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SoundX and Beyond

Because Ed Federmeyer heard about the 7800/2600 Monitor Cartridge after Dodgson stopped making them, he couldn't purchase one. However, he did read an article by Dodgson that described the internal registers of the 2600. This article inspired Federmeyer, who as a kid had always imagined that the guys who designed video games had the greatest jobs in the world, to write a 2600 program himself.

Federmeyer, a software engineer, purchased the least expensive EPROM burner he could find. The first 2600 cartridge that he put together fried his 2600 because he had the power and ground reversed. Fortunately, a neighbor just happened to be selling 2600Jr's for $5, so Federmeyer bought several. The next cartridge that he made worked, and it filled him with awe to see his creation onscreen. "I was so completely jazzed!" exclaimed Federmeyer. "All it did was draw some lines on the screen, like what happens when you turn your 2600 on without a cart, but they were my lines, in my colors! At that point, anything was possible!"

screenshot
Ed Federmeyer's SoundX and Edtris 2600 carts

The first application that Federmeyer worked on was SoundX, a program that sampled the different sounds of the 2600. Federmeyer wrote it for his own use to avoid having to go through a long cycle to try out the different sound-register settings. However, when it was finished, Federmeyer quickly realized that others might also be interested in the program. He posted a note on Usenet that asked if anyone would be interested in purchasing a homebrew cart and how much would they be willing to pay. Federmeyer expected to receive only a couple of replies offering $5 for the cartridge. To his surprise he received more than 50 responses with offers ranging from $10 to more than $100. The average price hovered at around $20.

Federmeyer prepared to build the cartridges himself. However, he quickly ran into the same problem as Dodgson; it just took too long to produce a cartridge.

screenshot
Manufactured by Randy Crihfield for the 2600: This Planet Sucks, Oystron, and Video Time Machine

Federmeyer remembered seeing another note on Usenet in which someone named Randy Crihfield offered to sell copies of rare games to collectors. Federmeyer wrote to Crihfield and asked him if he'd be willing to make copies of SoundX. Crihfield agreed and explained that he could make any 4K cartridge for $11. All Federmeyer had to do was decide how much he wanted to sell the game for. Federmeyer decided on $16 and the five-dollar difference became his royalty.

Sales were strong for SoundX, and Crihfield encouraged Federmeyer to write a game for the Atari 2600. The result of this was the Tetris clone Edtris 2600. After the success of Edtris 2600 (which eventually sold more than 200 copies), Crihfield decided that he would like to manufacture games for anyone who wanted to write one. He made sure he learned about all of the 2600 games that people were developing, and he offered them the same royalty setup that Federmeyer had agreed on. Most of the people he contacted gave him permission to make the cartridges. Crihfield turned this sideline into Hozer Video Games, a part-time business that sports a catalog with nearly two dozen titles. Although the business won't ever make Crihfield rich, it's one that he enjoys doing. "It's a fun hobby," he says. "I enjoy the friendship of people who chat with me about it, who send me game images, who make my job easier." Of course the notoriety that Crihfield receives doesn't hurt either. "I really make carts for the fame of it," he adds. "I enjoy being the biggest homebrew maker of carts. Everyone likes to have their own little claim to fame."

Crihfield makes sure that his game authors also receive their claim to fame. In true Activision style, Crihfield credits the game's author. He also has his programmers write the instruction manual and design the cartridge label for their game. If they choose not to, Crihfield will feature a screenshot from the game on the label.

Next: Now show me Bob Colbert and his Supercharger plans.>

 
 
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