Apple Games Done Quick

July 27th, 2015 8:41 AM
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This month at KansasFest, I gave attendees a crash course in two genres of YouTube gaming videos: unboxings and Let's Plays. There's yet another genre that I have no participatory experience with but am nonetheless in awe of: speedruns.

A speedrun is an attempt to finish a game as quickly as possible without using any external cheats — by which I mean emulation, ROM hacking, Game Genies, or other devices. What is allowed are exploitation and manipulation of glitches (intentional or otherwise) within the game. This approach can allow the Super Nintendo game Super Mario World to be finished in under five minutes — even though the programmers never intended it, they nonetheless laid the groundwork for their game to be abused in this fashion.

Speedruns are extraordinary for the players' intimate knowledge of the game. They've memorized minutia and can predict likely outcomes, demonstrating a depth of mastery that few casual or even hardcore gamers can ever hope to achieve. Unlike unboxings or Let's Plays, which are done for fun or profit, speedruns are highly competitive, even if the player is challenging only himself to shave a second or two of world record.

When it comes to organization Games Done Quick, that competitive force is used for good. Their twice-annual events — Awesome Games Done Quick and Summer Games Done Quick — are video game marathons that raise money for charity. Players — as many as 150 — congregate in a single location and stream their speedrun trials, encouraging viewers to donate to various non-profits. For SGDQ15, which began yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota, and runs through August 1, the charity is Doctors Without Borders.

That's all well and good — but where's the Apple II connection? The answer to that question comes at 6:45 AM CDT this Thursday, July 30, on the speedrun schedule. At that wee hour, under the subcategory of "Silly Games Done Quick", runners will be playing Oregon Trail. Confirmed Facebook user Cat Morgan: "Yes, they are hoping to do it on an Apple — they are waiting for the hardware to arrive to test it with their streaming rig." Their intended completion time is a mere 15 minutes — which should be feasible, given that a tool-assisted speedrun uploaded to YouTube just this month shows the game being completed in 8:24.63:

The hardware and software demonstrated in my Let's Play tutorial opens the door for many more Apple II speedruns. Maybe you'll be the next gamer whose retrocomputing will help Games Done Quick raise money for a good cause!

UPDATE (Aug 1, 2015): A YouTube record of the #SGDQ15 speedrun of Oregon Trail is now online:

Recording Let's Plays on the Apple II

July 20th, 2015 10:31 AM
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Last week I attended the 27th (and my 18th) annual KansasFest, a convention for Apple II users. I was thrilled to be among fellow retrocomputing enthusiasts, charging my batteries for another year of Juiced.GS and other hobby projects.

As an educator and public speaker, I love giving presentations at KansasFest. Most of the event's talks are technical in nature, whereas I tend to take what I've learned in the other areas of my life — podcasting, crowdfunding — and apply them to the Apple II. This year, I drew upon my experience developing a YouTube channel and demonstrated how to record a Let's Play video using the Elgato Game Capture HD hardware (but not the more expensive HD60, which lacks the necessary A/V input port).

This $150 device is normally used to capture HDMI audio and video, but with an included adapter, it can capture component video as well. By plugging the red component cable into an Apple II's composite video output, and then connecting the computer's headphone jack to a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter, the audio and video from an Apple II will show up oon a PC or Mac in the Elgato's software — but with a delay. A monitor stills need to be connected to the Apple II, which is why I used Chris Torrence's Night Owl monitor plugged into the IIc's video port; an RGB monitor connected to a IIGS will work as well. Then I used a 3.5mm Y-splitter to connect headphones or speakers to the Apple II. (Note that the IIc Plus does not have a headphone jack; neither does the IIe, unless you add a RetroConnector adapter.) Finally, a USB headset allowed me to overlay my audio commentary over the recorded gameplay footage.

Prefer to learn these techniques visually? Mike Whalen streamed my KansasFest session and has made it available on YouTube:

Here's the Let's Play Flapple Bird video that I recorded during this session.

The capture process was not perfect, as I had to make two edits in Final Cut Pro X before uploading to YouTube: the height of Elgato's exported video was stretched (654 x 480), so I reduced the Y-scale to 85% (though ultimately I went with an X-scale of 147.79% and Y-scale of 125.62%, so as to occupy the full window); and the color was off, so I adjusted it per this screenshot.

Final Cut Pro X

Editing Flapple Bird in Final Cut Pro X.
I saved this setting as an "Apple II" preset.

Also, I should've disabled the KansasFest sound system, as I was close enough to the speaker for my USB headset to pick up my booming voice, resulting in poor audio quality.

Although my session focused primarily on Let's Play videos, I also gave a brief introduction to unboxing videos, the genre with which I launched my YouTube channel. I combined unboxing Let's Play, and the Apple II when I unboxed and played Retro Fever.

Not sure why anyone would watch someone else play a video game — or what my "I moth stories" shirt meant? Both are explained in this video from a monthly storyslam I attend in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I hope this session was useful and that it inspired attendees to record and share their subjective experience with Apple II software. I look forward to your YouTube videos!

KFest Funk

July 13th, 2015 12:40 PM
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Today is the eve of KansasFest 2015, the annual gathering of Apple II enthusiasts in Kansas City, Missouri. This year's event marks a milestone: it's the first to feature a keynote speaker from the LGBT community and a code of conduct, and it marks half my life I've been attending KansasFest.

It's the attendees that make KansasFest such an exuberant event, and one of the people I most look forward to seeing is Steve Weyhrich. Author of the definitive history of the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity, Steve is also a KansasFest committee member who puts plenty of time and energy into making the event as fun and zany as possible. One year he did so by filming a series of on-site vignettes that he, parodying the role of CSI's David Caruso character, investigated, concluding with a series of silly zingers.

This year's addition to Steve's video repertoire is no less ridiculous. I'm not cool enough to be familiar with the song "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson — I was only the 789,569,005th person to discover it since its YouTube debut this past November. Steve, being the hip daddy-o he is, took that hit song and adapted it to be about KansasFest. Introducing the music video "KFest Funk":

My thanks to Steve, the committee, and all the attendees for making every KansasFest unique, special, and fun. I can't wait to see you all tomorrow!

Michael Fassbender is Steve Jobs

July 6th, 2015 11:50 AM
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Can we have too many books and movies about Steve Jobs? Apparently not, as this October 9, the titular Steve Jobs hits theaters, with its first full trailer having been released last week:

Compared to an earlier teaser trailer, this look at Steve Jobs gives Michael Fassbender plenty of screen time in the title role. We see plenty of the ego and cruelty that often characterizes Steve Jobs; in that sense, Fassbender seems to be playing the role to a tee. But even critics of the 2013 film Jobs can likely agree that Ashton Kutcher looked much more the part than Fassbender does.

(Personally, I've never seen Fassbender in any role other than Magneto, so this will be a stretch for me.)

Aaron Sorkin was originally reported to be writing this film based on Isaac Walterson's biography but with only three scenes, which seemed awfully limiting. According to Esquire's story — which has a great headline: "Steve Jobs Is a Tech Visionary, Total Dick in the Steve Jobs Trailer" — the film is instead "structured around three Apple product lunches [sic]", which seems more reasonable. Spanning the eras will afford us the opportunity to see Jobs' maturation (or lack thereof) as a person and leader.

Some Apple II enthusiasts are already decrying this film for casting Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. But if Woz has as small a role here as he did in Jobs, then it's likely not to matter — besides, even Woz himself says a bit of fiction makes for good cinema. So, as before, I'll be seeing this film — will you?

(Hat tip to Angela Watercutter)

Getting to know my father

June 29th, 2015 10:22 AM
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Last spring, I interviewed my father. The eight-minute video was to live on my YouTube channel, the focus of which is video games, so that's what my dad and I talked about: his history with pinball, choosing to have Atari and Nintendo in a house where he raised four boys, and more. It was a fun opportunity to get to know my father better.

For Father's Day 2015, I decided to revisit the topic but more in-depth. In the time since the original video, I launched the Polygamer podcast, which interviews marginalized voices in the gaming industry. My father, being a straight, white, cisgendered male, doesn't sound like he'd fit that demographic — but when viewed as someone older than the average gamer, and who juggled gaming with parenting decades before the former became mainstream, he certainly represents an unusual perspective.

Since Polygamer is an audio podcast, it was easier to produce a longer interview than the video format allows. The range of topics my dad and I discussed thus expanded to include not only video games, but science fiction, Star Trek, and the Applel II. I was surprised to learn that Dad brought home an Apple II not as an accounting tool for use in the family business, but because he saw it as a curiosity that had the potential to reshape the world, and he wanted his sons to get in on the ground floor. This and other tales of the diversions and entertainments he's enjoyed over the last seven decades made for a fun and fascinating conversation.

The entire episode can be found on Polygamer.net; subscribed to in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice; or streamed below.

My thanks to my dad not only for taking the time to speak with me, but for making me the geek I am today!

Parsely games at KansasFest 2015

June 22nd, 2015 9:29 AM
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At KansasFest 2010, I ran a session of a live text adventure. These Parsely games are inspired by interactive fiction but substitute a human for the computer. Think of it as a cross between IF and Dungeons & Dragons: I became the dungeon master (DM) who described rooms, solicited direction from the players, and reported results — but all input had to be provided as if I were a two-word text parser. So go ahead and tell me to "GET AXE", but if you ask me "Can I pick up the axe?", I'll respond, "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to 'Can I pick up the axe?'". It was a lot of fun to watch players with their graph papers map the connections between rooms, take notes, consult their IF cheat sheets, and try to coordinate their activities across alternating turns — it was a bit like watching Twitch Plays Pokémon. Here's a demonstration of Action Castle, the game I ran at KansasFest 2010, as moderated by its creator, Jared Sorensen:

Parsely returned to KansasFest 2014 with an all-new adventure and was a hit! We even had to adjourn to another room when the players' exploration of Jungle Adventure ran over the allotted session time.

IMG_5399

Comparing maps in Jungle Adventure, the live interactive fiction game I ran

Rather than wait the four years that divided KansasFest's last two rounds of Parsely, I'll be bringing another text adventure to KansasFest 2015. I have several scripts to choose from but will not begin memorizing one until en route to Kansas City. That gives you, the potential players, time to suggest the nature of the game. Should we explore a haunted house; a space station; a medieval castle; a Halloween graveyard; or a zombie-infested hospital? Choose your own adventure in the below survey!

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