The Game-Maker Archive – Part 20: Blinky and a Small Kind of Fame

Jeremy LaMar is perhaps best known under the handle SnigWich, for his Megazeux games such as Bernard the Bard – often ranked amongst the best games ever produced under Gregory Janson’s engine. More recently, under his new name Otto Germain, he has returned to his roots as a cartoonist. Before any of that, he was renowned for his RSD Game-Maker work – and he never even knew it.

At some point two of LaMar’s early Game-Maker games, The Return of Blinky and Blinky 3, made their way to a section of America Online known as AOL Kids. There, they gained a small yet fervent cult following. In the following years, a Blinky wiki and fanfics and video tributes would spring up around the Web. Even years after the AOL Kids area vanished, LaMar’s fans kept up the devotion. At least one poster to a DOS games forum claimed that the Blinky games inspired him to pursue game design.

When you consider the obscurity of most Game-Maker games, indeed of Game-Maker itself, this level of enthusiasm is remarkable. To be sure, LaMar’s games are amongst the most polished produced with RSD’s tools, both in terms of the design sensibility and in their mastery of the materials available to them. One does wonder, though, how much circumstance and exposure play in a game’s fortunes. One also wonders what other small communities might even now be obsessing over even less likely games, and to what extent those players might be inspired to greater things.

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The Game-Maker Archive – Part 19: Presents and Protocol

There were three main ways that Game-Maker users communicated. Either they knew each other in person, which was nothing unusual but could lead to larger and more nuanced projects than an individual could tackle, they communicated through the post, which was slow but both mysterious and intimate, or there were the BBSes.

Before the Web caught on (or even existed), the big deal was local dial-up boards. Most of them were text-based, and most were fairly slow. You would connect, check your personal messages, see if anyone had posted any new discussion topics or responses, perhaps fiddle with a multiplayer door game or two — and then you would head to the file area.

Most boards had a ratio: you can download so many bytes for so many bytes you upload. A bad ratio was close to 1:1. Somewhere between a 2:1 and 4:1 ratio, the file area would come to life. Users would be just motivated enough to keep sharing material, yet wouldn’t feel pressed to dump just any junk on the community. This is the environment where shareware thrived; when the Web took over, the whole shareware model went into whack.

If you found the right board, BBSes were also the perfect environment to share and discuss Game-Maker games. Mark Janelle ran the Frontline BBS with RSD’s semi-official blessing. Other users ran their own boards or carved out corners of existing communities.

A problem with BBSes was their dial-up nature. Unless the board was very local, you were in immediate danger of old-school long distance phone charges. If the board was in the same state but not in the same county, you were particularly screwed. So despite Janelle’s and RSD’s efforts there was never a unified Game-Maker community. Rather, the community consisted of countless islands of independent development, that would occasionally cross paths and trade ideas.

Although it was located in the middle of nowhere — specifically Kennebunkport, Maine — which must have made a daunting long-distance charge for most users, the Frontline BBS was the most prominent place for these paths to cross. That makes sense; it was the only board referenced in the Game-Maker box. The board therefore carried some valuable artifacts of shared Game-Maker culture. Whether or not those artifacts are in themselves excellent is sort of beyond the point. What’s important is that they are formative and sort of iconic to the Game-Maker experience.

These four games, by two authors, are amongst the first Game-Maker games that many users will have played, aside from RSD’s demo games and those users’ own creations. Unfortunately not all of them still exist in precisely their original form, but one takes what one can get.

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The Game-Maker Archive — Part 18: Call and Response

Back in July we unearthed two previously unknown Game-Maker games, Roland Ludlam’s space racer Hurdles and Matthew Groves’ free-roaming space shooter Space Cadet. We then tracked down and interviewed those two authors. Roland Ludlam is currently working on a WiiWare project and Matthew Groves is considering Android development; each was generous with his time and memories, and with some prodding each was generous enough to find and forward some other long-neglected projects for us to record and archive. The former scrounged around on an old backup of a backup, and the latter mailed us a collection of 5-1/4″ floppies to extract.

From each party we received two games: one fully developed and substantial, and one experimental or unusual. We’ll start with the “big” games, and then once we’re primed we’ll turn to the really interesting stuff.

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The Brussels Spout (Book 2)

The Martins and their burgeoning demo group known as PPP Team seized Recreational Software Designs’ Game-Maker with a ferocity and a measured European flavor of design. Over two or three years they assembled upwards of 24 games, each more ambitious than the last. Since they were developing with an unlicensed copy of Game-Maker, most of those games were strictly for their own entertainment — which may to some extent explain the energy that went into them.

There are three branches of PPP Team software. In our previous article we discussed their one-off, often experimental titles. These games tend to be both character driven and strongly inspired by Commodore and shareware design sensibilities. One of those games, Blork Carnage, introduces a character named Jack Booster. This game and this character serve as the roots for the second of PPP Team’s branches — their defining franchises.

If the one-off games housed a wealth of interesting whims, it’s PPP Team’s series that received the bulk of their effort and originality. Of those, both the most significant and the most varied series are spun off from the Duke Nukem styled Blork Carnage. A third, early series also showed itself during the team’s Game-Maker era, to further build off one of those spin-offs. We’ll start with the series that more or less equates with PPP Team, in terms both of iconography and of their design sensibility.

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The Game-Maker Archive: The Brussels Spout (Book 1)

I had known for a while of Sylvain “Pypein” Martin’s blog. It muses in depth on Game-Maker’s file formats, and tracks a project to port one or more Game-Maker games to the Nintendo DS. My problem was that the site is mostly in French, and seems to presuppose some understanding of its topics. I bookmarked the site and filed it away, and turned to more immediate problems. It turns out that all this time I had been overlooking a cornucopia of Game-Maker games and utilities.

Martin, his brother Pierre, and associate Pierrick Hansen form the core of a mid-’90s Belgian demogroup called PPP Team. Later on they would release some tracker music and projects coded in assembler. It seems, though, that they got their start with RSD’s Game-Maker.

I’m not sure how many games they worked on; many are unfinished, and some appear lost to time and computer failure. Depending on how you count, maybe 17 or 18 games still survive in some form. The games touch several genres, but mostly focus on and toy with the side-scrolling platformer mold. They include a few long-running or frequently referenced series, several one-off games, and a fair number of tributes or pastiches.

Though the earliest games freely borrow sprites and backgrounds from existing sources, the group soon graduates to completely original elements. Even within a series the sprites are rarely duplicated from one game to the next. By the time they start to import graphics from Deluxe Paint, PPP Team seems to have total control over its resource pipeline.

At this point it’s the areas without that control — for instance the music — which glare the most.

( Continue reading at DIYGamer )