A journey through Chivalry

January 16th, 2017 7:25 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
3 comments.

Interactive fiction author Wade Clarke recently encouraged me to engage in a two-player game of Chivalry, a 1983 Apple II game I was previously unfamiliar with. So, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Jess and I played a round.

Chivalry is an electronic board game where players become knights and ladies who are charged with rescuing the medieval king from his kidnapper, the Black Knight. Each turn, a wheel or die determines if a player advances one, two, or three spaces forward on the board. The board itself is never seen, nor are the players' relative positions, so it can be hard to tell who's winning. But each space on the board is a fixed location with its own challenges and encounters, so players start recognizing them as they watch each other move forward and backward.

Each location is either a random encounter or an action-based mini-game. Games include archery and jousting competitions, catching sacks of flour as they are tossed out of a window, crossing a bridge while dodging a troll, and more. Some locations require no dexterity, instead requiring a simple decision, such as which door to open or path to take. Still other locations offer an automatic and random result — for example: if the bear is awake, you get mauled; but if the bear is asleep, you can sneak by.

The encounters that most intrigued me were those that prepared you for future locations. At one point in the game, a dwarven passerby handed me some rope, without any indication what it might be used for. Later, Jess's travels brought her to an insurmountable cliff, requiring she backtrack. I figured if she'd had my rope, she would've been equipped to proceed. At another point, I had the choice to buy one of three foodstuffs from the market, but only one had a distinctive name: "bear potion". Had the bear not been asleep, I could've used this potion to escape a mauling. In both these examples, the items ended up not being used, which seemed a missed opportunity. But it was a clever mechanic that introduced the possibility of each player having a different experience, even at the same points on the map.

The action-based sequences were less interesting, partly because it was difficult to assess the parameters of success. There are two dart mini-games, for example, but with different, invisible goals. Hit the bullseye in the inn, for example, and you win; but hit the bullseye in the thieves' den, and the thieves will punish you for swindling them. Without knowing the rules, success was as much chance as skill.

After about a half-hour of passing the laptop back and forth (Jess and I were playing with keyboard controls, not paddles), Jess reached the Black Knight's castle, which involved a Dark Castle-like action sequence to leap to the top of the parapets. She succeeded on the first try, winning the game — but she wished I had made it there first. "You're more the action gamer and would've enjoyed it more," she commented. Perhaps she was just being chivalrous — but after watching both of us struggle with the previous action-based tasks, it was fun to see one of us get the final level right on the first try.

Chivalry is an interesting way for 1–4 players to spend an hour, and it's an intriguing example of an early attempt to add an electronic component to the classic board-game experience, well before Anticipation or Mario Party hit the scene. Chivalry demonstrates some of the struggles but also creativity that game designers worked with back then, without necessarily offering a sufficiently compelling experience for repeat rounds of play.

An Apple in Christmas Vacation

January 9th, 2017 8:54 PM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
leave a comment.

This holiday season, I revived a long-dormant tradition of watching one of my favorite Christmas movies: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. There are at least six movies in this franchise, but I've seen only Christmas and Las Vegas, with Christmas being my favorite by far.

Even though I haven't seen the original film in the series, that being 1983's Vacation, I'm aware that it featured a computer contemporary to that era: the Apple II. Clark Griswold used the household computer to plot the family's trip to Wally World, establishing a route only slightly less harrowing than the Oregon Trail:

No classic computer was featured so prominently in the succeeding Vacation films — but, despite having seen Christmas Vacation dozens of times, it was nonetheless hiding an Easter egg I'd never discovered.

One of the highlights of the film comes near the end, when Clark Griswold finally loses his cool and flips out, unleashing a torrent of epithets at his boss:

But, hey — what's that in the background?

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Enhance!

Apple Macintosh Plus

Why, it appears that, by 1989, the Griswold family had upgraded to an Apple Macintosh Plus! Having not been a Mac owner before 1997, I didn't recognize this model, but the reliable website Starring the Computer had the details. This must be the computer that many of my friends reference as their "first Apple II — you know, the one built into the monitor." (sigh)

I would've preferred to see that Clark had upgraded to an Apple IIGS… but still, knowing that he at least stuck with the Apple brand makes me appreciate one of my favorite films just a little bit more.

(Thanks to NMRJess's eagle eyes for spotting this!)

Story Collider: Diphtheria on the Oregon Trail

January 2nd, 2017 11:57 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
leave a comment.

If anyone has heard of dysentery, it's likely because they contracted it on the Oregon Trail. A variety of ailments struck players in MECC's classic edutainment title, and though dysentery was the most iconic, it was not the only killer: cholera, snake bites, measles, and typhoid fever were all rampant.

Many of these conditions are now easily avoid or immunized against using modern medicine, as detailed in the Mental Floss article "Where Are They Now? Diseases That Killed You in Oregon Trail". But our lack of familiarity with these conditions only leaves us more susceptible to their ravages, should they be unleashed upon an unsuspecting population.

That's exactly what happened to neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman, who, one night while working in her lab, accidentally injected herself with a syringe full of diphtheria toxin. Diphtheria is more than just a catchy word to use in headlines such as "Sally Has Diphtheria: Is Oregon Trail the Greatest Video Game of All Time?". It's an airborne bacterial disease that can cause nerve damage, organ failure, paralysis, or death. Fortunately, Dr. Brachman has not suffered those worst of fates — at least, not yet. She has thus far lived to share her story on the Story Collider podcast:

It's a horrific tale that demonstrates not just how bureaucracy has made inaccessible our most effective antitoxins, even for those who most urgently need them. It also underscores the even fewer chances that travelers along the historical Oregon Trail had. We've made a game of settlers who gambled against natural hazards with no immunizations, antidotes, or even hospitals to cure them — it's shocking that anyone survived the journey to Willamette Valley.

Lon's Apple II yule log

December 26th, 2016 7:32 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods;
leave a comment.

There are plenty of Apple II programs that demonstrate the holiday spirit, as amply showcased by Blake Patterson's impressive annual playlist. So while such software is commonplace, it's rare to find retrocomputing hardware that's seasonally appropriate.

Lon Seidman inadvertently has filled that gap. He's built a YouTube empire of over 122,000 subscribers with almost daily reviews of any tech he can get his hands on — from the Xbox One video game console to Lenovo laptops to Samsung hard drives. His latest video is of the Apple IIGS, of which he produced a 33-minute review:

Unfortunately, his shoot was not without fatalities. When his computer started smoking, he thought the monitor had fried a capacitor, so he quickly hustled the display outside while leaving the camera running. But the culprit proved to be the CPU itself, which continued to quietly smoke in front of the camera. Lon took his lemons and made lemonade, offering the following festive video:

There may not be any actual flame (thank goodness), but this is as close as I'd want to get to an actual Apple II yule log.

Merry Christmas and Hanukkah, Lon — I hope your IIGS was okay!

(Full disclosure: I back Lon Seidman on Patreon.)

Canned food on the Oregon Trail

December 19th, 2016 8:36 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
leave a comment.

I've seen Apple II software take a variety of forms: be it original, emulated, or interpreted, the computer's iconic palette and icons have shown up on televisions, subway murals, 404 pages, theatrical stages, and more.

But this one is new to me. Even though I've heard of programming "on the metal", I didn't know the metal could be aluminum:

Canstruction

This Rev. 0 Apple II playing Oregon Trail is the product of a recent fundraiser in Texas. From the event page:

Using only canned food items, Canstruction participants are challenged to create innovative structures that will be displayed in a giant art exhibition throughout the 2016 State Fair. Canstruction is a unique charity that hosts competitions across the nation to showcase colossal canned masterpieces. At the end of the competition, all canned food will be donated to the North Texas Food Bank.

Writes the AG&E Structural Engenuity team:

The iconic Apple IIe was the first computer experience for millions of students, educators and professionals. This canstructure aims to capture the style of the machine, along with the Oregon Trail software that made players think about issues that faced 19th century American settlers—including disease, extreme weather and hunger.

Although this particular team didn't raise any funds, their contribution nonetheless calls attention to an important issue. As these artists stated, "Society has come a long way [since the Oregon Trail], but hunger is still an age-old problem that we must continually address." Despite what some critics may say, food banks serve a vital function in our communities, especially during this cold holiday season. Find and support your local food bank — preferably with cash, not canned food.

(Hat tip to Bob Minteer via Open Apple)

Risk Factions introduces Commandant SixFour

December 12th, 2016 12:30 PM
by
Filed under Game trail;
leave a comment.

I grew up playing all sorts of computer and video games, but there was something especially magical about online multiplayer games. There weren't many of them back then, but in lieu of face-to-face interaction, the friendships I forged in CompuServe chat rooms were reinforced through those friendly competitions.

I still use online games to connect with people I know from other venues, such as KansasFest. The Xbox 360 was the first broadband console I used in that fashion, though I had a hard time finding two-player games that weren't sports or first-person shooters. Need for Speed and Castle Crashers fit the bill, but for more retro experiences, Worms and Lode Runner scratched that itch.

There's one game I enjoyed that I never finished, though: Risk: Factions. I enjoyed this 2010 release enough to rank it as one of my favorite Xbox Live Arcade games of the year — but, like the classic board game, a session of Risk can last an unreasonably long time. Alas, my counterparts and I could never find enough hours in one day to sit through an entire round.

But I did enjoy this game's cartoonish presentation (as opposed to the more realistic approach taken by its 2015 update, Risk). And I especially appreciated that it acknowledged the roots of early computer tactical games. Each country in the game was represented by an animated avatar, with one militaristic individual being identified as Commandant SixFour:

Like its namesake, the Commodore 64, the Commandant doesn't have the highest graphical fidelity. In Terminator fashion, we occasionally see the world through the Commandant's eyes, where everything is pixelated:

Pixelated image as seen by Commandant SixFour

INTRUDER ALERT

This lack of resolution isn't just a cheap joke: it becomes a vital plot point in the above cinematic video, introducing a new villain to the Risk storyline in Wargames style.

Both the Commandant and the Commodore are worthy enemies for their eras. Perhaps some day, I'll find the time to defeat one.

(Hat tip to Open Apple)