JD Casten

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Source: ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast

Source URL: http://ataripodcast.libsyn.com/antic-episode-9-the-atari-8-bit-podcast-jd-casten-steve-wilds

Interviewer: Kevin Savetz of ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast (www.AtariPodcast.com)

If you read Antic magazine (and typed in games from Antic magazine) you’re probably familiar with JD Casten’s games. JD Casten was a prolific author of games that appeared in Antic. Here’s the list: Risky Rescue, Escape From Epsilon, Advent X-5, Biffdrop, Box-In, Rebound, and Maximillian B.. Antic also published the Casten Game Disk (for purchase) which included new versions of some games -- Risky Rescue Industrial Version and Biffdrop Nightmare version -- plus two other games: Nemesis and Crazy Harold’s Adroit Adventure. He also wrote Easy-80, an 80-column driver, and the unpublished Banzai Font Designer. You can download them all from his website, www.jdcasten.info

In 1984, Antic wrote a short feature about JD, calling him their “star game designer”. They wrote at the time: What makes JD. “Casten's games outstanding is their fast movement, smooth graphics and humorous plot backgrounds. … Casten's advice to starting programmers is to keep practicing and tinkering. "If you want to do it, you will," he says. "The information's there, you just have to use it."”

JD also wrote several other Atari games that were never published -- and he has graciously shared them with us for the first time. We’ll talk more about those in the interview.

Also also: JD dug through his archives to find and scan a ton of material for the games that were published in Antic. For instance: for “Risky Rescue” (his first published game) he shared his magazine submission and acceptance letters. For “Escape from Epsilon” (his second game in Antic): the complete map levels, screen-graphic component study, and graphic data notes. For his text adventure, “Advent X-5”, his third published game (and first byline on the cover): the original map (never before published) + map locations key + objects & descriptions list + commands list. Also: scans of letters to and from Antic magazine, beautifully-presented code and screenshots -- all impeccably organized. Plus, there’s a file containing all of his unpublished programs -- Empire, Lunar Lander, Castles, Maze 5x5x5, Space Barrier, Pac-er, and The Lost Ring. ATRs and PDFs! It’s an astounding collection of Atari goodness that JD has made available for the first time. Available here: https://archive.org/details/JDCastenPapers

JD was happy to be interviewed, but said that he was only comfortable doing the interview by email. JD struggles with mental health issues - Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenia - and said that a live, vocal interview isn't an option due to what he calls the '24/7 conference call in his head.' He told me: “It’s more a matter of “logistics” than “comfort”—writing draws my thinking to my hands, while talking could easily be derailed and stilted by interruptions of my concentration by the voices I hear in my head.”

Are you comfortable with me mentioning your mental health on the podcast?

It’s alright to include references to my disability; I think it can be important to realize that people with schizophrenia can also function in a sane way, somehow, sometimes. There are many flavors of schizophrenia — mine, chronic paranoid schizophrenia, includes hearing voices, believing delusions, and paranoia (usually about symbolism—an over-abundance of meaning); but I luckily have the ability to keep one foot in “reality” enough to realize what other people would see as delusional, and I usually keep quiet about what my sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly voices are constantly talking to me about. The experience is like having a “radiohead” where people can hear your thoughts, and talk to you in your head, like a sort of telepathy that includes the tactile. Have no doubt though -- much suffering is involved, and I am disabled—which is a major reason I couldn’t get back into game design anytime in the near future.

Are you still in Oregon? (I live in Portland.)

Yes, I’ve lived in Eugene, Oregon since my sophomore year at WilLAMette High School in 1983. I’ve also lived in Florence, Vida, Portland (Aloha actually), Newport, and Bend; and also lived in Los Angeles, Syracuse in New York, and the Bronx. Eugene has a nice balance of nearby nature and cultural events— but I’d like to get out more, and check up on “Portlandia.”

Tell me how you got started with the Atari. Was it your first computer? What drew you to programming?

The first computers I saw were Radio Shack TRS-80s, the Sinclair ZX80, and the Apple II.

Before getting my Atari 400 along with the first couple of issues of Antic in the summer of 1982, I largely learned to program in BASIC on a Sinclair ZX80, which I purchased in the summer of 1981 via an ad in Scientific American (I saw the ad while I was researching how to solve the Rubik’s Cube with a screwdriver). I bought the ZX80 with my own money in 1981 (it was about $200)

My first computer exposure, however, was with a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer at my elementary school, in the sixth grade (circa 1979) at Newport, Oregon, where I played an addictive Hammurabi-like game called, Santa Paravia. (I later emulated this on the Atari with a game called “Empire”). I remember that my very first program, on a TRS-80 in early 1981, was something like: 10 PRINT “HELLO” followed by 20 GOTO 10.

My mom and an uncle picked out an Atari 400 in 1982 to pay me for some extensive babysitting I’d done the prior summer. I hadn’t heard of the Atari 400 at that time. A close friend in Bend (fellow Antic published game designer Jamie Sutherland) got a Commodore Vic-20 around the same time— and although the Apple II, Atari 400/800, and Vic 20 all used the 6502 CPU, I thought the Atari computers had an edge with their ANTIC/GTIA graphics chips.

My first experience with computers was playing games; and when I got my first computers, I could not afford to buy any games— so I simply programmed them myself. I found that I enjoyed programming more than playing the games, which might have been an extension of having liked creative toys like building blocks, Lincoln Logs, Tinker-Toys, Legos, Erector Sets, etc. throughout my youth. I was always self-taught (working through example programs in magazines, and reading the included programming manuals), but my approach was not to appropriate code, but to find my own way of doing things through trial and error. Certain habits, like using I, J and K as variables in FOR-NEXT loops were incorporated unconsciously in my programming from looking at the magazine programs; it wasn’t until learning about summations in college Calculus that I found these using these specific variable letters has a tradition.

Let’s talk about your programs. . .Risky Rescue (April 1984 issue of Antic)

“Risky Rescue,” my first published game, was inspired by Nintendo magnate Shigeru Miyamoto’s “Donkey Kong,” (not a terrible game-designer to be influenced by); but I had actually submitted two games to Antic before then, “Box-In” and “Titan Tumble” (“Titan Tumble” was a “Lunar Lander”-type game). Antic accepted these games, but lost them, and did not publish “Box-In” till I reminded them of it later. “Box-In” itself was like a game I saw on an Apple II computer at Bend High School— published by Beagle Bros. I have lost my copy of “Titan Tumble,” so it really has been lost forever.

Like “Box-In,” most of my first game programs were not original designs of mine (including one called “The Lost Ring,” which was based not on a computer game, but on a board-game called “The Sorcerer’s Cave”). I programmed a few games by converting programs listed for other kinds of computers in BYTE magazine, but most of my programs used “reverse engineering,” where I simply replicated the output with my own code.

Escape From Epsilon was published in June 1984.

“Escape from Epsilon,” my second game was based on the Atari 2600 game “Pitfall,” (hence the name BIFF-DROP), designed by David Crane of Activision (again, not a bad influence). It introduced Slyvester Biffdrop who, as I forgot to inform Antic, was a duck (hence his Antic illustration changed from an Indiana Jones-type human for “Escape from Epsilon,” to a duck for “Biffdrop”). Slyvester was to be joined by his female relative, Sylvia Biffdrop, in “Operation: Omega.” I wanted to be more inclusive in that game, and was also going to add the option of using the joystick in a left-handed manner as well the gender option. The fully assembly-language program was never finished because the game design was beyond the capabilities of the 8-bit Atari, and as I began to scale back the number of moving objects on the screen, I realized it was not going to be original enough to merit the programming effort— it was much like “Pitfall” combined with William “Cathryn” Mataga’s smooth scrolling “Zeppelin” published by Synapse Software.

“Operation: Omega” did have a special level that was randomly generated with each new game— I completed this part of the game programming). I moved on to other projects that were more original (like “Rebound” and what I consider my best and most original game design, “Maximillian B.”)— and I liked the idea of the Omega, or last game, being unfinished.

Advent X-5 was published in Antic’s November 1984 issue.

With my 3rd Antic game, “Advent X-5,” I ventured into the text adventure territory— I had played some of Scott Adam’s adventures, and had also designed some Dungeons and Dragons modules (having been deep into the nerd scene at that time). The language parser I designed was my first study of the relation between computers and natural language, an area of study that continues to fascinate me. I had to overcome the programming obstacle that, with Atari BASIC, you couldn’t have two vectors on a String variable— you couldn’t simply define ROOM$(1) as “The Ship’s Bridge”, and ROOM$(5) as “The Medical Lab”; but Atari BASIC did allow for a you to use the RESTORE operation to point to a specific DATA line; so I simply used that to use a numerical variable to address a specific text string (each room/area and object needing to have a number value associated with a text description). My original hand-drawn map for “Advent X-5” betrays my youth at the time— and at that time I did not realize that my science-fiction (and hence future oriented, or “prophetic”) “word” game’s title had a Christian definition, meaning, “the coming of Christ,” and that the floor plan of the ship was loosely shaped like a cross (much like the floor plans of many cathedrals). The unfinished sequel, “Klybex-7,” was to involve a return to the escaped from planet to rescue the animals left behind on the somewhat limited “Noah’s Arc” Advent X-5 spaceship. Antic put my name on the cover with the issue containing “Advent X-5,” which was quite a thrill to see at my local Fred Meyer department store— almost as exciting as the surprise discovery that “Escape from Epsilon” was going to be published by reading the “coming in the next issue” blurb in Antic, before the editors had told me that it had been accepted.

Then there was Biffdrop in the December 1984 issue.

With “Biffdrop,” “Rebound,” and “Maximillian B.” I began to make games with more complex screen levels that were often “crammed” with as many novel uses of the obstacles as I could muster. Designing the screen levels was a lot of fun, and I therefore asked Antic to publish the “Rebound Construction Kit,” and conduct a contest which I would judge. Happily they agreed, and even though I did not receive as many submissions to judge as I would have liked, I still had to use Federal Express’s overnight delivery to get the winning screens to Antic on time. The rare version of “Rebound” with the winners’ screen levels on it can be found on my jdcasten.info website.

The “Aunt Icked” character from the “Biffdrop” & “Maximillian B.” story lines was a play on the “Antic Ed.” moniker— and the Antic editors were always kind and courteous to me, even when I haggled up the payment for “Maximilian B.” from $150 to $200 on the phone.

I was noticing, when going over the scans, that Antic must have wanted to publish Maximillian B as a disk bonus in order to get more sales of their disks-- the logic of "the game is too long to fit on a disk" didn't make sense to me, as it was a disk bonus-- and my original code did not have the special characters. I guess they must have been balancing a money-making idea with trying to not seem greedy. They were frequently lapse in responding and paying, but now that I've tried being on the "other side" of publishing (with my micro-publisher / music label / web gallery Post Egoism Media), I can see the issues involved when dealing with "talent"-- and all the hard work that it takes to get that talent exposure. Plus, I was just a kid.

The software catalogue publishing division of Antic was a little less professional— usually late with their royalty payments to me for The Casten Game Disk, and completely forgetting to tell me the status of my submission of The Banzai Font Designer (which I thought was pretty good), for which they finally sent me a form-rejection letter after I called them about it. That, in late 1986, was near the end of my relation with Antic.

My last programs were made in 1986; but by the late 1980’s, I was quite busy in college at the University of Oregon, having joined the Oregon Army National Guard (which included a stint at Infantry Boot Camp), becoming the Public Relations Officer for my local Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, getting into poetry and helping edit the university’s poetry journal, and finding my way to what I hoped would be my future.

In 1984, Antic did a profile of you, calling you their "star game programmer". You were a sophomore in high school. Was that weird? What did you family and friends think of that? (http://www.atarimagazines.com/v3n8/Biffdrop.html)

Antic did that profile after interviewing me by phone— an interesting experience, as it looked to me like they altered my responses to fit a certain “whiz-kid-nerd” image they wanted to portray. I’ve heard some famous folks bemoan that interviewers take quotes out of context and what-not— but this was not at all a public pillory, and despite my obliviousness, the “success” I’d achieved was hammered in by my ecstatically proud step-dad. My best friend at the time played through “Biffdrop” (I altered the code to give him “infinite lives”— as I did for myself to playtest the games)— but for the most part, it was a “private-time” project— I only met one person in Eugene who knew about my games outside of knowing them through me. A science teacher at Willamette High School was impressed, and I did get a special award-plaque created just for me and my advanced programming skills in the computer classes.

Since high school, I’ve studied “cultural criticism”— and have a more educated perception on being known (I’m a fan of the culture-critic artist Nick “Momus” Currie, whose been quoted as saying, “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people”— a take on the Andy Warhol quote which pointed towards the internet and everyone writing themselves out in a blog and selfie-image) No one, not even Jesus, is 100% famous; it’s always a matter of degree, and demographic saturation. You really couldn’t be less well-known, and still be somewhat known internationally, than I was— a sort of “proto-micro-computer-celebrity.” Like my starting my micro-publishing effort Post Egoism Media, that experience was sort of like hitting the “big-time” in miniature— I’ve gotten to see many of the elements involved with such public projects (the massive amount of work that promotion takes to get something or someone known— just about every public work you’ve seen has been promoted by someone, usually for money, unless they’re your next-door neighbor’s garage band— this exposure requires not just one, but a long series of “lucky breaks,” etc.) Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to deal with the downsides— no “gilded cage,” paparazzi, etc.— not even close— just an occasional (about once or twice a year) email from someone out of the blue feeling nostalgic.

Overall, my experience with Antic was positive— I got a couple of fan letters, was called their “star” game programmer, and quite importantly to me at the time, I earned enough money to pay for my computer and its upgrades (I was paid about $60 per published page— If I had been less oblivious, I would have included more text on how the programs themselves worked). I have been glad to hear that a few people did learn a bit about programming (and maybe game-design) by typing in my programs, which typing may have turned out to be as “important” for some as the frustrating entertainment of the games themselves.

I have mused that my schizophrenia was the result of some sort of karma due to numerous frustrated gamers cursing me (I did find through a little research, that my disease had nothing to do with the fact that I had stolen and ingested a dose of LSD that belonged to a friend of my Mom’s when I was two years old— this landmark experience was my first clear memory, and I think helped shape my future aspirations to become an artist of some sort).

Let’s talk about Easy-80, the 80-column driver. Why did you create that? A departure from your usual game things. Why did you create it?

I’d actually made non-game programs before—usually to aid in the design of the games (e.g. BFD – the Banzai Font Designer used for Rebound’s animated character graphics). I don’t recall the exact purpose for creating Easy-80, but there was a limitation of word-processors on the Atari where the screen could not replicate the proper line breaks that would appear in printer output. I used the term “driver” in the 1987 documentation— an “80 column driver”— not exactly like contemporary software-hardware interfacing, and I’m not sure where I got that term, but it seemed in line with future developments, re: giving more complicated mediation and tools between a program and the input/output than the older operating systems less developed than Windows or Mac OS provided.

The machine code addresses the problem of splitting the eight display pixels that parallel a memory byte into two four pixel columns: each character in Easy-80 is four pixels wide, so I designed a character set where each character is a double, like “AA” or “BB”—and the code would simply overly a left “A” or right “A” based on positioning (e.g. a logical OR can simply turn on pixels in the left character column, while not turning off the pixels in the right column when adding a new character in a series).

You had some unpublished things -- the Banzai Font Designer and Operation Omega. Can you talk about those? Why did you create them and why didn't get they get published? Why did you abandon Operation Omega?

Again, Banzai Font Designer was part of the Rebound project—and fit with my turn towards the “Rebound Construction Kit” too, in that I thought design tools were empowering (as I liked making the games more than playing them). There were other graphic-design programs, and I’d seen a “paint” program that had the sort of “Zoom” magnification on a scrolling field that I used in BFD. I use graphics and music software extensively with my art now (e.g. Ableton Live and Adobe products)— but contemporary fonts used vector programming—having a something like “curve-codes” for each letter is much different than pixel font design. Evidently, Antic software was designing an assembly language font designer in-house, as when I asked them about the submission status quite a long time after submission, they said they were declining to publish, in favor of the in-house program.

Operation: Omega was never finished—abandoned due to my over-estimation of the efficiency of machine-code. I did not estimate the code-cycles, and the vertical blank interrupt I was using to sync the graphics (no flickering, and mid-graphic motion break-up), could in no way handle all the motion.

I think the random Sigma level generator would have made Operation: Omega a stand-out: a new level with each new game. The “maze” generator code was finished, using a wandering exploration algorithm (sort of like exploring a problem space in AI—the tree branches out, hits a dead-end, back-tracks to another opening, and then branches out again, until the space is saturated)—I modified that prior programming solution (not sure where it originated) by using “elbow” graphic pieces—a maze made with the lines, T’s and crosses that parallel the “map-obstacle” pieces in the play levels. I had not yet designed the other four, non-random levels, and probably should have made the Omega level the random one (sort of like my game Nemesis— Nemesis has a spectacular finale… but starts over again and again, with ever more difficulty, until it is impossible). I like the idea of an endless ending.

Initially, years ago, when I asked you to share Operation Omega you said no. . . what made you change your mind?

I’ve changed my mind about sharing the code because I’m older and more relaxed. There’s no “zero-sum” where someone loses for someone else to win here, so, why not? I’ve learned to let go of opinions I might have fought for before, just because I had them— maturing can mean letting go, being less uptight, and admitting mistakes. But different folks need to learn different lessons in life, and I’ve known others who are too slack— letting either themselves or others act without enough care.

You’ve just shared with me all of the programs that you’ve written, some of which have never been published before. Thank you -- the Atari community thanks you. (Listeners: I’ve uploaded these to Archive.org and there’s a link in the show notes.) Please tell me about them.

• “Empire” (1982) is a “Santa Paravia” Hamurabai- clone game (1978, by Rev George Blank, published in SoftSide magazine)—a simulation of a game I played on the TRS-80 in the late 1970s—my first major 8-bit Atari program (simulating observed output with own code): http://www.santaparavia.com/History.aspx

• “Maze 5x5x5” (1982) An example of my “program translation” – this was an Apple II program by Robert Tsuk called “Quint-Maze” from a 1982 BYTE magazine issue that I converted to Atari. https://archive.org/stream/byte-magazine-1982-09/1982_09_BYTE_07-09_Computers_and_the_Disabled#page/n25/mode/2up

•  “Castles” (1982)

A replication of an 1980 Apple game I saw, called “Artillery”—I figured out the math equations to simulate a projectile trajectory influenced by gravity, wind, and gun-powder-force by trial and error: had no clue about Newton or Calculus yet (Newton’s Calculus ties into gravity since both are about calculating rates of change—the falling object accelerates). In the early 90’s I’d taken a similar approach to Parallel Distributed Programming, coming up with a more efficient solution due to the textbooks at the time being too elliptical and pithy about the math implementation of the general approach (PDP networks do a sort of stimulus-response pairing that gets trained over cycles of adjusting output to input—this method is used in language recognition and predicting stock-market turns, etc.): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artillery_game

• “Space Barrier” (1982) My friend Jamie Sutherland (who published two games in Antic, “Arena Racer” and “Valiant”) had a Commodore Vic-20 before getting an Atari—and the Vic-20 also had a 6502 CPU.  Jamie got into 6502 machine code before I did… which gave me some confidence to try that… “Space Barrier” was his design, and after I saw his version, I made my own.

http://www.atarimagazines.com/index/index.php?author=Jamie+Sutherland&mag=antic

•“Pac-er” (1982) A Pac-Man clone—Pac-Man was made in 1980—I gave the smash video-game hit a try. My ghost “AI” was like the monster in Box-In—I didn’t include the “wandering” that the arcade game ghosts would do—these ghosts float in your direction, until they hit an obstacle. I don’t think I’ve shared this before.

•“The Lost Ring” (1983) A “Dungeons & Dragons”-type one-player turn-based game based on a “board” game I had called “Sorcerer’s Cave.” I actually had fun playing this game, and don’t know why I didn’t submit it to Antic—might have been thinking of the “originality” issues—which is strange, given that my first published games were transformations of popular video games. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sorcerer's_Cave

• “SNAFU” (1987) Unfinished game (due to the decline of 8-bit Atari use). This would have been the first of my games to use the sort of mixed-multi-color character-graphics found in many Synapse software games. I think it is a good design: original control (you walk, and reverse gravity for vertical movement) + an interesting twist (the entire screen can flip upside-down at key moments). The game play programming is finished; there is simply just one screen—more screen level designs would have completed the game.

Do you still have an Atari?

Yes, I have an Atari 130XE and my original Atari 400 (with 48K and a full-stroke keyboard replacing that awful membrane thing)— plus I have a Trak disk drive and the 410 cassette drive. They’re packed away though, and when I want to check out 8-bit Atari stuff, I use the Atari800Win PLus 4.1 emulator on my home-built PC. I never got the 16-bit Atari ST, instead using my Atari 130XE until 1994 when I finally got a PC with Microsoft Windows 3.1 and began to explore the internet via a phone-line (I’d heard of Compuserve and GE’s modem services, but did not have the money back in the 80’s to buy a modem or pay the service charges). I began system building around the turn of the millennium, usually starting a computer with an overclocking ASUS motherboard. I know many artists prefer Apples— I like Macintosh computers too (a roommate had one in 1989), but I’ve gone the PC route due to wanting more software/hardware system control, more video games to play; and also because I prefer the Windows decentralized hardware approach to the Apple “vertical monopoly” over both the OS and hardware. I’ve converted most of my websites to be mobile (replacing Flash with Java)— it took me too long to realize the value of mobile computing; although I still mostly use a desktop PC, smart-phones have opened up the computing and internet-information world to many more folks— non-techies, and those with less money, rural folks with no cable or phone-lines etc.

What do you do today (professionally and for fun)?

I’m a professional schizophrenic, paid Social Security disability to bare the weight of civilization. Yes, that’s a joke, but the post-structuralism philosopher Michel Foucault suggests that the world is defined by oppositions, much like a fence will divide one space from another, or juxtaposed colors, like red and green, will make each other “pop-out” due to the contrast— in the same way, “reasonable” civilization can be said to be defined in opposition to “unreasonable” madness. Due to the 24/7 conference call going on in my head (even in some dreams, if I’m self-aware)— I haven’t been able to devise any new life-goals since college. But I’ve done my best to complete my early dreams, if only in miniature. I run Post Egoism Media, a micro-press and music-label that offers free digital content and physical products printed-on-demand. Music is the easiest to promote, and my solo and collaborative works have charted on some college radio stations, played on BBC 6, and have been downloaded extensively via free torrents. Due to the internal verbal interference, I can’t write poetry, and my academic writing has been limited more to “reporting” than developing original work. I try to keep up on contemporary music, and know quite a few DJs in the Eugene area—occasionally going to a local concert. I also have an art collection worth over a billion dollars— but it’s all in art-book reproductions. My favorite artist/poets are Katsushika Hokusai and William Blake.

Last year you wrote a book about artificial intelligence. Tell me about it.

I started researching AI in high school. Back then, my approach was “top-down,” thinking in terms of how to program intelligence, rather than how to construct it via neuron engineering, or other “bottom-up” approaches. Text adventures provide a window into early AI, with the text-parsing, and “micro-worlds” that limit the full detail and complex context of the real world. In college, my interest in artificial intelligence was renewed when I started to study French Structuralism and its emphasis on the network-like connections among concepts in language. I had read that AI needed advances in philosophy as well is in cognitive psychology, and philosophy provided a way for me to combine my interests in information science and aesthetics (esp. poetry and visual art). Deconstruction was popular in college English departments in the 80s, and I found it challenging and inspiring. Deconstruction can be about showing how something, like a poem or cultural phenomenon, is constructed— the assumptions, processes, history, etc. that go into making up much of what we take at face-value. Artificial Intelligence has yet to be created though, so my book on “Deconstructing Artificial Intelligence” focuses on the history that has led to the “state-of-the-art” on our understanding of intelligence. Usually people think about an “intelligent agent”— an individual facing a problem that they must work out alone, just using their brain. But cultural advances like the “scientific method” demonstrate that much of what we call intelligence or knowledge has evolved through society and the “global brain.” And the flip-side of information science is consciousness— although the function of the Thalamus in the brain might parallel a CPU-like Turing Machine read/write head (remember those old real-to-real computers, where the tapes reals would spin, stop, and reverse?— that’s a Turing Machine)— although obvious pragmatic value that that sort of locus of focus on attention gives (the 18th century philosopher Kant studied focal attention with his concept of “Apperception” too)— much of what we call conscious awareness has nothing to do with objective mechanisms, but connects with subjective experience (qualitative sensation, emotions, etc.) Although my book “Cybernetic Revelation” is over 700 pages, it is introductory— aiming to help with inter-disciplinary studies that could tie, for example, specialists in cognitive science to the work of French critical thinkers who can be difficult to pin down. The book is fairly straightforward— it doesn’t teach critical thinking, but it “has the goods” as far as identifying the deep “conceptual engineering” structures developed by the greatest Western philosophers. “Cybernetic Revelation” doesn’t provide programming strategies, but gives clues concerning how to think about intelligence in general preliminary to going into specifics on how to simulate it— and, in my estimation, human intelligence is not a finished project, but will continue to be revolutionized, reformed, and refined.

What about computer games today?

Game design has really evolved since the 1980’s, especially with their entrance into three-dimensional space; one of my favorites (that my nephew has shown me) is the Shigeru Miyamoto directed “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker,” with its stylized cartoon graphics, complex obstacle laden environment to explore, ease of entry, and difficult to master puzzles. If you were to combine Miyamoto’s game design with a little Dr. Seuss whimsical odd playfulness (his playfulness with both the visual and the verbal— but also with his emphasis on ethics and psychology; I love Dr. Seuss’ take on ecological commitment in “The Lorax,” and the encouragement of a strong healthy ego in “Happy Birthday to You”)— if you were to mix Shigeru Miyamoto and Dr. Seuss, I think you’d have an idea of the sort of games I’d like to see produced. There’s a place for the many hyper-realistic mature-rated games out today that I think try to compensate for the fact that the environment is simulated, and not real, by using shock and horror (fear being a “reality” inducer— fear can make us take things as if they were more real, vivid and important); but I have a greater appreciation for those games that appeal to various ages, genders, etc. by evoking positive emotions that draw you into the game with a “willing suspension of disbelief,” though humor, intrigue, and possibly an awe born not of shock, but of admiration. A really good epic game— as a work of art— should probably induce a broad range of emotions, and provoke thought in a multitude of ways— ART itself offering a profound and influential kind of education in ethical psychology, and also an exploration into who we humans think we are.

If you could send a message to the Atari community -- and you can, right now :) -- what would you tell them?

I’d like to apologize for the many emotional freak-outs that some of my more challenging games must have fostered. I’d like to thank those folks who have contacted me with questions and comments— quite a large portion of those who’ve contacted me had gone on to become programmers themselves. My original thinking about my Antic games was that I was providing art-entertainment— which I see as a good thing in itself. But as I’ve come to develop my own artistic maturity, I think edutainment is even more commendable, and having helping folks learn about computers via my type-in games— I find the results were better than I anticipated. Also, with the demise of 8-bit computers in the late 80s, I thought all my work was lost in the past— which added weight to my life-choices aimed at pursuing more stable, time-tested mediums like poetry and visual art. I was wrong though, and I’ve come to see that “being of your time” can be the best way to be “timeless.” And always feel free to contact me, I return emails and enjoy hearing from my Atari friends near and far.

I enjoy being part of a community that I’m surprised still exists.