Archive for the ‘personal game career history’ Category

Margaret is a 3rd-generation Computer Game Developer

February 1, 2007

The first computer game I ever played was written by my Dad, Jack Sharp. In the early 60’s he was a meteorologist in the Air Force and was learning to program. I was in 5th grade. His group held an open house for all the families to come ooh and ahh at the blinking lights of the massive mainframes.

He had written a game, a simple reaction-speed game. A line of people formed to try their reflexes against the big metal brains.

The game was to look at a row of lights and when they lit up to press any key on the teletype machine as fast as you could. Between lights on and keypress the computer would count supahfast. The computer would then print out “I COUNTED TO 13,047. FASTEST CONTESTANT’S SCORE: 11,012”, or if you were the fastest so far “CONGRATULATION!!! I ONLY COUNTED TO 10,711. A NEW RECORD!!!”

We, of course, were dazzled by the machines counting speed. I was determined to set a new record.

I was filled with adrenaline when it was my turn to play. My reflexes were over-primed. I saw a flicker and TAP – lightning fast keystroke. The computer printed “CONGRATULATIONS!!! I ONLY COUNTED TO 0. A NEW RECORD!!!” I had jumped the gun, hit the key before the lights went off, and I was devestated. I felt like crawling into a hole.

My Dad was embarassed. He said he was sure he’d put a check for jumping the gun into his program. But there was no was to reset my “record score” of zero without rebooting the whole shebang, which was for some reason not possible.

So the first time I played a computer game I found a bug. In my Dad’s program. In front of all his colleague’s families. Luckily Dad had a wonderful sense of humor.

Dad went on to have a great career in meteorological computing. He wound up heading the massive Automated Weather Network – a worldwide network of weather observation gathering and forecasting computers which was an early-70’s precursor of the Internet. He was proud that some of the low-level network code he wrote survived in the system for many years.

To bad I’m such a godlike coder that Margaret will never have the thrill of finding a bug in any of my games.


Moving Forward

January 21, 2007

I haven’t published a game in 15 years. Haven’t programmed professionally in 9 1/2 years. For most of the past decade I was too disabled by my brainrot to work. I had a part-time aide.

My “brainrot” is a nasty blend of epilepsy, peripheral neuropathy, and quite probably chronic fatigue syndrome. It is an hourly challenge to work around my cognitive limitations to get ChipWits out the door. I am about 30% as productive a programmer as I was 10 years ago.

I have been really beating myself up about missed “deadlines” for dropping a playable build. In the past when I was shipping a game it made sense to make myself feel awful for schedule slips – back when timing for Christmas release was life-or-death for a game’s sales. While working on King of Chicago I can remembering seeing the first orange Autumn leaf and my knuckles going white with stress.

In talking to friends about how ChipWits is going I find myself saying We made progress today, or We got something done, or It keeps moving forward.

I have a great deal of hope that releasing ChipWits as an ongoing beta will be the ideal way for me to get back into the game industry. I will post known bugs and features to be added and knock them off at the pace I can accomplish.

Stressing about deadlines was keeping me from enjoying rebuilding ChipWit. I am getting better at feeling good about moving forward.

Archeological expedition into the Ancient Maps of ChipWits

January 4, 2007

Mike and I wrote ChipWits in 1984 in a blaze of inspiration and insanely hard work. After launching the Mac version in Fall 84 we produced the Commodore 64 version and the Apple II version in less than 6 months.

I didn’t keep the best notes. I’ve got a box of disks and printouts and sketches of IBOL ops and even the first drawing of a ChipWit (which I will scan and upload here). Nowhere can I find maps of the original 8 missions.

So I am playing the original game on an online Apple II Emulator (IE only for now, they are working on their Firefox emulator plugin):

Stymied by a impassable pastry

The majesty of Apple II Graphics: ChipWit #7, lacking ZAP or PICKUP, is blocked by PIE.

I wrote a keyboard-driven ChipWit so I could explore at will. IFKEY S->SKATE FORWARD, IFKEY X->SKATE RIGHT45, IFKEY Z->SKATE LEFT45.

Apple II Keyboard-driven ChipWit with a bug

There are 2 Bugs in this ChipWit! Spot ’em! Answer tomorrow.

The Apple II IBOL editor is pretty amazing. We did the Mac version first and were Mac zealots so not only did we port the game to the C-64 and Apple II but the cursor-driven menu interface. as well. Note that instead of a mouse, players had to use a joystick to control the cursor. Clunky but it works. Running in emulation the interface is even clunkier.

I wound up having to kill 2 editing-induced bugs before it ran.

I decided to spelunk in Octopus Garden first – the most challenging mission. The ChipWit always starts on a random square in a central room. There are 8 corridors running from that room, each terminating in a room containing a high-score DISK to PICKUP.

It feels very strange playing one of my own 22-year old games. I know that I spent endless hours working with Mike on the Apple code and all the sound-FX and silly little animations did a real deja vu number on me. It was fun when an electrocrab sidled up to me because my heart-rate did go up and I SKATED my guy out of the room ASAP.

I ran into 2 pies that blocked my path (fiendishly placed there by some devious game designer (me or Mike)). So now IndieBot (the CW’s new name (after I. Jones)) sports a ZAP chip to clear the PIE.

I’ll have all 8 missions mapped by tomorrow. If I survive the PIE.


Yesterday’s bug – The arrows from both bottom chips should point right:

IndieBot debugged