Makes ya wanna think.

computer game

King of Chicago Box Pix

When you work on computer games you get to do fun, weird stuff. In the fall of 1986 I was working insanely hard on my game The King of Chicago. My publisher Cinemaware needed a designer photo for the box and since I was doing a gangster game I decided to dress the part by hitting up second hand clothes stores.

My buddy Sam Ross is a fine photographer so I asked him to take the pix. We found a grungy alley behind an abandoned train station which looked Chicagoish enough. We had a blast posing and clicking and got some decent pix.

Recently I’ve been acting as hitman for itsu jitsu so I thought I’d post these pix to strike fear in anyone who is thinking of crossing Jason Kavanagh.

doug king of chicago box pix 003doug king of chicago box pix 006king of chicago box pix 001doug king of chicago box pix 005king of chicago box pix 002doug king of chicago box pix 004Box Cover of Doug Sharp's The King of Chicago (Cinemaware, 1986)

Back Cover of Doug Sharp's The King of Chicago (Cinemaware, 1986)

The King of Chicago sold over 50,000 copies in 86-88. The Amiga version sold better than the Mac, Atari, or PC versions because of Rob Landeros’s amazing gangsters.

I’m proud of King of Chicago.


The King of Chicago

I scanned some old reviews of my computer games ChipWits and The King in the process of gussying up my bio at channelzilch.com.

In 1985 ChipWits was a hit so when my software agent Bob Jacobs formed Cinemaware he asked me to write a movie-themed game. He wanted his first line-up of cinematically-inspired games to include a knights in armor, a space, and a gangster game. I was a fan of old gangster movies so I dibsed that genre. My buddy Kellyn Beeck chose knights and wrote the smash hit Defender of the Crown.

In 1986 I wrote The King of Chicago – designed, did the artwork (for the Mac version), programmed, and wrote half the game script.

King cover

I came up with a new way of telling interactive stories which I called Dramaton. I hated hardbranching interactive storytelling – pick-a-path plotting – so I devised a way of telling a story probabilistically using a bunch of suitably-labeled animated scenes.

The Mac version got  great reviews (“King of Chicago represents a landmark in computer gaming” MACazine Review ) and so we did an Amiga version. I coded it and Cinemaware artists (led by Rob Landeros) did some amazing gangster graphics.

King of Chicago back

The Amiga version of The King got rave reviews (“The King of Chicago is a brilliantly devised game that far outstrips others of its genre.” – Personal Computer World) and sold 50,000 copies in 1987 – my biggest hit.

I’m still immensely proud of The King of Chicago. It means a lot to me that The King is respected by some of today’s top game designers ( “I don’t think people realize what a landmark achievement in game development it was.” – Casey Muratori, creator of Sushi Bar Samurai). It’s fun to see fans’ enthusiasm on nostalgia gaming forums like Lemon Amiga.

Here’s a walkthrough  of the Amiga version posted by a fan to YouTube:

I’m not finished writing hits!


Looking for Coder and Producer for ChipWits

It’s time to hand over coding and promoting ChipWits to someone else. My health doesn’t allow me to do a good job.

Here is the email I sent current ChipWits players:

ChipHeads,

I’ve decided that I can’t program ChipWits any longer. My epilepsy has gotten worse and programming is difficult for me. So we are looking for a programmer and a producer to take over the game: http://chipwits.com/recruiting.html

ChipWits players are programmers so we are letting you guys know first. We’d love it if a hardcore ChipWits player took over.

I will continue to have a hand in game design along with Mike Johnston and our new team. I am going to concentrate on finishing rewriting my science fiction novel – www.helsbet.com – and working on a personal game about my disability – www.brainrot.wordpress.com.

Wish ChipWits luck this week in the Independent Games Festival: http://www.igf.com/php-bin/entry2009.php?id=731

They announce finalists on the 7th.

I am going to make a few tweaks this week and upload a new build, but I will wait until we’ve got a producer and coder onboard before running any more contests.

Thanks for your patience as we continue to improve ChipWits. Stay tuned for cool developments in 2009.

IFFEEL COFFEE T-> PICKUP,

Doug Sharp

Feels both sad and good. Sad because I love programming and making games. Good because now ChipWits will grow and thrive (and make $$$!).


Happy New Year from The Pad

smileyguyBest wishes for a great 2009 from Doug Sharp.

This year I am going to find a publisher for Hel’s Bet and get ChipWits II out the door with a new programmer.

2008 was a year of ups and downs. My health was down but my friends kept me going. Thanks, all.

Mika, my horrible HuskyHappy New Years from Mika, here waiting for me to leash her up for a walk. She will never understand why humans don’t walk dogs every waking hour.

Travis, my horrible shepherd/collie/newtHappy Hogmanay from Travis, waiting for me to open the gate so he can terrify small furry creatures. A walk is like a video game for Travis – chipmunks and squirrels and rabbits hiding and squeaking and running away. It’s a game he was evolved to play.

hard-at-workThe three of us hard at work while a blizzard rages outside.

I am determined to rock 2009!


Tons of ChipWits downloads

Someone listed ChipWits on Versiontracker, and listed us as freeware. We are getting lots of hits. They listed it under Mac software, and the Mac version is less tested that the Windows version. I wish they hadn’t linked us for 2 more weeks.

But the current build is looking pretty good. I quickly edited the ChipWits website to emphasize to visitors that the game is still in BETA! and that it is shareware.

I’ll be interested to see how many register their game.


Working on the game

I spend most of my days working on ChipWits. I am shooting to have a solid release for October 1st, which is the deadline for entering the Independent Games Festival.

I really like having deadlines. The Clarion West Write-a-thon deadline lit a fire under my tush to finish Hel’s Bet. I am getting better at working hard for a deadline but not letting it burn me out.

I am working on ChipWits content – tutorial missions. Each simple mission introduces a new chip ( SKATE, ELECTROCRAB, RIGHT45) or feature (comments, clicking on an existing chip to change it). I hadn’t created a new mission in many months until this week – I had a sort of mission block.

I’m through that now and being productive. Each mission requires lots of twiddling to get it right – the maze, the distribution of things in the maze, writing the intro text for the mission, creating a ChipWit to start the mission, allocating cycles, legal operators, and arguments.

I am still creating missions with a kludgey system starting with an Excel spreadsheet, saving the spreadsheet as text, and converting it into an XML-format mission with a utility program I wrote. Soon I’ll be able to use Mark Roth’s ChipWits Mission Editor. He’s working hard to get it ready for Oct 1. Can’t wait to see what missions players come up with.

The temp dropped from 77 to 47 today so the weather was wild. No rain but lots of wind. I took the dogs out canoeing and have sore shoulders from paddling into the wind.

The maples and birch away from the lake are about 50% into full Fall color. Surrounding the lake they’ve just started to turn color. Wonder why.

October is the prettiest month on Martel Lake. The oak, maple, and birch are psychadelic.


Fun with Margaret and ActionScript

It was great fun teaching Margaret programming. I led her on a forced march through the Flex interface, gave a brutally quick over view of MXML (Adobe’s layout language), rushed through an intro to object-oriented programming, and finally gave a cursory glimpse at ActionScript.

M is going to develop the combat code for GODinabox.  She and Ian want to implement a fairly standard combat system for their American Dream GODclub.

While I tutored M in Flex we developed this really simple combat code harness I called FightClub, which we developed to this state. Me and BadBoy are 2 MXML components of the Pugnater class:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
<mx:Canvas xmlns:mx=”http://www.adobe.com/2006/mxml&#8221; width=”100″ height=”200″
creationComplete=”init();”  borderColor=”#800040″ backgroundColor=”#ffff00″>
<mx:Button x=”21″ y=”130″ label=”Attack” click=”this.attack();” />
<mx:Label x=”10″ y=”77″ text=”HP:”/>
<mx:Label x=”43″ y=”72″ text=”100″ id=”hpLbl” fontWeight=”bold” width=”47″ fontSize=”15″/>
<mx:Label x=”21″ y=”21″ text=”Name” id=”nameLbl”/>
<mx:Script>
<![CDATA[

private var hitPoints:Number = 100;
private var target:Pugnater;
public var attackStat:Number;
public var defenseStat:Number;

public function init():void {
this.showHP();
this.attackStat = 5;
this.defenseStat = 2;
}
private function showHP():void{
this.hpLbl.text = Math.round( this.hitPoints ).toString() ;
}
public function defense( attackPoints:int ):void {
var randVal:Number = (Math.random() * 15 + 85)/100;

attackPoints -= this.defenseStat;
this.hitPoints -= attackPoints * randVal ;
this.showHP();
}
public function setTarget( targ:Pugnater ):void {
this.target = targ;
}
public function attack():void {
this.target.defense( this.attackStat );
}
]]>
</mx:Script>

</mx:Canvas>

I have always wanted to teach Margaret programming. She is, after all, a third-generation computer game developer. Only recently have I been able to handle long, fun conversations. For 8 years a fun conversation automatically triggered a seizure. I got a little nerve-frazzled after about an hour of it, but took a rest and came back and gave a good final lesson, and talked through getting FightClub up and running. We’ll elaborate FightClub to let Margaret experiment with interesting combat coding.

We worked hard that night cleaning the cabin. We had to get it ready because prospective buyers were seeing it at 10 and at 12 on Friday. We got it looking pretty good and got a short night of sleep.

The next day we drove to Rice Lake. We did errands while the real estate agents showed The Pad. Got Margaret craft supplies for making creepy dolls.

Had lunch at an off little coffee shop called A Big Pile of Yesterdays or some such – it’s mainly an antique store with a coffee shop in the back. She gave me an overview of the American Dream GODclub. Very cool. I’m not going to give any theoludical spoilers. It’s going to be fun and pretty straightforward to make the GODinabox code provide the game-play features American Dream needs.

Later that night I decided to use the King of Chicago clay heads for the pirates in the Flying Spaghetti Monster GODclub. Margaret is going to make outrageous pirate costumes for them and we’ll stop-motion animate them. I think we may animate the FSM in real spaghetti. I plan to make the sets out of painted cardboard.  I want to get back into doing visual art and this feels like a way that will work.


Got ChipWits working on the Mac

Running under Adobe Apollo. Apollo is slick. It was a cinch to convert my Flex project to an Apollo project.

I gave one last shot at getting ChipWits running under MDM Zinc and it went off into a loop that was impossible for me to debug on the Mac. So I bit the bullet and converted it to an Apollo app.

Apollo isn’t ideal because it’s in alpha right now. The installation will be a hassle because a user will need to install Apollo first and then the ChipWits.air Apollo file. When Adobe rolls out the release of Apollo installation will be a one-step deal, but for now if a player doesn’t already run Apollo they’ll need to install it manually.

I got a Mac Powerbook off eBay a few weeks ago – a 1.5 ghz G4, which will be the low-end Mac we support. I picked this Mac as the target at the suggestion of Jay Bibby of Jayisgames.com . ChipWits runs a tad slower on the Mac than my PC of the same speed, which concerns me. I may hire a Flax/Flex animation guru to review my code to help me pump up the performance of the game. Flash isn’t the speediest game platform, for sure.

It felt good to see ChipWits running stably on a Mac again after 23 years.


Major New Build of ChipWits

The latest build of ChipWits is filled with LOTs o’ new features. I really pumped up the IBOL editor. The most important features are undo/redo and multi-chip drag and drop. Both features were requested in ’84 and are finally ready for your enjoyment. Since a lot of the player’s time is spent in the IBOL editor, making it slicker is a big win for the game.

I also changed the Subpanel system, letting players create as many named Subpanels as they need rather than just A-G.

I added the new Register operators to let ‘Wits do math and have addressable variables. The ChipWit can now drop a Counter object, which has a numeric value. I am going to create Register-based missions with a CounterLock – a door that opens when a Counter with the correct value is dropped onto it.

I also added the ability to add comments to chips. This will help a lot in making IBOL programs understandable.

I am going to wait a week to get some feedback before I hold a contest.

Until then I am going to work on the Mac version and start working on a full suite of tutorial missions.

Feels great!


Flex, my ChipWits dev platform, goes Open Source

When I looked for a cross-platform game development environment over a year ago Adobe Flex was just coming out the door. Margaret was comfortable doing animation in Flash, but I was sceptical of ActionScript. When I got a look at ActionScript 3.0 I felt comfortable taking the plunge.

I’ve really enjoyed working with Flex. Today’s announcement that Adobe is open-sourcing Flex gives me even more confidence I made a good choice of platforms. Scoble has some nice vids up of interviews with core Flex devs about Adobe’s open source move.

I’ve spent the past week working on IBOL editing in ChipWits. I’ve got undo/redo working well. Got copy/paste working last night along with the start of multiple-select. Tomorrow multiple-select drag & drop. Since ChipWits players will spend the bulk of their time editing IBOL code anything I do to ease editing will pay off bigtime.

Today I also got a Mac Powerbook which I bought off eBay. It’s a G4 1.5 ghz – which is going to be our base Mac target machine at the recommendation of Jay Bibby of Jayisgames . Having a Mac version of ChipWits ready when we launch is important to me because ChipWits came out first on the Mac in ’84. Apollo is still not ready for me to use to deliver Mac ChipWits ( and Mike Chambers suggests that Apollo will be following Flex’s example ) so I will be wrestling with the killer Zinc Mac bug.


New Build and ChipWits Contest

Feels great to post a new build and kickoff a new ChipWits contest. I haven’t been very productive the past few weeks, so I can sleep well tonight knowing I’ve hit another goal.

The next few weeks are mainly about building ChipWits missions, and I had some fun with ChipWits Caves tonight. The maze is 8 rooms in a row that spell out “ChipWits” with their walls. There are 2 CDs worth 2,000 points in 6 of the 8 rooms, and those CDs don’t respawn. They are each adjacent to “islands” of walls in the center of rooms. I’ll be interested to see if any playtester codes for that condition or if blind fumbling is the most efficient strategy.

It snowed today – wet and sticking to the trunks of trees. The whole world got whiter again. With the grey sky it’s like the contrast got turned way down.

I decided to do some fish watching this evening so I took my dogs and flashlights down to the lake. It was way too wavy and snowy to see a thing in the water. But it was fun walking with a flashlight through the snow.

So I still haven’t seen a single fish after a week of open water. I wonder when I’ll see the first Central Mudminnow swimming up Mudminnow Creek? I’ve got 4 of them in my aquariums and they are cool fish with a very commanding attitude. Their spawning run is like a miniature version of a salmon run. I spent hours last Spring watching these cool little fish fight their way upstream over dams made of twigs and leaves. The water is running in the creeks but the isn’t warm enough to trigger their spawning yet.


ChipWits marches on

I got some extremely useful feedback from the geek gamer forums. As a result of the feedback we are going to spend another month on ChipWits before releasing it.

The biggest request is for LOTs more tutorial missions. So we will ship with >30 of them.

I’ve spent some time twiddling with low-level and performance issues. A couple people commented that dragging-and-dropping chips was awkward. I spent a day making that work a lot more smoothly. Since the heart of ChipWits is the chips this one is big. The feedback on this issue shows why beta playtesting is crucial – I had just got used to the clunkiness of the drag-and-drop and ignored it.

I also identified a big Flash-related animation slowdown and fixed that.

I’ve been struggling a bit with my neural problems, not being very productive. Next week I go to a new pain clinic – fingers crossed.

In designing a lot of new missions Margaret and I are coming up with some new baddies. Those will be fun to implement. I’ll write about them later this week.

It looks like Margaret’s ermine roommate – Herman – has decamped to the great outdoors. No recent signs of our flying squirrel neighbors, either. Life is a bit less interesting at The Pad.


I just announced ChipWits in Some Geek Gamers Forum

This is a big night for me. ChipWits is ready for a fresh new round of playtesters and so I’ve asked for feedback on the Indie Gamer Forums, which is the best forum I’ve found for independent game programmers. Also Gamedev.net, which I am just beginning to explore and which looks quite good.

I expect to get some really useful crit out of these geek gamers. I’ve left posts asking for playtesters in a couple other programmer forums as well.

I had a lot of fun today working on a new type of mission – the mini mission. I decided it would be good to have a bunch of really small 1 or 2 rooms missions under 250 cycles. Once that thought popped into my head I began to get lots of ideas for actual missions. I knocked off 2 today and it was a blast.

A lot of the work we have before we ship the game is developing new missions – intro (tutorial) missions and game missions. This is really fun work and I’m looking forward to the next weeks.

I am keeping on an even keel – not stressing out – and that’s helping me be fresher in my creative efforts.

Usually the last month before shipping a game is hell, no fun at all. Concentrating on bugs and being very very conscious of time slipping by. Shipping ChipWits soon is crucial financially, but I am in a pretty good groove of productivity right now. I still get stressed, believe me, but I am enjoying myself, too.

It helps that this time ChipWits isn’t headed into a box on a shelf in a computer store. I’ll be able to keep improving it after our initial release, so I don’t feel that every second is do-or-die.

I spent yesterday in the Twin Cities at a friend’s house working on the Mac version. Made lots of progress, but I hit a snag when it started crashing randomly – a bug in MDM Zinc which is out of my control. This means I probably won’t have an installable Mac version ready for our initial release, bummer. Since I developed ChipWits on the original Mac it means a lot to me to get a Mac version running ASAP, but I can’t take the time to do it now.

I feel really good about the game. Within 2 weeks ChipWits will be released and raking in the dough. Count on it.


Buried in the Drifts

We are snowed in for the 2nd time this week. This time the snowplow guy refused to plow the last 1/3 mile of “road” to The Pad. He plowed only to my 2nd-nearest neighbor (the nearest neighbor is a Summer cabin – no one home) so I moved the car to their house in the middle of the storm – up the hill.

The hill is a challenge in Winter – it slopes North and often has got an icy underlayer – and I don’t blame the snowplow guy for giving up on it. He plowed partway down before giving up, though, so he left a 3-foot high plowed mound of snow right in the middle of the hill. I had to get the Subaru’s speed up and punch through the mound while climbing the hill. The snow is light and it made a satisfying snow explosion as I slammed through it.

So we’ve got a 1/3 mile walk to the car. Getting another load of firewood will have to wait. We’re doing pretty good on propane, but I’ve cut the thermostat to 60. If we’re snowed in long we’ll have to use our toboggan to haul wood to the cabin.

I had a great day of programming yesterday. I will probably drop a new build of ChipWits tonight. I fixed a bug in ELECTROCRABS – now they can actually damage your ChipWit – 20 E-CRAB ZAPs and you’re done.

We’ll finish the current contest and then next week let some of the geek game forums into the playtest.


Contest of Doom & ChipWits Forums

I just uploaded a new build of ChipWits and announced this week’s contest – Doom Rooms.

I’ve had a couple of great days of programming, some of my best days in months. I think this trend will continue.

I implemented Hummingbird Mode – supah-fast ChipWit speed. That’s really going to be helpful when we have to run all the contest-entry ChipWits through a 10-mission series.

Margaret and I also set up ChipWits forums at chipwits.informe.com. Wonder who will be the first one besides me to post there. Dare ya.

We are snowed in. Our plow guy gave up and is going to try a bigger plow tomorrow.

We are going to spend the next few days adding Intro Missions and documentation and then mid-week we’ll start announcing the game in geek forums. I want a bunch of programmers in the next batch of playtesters – it’s not quite ready for the mass market yet until we document and tutorialize more.

I feel good about ChipWits and the prospect of making bucks off of it.

Margaret got some great video footage of Herman the Ermine. We’ll upload some action footage of this magical little creature to youTube.

It’s a good sign that I am heading to bed before 1 am.

I just posted 2 more chapters of Channel Zilch.


‘ZAPpening at The Pad.

Margaret is finally on the mend. Her last 2 days where rough – she was tired and had a cold.

She is in charge of designing ChipWits Intro Missions, and we just had a great little brainstorming session.

Before we shout ChipWits from the Internet rooftops and invite everyone into the beta, we have to make more tutorial Intro Missions. There is a vertical learning curve from our the last Intro Mission in build 177 to playing the Advanced Missions.

So far most of the people playtesting ChipWits played the original game so they climbed the learning curve a long time ago. We’ve heard from new players that it is way too steep right now.

I have problems constructing puzzles – one of the strange cognitive deficits that are side-effects of my epilepsy condition – and luckily Margaret enjoys making them.

For some of the Intro Missions we will have some IBOL code already in place. I am working on making that happen.

Once I get that working I will make electrocrabs be annoying.

One of the best things about being a game developer is that you are often doing very strange tasks – making electrocrabs annoying is all in a day’s work.


New ChipWits build and close encounter with an otter

We are back on track after a few days of tussling with germs and autos. Finally dropped another build of ChipWits on the website.
I killed the Open/Save dialog bug, got ChipWits to retain their colors, and knocked off a number of annoyingnesses . Once a few playtesters assure me that build 177 hasn’t melted their machines I will run a new contest, inviting more playtesters in.

I am going to try to get the Mac downloadable running this week. I really want to have a Mac version available when we go public with the game. ChipWits was designed for the very first Mac.

Lot’s of good things happening. Margaret is sleeping for the 2nd night in a row and is starting to get back into ChipWits art and mission building. She is half the team and ChipWits needs her. The car is running – fixing the squirrel-bitten wiring cost only $121.26.

I took a dog walk out on the wild lake today. Travis ran ahead to check out the beaver lodge. The lake has fallen about  3 feet and so the ice is sagging and cracked around the lodge. As Travis arrived at the logpile a very large, wet otter popped out onto the ice surface, surprising Travis so much that he just stood there while it slid back under the ice sheet. While Mika and I toured the rest of the lake Travis spent his time nosing around the lodge trying to figure out where the otter went. Being a reasonable being, it never occurred to him that the otter voluntarily dove back into the icy water in today’s 5-degree chill. Travis was very satisfied by the encounter.

Tomorrow – ELECTROCRAB behavior – the frontiers of Artificial Stupidity.


Gotta fix one more thing before the next drop

Geeknote: I am using Zinc  to give Flex the abilility to read and write .chipwit files. The open and save dialogs in Zinc have a problem  – they only appear intermittently. I have a theory about how I can work around this. It’s an ugly bug because 20% of the time you select Save or Open ChipWit no dialog appears, and it’ll appear later or when you quit the game.

I am going to invite a few more people into the beta test when I make this next drop, so I hate to have such an ugly bug in it.

Margaret still isn’t feeling good – her antibiotics haven’t kicked in like they should have 5 days after her pneumonia diagnosis. So I will probably take her back in to the docs tomorrow. Wish her well!


And the Winner is…

Visit ChipWit.com’s Prestigious Hall of Pie.

That was fun.

Got a late entry in the 14 and under category and since it’s the only one I am running it right now to generate scores. Looks like it might kick the tin bootie of the oldsters. [Update: Eric Hsu’s tightly coded and elegant ChipWit takes the youth division and, yep, comes out on top over all. Congrats!]


Starting to run Contest ChipWits

Margaret and I are both under the weather. We worked our tushes off getting the new website up and killing bugs for playtesting.

So we are taking a day off. I’ll be running the contest entries through Greedville and posting the result late tonight.

We are then going to take a few days off to catch out breath. Next weekend we’ll announce the next contest, which will involve ZAPping ELECTROCRABs.

We are getting a few more visitors to the website, but aren’t going to shout out about the game until the end of the month, when our little game should be playable by people who didn’t cut their coding teeth on the original Mac, C-64, or Apple II versions.

Thanks once again to our great playtester/bughunters.


Check out ChipWits.com’s New Look

Margaret went live with her cool new design for ChipWits.com.

I am thrilled. I love the look: very ChipWits – friendly and geeky. It’s striking and fun to look at.

Which makes me very happy because I am going to spend many hundreds of hours looking at it as we release our standalone ChipWits and then build our ChipWits online game community.

ChipWits registration keys are now on sale for the beta price of $14.95.

We aren’t shouting to the rooftops about ChipWits yet, because we want a small beta for a couple more weeks. But we invite anyone reading this to join us in playtesting ChipWits.

Monday night is the deadline for the first week’s contest. We’ll post the winners Tuesday evening in The Hall of Pie.

People who enter ChipWits contests and who turn in bugs or comments for improving ChipWits will receive prestigious virtual bling in ChipWits Online. So let’s hear from you.

I will post a new build Tuesday night and announce the next contest.


Looks Like my game King of Chicago is coming to the Wii

http://www.primenewswire.com/newsroom/news.html?d=109706

Flashback: The King of Chicago box


Margaret is a 3rd-generation Computer Game Developer

The first computer game I ever played was written by my Dad, Jack Sharp. In the early 60’s he was a meteorologist in the Air Force and was learning to program. I was in 5th grade. His group held an open house for all the families to come ooh and ahh at the blinking lights of the massive mainframes.

He had written a game, a simple reaction-speed game. A line of people formed to try their reflexes against the big metal brains.

The game was to look at a row of lights and when they lit up to press any key on the teletype machine as fast as you could. Between lights on and keypress the computer would count supahfast. The computer would then print out “I COUNTED TO 13,047. FASTEST CONTESTANT’S SCORE: 11,012”, or if you were the fastest so far “CONGRATULATION!!! I ONLY COUNTED TO 10,711. A NEW RECORD!!!”

We, of course, were dazzled by the machines counting speed. I was determined to set a new record.

I was filled with adrenaline when it was my turn to play. My reflexes were over-primed. I saw a flicker and TAP – lightning fast keystroke. The computer printed “CONGRATULATIONS!!! I ONLY COUNTED TO 0. A NEW RECORD!!!” I had jumped the gun, hit the key before the lights went off, and I was devestated. I felt like crawling into a hole.

My Dad was embarassed. He said he was sure he’d put a check for jumping the gun into his program. But there was no was to reset my “record score” of zero without rebooting the whole shebang, which was for some reason not possible.

So the first time I played a computer game I found a bug. In my Dad’s program. In front of all his colleague’s families. Luckily Dad had a wonderful sense of humor.

Dad went on to have a great career in meteorological computing. He wound up heading the massive Automated Weather Network – a worldwide network of weather observation gathering and forecasting computers which was an early-70’s precursor of the Internet. He was proud that some of the low-level network code he wrote survived in the system for many years.

Too bad I’m such a godlike coder that Margaret will never have the thrill of finding a bug in any of my games.


Playtesting week and the Contest

We are uncovering some good bugs in ChipWits playtesting this week. So far none have been a mystery. I’ve been able to replicate and squash them in short order.

Also doing a little gameplay tweaking. I was nervous about the SAY chip because when I first implemented it the voice synthesizer would lock out all mouse and keyboard input while it had its SAY. So I set the cycle cost to 5 to ensure that the mission would end quickly. Now it’s much better behaved and Mark Roth suggested it be free to encourage its use. So be it. Along with that I made SING free. So ChipWits can talk and sing without sacrificing scoring.

Now that I know ChipWits behaves well on a number of people’s machines I am going to slowly spread the word. Not going to do a major PR campaign until we’ve run another week’s contest with a more challenging mission.

The next few days I’ll tweak baddie behavior and animation. Electrocrabs were idiots in the original game and I plan to raise their IQ’s a few points.

We will start selling the beta game tomorrow. I’ve got an account with the online distributer BMT Micro and just uploaded a batch of serial numbers. By the end of February I should know whether I have a future as an Indie Gamer.