OK, let's get back into some REAL ROMPaging! There has been an imposter penning this column for the past few issues...someone not even fit to iron my cape for me! He may make an appearance in here from time to time if he's not too busy shining my boots, but never fear. I am always lurking in the shadows waiting for my chance to pounce someone and make their life a LIVING HELL!
I just got back from CGE a couple weeks ago and made a killing selling all the exclusive games on eBay. I was even able to lie and steal my way into a few extra copies of Elevator Action so those puppies will be on eBay for months to come. I've already put a down-payment on my new Lexus with the dough I made on the Combat II's I snaked from Marc O. But maybe instead of slapping them up on eBay, I'll smash them to bits with a sledgehammer? Or perhaps I should set fire to one as sort of an experiment to see how hot an Atari cartridge has to get before it starts to melt. Those damn Venture II wooden boxes he used to put his cartridges into are garbage. I put one under the leg of my desk to keep it from wobbling so much and the damn thing just crushed under the weight. What's up with that??
Well, you might have guessed where I'm going with this by now. Those of you who haven't may want to set this issue of DP aside and wait until my understudy comes back with one of his "columns". The bitching and crying that's been going on about the CGE exclusive titles just astounds me! I don't see the problem here at all.
Some guy decides to write a new game for one of the classic systems. Most people do it as a challenge - just to see if they can. They spend several months writing it and a couple more tweaking it. The game actually works and is kind of fun to play. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what's the next logical step. Well, you've just spent 4-6 months writing and testing the game, why not see if you can make a few bucks for yourself? So here we go again...you need a label, instructions, and maybe some sort of packaging. Wait a minute though! You can't even draw a stick-man and your cat has a better chance of writing an intelligently written manual than you do. No, you're not stupid. You just figured out how to write a videogame to run on a system with only 128 BYTES of RAM, but you don't do the art and writing thing very well. Well, you find a guy on the net who will do the artwork for you if you slip him a couple copies of the cart and you take a shot at writing the manual yourself. You're stylin' now!
So you're all ready-to-roll now. Your label and manual are done. A few people have tested the game and they all think it's a lot of fun. What's a soldering iron by the way? Holy shit! You mean I have to sit here and program my game onto chips and put them into cartridges? How the hell do I get all this stuff I've just typed-out in Notepad onto a computer CHIP?? So you start scrounging around for info and find out you'll need to buy an EPROM programmer. You snag a programmer and a find some used EPROMs on eBay at a decent price so you're in business.
The EPROM software takes a little getting used to, but you get the hang of it and now have a programmed EPROM with your game on it. You take- apart an old cartridge that after you scrape all the crud off of it, you come to realize it was a Combat at some point. Inside is a small circuit board with one chip on it. Cool! This chip is exactly the same number of pins that my EPROM is. I'll just pull it off and put my EPROM in it's place. Removing the Combat chip is no small task and when all is said and done, you've ruined the circuit board because several traces came off along with the chip. Common Atari 2600 cartridges are still plentiful so you grab a Yars' Revenge off the stack and set to work on it. Despite the fact that you just wasted an hour and a half on the Combat that's now in the garbage, you vow to be more careful this time.
The Yars' Revenge chip is now removed and you start soldering your EPROM onto the board. That fine point on the soldering iron you bought at Radio Shack only soldered about six pins before the tip melted so you're out another ten bucks and head back to Radio Shack for a better iron. FINALLY, the EPROM is soldered in-place and you hear a drum-roll as you plug the cartridge into your 2600. THE DAMN THING DOESN'T WORK!!
After an hour of inspecting the board for mistakes you might have made in removing the Yars' chip or soldering your EPROM you hit the net looking for info as to what the hell you did wrong. You come to find out that just because the chip you removed from the board had the same number of pins as your EPROM, that doesn't mean the chips are completely compatible. As it turns-out, you either have to install what's called an "inverter chip" or you have to purchase a homebrew circuit board designed to play Atari 2600 games from EPROMs.
OK, this is it...you have your inverter chip installed. It's just sort of dangling there, but you don't care - you just want to see your game playing on a real Atari 2600. You can figure out what you're going to do in the way of a circuit board later. You plug the circuit board in and the game works this time. After playing the game for a little while, you sit back and just sort of stare at the screen for a few minutes after which you let out a resounding
Originally, your only intention was to write a game for just to see if you could do it. The childhood memories of picturing the people who wrote these games as God-like combined with the tools and emulators that make it possible for anyone with a computer to write an Atari game were just too much to ignore. The idea of making a couple bucks out of the deal came later, but became nearly as strong a notion. What's involved in producing actual cartridges for people to play on their consoles came as a complete surprise.
Not only did you need to learn how to program a very limited system, you also had to take a crash course in electronics, remind yourself that you have absolutely no artistic talent, and figure out what's the most efficient way to remove 20 years of crud from Atari cartridges.
The cartridges are done and they look great. You figure your best shot at selling a bunch of them in one sitting is to bring them out to Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. You'll probably be able to sell all the cartridges you can stand making there and you'll come home with a few bucks in your pocket not to mention the fact that you'll probably have a great time hanging-out in Las Vegas with other classic game fans. So you announce it on the newsgroups that your new game will make it's debut at CGE. Immediately, you're bombarded with emails from people saying they won't be able to make it to CGE and could they buy one from you directly. Well, no, you can't buy one now. This is what I was trying to avoid in the first place. The next round of emails isn't quite so polite and the phrase "You are pond scum", to put it lightly, becomes very familiar to you.
Here you are...you write a 2600 game, decide to make it available in as large a quantity as you can handle, the only "fun" part of this process was over after you had written the game and people are busting your balls about it? To hell with this! You decide not to make any cartridges at all!
Parts of this scenario actually played-out prior to CGE 2001. Although not all aspects were experienced by one person, many of these issues actually did happen. What I have attempted to show here is just how much work is involved in developing and producing a game by a homebrew author as well as how many different "skills" have to be learned.
The thing that really pisses me off is that some people actually have the balls to give these homebrew authors a hard time! They go through all the bullshit involved in making carts available for people and no matter what they do or how they do it, it's still not good enough. Case in point: Venture II. While the game is really just Venture with changed graphics, Tim Snider went to great lengths in his packaging enclosing every cartridge in a little wooden treasure chest nested inside "gold" paper making it look like a treasure. When Tim announced to the newsgroups that he would have them available at CGE but there would only be 20 copies made, he was bombarded with hate mail. So much in fact, that he pulled the game and did not offer it at CGE at all. What the hell is wrong with people?!
I suppose it's possible that people just don't know what's involved in making a homebrew game, but I'd have to lean more towards them not caring. These guys put a lot of time into making these games and have the right to choose where and how they will sell it not to mention how many they will sell. There is no God-given right that says you have to have the opportunity to own every game there is. That's not even taking into consideration that you DO have an opportunity to own the game however.
I'm sick and tired of all this "I'm not rich enough to run out to Las Vegas and attend CGE" bullshit! A plane ticket from anywhere in the country can be had for no more than $400. You can't afford to set-aside $1 a day? Yeah, I know...there's hotel expenses and food as well. So can you manage $2 per day? Cut one package of Ho-Ho's out of your daily food intake and you're there! What about spending money? Well sell some of your extra stuff on eBay or have a garage sale or go to your local blood bank and sell a pint of blood a week. I simply refuse to believe that some of these guys can afford to "waste" money from time to time buying old videogames and can't scrape-together a few bucks once a year to make it to CGE. CGE is going on it's fifth year in 2002 which means you've had the past four years to try and set-aside a few bucks to make it out there. If you've attended at least once and it's not your cup of tea - fine. I have no problem with that whatsoever. Those of you who have never been there yet insist on bitching and crying after the show every year about the stuff you were unfairly cheated out of can kiss my ass!
You might as well get used to the idea...there will be exclusive games offered at CGE every year no matter how much you cry about it. It's a convenient place for people to release their homebrew stuff as well as prototypes that are being made available in limited quantities. Those of us responsible for running the show will do all we can to entice a few more people out to a show we spend A LOT of time and money putting- together. The show has grown from 200 people at World of Atari to over 1000 at CGE 2001 and if even 10% of that growth is due to the various games released at the show, it was well worth it. Each year we see hundreds of people who had to be very creative in gathering the funds to attend and purchase a few games at the show. If you can't manage to do the same, then it just sucks to be you.
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