Space Age: The Music


When I was 15, I used my Amiga and a copy of SoundTracker to write the music for a local educational video produced by the Port of Portland (“Captain Duke’s ImPORTant Adventure!”). I attended the premiere of the video in a conference room at Portland International Airport and it was pretty thrilling. My music used a bunch of drum samples I took from the mod file from the Bitmap Brothers game Gods. The Oregonian living section actually wrote an article about this, which of course teenage-me was mortified about, titled “Self-taught musician ingenious composer”. (Warning: cool guy alert.)

“Sasser is seriously thinking about following in the footsteps of the movie and video game composers he admires”, the article concluded.

22 years later:

The Space Age Soundtrack

Yes, Space Age (Original Game Soundtrack) is now available on iTunes. 65 tracks of original music, mostly from each of the game’s unique cutscenes but also all the necessary bits: title screen, pause music, and some surprises.

It’s also available on BandCamp where you can name-your-own-price.

Here, have a listen:


About The Music

A number of years ago I wrote the music to The Incident, Neven Mrgan and Matt Comi’s last iOS game. When Neven started to tell me about their next game, Space Age — which comes out this Thursday and is going to be amazing — I think I wanted to do more. The game would still have a retro pixel-art vibe, but I wanted the music to feel more cinematic, to play against the limited graphics. I wanted to try to take the elaborate music that’s always in my head and attempt to actually make it real.

I got to work. Don’t get me wrong — I’m an amateur, and this is amateur work. But I was ready.

What’s it sound like? Modern film score meets 70’s synths meets 50’s sci-fi cheese meets Lucasarts PC CD-ROM meets EPCOT center, kind-of?

The first half of the album is basically me getting my musical footing. About half way through I started to give each chapter a distinct personality and melody and character. By the end of the album a lot of different things have happened and it should be enjoyable.

Most importantly: it’s all about melody for me. It’s all about being memorable. It’s all about feeling things while you listen to these tracks and remember your thrilling space adventure.

The Tools

Put simply, I use:

  • GarageBand
  • All of the extra GarageBand instruments, and I mean all of them (I install these instruments from within Logic Pro X)
  • A 88-key M-Audio Keystation USB MIDI Controller
  • A sustain pedal
  • An Apogee One to drive my headphones and monitor speakers
  • My dining room table

A couple tracks used some bonus instruments — an incredible Teenage Engineering OP-1 for one spooky synth sound, some old and incredible Optigan organ loops for a certain sequence, and Matt played a little live banjo on one track!

(Why GarageBand? Frankly, it does everything I need. It’s exactly Logic Pro X these days but with a set of advanced features removed, and none of those features were important to what I do. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how to define arpeggios, so I just played them all by hand.)

Some more production notes: the album was mastered by Timothy Stollenwerk at Stereophonic Mastering. He did an incredible job making my tracks album-ready. I used TuneCore to upload the album to all the digital services — it’s not the best, and I wanted to use Distrokid, but their “number of tracks” pop-up had a maximum of 50!? (Support suggested I split the album into two volumes?!)

So basically, this was my life:


Put simply, I’d create a blank file in GarageBand, do File > Movie > Open Movie… and load in a MP4 video of a cutscene that Matt provided. GarageBand handles movies really well, and as you scrub through your music the movie also scrubs in sync. The biggest problem with this approach is where to put the floating movie window on screen, because it is always in the way.

I’d scroll to the beginning of the movie, drop in a piano track, and hit Record.

Then I’d just play whatever my mind created as I watched.

Then I would do it again, and a couple more times. Then I would add a few more instruments based on what I heard. Then I would edit out a section. Then I would add more instruments. And eventually I’d be done and move on to the next one.

The biggest challenge by far: I have a day job that uses up about 99% of my brain power, and a great family at home that I want to spend time with, and it was really hard to find time to actually do this. It was a lot more than I expected. My wife exhibited superhuman amounts of patience with me.

For a brief period of time I moved my music setup into the office and stayed late every day…


…but ultimately I fell into a great groove: I’d work in the morning after dropping Joby off at school, and I’d work at night after the family went to bed.

Thank you family. Thank you wife. 

I’m really proud of how it all turned out. It’s one of the only things I’ve ever created personally that doesn’t make me cringe.

And Then, The Rocketship X-T

There’s one track on the album that’s a little bit… different.

(We are entering SPOILER country. Don’t read this section if you intend to finish Space Age!)

In The Incident, I wrote a goofy surprise vocal track that was designed to throw the player off of their “oh this is just NES music” comfort zone.

For Space Age, I wanted to write another goofy surprise vocal track. I thought maybe we could do something after the credits, something reminiscent of my favorite NES games where the credits felt like a happy tour through your journey. I thought it’d be fun to write a faux “propaganda song”, like a jolly, rousing musical number from a wartime film. Something to get the boys and girls at home fired up about America. But except for America, a rocketship.

So I sent this to Neven and Matt:

It was fun, and funny, and we started to plug it into the game and talk about what to do visually.

But… I wanted more.

In my head this needed to be jazzy and swingy and really blow the doors off the whole game. It needed to end with a bang and some horns. Again, I could hear it in my head. But how could I make it real…

A few weeks later, I sent the following video to Neven and Matt, totally out of the blue:

Surprise! iMessage reaction was swift:

ichatNow we’re cookin’.

The song felt “real”.

How did this super-special recording come to be? Deep breath: years ago when Panic was working on a thing for Disney I was looking for local Big Bands and found the Bureau of Standards. Nicole and I went to their show (it was awesome) and I met James M Gregg, their affable and talented bandleader. That project didn’t work out but I knew our paths would cross in the future. Once I wrote the Propaganda demo and felt it was pretty good I e-mailed him and he jumped on the project with gusto. He suggested we get Bo Ayars, who also lives in Portland, to do the band arrangement. Bo, just so you know, spent 13 years as Liberace’s musical director. Yes, sold, amazing. I used GarageBand’s automatic notation feature to create (bad) sheet music of the demo. Bo’s turned the full arrangement around in lightning time and produced all the sheet music for each player. James in turn brought in a team of crack musicians, including Kat Cogswell to do the lead vocals — that’s James and myself singing the counterpoint — and he booked a studio (Dead Aunt Thelma’s), and we all met up on a Sunday and laid this thing down, track by track, musician after musician, amazement by amazement.

It was my first time in a recording studio. It was my first time having musicians play music and lyrics I had written. It was… exhilarating.

How did it all turn out? You’ll have to play the game or get the soundtrack and find out! ugh

Thank You For Listening

I really appreciate Neven and Matt giving me this opportunity to push myself. When I finished, I realized this is the culmination of a life’s dream. I had forgotten about the Oregonian article when I was 15 until the album first showed up in iTunes and I lost my mind.

It’s real. I got there. It took me a while, but I finally got there.

I hope you enjoy it!

(Space Age Original Game Soundtrack is now available on iTunes. Or, if you don’t use iTunes, it’s also available on BandCamp.)

Yay! 4th of July Fireworks: 2014


I travel down the dusty road, driving cautiously. Another year. I’m doing this again. I’m taking part in The Gauntlet (45.1 MB), where every teenager in the county is standing by the side of this road, a road that had an impressive 360-day stretch of total silence, each teenager armed with a vinyl sign in one hand and Snapchat in the other, all trying to coax us into one of two fiercely competing fireworks stands. I pull into a gravel lot, past some wheezy bouncy houses, step out of the car, walk inside the store, grab a yellow basket, and get to work. I’m not here for fun, Jack. No way. I’m here for work. It’s my job — no, it’s my thrill — to find the weirdest, awkwardest, worst, clip-artiest, mis-translatediest, shoots-flaming-ballsiest fireworks packaging.

Welcome back, my friends. Happy 4th of July.

To relive some of the glorious photos from my past trips, please enjoy 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 20112012, and finally, 2013.

Let’s get started.


This year, we had a beautiful smorgasbord, featuring:

Pink Floyd’s Dream Nearly Realized


An Extraordinarily Sad Elvis Presley


Uncomfortable Sexism / Racism / Alcoholism






Eric Wareheim out of Tim and Eric


Every Kid’s Favorite Thing: Palace Intrigue


Super Steroidal Uncle Sams



A Video Game I Want Badly


Copyright Infringement (They Tried To Hide The Hat With Stickers)


Every Kid’s Favorite Thing: Horseshoe Crabs




A Literal Train Wreck




One of My Favorite YouTube Videos


The Best Typo (I Hope)


The Best Movie Sequel Never Made


And, Finally, Most Importantly, This Guy


Yes. Yes. See you next year!



I gave a talk at XOXO 2013. I’m not very fond of public speaking. I also try to avoid being too personal or too heavy which leaves mostly jokes and new snack foods. But I knew I had a lot on my mind — I jog right past the YU (where XOXO is held) each day and that got me thinking about all of this stuff and talking and it all kind of swirled together. Andy very graciously gave me a speaking slot, and even though I destroyed a dress shirt I made it through and everyone was so kind.

Here’s my story.

(Once you’re done, you might appreciate Jason Alderman’s Sketch Notes.)

Yay! 2013 4th of July Fireworks!


Seven years, my friends. Seven years of hopping in the car late at night, driving up I-5 to Vancouver, Washington, running The Gauntlet™ (45.1 MB), and visiting Blackjack Fireworks to check out the colorful, poetic, lost-in-translation, Corel-driven beauty of the latest fireworks packaging.

To catch up, please enjoy 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Here’s to more good stuff, because I’m…


This year, we’ve got…



Spectacular Clip-Art


Eric Clapton’s Dream Realized


Literal Nightmares

fireworks-31 fireworks-9

A Revealing Answer (iStock Photo)

fireworks-10 fireworks-11 fireworks-12

Copyright Infringement I’m Sure, But I’m Not Sure What From


Copyright Infringement I Do Recognize


I Don’t Doubt This For A Minute


This, On The Other Hand, I Doubt Very Much


Military Surplus


For When You Want the Not-Quite Best


David Lynch’s Dream Realized






The Sword from Hell (Which is Totally Awesome and Will Cause So Much Injury)

fireworks-33 fireworks-34

And Resigned Exasperation


Last but not least, I leave you with the most incredible marketing claim ever made (I’m going to use this someday):


See you next year!


The Harpsichord at Club 33


This is a story about one of the best days of my life. I’ll put it up there with the arrival of Joby, my wedding, the Panic trip to Hawaii, and playing Super Mario 64.

We worked with the gang at Pacific Helm on a rare and interesting side project, and as weird payment for their time, we took them (and our collective friends) on a trip to Disneyland, one of my favorite places on the planet.

Thanks to the one-of-a-kind Louie Mantia and a mysterious benefactor, our crew wound up at Club 33.


Club 33, if you don’t know, is the “secret” restaurant at Disneyland, discreetly tucked away in New Orleans Square, requiring paid membership (and long waiting list) to enter, and offering very fancy and delicious food (as well as the only booze in the park). It has a beautiful balcony that overlooks New Orleans square. It was wonderful and relaxing, a total oasis in a whirlwind of a place.


Then we spotted the harpsichord.

You have to understand that I hate playing music in front of people. I’m still traumatized by a moment in Japan, where there was a piano and a room full of business associates chanting my name to play something. I froze in terror. I couldn’t do it. It’s one of those memories that spark an involuntary lemon-sucking face when it springs into my mind.

But 2013 is all about change, if you hadn’t heard. And Disney music is a huge part of my life, especially the theme park music. And the guys came back with some news: “We asked. You can play the harpsichord.”

I’d always wanted to go to Club 33.

I’d always wanted to play a harpsichord.

I’d always wanted to play Disney music in Disneyland.

So yeah I had to make this happen.

My playing isn’t great, and I’m obviously insanely nervous, and I tried to avoid looking up to see if anyone was paying attention, but with the support of nice people, I did it:

It felt like my whole life had led to this wonky ragtime rendition of Grim Grinning Ghosts. I could literally not have been happier.

(There’s more. A bonus duet of Baroque Hoedown (“Main Street Electrical Parade”) with Adam Lisagor? Icing on the already delicious cake. And naturally I couldn’t resist a little bit of Pirates, perfect for the harpsichord.)

Once the buzz wore off, I hit Wikipedia:

A harpsichord which was rumored to have been an antique was in fact custom-built for Lillian Disney specifically for use in Club 33. The underside of the lid features a Renaissance-style art piece that was hand-painted by Disney artists. Elton John and Paul McCartney have each played this harpsichord.

That’s it. Close up shop. We’re done here. Life, you can be pretty great.

(Photos and Video from champions Louie Mantia and Patrick Gibson.)


Samba de Setup


One of the things we wanted to make truly excellent in our brand-new Status Board iPad app was the setup process. Setup assistants are never fun, always annoying, and kill that “new app” buzz faster than anything. The only thing worse is that giant overlay some apps do that draws arrows all over your screen pointing to all the buttons and things like some demented football coach.

When we landed on the idea of doing a “user manual” — as if you had just purchased a real Status Board and were browsing the instructions — I think Neven said, “And you should hear elevator music!”

And so I wrote elevator music. Here’s the un-tinny-speakerized version. Enjoy?

You can download the song here (M4A, 4.6 MB).

(Thanks for the cover art, Neven!)

Drobo 5D Review


drobo-fixAt the center of my digital storage universe is the house Mac mini, hooked up to a big ol’ external drive that holds all of the e-things: our music, our photos, old work, emulation collections, etc.

(As a side note, this drive is manually backed up monthly onto another drive — a 4TB Seagate Thunderbolt — which I take into the office and place in my drawer for extra-safe fire-keeping. Backup your backup, mang!)

I decided to try the new Thunderbolt-based Drobo 5D as my vault. Did I keep it?

The Good

Drobo’s best feature — that you can swap out drives at any time to semi-infinitely expand your capacity — works, and works well. It’s always mentally nice not having to worry about ever running out of room and having to clone over large volumes all the time.

And it’s fast. Much faster than my previous Drobo.

That older model, a Firewire 800 Drobo, got a sadness-inducing 20.1 MB/s write and 22.2 MB/s read. By comparison, a LaCie Thunderbolt 2big in a software mirror got 111.2 MB/s write and 114.1 MB/s read.

Here’s the Drobo 5D, connected via Thunderbolt:

Drobo 5SThat’s around 193 MB/s write and 184 MB/s read. So, it’s almost ten times faster than the Firewire 800 Drobo it replaced.

Other notes:

  • You can dim the many front lights, which is nice for media cabinets.
  • The metal enclosure is substantial and feels valuable.
  • It’s surprisingly quiet.

The Bad

The Drobo 5D will not mount until you install the Drobo software. (See here.) The Drobo software includes, among other kernel extensions, DroboTBT.kext, Drobo’s “SCSI Thunderbolt Controller”.

It’s almost a dealbreaker. Every external hard drive I’ve ever used will mount easily without special software. Requiring software not only makes it a pain to hook the drive up to someone else’s computer, but the drive will only keep working in the long-term if the specialized software is well-maintained. (It’s one thing to trust Apple to update their software, which I do, but another thing to expect this maintenance from third parties.)

What will happen when Mac OS X 10.9 comes out and the Drobo .kext inevitably breaks? I’ll have to wait for Drobo to ready an update? How soon will that be ready? You can understand my concern.

But in conclusion, here’s the only review score metric that really matters:

Did I Keep It?


I kept it. Still using it. For now. It’s fast, holds all my stuff, and feels solid. But we’ll see what happens when 10.9 comes out.

tinyicon-amazonThe Drobo 5D is available at Amazon for around $849.00.



We all know it’s not cool to litter. If our hands are burdened with the weighty responsibility of an unwanted and snot-spent tissue, or an empty aluminum can that once held some Dr. Skipper, or even a gentle gum wrapper, the worst thing — the worst possible thing — would be to throw it on the ground.

Yes, throwing garbage on the ground is literally littering. But beyond that? Well… that’s where things get a little dicey.

Trashcan? The only limit is your trashmagination!

I first noticed the “litterplugs” (if I may) phenomenon in Japan, ten years ago. This is the photo that started it all, a slightly bowing construction wall by Shinjuku station that immediately became a garbage can:


Since then, it was everywhere. Now, I can understand how generalized holes — containers, street light bases, flower pots — become makeshift trashcans. Even if they’re obviously in no way trashcans, and likely will never be emptied or cleaned by any human being on earth, and in most cases there’s a real trashcan mere feet away, they at least share a vague similarity to the raw concept of a trashcan.

Litterplugs - 02 - 2
Litterplugs - 05
Litterplugs - 37

But the best litterplugs take it to a new level.

They raise not-literring littering to an art.

Wedge your peach chunks garbage into a brick wall? Sure!

Back Camera

Make PBR stand for “Perfect Bark Receptacle”? Yes, yes!

Litterplugs - 55

Pop your can in a drywall hole briefly opened up by construction workers?

Litterplugs - 22 - 2

Look around desperately until you spot an exterior outlet? Go go go!

Litterplugs - 52

Somehow calculate the exact horizontal space required for your juice box? Woo!

Litterplugs - 35 - 2

Put your wrapper in the hole left by the missing handle… in a garbage can? Award winning!

Litterplugs - 49

Remember: you’re not littering if it ain’t touchin’ the ground!

Litterplugs, I salute you and your particularly weird blend of doing the right thing.

If you find any particularly inventive litterplugs, tweet me!

Cabel Trivia, No. 1: The Movie


Here’s something you might not know about me: I had a major, significant acting role in the non-hit Ralph Fiennes film, Strange Days.

See for yourself:

(I lived near downtown L.A. and snuck into the area where they were filming. I’m wearing a weird party hat. Angela Bassett shoved me very, very hard.)

Message in a Binary Bottle


It’s 20 or 30 years ago. You’re working on a videogame. You don’t get any credit for your work, blogs don’t exist, there’s no internet and no fanboys. It’s just you, a crusty old terminal, and got a few spare bytes left in the ROM. What now?

> Type Secret Message

OK. You’ve hidden a secret message in the ROM, to be uncovered many, many years later, and posted on the incredible website, The Cutting Room Floor.

Here are some of my favorites. Click any game’s title to read more.

Donkey Kong (Arcade)



I had no idea Nintendo didn’t program Donkey Kong. Ikegami Co Limited didn’t stop there — they also worked on Popeye, Radar Scope, Sky Skipper, Zaxxon, and more.

For fun, my friend Noby tried to call this number. Sadly, they can no longer teach you:


Alien Breed (Amiga)



Stefan Boberg is now the technical director at EA DICE, working on the Frostbite engine, so I think he fully qualifies as a godgineer.

Stefan catches us up: “LOL, 18 year old me… I was trying on bullying, didn’t honestly think it was unbreakable. Although my first version was uncopyable — as in, uncopyable by the duplication plant!” Ah, the dangers of aggressive disk protection tricks. He didn’t remember anyone e-mailing him: “I didn’t expect more than one or two people to read it to be honest, and it’s written accordingly. It’s a message from a parallel universe or something. Things are so different today!” Of course, I know this parallel universe well — one where we would meet up at pizza parlors, bring our big old computers and monitors, set them up, and copy games, like Alien Breed, between stale bites of pepperoni — so Stefan’s message makes perfect sense, and feels like another lifetime entirely, all at once.

Blood Money


I’ll warn you now that this game has a LOT of protection, so it will be a few late nights for you lot. It’s a mugs game anyway, you should be writing games and making loads of money like me (you too could afford a 16V Astra GTE). […] In the meantime I’ll be thinking of you when I’m in Florida, spending some of my dosh.

Developers often resorted to psychologically shaming crackers, often using the “I have money and you don’t!” angle.  I think probably it missed the point of a cracker’s motivation and likely only made the crack more fulfilling.

For the record, a 16V Astra GTE cost £9499 on launch, and looked so awesome:


And Dave Jones did OK: he went on to make Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto.

Digger (Arcade)


In 2012, I can immediately see this house on Google Earth. I bet David Evans couldn’t have imagined this. The house sold in 1988.


And a Noval 765 was a computer built into a desk. Yes please.


Erika to Satoru no Yume Bouken


Next, Tatsuya Ōhashi. Yes, you, you bastard. Don’t give me your flippant sh*t — coming in late on the day we ship the ROM like nothing’s amiss. You can give me all the porn you want; I’m not forgetting that one. All that f***ing weight you put on. No wonder you paid out 18,000 yen and still got nothing but a kiss out of it.

My god. Make sure to read the whole thing. Co-worker gossip aired in what’s certainly one of the funniest of presentations — one page of virtual dirt at a time.

Modem Wars



Danielle Bunten was a prolific developer and M.U.L.E. is largely considered one of the most influential strategy games ever written. I’m very surprised to see it revealed in this message that it didn’t make any money. I want to know more, but quite sadly, Danielle died in 1998 due to lung cancer.

Moto Roader


Thank you very much for purchasing this game.
Did you enjoy it?
But who are you, to be able to read this message?
If you don’t mind, please give me a call.
NCS 03-486-6588 (Ask for Suzuki)
Or, I also use a computer connection, so you can contact me there, too.
NCS NET 03-499-5996 7:00pm to 8:00am

I just like that you could’ve either phoned Suzuki-san, or called his BBS, which has classic “Mom, don’t pick up the phone!” house hours.

Pachi Com


You RETARDS say one thing, then something else later all the time. You’re a sound company; quit ignoring pachinko sounds and trying to put these weird sounds in instead! Do you WANT it to be this hard to hear the balls?! I’ve left the PREVIOUS sounds, so edit this if you want to hear it. Set hex address AFFC to 1FAF and AFC4 to E0EE to get decent sounds.

Wow. So management decided to tinker with the sounds in the game, forcing the programmer to play an annoying high-pitched wavering tone almost constantly during gameplay. The programmer didn’t like this and, in protest, provides instructions to ROM hackers on how to revert the sound.

So I busted out my HEX editor. Here’s management’s version:

And here’s the programmers version:

The alarm-like sound is lower and more Pac-Man like, but, well, still pretty annoying.

Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball


Jessica Louise
July 19, 1988
3:25 a.m.
Welcome To The
Fun And Games!
Way To Go, Linda!

Pixar movies, by tradition, have a section of credits for “Production Babies” — babies born during the making of a film. This got me wondering: what’s the earliest “Production Baby” credit in a video game? Is this it?

I asked Jessica about this message. She wrote back:

“I found out about this probably after I started college. Up until then I didn’t know what my exact time of birth was since my mom couldn’t remember and I was too lazy to find my birth certificate I guess. I at least know my birth was noted to the galaxy in some small way!”

And then, some words from Steve himself!

“Yes, I put messages to my kids (and wife) in all of my Intellivision games. This one was obviously from the birth of my daughter – her two older brothers are featured in hidden messages in each of the games that preceded her birth.

I put messages into each of these games: Hover Force (1986), Slam Dunk (1987), Chip Shot (1987), Body Slam (1988), Spiker! (1989), Deep Pockets (1989). My typical ‘cheat code’ was to hold down 23 on the left [Intellivision] controller while simultaneously holding down 26 on the right controller and then pressing reset while holding them down. Admittedly a bit of a contortion act, and not easily replicated on an emulator as it turns out.

I kept the source code for many years for all of these (and more) games, but sadly with a hard drive crash and a neglected back-up I lost them, so I can’t retrieve the code and have to try to remember how to trigger these messages from memory…”

Hey, ROM hackers: sounds like Steve could use your help! Exciting to know there are more hidden personal messages yet to be discovered…

The New Tetris


This game sucks. The music is great but the game itself is not how we wanted it unfortunately. I mean, it is a good game, but some things could be polished, as well as sped up. Could use another month to finish this thing off AFTER all the bugs are fixed. oh well, woh is me.

David Pridie died in 2001. According to a memorial site, due to his now-infamous Tetris Rant, “he got himself and H2O in quite a bit of hot water with Nintendo. He figured it was his small piece of immortality and that no one would find it for years, if at all. It took the hardcore gamers about 3 days to find it and post it on the internet.”

Elmo in Grouchland

tcrf-elmoSee if you can retrieve them from this ROM. If you do, you win the prize. Please.. call (609) 466-2092 (in New Jersey, USA) if you have been able to view the two .GIF pictures, located in the rest of the upper 6 Megs of this ROM. We will have a nice reward..
for you…….Good Luck!….Roger W. Amidon..

Call this number today, and you’ll get… Roger Amidon!

“Good grief! It was over 12 years ago, but yes, that’s me. I have no idea what I was thinking about at the time for a prize!”

The tiny hidden image in the ROM is of Roger and his two sons:





You finally get credit for your work, after you die, and the thoughtful message gets truncated in the final ROM.


(Fortunately, his memory remains in Japan’s Wikipedia.)