by trade, Joe has applied his knowledge to the
classic gaming community and recently released SCSIcide for the
Atari 2600. He also operates Pixels Past a great classic gaming
The players objective in SCSIcide is to read bits of data in the
correct color order before your latency buffer expires by controlling
the hard drive head. Do you find it ironic that hard drives did
not even exist when the VCS was released?
JG> Actually, hard drives were invented
in the 1950's, they just weren't a mainstream commodity like they
are now. :P
MT> Ouch, I stand corrected. Let us just move on now before I
embarrass my self any further... Were there any game design elements
that you wanted to include in SCSIcide but were dropped for one
reason or another?
I had a large list
of "wants" that I had to make some tradeoff decisions
due to the limitations of the 2600 platform and the fact that
SCSIcide was my first programming effort for the console. My original
game concept was based on a circular rotating disk. Because SCSIcide
is a fast-twitch, intense game, quickly identifying the proper
color bit to read is extremely
important. However, the game is very hard to play for color blind
people - I wanted to have the next required bit to blink or be
identifiable in a way other than color, but couldn't fit it into
the kernel. I also wanted to have better sound (which I could
definetely do now with Paul Slocum's Synthcart engine, which wasn't
available at the time) Even with all the things I didn't put in
the game, I prefer extremely simple and addicting games (Kaboom!,
Pac Man) - if I had added everything I wanted, it actually might
have taken away from the simplicity and fun of SCSIcide.
MT> SCSIcide was
your first 2600 game. The VCS console is certainly not easy to
program. Did you ever get frustrated and consider dropping the
I definetely got frustrated, but never considered dropping the
project. Being an engineer, I am very familiar with the highs
and lows of product development. There are times when everything
goes right and you can be on a roll for days at a time. Then,
the next thing you know, you find bugs, you spend hours trying
to fix them, etc. It is part of the process and is actually what
makes it so exciting. If designing a videogame was too easy, then
we'd probably have a lot more crappy homebrew games. :)
MT> Similar to how new hard drives are packaged,
the SCSIcide game and instruction manual were also packaged in
a static-free bag further playing off the theme of the game. What
other packaging ideas did you consider?
This was actually the first and only concept I had. I didn't consider
using a cardboard box because of the manufacturing costs of getting
good quality boxes and offset printing (I am too anal to use a
cheap inkjet and thin cardboard). The anti-static bag was a low-cost
option which really added some "flavor" to the already
geeky game.. If I remember correctly, SCSIcide was the first homebrew
game to be publicly released in something -other- than a cart-only
or cardboard box. Tim Snider's limited edition Venture II came
in a paper-mache treasure chest, but only 20 were made. Now, more
often than not, unique packaging ideas are used instead of the
cardboard box to help the game stand out. It adds another dimension
of design to the project and makes it a lot of fun. Examples:
Paul Slocum's Marble Crazy, Andrew Davie's QB, Billy Eno's Warring
How did you learn to program for the Atari 2600? If others wanted
to cite you as an example, and code a game themselves, where would
you recommend that they start?
Experiment, experiment, experiment (and be patient!) There are
a huge number of resources available now that provide disassembled
games, commented source code, development tools, emulators, and
mailing/discussion lists. For example, on my website (http://www.pixelspast.com),
I documented the entire development process of SCSIcide, from
inception to completion. Source code and compiled binaries of
various versions of the game are up on the site for people to
learn from and they can modify the source code to see how the
Atari will respond. Some good resources:
The Stella Mailing
might appear that game design is really easy, since there are
so many homebrew game projects going on right now. With the correct
background, this might be true, but take small steps and play
around a lot. That is the best way to learn.
Tick, Tick, Tick - How many hours of dedication did it require
to program SCSIcide?
It's hard to really say, since I worked a lot of nights and weekends
sporadically for about 4 months. I worked between 0 and 20 hours
a week (usually about 6 hours a week: 3 hours on Saturday and
3 hours on Sunday). This doesn't count creating the labels and
circuit boards, or putting the games together (approximately 10-15
Please explain the process of taking your programmed game SCSIcide,
and manufacturing it into the final cartridge form.
The first thing I did when I knew I'd be building my own games
was to create a custom circuit board for use in the standard Atari
cases. I didn't want to have to modify the existing circuitry
in the old cartridges which many homebrew developers do. The 2600
boards I made currently support 2K and 4K games. The boards fit
into the standard Atari cartridge cases and all components are
easily obtainable at many electronics stores. This made the manufacturing
process much easier and less frustrating. The boards are for sale
exclusively at AtariAge,
but more information on assembly instructions, parts ordering,
and tips will be added shortly to http://www.pixelspast.com/homebrew.
I had the circuit boards designed and manufactured, it was simply
a matter of soldering the components onto the custom boards, preparing
the cartridges (stripping the labels off old Combat/Pac Man cartridge
cases), removing the old guts of the cartridge, putting the new
populated circuit boards in, testing, putting the cartridge together,
testing again, and finally putting on the new label. Piece of
Which did you find more challenging, programming SCSIcide or manufacturing
The programming, without a doubt. The manufacturing process was
extremely simple, though time consuming. Building cartridges is
basically brainless work, and the programming really offers the
MT> By now I am sure that many of our readers
would like to actually play SCSIcide! How can they obtain a copy
to pop into their Atari VCS?
SCSIcide is available
from AtariAge for $25. They come in the anti-static bag with a
professional quality label and manual. The game was the first
homebrew to use the Paddle Controllers, so make sure you have
a set before trying to play :)
What's next? Is this the end of SCSIcide?
That's a good question.
I've been working on getting the Pixels Past site up and running.
Pixels Past was created to provide homebrew game developers with
the necessary gear to easily build game cartridges for classic
systems. It is operated solely by me. Most of the actual products
will be exclusively distributed by AtariAge, who I've been working
closely with for a number of months. This will allow AA to handle
the orders and processing in their store, while I can focus on
designing new homebrew/classic gaming products.. Currently, I
have PCBs for Atari 2600 and Atari 5200 cartridges,
and I'm working on a cartridge housing for the Atari 2600/7800
which will allow homebrew developers to use these new plastic
cases instead of having to strip old labels and deal with crusty/dirty
cartridges. It just adds a nicer touch to the final product. A
few other things are in the works, so stay tuned..
As for game design, I'm not really sure. I've played around with
some names for a SCSIcide 2, but that probably won't happen. Maybe
a game for the 5200 or Intellivision, or something for a more
obscure system like RCA Studio II.. :) So many things to do, so
Deal Games supports hobbyist programmers like Joe and their hard
that further enhances our aging consoles.
or visit his webpage
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