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Part Seven. These are my memories of writing some of the earliest 8-bit games (CRISIS MOUNTAIN, DINO EGGS, SHORT CIRCUIT)... and now reviving my best-selling game as DINO EGGS: REBIRTH -- which debuts on Steam Thursday, June 9, 2016.

David H. Schroeder, Blogger

January 4, 2016

13 Min Read
Previous Post:  Labor of Love


In my previous posts, I have described how I wrote the original 8-bit game "Dino Eggs" in 1983, how I gradually discovered that "Dino Eggs" was cherished by players around the world, and how I recently seized an opportunity to revive it as Dino Eggs: Rebirth.

(Update: The new game debuts on Steam this Thursday, June 9, 2016.)

As I embarked on this project, I was deeply aware of how delicate the fabric of a successful game is.  If I pulled on the wrong threads, the game would unravel.  It’s original charm would be lost.

"Dino Eggs" was written with extraordinary limitations.  Now -- in designing "Dino Eggs: Rebirth" -- I had almost infinite possibilities for expanding the game.  What could "Dino Eggs" become now?


“Oh, you know...” whispers Convention Wisdom, “Just make it better.  And we all know what “better” means:

  • Bigger

  • Faster

  • Dynamic Point-of-View


Bigger?  Yes, to a degree, bigger can be better.

Faster?  Hmm...  I’m not so sure about that.  We often mistake quantity for quality.  We often assume – incorrectly -- that if we’re filling the senses, we must be giving money’s worth.

Dynamic POV?  That’s a different game – a game we didn’t have the resources or interest in writing.  I actually think there could be many valid “Dino Eggs” revivals in an almost limitless number of alternative universes.  Some of those might have first-person POV.  But we had to focus on creating the one, best revival of “Dino Eggs” for which we had the resources and interest.


My goal became two-fold:

  • To recognize what “Dino Eggs” is.  Find and identify the qualities lying at the heart of the game -- and then greatly expand and multiply them.

  • To recognize what “Dino Eggs” isn’t.  Be sensitive to how Conventional Wisdom tries to define (and limit) what the game “should” become.  If a feature isn’t “Dino Eggs,” don’t tack it on.  After all, Conventional Wisdom had nothing to do with the creation of the original game.  In those days, eveyone was making up everything as we went along.


So what was the heart and soul of Dino Eggs?  I decided that it was the rich interaction between creatures and objects as disciplined by the screen’s tile system.  And that its chessboard grid of horizontal and vertical energies needed to be retained and regarded as a whole. 

These were the qualities I wanted to expand and multiply.

So – creature-by-creature and object-by-object -- how did I go about that?


Story basics.  Honor the original story of Time Master Tim as having "really" taken place in 1983.  Let time pass, giving Tim a daughter Tamara who "re-discovers" the Time Warp -- and "discovers" the new features of "Dino Eggs: Rebirth" -- 32 years later.  Make the story about their co-operative and competitive relationship.


Snakes.  In the original DE, they emerged (and disappeared) on any ledge tile randomly (maximum three at a time, one per vertical ledge).  Rather mysteriously, they travelled across the entire width of the screen, slithering over even empty tiles with ease.

In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, snakes still emerge and disappear randomly in arcade mode, although now they respond to the edges of a ledge, looping back on themselves and changing direction.  Snake nests can be placed on specific tiles and ledges, posing more of a challenge to the player.  In puzzle and story modes, a number of already live or sleeping snakes can be designed into a screen.  If a nest is perched on an empty tile, the emerging snakes will slither out of the hole and fall down the screen like rain.



Snakes in Dino Eggs...

Top: In the original 8-bit game

Center: In the author's art for DINO EGGS: REBIRTH

Bottom: In James Biddulph's 'pixel' art for DINO EGGS: REBIRTH


In the original, the snakes ignored the gaps between ledge tiles, kept going in the same direction, and were limited to three at a time on the screen.

In DINO EGGS: REBIRTH, the snakes do a figure-eight reverse at the ends of a ledge, and are certainly not limited in number.





Spiders.  In the original DE, they emerge from nests on an upper ledge that is inaccessible to Time Master Tim, then descend on threads at a random horizontal point.  Rather mysteriously, some of them do not abduct Baby Dinos (at lower skill levels), and some of them do (at higher skill levels).

In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, we have smaller green spiders that never abduct Baby Dinos, and larger orange spiders that always do, so that the player can anticipate and respond to these challenges.  In arcade mode, the nests’ placement and behavior are more or less the same as in the original DE (although no longer limited to three at a time).  In puzzle and story modes, the nests can appear on any ledge anywhere on the screen, as can a specific number of already-live or sleeping spiders.  So, Tim can come face-to-face with spiders walking on the same ledge.



Spiders in Dino Eggs...

Top: In the original 8-bit game

Center: In the author's art for DINO EGGS: REBIRTH

Bottom: In James Biddulph's 'pixel' art for DINO EGGS: REBIRTH


In DINO EGGS: REBIRTH, spiders can have nests anywhere on the screen, and roam or thread down from any ledge.  They can also be asleep and be awakened.

It can actually be to Time Master Tim's advantage to use large spiders to abduct some of the Baby Dinos.  On certain screens, that may be the only way Tim can position the Babies so that he can cage and rescue them.



Proto-pedes.   In puzzle and story modes, these too, can be placed – already alive or sleeping – on tiles around the screen to present specific puzzles and challenges.


Sleeping Creatures.  Completely new in Dino Eggs: Rebirth.  You can wake up any creature (including Baby Dinos) by walking up close to them.  You can smash them with boulders before they wake up.  Any moving creature can wake up a sleeping creature of its own species by getting close to it.


Baby Dinos.  In the original DE, there were three species, and (as was true of almost every moving thing on the screen) limited to three appearing at once.  All of the Babies followed Time Master Tim when they could, thinking that he was their Mother.  In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, we have added Baby Pterodactyls, who hatch from huge eggs and fly around randomly – even in the presence of Tim – making them more difficult to capture.

There are also four rare types of Baby Dinos, each of whom behave differently.  One runs away from Tim, even falling off ledges.  One runs toward Tim very fast.  One can be captured, but then break out of the Warp Cage himself.  One flies free all the way up and down the screen.



Baby Dinos in Dino Eggs...

Top: In the original Apple II game, I actually used a built-in ROM routine to vector-draw the Baby Dinos pixel by pixel.  Here they are, however, in spite sheet format.

Center: From the author's sprite sheet for DINO EGGS: REBIRTH

Bottom: From James Biddulph's 'pixel' art for DINO EGGS: REBIRTH


In DINO EGGS: REBIRTH, babies can hatch, fly, sleep and be awakened.  They can be knocked down by boulders from ledge to ledge, and stolen back and forth by other players in competitive Multiplayer.




Eggs.  In the original DE, all eggs were equal.  Any one of them could hatch any type of baby.  Veteran players discovered how to “farm out” eggs across the screen to increase the chances of them hatching, potentially yielding more points for rescuing Babies than Eggs (if the fire held out long enough to make this strategy practical).

In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, most eggs are of the legacy type.  But some are larger, yielding Baby Pterodactyls.  Some are cold -- unable to hatch unless you warm them up by placing (or holding) them over a fire.


Boulders.  In the original DE, all boulders were equal.  Any one of them could smash and kill any creature, including Baby Dinos.

In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, most boulders are of the legacy type.  They can still kill most creatures, but can only tumble Baby Dinos (or the player himself) down a ledge.  New, larger boulders serve as tile section ledges themselves.  If you kick these boulders over, that section of the ledge goes away with it.  These larger boulders can kill Baby Dinos or the player himself.  (This can get crazy in the new Multiplayer mode.)

In some arcade levels, volcano boulders tumble freely out of the sky.


Fires.  In the new game, we have a new type of fire – the flaming tar pit – which can be smothered only temporarily by a falling boulder.  On screens with tar pits, Dino Mom does stay away, but it can be much more difficult to get around the screen.



Fires in Dino Eggs...

Top: In the original 8-bit game.

Next Down: In DINO EGGS: REBIRTH, fires have a graphic timer.  Note the large boulders that can block sections of the ledge until you clear them by kicking over other boulders.

Next Down: Tar pit fires.  They are warming the cold eggs that Tam carries above the fire.  The right two fires are about to be temporarily dampened by the falling volanic boulder to Tam's right

Bottom: A night-time fire from the Outlands era.  In night-time play, you find your way around amid dim silhouettes of objects and creatures.



Getting around.   In the new game, you can double-jump spider threads and climb up Dino Mom’s leg.  Since the larger play screen makes Dino Mom’s sudden stomp a bit less of a threat – you can actually use Dino Mom’s visits to your advantage to get quickly around the screen.


Night life.  In the new game, some skill levels take place at night.  You can see only the silhouettes of the objects and creatures in dim movement around you, while the stars twinkle above.


Window dressing.  While keeping it simple, we've added various elements to liven up the world, including snow, clouds of fog, waterfalls, and flashing volcanos.


Power ups.  In the original DE, eating a Power Flower enabled you to carry more than three eggs at a time.  There was only one Power Flower on any given screen, and their powers did not accumulate.  One bonus life was awarded at 200 points.

In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, there are multiple Power Flowers on many screens, as well as two new types of power-up flowers.  The Health Flower boosts Tim’s defense against contamination.  The Shrinking Violet helps rescue Dino Mom herself – a possibility that should stun fans of the original game.  The wise use of Power Flowers will yield various and accumulative new powers, and can also result in extra lives.


Dino Mom.  There can be more than one foot at a time.  She remains angry and impatient on the top skill levels, requiring two active fires to scare her off.


Screen Size.  In the original DE, the active portion game screen was 12 tiles wide by 4 ledges tall.  In Dino Eggs: Rebirth, the default arcade screen is 23 tiles wide by 6 ledges tall.  In the new puzzle and story modes, there are specifically-designed challenges that are both smaller and larger than that.

Screen wrap.  Like other games of its era, the Dino Eggs screen “wrapped” from side to side.  Anything going off screen left reappeared on the right, and vice versa.  This was a particularly odd feature to adapt with today’s already-very-wide screens.  We decided to “dim” the far sides of the game screen.  This bright/dim edge defines the horizontal wrap.  It was taken for granted by game players in 1983, but it will inevitably come as a surprise to many Dino Eggs newbies today.


Turning into a Spider.  This remains Tim’s fate if his contamination clock reaches zero.  In the new game, however, this can also be a cunning and positive strategy at key moments.


Time Quartz.  This feature is wholly new to Dino Eggs: Rebirth.  Tim and Tam have discovered a gem that controls the flow of time in certain ways for certain objects on the screen.

The Sum of the Parts.  As this design process evolved, I recognized a remarkable shift. 

In historical context, Dino Eggs was an "action/strategy" game.  In today's terms, DINO EGGS: REBIRTH is a "puzzle/platform" game.  Perhaps that says as much about the changing times as it does about Dino Eggs.

We’ve certainly maintained and expanded the arcade play with forty new skill levels of randomly-generated screens.  But the game also unexpectedly blossomed into a rich source of puzzles and staged dilemmas.

We’ve taken the analytical approach built into the original game – “What’s the best way to clear this screen without getting killed?” – and crystalized that challenge into dozens of pre-designed puzzles and story screens.


Multiplayer has been an unexpected delight as well.  When facing multiple Tims and Tams on the same screen stealing your eggs and babies, one is quickly and hilariously distracted from the high-minded altruism of the original game’s concept.


We’re aware that Dino Eggs: Rebirth cannot be all things to all people.  I've learned how differently people have come to regard the original game over the many years, and we cannot please them all.

Every fan of the original DE will create his or her own list of differences, of likes and dislikes, like this fan of the Commodore 64 version did in evaluating the "classic" portion of the new game...

Nonetheless I trust that the essence of original game is still there.  And -- in its own way -- bigger and better.

I hope young and old will be able to share it.

The new game’s public release date is Monday, January 11, 2016 on our website www.dinoeggsrebirth.com

I'll let you know how it goes.

(Update: The new game debuts on Steam this Thursday, June 9, 2016.)

To Be Continued...


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