Hard Hat Mack in Taiwan

March 20th, 2017 11:22 AM
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Although the Apple II was invented and was popular in the United States, it's fun to see all the other places our favorite retrocomputer has popped up. We know the Apple II community has active contingents in Australia and France, but we've also seen the Apple II in more far-flung locations such as from Russia to Korea.

Thanks to a recent YouTube video, I've now seen the Apple II somewhere I hadn't before: Taiwan. It was the focus of a short segment on a television show in which the host introduced several girls to the 1983 game Hard Hat Mack on an Apple IIc:

I don't have many details about the show seen here: the Chinese caption translates only to "old game era Apple II". But I wonder what the standard format of the show is, that the host didn't seem to let his audience get their hands on the game.

I can commiserate, though: I too have never gotten my hands on Hard Hat Mack. As a young gamer, my attention was evenly divided between consoles and computers, which may've caused me to miss several classic computer games: not only Hard Hat Mack, but Tass Times in Tone Town, King's Quest, Ultima, and others. It looks like the kind of game I would enjoy, since Donkey Kong always earns my quarter on any visit to Funspot. As one of the first games (if not the first) to be published by Electronic Arts, Hard Hat Mack is a piece of history deserving an experience.

I don't have much excuse now, though, since Hard Hat Mack can be played online:

There's no need to go on a Taiwanese talk show to discover the classics — Hard Hat Mack is alive and well!

(Hat tip to Luke Hsu via Jorma Honkanen)

Computer Show returns, courtesy HP

March 13th, 2017 9:48 AM
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In October 2015, two episodes of the online talk show Computer Show debuted. A send-up of the classic 1980s show Computer Chronicle, this parody featured a socially awkward host with all the technological know-how of someone from thirty years ago interviewing guests from the modern computer industry. The interaction between the host and the guests was so awkward as to be delightfully painful to watch.

After a prolonged intermission, Computer Show is back with a new six-minute episode:

As always, the show is hilarious. Rob Baedeker as Gary Fabert is a brilliant combination of huge ego and low self-esteem, struggling with his bafflement at modern technology. In what I assume are some unscripted bits, the guests seem equally stunned at the treatment they're receiving from the host.

Co-starring in this episode is the HP PageWide printer in an obvious demonstration of product placement. But at least they're honest about the reason why: HP sponsored this episode of the show. That's why the video is hosted on HP's YouTube channel, and not Computer Show's own dedicated channel, as the first two episodes were.

What a brilliant form of marketing — one that gives us Computer Show fans something we want in a way that doesn't compromise the show's format or integrity. Here's hoping more companies take advantage of this opportunity. How about our hosts be introduced to a Raspberry Pi or CFFA3000 next?

(Hat tip to T.L. Stanley via Chris Harshman)

Apple II on Retronauts podcast

March 6th, 2017 12:29 PM
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There are a lot of great podcasts about the Apple II where you can get a weekly, biweekly, or monthly fix of classic computing news and camaraderie. But there are many other shows that cover retrocomputing more broadly, where the Apple II is only an occasional guest.

Such is the case with episode #87 of Retronauts. This weekly show focuses on console and handheld platforms, such as Nintendo and Game Boy, and their games, such as Mario and Castlevania. But this past week, they invited retrocomputing scribe Benj Edwards to review the milestones of the Apple II's gaming history.

Familiar titles such as Choplifter and Castle Wolfenstein got plenty of mentions, but what most caught my attention was the glowing praise for Temple of Apshai. The Retronauts crew elevated this game to the same pantheon shared by ADVENT and Akalabeth — yet I'd never heard of it. The first a trilogy that was later released as part of the Dunjonquest bundle, Temple of Apshai was awarded "Best Computer Game of 1980", being notable for its graphics and complexity upon its original release in August 1979.

I can't find any YouTube footage of the Apple II version of Temple of Apshai, but it is playable on the Internet Archive.

The rest of the podcast serves as an introduction to the Apple II for listeners who aren't accustomed to hearing about it in their other podcasts. As such, it doesn't cover a lot of ground that readers of this blog would consider new. But it is a fun listen and an opportunity to hear the voices of writers whose bylines you may recognize.

As a bonus, if you choose to support Retronauts on Patreon for at least $3/month, you'll get an exclusive Apple II-themed wallpaper.

Thanks for covering the Apple II, Retronauts! I hope to hear more topics and guests from our community in future episodes.

Full disclosure: I support Benj Edwards on Patreon.

Juiced.GS ships early!

February 27th, 2017 1:00 PM
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As I write this blog post, I am simultaneously proud, relieved, and shocked. The reason: I just delivered the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS to the printshop.

Note: it is not March.

On all 84 issues of Juiced.GS that have been published to date, every cover has displayed the date of publication. In the 44 issues I've edited, only four of the year's 12 months have been represented on the cover: March, June, September, and December, aligning with the end of each quarter.

I took those months to be the deadline by which I had to deliver the issue to the post office. Sometimes this meant mailing an issue on March 31, with it not arriving in readers' hands until April.

But if you look back at earlier issues of Juiced.GS, you'll see different dates on the cover: February, May, August, and November. Former editor-in-chief Ryan Suenaga published midway through each quarter so as to avoid conflicting with other crunch periods, such as the holidays. I tried to follow his example, but on my very first issue, I slipped a month and never regained it.

But this year, the first issue of 2017 presented the opportunity to get back on track. One article held back from December gave us a head start, but it wasn't just that. I don't normally assign articles until after the previous issue has shipped — but I was able to solicit the author of this month's cover story, Mike Whalen, last fall, and he diligently worked through the holidays so that his submission would be ready as soon as we began work on the March issue. Our other staff and freelance writers, including Chris Torrence and Ivan Drucker, were also very timely with their contributions.

It all added up to us being able to print the magazine with a February date: as long as I got the magazine to the post office before Wednesday, we could accurately say the magazine shipped in February. But it still wouldn't be delivered until March, and although I've cut it close before, this approach felt dishonest, somehow.

So we're sticking with our traditional March date by shipping the issue on March 1. Honestly, it seems the best of both worlds: for possibly the first time ever, every subscriber should receive the issue in the same calendar month, without the staff rushing to meet an end-of-month deadline, whatever month that is.

Will shipping on the first of the month become the new standard? I don't know. At the least, it presents our staff with some leeway — a one-month buffer with which to get the June issue published.

Regardless of what this spells for the future, it's a relief to look forward to a month that's full of conventions, vacations, presentations, and milestones, knowing that I've already given Juiced.GS my full attention.

Dan Bricklin & VisiCalc at TEDx

February 20th, 2017 10:58 AM
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When Steve Wozniak gave a TED Talk, it was a disjointed series of anecdotes that gave us a glimpse into the early days of Apple. It was fun, but it wasn't a story.

Other veterans of that era have a more natural flair storytelling. Enter Dan Bricklin, who in November 2016 gave a TED Talk on the origins of his industry-redefining application, VisiCalc.

It's a familiar story, and one I mostly already knew, having learned it when I taught my high-school students how to use VisiCalc (as detailed in Juiced.GS Volume 10, Issue 1), though a few details I got wrong: I thought the plaque commemorating VisiCalc's conception was at Bricklin's undergrad of MIT, not his graduate school of Harvard.

But what really underscores this talk is just how revolutionary VisiCalc was. While I knew it was the first electronic spreadsheet, I assumed more of it was derived from analog counterparts: the grid-based patterns, the naming of cells, and the syntax of formulae are all so intuitive, I didn't realize that it all had to be created from scratch.

My thanks to my Massachusetts neighbors Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for making Apple the company it was. For more of the story, this time from Frankston, watch Kevin Savetz's interview from August 2016.

(Hat tip to Dagen Brock)

An Apple II appearance in Beep!

February 13th, 2017 12:48 PM
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I have a growing collection of documentaries in my watch queue, many of them springing from Kickstarter. If I see a topic I like, I can't help but throw $15 at it — especially if it'll get me a digital copy of the movie, years down the road.

Such is the case with Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound. This movie, crowdfunded in 2014, chronicles the evolution of audio composition technology in the interactive entertainment industry, featuring interviews with composers for such classic games as Marble Madness. A variety of hardware platforms and sound processors are featured, especially the Commodore 64 and its infamous SID chip — but disappointingly, at no point did I hear mention of the Apple II.

But I did see it! In two scenes, the narrators' commentary is overlaid with B-roll footage of convention-goers (perhaps at MAGFest?) using classic computers. At 25:19, the machine on-screen is very obviously an Apple IIGS, though the exact software being demoed is indeterminable; minutes later, at 32:44, an Apple RGB monitor — perhaps the same one previously featured, but from a different angle — can be seen in the background.

Playing an Apple IIGS in Beep documentary

Apple IIGS monitor in background of Beep documentary

Given the breadth and depth that Beep set out to cover, it's unsurprising that they wouldn't have the opportunity to focus on our favorite retrocomputer. But the Apple IIGS's Ensoniq chip was one of the platform's hallmark features, warranting acknowledgement right in the model's name — the 'S' stands for "sound", after all. At least it had its cameo.

For more opinion about Beep, read my review on Gamebits.