Atarimania and old games.


It's almost scary how long I've been making games. I first started programming in 8th grade in junior high school. My friend Greg Marquez showed me one of his first programs in BASIC and even though it was only about 40 lines long and just a list of questions I was hooked.

Today I got e−mail from Atari Frog who runs a site called He was curious about a game called "Frogs and Flies".

All you do is jump left or right, you have no control once in the air. You can do small hop left and right across the give leaves. While you are making a big jump you can press the button to stick your tongue out and try to catch the flies. If you have like 3 minutes to catch as many as possible and the game is 2 player. I'm pretty sure the background used to fade from day to night be I also remember it being buggy.

I had practically forgotten about ever creating that. But even crazier is being reminded of "The Nighthawk Group".

"The Nighthawk Group" was just a group of friends at high school. We were all into programming video games and we had a dream to make our own company. The members of the Nighthawk Group were

  • Me (Gregg Tavares) : currently at Sony Computer Entertainment Japan
  • Greg Marquez : currently at Atari in Santa Monica, California
  • John Alvarado : currently at Inxile in Newport Beach, California
  • Ron Nakada : I think he is at Point of View in Irvine, California
  • Andy Brown : Andy did not go into the game industry. We all got matching dark blue polo shirts with the bat like logo designed by Greg Marquez and the words "The Nighthawk Group" written in a very cool font designed by Ron Nakada and we'd wear them to high school once in a while. I'm sure the rest of the school thought we were all complete nerds but so what, we had fun at least. As for other things "the Nighthawk Group" did. I don't know if any were released especially back then modems were not common, there was no internet, even BBSes were not that big yet so spreading things around was harder. I wrote an 8bit font editor for the Atari. I don't remember if we gave it out or not. John and I also created a game called Pit Viper. Basically 4 player Surround. We tried to sell it through the Atari Exchange (a program atari setup to help individuals sell software) but they rejected it even though we were addicted to it for a at least a month. John also wrote a game in high school called Goodie Gobbler for the Vic 20 but I'm not sure either of those were officially "Nighthawk Group" activities. Myself, Greg Marquez and John Alvarado worked together as a company known as Echidna. Ron Nakada participated as well. The only things Echidna ever did was a small game called Future Classics, a very popular tile map based editor called tUME and some personal libraries. John Alvarado and myself and a few other friends formed two companies, Seven, and Big Grub, Seven was doing M2 work but it never shipped. Big Grub did mostly smaller titles and I left within the first year. During that time we hired Ron Nakada. I suppose that is as close as "The Nighthawk Group" got to starting a company. Greg Marquez started a company with other friends called "Blam!" before going to Atari. Atari Frog also brought up another title I worked on called Leaps and Bounds. I don't think I still have a copy anywhere and I was looking for one being one of my first titles. The game was created by Silas Warner originally with me being added to the team about a 1/3 or 1/2 way into the project. The team being Silas and me. Silas was working on the Commodore 64 version and I was assigned the Atari Version. As they both ran on a 6502 microprocessor most of the code was shared but since the Commodore could more easily animate sprites than the Atari system some animations and sequences are different between the two systems. A good example is the letter P. On the Atari I think it is a drawing of a Panda at a Party. On the Commodore 64 it is a People marching in a Parade. That was back in the day when a programmer made entire games by themselves, no artists, no game designers, so about 70-80 percent of the artwork is by me and the rest by Silas. Some minor anecdotes. One, the hand pointer in the game is cyan colored. One day we asked Silas if he wouldn't mind changing the hand to a pinkish color. He said "it is a pinkish color". That's the day we learned Silas was colorblind. I think we ended up leaving it cyan because pink didn't have enough contrast. Another was there is a music recording screen. As you play it records what you play and generates sheet music. It quantizies your notes turning them into quarter notes, half notes, full notes etc. We discussed with Silas that we would prefer if even though it picked the closest note to display it actually played exactly as you played it but he wouldn't hear of it. So, it plays back quarter notes, half notes, etc which generally sounds nothing like what you thought you played. I have no idea how many copies it sold. I suspect very few. Half the company (8 of 15 people) was laid off the week after we finished and Muse went out of business just a few months after Leaps and Bounds shipped. Even crazier, Atari Frog found this: I think John wrote that in college in a language called Action which was kind of like a light C (no structures?) that ran editor and complier all in an 8k cartridge and would spit out working binary files. I had forgotten about much of this stuff. It's almost as though someone went through the dump and found a box of old pictures or journals. I wonder if anyone will find all the other stuff we made. There's an unfinished game called Emerald Septre which was our take on the Atari 2600 Adventure. There's Pit Viper, it's got to be around somewhere. I'm sure there are a few others as well.
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