Memoirs of an Action 52 Programmer

In which I chronicle my memories of working on Action 52.
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Why 52 Games?

Albert Hernandez
United States
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The show on solitaire boardgaming.
Microbadge: Cosmic Patrol RPG fanMicrobadge: C# programmerMicrobadge: Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series fanMicrobadge: What is, is what must be.Microbadge: I play the devil's avocado
First of all, it turns out it's hard to write a blog. I published and subsequently deleted the first post I did today. Hopefully this one is better. It at least has more information and less fluff. This one, I think, came out much better.

So this isn't new information really. If you look online you can find Mario has said the same thing. Vince Perri's son had a Nintendo cartridge, a bootleg, with 52 games on it. I have no idea what games he had but they were all official NES licensed games on a single cart. Not sure how he got a hold of that cartridge but he and all his friends were pretty excited by this. Vince saw how the kids reacted about a 52 game cartridge and being the entrepreneur that he was, he figured as excited as kids got over this bootleg what if kids could by a cartridge with 52 original games. It was brilliant!

There are a of course issues with that idea. First and foremost, as we learn at the end of the Action 52 saga, is that it's REALLY hard to make 52 good games with just one programmer. It will also take a lot of money. Fortunately, Vince had investors that helped try to make this a reality. What he didn't have is any idea about making video games. That just wasn't his thing. Honestly, a cartridge with 20 games would have been just as cool and the games would have maybe been better. I mean, that means I would have had two weeks per game instead of just one! Well, when I say it that way, the games would have been just as bad. Fifty-two works because it's so audacious. If the cartridge were Action 20, I doubt it would be remembered quite as, um, passionately as it is today. It really was a innovative idea at the time.

So this is were we came in. When Vince hired us, we needed to come up with, design and then build 52 games. One of the games we were originally going to include in the cartridge was a Tetris clone like the one I had made on my Amiga. We had concerns about that though. Would it be legal to copy Tetris and release our own version. We didn't think so but we weren't legal experts.

Before the final list of games was settled on, between the three of us (Mario, Javi and myself) we had been throwing out ideas for games but nothing concrete and I don't think we even wrote stuff down. This would have been early on. We probably hadn't even signed the contract yet. Then, one day Mario shows up, well I don't know if it was by phone or in person or what but knowing Mario I think it would have been in person. He shows up with a notebook with all the games in it! The way I remember it, the night before he brainstormed 52 ideas for games. It all came to him in a moment of inspiration and he just wrote and wrote. What I remember he presented was a notebook with 52 games listed on it. I think it was a game per page but I'm not sure. I only remember their being titles written down but for each title he provided a premise. He may have had ideas for how each game would play and we would have generally gone with that but as the development process unfolded we hashed out details for a lot of games. Some of it was just us talking together coming up with ideas. Some of it would have been based off the limitations set up by the software I created.

I never brought it up but in a way, I was a bit disappointed that Mario came up with all the ideas on his own. It would have fun to come up with ideas I thought would be cool. I mean, I had been playing video games since the Atari 2600 days and had enough imagination to come up with stuff too. That part of the process of coming up with games and titles would have been a ton of fun. Still, I wasn't about to complain. We had stressed about this and having this list in front of us helped a ton. It gave us more direction and this ideas all sounded fun, well mostly, there are one or two games I never did care for.

The photo below shows us at the office where we worked. I'll get to that place in another post. It features three of the developers and Mario's cousin, but you can see the two posters behind me. That's a list of the games that we worked on. Unfortunately it is just about impossible to make out the text. Each poster has about half the games. I think the columns had the various status of the games we were working on to keep track of the progress, but it may have shown what features each game would include, scrolling, etc.

From gallery of fractaloon

At this point, I don't remember all the games, a few stand out for me. Particularly notable would be Firebreathers because that's the game we first got working on the screen I probably spent more time with it than any other just because of that. This was easy because it only had two characters and the fire to worry about. There were no enemies or anything else to maintain on the screen. Other favorite games include Ooze, Alfredo and Non Human as well as one or two others whose name I don't recall. I'll need to dig into the games more and figure out what was what.

Here's the list of the 52 games. I found it online and transcribed it. Some of these titles may be wrong because they were abbreviated on the title page. I'll see if I can fix them. Over time I hope to write at least a bit about each game. I don't know that I'll have much to say about must but it should be fun trying. As I do that, I'll turn these into links to those articles.

1. Fire Breathers
2. Starevil
3. Illumininator
4. G-Force Fighters
5. Ooze
6. Silver Sword
7. Critical Bypass
8. Jupiter Scope
9. Alfredo and the Fetucini's
10. Operation Full Moon
11. Dam Busters
12. Thrusters
13. Haunted Halls of Wentworth
14. Chill Out
15. Sharks
16. Megalonia
17. French Baker
18. Atmos Quake
19. Meong
20. Space Dreams
21. Streemerz
22. Spread Fire
23. Bubblegum Rosie
24. Micro Mike
25. Underground
26. Rocket Jockey
27. Non-Human
28. Cry Baby
29. Slashers
30. Crazy Shuffle
31. Fuzz Power
32. Shooting Gallery
33. Lollipops
34. Evil Empire
35. Sombreros
36. Storm Over the Desert
37. Mash Man
38. They Came
39. Lazer League
40. Billy Bob
41. City of Doom
42. Bits N Pieces
43. Beeps N Blips
44. Manchester Beat
45. Boss
46. Dedant
47. Hambo's Adventures
48. Time Warp Tickers
49. Jigsaw
50. Ninja Assault
51. Robbie and the Robots
52. Cheetahmen

Edit: I updated the titles for the 52 games. My original list was a bit wrong. Mario pointed me to a wiki that has the correct titles.
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