The Adventures of the Creators of The Adventures of Maddog Williams

Game Crafters was founded in 1987. Originally called PABI Software (PABI stands for Programmers' Association of Brilliant Innovations, Well.... Err.... Actually it was originally Programmers' Association of Babbling Idiots but we figured Brilliant Innovations sounded better.... anyway.....) the company consisted of me (Tom Jensen), Ron Lowe, Doug Lowe, Richard Lowe, Curtis Lowe, (Whew, lots o' Lowes'!) Jay Steineckert and John Stuart.

So, you might ask, how did all this get started? (OK, maybe you wouldn't ask, but I'm gonna tell you anyway!). I had been programming the Apple II and was learning 6502 assembly language with my good friend Todd Tolman in '82. We were working on his dad's Commodore 64 and had started an educational software company, TnT Software, to create programs to go with an elementary school curriculum Todd's father was putting together. We spent a couple of years doing that and other stuff. Meanwhile in 1984 while I was a senior in high school, Ron,Curtis, John and I used to goof around on Ron's TI 99/4A computer writing simple games and such. (I didn't own a computer until 1992 -- not sure how I managed that. Always had access to somebody's computer.)

Around the end of '84 (I graduated in the spring of '84) and the start of '85 we all embarked on getting a life and an education, but alas, we were destined to be lifeless and uneducated. Christmas '87 came and Ron's parents bought an Atari 520 ST. Well, I had to go play with it of course! We goofed around with it a little bit in BASIC. Then one day I was reading an article in some ST magazine when I came across a paragraph that explained how the ST's display system worked. I sat down and started poking numbers into memory and was eventually able to move a dot around on the screen! Ron and I got so excited that we decided to write a game. I wanted to write an arcade game and Ron wanted to write an adventure game (we had been playing King's Quest 3, one of the best KQ games IMHO). Well, Ron finally convinced me (that baseball bat was painful!) we should do an adventure game. We realized all the graphics necessary for the game would take a lot of disk space, so we set out to write a compression program.

About a week after we decided to write a game there was an ST show in Salt Lake City, so we went to it. There we were able to get a shareware assembler we could use to write our image compressor. The assembler was only half done and had no debugger, but we started learning 68000 assembly language and stuff about the Atari ST.

We worked for several weeks on the program. We finished the compression program and an uncompressor in a few weeks. It didn't work. We couldn't test the compressor (we had no debugger) until we had the uncompressor. We were frustrated. We put calls in to wait for key presses at certain points in the uncompressor so we could tell where we were by counting how many times we had pressed the space bar. Ron worked for hours on this (he was persistent!), and I sat down with a flow chart of the compressor and some slips of paper and spent several hours playing computer. Ron narrowed the problem down to the section of code the error was in just as I figured out the problem by running the flow chart. We made the fix and it worked!

We had looked at some other compressors that were around and we were getting better compression than all of them. We were really happy. Then along came Tiny [Evil Music]. This was a really good compressor! It was kicking our butt! The problem was, we had no idea how to uncompress a file compressed with Tiny. It was an archiving utility, so we had to use their uncompression program. Well this didn't help at all, So we decided to redesign our compressor to beat Tiny. We realized there was no way we were gonna do it without a debugger. So we went looking for a real software development package. We checked out C compilers first but they were too expensive for us, so we looked at assemblers. We found one we could afford and got it. Wow! It was really amazing what we could do with a debugger!

We started working on our new compressor and eventually succeeded in beating Tiny. On some images we did a lot better; on some we did a little better. The only image on which Tiny could do better than us was a blank image. Then it was only by 2 bytes. We were happy again and feeling very confident.

The next thing we realized we were going to need was some art work. So Ron and I drew some pictures [shuddering while remembering Ron's entire family rolling on the floor laughing at our attempts] but we decided we should get someone with some talent at drawing to do the art work. So we enlisted Ron's father Doug. Doug helped in creating the animations of Maddog walking, and then he started working on background scenes.

Doug had never used a computer to draw before, so there was a learning curve for him. Doug used to say "Drawing with the mouse is like drawing with a brick!" but he got the hang of it.

Meanwhile, Ron and I got the animation of Maddog walking incorporated into a program so Maddog would walk across the screen. It was only left to right and the screen had to be blank. After that, we got Maddog to move under keyboard control. The next big step for us was to figure out how to get Maddog to walk around on a screen properly without destroying the background. This was not easy. We were completely clueless. We asked programmers that we knew but they all said "Gee, I've never done anything with graphics." We looked in the book stores but all we could find were some really cryptic books on how to draw shapes. We didn't need no stinking shapes! We needed info on animation [Remembering the frustration]. So we brainstormed for weeks. We knew that it would require some logical operations, but it took us a while to get it right.

Finally we had Maddog walking all over the screen without destroying the back ground! We were stoked! The only problem was, he walked over everything. The tables, trees, buildings, etc. The next hurdle we had to cross was getting him to walk behind objects on the screen. Again we asked programmers we knew, and still we got the same response.

About this time, Ron's brother Curtis came back from California and started working with us. Ron's cousin, Richard Lowe, who was a very good BASIC programmer, started to hang out with us and watch us program -- he eventually helped write a lot of the story and wrote some really good scripts. We brainstormed again but came up with nothing we liked. I became very discouraged and began thinking that we couldn't do it. I kind of drifted away from the group for a few weeks. I tinkered around some on my sister's Atari. Curtis was trying to figure out what I had written up to that point so he and Ron could try to continue with the project. I want to give Ron a BIG thank you here for being stubborn enough not to give up!

Well one night about 1 a.m. I was thinking about the problem again and feeling very discouraged. I went and sat in front of the computer and just stared at the blank monitor. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it struck me! I could see the solution to our problem overlaid on the monitor. I coulda' kicked myself. We had been thinking in terms of a 64K machine. The Atari ST had 520K! I called Ron first thing in the morning and told him I had the solution. We got together and I explained it to him. He became as excited as I was. We started to code it up and it worked beautifully.

A week or so later we went into the local Atari dealer to show what we had to the owner, Mike Newson. He was also part owner in Illiad Software, and we had discussed the possibility of them marketing the game if we got it finished. We were standing there running our stuff on one of their computers. Maddog was walking around the "Gnome Home" scene that Doug had done. This was the scene where he really got the hang of drawing with the computer. While we were demonstrating it, a man walked up and introduced himself to us. His name was Jay Steineckert.

Jay told us he was an artist and composer, and that he thought what we had was really cool! We kinda blew him off and he went on his way. About a month later we began to realize that there was a TON of art left to do. So we were trying to figure out how we could get more art work done when Jay called us! (I believe in fate!) He had gotten Ron's phone number from a friend of ours that worked at the Atari dealer. So we told him we would meet with him. He brought some of his illustrations he had done, and a bunch of doodles. He was good. We gave him a trial assignment and made an appointment to meet again.

The next time we met with Jay he showed us the image he had done. It was great! We agreed to let him do some more stuff. Jay took responsibility for the scenes after the caves of despair. Meanwhile Doug and Curtis continued to work on the images for the first part of the game and the animations.

At this point all we really had was some backgrounds based on a really loose story idea and some code that would make Maddog walk around the screen. It became evident that we were going to need animations and code to make them work. We decided that writing assembly code for each scene was not a good idea. I decided that we needed to write our own language so the AGES(tm) system and the GAMECON(tm) language were born.

AGES (Adventure Game Environment System) is basically the main driver of the game. It takes a "compiled" GAMECON (Game Construction) script and interprets it. We started doing this by having the GAMECON scripters figure out what they wanted to do, then enter a bunch of cryptic numbers by hand. Well this lasted all of 2 seconds. I realized that we were gonna need a compiler to make this really work. So I wrote the compiler. This took me a LONG time. I had absolutely no idea how a compiler was supposed to work so I just made it up as I went. I look back on it now and I am amazed at what the GAMECON scripters (Ron, Curtis, Richard and John) were able to accomplish with the language. They would ask me if something would work. I would say "No! It wasn't designed to do that!" They would come back and it would be WORKING!!!! They did things with GAMECON that I still believe to be impossible!!! They were a very talented and creative group of guys!

When we got the first version of the GAMECON/AGES system going, We decided we wanted to get some big name game company to back us and help us get it finished. So off to California all seven of us went.

We left early on a Sunday morning (we hadn't slept that night -- we were programming) and managed to wreck the van we were in. Doug was driving and we were on our way to pick up Jay. It was in November and the roads were icy. Coming down a hill into Jay's neighborhood, we slid into the curb at the bottom of the hill.

So there we were with a dented wheel and a damaged tire at 4:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Well we put the spare tire on. It was one of those little temporary tires. We then picked up Jay and headed to Salt Lake City in search of a wheel. We finally found a salvage yard that was open on Sunday, but we had to wait until 10:00 for them to open. Well, we got a wheel and had a tire shop put the tire on the new wheel and plug the hole in it. We then continued on our way to California. I drove most of the way. Curtis and I traded off toward the end. It took us about 14 hours to drive there. [Remembering the 2 cans of Jolt I drank somewhere in Nevada, Yee-Ha!!!] We arrived in San Mateo about 1 a.m. on Monday morning.

We checked into the Motel 6 there and immediately unpacked the computer and started programming again. (Yes, we were stupid) We had a demo of the game at Sierra On-Line that morning. Jay and Doug went ahead and slept while Ron, Curtis, Richard and I stayed up working. Richard and Curtis did get to snooze a bit. Programming in the motel room was interesting! We only had this little bedside table to put the computer and monitor on. (Had to use it because it was close to an outlet.)

Morning came and we headed to Sierra On-Line. We met with Ken Williams and showed him our stuff. We also met some of the Sierra programmers. One of the programmers asked us what size hard drive we had. We told him we didn't have hard drives, we were doing our development on floppies. He looked at us like we were nuts! I guess it would have been like someone telling us they were doing development on tape.

Well, Ken said what we had looked good but it didn't fit in with their system. He made some suggestions of other companies for us to contact. We left a little disheartened and went out to the van to find the tire was flat! So here we were in the parking lot trying to get the #&!*#%*&@! lug nuts off the tire. Curtis was jumping up and down on the lug wrench while Ron and I held it in place. Finally we got the wheel off and the spare on. So again we were in quest of a tire shop! At least it was early Monday afternoon.

We found a service station, but they wouldn't fix the tire. They couldn't patch it because of the plug. We told the guy to pull the plug out but he wouldn't do it. So we took the tire around back, Curtis borrowed a pair of pliers from one of the mechanics and we pulled the plug out. We then took the tire back in and they fixed it.

So off to the Bay area we went. We arrived at the motel (Another Motel 6) around 8:30 p.m. We checked in and started unloading the computer. We were horrified to find the power cord was missing! We searched everywhere in the van, but it wasn't there. We grabbed a phone book and looked up the nearest Radio Shack. There was one fairly close, so Ron, Curtis and I went there. Curtis pulled up in front of the mall entrance and Ron and I jumped out and ran all the way to the store. It was 8:59 and they closed at 9:00. We arrived just as they were closing their gate. We dove under it into the store (they still had a few customers they were helping). We found a replacement power cord and went back to the motel. We again programmed through the night. We had a demo with Activision and Epyx on Tuesday.

By this time we were getting really silly. At about 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, Curtis dozed off. A few minutes later Richard started giggling. We asked him if he was OK and he said, pointing to Curtis, "He looks like a chipmunk!" Well we thought that was hilarious. Curtis woke up and asked what was so funny. We told him, and he said "Ya know, I've been told that before." We really started laughing then. Curtis and Richard both drifted off to sleep a little later and then Ron did too. I continued to work until morning.

On Tuesday morning we went to Activision. We met with Kelly Flock and some of their programmers. We showed them the game and they seemed to be impressed. They actually started negotiations with us later, but it didn't go anywhere. All of the people at Activision were great. We had an enjoyable time talking to them about ourselves and the game. I must have looked like I was on drugs or something though, as I hadn't slept since Friday night.

That afternoon we went to Epyx. We met with Tony Garcia and showed him our stuff. He was really impressed also. He made the comment, "Most of the stuff we get from programmers is stick figures and stuff. Just enough to demonstrate the concept." We had finished backgrounds and some animations working. The meeting at Epyx went well. The biggest problem we had was that the game was on the Atari ST. This concerned both Activision and Epyx. If we would've had it on the IBM PC, we probably would have gotten a deal with Activision. Oh well, live and learn.

After our meeting at Epyx, we got a bite to eat and headed home. I don't remember the trip home. I slept from San Francisco to the exit to Jay's house -- again, about 14 hours. Nothing ever came of that trip to California. Activision did send Larry Weisenbourn (sp) to talk with us, and he gave us lots of encouragement, saying "Guys, whatever happens, don't give up -- you have a gold mine here!" Even after the deal with Activision fell through, his positive comments kept us going.

We met with other game companies and distributors. They all kept saying we should have done the game on the PC. So it came to pass that in 1991 we released the game on the Atari 520 ST just as the Atari market in the U.S. went into the toilet.

We tried to get the Atari version sold in Europe. It had gotten really good reviews in the Atari magazines in England. Atari ST Action wanted a picture of us to go along with one of their articles about the company. They also put a demo of the game on their cover disk. Another of their articles compared Game Crafters to Lucas Arts and Sierra, even saying "Game Crafters has really shown Sierra how to do a game of this type." Unfortunately, we ran into problems with our European distributor, so despite the good reviews, we didn't sell many copies there.

Frustrated, we regrouped and worked at converting the game to the IBM PC platform. This took us about a year to do. By the time we finished the conversion we were "behind the times." The game was only 16- color graphics, and it had a text input line, instead of being 256 colors and mouse driven. We couldn't get anybody to distribute the game, so we decided to try shareware.

We found a person who would take orders for the game via his 800 number and would make some money off each game sold. We uploaded the game onto a lot of bulletin boards with his number and got the game into a shareware catalog. Just as things were about to start going, he cancelled his 800 number. So we had bunches of demo versions of the game out there but nobody could order it! Sigh!

Anyway, we have put Maddog up on the web here so that people can download and play it. We spent a lot of time and effort on it and we would like people to experience our creation. Knowing that people are playing it and hopefully being entertained by it is a very satisfying feeling.

If you have read all the way through this (very long) history, I thank you. I also hope you will download the game and give it a try, if you haven't already. We know it's not "State of the Art," but people who have played it have really enjoyed it. We hope you enjoy it also. If you do, please leave us a note and let us know what you think. It is really cool to hear from the people who play it.

Again, thank you for reading my ramblings!

Sincerely, Tom Jensen.

If you enjoy playing the game, please give a copy to someone you think might enjoy it also, and tell them about our page.

Copyright 1996 Tom Jensen and Game Crafters.