Old friends of KansasFest

July 17th, 2017 10:31 AM
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KansasFest 2017 is this week, and more than a dozen attendees will be arriving with shirts from KFests past to make a group photo happen. While I was looking for examples of previous such photos, I came across this artifact.

Ryan Suenaga, Steve Gozdziewski, Ken Gagne

Dain Neater snapped this photo outside Avila University at KansasFest 2002. Here I am, chatting with Ryan Suenaga and Steve Gozdziewski. In this moment, Ryan is in his first year as editor-in-chief of Juiced.GS, and Steve is the committee chair of KansasFest.

Legends.

When I think back to those early KansasFests, what I remember most aren't the sessions or the product reveals; it's the camaraderie. It's finally meeting people whom I'd known for years from GEnie or CompuServe and clicking with them immediately. It's the laughter of delight in being among people who get each other. Ryan and Steve were a big part of that, not only by creating the platforms, but by also being wonderful people to be around. They were weird and quirky and absolutely selfless, and they shaped my early experiences in the Apple II community.

Ryan died on April 24, 2011, at age 44; Steve passed away on December 31, 2016, at 69. I wrote their obituaries for both A2Central.com and Juiced.GS.

Everyone who attends KansasFest was or is at some point a new friend. And with KansasFest 2017 hitting its attendance cap at one hundred Apple II enthusiasts, I look forward to making many new friends this year.

But damned if I don't miss the old ones.

The Last Jedi trailer

July 10th, 2017 11:49 AM
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Like most people reading this blog, I'm a Star Wars fan. Not obsessively so — I reserve that level of dedication for Star Trek. But I'm definitely one of the first people to see any new Star Wars movie, which includes Episode VIII, releasing this December 15, 2017. My enthusiasm's been especially high after the first official trailer released this past February.

Another fan who resides at the intersection of Apple II and Star Wars fandoms is Wahyu "Pinot" Ichwandardi, and his dedication to that combination outshines us all. Using an Apple IIc, KoalaPad graphics tablet, the Dazzle Draw paint program, 44 floppy disks, and Steve Chamberlin's Floppy Emu, Ichwandardi recreated the above trailer as 288 monochromatic 8-bit frames.

By pressing "Play" on the above two videos simultaneously, you can see how closely Ichwandardi's work follows the original. A follow-up tweet detailed the process and equipment Ichwandardi used in this three-week endeavor.

This masterpiece isn't simply the result of a modern artist deciding to be bohemian by incorporating retro technology into his craft. Rather, it's a return to form for Ichwandardi: 33 years ago, as an elementary school student, he worked the same magic on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. While that original work no longer exists, the skills he honed on his Apple II have aged well, it seems.

My hope is that Ichwandardi will find other impressive ways to use his Apple IIc, and that we'll see even more art coming from him soon — lest The Last Jedi be the last!

(Hat tip to Yvette Tan via Charles Pulliam-Moore and Brendan Robert)

The shirts of KansasFest

July 3rd, 2017 1:48 PM
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Earlier this year, I wrote a tribute to an Apple II user who had passed away — something I've now done too many damn times. But in remembering Steve Gozdziewski, I also recalled sharing this moment with him at KansasFest 2002:

KansasFest attendees wearing shirts representing the event's different years

Many of those pictured had been coming to KansasFest for years (2002 was the event's fourteenth year, and my fifth), and we spontaneously decided to represent our long lineage by donning the various years' shirts that we'd happened to bring with us. (We staged a similar shot another year, though I can't seem to find it in the available archives.)

That got me thinking: why not plan another shirt photo? With this month's KansasFest being the 29th, it's unlikely we'll have representatives from every year — but it'd be fun to try!

So if you've ever attended a previous KansasFest and are one of the hundred who are coming to KansasFest 2017, please use the below form to indicate which years' KansasFest shirts you own. A week from today, July 10, I'll email everyone their packing instructions to ensure we show up in Kansas City with as complete a set as possible!

Let's create another photo by which to remember the many years and friends we've shared across the decades.

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!