Interview: Craig Pell

Craig Pell, aside from being an avid classic gamer and collector, is also known for programming an amazing port of the Atari 2600 cartridge, Adventure, in assembly, entitled "Indenture."

Why Adventure in particular? Why not begin with something simpler, such as Combat?

Adventure was the game I wanted more of. Combat is fun, but you don't play it and think "Oh Man! If only there were FIVE planes at a time!" When I played Adventure, there were specific points where I was hoping for more. For example, using the dot at the line barrier near the white castle to see if there's anything beyond it.

I've heard that you created additional levels than the Atari designed three. How are these levels different from the original three?

Well, it's just one level, in the sense that game two and game three are one level. Game two and game three contain 31 rooms. Game 4 and game 5, which I added, contain 300-plus rooms, but the original 31 rooms are present in exactly the same configuration. There are some additional objects too. One is an object which lets you temporarily neutralize the bat.

How long did Indenture take to program?

Two or three years, off and on.

Why did you name it Indenture, rather than using its original title?

Originally it was going to be called Adventure. In fact, I have conditional directives so that I could recompile it with the title screen saying Adventure instead of Indenture. The reason for the name change has to do with the roundabout treatment I got from Atari Corp. After over a year of negotiation with them, I was rapidly losing patience. Indenture seemed appropriately sarcastic.

Have you heard anything from Adventure programmer, Warren Robinett, concerning Indenture?

Not directly. I heard he had seen the game and found the extra rooms rather tedious. I must admit, I added a tremendous amount of them, which changed the feel of the game on a basic level.

What is your favorite classic system to collect games for?

Definitely the Atari 2600. Probably because I had one back in "the day."

How about to program for?

I've never programmed any classic system, except for the Tandy Color Computer. I know 6502 assembly, and I've given thought to programming the 2600 several times, but I never had the hardware to do it. And now that there are emulators available, and I don't need special hardware, I find that I don't have the time.

And to play?

I'm not sure I have a favorite. The 2600 obviously has a bunch of great games, but Colecovision and Intellivision games tend to have more depth.

What is your background in programming, and had you programmed any other games before Indenture?

It goes all the way back to the first time I used an Apple in third grade. It was around sixth grade when I made games - in Basic, of course - and it wasn't long before I discovered Basic wasn't fast enough to do anything decent. So I learned assembly. In 1990 I programmed Tetris in C; not because it was a challenge, but it was a good way to teach myself C.

I've done a few others: in junior high I wrote a vaguely Space Invaders-ish game for the Tandy CoCo in Basic, which I actually sold to a few students who really liked it. I fooled around with a Robotron-like game in high school and later, a somewhat Scramble-like game. The Scramble-like game turned out to be too complex, but a few years later, I started all over again in assembly, and got it about 80% finished. While I was working on that, a guy named Tim Sweeney, in the computer lab at the University of Maryland, happened to notice it on the screen. He was there working on a game too; it was called Jill of the Jungle. Needless to say, we got to talking, and it looked like I was going to be a part of the then fledgling Epic Megagames. We turned out to have some creative differences, and I decided to go my own way.

Are you working on any other games now?

No, but I do have a few that I would like to do, if I ever have the time. Being out of college and having a job makes it difficult.


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