I decided to start writing a retro space game for the web, because I thought it might be a good way to exercise a lot of interesting technologies and have fun to boot. You know, like how sending rockets into space yields astronaut ice cream & anti-shock trousers back down on Earth. But, I’ve also wanted to make games all the way back to my Atari 2600, Commodore 64, and Apple ][ days – because Warren Robinett is my hero.

My nerd shrine, featuring a Commodore 64 & Atari 800

Warren Robinett is the very model of the programmer-hero: He single-handedly created Adventure, then signed his work with the gaming world’s first easter egg when they wouldn’t give him credit.

If that weren’t enough, this guy also started his own company after Atari and made Rocky’s Boots.

It was only very recently that I pieced things together and realized that Rocky’s Boots is basically Adventure 2, except the bats and dragons and skeletons were drafted into warping wee brains like mine to understand binary logic and digital circuitry. I spent hours in that game, wrapping my 7-year-old head around things that wouldn’t be on exams until about 12 years later in my college compsci courses.

That’s not to say Mr. Robinett is the only game-programming hero from my youth. Back then, you didn’t need a full-on studio to produce something impressive, at least speaking relative to the state of the art at the time. I couldn’t name all my 8-bit heroes – but consider folks like Andrew Braybrook, Jeff Minter, David Braben & Ian Bell. Along with old-school music makers like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway, these were the rockstars of my pre-WWW youth.

Today, you’d call these folks indie game developers. Sometimes you still see the solo heros, sometimes teams of under a dozen. Still, it looks more like rock & roll than an orchestral production. The games are often somewhat constrained in tech, relying more on clever gameplay and the kind of character that never survives design-by-committee.

Of course, a lot of that rock & roll stands on giant shoulders these days, thanks to abstractions like Microsoft XNA (R.I.P.) and the Unreal Engine. There are also a bazillion other little game engines, web-based and native. But, there’s still a sweet spot for these indie rockstars to carve out a game using mere human-sized brains.

For my part, I feel like the web is my new Commodore 64. So, Parsec Patrol is my little project to play at being a game building rockstar. Hopefully, I’ll land somewhere on the scale between actual rockstar and playing Rock Band on Novice mode.