A conversation with an Atari Homebrew programmer

 

 

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to talk to 26 year old Alex Pietrow from the Netherlands, who is working to publish his first Atari 2600 game that he programmed himself. The game is titled Astronomer, which has a unique premise, focusing on controlling a virtual telescope to observe a certain star, and avoiding obstacles, such as clouds, to get the best observations. The game is reflective of Alex’s career, as he works as an astronomer on solar physics, recently moving to Sweden to get his PhD. In response to Astronomer, Alex said “it’s a relatively simple game, but I am still proud of it. It will be published soon on Packrat”.
Alex is currently working on his second Atari game titled Climb the Tree. “It has been compared to a two-player vertical Flappy Bird” Alex said about the game, “which I think is not too far off”.
Alex explained that both games were created on a program called Batari Basic. “The program gives people who don’t know assembly, the chance to make games” he said, “but there still is a pretty steep learning curve”. Alex said he would like to learn the process of assembling cartridges, but Batari Basic, along with help from people in the AtariAge forums, a community of avid Atari gamers, collectors, & programmers, “has been a great in-between option”.
“There are a lot of abandoned games on the forums” Alex explains. “Finishing the game is a bigger challenge than actually getting it published”.
When asked about what made him interested in programming Atari games, Alex explained that he had been game programming since he was about 10 years old, starting with GameMaker. He said that his love for retro gaming went back to Game Boy Color, before eventually stumbling upon an old Atari. “I really liked the games because of their simplicity” he explains. “Over time I amassed a reasonable game collection and I thought that was it, but then I discovered the homebrew community and that people still make games for the console 40 years after it’s launch”.
“I never really coded games apart from Game Maker” Alex explains.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a video game designer, so it’s nice to fulfill that dream, even if it’s not in the way I expected it back then”.

 

I downloaded both of Alex’s games and played them on my Atari 7800 using a Harmony Cartridge, which has an SD card slot to play games on actual hardware.

AtariAge photos & label artwork courtesy of Alex Pietrow

Console & game play photos by myself

NES & Genesis Games in Pine Hill, NJ, including…Flappy Bird?

This past Thursday, I visited All Things Video Games in Pine Hill, NJ. It is a small family owned video game store that sells everything from Atari cartridges, to Limited Run publisher PS4 Games. The owner and staff are very nice, and they have a nice selection for reasonable prices. What I find to be the most unique aspect of this store however, is their selection of homebrew and unofficial titles.
The first title that caught my eye was an NES port of the mobile game Flappy Bird that was originally available at the Too Many Games convention in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. I immediately imagined the amount of 80’s kids unknowing of homebrew scene, that would be completely perplexed by this cartridge.
I also really enjoyed the artwork of the unofficial Genesis cartridges. Especially Darkwing Duck, being a familiar character. I asked the owner about the Mother 1 & 2 Gameboy Advance cartridge, and it turns out it’s an unofficial English translation of the classic Japanese RPG series for the Famicom (Japanese NES), which I feel was the coolest one of them all. If only I knew where I put my old Gameboy Advance!
The owner actually said that he’s “low on stock” for the Homebrew titles compared to what he usually has. Saying that he needs to “go online and order some more titles”. Admiring the unofficial genesis games, we ended up getting in a conversation about our desire to find the rare 90’s JVC X’Eye console.
Just goes to show that even in South Jersey, new games for old systems can be yours to enjoy.