General computer corporation

Sunday 25 April 2004

One thing I didn’t mention in my recent post about the Atari 2600 is that I once worked for a company that made games for the 2600. General Computer was started by some MIT guys who figured out how to hack a Missle Command game to give it more features. Then they did the same thing for Pac-Man, creating Ms. Pac-Man.

I worked for them in the summer of 1982, while I was in college. By that time Atari had realized they would do better hiring them than suing them. General Computer was making original arcade games like Food Fight, and porting existing arcade games to the home machines like the 2600. General Computer is still in business, though they long ago moved from video games to Macintosh peripherals, and thence to printers: GCC Printers Corporate History.

For a college kid who liked writing software and playing video games, it was a cool place to work. For one thing, there was a room full of arcade machines. The compilers of the day were not that fast, so when it was time to compile the latest code changes, you had time for a game or two.

When you don’t have to pay to play the games, you can find things out other people can’t. For example, one of the machines was Dig-Dug (GCC did the 2600 Dig-Dug port). As you moved up the levels of Dig-Dug, the monsters would move faster and faster. But when you got to level 128, the monsters would move extremely slowly. They had probably used a byte to represent the speed of the monsters, and added two for every level, and the speed wrapped around to zero!


GCC started with Super Missle Attack. There's a history of the game and GCC here

I knew Doug Mccrea, one of the GCC founders, when I was at MIT. Even at MIT he was an entrepreneur. He and a classmate owned the coin-op arcade game concession in one of the dorms at MIT. The coin-op business was tightly controlled in the Boston area so they bought machines from out of state and brought them into Cambridge. Since they owned these machines outright, I suppose that might have been when they decided to try to hack them.

At Cognition I worked with a couple of ex-GCC folks (Dave Payne and Josh Littlefield). They wrote Atari 2600 games and survived GCC's transition from games to the Macintosh business.
While I wish I could say that I was cool and worked on these great games with such smart folks as you all; instead, I was one of the dorks who bought and played many of the games you mention.

So, thanks for the fun!

I worked as a "night manager" at the first arcade in my town. Night management usually entailed taking all of the quarters out of the games and then letting all of your friends in to play for the next 3 hours for free.

Then came the dreaded "quarter counters"

It was great while it lasted.
I am a big fan of the GCC work. I am currently involved in a homebrew project for the ColecoVision that includes an almost arcade perfect port of Ms Pac-Man, one of the GCC's first games. During the first stages of the project I learned that Ms Pac-Man started as a game called Crazy Otto, which never became available for the general public. So I have been trying to contact some of the GCC guys to ask about the game. I apologize for asking that here, but did you get involved with the Ms Pac-Man game? Do you know anything about Crazy Otto, like if the original code or ROM image survived? Thanks.

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