3 min read

Friday, January 27, 2023

This week in Wolmania, I am teaching you to fish.

Good morning. A few readers have suggested that I should be providing a definition for the word of the week, and/or provide some context by using it in a sentence. I will not be doing so at this time. But I will advise you that if you highlight a word on your phone and hold down on it to bring up a menu of options, you may be able to look it up in what the kids on TikTok are calling a "dictionary". There's probably a way to do it on a computer too. In my day you used to have to take the bus to the library and figure out the (canceled!) Dewey Decimal System but fortunately things are a lot easier now. Almost makes up for the ease with which seditious traitors can gin up a half-assed rebellion against the concept of democracy. Anyway, where was I? Oh right. Video games from the early 1980s.

This is what Pitfall looks like.

I suspect you have not spent a lot of time thinking about the technical and creative constraints that defined the experience of designing games for the Atari 2600. I dare say you may not have even thought about the difficulty of reverse-engineering the experience of designing games for the Atari 2600. Well, if that's the case, I can't really blame you for it. But I can enrich your life by changing that with this article about Pitfall!, one of the classic games of its era.

When Warren Robinett first pitched the idea that would become Adventure, a game where you would explore a world with many rooms and pick up items to help you along the way, he was denied because it wasn't thought feasible. And it made sense to do so. This was the late 70s; there had never been a game with multiple screens before. This was in the days of Space Invaders and Pac Man, when everything in a game was in front of the player at all times, so the fact that Adventure was able to have 30 rooms when it was finally released in 1980 was quite impressive.
It was quite an innovation to have multiple rooms, and the fact that Adventure managed to have 30 was revolutionary. But Pitfall!, made by David Crane and released in 1983, had 255, all of which were much more elaborate (graphically speaking) than anything in Adventure. In this article we'll talk about how this was done.

I could write more about this but that introduction pretty much says it all. The article goes into a lot of depth (and some of the math went over my head) describing some of the difficulty of designing a game for a system with such limited technical resources. It goes to show how impressive it is that early video game designers could make anything more complicated than Pong. But also, I thought it was fun to read.

(Extra credit reading: this site featuring extremely detailed analysis of a bunch of old school consoles from the NES to the Wii U.)

Item 2: a list

This century’s Best Picture Oscar winners, ranked

  1. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  2. Nomadland (2020)
  3. Parasite (2019)
  4. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  5. Gladiator (2000)
  6. Moonlight (2016)
  7. The Departed (2006)
  8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  9. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  10. The Hurt Locker (2009)
  11. Spotlight (2015)
  12. Argo (2012)
  13. Coda (2021)
  14. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  15. The Shape of Water (2017)
  16. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [sic] (2014)
  17. The Artist (2011)
  18. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
  19. Chicago (2002)
  20. The King’s Speech (2010)
  21. Crash (2005)
  22. Green Book (2018)

Item 3: a media recommendation

Item 4: word of the week


Item 5: a photograph

Sequoia National Park, 2019 (by me)

See ya!

Thank you for reading. I'll see you next week.