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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

August 2, 2010 at 2:10 PM

Can’t wait for “Halo: Reach”? Try Halo 2600

For a quick fix until “Halo: Reach” arrives on Sept. 14, take a look at “Halo 2600” – a free online version of the game, as if it were released for the Atari 2600.

It’s the best thing since Google Pac-Man.

Ed Fries, the former head of Microsoft Game Studios, built the game as a hobby – partly to see if he could still build games on the platform that launched his career.

Back in his Sammamish High School days, Fries was given an Atari console for Christmas. It inspired him to start programming, first in Basic and then assembly language.

The breakout was a “Frogger” clone he made called “Froggy” that went viral, after he shared it with a few friends. In 1981, when Fries was a junior, a game publisher from California tracked him down and showed up with a contract offer.

After doing a few other things since his 2004 retirement from Microsoft, Fries read “Racing the Beam,” a book about programming for the Atari 2600 and started in on “Halo 2600.”

As Fries explained on the Halo 2600 Facebook page, the trick with Atari programming is that the machine only had “128 bytes of RAM and without bank switching the maximum program size is just over 4000 bytes.”

halo2600.jpg

Fries said he thought it will appeal mostly to the small community of Atari programming enthusiasts who stay in touch through sites like Atariage.com.

“I thought these guy will care but probably no one else will,” he said in a phone interview.

But “Halo 2600” is suddenly getting all sorts of attention, after being written up by most major gaming sites. So far there are no plans to commercialize the game.

How about putting in Xbox Live Arcade? “If they want to do it, they’re welcome,” Fries said.

Fries isn’t too worried about being hassled by copyright lawyers from Microsoft or Bungie, the Kirkland studio that created the “Halo” franchise. He kept both in touch as the project evolved.

He mentioned the game to Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s president of entertainment and devices, when they had coffee recently.

“I gave him a chance to complain,” Fries said. “He just laughed and thought it was funny.”

Comments | Topics: Bungie, Ed Fries, Games & entertainment

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