ARGH. I think I’ve mentioned a few times recently that I’m working on a monumental project – creating a Flash movie, viewable online, for just about every game review existing in Phosphor Dot Fossils. That’s a lot of work, seeing as we’re at well over 100 arcade reviews and a comparable number of reviews have been done for various consoles. But now I’m running into a speed bump: the infamous “flicker” of the Atari 2600. I was trying to create a video clip of Star Wars: The Arcade Game (seen above) and ran into this dilemma. When too many moving objects occupied the screen at the same time, the Atari 2600 would have to draw them in staggered cycles. This produced the “blinking” effect that made games such as Pac-Man infamously hard on the eyes, because for every cycle that the software in question redrew the screen, it didn’t have enough memory real estate to draw everything on the screen at the same time. So Pac-Man would be shown in one cycle, a couple of monsters in the next, and the other two monsters in the next – and while modern machines and modern displays with 60-frame-per-second refresh rates on their video might be able to pull this trick off seamlessly, if they even needed to resort to that approach, the 2600 was slow enough that it showed even to the naked eye. Painfully so.
Star Wars is a particularly bad example of that – if a TIE fighter got off too many shots on the same screen, they would all start flickering madly until the number of object on screen dropped off. Worse yet, the program for Star Wars on the 2600 draws the two side walls of the Death Star trench in staggered mode…so in the resulting video, I can see the left wall of the trench just fine, but not the right wall, and not the barriers across the middle. I’m trying to figure out some video tricks to put a “trail” effect on things so they’ll be forced to stay on the screen all at once…but so far, not much luck. I really hope this doesn’t scuttle the project or force me to use emulation for the 2600 video. I want to be able to show everyone the real thing, for two reasons – #1, from a standpoint of academic and historical accuracy (and yes, I really do see this as an academic project, silly as that may seem), and #2, because it enforces some playing time for me on an almost daily basis, and I’ve enjoyed that tremendously here of late. There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I set out to put three minutes of Star Wars game play on digital videotape and wound up with about 25 minutes of footage from one game. I don’t have any idea how these tall tales get started.
We finally got some rain today, much-needed rain I might add. I’m normally not too thrilled to be feeding horses and working with horses in pouring rain, because they want to get into the barn where it’s dry and warm, and it might not occur to them to, say, not walk right through me to achieve that goal in their haste. (My persistent sneezing has returned after this morning’s horseplay, so perhaps the horses are smarter than I am.) Today, however, I found new faces to feed – a couple of my sister-in-law’s donkeys have joined the herd, although they’re isolated in their own round pen. I haven’t worked with donkeys before. There’s a big one – well, relatively big for a donkey – and a small one, so I spent the morning calling them Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior. I was about to go in to feed them when I realized that I had no idea if they were kick-happy or not. I announced my presence by telling them I’m sure we’d all get along just fine, because I have food, and food is a good thing. After someone kicked a big wet clod of mud right past my head – he was a safe distance away but got spooked by my presence and tried to run away, kicking up mud instead – I said “I can see we’re going to have to work on this relationship a bit.” I guess I need to start putting on a Mike Myers faux-Scottish accent, ’cause that man can talk to donkeys like nobody’s business.