Back to Basics

Programmers today fight an uphill battle to keep their skills current, as changing technologies and constant advancements make it nearly impossible for even the most adept computer scientists to stay ahead of the curve. In today’s videogame market, coding and shipping a game as an amateur requires incredible discipline, as self-taught and independent game developers need to attain a level of expertise and make a time commitment that is well beyond the reach and/or willingness of the average person. Just watch Indie Game: The Movie (currently available on Netflix streaming and the official movie site) to see the toll the creative process takes on the individuals behind bestselling indie games Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Fez.

Indie Game movie poster  Braid  Super Meat Boy  Fez

Image Source: http://www.indiegamethemovie.com/press/

However, back in the 80’s there was a lower barrier to entry for aspiring game programmers, thanks in large part to something known as the Atari Program Exchange (APX). The APX was an opportunity for users to create and submit programs for use on an Atari 8-bit home computer system. Since most of the APX titles were programmed in BASIC, a relatively easy language to learn, a large portion Atari’s user base was able to contribute. Accepted submissions were published under the APX label and sold in a catalog. The programmers also received a royalty from each sale. Some titles were also honored with quarterly prizes that ranged in value from $1,000 to $25,000, a nice bonus on top of the royalties being paid. Popular games like Chris Crawford’s Eastern Front: 1941 and Greg Christensen’s Caverns of Mars were so well-received that Atari later released them under the official Atari label.

Data Management System for Atari, Cabrinety Box 392  Caverns of Mars for Atari, Cabrinety Box 392

Modern day independent game developers have a much more complicated terrain to navigate. Changes in policy like Microsoft’s recent news regarding self-publishing on the Xbox One is just one example of the ever shifting landscape. Sometimes it’s nice to take stock and remember a time when all you needed to become a published game programmer was an 8-bit computer, a little creativity, and some BASIC ability.

Check the links below to read more information about APX.

http://www.atariarchives.org/APX/about.php

http://www.atarimagazines.com/v2n3/apx.html