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Cormaning part one

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Ahh, Holiday GreedFest 98 is almost over. Just some belated gifts and tree disassembly left to go.

Back to what life is all about --WRITING GAMES!

The deal's almost officially closed with the publisher. Just waiting on the signed stuff to come back, and we'll be official.

As you've certainly noticed, I've decided to separate topics with these cute little horizontal rules from now on. Hopefully it'll make it look like I'm actually organized and not just ranting like Grampa Simpson.

Shelly and I finally got a chance to see Videotopia in Dallas. It's a travelling exhibit of classic video games. It's been at a Dallas museum since September, but I kept putting off checking it out. They're pulling up stakes next week, so I figured I'd better get over there. All in all, it was a worthwhile bit of entertainment. It was six bucks to get in, and it only included a couple of game tokens. In retrospect, I don't mind having to buy tokens. It did keep the legions of little kids from hogging the games, and dropping five bucks in the change machine doesn't drain the wallet as much as when I was a kid.

The selection of games was excellent. All of the games you'd expect were there, from Pac Man to Tempest to Donkey Kong to Missile Command. They also had some seriously old games, like an arcade Pong and Computer Space (complete with bulging fiberglass cabinet). Unfortunately, both of these weren't working too well. Pong's screen was off-center, so you could only see the paddles on the right, and Computer Space was suffering from an ugly screen-roll. We did play our fair share of games, and I did manage to clobber my wife in Donkey Kong.

BTW, yeah, I know that MAME plays most of the stuff we saw there, but the MAME games really lose some of the kitchy charm that they had when you played 'em in Aladdins Castle as a kid.

One of our favorite games while we were there was Tank (AKA Atari 2600 Combat), the game in which you ran a couple of tanks around a simple maze in an attempt to shoot the other guy. As a bit of forced irony, they put the 1974 Tank machine right next to a 1998 Tokyo Wars machine, just to show how little games have progressed in 24 years. Tokyo Wars, another of my wife's favorites, is basically a 3D version of the same game :)

The more significant or ground-breaking games had signs that explained interesting facts about 'em. There was also a small exhibit of how the games worked, with a couple of kiosks running short presentations. Microsoft shoe-horned a couple of kiosks of their own stuff in there, but they weren't making a good impression, as none of their stuff was working. There were a couple of childhood favorites I would like to have seen in there, like Venture, Star Castle, and Tail Gunner, but they did well.

Another game I would like to have seen again was the old SpaceWar arcade game. SpaceWar is basically Asteroids for two players --two ships and no rocks. For a buncha years in the early 70's, students at MIT had been hacking up SpaceWar on an old DEC PDP. After a dozen semesters and hundreds of late-night hacking sessions, they had an absolutely flawless 2-player game that they'd all play until the wee hours. Somebody finally got the idea to put a PDP in an arcade housing, so they could make some money off their game. They made only a few of 'em, and they were undoubtedly a maintenance nightmare, but it was an outstanding game for the time. I only played one a few times, but I'd love to play it again.

Good news --Roger Corman's official "how I did it" book is back in print! It was released in 1990, but it went out of print without a second printing. It appears that someone decided it was a worthwhile read, so he licensed it from the publisher and is re-printing it in paperback. It's entitled How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. I tried to buy this book about a year ago, but couldn't find it anywhere. Yesterday, I was wandering through a bookstore, and there it was. How's that for kismet?

For the uninitiated, Roger Corman is without peer as the past and future king of B-movies. Head over to the Internet Movie Database and look him up if you don't believe me. Corman had a grand knack for making movies in a very short time on a very small budget and making a profit on 'em. He would re-use sets, hire no-name actors, and would generally wring every dime out of a budget. Whenever I hear about a movie project stalling and wasting tons of money, like Waterworld, The Island of Dr. Moreau or the Planet of the Apes remake, I think to myself, "send in Corman. He'll have it done in a month!".

Factoid: Waterworld was originally pitched to Corman, but he turned it down because he figured it would've cost ten million dollars to make :)

Anyway, I'm about 1/4 though with this book, and it's already a shoe-in for my book-list. There's tons of cheap-movie philosophy that also applies to making low-budget games --the most important one being DON'T BE ASHAMED OF BEING LOW BUDGET! When I was at the IGDN conference in Plano, a couple of guys from one of the big studios found out that I wrote stuff for the discount rack and started talking about how it was all crap. I didn't even get upset about it. I just calmly let 'em know that there's a ton of pride involved in creating a product that's uniquely yours, that there's a lot of stress I avoid in not owing my soul to investors, and that while I'll never be interviewed by a magazine, i'm having a lot of fun.

Maybe someday I'll write my own book. . .How I wrote a hundred games, sold 'em all, made money, and had lots of fun doing it!
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