Archive for June, 2009

Games from my childhood

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

I was just doing some web browsing, and ran across some screenshots of some classic TI 99/4a games I played as a kid. For anyone else who played Colecovision, Atari, or other home video games of the era, these should bring back some memories.

If you want to see more TI 99/4a games, you can find a bunch here.

I was also amused to discover that one of the games I created when I was a kid, Virus Attack (a clone of Dr. Mario), is on this page. (Scroll down to the very bottom.) Oh man, the hours and hours I spent working on that game, not to mention learning c99…

How I Got Into Game Programming

Friday, June 19th, 2009

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember when the first Nintendo came out. It was glorious. Full-scrolling screens! A robot that would play for you! TWO buttons on the controller, and a direction pad. And the games had a depth previously never seen in home video games. Super Mario Bros. blew previous Atari and Colecovision games out of the water.

The problem was, my mom wouldn’t let me buy a Nintendo. Huge bummer! I think she was afraid it would rot my brain. But she did let me buy an old computer that could still play games: a TI 99/4a. This baby had been abandoned by Texas Instruments many years before as a commercial failure, so I was able to pick up a unit for $50, and some cartridge-based games could be found for as little as $3. It wasn’t a Nintendo, but it was still *video games*. I was in.

However, those games quickly got boring, and I found myself wanting more. One day a member of a local TI 99/4a users group showed me an animated Christmas card one guy had made using TI BASIC. This concept blew my mind. I had assumed that to write computer software, you had to be a genius, in a company, and it had to be on a cartridge. You mean to tell me that I can write my OWN games, using a programming language, and I don’t even need to put it on a cartridge? I couldn’t believe it.

I was given an introduction to TI BASIC, and I was off. Man, I was doing all kinds of cool stuff… playing musical tones, changing the color of the screen, and printing “Hello Vern!” on the screen 100 times in a row. It was awesome!

One of the limiting things about the TI 99/4a, however, was that you couldn’t draw just any graphics on the screen. The screen was divided up into “blocks” — each one 8×8 pixels. There were 32 blocks horizontally, and 24 vertically. In each block, you could use only two colors (out of a total of 16 available), including the background color. That’s kind of limiting when you want to try to draw a picture!

Soon I set off to make my first game: Maze Mania. My brother designed mazes on graph paper. Then, inside each square, we converted each maze “block” into a corresponding letter. (A = top-left wall, B = top-right wall, C = bottom-right wall, and so on… including blocks with 3 walls, 2 walls, 1 wall, etc.) Some of the mazes stretched on quite a bit farther than a single page of graph paper, and required many hours to convert.

Then I typed each line of letters into the computer, and coded a program that drew each piece accordingly. I remember running the program, and finding lots of mistakes, either in what was typed in, or in the original conversion. It was a lot of work, but in the end, I had my OWN GAME!

Once finished, Maze Mania had 13 mazes ranging from short to huge, with options to print mazes out on your printer, or play them by guiding a marker through each maze, with an optional gray trail showing where you’ve been. It even included flashing text saying “Congradulations!!!!” when you beat the maze. (My spelling at age 9 wasn’t the best.)

Fast forward to today, and I’m still making games. But now I’m fortunately selling more than 10 copies of each game I make. (That was the total sales volume of each of my first two games. Quite a return on an investment, eh?)

All in all, my mom’s attempts to steer me away from video games, by not letting me get a Nintendo, were exactly what got me *into* video games, because the TI computer I bought instead is what led to my discovery of programming. So thanks, Mom!

New website live

Friday, June 19th, 2009

As you may have noticed, the ActionSoft website now has a new look! This is all in preparation for Insectoid’s upcoming release. In addition, you can now check out the Insectoid preview page… there are some juicy screenshots to whet your appetite. With any luck, the game will be released this July or August!