Using an Apple IIgs in 2017

June 26th, 2017 10:19 AM
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When I started college twenty years ago this year, I bought my first non-Apple II computer. I desperately wanted to move my IIgs into the dorm, but at the time, that computer didn't have the networking capabilities or development environment necessary to enable my pursuit of a degree in computer science. I was frustrated, because outside that academic context, the IIgs could still do everything I needed from a computer.

If that was barely true in 1997, how true is it in 2017? Could I get by with only an Apple II as my primary computer? I don't know if I could, but Bryan Lunduke recently tried to find out if he could. Lunduke, a freelance blogger for Networkworld (sibling to Computerworld, which is my former employer and still occasional source for freelance work), hosts a YouTube series called The Lunduke Hour, where he investigates various Linux, open-source, and other non-mainstream technologies. In his May 2, 2017, episode, he asks, "What would it be like to use an Apple IIgs in 2017?"

The resulting video is primarily a tour of System 6.0.1 and some essential applications, such as AppleWorks, HyperCard, and Wolfenstein 3D. Although not too deep a dive, it's a surprisingly informed tour for being Lunduke's first day with the machine. With the possible exceptions of Marinetti and Contiki, he omits many of the community's developments in the past two decades, including unofficial updates to the operating system, though that may have been intentional if he's trying to recapture a classic experience. Despite that, thanks to emulating all his hardware and software, Lunduke doesn't suffer through unaccelerated load times like many of us have.

For those who already use the Apple IIgs on a daily basis, the Finder won't be foreign. But from the perspective of someone who's hasn't seen it before or in a long time, it's fun to realize how many GUI conventions were established on this machine, with Lunduke referring to the interface as "surprisingly modern".

For all that fun, why did Lunduke subject himself to this experiment (other than to produce channel content)? Says he:

I like to see what it was like; I like to reminisce about the 1980s, the 1990s, to see what it's like to live, computing-wise, in an environment that is totally different from what most of use day-in, day-out. Maybe that will, in some way, help me get a better understanding of where we've been, where we've come from, our computing history, and maybe just how not so far we've come. Maybe it will give me an idea of some cool features we've lost along the way.

Kudos to Lunduke for giving my favorite retrocomputer a try. I wonder how he's describe the results of his experiment?

The audio podcast version of The Lunduke Hour is available to Lunduke's Patreon supporters.

(Hat tip to Jesse Blue)

Game Informer's Top 100 RPGs

June 19th, 2017 7:51 AM
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In the 1980s, role-playing games, or RPGs, were my favorite genres of computer and video games. The hours of character development and narrative created a much richer fictional world than the era's action games. Perhaps due to their inability to translate to arcades, RPGs were a niche genre, and so I hungrily played any I could get my hands on.

The decades since have seen an explosion in the popularity of RPGs, or at least the willingness to serve that niche — so much, that the cover story of issue #290 of Game Informer is the staff's picks for the top hundred RPGs of all time. To have had that many to choose from in the 1980s would've been staggering, though Game Informer admits that the definition of RPG has become nebulous, now encompassing such modern titles as Mass Effect 3, Destiny, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Fortunately, Game Informer acknowledges the genre's roots by including several Apple II games on their list:

The criteria for the staff's selection were not disclosed, so it's hard to say whether these games were acknowledged because they were fun to play then, are still fun to play, or are important to the evolution of gaming. Wasteland, for example, is noted as being the pre-cursor to Fallout; Wizardry is "often cited as the first party-based RPG"; and for The Bard's Tale, "Some players may still have their hand-drawn graph paper maps tucked away in an old box."

Regardless, with so many franchises, platforms, publishers, and developers at play, it's impressive that the Apple II got so many mentions. But any listicle is bound to be contentious, and no one will fully agree with the choices or order of games. For example, Game Informer has probably never played one of my favorite Apple II games: The Magic Candle. With a jobs system in which player characters could learn crafts and trades, earn money from town jobs, and even split the party, it was an innovative and ahead of its time, being released three years before Final Fantasy V, which is often hailed for its job system.

What Apple II RPGs would you have included on this list, and why?

Choosing content for Juiced.GS

June 12th, 2017 5:50 PM
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Another Juiced.GS has been delivered to the printshop, though not without enduring some challenges. I once again had to struggle with a wonderful problem: too much content.

Each print issue of Juiced.GS has to be a number of pages divisible by 4. (That's what you get when you print on both sides of an 11" x 17" piece of paper then fold it in half.) We've decided that the minimum number of pages is 20, and the maximum (which we've achieved only once in our 86 issues) is 28. So most issues are either 20 or 24 pages.

The geography of the magazine is such that many pages are already spoken for: the front and back cover, my editorial, and DumplinGS, for example. That can account for as much as 25% of an issue, with the remainder filled with roughly six articles.

Some of those articles, I pitch to staff writers or freelancers; other articles are pitched to me. Unless it's something we've already covered, I rarely turn down a pitch. Some articles are short one-pagers; others require multiple diagrams that span five or six pages.

And that's what happened this issue: we had so many great pitches of substantial content that, by the time everything was loaded in, the issue was clocking in at 29 pages. I had to delete 1, 5, or 9 pages to get this issue to work.

Making that decision means asking, "What articles must run this issue?" Some topics are time-sensitive, whether they're reviews of new software, coverage of recent events, lead-ups to KansasFest, or series that need to conclude before year's end. Once I answered that question, it became apparent that we had six articles that had to be published in June, and four that could wait until September, resulting in a 24-page issue.

Of course, I could've run some of that "extra" content in June, making for another massive 28-page issue. But there are two downsides to doing so: it bumps the magazine into another postage class, requiring additional stamps; and it leaves less content for us to publish in the fall. By holding content back until September, there's that much less work to do in the short month between when KansasFest ends and when school begins.

There's one other consideration when making content decisions: the writers. How will they feel when their articles, which I gave them deadlines for, are not published when promised? Fortunately, I have never once encountered any tension or pushback. Every Juiced.GS contributor has attached no ego to their publication date, recognizing that these decisions in no way reflect the quality of their submissions. I am grateful for how fully they understand and cooperate.

I don't expect this issue to be the last time I have to make those decisions: with KansasFest 2017 being sold out, our community is growing, and with it, the number of helpers and contributors. I don't see a need to change our format or processes to compensate — to put it in KansasFest terms, we don't need a new venue with a bigger capacity. Instead, we can promise that we'll continue to be curators who work with writers of all experiences and skill levels to deliver the best content we can find.

Enjoy the issue — it hits the USPS on Wednesday!

Steve Weyhrich's Minecraft Apple II

June 5th, 2017 10:30 AM
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When it comes to video games, crafting is something I profess to hate. This is a gameplay mechanism wherein you engage in trivial quests to discover or harvest random materials that, by themselves, do nothing, but when combined, may create a unique, useful, or powerful item. But figuring out what items produce these meaningful combinations, and which others result in meaningless junk, is part of the "fun". The whole process is mundane, tedious, and frustrating.

And yet crafting is the titular theme of Minecraft, which is the second best-selling video or computer game of all time, behind only Tetris. I've never played Minecraft, so it's probably not actually as banal as I expect, especially since 121 million people would disagree with me.

One of those people is Steve Weyhrich, and even I have to admit that, whatever I think of the methodology, his results are astounding. Six years ago, Steve presented the fruits of his labor: a massive, to-scale Apple II Plus that you could walk around in. The attention to detail was remarkable, as was the amount of time and dedication such a creation must've required.

In hindsight, perhaps I should not have been so dazzled — because Steve certainly wasn't. Five years later, unsatisfied with his original effort, Steve set out to create an even better Apple II. In his latest video, released two months ago today, Steve shows off a virtual Apple IIe, complete with modem, retrocomputing magazines, and soda.

I don't know how or why Steve does what he does. And since I've never played Minecraft, I don't know if there's any way to share his creation — a sort of Shapeways for Minecraft creations. But I don't need to play Minecraft or explore Steve's Apple myself to be impressed. I knew both Steve and Minecraft were capable of fantastic works of art, but this latest invention surpasses all expectations.

Maybe crafting isn't all that bad, after all.

Charles Babbage Institute on Juiced.GS

May 29th, 2017 11:55 AM
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In the summer of 2011, I applied for Juiced.GS to receive an International Standard Serial Number. My goal in having an industry-standard reference number was to make this quarterly publication easier to accession into libraries and archives. Once the ISSN was issued, I contacted institutions around the world to ask if they would accept a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

One such organization that was at the top of my list was the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Although perhaps not as well-known as the Computer History Museum in California or as geographically accessible as the Strong Museum of Play in New York, both of which have a tourist appeal to them, the CBI is nonetheless widely respected as a research center for history of information technology. It was an honor for Juiced.GS to be accepted into its archives.

Four years later, I was travelling en route to KansasFest 2015. I decided to fly from Boston to Fargo, North Dakota, to visit my friend Sabriel, who had been a guest on my podcast, Polygamer. Not only was I looking forward to spending time with her in a less harried environment than our usual gaming conferences, but North Dakota was one of the seven United States I'd never been to; checking it off would bring me closer to having visited all fifty.

From Fargo, there were a couple different routes to KansasFest, including driving. But the timing didn't work out to stop in Nebraska and carpool with any of the KFesters there, so I decided to fly. The only problem was that there were no direct flights from Fargo to… almost anywhere, including Kansas City. My flight would have a layover in Minneapolis.

J. Arvid Nelson, CBI curator and archivist, shows off the gem of the CBI collection.Minneapolis! That's the home of the Charles Babbage Institute! Instead of an indirect flight, Sabriel graciously drove me to Minneapolis the day before my flight. I emailed my contact there, Arvid Nelsen, to let him know we were coming, and he offered us an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour. That visit is documented on the Juiced.GS blog.

During that tour, Arvid and I discovered that we both had an interest in the diversity of the tech industry, both modern and historical. I was only a year into my Polygamer podcast back then, but when I got home, I emailed him to see if he'd like to be a guest. It took awhile to coordinate, but two years later, that interview with Arvid and current CBI archivist Amanda Wick finally happened in last week's podcast.

It's not uncommon for my gaming interests to lead to Juiced.GS stories: my attendance at MAGFest resulted in a Juiced.GS cover story about Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry; and my IndieSider podcast interview with the creator of Shadowgate similarly led an another cover story.

But this is the first time I can think of that the Apple II led to an episode of Polygamer. Having attended the last nineteen KansasFests, I've observed that we tend to be a fairly homogenous population, which wouldn't normally be a good fit for a podcast about diversity. I'm delighted that the Apple II and the Charles Babbage Institute nonetheless resulted in a fascinating conversation about history, diversity, and archiving. Please do visit the CBI, either online or in-person as I have, and listen to our podcast.

Video Game Hall of Fame overlooks the Apple II in 2017

May 22nd, 2017 8:45 AM
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Every spring, the World Video Game Hall of Fame expands its list of inductees. This virtual recognition, hosted by the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, acknowledges games that "have significantly affected the video game industry, popular culture, and society in general".

Since the games are assessed not for their cutting-edge graphics, replayability, or "fun factor", it makes sense that many inductees would be older titles. Despite being constrained by the technology of the era, these early games were foundational in creating an industry and its franchises. And few machines were as elemental in that process as the Apple II.

However, The Strong rarely recognizes native Apple II games. The first class of inductees, announced in 2015, passed over Oregon Trail in favor of Doom, Pac-Man, Pong, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and World of Warcraft. Oregon Trail finally got its due in 2016, but at the same time that John Madden Football got sacked to make room for The Sims, Sonic The Hedgehog, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, and Grand Theft Auto III.

Now it's 2017. Another class has been accepted into the Hall of Fame, and for the first time, no Apple II game was even nominated. Nominated but not accepted this year were Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, Myst, Portal, Tomb Raider, and Wii Sports; the winners were Donkey Kong, Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokémon Red and Green, and Street Fighter II. While Donkey Kong and Solitaire originated in the 1980s and had Apple II iterations, none of these titles and franchises were made popular by the Apple II, like Oregon Trail and John Madden were.

Rather than feel slighted in 2017, Let's ensure the 2018 ballot doesn't similarly overlook our favorite retrocomputer. What games should we nominate for consideration in next year's class — again, taking into account not how much time we spent playing these games, but their lasting impact on the industry and genre?

So as to not spread ourselves thin and divide our votes among too many choices, I have only two suggestions: Ultima and King's Quest. Both games created fully realized worlds and new ways to interact with them, introducing both franchises and gameplay mechanics that continue to this day. What more could the World Video Game Hall of Fame ask for?

Let's get the Apple II the recognition it deserves. In the meantime, as a platform-agnostic gamer, I offer my congratulations to all the non-Apple II titles that received this honor in 2017 — many of which made lasting impressions on both gaming culture and my own childhood.