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Robotron: 2084.
August 2, 2002 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Robotron: 2084. Presented is an interview with the creator of the fantastic game from the mid 80s; regarding the design of enemies in the game, he has this to say: "Some of the most interesting and deadly aspects of the enemies were bugs caused by improperly terminated boundary conditions in the algorithms. Often these bugs produced behavior far more interesting and psychotic then anything I conceived of." There are many more interviews of classic game authors in the book which is the source for this interview, James Hague's Halcyon Days. (Link thanks to Glish.)
posted by moz (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
included are interviews with Brian Moriarty (infocom), Marc Goodman (The Bilestoad), John Harris (Frogger for the Atari), and Danielle Berry (M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold; formerly Dan Bunten). needless to say, my opinion is buy it, buy it, buy it.
posted by moz at 1:36 PM on August 2, 2002


"Robotron" has always been frustrating in non-arcade versions because of the lack of the dual joystick control. Because of the intensity of play the game is very athletic, and it is very nice to have a 300 pound arcade cabinet stabilizing your joysticks.

Hell yeah. That game was video crank. Used to play it in a largely un-air-conditioned arcade, finish a game and look down at a puddle of sweat, literally. Good times.
posted by sacre_bleu at 1:55 PM on August 2, 2002


You can play Robotron and Defender online here.
posted by Kikkoman at 1:56 PM on August 2, 2002


it was an early experiment in digital publishing: though the book used html for formatting, it was shipped to readers on a 3 1/2" diskette for a price of $20

...and if there had been a print version that I could read in the bath, I would have bought it. As it was, I kept putting it off as too much trouble.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:01 PM on August 2, 2002


Moz, best MeFi post today. I admit I'm a Slashdotter at heart, and I love nerdy links like this ;-) Oh, and thanks for that link, Kikkoman. Very faithful reproductions of the games!

Eugene is right when he says that the truly -great- games aren't just improvements in graphics, but total paradigm shifts.. Tetris, Mario, Dune 2, Doom, Bomberman, etc. I wonder what interesting paradigm shifts we'll see in newer games.

To be honest, shifts like Black and White, and The Sims really haven't excited me. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the only recent game I can think of that's very original and that I really enjoy, as it's not like your typical 3D game.

Nowadays, games seem to be focusing too much on simulations or multiplayer features. Where are the new paradigms in action games? Sadly, there aren't many.

(And for all you film buffs out there, Robotron is the game that the guy is playing in Koyaanisqatsi.)
posted by wackybrit at 3:20 PM on August 2, 2002


Nowadays when every video game seems to be either a) driving something really fast or b) two people beating the crap out of each other, Robotron can still beat em all, hands down, for sheer adrenaline-fueled rush.

Few games can match that steadily mounting, claustrophobic panic that comes when the multitudes start closing in. Not to mention the surreality of that Wally-n-Beav family trotting about.

Classic still rule.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:27 PM on August 2, 2002


OK, CarnEvil has a twisted brilliance. But give me the Zen hum of Battlezone any day.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:29 PM on August 2, 2002


(Disclaimer:Let me preface this comment by saying I'm not trying to brag or anything here, nor am I in any way attempting to represent my current employer.)
That said, I work at Midway Games, the heir to the Williams throne. The guys who made many of these classics I grew up on are still here, including the people responsible for Tron, Spy Hunter, Defender, Omega Race, and a bunch of others. Nowadays, though, they're just one of many, many people per team. It's no longer just one guy in a broom closet cranking out code.


...Which is a bit of a shame, really, because I still think those old games were ten times more interesting than much of what the industry poops out these days...and that includes some of our own titles. Heck, we've got a Robotron machine in the break room and I play it every day, just for the sheer adrenaline rush.
posted by 40 Watt at 3:35 PM on August 2, 2002


Cool interview. This guy has obviously thought long and hard about gameplay elements in both the virtual and real world. The point about limitations was an excellent one. I love immersive games -- just got done playing some CTF -- and the points he makes are very relevant. (I still like 3D.) We think, for example, that we want completely open-ended scenarios, but what we really want is the controlled roller-coaster ride of a good action movie. James Bond never has too many choices to make -- in fact, the films are often structured so that he has none other than moving to the next obvious threat.
posted by dhartung at 3:41 PM on August 2, 2002


Heck, we've got a Robotron machine in the break room and I play it every day, just for the sheer adrenaline rush.

Are you at the place on California Ave? I live right around the corner from there, and I am drawn to that place like a magnet.
posted by thirteen at 3:46 PM on August 2, 2002


Gandhi, the video game, would have to wait; it was time for some killing action. We wired up the "fire" joystick and the chaos was unbelievable.

This says something about human nature. Although Gandhi the video game is an interesting idea.

I'll let you kids play with that ball...
posted by gottabefunky at 3:46 PM on August 2, 2002


Thirteen:

Yup, that's us. It's acutally less exciting than you might imagine. :)
posted by 40 Watt at 3:55 PM on August 2, 2002


(And for all you film buffs out there, Robotron is the game that the guy is playing in Koyaanisqatsi.)

That and Q-Bert, Pacman, and Defender (although it's quite possibly Stargate). IIRC, it's been a while, although the DVD's out soon!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:25 PM on August 2, 2002


Great interview. It seems like every game this guy had anything to do with was great. NARC was a great relic of the War on Drugs propaganda. The heroin clowns that would throw syringes, the meth lab filled with mutant dogs. Fun.
posted by destro at 5:12 PM on August 2, 2002


inp: Ooh, I forgot about those other games. Yeah, that crazy woman was playing Pacman. I don't recall seeing Q-Bert though.

I thought Robotron worked really well in that part of the film as it symbolized everything else the film was trying to say in just a few seconds. The whole constant 'bearing down, cog in a machine' thing.

DVD is pre-ordered already ;-) It's my favorite film! Can't wait for Naqoyqatsi to come out too, it's got a lot of special effects, but I've heard the music is killer.
posted by wackybrit at 5:20 PM on August 2, 2002


(Disclaimer:Let me preface this comment by saying I'm not trying to brag or anything here, nor am I in any way attempting to represent my current employer.)
That said, I work at Midway Games, the heir to the Williams throne.


man, i'd love to program games someday. i'm in chicago too. ah well -- one day. (maybe. probably not, but i wish.)
posted by moz at 6:37 PM on August 2, 2002


I don't recall seeing Q-Bert though

The guy holding the baby is playing it with his other hand.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:07 PM on August 2, 2002


Dear Pixellated Lord, I loved Robotron. I had forearms like a longshoreman from playing that game. Getting into the Robotron zone was like drugs, before I discovered drugs. Thanks for the link, moz.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:30 PM on August 2, 2002


man, i'd love to program games someday. i'm in chicago too. ah well -- one day. (maybe. probably not, but i wish.)

It's something that a lot of people have wanted to do, have enjoyed, or have had fun doing in their spare time. But.. I can't help but feel that the really fun days of gaming are over.

Games these days (mostly - not all) require major investments, lots of cash, artists, etc. etc.. you can't just be a coder spending months coding something like Robotron or Pole Position. The limitations these days aren't technological, but creative.

This is more of a Slashdot conversation, but has most of the fun gone out of games programming these days? All it seems to be about these days is making a better 3d engine..
posted by wackybrit at 8:53 PM on August 2, 2002


wacky:

Games these days (mostly - not all) require major investments, lots of cash, artists, etc. etc.. you can't just be a coder spending months coding something like Robotron or Pole Position. The limitations these days aren't technological, but creative.

see, i don't buy that. and maybe that's foolish optimism talking. companies blow tons of budget on games and people with no direction. where is the quality assurance: the knowledge that the game you bought might have one or two bugs? why am i forced to download a patch for the game that is vital to its working order with some?

the saddest aspect of games today are the way some teams are treated. fatbabies, a game rumor site, though rumor is nonetheless riddled with stories of teams let go following the production of a game. Jon Van Canegham -- one person -- programmed Might and Magic 1. the quality of the 9th game is lacking, despite its large supporting team. and 3DO continues to struggle. maybe less is more?
posted by moz at 9:23 PM on August 2, 2002


You raise a good point, especially as games such as the one-man developed Snood have become so popular.

But still, I don't think programming is so 'romantic' anymore. Staying up coding some crappy game in the 80's was a lot more fun then because you were 'on the edge' and it was all something new. Nowadays, if you just want to code a 'little game', it'll probably come out crappy, and nothing like anything you could buy at the store unless you are -really- into 3d and have many many hours to invest.

Of course, if Flash and Shockwave are you thing.. there's still tons of room to make small original games.. but I was originally thinking from a non-scripted POV.

Come up with the next 'Tetris' and you could be rich.
posted by wackybrit at 10:55 PM on August 2, 2002


That'll serve me right to typo in my tags.. I was linking to Snood.
posted by wackybrit at 10:56 PM on August 2, 2002


wackybrit: This is more of a Slashdot conversation, but has most of the fun gone out of games programming these days?

Look at the sales, all the Quake based games are selling like hotcakes. I doubt there's any gamer who would think the points made in this interview are wrong, but when I tell the very same gamer that his favorite games are shitty timewasters I've already played 5 years ago he might have a word or two to say about that.

People want Quake and investors are listening. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of coders out there with great ground-breaking ideas, but who is going to take such a multi-million gamble? In the 80-early 90's you could make a crazy game and sell it to arcade owners who made real life quarters from it. Now arcades barely exist outside of some bowling alley corner and its really all about getting the home buyer exicited about the product through marketing and advertising. The arcade was like a sampler, the home market has more layers of BS to go through before you can get your hands on the game. Rentals help, but not when they're 1/8th the price of buying the game compared to the old economy that ran off of quarters.

For instance if I wanted to sample 6 games blockbuster would want about 36 dollars from me. A modern arcade wants about 3 dollars. No wonder people are falling for brand association more than the merits of the game. Did the home market save or kill videogames? Who knows.

Yes, creativity and innovation are all great, but who's buying? All industries start with wild-eyed guys like Jarvis
who are full of great, lousy, and crazy ideas. Now the cost of entry is pretty prohibitive and any simple yet innovative game isn't going to sell, its going to be a java or flash app you download for free. Look how many people went crazy over the 'laser and mirror' game. You could have sold that in the 80s. Now its just some download you forget about a week later.
posted by skallas at 12:10 AM on August 3, 2002


Hmm that sounds a bit cynical. I don't think videogames are doomed, but the gamers and fanboys really have to demand something other than a target to shoot, preferably over the LAN. When people start thinking of videogames like, say, board games we'll see a much different market. No game plays exactly like monopoly or risk and if it did we would call it a rip-off. Today a Quake based based or even a Quake engine license is called innovative. That's just wrong.
posted by skallas at 12:22 AM on August 3, 2002


skallas:

People want Quake and investors are listening. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of coders out there with great ground-breaking ideas, but who is going to take such a multi-million gamble?

no one will. you're right to say it, skallas. next gen coders who want to do what they want will probably have to find a way to do so on a low budget. independent filmmakers somehow do it. but, really, i think that if you lull yourself into the belief that what you make must be a multimedia extravaganza then you will never have enough budget and what you produce likely will fail.

Look how many people went crazy over the 'laser and mirror' game. You could have sold that in the 80s. Now its just some download you forget about a week later.

there's too many other things that you can use your computer for, now. when i was a little kid, i had an apple ][c. for a lot of games, to play them you had to insert the boot disk and turn on the computer. when you were finished, you turned the computer off. the purpose of my computer largely revolved around that. people multitask now, and they have email and things to do online. the point of game production is the same: hold the interest of your audience. it's harder to do so, now. but there's proof that innovative games do well -- at least different games: look at the sims. it's a souped up version of little computer people, and it's done really well.

wacky:

But still, I don't think programming is so 'romantic' anymore. Staying up coding some crappy game in the 80's was a lot more fun then because you were 'on the edge' and it was all something new. Nowadays, if you just want to code a 'little game', it'll probably come out crappy, and nothing like anything you could buy at the store unless you are -really- into 3d and have many many hours to invest.

i think programming can still be romantic. there are a lot of people in the unix world who spend a lot of time programming (not that i think that's so healthy). but many of the unix programmers are too pragmatic, i'm afraid. and i am not convinced 3D is the only way to go if you want to sell, but there's some cool stuff you can do with 3D.
posted by moz at 12:05 PM on August 3, 2002


I wonder how much Eugene Jarvis has influenced modern warfare?

"It was fun for about fifteen minutes, running the robots into the electrodes. But pacifism has its limits. Gandhi, the video game, would have to wait"

Even though I was never an arcade rat I still found this interview fascinating. He seems extremely intelligent, an alpha hunter of the artistic/scientific clan.

Here's a site that talks about Robotron 2084
This is aShockwave version of the game that I am told is an accurate emulation of the Robotron 2084.
It plays nicely.

BTW even though this is my first post here at MeFi my nick-name has nothing to do with gaming.
posted by gametone at 12:32 PM on August 3, 2002


i think programming can still be romantic. there are a lot of people in the unix world who spend a lot of time programming (not that i think that's so healthy). but many of the unix programmers are too pragmatic,

You make another good point. The Linux-only games arena is much more like the 80's PC industry than anything else. Games are still reasonably basic, and communities of coders seem to have tons of fun coding new things. One example of this is the cute Frozen Bubble.

Perhaps Linux is where its at for people who want to make their mark? Of course, your audience is smaller, but so much more devoted to trying other software than the regular PC user who's scared of viruses and such. The amount of press you can get on Linux sites is amazing too.
posted by wackybrit at 1:08 PM on August 3, 2002


We used to call Defender "die three times," since newbies would spend their first life motionless getting clusterkilled, then discover the forward motion on their second life, immediately ramming something, and then quickly lose their third life after some feeble attempt at maneuvering and shooting.

Robotron was addictive, for sure. I'm not surprised that bugs made it tougher, gave it that "human" edge. A little later I recall getting hooked on another maze game, this time with gravity effects: Major Havoc.
posted by xian at 2:39 PM on August 3, 2002


a Shockwave version of the game that I am told is an accurate emulation of the Robotron 2084.

It's perhaps an accurate software emulation of the game. As Jarvis points out in the interview:
"Because of the intensity of play the game is very athletic, and it is very nice to have a 300 pound arcade cabinet stabilizing your joysticks. Without true dual fixed joysticks, the game can be quite frustrating in console and PC versions."
I really can't imagine enjoying anything but the arcade version. Non-players don't understand why I sweat when playing it.

Also, Brother From Another Planet (1984) is another movie in which Robotron makes a cameo.
posted by gluechunk at 3:49 PM on August 3, 2002


Eugene is right when he says that the truly -great- games aren't just improvements in graphics, but total paradigm shifts.. Tetris, Mario, Dune 2, Doom, Bomberman, etc.

To that list I would add Civilization, Archon, and Tongue of the Fatman. But while Dune 2 pioneered the whole gather resources-> build structures-> build units-> destroy structures formula for RTS games, the game was preceded by the first recognizable RTS, Herzwog Zwei.

Doom also had it's predecessors. Wolfenstien 3D came along earlier but it turned out that killing nazis wasn't as much fun as killing aliens so FPS's didn't really catch on until Doom. Just like RTS's didn't catch on until the later gen of games: C&C, Warcraft etc and it took Street Fighter 2 to popularize the fighting game genre that Tongue of the Fatman pioneered.

And all of these games were influenced by even earlier ones. My feeling is that games evolve gradually until one comes along with the right ingredients from previous games and a pinch of something new and wraps it up a nice playable package. Then that game is cloned to death. I'd say music, movies and books follow a similar cycle.
posted by euphorb at 11:28 PM on August 3, 2002


has most of the fun gone out of games programming these days?

Yes and no. It's much harder to get something satisfactory on screen these days, but you can do so much more, and there's many more places to get help.

We've got stuff running today that we've not seen in any other game to date, and frankly, that gets me just as excited as my first sprite engine.

I'm also quite excited about the indie scene, as the barriers to entry are getting lower and lower, even on the consoles. I'm pleased to report that there are more developers registered on the PS2 linux board than there are on it's professional-only equivalent.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:00 AM on August 4, 2002


Perhaps Linux is where its at for people who want to make their mark? Of course, your audience is smaller, but so much more devoted to trying other software than the regular PC user who's scared of viruses and such.

There's some seriously talented and creative people making games for the Mac that seem to me to fall into this category.
posted by toddshot at 2:50 AM on August 4, 2002


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