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INTERVIEW
Mike Beauchamp

Mike Beauchamp is a Canadian with way too much free time!
Okay, all jokes aside, this genius has wired the first Atari 2600
to the world wide web, and few other amazing feats
!

MT> When Good Deal Games first learned of your accomplishment, the first thing that came to mind was, why the Atari 2600 and not the Arcadia 2001 or the Bally Astrocade?
MB> The Arcadia has a keypad controller, which means that I'd need more connections to the Parallel Port than possible (the Parallel Port only has 12 digital outputs). The Astrocade controller also has an analogue paddle, which would be very hard to interface to a digital port. But the truth is, I don't own either of those systems. I had a spare Atari 2600 Jr. in the basement, which I thought would be perfect for the job. The Jr. has a low power consumption and good heat dissipation, which is great for this application since it requires the Atari to be on 24/7.

MT> Truth is, that question was a joke to try and lighten up the conversation. While we all love the classic systems, everyone recognizes that the Atari was much more popular and loved than the Arcadia 2001 or the Bally Astrocade! Anyway, on with theinterview.... A detailed explanation is on your website, but what are the basics behind the procedure to get your Atari operational online?
MB> The first part was interfacing the controller to the Parallel Port. Transistors are used to switch each control (as well as Select and Reset) depending on the state of the parallel port. When a user clicks on a direction on my website, a request is sent to a PHP script and a variable is passed to it depending on which action should be taken. The PHP script which is hosted on my computer running Apache Webserver then calls an executable program and passes the action variable to it. This little program will modify the state of the Parallel Port depending on what action is requested. Also, the video must be streamed back to the user. This is done with a USB video capture device and some webcam software and some Javascript. The capture device required a Composite Video signal input, but thankfully there's a modification that can be done to the Atari 2600 Jr. to get Composite Video and Audio right off the motherboard.

MT> Q*Bert is currently the game live online. What others have people been playing, and what games are next?
MB> Because of the latency involved in streaming video and such, most of the "Reflex games" (like Cosmic Ark) are nearly impossible to play over the internet. I tried Dig Dug for a few weeks and that was really fun. Berzerk also works decently, as does Bowling and Ms. Pacman.

MT> Ever thought of having a 2 player simultaneous game online, like the ever popular Combat?
MB> Right now, I could plug a joystick into the player 2 port and start playing Combat against the world! Infact, it was the first thing I did when I set it up. I'm pretty sure that was the first ever Multiplayer Atari game over the Internet! I usually stick to single player games though, since I can't really stay home from school all day to play Combat over the internet everyday.

MT> So, minus the computer itself which you already owned, and few donations from fellow classic gamers, you were able to get your 2600 online for under $40! What was your initial expected expense?
MB> When I do projects like this, I never really give myself a budget or a limit for spending. I spend $6000 every year to go to University, to learn whatever it is they are teaching me. So, I have no problems with spending a few hundred dollars on a project; I'll probably learn more in a few weeks doing the project than I will the whole year at University anyways. But since I am a student, I am usually forced to be on a tight budget.

MT> Here at GDG, we like to reward friendly individuals, so who were the kind fellows that donated to the project, and what were their submissions?
MB> About a year ago, I had plans of making a small "robot" that could move freely around my house. The "robot" would be controlled by the world over the internet and it would have a video camera onboard so people could navigate. A bloke named Sean at burak.ca donated an X-10 Wireless video camera for the project, as well as a USB Video capture device hoping that I could use it for the "robot" project. The batteries for the camera alone were too heavy and only lasted a few hours, so the "robot" project was scrapped (although it's still on the back-burner). But with the "Atari Online" project, I was able to use the USB Video capture device. Also, I don't have my own credit card, so I had to use my Mom's to order parts from RadioShack.ca. The bill arrived a few days before my birthday, and my mom "took care of it" for me as my birthday present.

MT> Way to go Mom! For some reason, the Windsor / Detroit's CJAM 91.5FM radio station allows Mike to have his own radio show, which can also be heard over the internet world-wide. What is "The Jim Show?"
MB> "The Jim Show" is the radio show I host every Friday night (Saturday morning) at Midnight until 2AM on CJAM 91.5FM. I started doing the show when I was 18 and I thought it would be funny to call it "The Jim Show: With Your Host, Mike Beauchamp". Unfortunately, the name stuck and it only resulted in confusion; Callers usually refer to me as Jim, or they ask me why I keep doing somebody else's radio show. The show is 50% random ramblings and discussion and 50% music (mainly classic rock).

MT> You also have a radio controlled Tyco Canned-Heat VW Beetle that can be manipulated from your website. Please tell us more about the 'Control the Car' interaction.
MB> "Control The Car" actually came first, around Christmas 2001. I thought it would be really neat to hook something up to the internet, and I just happened to have a little Radio Controlled VW Beetle sitting on my desk. It was quite the learning experience, and a lot of the hardware/software for "Atari Online" is based on what I learned doing that project.

MT>So, any ideas for your next endeavor?
MB> I would really like to do the "robot" project, but I don't think my parents are too keen on having a video camera on wheels roaming around the house. I guess that project will just have to wait until I get a place of my own.

MT> Okay, all these fantastic inventions and electronic tinkerings are cool and all, but what can you do productive for the real world?
MB> I have no idea! I guess someone should just hire me so we can find out! :)


MT> Where pretty sure that you'll accomplish something great! If not, well, we will always have our Atari online!


Good Deal Games would like to thank Mike for amusing us w/ his scientific and engineering curiosities! Keep up the good work!

Play Atari Online at Mike Beauchamp's Website
E-Mail Mike Beauchamp

 

 

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