Chances are we all have fallen into the time trap of computer games at one point or another. It’s easy to do — the worlds that games put before us can be immersive and addictive, and even if they’re populated by fantastical creatures hell-bent on our virtual destruction, they offer a degree of escapism and relaxation that can be hard to come by with any other form of entertainment.
But what does it take to build these virtual worlds? How exactly does one come up with all the ideas needed to make a game fresh and exciting? And once you’ve got the ideas, how do you turn them into the code needed to make the whole thing work? Kyle Donnelly has quite a bit of experience with the game development process, seeing his idea through from initial prototyping to working with a publisher and even getting the game demonstrated at conventions. Along the way, he picked up a collection of tips and shortcuts to make the process easier, as well as developing a small suite of tools to help set up and test game levels quickly and easily, and to deal with the custom physics of his virtual world.
Join us as Kyle stops by the Hack Chat to talk about game development from an angle that rarely gets much coverage — from the software side.
For those who might have missed it, there was a brief period in the mid-00s where gamers everywhere eschewed consoles and PCs in favor of simple Flash-based games to be played in a browser. Among these was the game Peasant’s Quest, created by the folks at Homestar Runner and modeled after video games from the 80s. [deater] was a fan of this game and wondered if it would actually be possible to play this retro-styled game on actual retro hardware.
For the experiment he decided on using an Apple II since this computer is featured as a prop rather often by the developers at Videlectrix. It turns out that with some determination it’s actually possible to run this game on the late 80s hardware with very little modifications. Squeezing the sprites into the required space was a challenge, as well as getting the sound tracks to play properly, but in the end the game runs within the hardware’s 280×192 resolution with 6 colors. There are also detailed notes on how the complicated graphics system on the Apple works for those willing to take a deep dive. There’s a lot going on here, but surprisingly few compromises needed to be made to get this to work.
The game itself is available on the project’s webpage for anyone who still has an Apple II kicking around, or for anyone who is willing to try it out in an emulator. Of course you could always play the original Flash version but that’s missing a certain charm that decades old retrocomputers have with games. We certainly aren’t seeing video game controllers like those built for the Apple II anymore, for example.
If you want to see a glorious combination of model bananas in a treehouse mixed with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, you will appreciate [Studson]’s build video. Video also after the break. He is making an homage to Donkey Kong 64 from 1999, which may be a long time ago for some folks’ memory (Expansion Pak). Grab a piece of your favorite banana-flavored fruit and sit tight for joke delivery as dry as his batch of baked bark.
The treehouse uses a mixture of found material and crafting supplies. In a colorful twist, all the brown bark-wielding sticks are green, while the decorative greenery came from a modeling store shelf. It all starts with a forked branch pruned from the backyard and a smooth-sided container lid that might make you look twice the next time you nuts are buying a bin of assorted kernels. If you thought coffee stirrers couldn’t be used outside their intended purpose, prepare to have your eyes opened, but remember to wear eye protection as some of the wood clippings look like they could achieve escape velocity. The key to making this look like an ape abode, and not a birdhouse, is the color choices and finishing techniques. Judging by the outcome and compared to the steps, making a model of this caliber is the sign of an expert.
Like many of us, [Emily’s Electric Oddities] has had a lot of time for projects over the past year or so, including one that had been kicking around since late 2018. It all started at the Hackaday Superconference, when [Emily] encountered the Adafruit Hallowing board in the swag bag. Since that time, [Emily] has wanted to display the example code eyeball movement on a CRT, but didn’t really know how to go about it. Spoiler alert: it works now.
Eventually, [Emily] learned about the TV out library for Arduino and got everything working properly — the eyeball would move around with the joystick, blink when the button is pressed, and the pupil would respond visually to changes in ambient light. The only problem was that the animation moved at a lousy four frames per second. Well, until she got Hackaday’s own [Roger Cheng] involved.
[Roger] was able to streamline the code to align with [Emily]’s dreams, and then it was on to our favorite part of this build — the cabinet design. Since the TV out library is limited to black and white output without shades of gray, Emily took design cues from the late 70s/early 80s, particularly the yellow and wood of the classic PONG cabinet. We love it!
Remember Simon? We sure do. Simon — as in “Simon says…” — from the leading edge of electronic games in the 1970s, which used four buttons, colored lights, and simple tones as the basis for a memory game. Players had to remember the specific sequence of lights and replay the pattern in order to advance to the next round. It was surprisingly addictive, at least for the era.
For those who never quite got into the Simon groove, fear not — the classic game has now been fully automated. While there were plenty of approaches that could have taken to interfacing to the game, [ido roseman] went with the obvious — and best, in our opinion — technique and simulated a human player’s finger presses with servo-controlled arms. Each arm carries a light-dependent resistor that registers the light coming from the key it’s poised above; the sequence of lights is sensed and recorded by an Arduino, which then drives the servo fingers’ replay attack. The fingers aren’t exactly snappy in their response, which might cause problems — if we recall correctly, Simon is somewhat picky about the speed with which the keys are pressed, at least at higher levels of play.
On the whole, we really like this one, not least for the nostalgia factor. We’ve had a lot of recreations of Simon over the years, including a Dance Dance Revolution version, but few attempts to automate it. And a crazy idea: wouldn’t it be fun to replace the replay attack with a machine learning system that figures out how to play Simon by randomly pressing keys and observing the results?
While the days of outdoor cookouts may be a few months away for most of us, that certainly leaves plenty of time to prepare for that moment. While some may spend that time perfecting recipies or doing various home improvement projects during their remaining isolation time, others are practicing their skills at the various games played at these events. Specifically, this group from [Dave’s Armory] which have trained a robot that helps play the perfect game of cornhole. (Video, embedded below.)
While the robot in question is an industrial-grade KUKA KR-20 robot with a hefty price tag of $32,000 USD, the software and control system that the group built are fairly accessible for most people. The computer vision is handled by an Nvidia Jetson board, a single-board computer with extra parallel computing abilities, which runs OpenCV. With this setup and a custom hand for holding the corn bags, as well as a decent amount of training, the software is easily able to identify the cornhole board and instruct the robot to play a perfect game.
The trick to a fun escape room is layers. For [doktorinjh]’s Spacecase, you start with an enigmatic aluminum briefcase and a NASA drawstring backpack. A gamemaster reads the intro speech to set the mood, and you’re ready to start your escape from the planet. The first layer is the backpack with puzzles you need to solve to get into the briefcase. In there, you discover a hidden compartment and enough sci-fi references to put goofy smiles on our faces. We love to see tools reused as they are in one early puzzle, you use a UV LED to reveal a hidden message, but that light also illuminates puzzle clues later.
All the tech in Spacecase makes it a wonder of mixed media. The physical layer has laser engraved wood featuring the font from the 1975 NASA logo, buttons, knobs, LEDs, toggle switches, and a servo. Beneath the visible faceplate is an RGB sensor, audio player, speaker, and at the center is an Arduino MEGA. We’d love to get our hands on Spacecase for a game, and we’re inspired to pull out all the stops and build games with our personal touches. Maybe something with a mousetrap.