Jeff Vavasour's VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAME Page
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I grew up with the Atari 2600 as a constant companion. Every Activision cartridge I acquired, I would play relentlessly until I had achieved the score needed to earn that game's sew-on patches. I also used to play a lot of arcade games, so it was a thrill for me to be able to work on, in adulthood, the very games I poured quarters into as a child. This page mainly documents the games that I've personally programmed since I started with Digital Eclipse Software in 1994, though there is some other game-related content.

Commercial Games | C-64/VIC-20 Backgammon | Activision Patches

 

Commercial Games

These are the games that I've developed with Digital Eclipse:

As Lead Programmer...   As a contributing programmer...
Williams Arcade Classics (MS-DOS, Window 3.1)
Activision's Commodore 64 15 Pack (Windows 95)
1995  
Williams Arcade Classics (Windows 95)
Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits (Super Nintendo)
Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 (Sony PlayStation)
1996  
Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (Windows 95) 1997 Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (Sony PlayStation)
Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 (Super Nintendo)
  1998 Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 2 (Sony PlayStation)
Addams Family Pinball (Windows 95, Nintendo 64)
Rampage World Tour (Game Boy, Game Boy Colour)
Atari Arcade Hits 1 (Windows 95)
Q*Bert, classic mode (Windows 95, Sony PlayStation)
1999 Centipede, classic mode (Sega Dreamcast)
Arcade Party Pak (Windows 95)
Arcade Party Pak (Sony PlayStation)
Rampage 2: Universal Tour (Game Boy Colour)
Atari Arcade Hits 2 (Windows 95)
Atari Greatest Hits (Windows 95)
Q*Bert, classic mode (Sega Dreamcast)
Centipede Music CD Extra for Gruppo Sportivo (Windows 95)
Super Breakout and Millipede (Java)
2000 Shockwave Arcade (Windows 95, Mac)
Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 1 (Nintendo 64)
Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 1 (Sega Dreamcast)
Dragon's Lair (Game Boy Colour)
Atari Anniversary Edition (Windows 95)
Atari Anniversary Edition Redux (Sony PlayStation)
2001 Atari Anniversary Edition (Sega Dreamcast)
Rayman Advance (Game Boy Advance)
Spyro the Dragon: Season of Ice (Game Boy Advance)
Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 2 (Sega Dreamcast)
Warlords, classic mode in Atari Revival (Windows 95) 2002 Atari Anniversary Advance (Game Boy Advance)
Spyro 2: Season of Flame (Game Boy Advance)
Phantasy Star Collection (Game Boy Advance)
Atari Pocketware (Windows 95/98/ME/XP)
Atari: 80 Classic Games in One (Windows 98/2000/ME/XP)
Midway Arcade Treasures (Sony PlayStation 2)
Midway Arcade Treasures (Microsoft Xbox)
Midway Arcade Treasures (Nintendo GameCube)
2003 Mini-games in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Sony PlayStation 2)
Mini-games in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Microsoft Xbox)
Snap! Classic Arcade series (Windows 98/2000/ME/XP)
Midway Arcade Treasures (Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP)
Atari Anthology (Sony PlayStation 2)
Atari Anthology (Microsoft Xbox)
2004 Atari Paddle Games 13-in-1 (Jakks Pacific TV Games)
Tron 2.0: Killer App (Game Boy Advance)
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 (Sony PlayStation 2)
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 (Microsoft Xbox)
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 (Nintendo GameCube)
  2005 Midway TV Games (Jakks Pacific TV Games)
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Sony PlayStation 2)
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Microsoft Xbox)
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Nintendo GameCube)

Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP)
Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Nintendo Game Boy Advance)
Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (Sony PlayStation 2)
Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (Microsoft Xbox)
Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (Nintendo GameCube)
Capcom Classics Collection (Sony PlayStation 2)
Capcom Classics Collection (Microsoft Xbox)
Atari Masterpieces Vol. I (Nokia N-Gage)
Gauntlet, Joust, Robotron: 2084, Smash TV (Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play (Sony PlayStation Portable)
  2006 Atari Masterpieces Vol. II (Nokia N-Gage)
Midway Arcade Treasures: Deluxe Edition (Windows 2000/XP)
Capcom Classics Collection Remixed (Sony PlayStation Portable)
Konami Classic Arcade series (Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Konami Live! Online Game Controller Arcade Collection (Windows XP)
Midway Classic Arcade series (Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Sega Genesis Collection (Sony PlayStation 2)
Sega Genesis Collection (Sony PlayStation Portable)
Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2 (Sony PlayStation2)
Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2 (Microsoft Xbox)
Activision Hits Remixed (Sony PlayStation Portable)

More recently, I've developed the following games:

Year Company Title Platform
2008 Other Ocean Interactive Enchanted Fairy Friends: Secrets of the Fairy Queen (lead programmer) Windows XP/Vista
Other Ocean Interactive Diner Dash (contributing programmer) Apple iPhone
2009 Code Mystics Inc. Atari Class Arcade (lead programmer) Web browsers

 

Williams Arcade Classics (MS-DOS, Windows 3.1) - Released 1995

  This was a classic arcade video game compilation containing Joust, Defender, Robotron, Sinistar, Stargate and Bubbles plus a multimedia section featuring photos, flyer scans, artwork, and video interviews with the programmers of the original arcade games.

This was the first product I ever did with Digital Eclipse. It was written 100% in assembly, and it was an emulation. In fact, the CPU core of this package is the very same core that was in my freeware TRS-80 CoCo 2 Emulator. (In fact, amazingly, the CoCo 2 Emulator was the reason I got the job.) The only part of this product that is exclusively Window 3.1 is the Macromedia Director-driven multimedia history section. Even the Windows "installer" is really just a very small program that launches the DOS installer (which was also written in assembly), waits for its completion, and then creates the Windows 3.1 Program Group.

This game sold over 100,000 copies (between the original and subsequent Windows 95/DOS combo re-release), and, so I'm told, had the lowest tech-support call to customer ratio of any product the publisher had put out to date. :-)

Historical tidbits:

  • This started out with the intention of being a one-floppy project, though eventually growing to three. (OK, technically it would've been two floppies if I hadn't been so green on the topic of compression at the time.) In the middle of development, the idea was bounced around about whether the package should be released on CD. With the extra space, I suggested that we take advantage of it. Programmers almost never got the spotlight they deserved (with the exception of Activision Atari 2600 programmers in their golden era). So, I suggested doing telephone interviews and including the audio of that on the CD as a bonus. Andrew Ayre, the Producer on the project and President of Digital Eclipse did one better: he set up video interviews which were put on the CD as a multimedia supplement. This likely set the standard for most all subsequent retro compilations. Incidentally, the video interviews were conducted by Chris Charla, then of Next Generation magazine (eventually the Editor-in-Chief before moving on to Daily Radar and later, in 2001, joining our company), and Jon Bradley Snyder, of the Official Star Wars Fan Club.
  • The package was originally only supposed to be Defender, Joust and Robotron. While waiting for the video interviews to be set up, I started asking around on the newsgroup rec.games.video.arcade.collecting about what other games ran on similar hardware. In my spare time, I got Sinistar, Stargate and Bubbles running. My thought was that maybe there'd be interest in a follow-up, and I'd have the games ready. When I showed the games, there was immediate excitement. The package was refit to incorporate all six.
  • Officially we've got to call Stargate "Defender II" these days because a Ouija board manufacturer claimed prior trademark on the name Stargate. The ROM hack I created to turn Stargate into Defender II has since become the "official" ROM and title artwork for all subsequent releases of the game, in a revisionist sort of way.
  • This was Digital Eclipse's first non-Mac product. (Yes, Digital Eclipse started out as a Mac productivity company before switching gears in 1994 to become a game developer. I was hired as their first non-Mac programmer.) In a tip of the hat to Digital Eclipse's Mac legacy, if you put the disk in a Mac, you will be able to access the multimedia content viewer.
  • This marks the one and only time I've "programmed" for Windows 3.1, such as it was. For the task, I'd bought a copy of Borland C++ for Windows 3.1 that came on something like 33 floppy disks, though the programming was eventually done in Microsoft's Visual C++ 1.52 instead. The source code for the only part written in C, the Windows 3.1 installer assistant described above, is shorter than the HTML for just this section you're reading on Williams Arcade Classics. Virtually everything was DOS-based and 8086 assembly.
  • With the exception of the "Arcade" game selector art and the multimedia section, I did everything on this one down to writing the text for the manual.

Some classic arcade enthusiasts have installed Williams Arcade Classics into dedicated cabinets, and have wanted a way to make the games behave like the original arcade cabinets. The following two patches can do just that to the DOS version of Williams Arcade Classics. You can install these patches seperately or one on top of the other in either order:

  • You can remove the launch menus with this patch.
  • You can re-enable the "rug test" power-up self-test pattern with this patch. (Our emulators will normally "fast forward" past the self-test.)

View screen shots from Williams Arcade Classics and other games

These days, you can play the games from Williams Arcade Classics for free from your browser via the Shockwave Arcade.

Addendum

In November of 2005, I fulfilled what might be the longest-delayed feature request in the history of gaming development. Almost 10 years to the day from the game's original appearance on the shelves, I created a single-floppy version of this game with all of its features intact (except the multimedia interviews, obviously). Prior to the addition of the multimedia interviews, the hope had been to fit this package on one floppy. At the time, I couldn't do it. I was always disappointed with that, even if the need for this feature vanished when the decision was made to make the CD-ROM version. However, in 2005, using only technology that existed in 1995, I finally completed that task.

As noted above, the reduction from three to two floppies was possible if I'd made use of compression. To make it happen, I took the version of the ZLIB public domain compression routines available in 1995, compiled the "inflate" (decompressor) portion using my dusty copy of the 16-bit Visual C++ 1.52 compiler, and then adapted the game's original installer to link with it.

To further reduce the package from two floppies to one, I then removed the compressed sound samples from the disks and replaced them with a much more compact emulator of the original Williams sound board. The sound was always emulated, even in the version of this compilation that was ultimately released on CD to the public, but only in that an emulator was used to generate the samples the game used. Those "pre-synthesised" samples were stored in a file which was loaded in whenever the game was started. This had to be done because it would've been too much strain on a 486 33MHz to emulate both the game and the sound board on-the-fly at the same time. For my one-floppy version, I still had the samples written to a file that the game could load at run-time. So, the system requirements didn't change. What I did, however, was add my sound board emulator to the installer. When the installer is run, it would take the time needed to synthesise the sounds then, rather than having the already-synthesised sounds on another installation floppy.

Between these two changes, the entire package, except for the multimedia interviews, could fit on one floppy. I was quite pleased with the results, even if they were a little belated. The final copy even has a home-made laser label mimicking the style of the original Macintosh releases of Defender, Joust and Robotron, and a compact floppy case mimicking the box art of the eventual MS-DOS release.

At our company Christmas party in 2005, I presented one of the three copies of this version in existence to Andrew Ayre, who was President of Digital Eclipse at the time, and, more currently, Co-President of our umbrella company, Foundation 9 Entertainment. This copy, as I understand it, is now enshrined in Mike Mika's vast collection of obscure video game memorabilia. (Mike is an avid classic gamer and also happens to be studio head for our Emeryville, California-based sister studio.)

 

Activision's Commodore 64 15 Pack (Windows 95) - Released 1995

  This was a Commodore 64 emulator pre-packaged with 15 Activision-original Commodore 64 games: Beamrider, Decathlon, Hacker, Little Computer People, Rock n' Bolt, Zenji, Top Fuel Eliminator, Alcazar, Toy Bizarre, Master of the Lamps, Web Dimension, Portal, The Great American Cross-Country Road Race, Zone Ranger, and Park Patrol.

This was my first program in C and my first true program for Windows of any kind. (I don't count the 9K Windows 3.1 installer assistant in Williams Arcade Classics.) Surprisingly, it turned out fairly well. :-) The chief shortcoming was sound. This was pre-DirectX and there was no Windows-friendly method of doing the sound that the Commodore 64 could do. Windows-friendly was particularly important since we had to qualify for the "Designed for Windows 95" logo, and that mandated not breaking through the Windows API layer. Activision's Atari 2600 Action Pack had achieved more accurate sound, but it did bypass the Windows API layer, meaning it was specifically designed for SoundBlasters and compatibles only. The result was something that could misbehave and cause some major headaches.

Commdoore 64 15 Pack didn't do too well commercially. Personally, I attribute that to the paradox of having a package aimed at people who had an affinity for the old school computer world, being sold for the just-released Windows 95 platform which was aimed at the rapid adopters with the latest hardware.

 

 

Williams Arcade Classics (Windows 95) - Released 1996

Download bug fix

  This was a Windows 95-specific re-release of Williams Arcade Classics. Inside it was 95% a rewrite, though some of the 6809 core was ported line-by-line to Win32. (Yes, the emulator was still in assembly, though the surrounding GUI code was now in C.) This version also contained the DOS version on the same CD, but the Windows 95 version offered some extra features:
  • Integrated multimedia - a more polished interface that used Windows 95's native multimedia capabilities without the need to install 16-bit QuickTime drivers.
  • Better sound - with less strict memory requirements, all game sound samples were 44kHz 8-bit. They were also on the CD in .WAV format, meaning you could integrate them into your Windows sound scheme with a little effort.
  • Better peripheral support - DirectX supported a wider variety of sound boards and controllers. The DOS version only supported the SoundBlaster and the normal joystick port.
  • Easier configuration - a user-friendly interface was available for changing the game options. Granted, some purists might frown on this, preferring to see the original arcade operator menus that the DOS version used.
  • The "pterodactyl bug" - the earlier model of the Joust arcade machine had a bug wherein you could kill the "invincible" pterodactyl with ease by standing still at a particular spot on a particular platform, and waiting for the pterodactyl to fly up and impale itself on your lance. This was bad news for arcade operators as sure-thing survival tactics like this prevented the turn-over of players they needed to keep the quarters rolling in. A fix was issued in later models of the arcade machine to correct the problem. This fixed version had been used in the DOS version, and some purists missed not being able to relive the pterodactyl bug in our compilation. So the Windows 95 version included an option that allowed you to play the older version with the bug intact.
  • Autoplay - no installation, no launchers. Just stick the CD in and it runs. Of course, if you preferred the older DOS version, you just had to run INSTALL.EXE on the CD to install it on your hard drive and then file the CD away.

This compilation is currently believed to be out of print and was never available in large quantities, so it will be really hard to find. There was supposed to be a re-release in Europe under the name Midway's Arcade Classics Volume 1, though it hasn't hit the shelves yet as far as I know.

The core of this version of Williams Arcade Classics also forms the core of the free, online Shockwave Arcade versions.

 

Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits (Super Nintendo) - Released 1996

  This was a port of Defender, Joust, Robotron, Sinistar, and Stargate (Defender II). I was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Larry DeMar, one of the programmers on Defender and later head of Williams pinball division. He'd been kind enough to provide me with the original source code to these games, which his team had meticulously archived. This source code was used to render these games as accurately as could be done without emulation. All AI bugs and the like that created the game play dynamic were reproduced authentically, where possible. (Side note: he also sent a Stargate T-shirt for which I'm most grateful, and the partial source code for an incomplete game called Conquest. It was a cross between Defender and Sinistar that used an encoder wheel like Tempest's. It was an early prototype that was abandoned due to its resemblence to Sinistar, which was more complete at the time.)

George Phillips and his brother Peter, whom I'd met through our mutual interest in TRS-80 emulation, worked on the Genesis version of this same package, from the same source code. George and Peter had previously ported Williams Arcade Classics to the Sony PlayStation for us.

On this Super NES version, I was responsible for the ports of Defender, Joust, Robotron, and Stargate, as well as the main structural code, while Chris Burke (of Burke & Burke fame in the TRS-80 Colour Computer community) ported Sinistar. John Kowalski (another active CoCo programmer) did the meticulous recoding of the arcade games sound for the Super NES sound chip.

Trivia: In addition to descriptions of the five games in the package, due to an error on the part of the publisher, the back of the box shows the logo for Bubbles. It is accompanied by a brief description of the game. Fortunately, Bubbles is a virtually unknown arcade game, and so, I am not aware of any consumer complaints regarding its absence.

 

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 (Sony PlayStation) - Released 1996

  This package contained authentic emulations of Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Super Breakout, and Tempest including video interviews with the original designers.

The Atari games are my favourites. For a long time this was my favourite package (until Atari Greatest Hits on Windows 95). It is still my favourite package at times, because there's nothing like lounging in front of the uncomplex TV playing video games on a machine that was built exactly for that. And, these games were emulations, so the authenticity was there. (Finally, I could play Asteroids the way I, as a naive 10-year-old, had expected it to look when I plugged in my Atari 2600 Asteroids cartridge for the first time.)

For this project, I coded the emulators, historical slide show, and in-game menus, while Tod Frye created main game selection menu, drawing code for the vector-based games like Asteroids, plus the memory card code, video playback and file support. The opening animation sequence and arcade cabinet "stonehenge" was created by Boyd Burggrabe (then, soon-to-be Art Director of Digital Eclipse), with some concept input from me. Sadly, I'm the one to blame for the in-game menu "programmer art." :-)

This game was a fair success, selling something in the neighbourhood of 400,000 copies. It's out of print now, but I enthusastically recommend you pick up a copy of Atari Anniversary Edition Redux instead. Atari Anniversary Edition Redux is a totally revamped Atari collection featuring 12 games (including the six from Atari Collection 1) and a thoroughly redesigned and upgraded interface with a host of extras not found in Atari Collection 1. (Anniversary Edition doesn't contain the interviews with Ed Logg, Ed Rotberg and Dave Theuer, however. Instead, there is an equally-interesting interview with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Those interested in Atari history may want to complete their collection with both versions, however.)

Incidentally, as a testament to this project's long hours, the in-game credits dedicate this game "to the programmers' computer widows and orphans," which tells me that at least one thing remained unchanged between Atari Collection 1 and Atari Anniversary Edition Redux. :-)

 

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (Windows 95) - Released 1997

Download bug fix

  A follow-up to Williams Arcade Classics which featured Joust 2, Root Beer Tapper, Splat!, Moon Patrol, Spy Hunter, BurgerTime, and Blaster plus video interviews with the original designers in the form of a trivia game.

Just to clear something up: there is no game called Midway Collection 1 on Windows 95 or the PlayStation. Williams changed its name to that of its sister company, Midway (probably to share in the name recognition Midway had got as a result of Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, etc.). So Williams Arcade Classics would've been known as The Midway Collection 1 had it been released after the name change. The publisher pretended that this was the case and so this package was now Midway Collection 2.

This was basically a solo project, with the game chooser art and trivia game content borrowed from the PlayStation version of the same compilation. The narrator of the trivia game, incidentally, is Luke Porter, a high-school friend of mine attempting his best impersonation of a Monty-Python-style game show host with shiny teeth.

Many people ask, "what is Splat?" Splat! was a game that Midway (then called Williams) developed and field tested, but never released as Atari beat them to the market by a few months with their similarly-themed Food Fight. Splat! was built on the same hardware as the Williams Arcade Classics games, and designed by John Newcomer who also created Joust. The game definitely isn't a "Greatest Hit" but was originally intended to be marketed as a bonus "never before released lost classic". That's why there's seven games in this package instead of the usual six.

Incidentally, Root Beer Tapper, Spy Hunter, and Moon Patrol incorporate a 32-bit modification of the Z-80 core I'd written for my own TRS-80 Model III/4 Emulator prior to joining Digital Eclipse.

View screen shots of some of the games in The Midway Collection 2

This compilation is currently believed to be out of print and was never available in large quantities, so it will be really hard to find. There was supposed to be a re-release in Europe under the name Midway's Arcade Classics Volume 2, though I don't believe it ever hit the shelves. More recently, the games in this compilation were rolled into Midway Arcade Treasures for Windows. Also, Spy Hunter and Root Beer Tapper can be played for free straight from your browser via Shockwave Arcade.

 

Q*Bert classic mode (Windows 95, Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast) - Released 1999 (2000 on Dreamcast)

  This was an experiment. The updated version of Q*Bert was developed by Artech Studios. Digital Eclipse, having a reputation for classic gaming, got the job of doing the classic Q*Bert mode in this update. The interesting thing about this rendition is that, although the original game play was rendered precisely through emulation, the screen graphics were re-interpreted by Artech using their update's 3D engine. This was accomplished by having the emulator read the contents of the emulated game's screen, but rather than displaying them on your computer's or console's screen, the context of the data was interpreted to see what was going on the screen, and corresponding changes were made in the environment rendered by the 3D engine.

The basis of this same technique was used to create the enhanced modes which are featured in Atari Greatest Hits.

 

Atari Arcade Hits 1 (Windows 95) - Released 1999
Atari Arcade Hits 2 and Atari Greatest Hits (Windows 95) - Released 2000
Atari Anniversary Edition (Windows 95) - Re-released 2001

Download bug fix
(needed for original 1999 release of Atari Arcade Hits 1 only)

  Atari Arcade Hits 1 had a wealth of features:
  • 100% emulated versions of Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Super Breakout and Tempest, plus an exact replica of the original behaviour was reproduced exactly from a Pong. (Pong can't be emulated since it doesn't have a CPU. Nonetheless, it's study of the original machine's circuit board and a working unit.)
  • A fascinating (if I do say so) 30+ minute video interview with Atari's founder, Nolan Bushnell
  • A tonne of multimedia provided by Sean Kelly and John Hardie of the Classic Gaming Expo fame
  • Six desktop themes (wallpaper, icons, sound schemes, screen savers, classic game fonts, and cursors), one in the theme of each game
  • A quick-launcher task bar icon
  • The ability to play the games in their original authentic look or a subtly visually-enhanced variant
  • The rare "Tempest Tubes" variation of Tempest

Atari Arcade Hits 2 contained Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Millipede and Warlords, complete with all the features of Atari Arcade Hits 1 (though instead of an interview with Nolan Bushnell, it included an excerpt from Leonard Herman's Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames).

Most recently, these two games have been repackaged onto a single CD called Atari Anniversary Edition and before that as a 2 CD set called Atari Greatest Hits.

This was a labour of love. You might notice the number of games I produced in more recent years has dropped off. That's because I'd moved into a more senior position at Digital Eclipse, rather than acting as programmer on specific projects. This one, however, was close enough to my heart that I decided to drop back into the trenches and tackle it personally (albeit with support from Ryan Thom, a newly-hired junior programmer at our Vancouver office who was responsible for the GUI and DirectX infrastructure).

Though I loved the way Atari Collection 1 turned out on the PlayStation and enjoyed playing it, it was still a thorne in my side that the best that PC users had was Microsoft Arcade, a play-in-a-window inaccurate port of these great arcade classics.

Every aspect of Atari Arcade Hits was fussed over, so that it would be right this time. The reproduction of Pong started out as a simulator of the very wiring and TTL circuitry of the original machine. Unfortunately, that simulator needed a computer about 50x more powerful than the target minimum system. Nonetheless, the simulator was used to guide the coding of the most accurate reproduction of Pong possible. There is one significant deviation from the original Pong, however: We were asked to add a 1-player mode. The original Pong could only be played by two human players as it had no AI. To maintain the sense of authenticity, our computer AI with the default settings plays by the exact same rules as the AI found in Atari 2600 Video Olympics did.

IMHO, this is the best version of these games you can find on the PC (which you can now find as part of Atari: 80 Classic Games in One). The package is more polished than MAME, for example, as a commercial product is expected to be. It is chock full of features and extras that, as a consumer, I'd probably find worth it all by themselves. Even if you've got Microsoft Arcade, I'd suggest getting this, to see the games done with love and justice.

As a thanks for this project, Shahid Ahmad, the Hasbro Interactive-based Producer on both original volumes of Atari Arcade Hits, sent me this limited edition Atari lighter. All the team also got cool stuff like Atari T-shirts, tote bags, etc.

 

Centipede Music CD Extra for Gruppo Sportivo - Released 2000

  Gruppo Sportivo is a popular Dutch band from the '80s. Following the trend of retro-revival that brought back a variety of '80s bands including Blondie, Platinum Blonde, and others, Gruppo Sportivo released a retro-themed CD Single. In keeping with the theme, as a multimedia bonus, the CD bundles in Atari Arcade Hits' version of Centipede as a stand-alone program. The game is accessible by putting the music CD into your computer's CD-ROM drive.

Brought to us by the Holland division of Hasbro Interactive and mediated by their UK office (where Shahid Ahmad had served as Producer on Atari Arcade Hits 1 and 2), this was definitely a unique opportunity. It was also a fairly painless one. It took less than an hour to rip Centipede out of Atari Arcade Hits and make a stand-alone version with its own configurations.

 

Super Breakout and Millipede (Java) - Released 2000

  These two games were developed as Java-based emulations which, at the time, you could play over at Games.com. (After a change of ownership, the site no longer seems to carry the Atari-branded games.) Admittedly they don't live up to the glory of Atari Greatest Hits, residing in a little window like that and suffering from all that Java overhead, but it's a good way to get a quick Super Breakout or Millipede fix if you want a quick distraction rather than the full immersive experience of Atari Greatest Hits.

 

Atari Anniversary Edition Redux (Sony PlayStation) - Released 2001

  When Infogrames purchased Atari, they had big plans for the brand. One of these plans was to commemorate the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Atari's formation, and the subsequent release of Pong. One of the first steps in this plan was the multi-platform release of Atari Anniversary Edition for PC, Dreamcast, and Sony PlayStation.

The PlayStation version, bearing the "Redux" tag, is unique in that we were asked to replace Millipede and Crystal Castles with Space Duel and Black Widow. So, the 12 games in this version are Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Black Widow, Centipede, Gravitar, Missile Command, Pong, Space Duel, Super Breakout, Tempest, and Warlords. I believe Atari Anniversary Edition Redux is the only home release of Atari's Robotron-inspired shooter, Black Widow, and one of the very few places you can find Space Duel for the home.

The package includes all the combined features from the other platforms (except for the desktop themes, obviously). That means:

  • As always, the games are fully emulated using Digital Eclipse's proprietary Digital Arcade Emulation Technology. So they are 100% accurate,
  • The option to show the original cabinet artwork around the edge of the playfield,
  • A 30+ minute video interview with Atari's founder, Nolan Bushnell,
  • About 200 photos of Atari memorabilia provided by Sean Kelly and John Hardie of the Classic Gaming Expo fame,
  • Rare photos of the full Black Widow cabinet art courtesy of Roy Kaplan,
  • Excerpts from Leonard Herman's Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames, and
  • Enhancements such as the rare Tempest Tubes variation of Tempest created by Duncan Brown, both the cabinet and cocktail variations of Warlords, and a special multi-colour version of Battlezone.

With 12 games in sleeker, redesigned-from-the-ground-up presentation, this package has superseded Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 as the definitive Atari collection for the PlayStation 1. Like The Atari Collection 1 before it, it edges out the PC versions because of the simplicity of being able to stick the game disk in your PlayStation console and just play.

Except for some memory card library code borrowed from Tod, one of our contract programmers, I coded this one entirely solo. This will probably mark the last console game I ever make entirely on my own. As a point of trivia, Atari Anniversary Edition Redux was entirely developed on a debugger Sony PlayStation unit with PC link cable, rather than a full PlayStation development kit. Hardware-wise, this was exactly what the Net Yaroze was, except that my set-up could read CD-Rs. The Net Yaroze was available from Sony for a time for hobbyists at a cost of $700 US. Sony apparently stopped accepting new subscribers into the Net Yaroze programme in September of 2001.

When it came time to burn master disks, it was pretty tricky. As the external Sony hardware for creating PlayStation 1 CD masters only worked under Windows 3.1, I had created a 100MB Zip Disk with MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 that I could use as an alternate boot volume fo rmy desktop computer when I wanted to burn a new disk. Since MS-DOS/Windows 3.1 couldn't read my mutli-gigabyte hard drive, the PlayStation executables to be burned would also reside on the Zip Disk in a subdirectory, and the additional source media (which changed more rarely) would reside on a CD-R in my computer's internal CD drive. The trick was to do everything quickly in order to make sure the source CD-R didn't spin down during the burn process, or there'd be a data underrun to the Sony burner, which had no buffering to speak of.

Easter egg: go to the Archive's Photo Gallery, then hold down L1 while pressing, in sequence, Up, Down, Up, Down, R2. You will get a group shot of the Digital Eclipse Vancouver studio.

 

Warlords, classic mode in Atari Revival (Windows 95) - Released 2002

  Infogrames wanted an authentic classic version of Warlords to complement their "modernised" version that they intended to release as part of Atari's 30th anniversary celebration. As we'd previous done just such a version of Warlords for them in Atari Anniversary Edtion (and its various previous incarnations), we naturally were asked to adapt it for this package.

The Warlords emulation itself is identical to what was released in Atari Anniversary Edition. It also includes all the configurations options relevant to Warlords through a trimmed-down configurations screen I adapted from Ryan's menu code for Atari Anniversary Edition.

Classic Warlords was our only contribution to this package, though it does also feature an updated rendition of Warlords as well as updates of Missile Command and Combat, all developed by other studios.

 

Atari Pocketware (Windows 95/98/ME/XP) - Released 2003

  Selectsoft Publishing's Atari Pocketware was a novel side-project. It consisted of a series of six collectible "mini-CDs" -- each about the side of a bubblegum trading card (a little smaller than 3" by 4"). They were similar to other mini-CDs except that the normally-circular CD was cropped on two sides to fit in its small box. Each disk in the series contained one of six classic titles that Selectsoft had licensed from Atari: Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Battlezone, Super Breakout, and Tempest. We extracted these six games from Atari Anniversary Edition and Selectsoft wrapped it in a new installer.

Since all was involved was extracting the emulators I'd written for Atari Anniversary Edition (along with their setup screens), work on this one was pretty straightforward. However, I feel the idea of presenting these games as trading cards is pretty novel. They're probably worth getting for the packaging alone.

Visit the official Atari Pocketware site at Selectsoft Publishing.

 

Atari: 80 Classic Games in One (Windows 98/2000/ME/XP) - Released 2003

Download bug fix and updates (includes crash bug fixes, support for the optional Stelladaptor controller, additional control options and improved wallpaper; see the readme for details)

  This one is easily the ultimate Atari collection we've done to date. Part of the collection includes the same arcade games as Atari Anniversary Edition, but that's only the start. There are also six new arcade emulations never before released on the PC, and also 67 Atari 2600 games in our brand new Atari 2600 Emulator. (Minor bit of trivia, the packaging says "80 Classic Games" for marketing reasons, but if you count them, there are actually 85. We consider five of them a not-so-subtle Easter egg.)

The full line-up includes:

In some sense, this collection was 10 years in the making. Since before I joined Digital Eclipse, I had always wanted to do a licensed Atari 2600 emulator. Back in 1993, I had developed a prototype Atari 2600 emulator, but I felt that, to be done properly it should be bundled and marketed with the game ROMs. Not knowing where to start with Atari at the time, I approach Activision with hopes of getting their interest. Coincidentally, they were just about to commission their first Atari 2600 Action Pack for Windows 3.1. Unfortunately, my emulator was DOS-based and while I felt Windows 3.1 wouldn't support a proper emulation at the time, having the emulator Windows-based was essential to Activision's strategy. So, we parted ways, and their Windows-based Atari 2600 Action Pack emulator was developed by Mike Livesay's Livesay Technologies instead. (Trivia: I was credited in the original Windows 3.1 release of the aforementioned 2600 Action Pack, anyway, for having contributed one of the ROM images. I did, however, work on the Commodore 64 15 Pack with Activision a couple years later.)

So the technological tinkering that went toward creating a polished Atari 2600 emulator of my own largely went by the wayside for 10 years, until the new Atari (then Infogrames) decided they wanted to do a "mega" compilation with everything they could legally include from their library. (If you're wondering why famous and infamous titles like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and E.T. aren't in the package, it's because those were only licensed back in the day. Atari doesn't own them.) I dusted off my emulator, severely reworked it and fit it into a Win32 (Windows 95/98/ME/XP) framework, and thus created the emulator that runs the home renditions in Atari: 80 Classic Games in One. Additionally, the arcade emulators were either newly written, or else rebuilt from the ground up in order to unify the look and feel, add features, and make sure the latest controller and Windows XP support was up to scratch.

Like most all my Atari projects, this was essentially a solo effort with me as the only programmer on the task. (Likely this will be this last project for which I'll be able to claim that honour.) The only exception was the desktop theme selector that comes with the package, and the InstallShield installer script, both of which were written by Colin (who was also a contributing programmer to Spyro 2, among other projects at our office). Actually, for the theme selector Colin made some use of Ryan Thom's old code from Atari Arcade Hits 2, so a very small part of that older package does survive in this latest incarnation. It is otherwise all new, re-written by myself. On the art side, the new interface art (in a space theme) was done by Anna, one of our diligent and talented artists in the Vancouver office. The new desktop theme art was done by one of our many Ryans, with help from Kierston.

There are a number of new features in this package with which I'm quite pleased:

  • In the Atari 2600 emulator, I created what I called a "hint book" feature. Many -- if not most -- of these Atari 2600 games cannot be fully understood without their manuals. At the very least, there are game variations, difficulty settings, etc. that are represented on screen, if at all, by just a selection number. Additionally, some variety and subtleties of controls (particularly in the sports games) and game play itself may not be immediately self-evident. The "hint book" was a pop-up set of "crib notes" with pages for game selection, control setup, and a brief explanation of game play. This pop-up can be turned on/off manually, or otherwise will auto-hide whenever a game is started, reappearing when a new game selection is made.
  • The audio and video are sampled directly from my own Atari 2600, which has been with my family since 1977. I wrote two small Atari 2600 programs. One would cycle through all available colours on the 2600, displaying the corresponding colour code in a barcode form at the top of the screen. The other would cycle through all possible sounds the 2600 could generate, playing them at predetermined intervals, marked by audio "punctuation". I used my TV capture card in my home PC to capture this information and process and analyse both the audio and video, generating both an idealised colour palette and an idealised set of sound samples, calculated directly from that captured Atari 2600 output. This was all to get the best audio and video match possible with a real first-generation Atari 2600 console.
  • The controls are highly configurable. I tried to set it so that virtually any key and any control could do anything. This is something I started with Atari Arcade Hits, and continued here. The idea was two-fold: first, it would allow people with the proper peripherals the flexibility to configure a more authentic control experience. Second, it would allow people with custom controllers (such as arcade cabinets and arcade controls for their PC) to match up those authentic arcade controls in a way that could be mapped properly throughout all the games. As a side effect of this, a feature is that, not only can you play Pong against yourself, but you can potentially configure all four players of Warlords or Quadrapong (in Video Olympics) to be playable with one hand: player 1 would be moved by the X-axis, player 2 by the Y-axis, player 3 by the joystick rudder axis, and player 4 by the throttle.
  • A playable version of the prototype Atari 2600 Tempest is buried within the game, if you know where to look. (Hint: where would you look to find out more about Tempest, anyway?) There are also other exciting 2600 ROMs buried in similar places, including a great variant of 2600 Combat created by one of Digital Eclipse's own former interns, Zach Matley.
  • The package includes scans of manuals, comics, etc. from all the Atari 2600 cartridges included in the package. (Trivia: a number of those scans -- probably about 1/5th of them, including the Atari 2600 owner's manual as well as a scan from the Sears catalogue for the original launch of the Atari 2600 -- come from my own collection. You can mostly tell which ones are mine: they aren't attributed to anyone, and are international versions with multilingual covers and manuals. The other unattributed scans come from Mike Mika, my fellow Atari 2600 enthusiast in our Emeryville, California office.) Beyond, as before, that there's bonus material for the arcade games, including our timeless video interview with Nolan Bushnell about the foundation and rise of Atari, and other material which has appeared in previous compilations.

Anyway, being the realisation of a 10-year-old ambition, needless to say, a lot of care went in this package. My hope is to one day bring Atari: 80 Classic Games in One to gaming consoles and portables, because I really think it's a great package and one of which I'm very proud.

Addendum: we made strides toward realising that goal in 2004, with the release of Atari Anthology on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

 

Midway Arcade Treasures (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube) - Released 2003

  Midway Arcade Treasures is our biggest console-based classic game compilation to date: 24 games in one package, for three platforms. The choice of games in this package, chosen by Midway, is entirely derived from every game we'd previously done for Midway that they still had the rights to publish, a selection combined from Williams Arcade Classics, Midway Collection 2, Atari Collection 2, and Arcade Party Pak. (Note: those packages had slightly different line-ups on the consoles vs. the PC versions. Due to legalities and the integrity of the source material, the PC versions were used as a basis for these compilations. This isn't the first time we've done that; the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast renditions also used our PC-based emulation cores.)

The line-up included:

As a matter of trivia, the line-up did vary a few times during development. Attendees of the 2003 Classic Gaming Expo would have seen an early version that included a completely playable Moon Patrol, but alas (as noted elsewhere) Midway was unable to secure the licence to include it in the final line-up.

When we were approached to do this package, it seemed reasonable: put all the games we'd done before in one package. The catch, of course, was the time. We'd been suggesting for about three years that a compilation such as this would be a great idea. First time it came up, it was conceived as a PSOne (original-generation PlayStation) product with all the games on one disk. One problem, though, was that, with audio samples and the like, they simply wouldn't fit. Some schemes were devised to work around this, but the idea never reached fruition. Later, we created a PC prototype with all the above PC compilations on one disk -- using a lot of compression. :-) -- but didn't get any significant response on it. We'd eventually resigned to the idea that this compilation wasn't going to happen when, just before this Summer, we get a surprise call from Midway that they were quite excited to do the compilation of compilations after all, but on the console rather than the PC.

Well, that was fantastic, as the consoles had advanced considerably and it allowed us to improve a number of things over the original PSOne releases. The downside was, for a compilation to come out for Christmas, typical manufacturing lead times, etc., in this business require you to be finished in September. We had our work cut out for us: 24 games times three platforms (more if you count the effort needed to bring the games to the European PAL format) and only a few months to do it.

We had to bring in the big guns on this. George and Peter Phillips, the brothers who'd worked on the original Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits on the PlayStation, among others, were on this as soon as possible. I was wrapping up Atari: 80 Classic Games in One, too, so the double-duty to get this thing going with no time to spare resulted in some crazy 300+ hour months (sustained 14 hour days for 3-4 months, in fact, with no weekends off). It was a serious marathon for all of us. We called on some other old alumni along the way: Phil, who led the console work on the earlier Nintendo 64-based emulation, initially led the GameCube-specific work. Ryan, who'd done the DirectX parts of Atari Arcade Hits, lead on the Xbox and contributed to the PlayStation 2 version. We also brought in Tod Frye as a contractor to help on the PS2 side, who'd previously helped out on Atari Collection 1 for the PSOne. I was nominally leading the coordination of this effort from a technical perspective, and liaising with the publisher, but it was most definitely a team effort, and an extremely intense one at that.

As a side note: one of the things we were asked to do was to bring over all the previous video interviews and bonus material from the earlier compilations. (Due to various constraints, we weren't permitted the opportunity to add any new material.) Anyway, no offence to the original programmers who brought these games to life, but having checked out the conversion of these videos repeatedly, to PS2 NTSC (North America), PS2 PAL (Europe), Xbox, and GameCube, not to mention still having them imprinted in my brain from repeated viewings while developing the earlier compilatons, I can say I'm really quite done with watching them. :-) Sadly, I can now lip-sync to these interviews. (More sadly, I have indeed done so during a few late night testing sessions... pretty well all 76 minutes of them, in fact.)

Anyway, the result is a mega-collection for all three of the major consoles: PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Though the PS2 can run PSOne games, this compilation is superior to its PSOne predecessors on several points:

  • The original six from Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits (Joust, Defender, Robotron, Sinistar, Stargate and Bubbles) now support the Dualshock controller, which wasn't available at the time of WAGH's original release.
  • The aforementioned six games now do smooth "anti-aliasing" to fit your TV. The original PSOne hardware was more restrictive and resulted in ripples in the playfield of games like Defender, Joust, etc.
  • The PS2, unfortunately, has a flaw in its ability to play a very small portion of PSOne games. It affects less than a fraction of a percent of the PSOne library, but unfortunately, our old PSOne versions of Smash TV, Paperboy and 720 (among others) were among that small fraction. The new PS2 releases work correctly on the PS2 (obviously).
  • The frame rates on some of the previous Midway games were a bit low as the emulation was up against the limit of what the PSOne could do. This has been fixed in the new release, and so the video in these games is both smooth and authentic.
  • All games in these compilations are authentic emulations. Previously, some of the more taxing games from the Williams and Atari Games library (e.g. Smash TV, Gauntlet, etc.) were ports from the original arcade source code. The ports were accurate as ports go, but there's no substitute for emulation. (This is a large part of why the PC versions served as the template for this release, since the PC was the first -- and in some cases only -- platform on which we'd previously achieved real-time emulation for the games in question. As a footnote: Smash TV was by far the most challenging to bring over, as George and Peter can attest.)

Additionally, a nice, unique feature on the Xbox side is the Xbox Live Leaderboard support. We extract your earned high scores from each game's high score board and allow you to post it to an international scoreboard where you can compete and compare against others around the world.

Anyway, it was an intense several months of development, with many a 5:00 A.M. session (and beyond) at the office in order to get this thing done, but we believe the compilation is by far the biggest, best arcade compilation for any console to date. It is the definitive Midway collection, and we indeed had it done for Christmas.

Of course, now that it's done, we'll need to spend the Christmas season reacquainting ourselves with our families, whom we sometimes didn't see for several days straight. On a personal note, I expect this project will probably have marked the last time I engage as any kind of direct programming lead on any project. As our office has grown, my responsibilities have grown to more of a team, technical coordination role. Trying to keep that up and still manage this as my own project literally turned my hair grey. (Well, some of it, anyway, but concurrently becoming a parent for the second time might've contributed too. Just know that, when you're playing this game, many little children were missing their Daddies many a night so you could enjoy these games.)

Anyway, I'm very glad we got our shot to bring our dedication to these classic games to this latest compilation, and do everything we could to ensure they were done right. That done, I think it's time to concentrate on the bigger picture... :-)

 

Snap! Classic Arcade series (Windows 98/2000/ME/XP) - Released 2004

  Our contribution to the Snap! Classic Arcade series is primarily a spin-off of Atari: 80 Classic Games in One in much the same way as the Atari Pocketware collection spun off games from Atari Anniversary Edition. Published by Topics Entertainment, here, you get the games Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Millipede, Pong, and Warlords, each in economically-priced solo packages, and distributed at department stores and large-chain retailers.

The first four of these games (except Warlords) derives directly from the Atari: 80 Classic Games in One arcade versions, including all the same options and features, except for the game-related multimedia.

The Warlords release is actually Atari's Warlords from Atari Revival. That disk features a fully modernised version of Warlords, by another developer. For that disk, we contributed only the bundled-in classic version of Warlords, as noted above.

Oddly, there is a sixth Snap! Classic Arcade title with the Digital Eclipse logo on it. That would be Combat. However, we did not contribute to that one at all. It's actually the recent Atari Revival remake of Combat. As far as I know, it does not contain any emulation of the classic version of the game at all. At any rate, it definitely doesn't contain the version of Combat we did for Atari: 80 Classic Games in One. I can only guess that there was some confusion about our contribution to Atari Revival that lead to this packaging error.

For what it's worth, I actually completed the work for separating out these games in the Fall of 2003, after Atari: 80 Classic Games in One shipped, but before the last versions of Midway Arcade Treasures wrapped.

 

Midway Arcade Treasures (Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP) - Released 2004

  The package comes full circle. As noted above, Midway Arcade Treasures for the consoles was partly a consequence of a PC prototype we completed which merged Williams Arcade Classics, Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2, Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 2, and the hitherto unreleased PC version of Arcade Party Pak into a single CD compilation. With the success of the runaway success of the console version of Midway Arcade Treasures, interest in the PC prototype was renewed.

The 24 games included are:

Aside from some fixes to make the games work on operating systems that didn't exist when they were first released (the original Williams Arcade Classics was released within months of the debut of Windows 95, and made use of the newly released DirectX 1!), there are also a few things which make this compilation distinct.

  • BurgerTime and Moon Patrol from Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 were licensed games, not owned by Midway. As they were not licensed for this compilation, in their place we included the Midway game Satan's Hollow.
  • Since Arcade Party Pak was never released for the PC before, this actually marks the first official PC release for KLAX, Rampage, Rampart, Smash TV, Super Sprint, and Toobin'.

As to my contribution to this package, I created the original Williams Arcade Classics and Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 for the PC, and had contributed Rampage to Arcade Party Pak. The remaining games were done by Dan Filner, then a Technical Director in our Emeryville office. As Dan was busy on other things, I was responsible for the overhaul of the games needed for the re-release, as well as putting together the modest launcher that tied the volumes together.

 

Atari Anthology (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox) - Released 2004

View grid of Atari Anthology unlockables and hot seat challenge modes

  Atari Anthology was another dream project with an interesting history. We actually first proposed a larger console-based Atari arcade compilation to Atari in December of 2001. That was shortly after the PSone Atari Anniversary Edition Redux went out with 12 arcade games. With Atari: 80 Classic Games in One in 2003, we again revisited the concept, this time considering bringing that package to the consoles. It did take a while and several permutations of the package, but we finally got the green light in July of 2004, and our work was certainly cut out for us to get the package out for US Thanksgiving 2004.

The compilation, at its core, features most all the games from Atari: 80 Classic Games in One, but also includes other, unique features:

I set to the task of adapting my emulation core from Atari: 80 Classic Games in One to something suitable for this latest compilation, and also designed the look and feel of the compilation, in coordination with our Vancouver-based Creative Director, Trent Ward.

As a matter of trivia, this compilation differs in the game line-up by three games: Gone are Basic Programming, Codebreaker, and A Game of Concentration, and in their place are Atari Video Cube, Backgammon, and Hangman. One of the reasons for this is that it was felt that the former three (and Basic Programming in particular) just weren't going to work out as well on a console, being keyboard games. For example, Basic Programming had 24 keys, each having four distinct colour-coded functions. To represent this on a console controller, perhaps by navigating an on-screen keypad, would've filled up so much of the screen in order to be legible that there'd be no room to see the controls and the Atari 2600 screen at the same time. The three games that were chosen in substitution were games that we hadn't been able to include in the PC version as the legal research hadn't been completed in time. Nonetheless, they were good games that we always wanted to include, and now we could. They also served to round out the Mind Games category from which the former three were removed.

One of the features of Atari: 80 Classic Games in One that had ended up on the cutting-room floor was the Challenge Modes. The basic premise was that, in addition to being able to play the regular games, we also would have some variation on the game (runs faster, looked different, etc.) in which you would have to earn a specific score in order to advance to the next challenge. It was something of a "meta-game" that was meant to encapsulate the games within the compilation. While there were some interesting framing ideas that were eventually removed in the final design, the Challenge Modes do remain in the compilation, and we do think they add a lot. We'd be mesmerised by the Trippy Mode on more than one occasion, and have a blast with the Time Warp mode in a number of games.

With the game needing to be completed in such short order, we definitely needed a lot of people on it. Blue Shift Inc. was contracted to create the graphical interface used to launch the games, and, later, our Vancouver studio residents, George Phillips, Jeff Hanson, Chuck Chow, and Clinton Blackmore, all fresh off their duties on Midway Arcade Treasures 2, jumped in to lend a hand wrapping up things like the PlayStation 2 and Xbox-specific code to support the emulators (controller handling, drivers, etc.), Xbox Live support, in-game interfaces and the like. Additionally, Atari loaned us three very talented individuals from Humongous Entertainment - Henrik Steen, Sam Baker, and Dave Anderson - to round out the team. They were responsible for the sound systems, bonus material interface and memory card/hard disk management respectively. It was definitely a monumental whirlwind effort to get the game done on schedule. At one point during the project, I likened the experience to trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle in a tornado.

It paid off, though, and all came together. We're very pleased and satisfied with the final result.

On the down side, the intense demands of this project dragged me quite a bit deeper into the project's coding than I'd intended, and so it was something of a repeat experience of the original Midway Arcade Treasures in terms of 40-hour "days" (yes, days), and several-day stretches that my family didn't even see me. In fact, I believe that Atari Anthology, though a shorter duration project overall, was more intense in this way than Midway Arcade Treasures. And so, I've strengthened my resolve that, going forward, I'll not be engaging in direct programming tasks like this again. (As it is, I've long ago moved beyond Lead Programmer in the company, so I still had my "day job" of CTO to tend to while providing key programming on this project. The cumulative responsibility and intense schedule left little time for sleep.) There's only so many times one can do this sort of thing, and I'm getting too old for it. :-) My mandate now is to hire enough people to make sure that I, and others who shared the same hours with me, can deal with projects on a more sane time table.

Like Midway Arcade Treasures last year, though, I'm certainly thrilled to finally see the fruition of several years of hopeful conversations, as we pushed to have such a massive compilation as this out there for all the enthusiasts who share our passion for these games. I grew up on these games, and keeping the legacy alive like this has always been a mission for me.

Easter egg: to unlock all the unlockables immediately on the PlayStation 2, smultaneously hold down D-pad left, X and Triangle while you press Start on the start screen. For the Xbox and GameCube, use the buttons in the equivalent positions.

 


Other games to which I've contributed:

 

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Midway Collection 2 (Sony PlayStation) - Released 1997

  I contributed the emulation of BurgerTime, designed certain aspects of the interface such as in-game menus, and served as Technical Director. The package featured emulations of the same games as found in the Windows 95 version and the other releases.

PSX cheat codes: (you heard it here first!) While playing BurgerTime, pause the game, then, while "Paused" is on the screen:

  • 121 lives: Square, Triangle, Circle, Square, Triangle, Circle, Square, Triangle, Circle, L2
  • 121 peppers: Square, Triangle, Circle, Square, Triangle, Circle, Square, Triangle, Circle, R2

Note: after entering the code, you must lose a life for the cheat to take effect. Similarly, you have to use a pepper to see the extra peppers after entering the pepper cheat.

Trivia: due to some late-night goofiness, the in-game credits end with the lines, "Best before November 27th, 2097," and "Void if removed." The "best before" date was originally earlier (in 2014, I believe), but we were asked to change it after some fear from production that we might be implying a lack of confidence in the shelf life of the game, since the longevity of the original Sony PlayStation was, at that time, unknown.

 

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 (Super Nintendo) - Released 1997

  The game line-up for this Super NES-based collection was the same as the PlayStation version. I contributed the menu system infrastructure from my Super NES rendition of Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits, and also served as Technical Director, contibuting algorithms and optimisations where needed.

The main programming was headed up by Matt Schneider (Centipede, Missile Command, Tempest, interface) and John Kowalski (Asteroids, Battlezone, Super Breakout, sound).

 

Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 2 (Sony PlayStation) - Released 1998

  For this one, I contributed the emulations of Millipede and Crystal Castles, designed certain aspects of the interface, and served as Technical Director. The package also featured accurate ports of Gauntlet, Marble Madness, Paperboy and RoadBlasters.

 

Addams Family Pinball (Windows 95, Nintendo 64) - Never completed


The physics / emulation test bed used to develop the PC and N64 versions of Addams Family Pinball.
  It was an ambitious project for the time. Williams Electronics' immensely popular Addams Family Pinball table had sold nearly 30,000 units. A home version was virtually demanded. In our rendition, our talented Art Director, Boyd Burggrabe, had disassembled a real-live Addams Family Pinball table piece by piece and measured even the smallest screw. A detailed 90,000 polygon 3D model was built with the intentions of scaling it down for use in the various target platforms. The physics engine was equally ambitious... a full 3D engine simulating the elastic and friction properties of the materials in the table, and recognising both linear and angular momentum in the balls. Thus balls could do all the hops and oddities that are a consequence of spinning, slipping, etc. A motion capture system was rigged which tracked the ball behaviour in a real pinball table. The parameters of the physics engine were tweaked to mimic the motion captured behaviour as closely as possible. For the table logic, the original 6809 code was run in our well-established emulation technology, running both the original ROMs as well as the limited edition Addams Family Gold version of the game. I contributed the emulation technology and lead the team on the physics simulation. Jonah Beckford, a senior student from UBC Engineering Physics contributed to the physics engine development. Frank Linseisen, a then Research Associate in the Dept. of Physics at UBC, designed and built the motion capture system. (Frank also later helped out on Rampage for the Game Boy Advance by providing some sound processing tools.)

Unfortunately, in mid-progress, the viability of this product was reconsidered and ultimately abandoned by the publisher. In late 1999, Williams got out of pinball all together.

 

Rampage World Tour (Game Boy, Game Boy Colour) - Released 1998

  Rampage World Tour was one of a set of three Game Boy Colour games that Digital Eclipse prepared for the launch of that platform in November of 1998. It was published by Midway Home Entertainment and was a sequel to their popular mid-'80s arcade game, Rampage. As this was one of the first 3rd party GBC titles and the platform was brand new, it was decided that this game should be backward compatible with the older black-and-white generation of Game Boy. Matt Schneider was the lead programmer on that project. I provided some graphics conversion tools and colour quantisers that freed the artists from having to work around the unusual restrictions placed on the GBC's screen. I also served as Technical Producer on this project. Rampage World Tour proved to be one of Midway's most popular GBC titles.

 

Centipede, classic mode (Sega Dreamcast) - Released 1999

  This was the classic mode of Centipede found only in the Dreamcast version of Hasbro Interactive's updated Centipede. The updated version was developed by Leaping Lizard Software. Using a portable emulation technique I'd developed, I created the emulation core that ran Centipede. Craig Stewart at our Vancouver office then integrated this into the Dreamcast environment and with Leaping Lizard's development effort.

 

Arcade Party Pak (Windows 95) - Unreleased


(mock-up box art)

  This was to be the 4th PC emulation volume from Midway. (The others were Williams Arcade Classics, Midway Collection 2 and Atari Collection 2.) I contributed the emulation of Rampage, since its hardware was similar to Spy Hunter and Moon Patrol which I'd previously done in Midway Collection 2. The rest of this PC version was developed by Dan Filner, who'd also done the PC version of Atari Collection 2. The other games in the package included KLAX, Rampart, Smash TV, Super Sprint, and Toobin', including interviews with the original designers. During the course of development, quite a number of other games were also emulated by Dan and myself (Wacko, Timber, Blasteroids, Gauntlet II, Two Tigers, Satan's Hollow, etc.) but they couldn't be used for one reason or another (e.g. legal red tape).

These PC compilations are virtually impossible to find these days. Some were only ever available in low quantities. However, there was at one time word that they may be re-released in Europe as Midway's Arcade Classics Volume 4.

In the meantime, you can still play Rampage on your PC via Shockwave Arcade.

Addendum: in late 2004, the games from this compilation finally saw the light of day! Now you can play these games as part of Midway Arcade Treasures for the PC, released in North America by Encore.

 

Arcade Party Pak (Sony PlayStation) - Released 1999

  Our 5th classic compilation to be released on the Sony PlayStation (after Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits, Atari Collection 1, Midway Collection 2, and Atari Collection 2). I contributed the in-game menu system and served as Tech Director. The package featured a slightly different line-up than the PC version: KLAX, Rampage, 720, Smash TV, Super Sprint, and Toobin'. The reason was that the PC version of Atari Collection 2 had included 720 (and Vindicators) already in Atari Collection 2 (as substitutes for Millipede and Crystal Castles, for which Midway no longer had the rights).

BTW, no, I never liked the title of this package. Also, I found the constant changing of the product line's name confusing.

 

Rampage 2: Universal Tour (Game Boy Colour) - Released 1999

  Rampage 2: Universal Tour was technically the third Rampage title if you count the original mid-'80s arcade version that inspired it all. This time around Cathryn Mataga served as Lead Programmer, building on the code originally created by Matt for Rampage World Tour. Primarily, I shared the Technical Director role with fellow Digital Eclipser, Mike Mika. My art conversion tools from Rampage World Tour were again employed for a small portion of the art tasks; and, in the role of Technical Director, I designed the algorithm for the parallax scrolling effect -- for the Game Boy Colour, this was an uncommon and difficult effect -- which Cathryn then completed and coded into the game.

 

Shockwave Arcade (Windows 95, Mac) - Released 2000

  10 arcade games, free, playable straight from your browser, and 100% emulated: Joust, Defender, Robotron, Sinistar, Stargate (a.k.a. Defender II), Bubbles, Spy Hunter, Root Beer Tapper, Rampage, and Satan's Hollow.

I contributed the Intel-based emulation core I'd developed for Williams Arcade Classics, Midway Collection 2 and Arcade Party Pak to these packages, refitted to be portable to the Mac. I took care of the Mac adaptation of the 6809 core, while the prolific twins, George and Peter Phillips, took care of bringing over my Intel-optimised Z-80 core. Dale Van Mol at our Vancouver office completed the integration of my emulation core with the Windows version of Shockwave, while Phil Freitas did the same on the Mac. I also served as Tech Director on these projects.

You can play the final product yourself at www.Midway.com. Click on the "Play Classic Games" link on their main menu, or follow this link.

 

Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 1 (Nintendo 64) - Released 2000

  After Shockwave, Phil and I moved on to bringing six of these games (Joust, Defender, Robotron, Sinistar, Spy Hunter, and Root Beer Tapper) to the Nintendo 64. As before, I contributed the emulation (including a newly written sound board emulator optimised for the Nintendo 64) and Phil wrote the Nintendo-specific code for graphics, controls, menus, etc. I also provided some optimisation strategies to get the frame rate solid.

 

Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 1 (Sega Dreamcast) - Released 2000

  Same title, different games. Still more confusion to an already-confused product line (Williams Arcade Classics a.k.a. Arcade's Greatest Hits a.k.a. Arcade Party Pak a.k.a. Greatest Arcade Hits, and, for a brief-though-unpublished time, Arcade Flashback). Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 1 was a port of Williams Arcade Classics from Windows 95 except without the interviews. So that's Joust, Defender, Robotron, Sinistar, Stargate (a.k.a. Defender II) and Bubbles, for those that are keeping track. This package used my portable emulation core from the Shockwave project. On this project, it was Dale that did the platform-specific integration, with library coding was from Craig Stewart (who'd previously worked on Centipede).

 

Dragon's Lair (Game Boy Colour) - Released 2000

  This was a very ambitious project for the Game Boy Colour. Dragon's Lair was a ground-breaking arcade game of the early '80s featuring, essentially, an interactive cartoon conceived by renowned animator Don Bluth. One of Digital Eclipse's inventive programmers, Jeremy Mika, had figured out how to render short FMV sequences on the GBC. The effect had been used for the title sequence of Disney's Tarzan (developed by Digital Eclipse, published by Activision). Jeremy had off-hand suggested that, with work, the same effect could be used to render an entire FMV game and he further suggested Dragon's Lair as the ideal subject. I tracked down Dragon's Lair, LLC and it's executive, Rick Dyer, and we struck a deal. Cathryn Mataga, who previously worked on Rampage 2: Universal Tour for us, took on the programming using Jeremy's foundation code. Almost a year later and with untold artist hours, the result was published by Capcom.

Aside from serving as Executive Producer on this title, I developed several graphics and colour quantiser tools which attempted to fit free-form traditional animation into the GBC's peculiarly-restrictive palette requirements, and other tools which improved image compression by doing a specialised lossy-compression tailored to the GBC's requirements.

This game has received very favourable reviews, including an IGN Editor's Choice Award.

 

Atari Anniversary Edition (Sega Dreamcast) - Released 2001

Cover art for our unreleased Atari Arcade Hits from 2000:

  It made it! In late 1999 and early 2000 when excitement for the Dreamcast was high, we took it upon ourselves to bring Atari Greatest Hits to the Sega Dreamcast. The Dreamcast version featured the same 12 games (Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Millipede, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout, Tempest, and Warlords), original cabinet art, Nolan Bushnell interview, and other multimedia content. I'd worked on the emulation core and Craig (who'd previously worked on Centipede and the libraries for Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 1 and 2, all on the Dreamcast) did the substantial Dreamcast-specific programming.

This project was done "on spec" (that is, without commitment from a publisher). Due to the lack of confidence publishers seemed to have in the Dreamcast, we spent all of 2000 shopping the game around without any luck. We'd all but given up on our Dreamcast Atari compliation ever seeing the light of day. Our "pre-beta" was officially shelved around October of 2000. Then, at the end of 2000, Infogrames bought out Hasbro Interactive. With it, they acquired the rights to the Atari library. Infogrames apparently had big plans for Atari in 2001, not the least of which was a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the creation of Atari Corp. They wanted to do a multi-platform re-release of the Atari classics as part of this celebration. So we dusted off the code and promptly finished it up. Craig was on to other projects by then, so Ryan (who previously worked with me on the PC version) and I finished it up. Atari Anniversary Edition is the result.

As a matter of trivia, one variant of our Atari compilations that didn't fare so well was the one intended for the ill-fated Nuon platform, the following year. The Nuon was originally intended to be competition for the Sony PlayStation and its contemporaries, but delays soon meant the technology's market ambitions were scaled back to the more modest role of providing enhanced functionality for DVD players. Development proceeded on our Nuon-based Atari compilation on spec, as well, but with definite interest from VM Labs, creator of the Nuon. Unfortunately, VM Labs didn't live long enough to see the project's completion. Development on the Nuon version paralleled what was done for the Dreamcast, with my emulation cores being adapted and user interface added, in this case, by Colin Fletcher.

 

Rayman Advance (Game Boy Advance) - Released 2001

  Rayman Advance was Digital Eclipse's first product for the Game Boy Advance. It was published by Ubi Soft and was available simultaneously with the initial launch of the GBA itself.

Rayman is one of Ubi Soft's flagship properties. This was the first time a developer outside Ubi Soft itself had been allowed to work on a Rayman game. Cathryn, who worked on Rampage 2: Universal Tour and Dragon's Lair among other games for us, took on the Lead Programming responsibilities.

In addition to serving as Executive Producer, I wrote the graphics tools which freed the artists to work outside the confines of the GBA's palette restrictions, allowing them to create the rich, colourful worlds which are the hallmark of this GBA game.

This game has received some very positive reviews, particularly singling it out for its lush graphics as well as solid game play. It has also received an IGN Editor's Choice Award.

 

Spyro the Dragon: Season of Ice (Game Boy Advance) - Released 2001

  Spyro the Dragon is without a doubt the most ambitious project our Vancouver-based branch studio of Digital Eclipse had ever taken on as of 2001. It required nearly the entire studio's staff, plus a number of key support staff from the main Californian office. (In fact, one of the California-based employees, Lars, made a noble sacrifice and spent a whole six months in Vancouver co-ordinating with the team.)

The game consists of four distinct engines: an isometric engine, created by Dale (who worked on a number of the Dreamcast titles mentioned above as well as our Shockwave Arcade) is at the core of this adventure game; a "speedway" engine for flight-racing rounds, created by Craig (who also worked on a number of the Dreamcast projects above); Sparx World (a top-down 2D scrolling shooter) created by Adam from our California office; and Dragonfly X (a bonus arcade-style mini-game) created by Darren (a new addition to our office, but an experienced game programmer who's been at it since the Atari 800 days). Additionally Phil (who worked on our Shockwave Arcade for the Mac and our N64 Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits) provided the tools that the artists and designers needed to build the game. This team did an amazing job.

In addition to serving as Executive Producer and Technical Director for this project, I provided tools which assisted in the polygon-modelling of the isometric worlds in order to encode collision and distance ordering.

Visit the Spyro the Dragon: Season of Ice official site here.

 

Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 2 (Sega Dreamcast) - Released 2001

  As with the original volume, Dale and I worked on this follow-up, again with me providing the emulation while Dale did the platform-specific work using Craig's library. The line-up started out like Midway Collection 2 but without BurgerTime. The multimedia trivia game was dropped and the line-up went through uncountable revisions and along the way ended up being combined with a Volume 3 that'd already been in progress (which was based on Atari Collection 2). We were to continue with the best six games chosen from both volumes, though these choices kept changing.

The final line-up was Gauntlet, 720, Paperboy, Spy Hunter, Moon Patrol, and Rampage.

I provided the emulation for Spy Hunter, Moon Patrol and Rampage, and did the port of Gauntlet from the Sony PlayStation version. Pierre Tardif of our Vancouver office ported Dan's emulation of Paperboy and 720 from the Windows 95-based Atari Collection 2.

Despite having been 100% finished, approved, and ready for the shelf since November 2000, time seemed to have run out for the Dreamcast, and so it looked like this product was never going to see the light of day. Yet, to our surprise, Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits 2 was picked up by Best Buy and EBgames a year later and, as of November 2001, was finally available!

 

Atari Anniversary Advance (Game Boy Advance) - Released 2002

  Atari Anniversary Advance is undoubtedly the premier classic compilation for the GBA. It features an unprecedented six classic arcade games in one hand-held package: Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Missile Command, Super Breakout, and Tempest. plus an time-challenge Atari Trivia Game that will challenge even the Atari fanatic.

Atari Anniversary Advance marks the debut of arcade emulation on the GBA. Using the "Meta-Emulation Technology" I developed for Digital Eclipse, these classic games play with 100% authenticity. As with our other compilations, the original operate settings are also available. The games also feature multiple control configurations with a quick-switch option, and optional sideways modes for Centipede, Super Breakout and Tempest to give them the authentic vertical-oriented look of their arcade counterparts.

A lot of effort went into making this package a reality. When Nintendo first announced the Game Boy Advance, I immediately tried convincing Hasbro Interactive -- and then Infogrames, after they bought Hasbro Interactive -- that we should do a classic Atari compilation on the GBA. Simultaneously, I tried to sell Midway on doing a compilation of their classic arcade games. I had previously developed a technology that allowed emulation on low-performance platforms, which would promise the most accurate "ports" of these games possible. The technology, Meta-Emulation, had been originally been developed with the early 25MHz-or-so Windows CE platforms in mind, but it was ideally suited to be adapted to the GBA. Unfortunately, neither publisher seemed ready to take the plunge.

I figured all they needed was to see a prototype and they'd be sold. Since we did have to pay the bills, I could only spare the development resources to do one speculative prototype at a time. So, I chose Atari. (In the middle of the Atari prototype, Midway changed their minds but we didn't feel we had the time at that point to do a proper job and still have it ready for Christmas. So, Midway went with a different developer.) Thankfully, Infogrames was suitably impressed with the prototype, and after some debate over the details of the line-up, Atari Anniversary Advance was born.

John Kowalski was lead programmer on this project. He was previously responsible for the sound in Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits on the Super NES and was co-programmer on Atari Collection 1 for the Super NES. John was responsible for taking the "abstracted" meta-emulation of these games and making them work specifically on the GBA. This project also marked the first full project for Trent Ward, our Vancouver office's new producer. Trent was also the mastermind behind the trivia game in this compilation. Trent was previously one of the founders of Next Generation magazine, a company which at one time also employed Digital Eclipse's executives Mike Mika and Chris Charla.

Trivia: to improve the clarity of the vector games like Asteroids which normally use very high-resolution vector monitors, the technique of sub-pixel rendering was used.

 

Spyro 2: Season of Flame (Game Boy Advance) - Released 2002

  Our Vancouver office's first Spyro effort, Season of Ice, was a tremendous success. Naturally, everyone was enthusiastic for a sequel. Not content just to pump out a retread, however, Pierre, Spyro 2's Lead Programmer, elected to redesign the code from the ground up. The result took Spyro to a new level. Ryan Thom, who'd previously contributed to Atari Anniversary Edition on the PC and Dreamcast, joined forces with Colin, a newer hire to our office, to provide an excellent level builder tool which allowed for much fine-tuning of the levels. All new modes of game play were also provided by Yvo, a recent EA "defector" :-), and Dale, who'd previously worked on the core isometric engine of Spyro 1. Darren, who'd worked on Dragonfly X and library support for the first Spyro outing, provided an amazing resource pipeline and robust library to pull it all together. On top of that, we had a number of talented artists, programmers, and designers contribute to the game on various levels. It was a huge team by GBA standards, but it shows in the depth and richness of the final product.

In addition to serving as Executive Producer and assisting in aspects of the beta phase and European localisation, I, personally, contributed one of the "Easter egg" bonus games, but you'll have to be very good at the main game if you are ever to see it. (No, it's not the "Sparx Panic" game, as seen in the menu, which unlocks if you finish the game. Sparx Panic was done by Dale.)

Visit the Spyro the Dragon's official site here.

 

Phantasy Star Collection (Game Boy Advance) - Released 2002

  The original Phantasy Star series is an old-school RPG series with a dedicated following. (These days, Phantasy Star is probably best known in its current incarnation as Sega's Phantasy Star Online.) Phantasy Star I appeared originally on the Sega Master System with the sequels II and III appearing on the Sega Genesis. When we were given the chance to bring these games to the Game Boy Advance, we wanted to do them the justice they deserved. So, to give players the fully-authentic Phantasy Star experience, we turned to meta-emulation for Phantasy Star I and a line-by-line recreation from the original Genesis source code for Phantasy Star II and III.

This project reunited a number of our early emulation talent including John Kowalski who first worked with us on Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits for the Super Nintendo and most recently before this on Atari Anniversary Advance. John and I worked together on Phantasy Star I in the same way we had with Atari Anniversary Advance. I had expanded the Meta-Emulation Technology originally developed for Atari's arcade games to apply also to the Sega Master System. We then applied this technology to bring a code-perfect rendition of Phantasy Star I to the Game Boy Advance. John's job was to write the GBA-specific code that allowed the GBA to run my "abstracted" meta-emulation. Drawing on John's experience with sound coding, even the sound capabilities of the Master System have been perfectly reproduced on the GBA. So, even the music is an emulation.

Phantasy Star II and III were brought to life on the GBA by "The Twins" :-) a.k.a. George and Peter Phillips. George and Peter have also been working with us from very early on. Their first game with Digital Eclipse was Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits for the Sony PlayStation, released in 1996. Their experience on the Sega Genesis and the availability of the original source made for a very accurate port.

In addition to the "meta-emulation" implementation of Phantasy Star I, I served as Executive Producer on this project, mainly in a technical capacity. Trent Ward, John's producer on Atari Anniversary Advance, served as Producer on this project as well.

Will Phantasy Star IV or any of the other Phantasy Star sequels appear on the GBA in the future? Well, I expect that all depends on the how enthusiastic people are for this GBA Phantasy Star trilogy...

(I've seen speculation in message boards about whether more Phantasy Star games could've been fit in this Collection's cartridge. Some people argue that the GBA cartridge is bigger than the size of the originals combined, so it should fit. However, the thing they neglect is that the GBA uses a RISC processor, so it takes a lot more bytes to accomplish the same functionality. Additionally, since the GBA doesn't have the same sound hardware as the SMS and Genesis, the sound basically had to be stored in samples to do it right, and that takes up a lot more space. Suffice to say, if we didn't care about the quality of the games, we might've been able to cram one or two more of the smaller sequels into the one cartridge. However, they'd only be pale imitations of Phantasy Star. Since we did care about the quality, it was a struggle to make just the first three fit in the cartridge. We think it was worth it.)

 

Mini-games in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox) - Released 2003

  This is a bit of an oddity. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was actually developed by Black Ops Entertainment. Our contribution to it was none other than... Centipede and Missile Command! This T3 game was published by Atari, and this new Atari is rightfully proud of its heritage. So, if you successfully complete the game, you get to unlock a couple hidden playable "mini-games" which turn out to be none other than the old Atari classics Missile Command and Centipede, brought to you through Digital Eclipse's classic arcade emulation technology. Sadly, our contribution doesn't appear to be acknowledged in the manual anywhere. (Though, I haven't checked the in-game credits to see if it might be in there.)

In any event, to give credit where credit is due, my classic arcade emulation core was incorporated on the PS2 by Ryan (Centipede) and Yvo (Missile Command) and on the Xbox by George (Centipede) and Yvo (Missile Command), all at our Vancouver office.

Hopefully, this is the start of a trend of seeing classic arcade games as mini-games in Atari releases.

 

Atari Paddle Games 13-in-1 (Jakks Pacific TV Games) - Released 2004

  This was a pretty unique and exciting opportunity for us. A lot of us had a love of the classic arcade and home games, but one continued source of disappointment was the fact that the platforms on which we'd recreate these games never quite had the right controller to do the games justice. The opportunity to do Atari 2600 paddle games on an exact replica of an Atari 2600 paddle was too good to pass up.

The compilation consisted of just about every Atari 2600 paddle game we were legally cleared to do, as well as two paddle-like arcade games. So the line-up was:

The reason for 13 games was this: it was thought that a 10-in-1 paddle unit would be a great follow-up to the hot-selling 10-in-1 Atari joystick. So, 10 Atari 2600 games were selected. Video Olympics didn't make the cut because, out of 50 game variations in the original cartridge, only two were one player. In addition to the Atari 2600 games, we proposed adding the two "bonus" arcade games, which brought the total to 12. When it is was decided that there'd be a deluxe two-paddle version of the unit, Video Olympics was restored to the collection as an extra bonus, though primarily for the benefit of those who bought the "deluxe" model. The only paddle game from the PC Atari: 80 Classic Games in One that was not included was Blackjack, but Blackjack was already represented as a game within Casino.

By and large, the programming on this was a three-man job. My task was preparing the games for the controller, Peter Phillips did all the coding for the TV Games, and Thomas Jentzsch (a 2600 enthusiast from the classic gaming community) pitched in by helping do some of the reverse engineering necessary to understand these games' inner workings so that we could get them going on the recreated hardware.

For my part, I'd written an Atari 2600 debugging emulator (adapted from our earlier Atari 2600 emulation core which formed part of Atari: 80 Classic Games in One). The debugger had a number of features that would likely be of great interest to those in the classic games coding community. Beyond the normal ability to set breakpoints, view disassemblies, view CPU state, and view execution traces back two frames, you could also set breakpoints based on the raster position, watch the raster step along as you single stepped through the code, or click on any point on the TV output window and see where in the trace the code was at that time. Thomas and I both used this debugger to divine various bits of information about how the game's kernel constructed the screen, as needed to make the game work on the recreated hardware.

The other part of my programming task was to shoehorn arcade Warlords into something a little more palatable for this hardware, since arcade Warlords and the Atari 2600 had little in common aside from both using a 6502-like CPU.

Beyond that, I'm proud of my low-res "programmer art" rendition of the Atari 2600 that's used to show the console switches, as well as my main menu art. :-)

 

Tron 2.0: Killer App (Game Boy Advance) - Released 2004

  Tron 2.0: Killer App was a monumental GBA game for our studio, and it was one I was virtually begging to get placed with us. Tron is to me what Star Wars is to many people. I loved the movie and loved the games. (I've even got toy light cycles autographed by Syd Mead.) The team was largely lead by the same people who'd been responsible for our Spyro GBA trilogy. Fresh off that product, and with an unprecedented 128Mbit cart to work with, the group crafted one of the richest games we'd done to date. There is the familiar isometric view of Spyro, but with two story tracks (one for Tron and one for Mercury, the new Tron 2.0 character from Monolith's PC version). That was lead by our Spyro veterans, Pierre and Darren, with help from Colin and Ryan (who'd also contributed to Spyro 3). Pierre also did an excellent modernised light cycle mini-game, complete with 4-way link play. There's a 3D tank/recogniser game created by John Kowalski, who'd pioneered 3D raycasting on the CoCo 3 and had done an actual 3D engine for a Game Boy Colour version of San Francisco Rush (which, sadly, was never released). There are a tonne of mini-games accessed throughout the isometric world. There's voice talent (including Rebecca Romijn and Bruce Boxleitner, yay!), and some amazingly catchy music by our ever-reliable Senior Audio Engineer, Bob Baffy. And last but not least, for the first time ever, the classic arcade games Tron and Discs of Tron have been bundled in, in meta-emulation glory.

As Tron and Discs of Tron were Z-80-based games, the tool set I'd developed for Phantasy Star Collection was dusted off to do the work for these games. I'd laid the foundations for this, both through the tool chain, and through basic emulation of these games in Windows-based reference environment. George Phillips (another long-time emulation veteran with us) adapted the tool chain to the specific needs of this project, and Vernon Brooks (a new addition to our company, but also well-experienced in emulation) did the adaptation and optimisations necessary to make the games run smoothly and accurately on the GBA.

My other contribution to the project was design, specifically in spec'ing out some of the mini-games (e.g. the Spam mini-game) and also helping coalesce the initial design on a technical level. Much of the detailed design that followed, however, was a collaboration between Creative Director Trent Ward, Producer Lorie Clay, and Programmer Darren Schebek.

Overall, we're all extremely proud of how this game turned out.

 

Midway Arcade Treasures 2 (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube) - Released 2004

  With Midway Arcade Treasures being such a smash hit for Christmas 2003, a sequel was inevitible. With Midway Arcade Treasures 2, we were finally able to do something we had been contemplating for some time... We'd long been satisfying our retro cravings for the big hits of the '80s, but what about the '90s? Well, Midway Arcade Treasures 2 broke that barrier. The line-up included some of Midway's big-name games from the early '90s, as well as some hits we were forced to cut from Arcade Party Pak.

The line-up includes:

Some of the interviews for these games were actually collected back in 1998 during a day-long interview session in Chicago, where many of the luminaries from Midway past and present gathered to share their thoughts on these games. The remaining material, such as commercials, came from Midway's archivists.

The programming team for this project was lead by one of our emulation veterans, George Phillips. George worked games for as far back as Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits for the original Sony PlayStation, developed back in 1996. The team was an unprecedented 11 core programmers (unprecedented for emulation, anyway). Many were new recruits, though many also had prior emulation or classic architecture/gaming experience. Tasks were largely split amongst the team by class of hardware, since a number of the games might have been built on similar arcade machine architectures. Most challenging of the hardware, I believe, was the Hard Drivin' architecture.

For this package, aside from providing the occasional technical guidance, I also contributed the emulations for Timber, Wacko, and Kozmik Krooz'r, as well as some of the core that was adapted by Vernon to form Wizard of Wor. On the console-specific side of things, my memory card/hard disk management code was adapted for this package as well, though I had little to do with the actual adaptation. On the design side of things, I contributed the concept for the main interface. (Upon reflection, I found it amusing that my suggestion of a microscopic "cellular level" theme was in direct contrast to the cosmological theme I'd proposed for Atari Anthology.)

Midway Arcade Treasures 2 is a fresh direction for our classic compilations, and it has been extremely well received. I can guarantee, with all the enthusiasm we've seen, that there'll be more to come.

 

Midway TV Games (Jakks Pacific TV Games) - Unreleased

  Announced, but unreleased (as of yet, anyway), our Vancouver studio worked on five games that were to be part of a Midway-themed follow-on compilation to Jakks Pacific's successful Namco and Atari TV Games controllers. The games we developed for the unit included Joust, Defender, Sinistar, Stargate (a.k.a. Defender II) and Toobin'.

For the first four of those games, I implemented them in our company's proprietary "Meta-Emulation Technology". That technology had previously been used in our Atari Anniversary Advance, Tron, and Phantasy Star Game Boy Advance products, to bring these classic arcade and console games to the moderately-powered GBA. Using this, I was able to adapt Defender, Sinistar, Defender II, and Joust to something compact, portable and still fast enough that it could operate on the Jakks controller. Several other programmers worked on fine tuning my "portable" versions of these arcade games for the Jakks unit. Specifically, Zach Matley (who is well known in the Atari 2600 community) worked on adapting Defender, John Kowalski (who worked on Atari Anniversary Advance, among other things) adapted Defender II and Vernon Brooks (who worked on Tron) adapted Sinistar and Joust. (I'd also prepared a Robotron meta-emulation, but that was never brought across, as Robotron had a special controller style that didn't mesh well with the other games.)

Toobin' was a more amibitious endeavour. It went through quite a number of iterations and programmers, with Brian Provinciano and Chuck Chow ultimately bringing the game over through a lot of heavy work in the form of code- and data-cramming.

One other spin-off of this project was the Mortal Kombat TV Games unit. As originally contemplated, it was all supposed to be part of the one Midway TV Games unit. Mortal Kombat eventually became a unit to itself. Mortal Kombat's programming was largely a solo effort of Chris Burke, who'd much earlier helped us out on Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits for the Super NES, and had an earlier run-in with Mortal Kombat in the form of an aborted port of Mortal Kombat 3 to the Macintosh. For the Mortal Kombat unit, I did contribute the initial hardware and protocol design for the link cable that allowed us to link two Mortal Kombat TV Games units together for head-to-head play.

 

Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP) - Released 2005

  Namco 50th Anniversary was a special comemorative compilation celebrating the 50th anniversary of the formation of Namco (...not 50 years of video games, of course, as amusing as it might be to think about what steampunk technology would've passed for an arcade video game in 1955). The compilation featured Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Rally-X, Pole Position, Pole Position II, Xevious, Dragon Spirit, Bosconian, Rolling Thunder, Mappy, and Sky Kid, with "secret" unlockables Galaga '88 and Pac-Mania. All are available together, for the first time, as 100% emulation.

I'd wager to say that Namco Museum 50th Anniversary was the fulfilment of a long-standing dream of its lead emulation programmer, Vernon Brooks. Vernon joined the company about a year and half ago, and his first project with us was the classic game component of Tron 2.0: Killer App for the Game Boy Advance. Vernon's calling card that got him the job was a collection of extremely faithful emulations, largely featuring Namco games. These were DOS-based and deeply optimised with Intel-specific assembly code. So, they were not really console-ready, but Vernon definitely knew his stuff. Vernon's passion and pride for accuracy showed through from the beginning. In fact, I believe he joined us in hopes that, through Digital Eclipse's reputation, he might one day be able to get these accurate emulations out to the masses. Honestly -- and we told him this up front -- we didn't hold out much hope, since Namco had already released its Namco Museum line on most of the current platforms. Much to our surprise and delight, however, Namco approached us at the beginning of the year to put together the 50th Anniversary compilations.

These 50th Anniversary collections have all been built from scratch, and precisely to Namco's spec. They feature the most accurate emulations of these games available, drawing on Vernon's well-honed expertise with the architecture, and rounded out with our latest generation proprietary cross-platform emulation libraries, as initially applied in the first Midway Arcade Treasures. My programming contribution lies primarily in that library, within the 6809 core, the Z-80 core that our George and Peter Phillips previously adapted from its PC counterpart (way back for Shockwave Arcade), and the 6800 component that was adapted to serve as the basis for the emulation for the more rare 63701 processor. My code can also be found within the memory card/hard drive management component. Additionally, I also performed some of the modifications necessary for the Japanese market.

George Phillips served as the Technical Director, and oversaw a dynamic team through the very intense development cycle of this project. For a bit of nostalgia, Ryan Thom, who had left our company after Midway Arcade Treasures to pursue his own original game idea with friend and office-mate Colin Fletcher, returned under contract to provide support programming on this game. I think Ryan was quite surprised to see how much our studio had grown in the less-than-two years he'd been gone.

This project came shortly after the formation of Foundation 9 Entertainment, a cross-media company and mega-developer comprised of Backbone Entertainment (itself comprised of Digital Eclipse and ImaginEngine), Collective Studios, and Pipeworks Software. A novel aspect of this project is that I believe it marks the first official collaboration between two studios under the new F9E umbrella. Specifically, the 3D engine employed in the console package's slick main game selection interface was furnished courtesy of Pipeworks, with our team collaborating directly with theirs in its deployment.

Of course, if I'd had a hand in the interface design, it definitely would've had a "50 Years of Video Games" steampunk theme, complete with some tongue-in-cheek bogus paraphernalia featuring video games in 1955, wrecking the accuracy of documented history for decades to come. :-)

 

Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Nintendo Game Boy Advance) - Released 2005

  Namco Museum 50th Anniversary on the Game Boy Advance was a more modest collection compared to its console counterparts. The Game Boy Advance version featured Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, and Rally-X. Like the console version, these games were rebuilt from the ground up, using our proprietary Meta-Emulation Technology. We also included a number of new touches that we think enhance the game experience, including full-screen sideways modes for traditionally "portrait orientation" games like Pac-Man.

On the Game Boy Advance side of things, the implementation was lead by John Kowalski, whose experience from the Phantasy Star Collection was extremely useful for his return to emulation in this project. Like the console version, George Phillips, who's likewise familiar with the process of classic emulation on a GBA through Phantasy Star Collection, provided Technical Director-style support for John. Meanwhile, Vernon Brooks, who was the lead on the console version, provided some of the basic groundwork in reverse engineering these games, to get John started.

For my part, all games in Namco Museum 50th Anniversary are Z-80-based, and employ my Z-80 Meta-Emulation code which was first deployed in Phantasy Star Collection, with some improvements provided by George. The project was a bit of a reunion. Ryan Thom, a former employee who returned to us on the console versions, also aided us in the Game Boy Advance version, along with his business partner and fellow ex-Digital Eclipser, Colin Fletcher. Their primary contribution was to the game interface. Returning to us as well was Jeff Frohwein, an extremely talented reverse engineer and Game Boy afficiando who'd worked with our U.S. studio many years ago on games like Mortal Kombat 4 and the Spy Hunter/Moon Patrol combo cartridge, both for the Game Boy Colour. Jeff provided support in the final push of the project.

 

Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube) - Released 2005

  One of the big mysteries for consumers anticipating Midway Arade Treasures 2 the previous year was, "where did S.T.U.N. Runner go?" S.T.U.N. Runner and the original Mortal Kombat had originally been among the games to be featured in Midway Arcade Treasures 2, but neither turned up in the final product. Happily, we can now explain this mystery. S.T.U.N. Runner was being held back for Midway's follow-up Midway Arcade Treasures 3 driving-themed arcade compilation. As to Mortal Kombat, it ended up on the bonus disk for Mortal Kombat: Deception Premium Pack on the PS2 and Mortal Kombat: Deception Kollector's Edition on the Xbox.

Midway Arcade Treasures 3 was a collaborative venture between Digital Eclipse and China-based developer, GameStar. Digital Eclipse provided the classic arcade emulations, Super Off Road (including the Track Pak version), Badlands, Race Drivin' and S.T.U.N. Runner, while GameStar provided the adaptations of San Franciscon Rush: The Rock Alcatraz Edition, Hydro Thunder, San Francisco Rush 2049, and Offroad Thunder, plus the game menus. (Some of these GameStar versions were based on the Dreamcast, rather than arcade versions, particularly when the Dreamcast games might've had enhancements over the arcade.)

For Digital Eclipse's part, the coding on Midway Arcade Treasures 3 brought together many of the same people who had worked on Midway Arcade Treasures 2, using about half the MAT2 team. George Phillips again served in the technical lead role, and my code is again present in the Z-80 core, as used in Super Off Road, and also some of the console framework, though, it had been augmented.

We're happy to say that Midway Arcade Treasures 3 was a much more reasonably paced endeavour for us than Midway Arcade Treasures 2. The emulation of the early 3D driving hardware from Atari Games, used in S.T.U.N. Runner and Race Drivin', has also been refined. As a fan of driving games, I'm pretty happy with Midway Arcade Treasures 3.

 

Capcom Classics Collection (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox) - Released 2005

  Capcom Classics Collection marked a return to emulation programming for our talented Emeryville-resident programmer, Dan Filner. The compilation is an impressive array of Capcom games, including 1942, 1943, 1943 Kai, Bionic Commando, Commando, Exed Exes, Final Fight, Forgotten Worlds, Ghosts 'n Goblins, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Gun.Smoke, Legendary Wings, Mercs, Pirate Ship Higemaru, Section Z, Son Son, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Champion Edition, Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Trojan, and Vulgus. This line-up brings the number of unique arcade games emulated by Digital Eclipse to over 100.

By and large, it was pretty well a one-man show for Dan, though some of the games in the package were implemented by Capcom Japan. For those games developed by us here, at Digital Eclipse, Dan employed the well-matured Digital Arcade emulation library, developed primarily in our Vancouver studio (though Dan himself contributed to it with the PC-based Motorola 68000 and TMS34010 components that was eventually adapted for console use). He also made use of the Vancouver-developed console-specific support code that plugged our emulation libraries into the PS2 and Xbox. George provided support to Dan in the use of this code, though once he got started, Dan rarely needed any help. :-)

As in Midway Arcade Treasures 3, my contribution is in this Vancouver-developed emulation and framework code, through my part in the Z-80 core and the memory card/hard drive support code.

 

Atari Masterpieces Vol. I (Nokia N-Gage) - Released 2005

  Atari Masterpieces Vol. I for Nokia's N-Gage gaming phone is the latest rendition of these Atari classics to use our proprietary Meta-Emulation technology. I'd created this technology for Digital Eclipse in 1999 to make it possible to run emulation on lower-powered portable devices. Originally, it was developed for Windows CE, but later adapted to the Dreamcast and Game Boy Advance. (Yes, the Dreamcast and N-Gage are both particularly more powerful, but the Windows CE heritage fit well.)

(This was not the first N-Gage title developed by our company, but it was the first one I had direct involvement in developing. The more significant N-Gage title released from our Vancouver studio was Rifts: The Promise of Power, which was released earlier the same year, and has received quite a number of accolades.)

The this compilation included:

One thing unique to this compilation was the appearance of the Atari 2600 games on a portable device. Outside Mike Mika's take on Yars' Revenge for the Game Boy Color (obviously a labour of love, if you know Mike), I'm not aware of any Atari-brand Atari 2600 games appearing on any portable devices. (Incidentally, these days, Mike is head of our Emeryville development studio.) The games selected for this compilation where chosen for their ease of play on the N-Gage platform and its controls, and for their ability to be played solo. Of course, with such archetypal Atari 2600 games as Adventure and Yars' Revenge in the line-up, this was no shortcoming. It does explain why Combat wasn't part of the collection, though. :-)

I provided the meta-emulation code for the arcade games in this compilation, provided custom Atari 2600 emulations, and also provided support to Clinton, who was the main guy for this title, charged with adapting these games to the N-Gage-specific needs. Darren Schebek, veteran of several of our GBA titles, also provided some support on the N-Gage side of things (particularly with the user interface).

The emulation of the Atari 2600 games was a particularly interesting challenge. The main CPU of the Atari 2600 is a modest 6502 running at less than 1MHz, which is not difficult for the N-Gage to handle at all. However, the code necessary to reproduce the Atari 2600's rather primitive but CPU-intensive graphics pipeline was not straightforward for even the PlayStation 2. The first attempt at getting that code operating on the N-Gage achieved a frame rate in the vicinity of 4FPS. So, I had to pull off a few tricks to get the performance adequate. Ultimately, for the game in question, I started with our genuine Atari 2600 emulator operating on the PC, and wrote a custom rendering routine for each Atari 2600 that mimicked pixel-for-pixel everything the Atari 2600 did. To ensure it was a match, I would overlay my reconstructed screen (using an XOR blend of the two images, for those that understand what that means) to look at deviations between my reconstruction and the authentic emulation. I'm particularly fussy about these things, so even graphic glitches in Yars' Revenge's explosion were reconstructed accurately.

Interestingly, this was an opportunity to work with Andy Mazurek again. Andy, for this project, was the Nokia-based producer for the title. However, I'd previously worked with Andy as a producer for Atari in their now-defunct Beverly office. Together, we'd worked on Atari Anniversary Advance for the GBA, Atari Anniversary Edition Redux for the PSOne, and Atari: The 80 Classic Games in One for Windows. Prior to that, he'd led the Atari testing group back when I was developing the original Atari Arcade Hits. So, needless to say, he's as much a fan of these classic games as we are, and was quite instrumental in this project seeing the light of day.

Anyway, for those with an N-Gage looking for games that are a quick fix, this is a great package. It's ideal for those bus rides. :-)

 

Gauntlet, Joust, Robotron: 2084, Smash TV (Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade) - Released 2005

  The launching of Microsoft's Xbox 360 opened up a new and exciting market: online downloadables straight to your video game console. The classic arcade games to which we'd grown so attached were perfect for this venue -- small download size, quick learning curve, and addictive play. The four games available for Xbox 360 launch were Gauntlet, Joust, Robotron: 2084, and Smash TV. We were quite proud, not only to be part of the Xbox 360 launch, but also to have our latest rendition of Joust packaged into the first run of the Xbox 360 Live Premium Starter Kits.

With the Xbox 360 came some interesting features:

Online Multiplayer: broadband online play was a great boost to multiplayer games like Gauntlet, Smash TV and Joust. Gauntlet was truly meant to be played four-player. It's only then that it reaches its full potential. In the arcades, it was great to be able to find a group of people playing Gauntlet, and join in as the fourth player. Now, the Xbox 360 online experience recreates that.

Robotron was a particularly interesting one. In its original form, two players take turns playing Robotron. However, we punched it up a bit, giving people a few ways to play an intense head-to-head experience. The best way to play is two-player simultaneous co-operative, wherein one player shoots while the other moves, communicating online through their headsets. That mode had our team in hysterics. It was particularly riveting.

Enhanced Graphics: HD-TV support meant that these games, in their original form, those pixels were going to be pretty large and crisp boxes. While that mode is available for those in a purist mood, we took the opportunity to provide more detail to the graphics, as we first did with Q*Bert and the various Atari titles, in 1999. That required a lot of meticulous and painstaking work on the part of our artists, taking every single frame, scaling up, retouching them, and adding more colour. They also created some stylish backgrounds for Robotron and Joust.

Since we were doing emulation, replacing the art was no mean feat. These games -- every one of them -- built their screens on the fly. For Robotron and Joust, there was no ready-made "tile set" to replace. Instead, it was a major reverse engineering task to decipher where and how the screen was drawn. Then, that code had to be intercepted, and code added to draw the new graphics in parallel, over the original.

Achievements: Another exciting enhancement was the addition of Achievements. Play a flawless level, achieve a score in a certain amount of time, etc. and you would earn points towards your Gamerscore, a ranking in the Xbox 360 online community. It was quite a lot of fun finding challenges within each of these games, to count toward Achievements. Like the graphics, it did take some effort to find the code within the original ROMs that allowed us to tell when these achievements had been met, though. I think we probably know more about the innards of these ROMs than anyone else can (or would want to) remember, at this point. (The effort is somewhat a generalisation of the "game state" reverse engineering I talked about in my Gamasutra article.)

For my part in this, as with a number of the classic compilations, I contributed the classic emulation core -- here, for Joust and Robotron. I also worked with Microsoft to get the project started, including spec'ing out a number of the enhancements to these games, as well as providing some of the reverse engineering support to get the enhanced graphics in, and to detect the game events necessary to implement the Achievements.

We think that the Xbox 360 renditions of these games are the right balance, having the classic gaming integrity (complete with authentic emulation) and still providing some fresh excitement with the online features, subtle graphics updates, and Achievements. With all the enthusiasm these games are getting (some people are saying this is what they spend most of their time doing on their 360!), we're hoping we'll be getting the opportunity to do this with more classic games soon.

Visit the Xbox 360 Live Arcade Marketplace to see more on these enhanced, downloadable versions of Gauntlet, Joust, Robotron: 2084, and Smash TV.

 

Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play (Sony PlayStation Portable) - Released 2005

  The Midway Arcade Treasures line features a lot of games that have been long close to our hearts. Defender and Joust were two of the three games that ushered the first ever available arcade emulation into the world with Digital Eclipse's Digital Arcade Collector's Series. With Sinistar, they were also among the six games for MS-DOS and Windows that marked my first project with the company, when I started back in 1994. They appear, here, over a decade later, in the most authentic portable rendition ever.

Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play included a selection of games spanning the first two volumes previous released on home consoles, with an emphasis on the multiplayer experience. The games included were:

The games in Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play emphasise the multiplayer experience, with all but five games featuring WiFi multiplayer in the PSP's "adhoc" wireless mode (which means you don't need a router or an Internet connection).

Unfortunately, as much as we would've liked to, these games were too large to implement the PSP's Game Sharing feature, wherein one PSP could upload a game to another PSP for head-to-head play. (Emulation does carry some additional size overhead, particularly when we had to optimise for the PSP's processor and memory.) So, two copies of the game are needed to take advantage of the wireless features. In fact, the emulation of some of these games were so large that, in some cases, the entire game could not fit into memory at once. So, games like Mortal Kombat and its follow-ons do experience some loading delays between levels. Nonetheless, these games are authentic emulation, not ports, and do run the original arcade code.

For purists, we included an Easter egg/cheat code that will allow you to play these games with their original scale. To cycle through the other views, pause the game, then hold down the L button and press the Square button. The other views include 1:1 pixel scale, and original aspect ratio.

With the PSP design not firmly established when this project was first started, it provided some unique challenges. The team worked intensely throughout this project, adjusting as necessary, and investing a lot of effort into optimising the games, in order to get a solid frame rate, particularly in the Mortal Kombat series. Latency-free networking, free of lag and stutter, was also a particular challenge for these games. Since they were emulation, we could not quickly resynchronise the games if there was a network interruption. It was particularly tricky to get these games to operate in lock-step with up to four participants, and still having plenty of time to retransmit without slowing down the game if there was a signal issue. Both the optimisation and the networking necessitated some particularly intense nights near the last month or so of the project. Nonetheless, our team was adamant to get it right, and a lot of care was put into getting these games functioning authentically.

For this compilation, I wrote the redesigned networking protocol that ultimately went into the package, allowing these games to be played over WiFi. And, of course, I also provided my emulation cores from the console versions, along with some support in adapting them to the needs of the PSP.

 

Atari Masterpieces Vol. II (Nokia N-Gage) - Released 2006

  Atari Masterpieces Vol. II for Nokia's N-Gage gaming phone follows on Vol. I above. It was developed concurrently with Vol. I by the same team, and complements the first line up fairly well.

The this compilation included:

Development paralleled the first volume, and my role was much the same. Aside from the line-up, the major distinction was the ability to do head-to-head play in Pong and Warlords.

 

Midway Arcade Treasures: Deluxe Edition (Windows 2000/XP) - Released 2006

  Midway Arcade Treasures: Deluxe Edition is the packaging of the PC version of Midway Arcade Treasures 2 and Midway Arcade Treasures 3 into a single box.

The line-up mirrors the console versions, but with the addition of Mortal Kombat. The complete line up included:

As with the console versions, Digital Eclipse was responsible for all the games except the last four in the MAT3 list above. Again, the two Rush games as well as Offroad Thunder and Hydro Thunder were ported by Gamestar, who also did the front end for MAT3.

A number of people contributed to these compilations, including Jeff Hanson (who led the port of MAT2), Kevin Pickell (who led the port of MAT3), and Luke Huang.

My contribution was similar to the console versions, providing the full emulation of Timber, Wacko and Kozmik Krooz'r, and the CPU emulation core which was used in Wizard of Wor and Badlands. I also served as "Technical Producer" for the project, which is essentially a consultant role for the emulation aspects.

 

Capcom Classics Collection Remixed (Sony PlayStation Portable) - Released 2006

  Dan Filner, who returned to us to do Capcom Classics Collection, followed on with this PSP compilation featuring a different line-up: 1941, Avengers, Bionic Commando, Black Tiger, Block Block, Captain Commando, Final Fight, Forgotten Worlds, Last Duel, Legendary Wings, Magic Sword, Mega Twins, Quiz & Dragons, Section Z, Side Arms, Street Fighter, Strider, The Speed Rumbler, Three Wonders, and Varth. (Some of the titles found in our console release but absent in the PSP version will be found in Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded, hitting the shelves late 2006.)

This compilation turned out extremely well, I think. Building somewhat on the company's learning experience of what worked and what didn't in Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play, Dan was able to implement a number of features we had wished we had been able to put into MAT.

For my part, I again contributed the original emulation core for the 6809 and Z-80 based games (George and Peter had helped on the latter), and also provided Dan some insight on the WiFi protocols.

 

Konami Classic Arcade series: Frogger, Time Pilot, Scramble, Contra, Gyruss, Rush'n Attack, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Super Contra, Track & Field (Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade) - Released 2006

  Following on the surprise success of Xbox 360 Live Arcade and its initial Midway launch titles, we've been inundated with many opportunities to bring other classic arcade titles to the Live Arcade Marketplace, giving them the same fresh treatment that the Midway games got. The first of these to see release is Konami's Frogger -- helping roll out Arcade Wednesdays on the service, just as our earlier Midway games helped roll out the service itself -- followed by Time Pilot, Scramble, Contra, Gyruss, Rush'n Attack, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Super Contra and Track & Field released periodically through the remainder of 2006 and into 2007. Like their predecessors on Live Arcade, we've taken the opportunity to enhance the games with some features that add new dimensions to game play, while staying true to the game's core:

Online Multiplayer: though Frogger and others are not a head-to-head game by nature, the widescreen of HDTV makes it very easy to play two games side-by-side, trying to best your opponent's performance overall, within a time limit, or team up to get the best combined score.

Enhanced Graphics and Sound: our guys decided to push the enhanced graphics a little further in this second round, complete with particle effects for the vehicle exhaust and the like. It's a much more vibrant playfield, while keeping the original spirit. Likewise, the sounds were enhanced, though they stay genuine to their original cues.

Achievements: complete up to Level 5, complete Level 1 in less than 45 seconds, fill the slots in order, etc. for special recognition through Microsoft's Achievements.

The development for these games followed the model for their Midway predecessors, but refined. Confident in the fundamentals, we pushed the graphics enhancements further, pushed the sound further, etc. for a well-polished package. The team was led by Josh, newly hired for our Xbox Live Arcade projects, with a little help from "Snake" and George. Vernon, who did our Namco emulations, amongst others, adapted my emulation cores to these games. Production was led by Rick. For my part, aside from providing the basic CPU emulation core, I was also involved early on in the negotiation and planning of these games. The Konami games also feature the first contributions, in the form of the enhanced art, to a released product from our Charlottetown, PEI studio, our second Canadian studio, which I helped establish in the beginning of 2006. Jamie and Matt were the artists involved there.

Visit the Xbox 360 Live Arcade Marketplace to see more on the enhanced, downloadable versions of Frogger, Time Pilot, Scramble, Contra, Gyruss, Rush'n Attack, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Super Contra and Track & Field.

 

Konami Live! Online Game Controller Arcade Collection (Windows XP) - Released 2006

  This came as a bit of a side project to our Konami Xbox Live Arcade project. It was definitely an interesting and novel idea in the vein of some of the TV Games that we had done, but instead of plugging into your TV, it plugged into your computer's USB port. The game collection would automatically install when the controller was plugged into your PC and then self-configure. It was advertised with five games -- Contra, Gyruss, Scramble, Time Pilot, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and a "bonus sixth game" later revealed to be Track & Field. The emulation cores were based on the same code we'd developed for its Xbox Live Arcade predecessor, so PC users get both the original and enhanced modes available to Xbox Live Arcade.

Check out the Official Site for more, including the TV spot featuring a scruffy guy in a tutu appearing in a grounded kid's locked bedroom unbeknownst to the parents. He has presents, too, but it'll be their little secret.

 

Midway Classic Arcade series: Defender, Root Beer Tapper (Microsoft Xbox 360 Live Arcade) - Released 2006

  With the success of the original run of Xbox 360 Live Arcade games from the Midway catalogue, Midway was interested in a follow-up. Modelled after the first run of Midway games, Defender and Root Beer Tapper contain many of the same features. This project made use of our Vancouver-based Xbox 360 Live Arcade development group, again making use of my original emulation core, largely as adapted for the first Midway Arcade Treasures.

In addition to these two, we also developed Paperboy, Cyberball 2072 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in this round; however, my contribution was solely with Defender and Root Beer Tapper.

Visit the Xbox 360 Live Arcade Marketplace to see more on the enhanced, downloadable version of Defender and Root Beer Tapper.

 

Sega Genesis Collection (Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable) - Released 2006

  These games were again programmed by Dan Filner, our emulation power-house South of the border. (Well, technically, very, very, South-West as he wrote these things, since he was "on sabbatical" with his girlfriend in New Zealand at the time.) Still, the package had plenty of veteran support when needed, George Phillips, Peter Phillips and I contributed the Z-80 emulation, Steve "Snake" contributed his Sega expertise and the YM2612 sound emulation, and Vernon Brooks (who previously worked on some of our Midway and Namco collections as well as the classic arcade games in our GBA Tron 2.0: Killer App, among other things) contributed the arcade emulation bundled in the package. (I also was there for Dan on the PSP networking, for the rare question he had.)

Sega Genesis Collection is not only an excellent compendium of the Sega Genesis home game console of the late '80s and early '90s, but also contains a few arcade titles. The full line up includes:

The Z-80 emulator core appears in the arcade games plus the sound component of the Sega Genesis. Appropriately, a number of the people on this project had also been programmers for the Sega Genesis in its day. And, with some hint of irony, Dan, George and Peter had actually programmed a classic compilation for the Sega Genesis itself, in the form of Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits, back in 1996.

 

Capcom Clasics Collection Volume 2 (Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox) - Released 2006

  Dan Filner was a busy, busy man in 2006. Not only did he deliver the first Capcom Classics Collection for the PSP (and contributed on the other platforms), and not only the Sega Genesis Collection, but also was practically the solo coding force behind Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2 for the PS2 and Xbox. He did turn to the portable Z-80 emulation core that George, Peter and I had developed, and my 6809 CPU emulation core, but other than that he was his usual one-man army.

The line-up for Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2 includes:

 

Activision Hits Remixed (Sony PlayStation Portable) - Released 2006

  ...and so it comes full circle. There's a lot of history here.

My first brush with the video game industry was in 1993, a year before I joined Digital Eclipse. Driven on by recreating many of my favourite computer and game experiences from my childhood and teens, I had turned my attention to creating an Atari 2600 emulator. At the time, it was commonly believed that an Atari 2600 emulator couldn't be done on the technology of the day, due to the excessively alien nature of the Atari 2600. It would require a lot of code overhead to make a PC act enough like the Atari 2600 to run its programs. No Atari 2600 emulator existed. Despite the challenge, I did manage to create an all-assembly-code emulator that was capable of running a slightly buggy, soundless version of Activision's Pitfall and Sky Jinks, plus Atari's Combat (all at up to 120FPS on a 20MHz 286!).

I thought it would be great to get an official compilation out there, bundled with licensed ROMs. (There was no MAME back then, and no emulator ROM controversy at all. The only arcade ROMs that were online was an archive for game collectors to burn replacements in order to repair their original cabinets.) With the assistance of a person by the name of David Sutherland in California working as my "agent", I tried to attract the interest of Atari, first. The response from Atari was not pretty. First, they responded that this emulator was using proprietary know-how and thus was illegal. I persuaded them that this was not the case, and I wanted to work with them to release it. Unfortunately, once they understood, they had no interest in publishing such a package for these "old" games; Atari was focusing on the future: the Atari Jaguar.

Next stop was Activision. Most of the games I loved best on my Atari 2600 were Activision games, anyway, I figured. It's a good bet. Well, we caught them at a curious time. They were only about a month or two into pre-production on Atari 2600 Action Pack, and were in negotiations with Livesay Technologies to develop the package. My "rep", David, took a copy of my prototype into a meeting with Activision's then-CEO, and nearly won the contract away. One snag stopped us: my emulator was an MS-DOS-based emulator, and they wanted an emulator that ran in Windows 3.1. I tried unsuccessfully to sway them to the merits of my MS-DOS-based solution. True, I had never actually programmed in Windows before, but I felt I could learn and so didn't see that as the big hurdle of compliance. Rather, the problem was that I was a purist. I didn't think that these games should be played in a window on a desktop; they had to be full screen. That wasn't going to happen under Windows 3.1. I tried to persuade them that the way to go was a Windows-friendly installer/launcher to a DOS program, but they wouldn't go for it. So, they continued with Livesay Technologies, and that was just about that. I did contribute to the Atari 2600 Action Pack in one very small way: I contributed the ROM images of Laser Blast and Cosmic Commuter which I'd managed the extract using a very homebrew ROM reader (two computers' parallel ports wired directly to the address/data lines of the cartridge using only a custom cable!). I got a free copy of the game for my troubles.

(As a small aside, when I joined Digital Eclipse the next year to create Williams Arcade Classics -- as a result of them seeing my TRS-80 Colour Computer 2 emulator -- they also wanted a Windows 3.1-based emulator. That time, I was successful in persuading Andrew Ayre, President of Digital Eclipse, that a DOS-based emulator with optional Windows-friendly wrapping was the way to go. Activision rejected the option for fear of it not being sufficiently user-friendly. So, I feel vindicated in that I later was told that Williams Arcade Classics for MS-DOS/Windows 3.1 got the least tech support calls per units sold of any PC product GT Interactive had ever published to that point.)

Ten years later, I got to fulfil my goal to create an Atari 2600 emulator, even if it wasn't to be the first one out there, via Atari: The 80 Classic Games in One. And, the compilation featured the first-party game catalogue of my original publisher-hopeful, Atari. Meanwhile, it seemed like Livesay Technologies had the lock on emulation for Activision, at least up until its last incarnation as Activision Anthology on the PlayStation 2, developed by Contraband Entertainment. To my surprise, we were contacted in the spring of 2006 by Activison. They were looking for someone to develop a version of Activision Anthology for the Sony PSP for Christmas 2006. Now, the manufacturing time for video games can be quite long. What this really meant was that there were only five months to do the game. Happily, they decided that there was only one company out there with the experience in both the Sony PSP and emulation (Atari 2600 emulation, in fact, thanks to Atari: The 80 Classic Games in One and the confusingly-named Atari Anthology): That would be Digital Eclipse.

I had wondered if I should list this game under my "Lead Programmer" section above, since the emulator itself is entirely my code while the user interface was done by others, much as some of the other compilations I led. However, truth be told, it was basically the same emulator I developed for Digital Eclipse that was included in our previous PC and console Atari compilations. I did consult on and support the project periodically, but it would be wrong to say I led it in this case. I supported my emulator for use in this product -- debugging as needed, optimising it for the Sony PSP, and adapting it to support some quirks unique to Activision games -- but the bulk of the work was done before this project ever started. I contributed probably two or three weeks' worth of my work time to emulator-specific tasks on this project. (Actually, in terms of code I contributed, it also makes use of the WiFi protocol I developed for Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play on the Sony PSP.) I also supported the team by reverse engineering the data they needed to extract for unlockables (scores, game levels, etc.), by rewriting our PSP sound code to support the emulator, by helping optimise the entanglement of renderer and WiFi servicing, and by dealing with some of the game control issues. Basically, I worked on anything specific to the emulator itself that needed to be done specifically for this Activision project. This was all "on the side" to my real job, which had become more along the lines of business development. (So, officially, I was the guy who actually negotiated this contract and dealt with Activision on a business level. It was also the last project I signed to the Backbone Vancouver studio of our company in my capacity as Studio Head, which I relinquished in June of 2006.) I couldn't help but get involved, though, given how long-coming this opportunity had been.

The team that did the bulk of the new work was Ryan Thom and Colin Fletcher, both returning to us under contract after leaving to start their own company and create their own game. Joining them on coding was new hire Porter, focusing on network issues, and George Phillips, our Vancouver-based Technical Director and frequent emulator contributor (from as far back as 1996!). George oversaw the integration of my "platform agnostic" emulator with the Sony PSP code. Interestingly, Ryan Thom's first full project with Digital Eclipse was to assist me with Atari Arcade Hits 1 back in 1999, and Colin's first project was the aborted Atari Arcade Hits for the Nuon system. Rounding out the team and enhancing the reunion factor was the return of artist Boyd Burggrabe, who'd first worked on the cinematics for our PlayStation 1 retro compilations and had been Digital Eclipse's Art Director from the Addams Family Pinball project in 1997 until he left to form Lucky Jump Games in 2005. Paige Meekison of our Vancouver studio served as Producer.

Activision wanted us to re-imagine the art style of Activision Anthology to give it a more "neo-art-deco" feel for the Sony PSP. Development-wise, Boyd created the art, Ryan and Colin put the UI together and married it with the emulator George helped attach to the PSP code. Then Porter connected up the networking, and I helped prepare and debug the emulator, and optimise the whole thing. What came out of the whirlwind event was:

I was thrilled to finally have a chance, after so many years, to do my part to keep these Activision gems alive. This project also feels like the end of an era to me, marking the conclusion of a quest that started 13 years previous, and also marking the last game I signed on as head of the studio I established and helped build in Vancouver. I spent the remainder of 2006 with the company, but in a new, exclusively business (vs. blended with game production) role, before moving on at the end of the year. The company itself has changed and grown so much in 2006, further punctuating the transition. It's an appropriate conclusion, for sure.

 


Commodore 64/VIC-20 Backgammon

 

In 1985, while still in high school, Geoff Rideout and I wrote a Backgammon game on his Commodore VIC-20. We were both Backgammon enthusiasts and wanted to do something fun with his computer. Geoff and I worked together on the AI design and debugging, while I did the initial programming. It wasn't an overly ambitious project, but we decided to submit it to various hobbiest magazines to see what they thought.

Our first choice was Run! magazine (an affiliate of the TRS-80 magazine "80 Micro" which inspired my whole venture into emulation four years later). We were rejected. Disappointed but not defeated, we submitted to the more-widely-known Compute!'s Gazette. It was accepted and, to our glee, featured prominently on the cover of the November 1985 issue.

We were also thrilled with the ~$200 cheque we'd received and split evenly for the article. Little did we know that the "real money" would be arriving in the months that followed when the royalties started coming in on Compute!'s Gazette on Disk.

Backgammon was subsequently re-issued in Compute!'s Third Book of Commodore 64 Games. Again, pleasantly, Backgammon featured prominently on that cover.

(Of course, royalties eventually dwindled. After maybe a year of no activity, I recall our last cheque that closed the account was for $0.09.)

View enlargements of the covers, plus a screen shot of the Commodore 64 Version

Play a Java version here...


Activision Patches

Here's a list of the Activision club patches I've got for their Atari 2600 games. For more details, visit the Activision Patch Gallery at the AtariAge site.

I no longer have my high score list, unfortunately, though there was a time I held four Canadian and two world records. I can only recall, now, that one of them was in Grand Prix. (I'm not making this up. :-) I'm fairly certain it's documented in an Activision Canadian-edition club newsletter somewhere. At the prompting of a co-worker, I did find the one that mentions the two world records. Unfortunately, the reign was short-lived. I believe the scores were toppled within months.)

I seem to have lost two of my Robot Tank patches. (I only had three of the four available.) If anyone know's where I might get replacements, please let me know.


All content 2000-2008 Jeff Vavasour. Updated November 07, 2009.