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Thread: 10 years of Atari Vaxmail

  1. #1
    Hustle
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    10 years of Atari Vaxmail

    Saw this link posted on twitter today

    http://www.textfiles.com/games/ATARIMAIL/

    10 years of Atari Vaxmail from 1983 to 1992

    There's some fascinating reading in there. Want to know how much a sound chip for arcade use cost in 1984? It's in there.

    From: BEEZ::SEGHERS 23-MAR-1984 17:05
    To: @SYS$MAIL:JUNK
    Subj: COMMENTARY...


    Franusic has some valid points. However, what Atari does not need right now are quitters. I've seen Atari make many mistakes and I am sure that I will see many more, but, Atari is a large corporation and it is good to remember that Large corportations may stumble, but they seldom fall.

    There will be plenty of time to decide to quit if Atari really shows signs of colapsing. It is true that things are not what they used to be. Games are not as popular as before. The markets are glutted, both Consumer and Coin-op. That glutting cannot go on forever, however. There is a product lifetime which, once past, even the best products (for their time) cannot be sold. When the video game companies (Atari included) can no longer dump their excess inventories of old games (hopefully this will not take more that a year,) then new games can begin to go back on the market in a controlled fassion. When that time comes, we must be prepared with some VERY GOOD, VERY ORIGINAL products.

    Entertainment is not a fad, but repetition does not make for good entertainment. The game industry must stop cloning the old games. We must come up with original concepts. It does not necessarily mean creating bold advances in technology. It means taking bold advances in our imagination. If we can achieve that, then a games sucess is assured.

    John Seghers
    Consumer Software
    From: KIM::MARGOLIN 9-AUG-1984 16:44 To: @SYS$MAIL:JUNK What's the difference between Atari and the Titanic? The Titanic had entertainment.
    As well as some non-gaming gems

    From: SANDY::DAVE 2-JAN-1987 19:24:31.32
    To: @SYS$MAIL:JUNK
    CC:
    Subj: THUMBS DOWN


    WELL I DECIDED TO SPLURGE FOR NEW YEARS EVE. I MADE THE RESERVATIONS MONTHS IN
    ADVANCE. I CALLED AHEAD 1/2 HOUR BEFORE TO SEE IF THEY WERE BEHIND SCHEDULE.
    I WAS TOLD ABOUT 10 MINUTES. SO I SHOWED UP ON TIME. I WAITED 50 MINUTES BEFORE
    I LEFT. ALL I RECIEVED WAS VERY INSINCERE APOLOGIES, AND THE STATEMENT (I QUOTE)
    " WELL BY THE TIME YOU GET ANY WHERE ELSE IT WILL BE JUST AS LONG A WAIT".

    SO WHERE WAS THIS, YOU ASK. A DIVE CALLED "LE MOUTON NOIR"

    THIS PLACE HAS GOOD FOOD, BUT I REFUSE TO WAIT FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING
    REAMED OUT IN THE POCKET BOOK. GOOD FOOD DOES NOT MAKE UP FOR AN ATMOSPHERE
    OF HOSTILE SNOBBERY.

    P.S. THIS IS NOT A SNAP JUDGEMENT, AS ON A PREVIOUS VISIT FOR A SPECIAL
    OCCASION I WAITED MORE THAN AN HOUR AFTER BEING SEATED TO RECIEVE
    (AN ADMITTEDLY GOOD) DINNER.

    YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
    Well worth reading through if you have the time.

  2. #2
    Broad Band
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    I like the endless bickering about the bonus structure in 1984, and the kvetching about the bad 2600 ports.

  3. #3
    New Romantic
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    Can someone just post the good bits?

  4. #4
    Neo Acoustic
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    Weird sense of deja vu - it's kinda like reading the emails in Deus Ex, but not as funny...

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by pyrhic View Post
    Weird sense of deja vu - it's kinda like reading the emails in Deus Ex, but not as funny...
    Hahaha, exact same thing here. I couldn't figure out what this felt like, but yes, reading emails in Deus Ex is exactly it :)

  6. #6
    Keeper of the Frop Bog How To Go
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    I am looking for the following items at a good price:
    - PC/AT motherboard, 286 or better, 12MHz or better, (under $90)
    .....

  7. #7
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    I like this one:

    Quote Originally Posted by KIM::CALFEE
    From: KIM::CALFEE 16-DEC-1983 13:50
    To: @SYS$MAIL:COINOP
    Subj: Atari 800 Software Theft

    It has been brought to my attention that some stolen Atari computer
    software may now be residing on one or more of our VAXes.

    This is intolerable.

    We are a company whose existance depends on software sales, and every
    ATARI game that was in a cartridge and has been put on disc and then
    on the VAX is a potential leak to the outside world that can impact
    sales. Any competitors' games that might be on the system could
    substantially weaken Atari's cases against piracy in court. People
    who participate in stealing software are risking their jobs and the
    company's future.

    Please delete all questionable files immediately!!!

    As Jed would say, Thank you or else.
    Steve Calfee

  8. #8
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    There is a good one in there about Chris Crawford and his book The Art Of Computer Game Design. Basically the coin-op division guys are wondering what a "home or computer division" guy could possibly know about game design.

  9. #9
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    Same as it ever was:

    Quote Originally Posted by KIM::FXL
    From: KIM::FXL 30-JAN-1984 02:01
    To: @SYS$MAIL:JUNK
    Subj: The first annual Jeff Boscole Memorial letter


    This letter is dedicated to Jeff Boscole, someone who wasn't afraid
    of sounding obscure, to speak his mind, to be strange, to be brilliant,
    to play games, and to use MAIL to its fullest. I don't remember when
    he left, but it was quite a few months ago.

    To anyone who cares, but especially to game designers with more clout than
    FXL, and to any and all people in power at Atari (not just coin-op):

    Recently I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to instigate
    improvements in royalties, designer credits, and game testing procedures. I
    have had little success. I hereby apologize for all of the negative feelings
    and anger that I am emanating because of this. After all, things are pretty
    good here, and certainly better than at many companies. I do not however
    apologize or regret my negative feelings about the recent release of the
    Crystal Castles 2600 Cartridge. (In case you don't know, the cartridge was
    released without the approval of the coin-op design team, or anybody else
    in coin-op as far as I know).

    This is pure theft!

    And I do not even know who to blame for this!! It isn't the programmer, who is
    about as mad (or worse) as I am about this situation. He was given a unmakable
    release deadline (4 days instead of 3 weeks from when he was told). The game is
    much worse because of this (according to the programmer Peter Niday). He had
    no choice in the matter. Yet another unfinished, hurried, poorly tested game
    from Atari. Won't we ever learn?

    Games under license from other companies get reviewed by representatives of
    that company (Williams and Namco specifically). But games developed in-house
    are treated like they are in the public domain, while the original design team
    of in-house games is treated like dirt.

    This is not an isolated incident either. Atarisoft, as a matter of policy,
    takes Atari Coin-op games, lets outside companies "convert" them for home
    computers (like Commodore 64, Vic-20, Apple 2, TI-99 and IBM-PC), and then
    produces them, all without the creative input or advice of the original design
    teams (just talk to Ed Logg about Centipede, or ? about Battlezone). Atarisoft
    does not ask anyone over here at coin-op for approval for the final version,
    but they do show the final version of the game to someone in the legal
    department. On the more positive side, there is a chance that Atarisoft will
    contribute to the Engineering Product Bonus Plan in a manner similar to 2600,
    5200 and 800 products. Wouldn't it be nice to have that guaranteed and in
    writing? And shouldn't there be designer credits on Atarisoft products?

    It's ironic that my name is on the packaging of the 2600 Crystal Castles
    cart, a product which I only saw an early version of. Yet when I told people
    that the message ("programmed by Franz Lanzinger") appeared in level 10 in the
    coin-op version I was told to take it out, or I loose an amount of bonus to be
    determined. Boy did that make me mad !!! I complained vocally, but only to be
    promised that a designer credit policy would be worked on. This policy is still
    "being worked on" eight months later. Now really. It's not that hard to do,
    just look at movies, books, not to mention Stern, Mylstar, Simutrek, Sente,
    even 2600 carts. If there were a policy right now, credits could be in in time
    for the Crystal Castles kits. As it is, I am still mad about the whole thing.
    Imagine Speven Spielberg directing a film, but not getting credit. How would
    he feel? Are we cogs in a machine? I am not a number !!! This isn't 1984!!
    (well OK, maybe it is).

    While I'm at it I would like to get one more thing off my chest (right
    on!!). You may know that the current "coin-op engineering product bonus plan"
    (shouldn't it really be called a royalty plan ?) is out of date. The most
    recent legally binding document (if it is legally binding) is dated March 26,
    1982, and it expired at the end of 1983. It is my understanding by reading
    that memo that the bonus plan is still in effect, but it can now be " extended,
    enhanced, discontinued or otherwise modified to meet management objectives ".
    In other words, Atari has the legal right to screw us any time they want.
    Personally, I would feel much more secure, happy, and motivated to work hard,
    if there were an updated royalty plan without a gaping loophole like that.
    After all, there are plenty of precedents for people getting screwed here.

    I am tired of fighting a brick wall. So I will resign myself to the facts
    of life at Atari. These facts seem to be that change is virtually impossible
    when suggested by a single empoyee, but mindbogglingly fast if management wants
    it. And I will continue to feel bitter now and then (like right now for
    instance).

    How do you feel about all this? How do you feel about 40% 30% 30% (the
    "golden handcuffs")? How do you feel about 1% under 10M, 2% over 10M? How do
    you feel about designer credits? How do you feel about the delays in actual
    payment of royalties? (I still don't have a cent for Crystal Castles, and it
    has been seven months since it started to earn millions for Atari).

    What can you, anyone who cares, do to make me, Joe Piscopo (oops, make that
    Franz Lanzinger) feel less bitter? Well, misery loves company. Please tell me,
    better yet, tell your favorite manager, supervisor, or even CEO, how you feel
    about these issues. It may not change a thing, but maybe your powers of
    persuasion will succeed where mine failed.

    Until next year, (when I will write the second annual Jeff Boscole memorial
    letter)
    FXL
    (the X stands for "eX trouble maker")

    P.S. please send your answers to @SYS$MAIL:JUNK, or to someone in a position
    to take action, best would be both.

    P.P.S. If there are any inaccuracies, please let me know. The facts are to
    the best of my recollection, some of it is hearsay.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jupiter Jones View Post
    There is a good one in there about Chris Crawford and his book The Art Of Computer Game Design. Basically the coin-op division guys are wondering what a "home or computer division" guy could possibly know about game design.
    We're talking about the same Chris Crawford who couldn't design a game that is actually playable, as opposed to one that has "interesting ideas", if you held a gun to his head, right? Because if so, that seems like a really good thing to wonder about. The guy is an insufferable blowhard whose head outweighs his talent by at least three orders of magnitude.

    My (ancient) rant on this topic: http://www.tleaves.com/weblog/archives/000628.html. Interestingly, about half of the people in the comment thread are (or were, at the time) game designers.
    Last edited by peterb; 07-13-2012 at 06:46 AM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by peterb View Post
    We're talking about the same Chris Crawford who couldn't design a game that is actually playable, as opposed to one that has "interesting ideas", if you held a gun to his head, right? Because if so, that seems like a really good thing to wonder about. The guy is an insufferable blowhard whose head outweighs his talent by at least three orders of magnitude.

    My (ancient) rant on this topic: http://www.tleaves.com/weblog/archives/000628.html. Interestingly, about half of the people in the comment thread are (or were, at the time) game designers.
    Yes, the very same. His game "Excalibur" for the Atari 800 ate 100's of hours of my time, but nothing after that ever interested me. He's a hero to me because he encouraged Atari to unleash the documentation for the Atari 800 so 3rd parties could make games.
    Last edited by Jupiter Jones; 07-13-2012 at 07:08 AM.

  12. #12
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    SO WHERE WAS THIS, YOU ASK. A DIVE CALLED "LE MOUTON NOIR"
    I had to look, and even though they closed recently, it seems they outlasted Atari, guess word of mouth either doesn't work or is just really REALLY slow.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by peterb View Post
    Same as it ever was:
    Originally Posted by KIM::FXL
    From: KIM::FXL 30-JAN-1984 02:01
    To: @SYS$MAIL:JUNK
    Subj: The first annual Jeff Boscole Memorial letter

    ......Yet when I told people that the message ("programmed by Franz Lanzinger") appeared in level 10 in the coin-op version I was told to take it out, or I loose an amount of bonus to be determined. Boy did that make me mad !!!


    ---------------

    Indeed

  14. #14
    Hustle
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    The original source of the Atari emails is here and also includes some memos and status reports, as well as a discussion of the background of how the emails were used/stored/saved.

  15. #15
    Spinning Toe Courteous D's Avatar
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    These things are strangely compelling.

    Also, Franz Lanzinger will be the Distinguished Guest at the August 2012 Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.

  16. #16
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    I thought this was quaint: They install an obscure, little-known build system called 'Make' on the VAX.

    For any programmer who builds game programs in bits and pieces (and for those who would like to but get a bad taste in their mouthes), there is now a .COM file for you. Called MAKE (as in SYS$SYSDISK:[UTILITIES.COM]MAKE.COM), it will compile your new sources or any with errors and link them together into the game program.
    Bits and pieces! I guess in 1983 writing a game using multiple source files was only something only the most eccentric architecture astronaut would do.

  17. #17
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    My favorite.

    As for credit on the games.....Who cares?????

    How many of you sit through the credits at the end of
    a movie or TV show. How many of you read every credit
    in a book?? Who is the best reporter for the S.J. Merc.??
    Damned if I know!!! Part of me says "yea, credit might
    be nice", but then I think about it a bit longer.

    I use to joke about a credit screen, with 50 or so names
    running up the screen after each game:
    Designed by:
    Programmed by:
    Engineered by:
    Graphics by:
    Animation by:
    ..........................etc

    Gads!!!! What a bunch of junk!!!! I really don't care if
    my name gets on the screen or not!
    If that guy still plays games, I wonder if he unconsciously grinds his teeth in sublimated fury when credits roll.

  18. #18
    Mad Chester
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    This one is nice. And dire.

    From: KIM::FRANUSIC 23-MAR-1984 15:02
    To: @SYS$MAIL:JUNK
    Subj: THE FUTURE AT ATARI


    LATELY THERE'S BEEN SOME CONFUSION OVER THE "ORGANIZATIONAL
    ADJUSTMENTS" THAT WE'VE BEEN EXPERIENCING HERE AT ATARI.
    LET'S PUT IT ALL INTO PERSPECTIVE ...

    AT THE END OF 1983, ATARI ANNOUNCED LOSSES OF OVER 500 MILLION
    DOLLARS. THERE WAS SOME TALK THAT THESE LOSSES WERE ACTUALLY
    CARRIED ON THE BOOKS OVER SEVERAL PRECEDING QUARTERS, AND THAT
    MR. MORGAN WAS SIMPLY GIVEN A FRESH START. THE FACT REMAINS
    THAT ATARI HAS BEEN, AND STILL IS, LOSING AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF
    MONEY, ENOUGH TO MAKE ANY COCAINE IMPORTER'S HEAD SPIN.

    THE HOME COMPUTER MARKET HAS FALLEN FLAT ON IT'S FACE.
    PEOPLE FINALLY REALIZED THAT THEY DIDN'T NEED A HOME COMPUTER
    FOR ANYTHING EXCEPT PLAYING GAMES. MOST OF THE PERCIEVED NEED
    FOR A HOME COMPUTER COULD ONLY BE ATTRIBUTED TO MARKETING HYPE.

    THE GAME CARTRIDGE MARKET HASN'T BEEN DOING MUCH BETTER.
    WE ALL HEARD ABOUT THE BIG HOLE IN THE GROUND WHERE THEY
    BURIED THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF "DEFECTIVE" CARTRIDGES.
    WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED WAS THAT OUR TOP MANAGEMENT "EXPERTS"
    OVERESTIMATED THE CARTRIDGE MARKET BY SEVERAL MILLION UNITS.
    MEANWHILE, SYNERTEK AND STEVIE-BOY ARE LAUGHING ALL THE WAY
    TO THE BANK $$$.

    AND THEN THERE'S THE COIN-OP MARKET. LET'S STOP KIDDING
    OURSELVES. SOME OF US WORK 10, MAYBE 12 HOURS A DAY ON
    GAMES WHERE THE BEST WE CAN REALISTICALLY HOPE FOR IS
    A TOTAL PRODUCTION OF 5000 UNITS. THAT WORKS OUT TO SOME
    VERY MEAGER BONUS-SPLITS, FRIENDS.

    FEW SIGNIFICANT CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE TO RECTIFY THE
    SITUATION FACING ATARI: WARNER REPLACED MR. KASSAR
    WITH A CIGARETTE EXECUTIVE.

    UNFORTUNATELY FOR MR. MORGAN, HIGH-TECH ELECTRONICS IS A
    HIGHLY DYNAMIC AND VOLATILE BUSINESS TO BE IN:
    THE MORTALITY RATE FOR HIGH-TECH START-UPS IS VERY HIGH
    COMPARED TO OTHER INDUSTRIES. MR. MORGAN'S EXPERIENCE
    LIES IN THE VERY STABLE AND WELL-ENTRENCHED TOBBACO INDUSTRY:
    IT'S A REPLACEMENT MARKET WITH TEENAGERS REPLACING THE
    LUNG-CANCERED OLDSTERS.


    CIGGIES AND GAMES
    ARE SORT OF THE SAME...
    LITTLE SQUARE BOXES
    THAT TEENIES GET HOOKED ON.


    WHAT THIS ALL BOILS DOWN TO FROM AN "ENGINEERING"
    POINT-OF-VIEW IS THAT IT'S PROBABLY TIME TO GET ON
    THE VAX AND UPDATE THE RESUME. AND CONSIDERING THAT
    THE REST OF THE INDUSTRY IS NOW IN THE 16-BIT AND 32-BIT
    WORLD, IT MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA TO ENROLL IN A FEW GRADUATE
    COURSES. ( HOWARD SAMS JUST DOESN'T CUT IT ANYMORE ).

    FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE RECIEVING BONUS-SLPITS,
    IT MAKES SENSE TO GET LAYED OFF RATHER THAN QUIT, BECAUSE
    IF YOU GET LAYED OFF, YOU ARE LEGALLY ENTITLED TO ALL
    BONUS MONEY THAT YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN HAD YOUR EMPLOYMENT
    CONTINUED AT ATARI.

    ... HOWEVER, THINGS MAY GET SO BAD HERE IN THE NEAR FUTURE
    THAT IT WILL BE BETTER JUST TO QUIT ...

    Really like the ciggie/game analogy.

  19. #19
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    Cigarette boxes and Atari cartridges are rectangles, not squares. Stupid Atari, doesn't even know what shape its own games are.

  20. #20
    New Romantic
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    I'm kind of intrigued by the territorial battles with the coin-op group and them wanting more control over the home console releases. I can see how as the originators of a lot of the games, the coin-op group would want to protect the quality and image of the games in general, but I can also imagine the home console developers being resentful of another group butting in and trying to dictate terms regarding hardware that they themselves are not limited by.

    And I wonder if that same kind of thing goes on today, between the main console, portable, Facebook, etc. versions of a game...

  21. #21
    New Romantic
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    I cant imagine any current day corporation that would ever have internal communication like that - it seems insane...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fugitive View Post

    And I wonder if that same kind of thing goes on today, between the main console, portable, Facebook, etc. versions of a game...
    Well, this might be a bad example, but at Zynga each game group acted like all the others did not exist, even the groups working on the same title but for different platforms (web, mobile). It was disheartening

  23. #23
    New Romantic
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    Here's a forward looking fellow:

    This brings up one of many problems with games of skill that
    include monetary payoffs ... As an example, consider a
    multi-player space war type game where you win money by eliminating other
    players and receiving what they have won so far. The house percentage
    could be falling into the sun. What do you suppose would happen out in
    the parking lot if you overheard the guy in the next console scream "I just
    got a ship worth $10,000!" and you had just been about to return that
    much to your home base before some turkey blew you out of the sky...

  24. #24
    New Romantic
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    CIGGIES AND GAMES
    ARE SORT OF THE SAME...
    LITTLE SQUARE BOXES
    THAT TEENIES GET HOOKED ON.

    It's a poem!

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