programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

Accidental Innovation, Part 2

In 1995 I was writing a book, a collection of interviews with people who wrote video and computer games in the 1980s. I had the inside track on the whereabouts of many of those game designers--this was before they were easy to find via Google--and decided to make use of that knowledge. But at the time technology books that weren't "how to" were a tough sell, so after a number of rejections from publishers I set the project aside.

A year later, my wife and I were running a small game development company, and those interviews resurfaced as a potential product. We were already set-up to handle orders and mail games to customers, so the book could be entirely digital. But what format to use? PDF readers were clunky and slow. Not everyone had Microsoft Word. Then it hit me: What about using HTML as a portable document format? I know, I know, it's designed to be a portable document format, but I was thinking of it as an off-line format, not just for viewing websites. I hadn't seen anyone do this yet. It was before HTML became a common format for documentation and help files.

And so for the next couple of years people paid $20 for Halcyon Days: Interviews with Classic Computer and Video Game Programmers. Shipped via U.S. mail. On a 3 1/2 inch floppy disc. Five years later I put it on the web for free.

Even though I made the leap of using HTML for off-line e-books, and web browsers as the readers, I still didn't realize how ubiquitous HTML and browsers would become. I don't remember the details of how it happened, but I asked John Romero to write the introduction, which he enthusiastically did. I mentioned that I was looking for a distribution format for those people who didn't use browsers, and his comment was (paraphrased): "Are you crazy! Don't look backward! This is the future!"

Obviously, he was right.

Part 3

permalink March 1, 2011



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I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

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