History of Absolute Games

Published on June 04, 2011

History of Absolute Games

    The article, which can be called “The Dark History of AG.ru”, is a description of the details of the emergence and development of the Absolute Games project, which the creators Zombiek and your humble (Sly) could recall together. The article was written at the request of respected Khabrovites interested in the project.

    Addendum from the Zombie : well, mine is not enough in the text - sing the main praises of the song. I just supplemented the article with technical details for which I had an unusually good memory.

    I apologize for the confused presentation - nostalgic tears periodically strangled the author, the supply of napkins waned at an alarming rate. Also, I'm sorry for the incomprehensible words - Fido, BBS, a resident program, MS-DOS, etc. Unfortunately, if you decipher them all, the article will turn into a novel. And it's too early for me to write an autobiography.

    Dashing 90s, the beginning of the Game


    So, the beginning of the 90s. How could this time be imagined now? Especially to today's schoolchildren and students. Internet - no! Absolutely not. I forgot not to pay, the provider is not buggy, but simply - no. Computer - 286, 16 MHz, 2 Mb memory. Floppy disks 5 ". But there is a 2400 modem! This is an amazing thing that can connect you to remote computers by phone. A miracle of technology.

    There is FIDO, a text network of the same people turned on computers with whom you can communicate on different topics (but mostly computer ones). She was called the "network of friends," and without exaggeration, it was true. Comparing FIDO and the Internet is like comparing a party with distant relatives and the crowd at the train station. The Internet is a huge number of strangers, and FIDO is not a very large group, united by common interests and understanding each other perfectly.

    There are BBS, through which the main exchange of files, information, documentation and games. There is Vyacheslav, nicknamed Sly - an MIPT student and a computer fan (the word “geek” is also missing yet), who scans the BBS at night (so as not to take the phone during the day) in search of new games. Got his nickname from the character of one of his favorite games, Death Track. Also interested in programming, mastering Turbo Pascal.

    And so, on one of the BBS he accidentally comes across a file with a list of games of the same collector who signed up as CraZy AnDreW! (Andrey, yes) and indicated his home phone number. Phoning, agreement, meeting, acquaintance. Game exchanges. What is the difference that one lives in Dolgoprudny and the second lives in Moscow on the Akademicheskaya metro station? Youth, energy, mobility, enthusiasm! A common passion grew into friendship, and against its background the idea was born to create something of its own based on a collection of games - namely, an encyclopedia. Around the same time, the nickname Zombie'K was born - just like that, with an apostrophe.

    Encyclopedia of Games 2500, Akella


    Zombik had a familiar programmer, his school friend, who worked with C ++ and ASM, Alexander Albertyan , who was well versed in programming . It was decided that we could handle the project together.

    Zombik acted as an ideological inspiration, master of Photoshop, designer and editor of the base. Sly - likes to write texts, can describe games and can write auxiliary programs for sorting and parsing information. Alexander - makes the main engine of the project.

    In general, this trinity began its startup, although there was no such word then either.

    Having made a demo version of the product, in my opinion, for a dozen games, Zombik and Sly began to upholster the thresholds of Russian publishing houses that existed at that time. They were lucky on the threshold of the Akella company, which, incidentally, exists to this day. The project was advertised, the conditions were negotiated - and away we go. $ 7,500 for three poor students in 1996 - the money was enchanting. Special tags for memory shake: Dolgoprudny, DMZ, airships, fabric, kayaks.

    It is difficult to describe in words the titanic work that we did on this project. 14 hours a day for several months. But only in this way are good projects born.

    Sly had to watch each of the games in order to write a short description to it. Not a review of course, so - a small annotation. But to each specifically his own (especially “killed” hentai adventure games and numerous arcades such as side-scroller). Also, it was necessary to sort the accumulated files for the game - cheat codes, trainers, .CRK files, save editors, and other helpers for passing through. I note that there were no programs to remove protection and information on hacking licensed programs.

    Zombie dealt with the contents of the database and screenshots. I must say that in the era of the widespread use of DirectX and OpenGL, it is very difficult to imagine how complicated this process was for games written under DOS. After all, there were no common graphic libraries, everyone wrote something different, and situations arose that were similar to the problems of pirated translation of games about which they already wrote on Habré. In some rare games there was a built-in screen capture, somewhere resident programs such as Screen Thief and Game Wizard helped (indispensable for games with DOS / 4GW ).

    Some games used completely non-standard screen modes, some caught interrupts ... In some particularly difficult cases, when a harmful game completely intercepted the keyboard and the resident didn’t work, a shaitan device soldered by Alexander specifically for this came to the rescue. ISA-board, which generated an interruption by pressing the burgundy buttons displayed on the wire from this board. And by this interruption, the resident saved a screenshot, “hanging” the game and DOS for a few seconds.

    As a result, Andrei achieved such professionalism in this matter that out of all 3000+ games, only one could not be screenshoted! And because of her obstinacy, she was deprived of the right to be in the encyclopedia. Subsequently, in the DOSBox era, the rebellious was tamed and, equipped with screenshots, ended up in the GEO database on AG.

    To process such serious amounts of information, the ingenious FAR program was used, which, among other things, allowed to record keyboard macros. Andrei did not study programming, but he perfectly mastered the possibilities of recording and playing commands. Sometimes it was necessary to put something heavy on the key (the stapler was perfect, by the way), so that the macro worked out in a row on several thousand files in the directory. In difficult cases, when the macro did not save, Sly wrote the necessary utility.

    There were also no torrents and an e-mule, the games were delivered through the same enthusiasts who had some serious channels for the time to the West, to the foreign Internet. I remember a fan with a nickname, it seems, CyberWarrior, to whom I just came straight home and rewrote games on hdd, or took a return CD.

    The project would not have taken place without FIDO and fidoshnikov - it is difficult to overestimate the help they provided us for free, just like fellow hobbies. There was, for example, such an incident - a few weeks before the delivery of the EI2500, Zombik and his family suddenly departed for Cyprus. However, he rested there only in between cases. Because all the filling of the base was on it. A couple of days before leaving for a “vacation”, a cry was cast to FIDO in the spirit: “Are there any of ours in Cyprus who can give me a laptop for a week so that I can forget the data in the game database from the mega-notebook?”. And sho vi think? Such a man was found (unfortunately, the name was forgotten over the past years)! Russian, he had been working in Cyprus for several years and DAROM gave a laptop to a complete stranger with a full FoxPro. By modern standards, maybe this case does not sound so fantastic, but then ...

    Another kind fidoshnik and admin, Sergei M. (I will not be surname, suddenly what), had in his organization a channel as much as 128 Kbps - chopped into “Allods” and Fallout, downloaded games from behind a hill, and unwound the bosses on the channel thicker , "Otherwise this one is already slowing down." We also just came to him from the HDD and rewrote the latest warez.

    Arvid

    Neither the encyclopedia nor the AG would have taken place without the possibility of storing a huge number of games on a medium with an acceptable price - “gold” discs were expensive, not to mention the CD-R drives themselves. Fortunately, in the mid-90s, several enthusiasts, under the guise of CSI software, came up with, developed and launched an amazing device - Arvid . The name is deciphered as an archiver on VIDEO. It was an ISA-board, which was connected to any video recorder through the “tulips” and made it possible to record data on ordinary video tapes by digitizing the signal.
    The board worked with any VCRs that were controlled by a wired IR transmitter.

    It was an amazing device - in the era of 5 ”floppy disks and 210 Mb hard disks, it allowed storing 2 Gb of information on a standard 3-hour cassette! You insert a blank cassette, give a command to record - the software automatically turns on REC on the tape recorder and writes the data. It was possible to add data to the end of the recording, and the search for the end of the recording was automated. Copying data back from a tape was just as easy. The hard disk contained index files containing lists of files recorded on the tape, and Arvid could also find the end of the record and read the index from there. In general, it was a device that had the capabilities of a streamer, only the price was radically less - both the device itself and the consumables.








    It was possible to record with compression on the fly, but the compression was weak, so it was easier to record zip or rar archives.

    Fault tolerance was on par, especially when using good video cassettes. BASF cassettes, which I bought in boxes on Gorbushka for this reason, and 10 years after the first recording were read without problems (Sony DX zombikovs couldn’t stand such a period, or the video player couldn’t read them due to technical problems; his entire collection of cassettes vanished Fly). As a nice addition, it was possible to simply copy a cassette between two VCRs, and a copy was also read!

    Recording was carried out at a speed of 200 kb / s. Naturally, a three-hour tape was recorded in three hours. There was the possibility of “accelerated recording” of 350 kb / s, with an increase in volume, and of course it was possible to buy 4-hour tapes (with a thinner film), but for reliability I used standard cassettes.

    Initially, work was done with the DOS version of the software, and for long periods of recording, the only thing you could do on a computer was to play the resident version of Tetris.
    Then came the Windows version of the software. By the time Arvid became obsolete, the collection occupied about 80 gigabytes and 3000+ games.

    The information transfer speed on the arvid cassettes was decent - about a gigabyte per hour - two hours were required to drive from Dolgoprudny to Akademicheskaya and back with a two-gigabyte cassette.

    And again the Encyclopedia ...


    The encyclopedia turned out to be 2500 games - before it there were only encyclopedias of no more than 1700 games, so immediately after the release the product became a hit among gamers. Of course, we really liked that our product is in demand. People liked the abundance of information, screenshots for each game, hit melodies from games used as a soundtrack, a built-in quiz and even hidden features, as easter eggs would say now. In the first version, it was a small letter 'pi' in the lower right corner of the screen - who knows, he will understand. Subsequently, the same 'pi' was used on the AG itself in one of the Days of the Fool. After that, a version for 3000 games was made, and then for 3500 (torrent)



    . In one version, a time-bomb was even built-in, in case the publisher decided to “throw us away” (it is not clear why we were suddenly afraid of this) - after a while (a couple of weeks it seems) the mined Encyclopedia would stop working. On the last day before sending the disk to print and after receiving the fee, the mined EXE was replaced by a normal one - so in vivo you can’t find a temporary bomb. By the way, even in the first version of EI, innovative technologies that were not common at that time were used - resources were packed and crypted by Blowfish into one giant file with its own file system; screenshots were compressed into the latest at that time PNG format; music was rammed into stereo-ADPCM, because playing MP3s on computers of that time consumed a lot of resources. UniVBE



    under DOS it allowed to use 16-bit mode and display EI in 65,000 colors - then there were few such games. Under the sign of love for games, Sly and Zombik participated in the launch of such a project as the magazine “Game World Navigator” - as authors / editors in the first few issues (Zombik was the first to guess some hellish crossword puzzle for games and got to the editorial office, receiving a prize ) Sly was not the best author, but he had a huge knowledge base - there was something to compare. In a rented apartment somewhere in the vicinity of the Testovskaya railway station (by the way, what is the computer name), the preparation and layout of the magazine took place.





    The birth of the site


    One day in the spring of 98, in an electric train on the way to Slay home in Dolgoprudny, Zombik opened his plan for a new project - an Internet site about games. Naturally, it was decided to do such a project, since then it was already obvious that the future was with the Internet. Then friends passed Bill Gates in their vision of the future of the Internet ... The first name of the project was Ascendancy Entertainment (EI2500 came out under this brand), but then the ingenious (and somehow stupid) - Absolute Games appeared.

    Sly already had his own page where he wrote game news, Zombik decided to learn the wisdom of design and layout for the web (yes, if anyone asks, Sly taught Zombik how to make websites!). By joining forces, they made the first version of the site. News, reviews, preview, screenshots. Sly acquired the treasured llama's book and since then the fate of AG is inextricably linked to perl.

    What was the 98 year internet like? There was no Google (well, it was more true, but small)! There were no mobile devices, there was no iPhone, iPad and iPod, but in general mobile phones were a rarity and required permission to wear a personal radio device - such a green paper. There was no facebook, youtube, there was practically nothing at all. The main search engine was AltaVista, and on the Russian Internet - Rambler. The main site rating was Rambler's Top 100.

    First, there were several free hosting services, with friends from FIDO, on the home.ml.org project, and so on. Then the site moved to Demos, I don’t remember what fate. And when the site reached a more or less serious level, we started looking for hosting for the “server” - in general, it was a regular desktop, with FreeBSD installed on it.
    Sly learned to configure Apache, work in a unix shell.

    A hosting was found that we could pay by showing the hoster's banners - in fact, hosting for an advertising platform. This is the current Zenon provider. Here we were assisted by the well-known Pyotr Didenko, who was then working in Zeno and also a former fidoshnik, on the Habré. Dextop was solemnly installed in the server room, and connected. Around the same time, the site received the domain name ag.ru

    One of the first website designs that survived on webarchive : Despite the small number of sites, there were already a sufficient number of serious projects that we had to compete with and which were our goal. The most popular site about games was ZAVKHOZ's site, later Daily Telefrag (now it would be called a blog, or, in the old-school version, .plan; and then we even spoiled it in the state farm mini-site, which withstood several “releases”) and games.ru. Game publishers, both legal and not quite, also had promoted sites of similar subjects - Fargus, 7 Wolf, Akella.





    Gcdb

    One of the interesting subprojects was the Games CD database. The program was invented by analogy with CDDB. The latter was a database of music discs and a utility for it, which automatically, when a music CD was detected in a cd drive, searched the database for album names and tracks, and showed them. The numerical unique identifier of the disk was considered from the track lengths in seconds, information was taken from the shared database, where everyone could add data about new CDs. (Now the project has turned from free to commercial, and freedb has appeared to replace it).



    But we wanted to make a utility that would detect a CD with a game and immediately give out all the information for it - ratings, reviews, supporting materials, etc. An alpha version of the program and several helper utilities were written in Delphi. Unfortunately, the project was not implemented by our forces - everything remained at the alpha version level ( you can download ). However, as far as I know, such a project has not yet been. True, now the purchase of electronic versions of games is becoming more widespread, and cd and dvd are gradually dying.

    Dream Team


    A few words about people. I don’t believe in blind luck, so it’s rather difficult to explain how it turned out that a great team of people gathered around the AG. Responsible, pleasant in communication, burning with enthusiasm, sincere - in general, the dream team turned out. Perhaps the founders of the project attracted and infected them with their enthusiasm.
    Cases of the appearance of people who worked for some time, after which they had to be kicked out, when a person turned out to be unreliable, failed, deceived and behaved inappropriately - such cases can be counted on one hand.

    The team not only enjoyed working together, but also relaxing together, gathering, so to speak, for “corporate events” called “agovics”. The first, for example, was held in a festive atmosphere on a bench in the park at McDonald's on Pushkinskaya, the food, of course, was also from Mac. Since then, the team has been meeting periodically, although, having already matured and matured, it prefers to use normal restaurants of varying degrees of high cost for this.

    In those days, there were seriously fewer sites than now, so just by giving out interesting content, you could raise a site in the ratings - slowly but surely.
    In search of news, we combed over Western sites, wrote reviews of games and preview ourselves. Once they even made a fool of themselves - they plowed the gameland.ru forums with their ads. Oh, young green!

    Enthusiastic authors began to catch up on the project. For example, the now famous author Nomad joined the team after several weeks of being in the lead of the I-GAME-Q quiz. And Mikhail 'Redguard' Kalinchenkov came to us from GAME.EXE - first by the author, and then mutated into the chief editor.

    I remember how one of the episodes of the spasmodic increase in popularity happened when the demo version of Half Life: Day One was released. It seems that she was a bonus drive to the video card. The bottom line is that it was not sold, and not distributed freely.

    We ventured to upload it to download from the site. After several days, attendance increased sharply, everyone downloaded the demo. And then, probably, the first contact for us with Western game developers happened - we received a polite letter asking to remove the demo.
    We removed it, but attendance has not gone anywhere.

    Monetization (and no one said such a word then) was simple, selling advertising platforms for banners (there was no contextual advertising either). But over time, it became more difficult to provide income - the volume of work grew, and sales of banners - not very. Sly rented an apartment in Moscow ($ 150 / month five minutes walk from metro Mendeleevskaya!). There was barely enough money for life.

    And just at the very moment when the site was threatened with closure due to financial problems - we received a LETTER.

    Profit!


    A foreign bank expressed a desire to negotiate with us on behalf of a certain company that was interested in purchasing our project. And then we realized - flooded.

    The same year 2000 has come; the combination of this year with the acronym NASDAQ should tell you everything you need. Everyone thought that dotcoms were very cool, and they needed to buy projects as soon as possible, because they had to go up a lot of times. Why - no one could explain.

    Interestingly, almost simultaneously with this proposal, others rained down. Either industrial espionage worked, or it was simply worn in the air. We wanted to buy Rambler, some now forgotten company Cluve Corp., the company 7 Wolf, some other completely incomprehensible people ... But Golden Telecom didn’t surpass either the seriousness of intentions or the agreed amount.

    After lengthy negotiations, we came to an agreement. And having received a very decent reward, the size of which I will not disclose, we officially handed over our project to Golden Telecom. But not just transferred, but began to continue to support it, but with normal financing and on the technical basis of this provider.

    With the support of GT (we take off our hat in front of Andrei Kolesnikov, who always supported us), we were able to go to the largest world gaming exhibitions such as ECTS in London (and take a ride on the freshly opened London's Eye), and to the Holy of Holies - E3 in LA (and, of course, to visit the Universal Studios amusement park).

    After some time, Sly lost interest in AG and games, and went on his own projects. To this day, the zombie continues to steer the development of the resource. By this time, Golden Telecom managed to acquire the company Corbina Telecom, and then both of them took over Vimpelcom. The office of the company moved several times. Now the project continues to occupy a leading position among gaming journalism sites, it is developing, growing and is steadily approaching world domination.

    Morality


    The impression of working on the project will remain with me for life, and these impressions are encouraging. Despite all the severity and in some places monotony, we worked on what we really liked and really carried away. We thought of money only as an instrument for achieving the development goal. The driving force was the desire to improve and promote our project. I think that anyone who has had such a positive experience of creative work in his life can consider that at least part of his life was not lived in vain.