Tim Schafer's Ball Blazer piracy

February 29th, 2016 9:28 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, People;
Comments Off on Tim Schafer's Ball Blazer piracy

Tim Schafer, whose Double Fine Adventure blew the roof off Kickstarter, has been in the video game industry for nearly 30 years, having worked on such adventure games as Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. But the launch of his career was nearly torpedoed by an inadvertent admission of youthful piracy.

In 1989, 22-year-old Schafer was applying for his first job. Atari and Hewlett-Packard, which had been the proving ground for Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, respectively, both turned down the aspiring game designer. The first glimmer of hope shone when he netted a phone interview with David Fox of Lucasfilm Games, the group responsible for not only the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, but also several original properties. Schafer gushed over his love for the company's games:

I called David Fox right away and scribbled all the notes you see while I was talking to him. I told him how much I wanted to work at Lucasfilm, not because of Star Wars, but because I loved, "Ball Blaster."

"Ball Blaster, eh?" he said.

"Yeah! I love Ball Blaster!" I said. It was true. I had broken a joystick playing that game on my Atari 800.

"Well, the name of the game is Ball Blazer." Mr. Fox said, curtly. "It was only called Ball Blaster in the pirated version."

Gulp.

Totally busted. It was true — I had played the pirated version. There, I said it. Now, if you’ve ever pirated one of my games you don't need to feel bad, because I did it to Lucasfilm Games when I was in high school. Of course, if you’ve pirated two or more of my games, that's a different story.

Fortunately, Schafer recovered from this stumble: he busted out his Koala Pad and designed a résumé in the style of a graphic adventure game — a ballsy move, appropriately enough. It worked, earning him a job offer as Assistant Designer / Programmer with an annual salary of $27,000 in 1989 dollars. (For comparison, my first salary after college was $25,300, fifteen years after Schafer was making $27K. In 2016 dollars, my first job paid $34,239 while Schafer was making $51,587. Perhaps crime does pay.)

The rest, as they say, is history. You can get the full story on Schafer's blog, where, in 2009, in the twentieth anniversary of that first job offer, he related the whole affair, with scans of his applications, rejections, and offers.

(Hat tip to Jonathon Myers via Anna Megill)

Halloween pirates abound!

November 26th, 2012 1:43 PM
by
Filed under Musings;
2 comments.

The recent observance of American Thanksgiving and Black Friday has commenced the holiday season in the United States. Tis the season for dieters to feel guilt and shame as we indulge ourselves on a bevy of feasts and treats. Yet the gluttonous assault on our waistlines did not begin with this past week's mounds of potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie. No, the gastronomical festivities truly began with Halloween.

October 31st doesn't mean much to my sweet tooth, which I lost a few years ago due to overindulgence. But I do enjoy Halloween much as I did in my youth: dressing up in costume. It's not much different from my former hobby in community theater, except there, I was in company where strange attire was the norm, and nobody gave each other a second glance. On Halloween, everyone stops to look and marvel at various abnormal accoutrements.

Halloween is an opportunity not just to be funny or strange, but also to uniquely express oneself. It's an opportunity I didn't pass up, taking a traditional nautical costume and adding my own 8-bit flair.

Arr! I be a software pirate!

This isn't the first time I've donned this costume; although I wore it in 2012, the above photos are from 2011, and I debuted it in 2005. I'm sure the idea isn't original and I got it from somewhere else, but the source escapes me after all this time.

I've found I get more enjoyment from the costume the less explanation it requires. Walking across the campus of my science and engineering-oriented alma mater, people just laughed and shook their heads. Strolling through Harvard Square, I would get either quizzical looks or a generic "Hey, look — a pirate!"

Curiously, there's one comment I received multiple times in 2012 that was unheard of in 2005: "Where did you find floppy disks?"

A cracked screensaver

September 12th, 2011 9:56 AM
by
Filed under Software showcase;
1 comment.

As I drove home last night from Cape Cod, I caught up on the latest episode of the Retro Computing Roundtable, an excellent podcast hosted by David Greelish, Earl Evans, and Carrington Vanston. It was another fantastic 90 minutes of retrocomputing goodness, and as an editor for enterprise IT publication Computerworld, I especially enjoyed the discussion of the HP TouchPad — though I'm unsure how it connected to the show's retro theme.

This month's guest was Kevin Savetz, master of more than eighty Web sites, many of them of interest to Apple II enthusiasts. (KansasFest alumni may recognize his college-ruled paper.) Kevin shared with RCR listeners a simple yet great idea. Having recently discovered the same archive of Apple II crack screens I blogged about, Kevin downloaded the entire collection of images to use as a slideshow screensaver. Brilliant! You can do the same with a Firefox plugin like DownThemAll! and saving the images into a single folder. Then, in Mac OS X's System Preferences, go to "Desktop & Screen Saver", choose "Add Folder of Pictures", and add your collection. You can then set various preferences regarding how the screens are displayed displayed. (These instructions are based on the Snow Leopard operating system; YMMV.)

Thanks, Kevin!

The art of the crack

August 22nd, 2011 3:29 PM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
9 comments.

Piracy is as much an issue today as it was thirty years ago: gamers who pay for their software are often penalized for the actions of those who won't. But somewhere between the DRM and the theft is the actual hack. Today, that often amounts to little more than releasing a torrent of a disk image — once you've acquired and installed the warez, the experience is little different from a legitimate one. That wasn't the case with the Apple II.

When the hacking medium was not DVD but 5.25" floppy, hackers had to break a different copy protection scheme for each piece of software. They demanded acknowledgement for their hard work, often placing their byline in the opening splash screen, even if it meant removing the programmer's or publisher's credit. Some especially creative hackers went beyond that simple substitution by editing the screen at large, producing original works of art.

Arkanoid 2 cracked

Jason Scott has compiled an extensive collection of these crack screens. As far as I can see, there's 794 screens, though fewer total games are represented, as often the same image is displayed in both color and monochrome; I would estimate the gallery includes 572 unique games. It's fascinating to see both the art and the creative handles by which the pirates were known.

There's little I can say about the Apple II pirate scene that hasn't already been presented more exhaustively and eloquently by Scott in this presentation from Rubicon 2003.

However, there have been new developments since then. At KansasFest 2010, Martin Haye hacked Wizardry, producing his own splash screen for the occasion. With so much work being put into the crack itself, a programming genius such as Haye shouldn't have to work even harder to leave his visual mark.

Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe agrees and, at the request of Daniel Kruszyna, has created T40, a 40-column text-based editor. Itself a 24-hour hack job, T40 runs on any Apple II and offers an impressive array of keyboard commands with which to design and save ASCII art.

"Krüe" has started compiling images created in this program and welcomes your submissions via email. The collection thus far can be seen online, where you can also download an Applesoft BASIC self-running slideshow to display the artwork natively on your Apple II.

I make no commentary on the legality of ethicality of piracy — but the ones who engage in it are capable of amazing works of genius and artistry, which have just been made a bit easier.

(Hat tip to Mark Pilgrim)