Temporal anomaly in MazeFire

February 1st, 2016 11:54 AM
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Back in the summer of 2014, I attended a Boston Games Forum event. This group, now known as Playcrafting, gives local game developers opportunities to network, hone their craft, and showcase their work. Not being a developer, I enjoy Playcrafting letting me get my hands on new and upcoming games as I scout potential candidates for my YouTube channel and IndieSider podcast.

That night, one of the games being demoed was billed as a maze, though it seemed more a multiple-choice trivia/quiz-type game: each correct answer would automatically advance you through from one side of a grid to another. There was nothing a-maze-ing about it, but I was drawn to the theme of the questions: each one was about the history of computer and video games, from Pong to EverQuest and more. The random selection of 19 questions weren't hard, since they were often accompanied by a screenshot of the game featured in the correct answer, but it was still neat to see our history being celebrated.

One of the questions was just slightly wrong in its details, though:

MazeFire (2014)

The game may've come out in 1981 — but it certainly wasn't being played on an Apple IIe, which wasn't released until 1983.

The game in question is the first Wizardry:

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was an incredibly addictive game developed by Greenberg and Woodhead and launched in 1980 at the Boston Computer Convention. Character classes, alignments, specializations (Samurais and ninjas) along with maze tricks and keys all foreshadowed the MMORPGs of the modern era. Probably was not used for military training, although it was a favorite of at least one Fort Riley US Army Officer.

The text has been updated in the latest version of the game:

mazefire-2016.jpg

You can play Mazefire online for free and test your own knowledge of gaming history.

Steve Jobs dances to Jonathan Mann

January 25th, 2016 10:13 AM
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Jonathan Mann has been producing an original song every day for over seven years. That's 2,572 consecutive songs, a streak that's landed him in the book of Guinness World Records.

To create so many songs, Mann draws his inspiration from everywhere, especially pop culture. Apple is a popular source, producing not only one of my favorite songs, "That's Just the Woz", but also more infamously, "The iPhone Antenna Song"

Steve Jobs was never one to take criticism lightly, so you'd think this music video would've landed Mann on Apple's blacklist. Perversely, just the opposite happened: Apple opened their "Antennagate" press conference with Mann's music video.

What was it like when Mann got the call from Apple, seeking permission for this public performance of his critical work? And what could've motivated the mercurial Steve Jobs to own and embrace what he normally would see as a cruel jab?

In episode #7 of the podcast Welcome to Macintosh, host Mark Bramhill interviews Mann himself about his history with Apple products and the Apple community, his experience working with Apple to arrange this performance, and his theories as to why Jobs not only played his music, but danced to it.

Steve Jobs was a vision and a genius, and neither Apple nor the Apple II may ever have existed without him. Yet this genius was marred by incredible cruelty and apathy. In this episode, Mann puts himself in Jobs' shoes and imagines how Apple's co-founder might've felt to have the iPhone lambasted so mercilessly, and how Mann's music video might've reached past that into some human core of Jobs. It was a humanizing and empathetic perspective, and one I appreciated hearing. I recommend you listen to Mann's interview for a more complete picture of Steve Jobs.

(Full disclosure: I back Mann on Patreon)

Ivan Drucker's BASIC to Python

January 18th, 2016 9:41 AM
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Ivan Drucker is an unsung hero of the Apple II community. His line of programming utilities, networking tools, and Raspberry Pi applications might pigeonhole him as a software savant, but his contributions to the Apple II community extend across multiple media, including KansasFest presentations and Juiced.GS cover stories.

It's no surprise, then, that someone so prolific would be comfortable in many programming languages. His latest contribution to the community is a Python translation of an Applesoft BASIC program:

This is a line-for-line conversion of an edited version of CLOCK.PATCH from the System Tools 2 disk in GS/OS 6.0.1. It's not good Python, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise. In general I have tried replicate each line as closely to BASIC as possible.

For those of us who never learned a programming language that doesn't have line numbers, this Rosetta stone of classic and modern languages is fascinating. Since each translation performs the same function, seeing how similar concepts are expressed in different environments makes it easy for someone unversed in one language to follow the other.

Applesoft & Python

I don't know the practical value of this exercise, but that's what makes Ivan so great: he pursues goals he's passionate about because he finds them cool and fun. That's the epitome of the retrocomputing enthusiast.

Video Game Hall of Fame 2016

January 11th, 2016 3:21 PM
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The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, is an ardent supporter and ally of video game preservation. Their International Center for the History of Electronic Games has collaborated with countless developers to archive personal notes, hardware, and other artifacts of gaming history.

Some games deserve special recognition, and to that end, the ICHEG has instituted a World Video Game Hall of Fame. In June 2015, they inducted six games from a list of fifteen candidates "that have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general". But in a gross oversight, none of those six games had their origins on the Apple II.

We retrocomputing enthusiasts now have the opportunity to correct that error. Nominations for the next annual round of inductees to The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame close February 29, 2016. It's as simple as filling out a form, though two questions will require some thought: "What are your reasons for nominating this game?" and "Tell us a story or experience you had with this game."

So, Apple II fans: what games will you nominate? Lode Runner? Choplifter? King's Quest? All these games and more resonated with us thirty years ago and continue to inspire games and game development today. Getting just one such landmark from the Apple II recognized should be a no-brainer.

But ultimately, all we can do is make these titles available for consideration: "Final selections will be made on the advice of journalists, scholars, and other individuals familiar with the history of video games and their role in society."

Let's get the Apple II's place in gaming history the recognition it deserves!

Reviving the 8-Bit Generation

January 4th, 2016 3:04 PM
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In February 2012, I heard of an upcoming computer documentary called 8-Bit Generation. As it was scheduled to ship imminently, I paid to preordered a copy to review in Juiced.GS. But the ship date came and went, no DVDs shipped, and emails to the director went unanswered. I learned that October that some customers had received refunds, but I was not one of the lucky ones.

Jason Scott saw the bigger picture: what we'd lost was not just a few preorders, but an impressive collection of documentary footage with industry founders and luminaries that may now never see the light of day. As a director himself of such invaluable productions as GET LAMP and BBS: The Documentary, Scott understood the trials of creating such a product and the value of seeing it through to the end.

Thanks in no small part to Scott's empathy and support, the film's producers came out of hiding and sought to finally finish what they'd begun. A successful Kickstarter this past fall produced the necessary funds to see the film through to completion. An email from the project manager assured me that those who have not yet received refunds from the original preorder will eventually receive the documentary. So instead of backing the project at a level that would get me the DVD, I backed the Kickstarter for $1 to get access to any backer-only updates.

The film still isn't done, and the last Kickstarter update is from two months ago, but I've seen enough to now believe that this film exists and will become a finished product. Bil Herd, a former Commodore engineer, will be the narrator, and interviews with the elusive (and now deceased) Jack Tramiel will be donated to the Internet Archive and the Computer History Museum.

Here's an example of a familiar story told in stunning HD quality:

I've never had the ambition or talent to create a documentary and don't envy those who would tackle such a challenge. I believe this time, they'll prove worthy of the faith that's been shown in them.

Let's Play Operation Lambda

December 28th, 2015 9:39 AM
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At KansasFest 2015, I gave a presentation on how to record Let's Play videos on an Apple II. These videos combine A/V capture of Apple II software, usually games, with the player's audio commentary of their session. It's a way not only to demonstrate the program, but also to capture one person's unique, subjective experience.

My YouTube channel consists primarily of Let's Play videos of modern gaming consoles, such as the Sony PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Wii U. I occasionally mix it up with videos featuring other kinds of content, though my ability to produce any videos at all depends on how available my day job, night job, and Juiced.GS leave me. I recently enjoyed a bout of freedom from other obligations, and so from October 22 to December 9 — 50 consecutive days — I was able to produce one video a day. I capped that streak with a Let's Play of one of the most impressive games for the Apple IIGS: Operation Lambda.

"A logic/action game, where you work your way through a space station under distress, deflecting laser beams and saving hostages," describes developer Bret Victor on the game's website. The press release lists the game's features:

  • • 100 levels, ranging from simple to challenging to brain-boggling
  • • an original, kickin', five-song musical score
  • • impressive graphics from the PowerGS staff artist and former LiveWire IIgs art editor
  • • smooth, flicker-free animation
  • • three difficulty settings
  • • written in 100% assembly language for speed
  • • a concise, one-page printed manual

For the purpose of this recording, I used Eric Shepherd's Sweet16 emulator, as it was quicker and easier to set up than capturing video off an actual IIGS would've been. It was fun to revisit this title from the creator of TextFighter, PuyoPuyo, SurfBurgers, and Opening Line.

Bret Victor was a genius programmer to have developed Operation Lambda at only 16 years old; he was interviewed for Juiced.GS Volume 2, Issue 1 and wrote the cover story for Volume 3, Issue 1. He remains a genius software developer, speaking at a Dropbox developer conference in 2013 on the future of programming:

Personally, I'd like the future of programming to include ports of Victor's classic games. John Romero recently released Dangerous Dave for iOS — a platform I can see Operation Lambda residing on. Any chance we'll see updates to these lost classics from Right Triangle Productions?