Archive for March, 2012

Recovering the code of Prince of Persia

March 29th, 2012 10:18 PM
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Filed under Game trail, History, Mainstream coverage, People;
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Jordan Mechner, rockstar programmer responsible for Prince of Persia and Karateka and keynote speaker of next week's PAX East convention, published a comprehensive journal of the making of Prince of Persia. In the book and on Mechner's Web site are notes, sketches, concept art, demo videos, and more — a wealth of information he preserved from decades ago.

Yet for all that time, there was one vital piece of data he was missing: the original source code. Whether it had been overwritten, lent or donated, mistakenly or purposely trashed, or simply lost remained unknown to Mechner, despite his best efforts.

This week, that long-lost treasure fell in his lap when his father mailed him a box of assorted unidentified floppies. Contained therein was Prince of Persia in its rawest form.

It never occurred to me that Mechner didn't already have PoP's source code. Given that PoP has appeared on platforms as recent as the Xbox 360, I wonder what version or fork they were basing that port on. It makes even more recent independent ports all the more impressive.

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal followed his role as Mechner's Prince of Persia
with the lead in
Source Code... coincidence?!

Mechner's next task is to verify the integrity of the floppies and migrate the data off them. New hardware like the FC5025 and Kyroflux are miracle workers in our ability to access vintage media via a modern operating system, but the fact remains that the floppy disk is a magnetic medium whose charge is dying. I started (but did not finish) my own floppy migration two years ago. It's easy to dismiss it as a low-priority project compared to ongoing and more demanding tasks, but it will be all too soon that I'll have put it off too long.

Once the code is recovered, I wonder what Mechner will do with it? It's still copyrighted material, so will he continue to keep it a secret — or will he publish it under Creative Commons, allowing a variety of variations and ports?

All this reminds me: David X. Cohen, co-creator of the television show Futurama, reported almost five years ago that he too had programmed an Apple II game that needed rescuing from floppies. I wonder what ever came of that?

UPDATE (Mar 30): Jason Scott tells me, "You'll be delighted to know I am leading this expedition."

(Hat tip to Sean Fahey)

Staving off burnout

March 26th, 2012 1:36 PM
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Filed under Musings;
18 comments.

I lead a fairly healthy life: I exercise in the summer by bicycling and in the winter by dancing; I follow a vegetarian diet; I'm not a couch potato save for the occasional DVD; I read a few dozen books a year; and I maintain an active social network. All things in moderation.

Lately, I've had difficulty keeping that balance. The past few months have warranted that I spend more time on some aspects of my personal life than previously budgeted for. I've tried to do this while remaining committed to all my previous activities and obligations, but it isn't working. I don't have as much time for cooking new dishes, walking to work, or getting a good night's sleep; instead, I get home from the office and focus on my next deadline, my next podcast, my next blog post. It's not that watching the next season of Red vs. Blue or going for a horseback ride are priorities, but play is a critical component of a healthy lifestyle, and I'm not giving my mind enough of it. It's gotten to the point where I'm instead looking forward to intersections with red lights, because it's the only time I'm not moving.

Over the years, I've learned to say "no" to new opportunities. Not as easy is stepping away from existing ones. Right now, I find that's what I have to do — and, in the name of balance, the area that I need to cut from is the Apple II, where I'm currently dedicating a disproportionate amount of time and energy.

In case someone misunderstands that statement or fears the worse, let me state in no uncertain terms:

I LOVE THE APPLE II AND ITS COMMUNITY, AND I AM HERE TO STAY.

But for me to better fulfill each role I've gladly adopted over the years, there need to be fewer of them. That's where you come in. I'd like readers of Apple II Bits to vote on what are the most and least important projects I focus on. To that end, I have identified ten unique Apple II projects I work on and am asking you to rank them from most to least important. No two items can have the same value. Each of them usually results on a product or goal, and I need to know which ones you find valuable and which ones don't amount to much to many.

It's impossible for you to know what projects I enjoy, or the ripple effect each task has on the others (for example, the synergy between this blog, Juiced.GS, and Open Apple is impressive, even though they're theoretically independent operations). That's why this poll will not directly determine what to abandon, reduce commitment to, or delegate. The ultimate decision is mine, and this poll is one more piece of data I will use to inform that decision.

(Just for fun, I threw in one non-Apple II commitment, as I suspect its ultimate ranking, whatever it may be, will prove highly amusing.)

The poll runs through noon EDT on Monday, April 2, 2012. Thanks to all who will help determine the course of my life! (Just kidding.)

Wasteland 2's successful Kickstarter

March 22nd, 2012 6:09 PM
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Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage, Software showcase;
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Earlier this month, Tim Shafer and Ron Gilbert, the team behind the sequel to the Apple II classic Maniac Mansion, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to create an original adventure game. That they raised $3.3 million on a requested $400,000 is mind-boggling. That's like selling 87,142 tickets to "a Steven Spielberg movie" before the plot, genre, actors, length, or rating have been published or even decided.

Inspired by this success, Brian Fargo, formerly of Interplay and now of inXile Entertainment, promised to launch his own Kickstarter campaign to create a PC sequel to the Apple II game Wasteland, which already has its own spiritual successor with the Fallout series. True to his word, the same day Schafer closed his project, Fargo launched his. And like Schafer, Fargo's video offers a humorous demonstration of the challenges faced by retro game designers in the modern publishing environment.

Success was swift: within two days, Fargo met his $800,000 goal. At the time of this writing and with 25 days to go, the project has earned $1,493,522; just $6,478 more, and the development team will add Mac and Linux editions.

But why stop there when you could get even more money? As Schafer discovered, Kickstarter processes pledges via Amazon Payments, which may not be very friendly to international customers or those without credit cards. inXile has created an elegant solution: now that the project has met its goal and pledges are guaranteed to be converted to charges, customers can skip the grace period and hand over their money directly via PayPal.

Just $15 will get you your copy, with additional exclusive rewards all the way up to $10,000. I haven't forked over my money yet, and it's a bit frustrating to do so when there are plenty of indie developers on Kickstarter trying to make a career like the one Fargo already has behind him. Still, how can we not support furthering the Apple II's legacy? Kickstarter offers a reminder feature that will send you an email 48 hours before the project's closure, so if you're unsure, you have time to think it over. Chances are I'll find a spare $15 necessary to guarantee my copy of Wasteland 2 when it ships in October 2013.

UPDATE (Mar 22): Fargo has created the "Kicking It Forward" campaign, in which developers promise to put 5% of profits from their successful Kickstarter projects toward other people's Kickstarter projects. How cool is that?

Bill Budge & John Romero on the 6502

March 19th, 2012 9:10 AM
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Bill Budge has been a programmer extraordinaire, from the early days of his Pinball Construction Set to his more recent work with Sony and Google. Now he gets to pontificate upon those experiences to Jason Scott as part of 6502: The Documentary.

This preview joins the previous footage of Joe Grand, as well as this video of KansasFest 2012 keynote speaker John Romero:

Jason the documentarian explains:

These are untouched clips … right out of the camera and rendered out for you. I will probably tweak, push and pull for the final works, but I wanted you to see, clearly, the quality of image and sound you helped me achieve, and maybe even start to see how these subjects might play out. I have a very long way to go, but it's happening, for real, and you're seeing it. Thanks so much.

Did you not preorder your copy of 6502? Jason will be at KansasFest 2012; maybe he'll take your money then… or just put you in front of the camera for his next film!

8 Bit Weapon at the Smithsonian

March 15th, 2012 9:04 AM
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Tomorrow marks the commencement of GameFest, a three-day festival celebrating the opening of a new Smithsonian exhibition: The Art of Video Games. A year ago at this time, the public was invited to vote on what games should be featured in this exhibit. Now, in 2012, we will enjoy these games receiving the recognition they deserve.

What most excites me about GameFest is the prominent role it grants one of the Apple II community's best friends: chiptune music group 8 Bit Weapon. This group, whose work has been featured in Juiced.GS and who has collaborated with the immensely talented Michael J Mahon, will be performing live this weekend. Many of their tunes will come from the new album Bits with Byte, for which the tune "The Art of Video Games Anthem" was composed.

The album includes the song "Apple Core II", performed entirely with Apple II computers.

If you're in the Washington, DC, area, come down to the Smithsonian to check out these awesome exhibits and performers. And if you're not, purchase an 8 Bit Weapon album — and support those who support the Apple II!

Raspberry Pi: The next Apple-1?

March 12th, 2012 10:34 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, Mainstream coverage;
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A computer named after a fruit? Hey, it worked for Apple. So why not Raspberry?

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized computer that, like the original Apple-1, comes without a monitor or keyboard. But unlike any product of the Homebrew Computer Club, this device can compete with computers of today.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is powered by ARM1176JZFS CPU (part of the ARMv6 architecture) and Videocore 4 GPU. It will do everything from run Python to power a Blu-Ray DVD player through its OS of choice, Linux. Raspberry Pi comes in two flavors, both with 256MB of RAM. $25 gets you the Model A, with one USB port; for an extra $10, you get a second USB port plus an Ethernet jack.

"Inspired by computers like the BBC Micro and the Commodore 64 in the 1980s, the group of engineers set out to build a new programmable machine for a new generation," reports CNN. And just like its predecessors, Raspberry Pi looks to revolutionize computing. According to the foundation's Web site:

Developing countries are interested in the Raspberry Pi as productivity devices in areas that simply can’t afford the power and hardware needed to run a traditional desktop PC; hospitals and museums have contacted us to find out about using the Raspberry Pi to drive display devices. Parents of severely disabled kids have talked to us about monitoring and accessibility applications; and there seem to be a million and one people out there with hot soldering irons who want to make a robot.

Could the Raspberry Pi be the next Apple-1 or even Apple II — a machine that's so affordable, so expandable, and so flexible that it can be whatever anyone with some know-how wants it to be? Or is it more notable for selling out on its Leap Year launch date of Feb 29, 2012, with nothing notable to come of it? It wouldn't be the first product whose potential went unrealized — witness the Apple II's own Carte Blanche card. Or will Raspberry Pi do great things yet be remembered for what it didn't do? One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program accomplished great deeds but was faced with significant criticism. Can Raspberry Pi live up to its hype?

Pi is not the computer for me, but I am eager to see if it becomes the next Arduino, making possible infinite amazing projects.