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David Rolfe

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About David Rolfe

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  1. Was I too obscure? Perhaps. Okay, this was a pre-Internet company that was adding digital communications to cable networks, initially to distribute game software, with Internet-class visions beyond that (banking, whatever), but it all went bust in the Great Crash. This unit was "prototype" in that it was an initial sample off the factory line in Japan, except production was never ramped up. I don't know how many units were built or how many still exist; certainly not many. So as a precursor to the Internet, there's some historical interest here. If it hadn't failed, this startup might have become a monster Internet player. Yes, there were a couple such companies in the day; I won't say this is entirely unique, but it was ahead of its time, and may have been the best. There was a test market in Fullerton with non-production units for a time; the tech was good. Here is a link to a promotional video for The Games Network; the sealed box I have is (in theory at least) the unit you see demonstrated in this video, a real one (again, in theory; can't be sure without opening it). This video is aimed at selling to the cable companies, not the end user. There were stock offerings, venture capital, financial promotions, all the stuff you'd expect of a startup that's about to take off. It generated a lot of excitement at the time. (Pic shows a single unit; it came in 2 boxes.)
  2. Hi, all. I've got a completely random question, and forgive me for being vague, but this is very preliminary. I've got a hardware prototype game unit from the 1980's, not an Intellivision thing but something that's definitely worth a historical footnote, and might possibly be of some value to a collector. It's just been sitting around in its factory-sealed box, and one of these years I ought to do something with it...either donate it to a museum or put it on the market. I guess I need to float the question of whether it's worth money before I give it away. It's an obscure artifact, not a thing that I can look up and see what it goes for, and I can imagine it could fall anywhere between being of no monetary value whatsoever to one of those "Holy Grail" finds that eccentric billionaires would vie for. So...I'd like to run this question by some party in touch with the upscale end of the collectibles market. Any suggestions? I see the "WataGames" site has a page on prototypes; perhaps I should query them. Thanks for any comment.
  3. Not to mention that the Keyboard Component wasn't around in 1979. And the Master Component didn't make it to retail shelves until early 1980. We can hear a fragment of one of Jack LaLanne's pep talks (for Exercise Cassette) in the background here. Neat!
  4. I suppose this is fair moment to toss in some rambling memories. I'm not checking the facts, just noting what I recall off the top of my head, which may have degraded over the years... This was in the early 80's when Intellivision had been on the market a couple of years, and the original team was still at APh. I think there may have been regional variants of the show, but my recollection of the name is "Say POW", and it was broadcast by a local TV station, KTTV, at what I recall to be a late time: 10:00 or 10:30 on Sunday night. The KTTV studios were on Sunset Blvd. just west of the Hollywood freeway. The show didn't have a very long run. The nature of the game require a live show. No tape, no delays, because the caller had to see the live image. They invited a studio audience, so one night four of us tech boys piled in a car to see how the sausage is made. It was a small studio, and we were practically the only people in the audience. So the cameras never panned the audience, and if they used any crowd reactions, it would have been canned sound. I think it was a version of Hal Finney's "Star Strike" that was used for games, and I suppose there were others. I hadn't done any mod work to render games pow-accessible, so I hadn't been concerned about the gory details. Nothing noteworthy happened during our visit, but a couple weeks later Hal Finney (who hadn't been with us) went to the show and came back with an odd anecdote. I had no independent verification that this actually happened, but Hal was not a teller of tall tales, so I assume it's real. As I said, this show was necessarily live, and the emcee had a phone for the purpose of connecting to the contestant. Apparently that phone had a direct-dial number, rather than just being a switchboard extension. And apparently some joker knew that number. So, as Hal reported it, as the emcee was chatting with the contestant as the game started, a joker somewhere in the world was picking up a phone and calling the phone company operator and telling that operator there was an emergency and it was necessary to immediately cut in on such-and-such a line. I'd never thought about this, but I guess it makes sense that operators would do this in an emergency situation. So the POW game would sputter as an operator came on the line and announced an emergency, and then cut in with the joker who would start to curse. The emcee would hang up and try to restart, and of course another "emergency" would happen. The emcee was struggling to tell the operator that there was no emergency and not to put the joker on the line, but it was an uphill battle. That's what Hal told us. If it's not true, then it should be.
  5. The French and Exercise cassettes were the absolute pinnacle of Intellivision development. Alas, they barely made it out the gate. This video shows some rare views of those carts playing. Would like to see Mimi's animated face, or hear the wonderful exercise music! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ_GXfKzVlY&feature=youtu.be&t=215
  6. This video shows some rare views of actual working Keyboard Component software. Too bad we don't get to see Mimi's face; that was wonderfully animated and synchronized. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ_GXfKzVlY&feature=youtu.be&t=215
  7. Spoilers to follow. For those unfamiliar with the story, don't read this; instead I'd recommend you read the book, and then later go for the movie. The book touched me for three reasons: 1) It captured the sense of wonder of the magical realm of the computer, and 2) The pursuit of the puzzles, and the glorious moment of epiphany when the various pieces come together in logical beauty, rang true, and 3) I enjoyed the odd combination of nostalgia and future technology. A movie usually can't duplicate a book, and must re-work the flow to fit the cinematic form factor. So I figured I was doomed to be disappointed in the movie, because it was doomed to be a different animal. So my judgment is probably unfair. This being acknowledged... I feel that Spielberg did a workmanlike job, but it lacked the sharp insight or passion I might have hoped for. Contrast the epiphanies... In the book, Wade follows Halliday's life in small details, which inspires him to take Latin in high school as Halliday did. But Halliday's original hint is so vague..."...you have much to learn". Then he realizes the name of the school planet is "Ludus". Google translate tells me "ludus" means "elementary school", but the book has Wade associating "ludus" with the Latin verb "to learn", and thus realizing that this may be a clue as to where the first key is to be found...right on the planet of learning, where every kid has a shot at it. Now he can analyze the planet (instead of the whole OASIS universe) in search of a geographical clue, which leads him to the cavern...Anyway, it was all so brilliant and logical. Contrast this to the "Shining" sequence in the movie, where they find a key, but it's more of a haphazard adventure that a logical process. Yes, there's a logic to the thing, but it's more of an excuse for the adventure than a real deduction. I could go on, but it's not necessary. People like what they like, and that's fine. Maybe I would have liked the movie more when I was younger and less demanding that things make sense. Or if you're not going to make any sense (such as in a great comic romp like "Deadpool"), then don't pretend you're making sense.
  8. FWIW, here's a photo of me (center) and Hal Finney (left), from probably 1978, early in the era of Intellivision development. Note the bike and cinderblock shelves at left and adjacent desks; this was very much of a shoestring operation, both us and the business. Note what you *don't* see: No desktop computers or even monitors. We had paper on our desks, and we actually used it! Imagine that!
  9. David Rolfe

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  10. The Exec included a sound code routine that processed inline macros that defined a sound sequence. Here's a messy, complex example of an often-used sound that we built into the Exec, the crowd sound. The "funny" opcodes you see below are macros. Hal Finney and I worked together on the design of this system, and then I wrote the sound processor while Hal wrote the macro sequences for early sound, including this great crowd sound. I remember Hal paying special attention to the then-current (1978) film "Heaven Can Wait", listening carefully to the football crowd scenes in order to analyze what he could and would put into this crowd sound. Some noise mixed with a whistle, a trill, an air horn...we know a crowd sound when we hear it, but what's really in it anyway? The following block of code is from the Exec, and could be invoked by any game: TITLE "CROWD SOUNDS" ;SOUND OF A ROARING CROWD OF SPECTATORS CROWD:: BEGIN CROWD0::CALL SCODE ;DO THIS SOUND : ENABLE NCH1&NCH2 ;NOISE NFREQ &37 ;LOW VOL CH1,&4 ;VOL SOFT VOL CH2,&6 VOLV CH1,&6 ;BUT GETTING LOUDER VOLV CH2,&6 PAUSE &10 ;LET VOLUME GROW VOLV CH1,0 ;HOLD VOLUME STEADY VOLV CH2,0 NFREQV -1 ;THEN GO UP SLOWLY PAUSE &24 ;MAKE SOUND NFREQV 0 ;HOLD SOUND TONE STEADY NOW ;THIS PART MAKES WHISTLES, ETC: WBLP: ;FIRST MAKE 0 OR 1 WHISTLE RSETR SR3,1,2 PDJNZ 0,SR3,WLPDN WLP: ENABLE NCH2&TCH1 ;USE CHANNEL 0 FREQ CH1,&120,&12 ;FAIRLY SOFT VOLUME RFREQ 6 ;QUITE RANDOM IN PITCH ;THIS PART MAKES REPEATED WAVER AT PEAK OF WHISTLE FREQV CH1,-2,0 ;GO UP FIRST PAUSE &20 RSETR SR2,2,5 ;FROM 0 TO 3 WAVERS PDJNZ 1,SR2,WLP2DN WLP2: FREQV CH1,3,0 ;GO DOWN PAUSE 6 FREQV CH1,-3,0 ;THEN BACK UP WLP2DN: PDJNZ 6,SR2,WLP2 ;KEEP DOING THIS SOME FREQV CH1,2,0 ;THEN A FINAL FALL OFF PAUSE &20 ;TURN OFF WHISTLE FOR A RANDOM LENGTH OF TIME ENABLE NCH2 ;JUST NOISE RPAUSE 5,&60 ;FOR QUITE A RANDOM LENGTH OF TIME WLPDN: ;THIS PART MAKES SOME BUZZES RSETR SR3,1,2 ;0 OR 1 BUZZ PDJNZ 0,SR3,BZZDN BUZZLP: ENABLE NCH2&TCH1&TCH2 ;TWO TONE CHANNELS FREQ CH1,&1000,&12 FREQ CH2,&1100,&14 PAUSE &20 ;TURN ON SOUND FOR A WHILE ENABLE NCH2 ;JUST NOISE FOR NOW RPAUSE &10,&30 ;FOR A RANDOM LENGTH BZZDN: ;HERE, WE GO BACK AND DO SOME MORE WHISTLES PDJNZ 0,SR1,WBLP ;LOOP TILL DONE ;HERE, WE TERMINATE THE CROWD ROAR VOLV CH1,-&1 VOLV CH2,-&1 NFREQV &2 PAUSE &50 ENABLE NONE FIN ONS,NRET ; RETURN
  11. With respect to the question of emulating the Keyboard Unit, my opinion is it wouldn't be worthwhile. It was a marvel of its era, and it would be great to capture videos from a working unit, but I think watching those videos would be no less satisfying than running a full emulation. That's because the cassettes are a structured learning experience, so there's less room for variation and fresh amusement than there is for a free-form game. Does anyone really need to participate interactively with Jack Lalanne's exercises or Mimi's French lessons? The experience would be pretty much like watching the video, with some minor alternations.
  12. It would be noteworthy if it were possible to execute and record the Exercise or French cassettes, which demonstrated the pinnacle of the hardware and software...complex motion with coordinated sound playback, and digital and audio recording. You get a taste of what's there on the demo cassette. https://youtu.be/mvsT7ZI4ikU?t=221 One particular note...Mattel hired Robert Randles, a talented musician, to create little musical jingles to go with each exercise on the Exercise cassette. We worked with Randles to faithfully reproduce far more complex musical effects than had ever been done on the Master Component alone (not because the hardware couldn't do it, but because it took too much storage). Now, with infinite storage, we could produce effects such as glissandi. So Exercise includes both a lot of audio clips by Jack LaLanne (his name was a household word at the time) and customized electronic music that was pretty amazing for the era. It would be interesting if this stuff could be resurrected. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0709841/ The cassette tapes were uni-directional and had four tracks; two audio and two digital. One of the audio and digital tracks were pre-recorded, the other pair were blank and could be used to record home audio or digital data. I wonder whether any cassettes exist which can be read and reproduced these days. I'm pretty sure nobody would ever try to produce a new homebrew cassette; the process was intricate and wouldn't be worth the effort. (FWIW, I sent a bunch of old doc (the Keyboard Component version of the "Your Friend..." stuff, and the like) and commentary to Paul of the Intellivisionaries; historical stuff but of no practical use.) But if an old cart could be resurrected and played, it might make an interesting recording.
  13. These posts are interesting, but I can't nail down the "PDI" that I remember. I was the software guy trying to show STIC off to best effect; I was probably told more details about the "competition", but they're vague. Yes, four sprites on a line was stated; we stressed that this was an important limitation, because it would make a lot of games ugly. The mysterious competition had apparently provided some sort of demo game to match our "Killer Bees"; I never saw it, but I was told that the too-many-sprites-on-a-line situation never came up. I suppose that's what I'd do if I were them, which is arrange a demo to show strengths and hide weaknesses. Now that I mention it, that's also what I'd do if I were me. That was our big claim with the Exec: Look how much we can do with a teeny tiny program! We made a point of providing a byte count, which was a big deal in those days. I also recall some things being said about the PDI processing either being slow or more removed from the hardware than we were. I'm not sure of the details...very slow memory, or a level of interpretation, or some factor that I figured would hobble/limit the game designer. Bottom line was that I really did believe, based on whatever knowledge I had at the time, that STIC would be a great platform and this alternative would not. And of course, had Mattel not gone with STIC, our participation in the project would have been terminated. I wrote an early (pre-Exec) demo for Mattel in December of 1977, and it was my understanding that they showed it to a limited crowd in their hotel suite at Vegas CES in January of 1978, and this helped convince them that the project had good potential. But this PDI stuff happened after we had a working (albeit non-final) Exec, so that must have been maybe pushing towards mid-1978?
  14. The Exec was desirable in its day because ROM was expensive, so a 4k cart could get more bang for the buck if generic service could be offloaded. At this point in time, I don't see much reason anyone would want to deal with the Exec, unless you want to put together a quick-and-dirty Killer Bees-type project, or find it easier to grapple with the arcane Exec interface rather than grapple with the arcane STIC interface. By the way, I first wrote Killer Bees as a minor proof-of-concept demonstration for Mattel. There was some question as to whether an Exec was necessary, or whether some alternative competing technology to STIC was preferable. Some other vendor was hawking an alternative that struck me as pretty hokey and unworkable, but it was the sort of thing that might impress the know-nothing suits. I recall the acronym of PDI, which I said at the time stood for "Pretty Dumb Idea", but I'm pretty sure it stood for something else. Anyway, we wanted to show the suits how the kernel of a game could be implemented with a very small ROM footprint, thus reassuring them that we were on track to produce superior results.
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