"You people should spend less time in front of a bloody screen and more time ... reading real things."
June 1, 2010 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Nomen Ludi. Rob Beschizza, gadget blogger for Boing Boing and previously for Wired, writes about his quest for the completion of an eight-bit game that no one else remembers, and the lost programmer who wrote it.
posted by Halloween Jack (42 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
5 bucks says that lost programmer will show up here in this thread
posted by wheelieman at 10:03 PM on June 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Having read the article, I somehow doubt that.
posted by hippybear at 10:10 PM on June 1, 2010

That was a great bit of geek-fi. Almost a movie, although I think Cthulhu or his equivalent would have to turn up in the third act.
posted by unSane at 10:16 PM on June 1, 2010

It does make me wonder what happened to the programmer.

Also, there's obviously more copies of the game floating about, hence the screenshots from an emulator.
posted by mrbill at 10:16 PM on June 1, 2010

posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:52 PM on June 1, 2010

Thanks for that link - what an engrossing read.
posted by Glow Bucket at 10:52 PM on June 1, 2010

That's the only thing I've ever read on BoingBoing that actually sent me somewhere emotionally.
posted by mykescipark at 10:58 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

mrbill: "Also, there's obviously more copies of the game floating about, hence the screenshots from an emulator."

Oh, I thought those came from the reporter.
posted by boo_radley at 11:01 PM on June 1, 2010

I'm not convinced it is real, but interesting nonetheless.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:06 PM on June 1, 2010

That was a good story. It somehow seems like it is only a story, though. The fact that he can't identify the forum where he got his answers with specificity makes my Spider-sense tingle.
posted by grouse at 11:24 PM on June 1, 2010

The writer of the story also never explains how he got the copy of the game he remembered playing, since it was never published. Interesting story, but I think it's mostly made up.
posted by mrbill at 11:54 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I can't put my finger on it but this does seem like fiction for some reason. What happened to the programming prodigy, had he had a stroke? Would the father really be that angry and would the things he says sound so, I don't know, awkwardly stereo-typical? Strangely, though, this story reminds me of something, an older story, that, at first, seemed true but that I soon realized was fake. Now I'm having a similar experience as the narrator except it's about a piece of fiction and not a video game.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 12:09 AM on June 2, 2010

Haunting story.

Regarding the programmer, it's hard to diagnose someone with such a tiny bit of information, but it sounds like schizophrenia to me. The onset age is about right - the description of him as an adult seemed right.

I was also wondering how he got the copy of the game... sorta brings it all into question, don't it?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:17 AM on June 2, 2010

Amstrad CPC represent!

The writer of the story also never explains how he got the copy of the game he remembered playing, since it was never published.

Well the father said they'd never published / duplicated it. That doesn't rule out the programmer giving some people some copies. Those tapes and discs used to get around.
posted by Jimbob at 12:43 AM on June 2, 2010

(There are actually a load of old Amstrad games I remember playing as a kid that I've never managed to find on the net now, despite the thousands of games available for download from sites like this. Admittedly, it's not like I have put in as much effort as the author to track them down...)
posted by Jimbob at 12:46 AM on June 2, 2010

This seems like a really, really good piece of fiction. Frankly I would be disappointed if it all turned out to have been real.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 12:48 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fiction. The tape at the end with the Madonna music / clue / code was ridiculously literary.
posted by benzenedream at 12:58 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

To me, the "where did he get the game?" problem is the least problematic part of the story. For me, that's the detail that made the story so evocative of the time period.

My family had a crapload of Commodore 64 games, most of which we copied from people my dad knew from work. I'm sure most of those people had copied them from others. And sure there were the Epyx games and other well-known titles, but there were also plenty of kind-of-broken seeming titles that had come from who-knows-where.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:11 AM on June 2, 2010

Okay fine. Fiction. But plausible.
posted by Jimbob at 1:18 AM on June 2, 2010

Pixels shone like gemstones in darkness. Phosphors moved over the face of the deep and formed into random landscapes. Every play was different, a 64Kb window onto a universe of iterations. Music, naked square waves, rang out. I'd forgotten that place for a decade, but it had not forgotten me.


posted by delmoi at 1:33 AM on June 2, 2010

Fiction. but scary. I was once a hair's breadth away from being that kid.
posted by silence at 2:26 AM on June 2, 2010

Fiction. Obviously. (The dad's behavior is strange, the idea that they would happen to live an hour away is stranger. And Googling for the many forum threads he claims to have started finds nothing.)

But the idea of an unpublished game getting around is not strange at all. I used to have tons of games for my Atari 800xl, many copied from friends and strangers at parties arranged for that purpose, and many were pre-release, embargoed copies of things that never got released properly.

Some of the writing is a bit, er, Doctorowesque, but I have to give the author credit for the awesome, presumably completely fabricated screenshots.
posted by mmoncur at 2:57 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Reminds me of the guy who found the Bio Force Ape cartridge (via Jairus).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:31 AM on June 2, 2010

... a deposed king, stricken by amnesia, wandered the Orient in search of his former life...
Someone needs to make this game.
posted by Ritchie at 3:48 AM on June 2, 2010

He should've ended it like this:

'And as the tape began to play, the room filled with a haunting dirge from my youth, the thin fingers of its brittle melody penetrating the holes in my fractured psyche and plucking frigidly at the wounded heart within: We're no strangers to love...'
posted by RokkitNite at 4:01 AM on June 2, 2010 [7 favorites]

"...If you know what's good for you leave it alone."

The messages from the father sounded like someone has been watching too many Scooby Doo cartoons.
posted by vacapinta at 4:13 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was also wondering how he got the copy of the game... sorta brings it all into question, don't it?

The answer is sort of in there if you read closely:

1) The oddest thing was that as a youngster, I'd hardly cared for the thing. It was just one of dozens borrowed from someone or other and copied on the double tape deck, the act of piracy its own transgressive reward.

2) one poster dug out an excerpt from an interview or letter column in the short-lived "CPC Attack!" magazine:

"This is in issue 3 of CPC attack. perhaps your man?

Q: What happened to programming prodigy David Ward? A: No idea. A preview of his first game was sent to mags, but we never saw it on the shelves and never heard from him again. Sometimes, that's how the chips fall. Maybe the kids at Amstrad Action know more."

If its real, I'd bet he had a copy of a preview sent to a magazine.
posted by anastasiav at 4:19 AM on June 2, 2010

the idea that they would happen to live an hour away is stranger.

It's not as strange in England, where cities tend to be at most a few hours apart by train. In the south of England, it's even closer. And Britain had a surfeit of teenaged video-game programmers in the 1980s, having been the epicentre of the 8-bit microcomputer boom.
posted by acb at 4:25 AM on June 2, 2010

Nice, but obviously fiction.
posted by availablelight at 4:51 AM on June 2, 2010

Needs more Read Error b.

At least one of the screen shots looks plausible: 320x200, 4 colour palette. But why the US spellings of armour and colour from a game written in England (except, perhaps, they fit on the 40x25 screen)? Looks like a standard GAC creation.

As a former Amstrad game reviewer and copy scene member, there was a ton of stuff out there that was never properly released. Paperboy, for one, only got a release on a compilation a couple of years past its prime. It wasn't that great. Spyhunter was technically an Amsoft title, but was never around the scene. There were also hundreds of half-finished adventure games, just like this one.
posted by scruss at 5:02 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I thought it was clearly, obviously fiction.
posted by unSane at 5:29 AM on June 2, 2010

Oh, of course - but it's a nicely done effort that neither makes it clear, nor makes it all about the illusion.

From www.quartertothree.com:

Ever get a weird memory about some forgotten game you played when you were a kid, but no-one else has any idea what you're going on about? I owned an Amstrad CPC, so I get this feeling a lot. I wrote a yarn about this feeling, which really should have a fancy french word for it, at Boing Boing: Nomen Ludi. (And if you can ID the reference in the title without the aid of Google, you are truly an awesome connoisseur of 1980s British 8-bit gaming trivia)

I almost went about making an honest-to-Borges hoax of it by playing out the 'search' at the named CPC forums -- or even here! Another Qt3er talked me out of it.

posted by Sebmojo at 5:35 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Presumably nomen ludi = 'name of the game,' alludes to these people.
posted by misteraitch at 5:40 AM on June 2, 2010

Yeah, the obscurity of the game doesn't set me off: Everybody was trading software hand-to-hand on tapes and floppies, and even in the States there were podunk corners of the country where kids were circulating prereleased versions of games because somebody knew somebody whose dad's coworker knew somebody who...

It's other details in the story I wonder about, like the web forums, titles of old magazines, and the screenshots - where did the kid get the art from?
posted by ardgedee at 5:52 AM on June 2, 2010

lupus_yonderboy: "I was also wondering how he got the copy of the game... sorta brings it all into question, don't it?"

Are you talking about the complete copy of the game? He got it from David Ward, the programmer. It was the B-side of the cassette.
posted by boo_radley at 6:22 AM on June 2, 2010

Fiction! Sorry if anyone is disappointed. The line is fuzzy in places, but there is no such game as Nomen Ludi and Simon Ward is configured very differently in the real world. I'd hoped the rather purple intro would serve to tip folks off :D

You may also enjoy Such Bravery, which imagines Gauntlet as a bastardized fable of the Childrens' Crusades, and reunites the embittered protagonists years later for the Wizard's funeral.

Thanks for your very kind words!
posted by beschizza at 6:46 AM on June 2, 2010 [11 favorites]

I really enjoyed that. Thanks!
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:04 AM on June 2, 2010

I sorta wished it was real.
posted by mecran01 at 7:26 AM on June 2, 2010

I enjoyed it, and I am glad I thought it might be real while I read it. Although, for me, the thing that broke the illusion was the tape breaking. 1) he wouldn't have thrown it - that just doesn't ring true and 2) tapes don't break like that. They just don't. I've thrown a million tapes across a million rooms and I've never had one break like that.

But still, I dug this!
posted by dirtdirt at 7:39 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neat. It made me think of one of the first questions (actually, the first) I posted to AskMe, which was about an old adventure game that I dimly remembered playing after buying my first Mac.

The only difference is that someone nailed the name of it in five comments, so mystery solved, and the author is -- as far as I can tell -- quite sane and writing iPad apps these days. (Including one that simulates rolling dice for P&P games, which is kinda awesome.)

Reality, in this case, has a happier ending than fiction.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2010

I think it's a clue. If you find the house and the boy and the father and give them the right item from your inventory, they will congratulate you. I'm guessing from the Christian imagery that they might even be the real keepers of the Holy Grail. You probably have to have the Blemmye with you, which is why the author couldn't proceed. It's clearly laid out in the parallel between the mystery of the game's ending and the mystery of the programming prodigy.
posted by neuromodulator at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Clearly, he should have Asked MetaFilter. Would've gotten an answer within 15 minutes.
posted by archagon at 2:02 AM on June 3, 2010

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