Blathr Wayne Lorentz

What is Blathr?
Showing blathrs with the tag “Video games.”

Umbilical cord accessory sold seperately

Friday, November 4th, 2022 Alive 18,819 days

“*WARLORDS a trademark of ATARI. INC”

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs the Sears version of Warlords.

Iʼve never played this game, and have no connection to it. But I bought it for three reasons.

  1. I think Iʼm going to try to collect as many of the Sears text versions of Atari carts as I can.
  2. Itʼs the only Sears cart that has a full Atari trademark notice on the end label. No one on the internet seems to know why.
  3. The top label has a misspelling. The third game is listed as “Lightening Ball.” My guess is that this is supposed to read “Lightning Ball.” According to my computer, lightening means

    A drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head of the fetus engages in the pelvis.

That doesnʼt sound like a very fun video game.

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Low-resolution love

Saturday, October 29th, 2022 Alive 18,813 days

Searsʼ Chase cartridge

I got a new video game today. Well, itʼs an old video game, since most of the games I play are for the Atari 2600.

Itʼs Chase, which is the Sears Tele-Games rebranding of Atariʼs Surround.

A simple as it is, this is an engaging game, which explains why itʼs been recreated on dozens and dozens of machines. People today still have warm and fuzzy memories of 1997ʼs Snake on Nokia cell phones, but it originated in 1976 with the Blockade arcade game from Gremlin before it became Sega/Gremlin.

This version is solid, except that the bleeps are annoying, so itʼs best to turn off the sound and put on some period-appropriate music like Sirius 70ʼs on 7.

It also has a nice freeform drawing mode, which is useful to endearing oneself with oneʼs sweetheart.

“I ♥︎ Darcie” on an Atari
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Just go outside

Saturday, June 5th, 2021 Alive 18,302 days

The Sears Tele-Games version of Atari Basketball

I got a new Atari cart today. It's Basketball, and naturally the Sears Tele-Games version because that is the manner in which I roll.

The game is not great in a lot of ways, but it is exceptional in one — It perfectly captures the vision, abilities, and naïveté of video games in 1978.

Two years later, it made an appearance in the movie Airplane!, much to the delight of video game fans and the horror of nervous flyers.

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Piston Positn

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

An Atari Pole Position cart with a misspelled label

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Pole Position.

Iʼm not big on racing games, though I enjoy watching other people play them. My problem is that Iʼm not very good at racing games. The one racing game I actually like and am also good at is Ridge Racers for the PSP.

This Pole Position cart wasnʼt a deliberate purchase. It came in a box with a knot of other games, but Iʼll keep it for two reasons.

First, because I do have some nostalgic memories of playing Pole Position when I was a kid. I wasnʼt any good at it back then, either. To me, a joystick was entirely the wrong control method for this game, especially considering that every Atari console shipped with perfectly fine paddle controllers, and many people also had the racing version of Atariʼs paddles left over from other games.

The second reason Iʼll keep it is because the end label is wrong. It reads “POLE POSITN*.”

Label errors werenʼt uncommon on Atari games, and got more and more common as the years went on and the company moved from sprinting to walking to hobbling with a cane to shuffling with a walker to its inevitable dirt nap. But this is a pretty glaring error, and I do enjoy knowing that other people make mistakes, too, so Iʼll put this one in a protective sack to keep it fresh.

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Colorful invaders

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

An Atari Galaxian cartridge

I got a new Atari game today. Galaxian.

Itʼs colorful, modern, and very well done. Not at all the sort of thing I go in for.

Iʼm more a plodding Space Invaders kind of guy. I like a game that allows me to have a sip of beverage without penalty.

This is the first time Iʼve seen Galaxian in its 2600 form. By the time this cart hit store shelves in 1983, my interest had already moved to the Commodore 64, and so this was never on my radar.

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Falling for it

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

An Activision Pitfall cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Pitfall, by Activision.

This game was massive when it came out. Everyone I knew did everything they could to get a copy. But this is my first time playing it.

My parents were Sears people, and so unless I somehow came up with the money myself, they would only buy gen-you-wine Sears Tele-Games versions of Atariʼs games. And since Pitfall was Activision, not Atari, I was stuck. But not for long.

A few months later, a Commodore 64 was set up in my bedroom, and while my friends had tired of Pitfall and moved on to other games, I didnʼt care whether they lent me their cartridges or not. I had a whole new world of possibilities opening up under my fingers, right on my homework desk.

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♫ What is it good for? ♫

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

A CBS Wizard of Wor cartridge

I remember that Wizard of Wor was a huge hit in the arcades. Now I have it as an Atari Cartridge.

I find it humorous that this is a video game from CBS, the media Goliath I would later work for, briefly. In 1982, it seemed like every big company on the planet was trying to get into the video game business. From toy companies like Mattel to movie companies like 20th Century Fox to record companies like K-Tel.

Even the arcade version from Midway seemed very primitive to me, so Iʼm not eager to try out the 2600 version, which I assume to be even worse. But maybe Iʼll be surprised by a high quality, fluid, engaging production from a company as large and resourceful as CBS.

Oh, wait. I used to work for CBS. I know better.

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So… howʼs the game?

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

A Sears Poker Plus cartridge

I got a new Atari cart today. Itʼs Poker Plus, the Sears version of Atariʼs Casino.

This is the text label version, which is what I prefer because that means its an older version, and what I would have had in my home, if my family had this cart in 1978. But we didnʼt.

The version of this game with the Sears picture label is more unusual, but not quite what one might call “rare.” Just seldom seen for sale.

Itʼs a very minor topic of discussion in the realm of Atari nerds that Sears spent a lot of time and money making its own artwork for the Atari games it licensed. There are plenty of debates over which is better. I donʼt have a preference. But I do note that the Sears imagery is often racier than the Atari version.

Here are the Atari and Sears picture labels of the same Casino/Poker Plus game.

Atariʼs Casino
Searsʼ Poker Plus, from eBay, since I donʼt have this version

The Atari one is fine, featuring a slim young woman in a strappy white evening frock engaged in severely constrained enthusiasm. The Sears one features a Vegas showgirl wearing low-rise panties, a feathered headdress, and nothing else. Sheʼs covering her breasts with her slender arms, but not out of shame, based on her smile.

As a resident of Las Vegas, I am uniquely positioned to decide which label is more accurate. And I can tell you that the Sears version is more correct.

Not because there are lots of gregarious topless showgirls roaming the casinos of Sin City. There arenʼt. Except for street buskers, the showgirls are all gone. Itʼs Miss Atari who is wrong. The notion of Vegas casinos being populated by well-dressed, glamorous, interesting people died in the late 1980ʼs. If she was done up in crop-top football jersey with a tattooed beer belly hanging over pajama bottoms and Crocs, toting a three-foot-long empty plastic beverage container and a grudge against Southwest Airlines, then she would fit right in.

But graceful white evening dress and statement jewelry? This isnʼt Monaco.

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This is what P.T.O. is for

Friday, June 4th, 2021 Alive 18,301 days

An Activision Space Shuttle cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Space Shuttle by Activision.

From what Iʼve read, this is supposed to be one of the most difficult of the mainstream Atari 2600 games. Itʼs also supposed to be among the most rewarding to complete.

Itʼs supposed to be hard because the controls are very difficult. When Atari needed more buttons for one of its games, it just rolled out new controllers. Activision took a different path, and instead repurposed many of the existing switches on the Atari 2600 console to control functions of the game.

That Activision needed more buttons and levers to control this game makes sense, because youʼre flying a freaking space shuttle.

Also, from what Iʼve read, I shouldnʼt call this a game. Itʼs believed to be one of the very first consumer flight simulators, and it sounds like the sort of thing Iʼd have to take a full day off of work to get right.

Iʼm curious about how I would do with Space Shuttle, reliving the days when space exploration was about to be so common that weʼd “shuttle” people into outer space the way Pan Am shuttled people up and down the east coast. Here in 2021, neither of those things exist anymore.

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History Ⅱ.0

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,300 days

A Breakaway IV cartridge

I got a new Atari game today. Itʼs Breakaway Ⅳ, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Breakout.

Breakout has some interesting history behind it, which is unfortunately being re-written in the internet age. It was one of the Atari games that Steve Jobs worked on, and he enlisted Steve Wozniak to help with the project. That much is not in dispute.

However, since the death of Mr. Jobs, itʼs become common for revisionist historians on the internet to paint him as a comic book-grade evildoer. After his death, the embellishments became louder and more elaborate, as there was no living person to push back against them.

Today, if you look into the history of Breakout online, you are told that Jobs was a con man who took advantage of poor, helpless Saint Wozniak and twirled his mustache all the way to the bank.

Accounts from the time of the gameʼs development tell a very different story. But itʼs easy to slander someone after they are dead than to go to a library and read dead trees. Especially if youʼre trying to promote your own image, and benefit from internet outrage.

Another detail about Breakout that the chattering internet classes scratch their heads over is why Sears would label this game “Breakaway Ⅳ” instead of “Breakout.” There are several interrelated reasons.

Sears had a habit of renaming the Atari games it licensed if the names were too close to the names of other video game consoles that Sears had previously released. In the occluded view of video game history that we get from the internet, consoles like the Atari 2600, the Fairchild Channel F, and the Magnavox Odyssey started it all. But there were hundreds, possibly even thousands of video game consoles before those.

The previous generation of consoles lacked interchangeable cartridges, and often could only play a single or a handful of games. But they existed. And they had names. Sears sold at least a dozen of these machines under its Tele-Games brand in the years before the Atari 2600 was invented, so in order to prevent confusion and re-using product names, it came up with new ones. For example, Atariʼs Street Racer became Searsʼ Speedway Ⅱ.

Sears did, indeed, sell a machine called “Pinball Breakaway” as part of its Sears Sports Center line of home video game machines. Pinball Breakaway played seven games, including one called Breakout, and one called Breakaway. Calling the Tele-Games version of Atariʼs game “Breakaway” is a continuation of the branding from the previous machine: Pinball Breakaway.

As for the Roman numeral, while Atari largely targeted its advertising to individual game players, Sears heavily promoted its video game machines as devices to bring families and groups of people together. Breakout is one of those games that can be played by up to four people. Sears had long used the “Ⅳ” designation to indicate that four people could play at the same time on its standalone video game machines. The ultimate Sears-branded Pong machine was “Pong Sports Ⅳ,” which played 16 games, for up to four players. In this case, the Sears branding is actually less confusing than Atariʼs name for this machine, “Ultra Pong Doubles,” which makes it seem like the machine is only for two players, unless you're familiar with the term “doubles” as it is used in tennis circles.

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How about “Video Pinball Ⅱ?”

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021 Alive 18,298 days

A Sears Arcade Pinball cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. It's Arcade Pinball, the Sears version of Atari's Video Pinball.

It's a really good game, with just the right balance of luck, still, and action to be engaging.

People on the internet like to moan that Sears should have called it “Video Pinball,” like Atari did. But Sears was putting out video game consoles long before Fujicorp, and several of them already had pinball games, which were commonly referred to as ”video pinball.” Labeling this cart “Arcade Pinball” cuts down on confusion for those who were playing video games at home before 1977.

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♫ Jeder war ein großer Krieger / Hielten sich für Captain Kirk ♫

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021 Alive 18,298 days

A Sears Outer Space cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Outer Space, the Sears version of Atariʼs Star Ship.

Star Ship was one of the least popular of the original Atari 2600 launch titles. The graphics are a bit crude, even for 1977, and the gameplay isnʼt much fun without a second human companion. Atari stopped making this game by 1980, while other launch titles continued for years afterward.

The Sears version is not notable on its own. The Atari version is most famous for sometimes coming with a weird label with giant yellow letters that looks nothing like any of the other Atari cartridges. The oddball label doesnʼt it more collectable. A quick scan through fleaBay shows sellers asking the same price for either version.

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Oh, like you have seven friends

Saturday, May 29th, 2021 Alive 18,295 days

The Atari and Sears versions of Super Breakout

I got two new cartridges today, with the same game: Super Breakout. Both the Atari and Sears versions.

As games go, Super Breakout was a massive hit. When it was released in 1980, the Atari 2600 was fully mainstream, so for a lot of people, this was their first exposure to Breakout in any form, and everyone wanted it.

The Sears version is notable because it has the game title on both the end label, and the top label. And the game name on the top label is off-center, as itʼs an unbulleted part of the bullet list of game variations. And since Sears is using the Atari name for this game, the label also has a trademark disclosure.

This is one of those games that exemplifies that playing video games used to be a group activity, whether at an arcade or at home. The Atari 2600 version of this game can have up to four players. The Atari home computer version could have up to eight players.

Today, if you want to play a video game with eight other people, you do it in your momʼs basement, all alone, hooked up to the internet. Itʼs not the same thing.

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Nice woody

Monday, May 24th, 2021 Alive 18,290 days

A Sears Tele-Games machine in situ

Today I noticed that the imitation wood veneer of my Sears Tele-Games machine is different from the imitation wood veneer of my TV stand. I guess Iʼll just have to buy new furniture.

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Monday, May 24th, 2021 Alive 18,290 days

A game of Space Invaders

I didn't want to spend two hours today playing Atari games. But I had to. They were invading my space.

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So… primitive Minesweeper

Saturday, May 15th, 2021 Alive 18,281 days

A Sears Memory Match cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Memory Match, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs A Game of Concentration. When it comes to the battle between Atari titles and Sears titles, Sears wins here.

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What about “ʼnʼ?”

Friday, May 14th, 2021 Alive 18,280 days

A Sears Maza Mania cartridge

Today I got a new Atari cartridge. Itʼs Maze Mania: A Game of Cops ʼn Robbers, the Sears version of Atariʼs Maze Craze: A Game of Cops nʼ Robbers.

Whatʼs interesting about this cart is that while Sears changed the name from Maze Craze to Maze Mania, it kept the subtitle. Mostly.

Sears contracted “and” as “ʼn,” instead of using Atariʼs “nʼ.” I wonder if that was a deliberate decision, or the result of carelessness.

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Have Spock show you how to play

Friday, May 14th, 2021 Alive 18,280 days

An Atari 3D Tic-Tac-Toe cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe.

This is a game that everyone seemed to have, and nobody seemed to play.

Iʼve tried it, and itʼs hard. I think a lot of parents had visions that this would being out some kind of high-tech futuristic whiz kid in their children. But all it did was make them feel dumb.

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You are likely to be eaten by a grue

Saturday, March 13th, 2021 Alive 18,218 days

Zork in a terminal on a TRS-80 Model 100

I can finally play Zork on my TRS-80 Model 100. Sort of.

Iʼm actually using the Model 100ʼs terminal program to connect to a wifi dongle on the back of the machine which connects to my wifi router, which connects to my Mac Mini, where the game is actually running.

Some day Iʼd like to run Zork on this actual machine, but that would entail installing CP/M on the 100, which is still a very experimental process, and more complicated than I have time for.

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D-bag d-pad

Monday, February 1st, 2021 Alive 18,178 days

A 1970ʼs-era d-pad

Iʼve seen people on the internet claim that in 1983 Nintendo was the first company to use buttons instead of a joystick for video games.

The 1970ʼs begs to differ.

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Cats dig skills

Sunday, January 31st, 2021 Alive 18,177 days

Annie ignoring a game of Pong Sports

Annie is not impressed by my mad Pong skills.

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Click that wheel

Thursday, January 21st, 2021 Alive 18,167 days

Ms. Pac-Man running on an iPod Video

Sixteen years later, this is still one of the best Ms. Pac-Man ports ever made.

It takes a couple of minutes to get used to controlling her with the click wheel, but once you get the hang of it, a 2005 iPod Video makes a great ultra-portable gaming machine.

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Out of control

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,149 days

A Sears Tele-Games Race cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Race, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Indy 500.

This is one of those games that Iʼm not very good at. I suspect there are two reasons for this.

  1. I donʼt have the correct controllers for this game. The paddle controllers that came with my Tele-Games machines will work… mostly. But theyʼre not the proper Atari Driving Controllers, which are able to spin all the way around. Not having the right controller constrains my ability to really steer wildly.
  2. I donʼt have any friends to play this game with. Even without being in a COVID lockdown, nobody else I know finds old video games interesting.

One thing I never see mentioned anywhere, and I donʼt remember from old magazines, is that itʼs pretty significant that the Atari version of this is called “Indy 500.” Surely there must have been some kind of licensing agreement with the people who run the Indianapolis 500 race, but itʼs not mentioned anywhere on the cart, in the manual, or on the box.

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Slots of fun

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,149 days

A Sears Tele-Games Maze cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Maze, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Slot Racers.

The game involves navigating a wedge through a maze and shooting at your opponent.

This is one of those occasions when Sears has the better title, since the game takes place in a maze, but doesnʼt seem to have anything at all to do with slot cars.

But imagine if you had slot cars that could shoot little projectiles at each other. I think that would have been a big hit in 1978.

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King me

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,149 days

A Sears Tele-Games Checkers cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Checkers, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Video Checkers.

Sears wins for having the better title here. Sure, it is played on a video screen, but calling it “Video” checkers is one of those “No shit, Sherlock” situations.

As checkers go, I think it must be a very good game. I say this because I always lose.

The yammering yabbos on the internet are wild about this game because it was programmed by Carol Shaw. I have nothing against Ms. Shaw, and from what Iʼve read, she seems like a very nice person. But she is repeatedly cited as — in the words of Wikipedia — “one of the earliest female programmers.” This is only true if you ignore the hundreds of women programmers who came before her.

A lot of those programmers were nuns. Nuns played an oversized, and under-recognized role in the early days of computing. There are a few reasons they were involved.

  • First, nuns were highly educated. They taught every level of education from kindergarten to college.
  • Because they were educators, they were deeply embedded in academia, which is where so much of the early development of computers happened.
  • Nuns could think and reason and plan. The average person today doesnʼt know enough history to understand that the first C.E.O.ʼs were nuns. They ran massive hospital systems and orphanages. They invented what today we call the logistics industry, because they needed to support complex systems. Even today, 26% of the planetʼs healthcare facilities are run by the Roman Catholic Church, which means there are nuns in charge of all sorts of things.
  • And hereʼs the big one: nuns could type.

In old photographs of people working in mainframe computer rooms in the 1960ʼs and 70ʼs, there are always women around. The men are thinking and looking at printouts and working with slide rules and pencils, but itʼs the women in the pictures doing most of the actual computing. Women were far more common in the computer industry in the early days than they are today.

And even before electronic computers, if you go back to the earliest day of computers, when a “computer” was a person who computes, there were women. Big businesses had rooms full of people clicking away at various mechanical tabulating machines. These people were the companyʼs “computers,” and very often those rooms were full of women. Not men.

When computers first showed up in my school in 1980, the nuns steered the girls to them, while the boys were discouraged from using computers. Why? Because typing was a skill for girls. “Boys donʼt type,” I was told.

This continued into my high school years. I wanted to take a typing class because I had a computer at home. I was told that boys werenʼt allowed to take typing classes.

Even into the 1990ʼs, parts of the business world were still organized around the notion that men were the bosses, and women typed for them, and having the women run the computers was a natural extension of that. My mother worked in Manhattan for the vice president of a mid-sized regional bank. He never used e-mail. Each morning my mother would print out his e-mails and give them to him to read. He would then dictate the responses, which she wrote in steno, and later typed into the computer and sent the responses.

But nuns arenʼt cool today, especially on the internet, so they get ignored. Nuns are one of the types of women that otherwise enlightened people still think itʼs OK to marginalize. Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was the first person in the world to earn a doctorate in computer science, but there are plenty of people on Wikipedia, and elsewhere, who try to suppress knowledge of her contributions in the field.

A complicating factor is that a lot of the work that nuns did in computing was before Atari even existed, and itʼs hard for many people on the internet to imagine there were programmers before the internet, let alone before Atari. And certainly not women programmers. They didnʼt exist until the STEM campaigns of the late 1990ʼs, in their minds.

Still, some day Iʼd like to take Ms. Shaw to coffee to hear her stories about the early days of video game programming. I think her memories are probably worth bottling and saving for posterity.

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So gross

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,149 days

An activision Fishing Derby cartridge

I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Fishing Derby from Activision.

Fishing is probably the one sport that involves less physical activity than bowling or even golf. So how does that translate to an inherently active medium like video games? Surprisingly well.

Fishing Derby is easy to pick up, hard enough to be challenging, and also a lot of fun.

I like this game enough that Iʼm going to buy a nice, new reproduction label for the cart, which is suffering badly from actiplaque.

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Tuesday, October 30th, 2018 Alive 17,353 days

Halloween video game

Darcie and I both took off of work for Halloween. So vou know I broke out the 2600 Haunted House cartridge for some Goosey Night gaming.

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Be careful where you stick that thing

Friday, April 2nd, 2010 Alive 14,220 days

A clip from Rendering Fake Soft Shadows with Smoothies by the M.I.T. Laboratory for Computer Science video, found on the thumb drive

I found a thumb drive today.

It was laying on the pavers beneath a park bench outside of the weird little multi-level shoulda-been-a-strip-mall downtown. I suspect at one time this was a pretty hopping little corner of Bellevue. But thereʼs a bunch of empty storefronts in it now, probably from the real estate recession. Hopefully it comes back to life some day.

Iʼm not going to introduce a random USB drive found on a random slice of concrete under a random bench in a random city on a randomly nice day to my computer. At least not my main computer. But I do have my wifeʼs old banger Linux machine that I can re-image from ROM to pave over anything that might crawl out of this drive. The drive is, after all, lime green.

A slide from a Microsoft GameFest 2008 PowerPoint on the found thumb drive

Looking at the files on the drive reveals… code. Not nuclear missile launch codes, but computer code for what looks like a video game. I learned ray tracing in C back in college, so I recognize a good chunk of whatʼs going on; but clearly C has evolved quite a bit since the days when I used to have to reserve time on a machine in the university computer lab in order to compile my homework. What I can figure out is this:

  • Itʼs a childrenʼs game called iPlayDough.
  • It seems to be about building objects, and having those objects interact with other objects using real-world physics.
  • The game was written for Microsoft Windows using CryENGINE 2, and versions were under development for OS X and for iPhones.
  • The game was written on a Windows machine using Microsoft Visual Studio Code.
  • This thumb drive was lost by someone named Aleks.

I surmise that Aleks lost this thumb drive late last year, as the newest timestamp is October 9, 2009. Aleks seems to be involved in the gameʼs graphics. His TODO list is brief:

  • Edit with vertex normals
  • Render with face normals
  • Smooth tool

Aleks has been to a number of graphics-related tech conferences around the West Coast, and keeps videos, audio recordings, and slideshows from those conferences on the thumb drive next to his game code for reference.

A slide from the March, 2004 Valve presentation Half-Life 2/Valve Source Shading found on the thumb drive

Iʼm not sure how I would track down Aleks to return this drive to him. I thought about giving it to the police department. When I was a little kid I turned in a wallet I found to the local cops, and they reunited it with the owner, who rewarded me with five bucks (which was pretty lame, since the wallet had a couple of hundred in it). But Bellevue tells me that unless the item has a minimum value of $50, itʼs not interested.

I suppose I could just knock on the doors of the various game companies in town. But there are a lot of game companies in Bellevue, and I donʼt want to turn the drive over to a competitor. So I guess itʼs better to just let this drive remain “lost” forever. The drive was probably a backup of files from his desktop machine, so no harm done. Itʼs not like people build code on a thumb drive.

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