Speed Games and Cupid

When I was in high school, I designed a computer game which I called Cupid. This is a picture of the ROM chip which I sent to game publishers in a red tin heart. (Some day I should put the chip into a Commodore game cartridge and buy a VIC-20 on eBay so I can play the game again!)

The first version of Cupid was written in BASIC on a Commodore VIC-20 computer that my family had purchased for $300.

In the game, you controlled the movement of a cute character around the screen. Your job was to capture the hearts on the screen, without getting hit yourself by one of Cupid's arrows which were increasing in number, forming "fences" across the screen. If you ate a green "ugly pill" you became immune to Cupid's arrow for 30 seconds, during which time you could break through the growing arrow fences.

I put a lot of energy into the original graphics, music and sound effects, and remember becoming sensitive to detecting 100 millisecond differences in effects, as I really wanted the game to "feel" fun.

I tried hard to make this game as compelling as possible-- never making you feel like you lost due to the computer making some stupid mistake, but instead always believing that you could improve if you kept practicing. The game got more difficult over time in several ways.

[Commodore VIC-20] The VIC-20 had 4 kilobytes of memory, and at one point my game used up all but 4 bytes of RAM!

I licensed Cupid to Games By Apollo (GBA) of Texas, a game publisher best known for winning in court defending against Atari's claims of reverse engineering its 2600 game console. My oldest brother Ed was a famous game designer at that time (Frogger, Fidelity Chess Challenger, etc) and was giving me negotiations advice behind the scenes. At one point, GBA asked me for permission to show Cupid at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). My brother told me not to give in, and to not let them do this until the full contract (including $25k up front) was completed. But I caved, let them show the game for only $5k up front, and GBA immediately folded after CES, so my game never got published.

I spent the Cupid $5k buying an Apple ][ with 48K of RAM (wow!), an Epson dot matrix printer ($700) and an eprom burner.

I had ideas of redoing the game for other platforms and publishing it with another vendor, but then got busy with other things.

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paulenglish.com 18-Oct-2020