Atari memories and a JavaScript games book

Growing up in the late 1970’s early 1980’s I experienced first hand the wonder and amazement of early home computers.
In the beginning I got hold of a ZX81 and pretty much played every available game on it. I still remember being terrified at 3D Monster Maze.
It wasn’t long however before I needed to progress to colour and Christmas 1982 I got a Dragon 32. Wonderous times indeed and the games of Ken Kalish in particular stood out. Danger Ranger has inspired a number of my own game designs and I intend to relive its magic some day in one of my JavaScript arcade ventures. Unlike most I loved the Dragon 32. It had colour and sound and for me that was enough at that time. I’d always felt that the Atari was the way forward but at that point I was content with the Dragon.

Then one magical day some time in 1984(ish) I clapped eyes on Star Raiders. My life changed forever. I grew up with Star Wars and loved it. Everybody my age loved Star Wars. At least the guys did. To actually play at being Han or Luke on your own home computer was quite simply essential for anyone of my age at that time. It took some pestering but thankfully my Dad saw the potential for these machines and also saw that I was starting to program for them as well. Christmas 1984 I unwrapped an Atari 800XL. I’m pretty sure I got no other present that year :)

Galaxians, Pole Position, Star Raiders… they were all there and all utterly fantastic. Atari were synonymous with arcade gaming and I was instantly smitten with them. So much so that I saved up dinner money to buy the magazines of the day that carried program listings. This was to be my way in to programming my own games.

Atari BASIC worked. It wasn’t so clumsy as people though in hindsight and allowed you to generate sound and colourful graphics with reasonable ease. I devoured countless magazines worth of code and before long had my own library of BASIC arcade games running on the Atari. I saved them to cassette and took them to the local computer store to show the store owners who myself and my friends had got to know quite well. The largely favourable comments I recieved urged me on and I soon knew that a life of games programming was for me.

Sadly education, girls, work and all other stuff got in the way and my Atari gathered dust before finally being “given away” by my Mum. By the time that happened I really didn’t care so much such were the demands of my life at the time.

Zoom forward 10 years and in to the internet boom of the 1990’s and I started dabbling with web page creation. HTML was criminally easy and JavaScript allowed for a certain amount of flexibility. Several iterations later and now with full DOM support writing JavaScript to power screen sprites becomes super simple.

The other night I was putting some work in to a simple JavaScript shoot ’em up when it dawned on me that I was experiencing the exact same thrills I’d experienced as a young teenager making those Atari BASIC games. I had managed to rekindle my enthusiasm. There was no marketing or project management stopping me from expressing myself with my code, I was happily making my own game. It was all my own doing and I was loving it. If I wanted green missiles and a slightly faster scroll speed then I could do that and nobody would stand in my way. If I wanted a squelch sound for an explosion or a puff of smoke when the bombs hit the desert below then I could code that and it would stay in. Nobody was going to tell me to take this stuff out.

This personal expression is important to me and right then I considered the fact that it might just be valuable to thousands of other like-minded game designers out there.

JavaScript, the DOM, computer power and web browsers are at such a wonderful stage just now that I feel the time is right to spread the word.

I had been sketching out an idea for a book called “Writing JavaScript Arcade Games” for a little while but this sudden rennaissance gave it some gusto. I am happy to report that the book is 100% sketched out and I am about 50% through writing it.
The book covers everything. I explain JavaScript and the DOM for beginners and go right in to detail about advanced sprite design techniques (I used to work in Acclaim Entertainment’s art department as Lead Artist), animation and collision detection for the more adventurous.

I’m currently looking for a publisher willing to take a chance on it just now. If you’re a publisher and like the idea of a book that taps in to the huge combined market of web designers and arcade game enthusiasts then please drop me a line.

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  • Echolocating  On April 8, 2009 at 6:23 am

    I’m interested in building JavaScript games with a PHP/MySQL back end. I have experience with other languages, but to be honest, I think a completely browser-based game without the need to download anything creates a very accessible platform. (It also alleviates the worry that some may have from downloading and installing components, like Java applets, from unknown sites.)

    There are obvious limitations to JavaScript programming with a browser, but working around and understanding them is half the fun. There’s something satisfyingly unique about a quality JavaScript game.

    Get this book published, man. I’m so glad I found your website. Great stuff.

  • markw1970  On April 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for the comments fella ! I’m working on it ;)
    Have fun making your own arcade games in JS. Once you’re in to it there’s no turning back !

  • Scott Schiller  On April 13, 2009 at 6:04 am

    I echo your sentiments in working on your own projects with your own deadlines and rules, etc.. It’s wonderful and rewarding, especially if you accomplish everything you set out to do.

    A book on Javascript gaming would be interesting, as I imagine there aren’t many (if any?) out there at this time. I suspect it’s still a somewhat-small field.

  • markw1970  On April 13, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Thanks Scott. I suspect it’s the somewhat-small field that is preventing any interest just now from publishers. I approached a couple who were initially very excited but ultimately couldn’t see beyond the fact that Flash would be a gamer’s choice and any JavaScript book ought to be a tutorial on JavaScript with a gamey element.
    I don’t want that. There’s a ton of JS tutorials out there. I want a book that is purely about making games, such that I could actually remove the JS reference and the reader could still learn how to produce, balance and execute a good arcade game.

    Star Wars is iconic for so many things not least the sound effects. Your Soundmanager is once again invaluable to me as I relive my youth playing with laser and lightsabre sounds.

  • Robert Schultz  On May 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Great post, it really took me back to when I was growing up with a Commodore coding text adventure games in basic on it.
    I too share your enthusiasm about JavaScript and games, but not just Arcade games.
    Ever since I created as an experiment to see if a JavaScript game could be just as good as any other medium I’ve been in the firm mindset that JavaScript games are a real possibility and will only grow in popularity.

    I wish you the best with your book :)

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