I’m Old, Part II: Resources At Hand

Working at Adobe was an astounding experience. When I was stuck on a problem, I made a point of walking around and seeing what other people were working on. It was a good way to meet people and to see what was going on in the company beyond my cube. At this point, I’m working at home and miss the ability to do this.

At one point, I stumbled across Joe Holt, who was a developer on Illustrator for the Mac. I was always grateful for his friendship as he and I got along so easily. It was a commonality I’ve found in just a handful of people. At that point, I owned an Asteroids machine which was living in my dad’s house and I had the discovered that an Arcade in Oakland was closing, so I called Joe and on a Saturday, I got some cash, rented a truck and appliance dolly and Joe and I went up to scout out what they had.

We settled on a Robotron machine, paid for it, and hauled it back to Adobe where we set it up in a storage closet. We opened it up and set it up for free play and played a bunch of games. I returned the truck before it got too late and headed home.

Joe stayed late and pulled the ROMs from the game and put them into a ROM burner/reader and pulled the code. This is what I mean by resources. Since Adobe did a lot of embedded development, there were a number of machines at our disposal for reading/writing ROMS and they could handle the obsolete ROMs from the Robotron. Joe found a 6809 reference manual and wrote a 6809 disassembler in C and ran it on the ROMs, producing an ASCII listing which he put in a shared directory on his machine. Over the next few months, we went through the code and started commenting it and we figured out how the game worked at a fairly high level.

We had gotten stuck on some of the hardware addresses that were being used in the game, so I found the mailing address of Eugene Jarvis and asked him for some hints. He sent me a listing printed with an impact printer.

Scan-130712-0001

I found out the Robotron’s predecessor, Stargate, would run on a Robotron, so we bought some vintage ROMs from a local surplus house, downloaded Stargate, and burned some ROMs. Another engineer, an avid wood worker, built us a control panel that we wired up to play Stargate. We also set up Joust.

Since we had access to a hardware lab, we built a little panel of switches and buttons that we could wire up to a spare sound board and play with all the sounds in isolation of the game. Eventually, I ended up writing an emulator for the sound board and was able to get the sounds in realtime on a Macintosh Quadra.

It was so fantastic to be able to work and play in the same place. The reason it worked out so well was that Adobe had a very open and flexible approach to the hardware lab and so many of the engineers were willing and/or excited to talk about what they were working on or playing with.

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