Atari Pong Developement Challenge Diary #2: Inspiration In Yosemite Valley

Any Photo Of Yosemite That You Change To Black And White Looks Like Sub-Par Ansel Adams Rip-Off

I’m still on my little trip with my family, trying to recharge my batteries after a year of turmoil, and hoping to find inspiration for my entry into Atari’s Pong Development Challenge.  As I described in entry #1, I had already discovered I wanted to make game that played fast.  However, more inspiration was necessary.    Yesterday we made the 35 mile trek from Oakhurst to Yosemite Valley.   It was an amazing trip, as winter is now melting into spring, forming some spectacular vistas for the eyes to feast on.   When we entered the valley for the first time, we were struck by the view of valley and Bridal Vail Falls.

I also noticed that any photo of Yosemite that you filter from color to black and white looks like a crappy faux Ansel Adams rip-off, no matter how hard you try to make it seem otherwise.   However, the black and white palette was compelling to me.   The original  Pong was displayed on a black and white screen, and viewing the world through this filter might help me with my quest to design my version of Pong for the Developer Challenge.   Plus the b&w looks old school, and I love that design sensibility.

When we saw this vista, we pulled off the road (with 100’s of others) and too a short hike up the side of mountain so we could a better view without the highway and

Snow Particles

buses getting in the way.  The climb was easy, but a bit slippery because there was still some melting snow collected on the edges of the path.   On the way, we let the kids stop to  make a few snow balls.   We are all from Southern California, so we rarely see snow, so I was just as excited as the kids.  I bent down and picked up some of the snow myself, and as I crunched the powder into my hands, I noticed something that made my senses come alive: particles.  Sure, they were particles of snow, but they were compelling.  The original Pong did not have particles, but a reworked version might benefit from some cool explosions filled with awesome particles.

More ideas for Pong were starting to fill my head.    I wanted the game to be fast, I wanted to keep the design as close to the original as possible, at least from a color stand-point, and I wanted it to includes lots of pixels and lots of particles.     That was a good start, but I still needed a “theme” that would take my current prototype to the next level.

The Flow Of Bridal Vail Falls In Cheap Faux Ansel Adams Mode

As we traveled further down into the valley, it was clear that the melting snow was making for some spectacular scenery.   I had seen Bridal Vail Falls several times before, but never with this much water flow or intensity.   It was thrilling and refreshing, even in the 45 degree weather, to walk right up to the falls, and feel the spray as the water flowed so effortlessly over the the cliff.  It’s obvious that later in the Spring the flow of the falls will get much bigger, but combined with the rocky peaks covered with ice and snow, I could not  imagine a better setting for seeing the falls.

As we continued down into Yosemite Valley, my mind was racing with thoughts about my version of Pong.   Something about that waterfall struck me as important.     We traveled to the visitor’s center (an area I like to avoid as it is sub-par compared to a relatively unknown park like Zion), and then made the short hike to Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls Double Cascade

The last time I saw Yosemite Falls, it was little more than trickle dancing down the side of a steep, rocky edifice.    It looked more like someone had left a garden hose running at the top of the cliff, than a majestic, photogenic, natural wonder.  However, this time it was different.   The spring snow melt was gathering up into a powerful force, creating a an amazing double cascade.

As I watched these waterfalls, I could not miss the fact that flowing water was interesting  to me.   The way the chaos mixed with certainty made the water flow randomly, yet predictably was something I could not shake.Was that the missing “theme”I was trying to find?  Game play that flows naturally, yet unpredictably?

As we left Yosemite in the afternoon I thought my day of inspiration was over, but instead there was one more thing we saw as we exited the park down route 140.     Water falls that appeared to start and end out of no where.  They were not marked on any map, nor were there signs naming them, or turnouts on the road to allow a car to stop and take pictures.    They were just there:  majestic, incredible, and fleeting.  My family named them “magic instant waterfalls”.     Little surprises that were unexpected, yet made us all feel like we had witnessed something amazing.  The best part about the “magic instant waterfalls” was that I could take no pictures of them.  They are special memories that I have to try to keep in my head, because I have no record of them otherwise.

A Fast pace, nostalgic colors,  pixels, particles, slowing game play, unpredictability and surprises.    Would all of these things add up to a good game?   It was almost  time to continue making my prototype.   But first, I wanted to take one more trip… (to be continued)


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