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DanOliver

Member Since 18 May 2013
OFFLINE Last Active Aug 3 2018 3:37 PM

#2757012 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Mon May 20, 2013 1:25 AM

I never heard of programmers not getting paid back then. In those days game programmers were treated very well I thought. If you weren't you'd just go next door or start your own company.

The shady stuff was stealing info. Like Apollo had someone from Atari willing to sell a 2600 manual, at least that's the story I was told. I heard they had lunch and the guy wanted $100K. There was a lot of paranoia that we didn't know about some secret registers that would allow us to do better games. I remember management asking me if I thought there were unknown registers. Don't ask me how a person would know about something unknown, I was never in management. I'd worked at Apollo for a couple of weeks and had already down loaded and studied at least a few games and figured if there were any more registers we'd find them that way.

Who's talking to who type stuff. Worried about programmers leaving. Planting people at other game companies. None of it amounted to a hill of beans. They'd hear some company was doing XYZ game...so what? What are you going to do with that info?

But mostly around bootlegged games. That could kill a company.

Lot of fast money at stake so shortcuts are taken.


#2756994 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Mon May 20, 2013 12:05 AM

There was a game called "What's my Story?"?
Is there any info you can give on that? I did a cursory Google/AA search and came up empty.

What's My Story? was PC and Mac game for kids. Edutainment deal.

And Rescue Terra I is a pretty obscenely rare game. It tends to go for a few hundred on ebay complete. I'm not sure if that's quite the honor you were hoping for with that legacy though, programming a game nobody can find. :-D

The irony of a Rescue Terra I selling for more now than pretty much VentureVision's entire gross revenue is not lost on me. But I can always say...at least it wasn't ET.

Laser Gates went right to the discount table. Final Legacy too. Rescue Terra I didn't even make it that far. Our biggest, and maybe only sale, was to a couple of guys from South America who stopped by our CES booth at the close and offered to buy all we had with us. Couple of dozen. I have no idea what they wanted them for.

My kid brother sold Rescue Terra I door to door. He said he sold all 12 but never sent us our cut. Kid brothers.

I don't know what Bob did with the rest of them. I remember we spent a lot of time putting carts together and boxing them. When you have programmers boxing carts inside of writing code you know things aren't good.

We had "sold" 10,000 carts to a distributor and we ordered the ROMs which took a few weeks. When we called the distributor back the guy no longer worked there, they were out of the games business. That was the crash. Third week of Oct 83. We knew the gold rush was over. We kept trying, went to CES in Jan 84. Saw Pat Roper sitting in the Apollo "booth" which was just a big empty space and a couple folding chairs in the middle with Pat sitting there. Guess he was trying to sell off whatever he could. Not a happy time. But Bob did teach me to play craps, and he was good at it.

At one point we hooked up with some multi-level marketing people and they seemed pretty interest in the same way sharks are interested in things splashing around in the water. After a bit they became more interested in an application to help them track all the money. Apparently these things go fast but not for too long. They had stories of garbage cans full of letters, checks and cash that they couldn't get thru fast enough. No computers. They had to doing everything by hand. A $10 sale meant $1 went to one person, $0.50 to another and on and on. Like 7-10 cuts for every sale. It was a nightmare. A lot of those guys went to jail and multi-level marketing was outlawed only because they just couldn't do the accounting if a product sold a lot. They didn't pay people because they couldn't figure out how much and to who.

So they wanted me to write an Apple II app which I did, pretty simple. But then they wanted to put me into hotels and keep moving me around while their scheme played out. They said it was common in their business so law enforcement couldn't find them. Apparently it was kind of up in the air as to whether or not these things are legal or not. Depends on how many levels deep and whether the product is real or not. Selling a 5 cent pen for $100 would be illegal. But selling a $50 Rescue Terra I they thought would be legal...probably...in most states. But why take the chance? Let's us put you into a hotel. Thanks, but no thanks boys.


#2756926 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 9:13 PM

Wife just asked "have you written any code since getting on that thing"?

Fortunately I'm not the kind of man who is easily intimida...gotta go she just cam back


#2756924 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 9:09 PM

More information on The Final Legacy would be awesome! What happened to the other parts of the game? I believe the program was supposed to come on disk and be much bigger.

There are no other parts or disk version that I'm aware.

What other Atari 8-bit games were you involved in under Chris Horseman's direction? Any concept demos, prototypes or code that you may still have?

I don't know of any. However, I didn't remember half the stuff until reading about all the info you guys have collected. It's jogged my memory.

I don't remember ever doing concepts or prototypes, which is kind of strange now that I think about it. Well I do remember doing an hour glass where each grain of sand had it's own physics. I'm talking fake video game type physics, but looked good to me. I don't think it was ever in a game.

At Atari I did write an instant assembler, precompiled header type tricks.

I was given tours of other groups to see their games and it seemed like they had tons of concepts and prototypes. I remember seeing a pretty good, graphically anyways, fighting game like Mortal Kombat. I remember thinking, and probably saying, "that kind of game will never be popular". Sure had my finger on the pulse of the future. If it wasn't a shooter it wasn't a game. I still don't get fight games. I can go down to the corner bar and get into a fight. Very realistic, excellent audio. Space ship blasting creatures, now that's cool.

I think every VCS game I started got released. Most barely got released, but released. I may hold the record for having written the last game the most companies ever released.
Space Cavern...close by no cigar.
Rescue Terra I...VentureVision bingo
Laser Gates...Image...pretty close if not a bingo.
Final Legacy...Atari...seems like a bingo to me.
What's My Story?...Digital Pictures, maybe a bingo

I don't have any old code around. Just a few carts. I sold my last 2600 at a yard sale about 10 years ago.

I try not to live in the past...but all this is kind of different. It's like the future went to the past and is being used in the present. Kind of Steampunk, except real.


#2756898 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 8:30 PM

You guys are posting a lot of great info, like the current development stuff. I've got stuff I have to finish now but it is definitely bouncing around in my head. It will take me awhile to catch up.

I'm trying to respond to all who ask. If I miss some question please point it out to me. I've very much enjoy reading all the history you guys have uncovered and happy to contribute where I can.

And here's my page about the InnerSpace prototype. I'll have to update it now with your new info: http://www.atariprot.../innerspace.htm

Your main 2600 page, the image:
Posted Image
That's from the Final Legacy poster...which I have framed. Artistic license?

Apparently I was wrong about Imagic fixing the 1/2" long black scanline on the left side of the screen. I see on YouTube vids of Laser Gates they're still there. Makes me feel a little better.

And someone ported Laser Gates to the 5200!!! That's amazing to me. It looks really godd on the video. Better shooting. Really nicely done.
http://youtu.be/4OHyVSyXCYk

Can you also tell us about your work on the Apple IIgs Toolbox? I'm a big Apple IIgs fan as well. Most of the Apple II guys hang out on Comp.Sys.Apple2 (https://groups.googl...comp.sys.apple2) so if you have time you might want to stop by there as well.

That's a whole deal. Best group of engineers I ever worked with. Best bosses, best product managers. I've worked with some great groups, but Apple IIGS really stands out. Only place I ever worked where you bosses where the best programmers, Steve Glass and Fern Bachman. Harvey Lehtman who was the champion and I assume did tons of stuff I never heard about that allowed the rest of us to get out the GS.


#2756886 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 7:59 PM

BTW I really like The Final Legacy as well. Do you have any interesting stories behind the making of that game? I know there are some prototypes out there that use icons instead of words that we assume were meant for the overseas market: http://www.atariprot...finallegacy.htm

Final Legacy was my first chance to have all the time I wanted, lots of hardware resources. No excuses. It was all my design, my programming, my graphics, music was done by Robert Weatherby I believe. And of course I'm sure lots of other people had suggestions I probably used. But to me Final Legacy was a kind of test. Am I a game designer?

To me it proved I was never going to be a break through original game designer. Don't get me wrong, I've very proud of my work...I'm not a modest person. But there's a reality. I just couldn't see into the future, I didn't have the vision to do games on the systems that were coming. Maybe I just wasn't that into games so I didn't have enough source material to steal from.

When the ST came along I found what I really liked to do, user interface stuff.

Final Legacy stories...
There aren't many. It was basically long hard work.

I have little idea how long it took. I started at Atari 4/83 according to my resume and it was done maybe a month before the Tramiels took over. I was told the game was in manufacturing when the Tramiels took over and that some number had been produced. Maybe 8,000? I'm pretty sure someone gave me a copy which was very nice.

Wikipedia says Tramiels took over 7/84 so FL must have been completed say 5/84. Probably started working on it a month or two after starting so I'd say 1 year, 5/83 to 5/84. Seems about right.

I've always liked post apocalyptic stories, new beginings, do it right in 2.0 type deals. So the process is knowing what can be done on the hardware and melting the story idea into that. I kind of imagine myself inside the computer and everything is black, turned off. I can see the RAM, the hardware registers, the CPU. And I start turning on stuff to start building a world.

The main map was first because I was learning the Atari computer and what it could do. The expanding/collapsing map was a simple trick which of course I thought was cool. Now when I look at the videos of people playing the game I'm like "why didn't I speed that up or have a preference for instant switching". It looks painfully slow. Just having a instant switch was a bit jarring so some transition helped, but come on.

The screen with the green grid I was trying to steal arcade Battlezone. Loved that game, loved vector graphics.

Shooting the incoming missiles was basically stealing from arcade Centipede. I loved when you lined up on the centipede and just whale away on the fire button blowing it to bits. This screen was also tweaked for the Atari Track Ball which they were looking for any game to support. Track ball worked well for the missiles, you could get into a rhythm and blow them away like a centipede.

I would have liked to have stolen from Missile Command too, but I wanted perspective and Missile Command really only works in 2D.

The torpedo view was I think pretty original, at least for me. I was proud of the clouds scrolling at different speeds, the light from explosions reflecting off the clouds. Now I wish I would have flashed the white in the clouds when the user got hit.

I think Chris Horseman had done a submarine game for EMI before coming to Atari. Not sure. Seems like he talked about some submarine game a lot. I could be confusing things. I think he made it really realistic which seems like a good idea until you realize being on a sub is a pretty boring 99% of the time. Which Chris understood. So I wanted more action and didn't let too much reality get in the way. So the bow of the user's ship is suppose to look like a sub running on the surface where in theory it could move faster. The torpedos were gray to appear beneath the water.

Focus tests and stealing from Atari...
To focus test I made a cart for each tester. These are mostly kids found by a company that test all kinds of products. So I had to make like a 12-15 carts I think. EPROM in the cart which I had to burn. Video game industry was super paranoid about everything. And with good reason, we'd steal anything by almost any means. So I burned a unique serial number into each EPROM. The carts are sent to the kids to play for a week or so and then come in as a group to discuss the game.

One of the kids said "why can't I blow up my own cities". Future game designer.

That was like on a Friday. On monday morning someone, I think Eric, pops his head into my office and says "your game got ripped off". Within a week one of these kids, I assumed, had duplicated the EPROM and was handing out or selling copies and it had already come back to me. Small world.

So someone got me a copy and I find the serial number. This was a world Chris Horseman excels at. Within a really short time he's got the storm troopers at the ready and formulating battle plan to make this kid dump a deuce in his shorts. The plan is to have some PI named "Mad Dog" go have a talk with the kid.

I was in Chris's office when Mad Dog debriefed. To set the scene Mad Dog would be played by Joe Pesci should there ever be a movie.

Mad Dog goes to the kid's house and tells mom that a game got lost and he was investigating. Mind you Mad Dog is telling this like a story...Mad Dog knows we're eating this up. So he gets into the house and asks if he can look through the kid's computer stuff just to make sure the missing game isn't there...you know, by total mistake. Part of the process is Mad Dog flicking thru the kid's floppies one at a time. Mad Dog wears several large rings... Joe Pesci. Mad Dog explains that the rings are strong magnets at which time Chris and I are consumed by laughter and Mad Dog knows he's collecting a bonus. There is justice and there is getting even. Getting even is always better.

Mad Dog then tells the kid and mom that the carts were serialized and we know he was making duplicates. Deuce hits the shorts, mom switches from pro life to pro choice in a heart beat. Kid gives up everything. From his hidden porn stash to where the cart went.

He'd given the cart to a dude working at HP who used HP equipment to down load the EPROM and make copies. Mad Dog wasn't involved in what happened to the HP dude and I have no knowledge of said dude's whereabouts today. I'm guessing a dozen suits showed up at HP and conveyed Atari's concerns.

So, for the collectors out there. There are 12-15 of these. All were returned to me at Atari. Where they all went from there I have no idea except for one which I have. I attached a photo of my cart. The label was a white paper label hand written by me "LEGACY © ATARI 1983 Rev 5.3" and a stamp at the top in red which I can barely see "CONFIDENTIAL". I think they all had exactly the same text. But each ROM image would be different by at least a byte for the serial number. I don't remember which one was stolen so there would be more copies of at least one of these. Not sure how copies could be verified.

I'm getting deja vu so maybe I've already posted this info?

Interesting the cart says © 1983 and not 1984. Maybe I finished Final Legacy late 1983 and not 5/84? So maybe it took 7 months? Not sure. However me not knowing what year it was when I wrote it also sounds like me.

How I got hired at Atari and how Final Legacy got started...
After VentureVision folded and I sold Inner Space to Imagic I was still living in a trailer in Denton TX because I'd been going to N Texas State on the GI bill. Time to look for a job.

I looked thru the game magazines and found a bunch of companies looking for programmers. This was kind of the apex of companies looking for people, just before the crash. All the companies seemed to be in CA. I interviewed with a bunch...the smaller the company the faster they repsonded to getting a resume. Very wild, all kinds of companies, all kinds of people.

After a few weeks I was about to except a job I think in Sacramento for a company doing desktop computer games on floppies. Atari called. I'm like peeing. I go out and interview with Chris Horseman...I think he was younger than me. Youngest VP ever at Atari of which he was very proud and rightly so. He's talking a mile a minute about coming from EMI, about his sub game I think. He says he's starting an Advanced Games group at Atari which will have maybe 10 of the best developers in the world. He says he's talking to the dude that wrote Star Raiders which dropped my jaw because that's a mythic game. I assumed at the time that the creator of Star Radiers didn't work at Atari.

So I'm like not really understanding why Chris is telling me all this...Space Cavern != Star Radiers...not even the same zip code. Chris then says something like "obviously you're not of that caliber"...and am back to reality..."but we're willing to take a chance on a couple of programmers that we think we could teach"...sign me the F up. I couldn''t believe my luck.

First day at work it's me Chris and Ritta who was Chris's secretary (personal assistant). Chris was pretty new to Atrai but would never let on. Ritta actually knew everything. She takes me to a huge filing cabinet, flings open the doors and this thing is packed. She says "take whatever you want and if there's anything else you want just let me know and I'll get it". She said "want" not "need". And the way she said it I got the impression if I asked for a lap dance from William Shatner that Ritta would make it happen in a single phone call.

There was only three things missing from the Advanced Games Group. 1. Group. 2. Advanced. 3. Games. I was kind of waiting for the A team to show up and start showing me their secrets, and tell me their lunch orders of course. But Chris wasn't interviewing anyone I could see. I start thinking about Final Legacy and studing the Atari 800 internals. I assume the idea of the sea theme came from Chris, he made have been trying to get me to make a certain game, I don't know. I did know it didn't work that way. You can't spec a game, it has to come from an indivual.

I pretty quickly figured out why I'd been hired into the Advanced Games Group...they couldn't find anyone else. A VP must have at least one employee other than a personal assistant...I think that's a rule. The next hire was a hardware guy who knew nothing about games, didn't really want to know anything about games but I think needed a job to stay in the US. He was from England like Chris. He was a funny guy in a Black Adder way and did some good work on a Last Star Fighter arcade.

Pretty soon Chris says the "group" is moving to new offices. A room in a coin op warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Forklifts, trucks, noise, flumes, the whole enchilada. I don't know the whole story but the impression I got is this is when Warner announced the first big loss, like $500 million which was a lot of money back then. I think Chris saw the crap storm on the horizon and hid us under a rock. I'll bet our budget went tiny real fast. Smart move Chris.

When a company shuts down, which I have a great deal of experience, it's not fun. People just obsess and worry. No work gets done. Out in the warehouse I could just program. And that's where I got most of Final Legacy done. We did move back into a normal building at some point. And I think the group got one or two other people. Eric somebody and an artist working on a laser disc thing, or a music video, using the Twilight Zone song.

As far as I know Final Legacy was the only game to come out of the Advanced Games Group and it barely got out.

Attached Thumbnails

  • FinalLegacy.JPG



#2756748 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 4:20 PM

Random Terrain, thanks for the additional links

I think I'm starting to understand. I had to read the stuff about the Melody Board a few times trying to get my brain to consider it being real. When I left the VCS 8K was the max and I'd heard about the Super Charger but that didn't seem viable. Melody has 8K of RAM...mind blowing. I was doing runtime explosions in RAM, I think I reserved like 8 or 10 bytes for the sprite. What could be done with 8K of RAM. That would free up page zero too, so faster instructions could allow all the sprites to be generated at runtime. Might be able to kick Demon Attack's ass. Wouldn't be a fair fight of course, but who likes fair fights?

I've been search around for info on the Melody and Harmony boards and found some stuff. But kind of like you guys are interested in the past I'm interested in future which is or was your past. How does Dr Who keep this all straight? Any articles on who created Harmony? Behind the curtain stuff? To me that would be cool to read.

Any links on the creation of Melody and Harmony? These are made one off as ordered? I'd love to see a video of one being made. Should I post this in the Harmony thread instead?

Thanks


#2756401 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 4:48 AM

That's wild.

Thank you guys for doing all this and your interest. Sure nice taking a trip down memory lane. I'd forgotten half this stuff, peoples' names. Like I saw in your database the name of my partner at VentureVision, Robert Hesler. There was a third partner who was Robert's good friend and partner in all of their businesses. Can't remember his name. Nice guy. Wish that deal could have worked out better but we were a year too late to the party.

And I think the VCS was a great machine.


#2756391 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 4:22 AM

What about this game:
http://www.atarimani...athy_11883.html

Did you have anything to do with that one?

8)

Yes, Telepathy was mine.

It was meant to just be a short prototype game for user testing the Mind Controller. I can't remember using the name Telepathy, that probably came toward the end. I just think of it as the Mind Controller game.

The Mind Controller Product Manager, a real nice British guy I can't remember his name, friend of Chris Horseman, asked me to make the prototype. He was in some kind of jam and needed it fast, like a few days. I thought the Mind Controller was really dumb, too limiting. But after awhile I really got to like it. I got good enough that I could turn down the sensitivity enough that people couldn't see my eye brows moving so it really looked like a Mind Controller. It was strange being perfectly still but playing a game. I liked it.

Development flew because the Product Manager really helped with feed back and encouragement. Plus I'd written an "instant assembler" and I had a 500K RAM drive. So I could make a change and see it on the screen in 1-3 seconds. Before that the turn around was like 2-3 minutes. So I was doing like 10, 20,30 times more turns per day. It completely changed the way I programmed. Where before you kind of had to make 3 or 4 changes which made finding bugs harder I could make a small change and test. And I could try tons more tweaks and experiment way more.

So I really liked that game a lot. I got a lot into it in I think a week otr two?

The rush was for scheduled user testing which I got to go to. One way glass type stuff with about 20 suits watching.

When I worked on the game the headset was plugged into the machine. They had a wireless deal too because I guess parents have a problem with wiring their kid's heads to something plugged into the wall. But I hardly ever used the wireless thing because it ran on batteries.

Anyways all these kids start using the game and it doesn't work. After a bunch of hardware guys run around for a while they figure out the fluorescent lights are messing up the wireless. So the rest of the testing was done pretty much in the dark.

I don't think I played the game much with a stick. It was tweaked specifically for the Mind Controller. And it took maybe 30, 60 minutes of play with the MC before a person could start to really play. So not really a viable product.


#2756385 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sun May 19, 2013 3:55 AM

I'll trade info...

What do you mean "homebrewers"? You're saying John Champeau wrote a 2600 game, on a cart that I can buy and stick into a 2600? And this was written like the 1990's, 2000's or something? And people buy these?

I think we sold about 10 copies of Rescue Terra I. So I could write a 2600 game today and maybe sell more than 10?

Space Cavern
I just read on Wikipedia or someplace that Pat Roper saw Demon Attack at CES and gave me a game design without telling me it came from Demon Attack. This came from an interview with Ed Salvo I think. OK, so I had like zero knowledge of what actually went on at Apollo behind closed doors and Ed was in the loop so he probably knew a lot more than me. And memory is not a perfect thing. So with those disclaimers here's how I remember it...

My memory is Pat trying to describe Demon Attack and saying that's the game I should write. He told me he'd seen it at CES and that everyone thought it was the best game there, mainly because of the graphic. Maybe he wasn't suppose to tell me he was describing Demon Attack, but I certainly knew he was describing a game he saw at CES. And a short time later when he could get a copy he plunked it on my desk and said something like "we need one of these" or "make this". He said the copy was hard to get, that he'd got it from a distributor or something. And maybe he even had to return it. But I certainly saw Demon Attack very early. Video games at the time was a very cloak and dagger deal.

I think I down loaded the Demon Attack cart and studied the code. If not Demon Attack specifically, certainly other games. That's how we learned. Ed had a manual with the 2600 registers and he told us a bunch of stuff about vertical sync, etc...but as I remember it, most of the specific different techniques we learned from reverse engineering other games.

They didn't want a knock off specifically. They mainly wanted great graphics which I obviously came up short on. The Demon Attack bar was pretty high for someone who'd learned some 6502 a couple of weeks before.

Took 4 weeks to create, maybe a few more days. The rush was because they'd sold a ton of them without anyone ever seeing anything.

Backups
To get to our office we walked thru the warehouse where they'd set up the assembly line. Seemed like everyday the line was changed, bigger, more people. Skeet Shoot and Space Chase were coming off the line.

The night I finished Space Cavern they had the line workers come in to start production. It was after dark. There were no testers or any testing. Just me pounding a keyboard and burning EPROMs. I told someone I'd fixed the last bug (it's easier to declare "last bug" when you don't do any testing). I backup the code and print a hard copy because that's what they considered to be the copyrighted material and I burn the production EPROM. Hand it off and head home 55 miles away in Denton. I'd been away from home pretty much 24/7 for a month so the wife, me and a couple of friends go out to celebrate. Which we did. Something like midnight or something we're at a bar and they say I have a phone call. That's not normal stuff back then. I didn't even know what bar I was in. It was Apollo. They must have been calling every bar in Denton. I forget who but they're very nice and tell me there's a problem with the game, that the bug wasn't fixed. They have like 15 workers there. I'm too smashed, so I go home to sleep a few hours. Next morning, hung over, I go in, may have been a Sat, and I have to walk by the line with all the workers just standing around. No pressure.

I'd screwed up and backed up the wrong source, lost my fixes. Couple hours later we're in business, line is humming. Crazy.

Dilbert
Ed had come from some real data processing shop and he wore a tie. He thought all programmers should wear ties. I didn't know crap, I'd dropped out of college to do this game stuff. So I bought some polyester short sleeve pastel shirts and some clip on ties. I think Ed told me about the clip on tie thing. He also always had a pocket protector but I had no clue where one of those could be found or what they were even called. Ed didn't tell me to get one so I didn't. Thought maybe it was a status thing or something.

Larry Minor was a Cobol programmer who wore a 3 peice suit and had just come from some huge Blue Cross project that had cratered in grand corporate style. Larry would stand around with a ubiquitous coffee cup in his hand and tell us lot's of stories about the Blue Cross project, and about women and about office politics. I think Larry first told me that companies expected each programmer to write a specific number of lines of code per week or something. He was a character and hopefully still is.

Looking back now...we were Dilberts.

Leaving
Right when Space Cavern was released a long article in Forbes I think came out about video games. About the money to be made and also I think about EA, about how game programmers should be considered artists and their names and images should be on the box. I had been creating and selling oil paintings before Apollo so I was kind of aware about what an artist was. Someone brought in the magazine, Larry I'd bet, and I read it. Set down the mag, took off my tie, and threw it in my trash bin. Larry was like trying to organize us to demand stuff like credit on the box. Next day I'm wearing jeans. Getting the looks, but not bad looks, worried looks, very worried looks. The crap was hitting the fan. I'm sure Larry had been lobbing Ed and Ed was talking to Pat. Pretty quick, like that day they said names on box no problem and everyone's salary was doubled.

But at around this same time Pat was talking about personal helicopters. Not good. Someone came by to show us the blueprints for the new office complex they were building, every office had a fireplace. Not good. We started hiring "programmers" with the joke being our only interview question was "can you spell 6502"? My confidence was not growing.

But the kicker was everyday walking by the production line. Now there were like 3 or 4 lines with a cart falling off the end every couple of seconds. Two or three shifts. Thanks to the article I knew each plunk was like $10. Someone told me that Space Cavern had pre-sold 75,000 copies. Let me do some quick math in my head. I was paid about $1300 to produce Space Cavern. Say 80 hours a week, that's about $4 per hour. But yeah, they'd just doubled that, so say $2600 per game vs $750,000 on just the pre-sales. That's profit, not revenue. Let's say my mind wandered.

Some back story...when I interviewed I was looking for a part time job just so I could see what was going on in industry. Back at North Texas we were learning about how to make RAM, by hand, wire wrapped, one bit at a time. We'd just gotten a micro lab with Apple IIs, TI, TRS80s but no one knew much about them. The Apollo gig comes up. Seems leading edge stuff to me. They offer a full time job and ask how much I want to leave college. I'd researched programmer pay for a 4 year degree and knew I'd expect to earn $15k. So I say $16K on the phone. Ed laughs and says "we were going to offer you $22K". When I go in to sign the employment agreement there it is in black & white...$16K. It was clear this was all business, which is perfectly fine with me. But that door swings both ways.

I got a newspaper and looked thru the want ads. Bingo. Wanted: Programmer for video games. Call him up, he has the start up money, experience running companies and a real desire to sell games. We meet and in his hands is the Forbes magazine. That was VentureVision. Must have been 20 game companies started that month from that article.

Can't believe that all happened in like 2 months. It was like a gold rush. Very exciting.


#2756164 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sat May 18, 2013 5:36 PM

Time to make more Atari 2600 games and turn "was" into "is." :D

Yes, last night I was looking in the programming section...holy crap Batman...people are learning and programming the VCS in 6502??? You have to realize that for me seeing that makes me feel like I stepped into a wormhole, or I'm in a Sci-Fi movie, Cool as heck but I had to kind of step back and let it sink in a bit.

Is there someplace I should start to get kind of a top down of what's going on. Are people blowing EPROMs for example? I know there's a BASIC language version.

Would be kind of cool to do an Inner Space II.

I found the online VCS simulator for games a couple of years ago and that blew my mind. Back in the day Atari spent millions and millions of dollars on simulators that hardly worked. It is just so cool to be able to play these games again, to hear them. An impressive feat imo...to imagine that it would even be possible and also to do it. Thanks to all envolved where ever you are.


#2756156 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sat May 18, 2013 5:26 PM

So to the history...I am Dan Oliver the programmer of Inner Space. Probably not something I can prove but for what it's worth here's my software web page.

Inner Space was the title at VentureVision. I was nearing completion when VentureVision ran out of money. I was one of 3 owners and we hadn't been taking much of a salary so I had no savings and had to leave the company while the other 2 guys, business guys, closed down. I traded Inner Space for my part of the company.

I got the game to Imagic, don't remember how. They bought it. When I went into their office building to sign the papers I spoke to a single suit. The entire office building was a ghost town, Imagic was shutting down. He showed me the game running on a TV and explained they'd changed the name and fixed some bugs. I remember him saying 4 bugs, but not sure. For sure I had a bug in the lower left side of the screen where one scanline was late so you'd see like a 1/2" black scanline, common on VCS games. I was very impressed because it was a bug I had tried to fix and didn't. And they did this without source code. Just down loaded it, reverse assembled it and made changes. To me Imagic had always been tops, right behind Activision. So to me it was a great compliment that one of their engineers had worked on my code.

I'd "complimented" them earlier by disassembling Demon Attack when writing Space Cavern.

Guy gives me the advance on royalties check. Tells me they were buying the game to fulfil contract requirements...hey, you're making my head swell. I turn over the source code, pick up the check and start leaving. The guy says :"hey, don't you want to know how to get your future royalty checks?" Not really dude. I don't know if this guy actually still thought VCS games were going to be around in a month or was just going thru the motions.

So, to me Inner Space and Laser Gates were the same game. But from a collector's point of view they'd have to be different games. There were some changes to Laser Gates ROM, minor changes, but changes. No changes to game play that I know of. VentureVision never released Inner Space, there was never a box or manual as far as I know and I'm pretty sure.

Solar Defense. I don't remember the the name, but the screenshot posted is a real game and it may have well been called Solar Defense. I can't believe people know about this stuff, I had to really think a while to remember.

Solar Defense was created and programmed by a really good natural programmer named Robert Weatherby. Hardly any programming experience and in a couple of weeks has a game up on a VCS. Hardly any manual and probably 10 minutes of instruction from me. It got it from the get go.

I think he was just out of college with I think a degree in music. He was way into music and audio. Took me awhile to remember his name, but I just Googled him and here he is on LinkIn. Stayed in games, good for him. Solar Defense would have been 100% his design and implementation.

I'm ashamed to say I don't think I liked Solar Defense much as I remember, but that really means nothing. It just I only liked shooters. If it wasn't a shooter it wasn't good was my motto. But to Robert's credit he had a vision for a game and went for it. To me that's a game developer. I left before it was completed but it seemed pretty darn cool. Used paddles I believe, 4 person game I think. Maybe a bit like Breakout, or an inside out War Lords, and proably great audio. I don't know what happen to the game after that. Certainly VentureVision wouldn't have released it, 0 cash. Hopefully they gave the rights to Robert. It'd sure be cool to play it now, finished or not. It was difinitely at least playable last time I saw it.

I'm almost 100% sure Robert did the music in Final Legacy which I still carry in my head when programming. I didn't get audio at all.

How VentureVision released games...
The whole releasing games in pairs, realted themes...not so much. This was not the brain trust. My 2 partners, really great entrepreneurs, before the term was cool, had started and run several businesses. All very well run and they taught me a lot. But their businesses were unrelated. They had a used car lot where they'd buy cars out of the paper, put it on the lot, charge X but allow Y down and payments. The Y down covered their cost and they'd get how ever many payments they could. They had a countertop repair service in another city. And they'd just closed down a pretty large custom cabinet shop. Our first meetings were in the closed cabinet shop.

So there wasn't really any kind "plan". Games came out as fast as we could make them. There may have been some story arc but that would have been done more after the game was done.

Kind of wierd now but no story boards or any description at all as far as I remember. Basically while working on one game you'd be thinking about the next. So it was completely in your head. Sit down and start coding.

Inner Space inspiration...
There was a game I was "inspired" by called...can't remember the name. It was a pretty big game I think,... OK, just Googled it, can't believe I found it...Caverns of Mars for the Atari 800. I think at Apollo they'd bought a few games for us to play. We programmed on an 800 so that must have been where I saw it. I thought Caverns was really fun. I love shooters
http://youtu.be/UwGSVzqLCg4
OK, looking at the video it looks like I "inspired" the crap out of it. Like most of my games, very derivative. I also liked the look of arcade Defender, never really played it. And vertical scrollers on the VCS were so boring to me. But of course the 2600 made vertical scrollers easier.

So there was a connection between Rescue Terra I and Inner Space but mainly it was I liked space shooters.

I was driven mainly by graphics. My background had been fine art, painting and such. The thing I'm most proud of fro example is that the explosions in Inner Space are not exactly sprites. Normally you'd have say 3 or 4 hard coded explosion shapes in ROM and just animate them. For Inner Space I created each explosion "sprite" at runtime in RAM. Each explosion particle had it's own "physics"...6502 128 byte RAM physics mine you, but I thought it was cool. Used the same concept in Final Legacy and some other stuff. As far as I know no one else ever did that in a VCS, but possible of course. And because the sprite image was in RAM I put it just above the stack so I could use PLA which was a faster instruction than LDA so I had an edge there I thought. All VCS programmers (I thought) were always in search of some magic combination of hardware registers or instructions that would give us an edge.

PLA I remeber 30 years later. Robert Weatherby's name, the names of my business partners...not so much. Kind of says it all.


#2756088 Is Laser Gates really Inner Space?

Posted by DanOliver on Sat May 18, 2013 3:39 PM

I ran into this old thread while cruising and saw some of the posters were still active so thought I'd provide what info I could.

Dan was a decent programmer. Posted Image

What hurts the most is "was". Like the first time someone called me "sir" or the first time a rain drop passed unobstructed to hit my scalp.