[stella] Why write for the 2600

Subject: [stella] Why write for the 2600
From: Glenn Saunders <cybpunks@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 01:06:55 -0700
I thought I'd bring up a philosophical thread today.

This was precipitated by a new project I'm working on, and I'd like to take a pulse here.

I registered the GAMEDEVELOPERS.NET domain and am now starting to build it out. I'm working on the SQL database structure right now.

The intention of GameDevelopersNet is for it to be a Game Developers' Net_work_, of course. More specifically, I'd like to build a portal similar to MP3.COM in which indie producers (as I call one-man-one-game developers) can have strength in numbers. Sure, you can build your own site around your game, but that won't get as much exposure as being part of a collective portal. So GameDevelopers.net would provide a single meetingplace and distribution point for these games.

It would be like a melding of MP3.COM and CNET Download.com, with some Shockwave.com thrown in. I know, big ambitions, but it's not a big investment on my part so I'm giving it a shot to see if it takes off.

Now, one may ask, what kind of games can you write these days where it's just one person one game? For modern platforms, it would most likely be Java or Shockwave. Online games like these need to download quickly, so they can't be very expansive.

Then there are, of course, games for classic systems, which one can play on emulators or the real thing.

I wanted to throw out the question of WHY to write for a classic system to everyone and see what the responses are. I think that, by and large, classic type games are accepted better when targeted for classic hardware than modern platforms. When you only have a 1.19Mhz processor and 2D sprite graphics to work with, nobody is complaining. They just see the gameplay. But even with Java and Shockwave, I think some people are expecting a lot more because they are driven directly by the host's PC resources.

On another level, when you write for a console platform like the 2600 you know exactly how the end user will experience your program, right down to the framerate. The hardware is standardized. When you write a Java game there is no way of knowing whether the host's machine is fast enough to deliver your desired framerate, etc... This was recently demonstrated with the Joust Pong thread on RGVC. You have to write some elaborate frame skipping or delay routines to accomodate differently powered PCs. This would presumably also be a problem with Shockwave, with the added issue of cross-platform compatibility.

And I also think that the control situation is better writing for the 2600. Java applets don't, as far as I know of, have a way to directly interface with PC controllers. They tend to just use the keyboard. Shockwave does through Xtras but this hasn't caught on too much. And even if they did, there simply aren't very good controllers (for classic games) available for the PC. It's very hard to find an arcade style 8-way digital joystick for the PC. Everything is either an analog flight stick or a Playstation type dual shock clone. With the 2600 you've got your sticks and 4 paddles. You don't have to worry about DirectInput or configuration different options for a 2nd, 3rd or 4th simultaneous player.

So I was just wondering where everyone thought the future of new classic games might lead us.

I've been a strong proponent of a "neoclassical" movement of very finely tuned _original_ games with a classic feel. We've definitely seen some come from this list, but only for the 2600. I think the market can support them for other platforms as well. I'm not really talking about the kind of programming-exercise Space Invaders or Pac Man java applets which are ubiquitious these days. I'm talking about mostly original ideas which are an extension of classic game design sensibilities, with deliberate constraints on game features, perspective, and scope.

I am hoping that GameDevelopers.Net can be a forum for these sorts of games, where game producers write within these limitations because they are in scale with their available resources, and not feel like they are somehow sacrificing the end product by doing so.

What do you all think of this? Must the game industry scale upwards in budgets and development effort or is there room for a Blair Witch subgenre to be profitable? I mean, take a look at Square between Final Fantasy VI and today. They are the poster boys of out of control game projects. If this is what gamers EXPECT, then I think we might see a point in the near future where it is theoretically impossible for game companies to recoup their development funds.

There must be room for a different kind of game...

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