For a few of the people that I’m doing interviews with, a good chunk of them had developed games for a “100 Great Kids Games” CD that I had the pleasure of using back in 2001. Some I had to do a lot of digging (some were non-existent after all this time,) but one of the folks I was able to get ahold of was Parley S. Neeley, the guy behind a interesting little game called “Lunar BBall.” It turns out he made a small host of other games as well, his programming pursuits an early hobby.
How did you get into making software like Lunar BBall?
Programming can be addictive — I got hooked. But you need interesting things to program. ‘Hello World’ doesn’t cut it. 🙂 I wanted to learn VB — then a new and incredibly liberating language — and to enable that you need a project. I already had a natural ‘scientific’ bent, so my early programs are of that leaning and so inspired by Martin Gardner’s Scientific American columns, came Space Dodge’m, RaceTrack, and LunarBBall.
What kind of coding background did you have?
My father owned and engineering and surveying business. One day an HP salesman came into his office to showcase a new, and programmable, ‘scientific computer’ — the Hewlett-Packard 9100A. It relieved tremendous amounts of computing drudgery in surveying formulas — what a godsend! But it had to be programmed, and so I learned to do it. Later came the Wang computer, which again had to be programmed and used a form of BASIC . . . anyway, my father owned the first HP programmable computer in Utah, as far as I can determine. He bought the demo unit from the HP salesman . . . wouldn’t let him leave his office until he agreed to sell it to him 🙂 Yes, I did the card-punch thing, FORTRAN, etc. at the University, but my major was Chemistry and so Computer Science and programming were a side-show, at least at that time. But I always had the ‘itch’ to program and so as personal computers become affordable to a young, newly graduated and struggling, family man … I tried to keep programming.
Java was my first programming language. I got tired of Hello World too, so within a week I had written a command-prompt based utility that’d calculate how and when to angle an anti-orbital railgun to hit a target in space. 😀
So you self-taught yourself VB? Interesting!
Well, with VB 1.0 I think most everyone did. To effectively write games though really required the Windows API and so you couldn’t just stop with VB proper. Then, later-on, if you wanted true ‘compiled’ speed — and you often did — you used PowerBasic to create a DLL with the core, ‘heavy lifting’ algorithms.
As a “struggling family man”, what were you doing for work at the time? 🙂
On the business systems side of things at various companies. I have been heavy business system user, a business analyst, a systems analyst, a programmer, and a project leader — all on MRP and ERP (big database systems).
When Lunar BBall and your other games were released, was it on your mind to “release a game”? Or did it start out as a fun project and then evolve to be a program to share?
Originally no thought of publishing to the world. But the Shareware market was in full swing and it seemed like something that might work . . . so I tried to produce games that could be considered ‘professional’ strength and feel. Actually, my first personal programming (other than the HP and Wang platforms I mentioned previously) was for the TI-99A. At the time we, as a family, could barely afford to buy one but we thought our children should have one ‘to keep up’. We couldn’t afford more than one or two games for it so I made some for the kids — homemade Christmas presents, not of wood, but of bits and bytes of programming 😉 Actually, as I think back, they were pretty good too . . . at least they were liked by the family.
That’s actually pretty cool that you wrote games for just your kids. It reminds me of a dad who wrote a whole series of stories for his sons. Later on that grew into the “Monster Hunter” books. 🙂
Ahh, I see. I actually vaguely remember the PowerBasic term. I had a book myself on VisualBasic in 2001 but never got anywhere too far with it due to hardware limitations. What kind of computer were you compiling your VB stuff on? Or the TI-99A was still handling the OS?
The TI-99A had BASIC and its own operating system, but used tape cassettes as its storage media. No, the first ‘real’ computer I had was an Epson PC purchased at Fred Meyers (a chain store – groceries plus). Pathetic by today’s standards: 20 Mb hard drive, which you had to pay extra for because that was super high capacity – LOL – but it had MS-DOS, and Windows, but later I had various brands (e.g. Dell). BTW, just like with the TI-99A, the Epson from Fred Meyers, was a severe strain ‘to the budget’ . . . computing cost a lot back then. 🙂
How were your games received once you decided to release them onto the shareware market?
Hard to answer. Did I make any money? No, not really. I kept good records (for IRS purposes, if nothing else) over the years of ‘doing shareware’, and I made $12K total in receipts. I spent most of that trying to keep up with newer computers, and tools, etc. So financially, no.
Still, it was enjoyable, and I learned a lot. Sometimes you got surprising feedback like when a nurse at a mental health institution wrote me, with included $10 shareware fee, explaining that she wished it could be more but that they used my Family Memory Match game with the patients as it was non-threatening, soothing, and gave them mental stimulation – in other words, it made the happy. That was good to hear.
A grad student – writing his dissertation in Egyptology – wrote me to say how much he enjoyed playing Twenty Squares, called it ‘a genius work’, and noted that he had become so addicted to playing it that it was interfering with completion of the thesis (laugh!). Another researcher asked for a copy of my code to RaceTrack (which I obliged) because she was working on applications of that algorithm (RaceTrack was based on one of the Martin Gardner’s Scientific American pieces) in her research projects.
I had to reach out to many people (Egyptologists, Historians, etc.) in all my historical games. The Egyptologist I reached out to at University College London was very suspicious of me at first (lot of ‘crazies’ in that world swirling around pharaohs and gold and mystical stuff, I suppose), but finally realized I was actually who I said I was – just a guy trying to program a game to the best historical rules I could find, and not a whiff of ‘the mystical’ about it.
So, in the ‘learning and growing’ area, it was rewarding.
I could only guess. If I recall correctly, my family’s first Windows 95 computer cost them $1000. Even today, my Alienware Aurora R4 ran up about $3800 with all its accessories and everything (I like i7 cores with 2GB graphics cards, what can I say?). :O
Ahh, I see. From in-process of making my own game (which hopefully releases this summer), it is a growing experience as you’ve discovered. That’s actually pretty cool you touched bases with all those people such as the Egyptologists. I’m also a bit glad to hear that your game had a little bit of success fame-wise (even though you didn’t make money.)
After your experience with those sets of games, did you make anything newer? What did the late 90’s and early 2000’s hold for you computing wise?
My last game was ‘Ancient Moorish Quirkat’ released in 1999. After that, no more game programming, although when I retire (I am 62 years old) in a few years, I’ll may get back into game programming again. There is no ‘shareware’ market anymore, so I’ll have to find a different venue. I do a lot of ‘at work’ programming in Oracle PL/SQL, reports in IBM COGNOS, etc., and am the process of learning Oracle APEX. But those are not things that bring you much ‘joy’ as a hobby — LOL On the side I am learning MATLAB right now– I have always been a math geek — and next year I will try to learn a little Wolfram Mathematica. So still programming, just not on the game side.
Lol, I know that feeling all to well with “work language”. What do you do for work currently that requires you to use these languages?
I work at a large aerospace company doing business systems on Oracle databases — mainly in the ‘supply chain’ area. I’ve been lucky to hang onto my job for 26 years, pretty much in the same location, while the company bought and sold other companies, and was bought and sold by other companies . . . which is the common experience for many across a wide range of the American work-force. Same place, just known by many different names over the years. Downsizing, and ‘Right’ sizing, and do more with less, and LOTs of mismanagement . . . yada, yada, yada . . . pretty much ‘hollowed out’ many IT organizations.
So, OK . . . I am hanging in there trying to contribute as best I can in sometimes rather challenging environments. Not complaining. I know I am blessed. But, golly — not a very fun ride at times.
I hear you on that. I do IT/eBooks at my was-current job, and there’s no more work for me due to the company making several bad business decisions. Now it seems anyone who does that work either has nothing here or will only hire you for spare change in their pocket. I’m literally faced with possibly moving across the country to an area that has an abundance of those kind of jobs. Of course I don’t have a girlfriend/wife and very little invested where I currently live, so moving’s not a problem. But yeah, its not a fun ride. :/
Do hope as its aerospace that it does prove to be a bit interesting, though.)
That’s quite a way you’ve come, I’ll tell you that much! With all the things you’ve seen tech and computers come along, any insights into what may lay ahead?
None. More of the same. LOL
Do you do any modern-day gaming yourself? If so, what are some titles that catch your interest?
No time. I doubt I’ll ever really spend much time playing games — too many other things to occupy me. I did watch for a few minutes, one son here in The States, playing Dark Souls 3 with another son, who is based in Africa. They joked back and forth, and trash-talked ,and strategized towards common albeit ‘virtual’ goals.
The game — meh . . . waste of time . . . EXCEPT. it was something both sons could do together and keep in touch though thousands of miles apart. So, no, not so much a waste of time. So YES!, if at some point, gaming could help me keep in touch with family and share some part of life together even if they are far away, definitely I would jump on that.
Do you have a favorite food, book and movie?
Yes. See my page: https://user.xmission.com/~psneeley/Personal/favor.htm
Do you also have any relevant links and/or photos you’d like me to add?
Yes. See my page: https://user.xmission.com/~psneeley/Personal/
Thanks a bunch!