 

Alex was always full of energy, and he could really crank out code.

 

I've been out of touch with him since the mid-90's when he worked at Activision. If anyone has more details about his passing, I would appreciate learning more.

 

Bob Curtiss



#19 Tempest OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 3:01 PM

I'd talk to Dutchman 2000, I think he knows the most about Alex.  

 

I just want to say that Solar Fox is one of my favorite 2600 games.  If you have some time, you should post something about your time with Roklan.



#20 Chris++ OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 3:55 PM

Seconded. Solar Fox is the best CBS game for the 2600, in my opinion. In any case, it would be fantastic to hear about any of your game-design experiences during that period.



#21 Philflound OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 4:35 PM

I thought about making a suggestion, whether Al would do it, or another site dedicated to the 2600, or video games in general. Has anyone considered making a page of a list of programmers and the games they worked on? Could probably go either way, having a link to click a game and showing all the people who worked on it. Maybe with a photo like the Activision titles did. What do you think?

 

Phil



#22 BassGuitari ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 4:46 PM

I thought about making a suggestion, whether Al would do it, or another site dedicated to the 2600, or video games in general. Has anyone considered making a page of a list of programmers and the games they worked on? Could probably go either way, having a link to click a game and showing all the people who worked on it. Maybe with a photo like the Activision titles did. What do you think?

 

Phil

That's already kind of built into the AA database, isn't it?



#23 Philflound OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 5:15 PM

That's already kind of built into the AA database, isn't it?

 

Guess I never took note. :) Ok, scratch the suggestion.

 

Phil



#24 bennybingo OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 3, 2015 6:58 PM

I stumbled across this forum thread today and I'm very sad to learn that Alex is gone. He was only 43 when he passed.

 

I knew Alex personally. We shared an office at Bally Midway in 1982, working on 2600 games together. After about a year we both did work for a company called Roklan. Alex was a very intense person, always high energy. We used to team up on one of the arcade games that had a two player cooperative mode and rack up some high scores.

 

I remember testing Crazy Climber while he was working on it, and he tested a game I was working on, Solar Fox. Probably nobody knows that he and I worked together on designing the preliminary screen display for Ms. PacMan during the very early stage of that game's development.

 

Alex was always full of energy, and he could really crank out code.

 

I've been out of touch with him since the mid-90's when he worked at Activision. If anyone has more details about his passing, I would appreciate learning more.

 

Bob Curtiss

Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.   :_( It is horrible to hear when someone passes away so young.

 

PS…you mentioned your involvement in two of my favorite 2600 games…Star Solar Fox (***edited for stupidity) and Crazy Climber!!!

 

 

….I just love it when rock stars show up at Atari Age!  Too bad it is under such circumstances.  I hope you decide to stick around and share some stories with us!  You certainly have the right audience!



#25 CRV OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Feb 5, 2015 8:41 PM

According to some stuff I found online, Alex and Shirley Anne Russell (Boing!) were married and had a couple children.






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