The memories of gaming

Last updated on: 8/5/2011 4:06 PM 
Created on: 3/21/2014 2:18 PM 

I was reading the recent Alumni news letter from DePaul University that was talking about the success of a particular group of Computer Science students. What did these students do? They built a game. Yes DePaul actually has a degree in video game design and development. Of course this particular concentration wasn't around when I was attending classes but given the market for games I am particularly glad I was in other concentrations. For these students though, they are getting quite a bit of recognition and, based on my own dreams at one point, have to give them props for their accomplishment.

The story starts in traditional DePaul fashion when a faculty member realized "Hey, there is a national competition in 6 months, we should enter something!" These students created a first person shooter. The project game was given the title of Devil's Tuning Fork. Now keep in mind this is a Catholic university so in the game you are not out to shoot bad guys as much as you are to rescue good guys. They earned national attention at the competition, have been on radio programs and their game has been downloaded 800,000 times.

This reminds me of when I was much, much younger than a college student. I would finish homework and then go on the computer to work on developing my own game. Here is where it gets sad, the technology I had back them was limited compared to today's vast cyberspace located in one single computer. I was using a Commodore 64 and the programming language was BASIC. Do you remember the fun of line numbers? Visual Basic is more like today's block programming languages. BASIC however was line by line execution. You could get fancy and create your own embedded subroutines thanks to the gosub and return statements. You did have to however keep a good grasp on where you where in your code else be given the dreaded "Return with out a Gosub error" in which you would be told the line the return was on, but not the one that contains the gosub that was called.

I was building a space ship game in which you needed to blast enemy ships. Surprised? Then you don't know me very well. I only had the ability to have 8 sprites at a time. Sprites were essentially single color bitmaps in which if a bit was on, a pixel would have the sprite color, if it was off it would be transparent. Your program could move the sprites anywhere on the screen and they overlaid any text or colored background.

I remember allocating 1 sprite to be your space craft, 2 to be missiles, and the rest to be enemy craft. Of course I was such a noob that I didn't think of dynamically modifying sprites at run time but my goal was to complete the game. The Commodore 64 provided many characters so I was able to create some interesting ASCII Art of the back ground. The end result was primitive but the journey of creating the game was, for me, a fun adventure. In fact even in designs I create today the design and building of the solutions is brings me a great deal of satisfaction.

For the crew at DePaul, there are many tools and new frameworks to bring games up and running quickly. The advantage is the game designer can spend more time on game design and less on the basic building blocks. It still takes a lot of luck to reach the success that they have reached. The stars need to align that you have an idea that flows well, entertains, has a concept that becomes popular, and enough people have to like it to reach the public opinion that Devil's Tuning Fork has reached. For me, similar success won't come from game design, my calling in computer science has taken me to down a different path. It's also easy to distribute a game today without a major distribution channel. For the Commodore 64, I would have to have the game distributed on 5.25 floppy disks that people could then load up. As for that old 64, I still have one working one. The original that I developed some of my early software and games on didn't survive. It appears I have pushed the limits of its processor over the edge.


Wolffy's Over The Edge

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