Archive for April, 2012

Two years of Apple II Bits

April 30th, 2012 11:36 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
1 comment.

Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of Apple II Bits, where I have been publishing two posts per week without fail. Per my recent analysis of my time commitments, I shall reduce that rate to once per week, every Monday, starting today.

To mark that transition and the site's second birthday, here are some statistics about the site's growth since my last analytics breakdown:

  • • Apple II Bits received in its second year triple the pageviews it garnered in its first — and nine times as many mobile visitors, almost all of them on iPad or iPhone.
  • • In the past year, StumbleUpon, Facebook, and Twitter have continued to be the top social media referrers of traffic to this site. StumbleUpon is now the #1 referrer of any type; Computerworld, #1 in the site's first year, was #10 in the second.
  • • In particular, my coverage of ROFLCon 2010, a biennial convention last held the weekend Apple II Bits launched, is popular among StumbleUpon users. (I'll be attending ROFLCon 2012 this week.)
  • • Whereas search engines generated 25% of the site's traffic in its first year, in its second, they constituted 40%.
  • • The site's all-time busiest day was Nov 1, 2011, when the site got slashdotted. That's perhaps an exaggeration: my site was not the subject of the /. post, but when it mentioned Visicalc, its author linked not to creator Dan Bricklin's site, but to my post commemorating its public debut.
  • • The second most popular day ever has also been in the last year: my profile of Jeri Ellsworth.
  • • Throughout the site's life, 38% of visitors have used Firefox as their Web browser; 22.5% used Chrome; 20% used Safari; 13% used Internet Explorer (hi, Peter!).
  • • In the last year, Akismet blocked 56,120 spam comments (+44,169 since last April), with the busiest month being Apr 2012 with 7,919 spam. We're on track to block 67,635 spam comments in calendar year 2012, compared with 38,629 in 2011.
  • • As of today, the site contains 210 posts (+110), 1,237 tags (+515), 266 comments (+189) from 84 readers (+50), and 1 blogger.

My personal life has had some curveballs thrown at it in Q1 2012, and I expect the rest of the year to be equally dynamic. I look forward to the stability this blog will offer me, but with a less demanding schedule. Thank you for reading!

Do funny games need a kickstart?

April 26th, 2012 10:39 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage, Software showcase;
Comments Off

Earlier this month, Al Lowe launched a Kickstarter to remake the original Leisure Suit Larry game. The project has since met its goal of $500,000 and still has until Wednesday, May 2, to generate further funding.

Double Fine's Kickstarter success opened the floodgates to a reemergence of the adventure genre, but in a guest blog post for Wired.com, Lowe talks about why this is important: games have lost their funny bone, and adventure games can bring it back.

Lowe attributes the decline of the genre to improved accessibility to personal computers:

Adventure games were perfect for 1980s’ computer users. Back then, if you weren’t a puzzle solver, you didn’t own a computer. Remember config.sys files, autoexec.bat files, setting interrupts, managing extended memory? No? Consider yourself lucky! It’s a wonder anyone got anything done at all.

I remember discussing with Ken Williams (founder of Sierra, the leading publisher of such games) about how great it would be when 10 percent of homes had a computer powerful enough to play our games. But when the majority finally had computers, they ran Windows. They didn’t have to solve operating system puzzles, or couldn’t. And they didn’t want to solve game puzzles either.

Sadly, this was widely interpreted that new gamers preferred action and 3-D environments instead of contemplation and humor. Within a year, most major adventure-game development was shut down. And with it went humor.

I remember the games Lowe references fondly, though perhaps because the years have removed me from the frustration they inspired. Although King's Quest and its kin were often infuriatingly inscrutable in their puzzles and riddles, they often had a quirky and consistent internal logic that tickled your imagination, giving you a knowing wink and a sense of accomplishment when you stumbled across the solution. It's a kind of challenge that's often missing in today's games — or am I just playing the wrong ones? The Xbox 360's DeathSpank, created by Ron Gilbert of Double Fine, had some clever dialogue, though I didn't play it far enough to find if that sense extended to the gameplay.

And I spent about two hours this week in the practice arena of Scribblenauts Remix for iOS, interested less in completing levels than in testing the limits of the player's capabilities and seeing what unusual creations and interactions the game's designers anticipated.

What do you think — is Lowe right? Have the humor and discovery of early computer games disappeared and are now ready for a comeback? Or have they been here all along, just in an unrecognizably evolved form?

UPDATE (11-May-12): I belatedly found Phil Elliott's interview with Al Lowe in my "to read" pile. In this article from April 2011, Lowe talks about how the humor in games has been replaced by replayability, and that he has no desire or intention to exit retirement. Ah, hindsight!

(Hat tip to Robert Boyd)

Refocusing energies

April 23rd, 2012 12:00 AM
by
Filed under Musings;
Comments Off

Last month, I expressed concern about my ability to maintain my level of output in the Apple II community. As Brian Picchi commented to me on Open Apple: "Wow, Ken — you have basically no work/life balance!"

I sought advice from the readers of Apple II Bits, asking them to rank eleven activities in terms of their value to the community. The rest of this lengthy post offers the results of that poll, which received 28 votes before the one-week deadline (and one vote after, due to a security hole on my part). I could offer a more granular breakdown of how many votes each item received at each rank, complete with pie charts and line graphs — but more practical is the final ranking of each item from most to least valuable. I'll present them in that order, with a brief analysis of each.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apple II screensaver for Mac OS X

April 19th, 2012 1:19 PM
by
Filed under Software showcase;
Comments Off

Most Apple II geeks aren't shy about their passion; they wear their hearts on their sleeves, proudly displaying logos, license plates, and hardware where friends, co-workers, and strangers can see and inquire about them.

One of my favorite ways to demonstrate my heritage has been to use an Apple II-inspired screensaver on my MacBook Pro laptop computers. Alas, when I updated to Snow Leopard a few years ago, that particular saver stopped working, and I couldn't remember where it came from to see if there was an update. But when the Apple II turned 35 earlier this week, Paul Horowitz included that same screensaver in his celebratory roundup. No wonder I couldn't find it before: it's one of 200 screensavers in a single archive!

Apple II screensaver for Mac OS X

The screensaver features many customization options.

Even cooler, the package comes with a VT100 terminal that emulates the display of the Apple II, "complete with screen noise, random color flickers, a permanent caps lock, and other peculiarities unique to technologies of a bygone era." I have tested the screensaver and the utility on both Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and Lion (10.7), and they work great.

Apple II LynxApple II Bits has never been more beautiful.

So what are you waiting for? Put your Apple II on your desktop for all to see!

UPDATE: You can also get this screensaver from the Mac App Store. Hat tip (again) to Paul Horowitz.

The Apple II turns 35

April 16th, 2012 11:58 AM
by
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

On April 16–17, 1977, the West Coast Computer Faire was held, marking the debut of the Apple II personal computer. Marked by this public unveiling, the machine turns 35 years old today, and Harry McCracken, former editor-in-chief of PCWorld and now Technologizer / TIME.com columnist, has pulled out all the stops to celebrate the occasion.

McCracken starts by looking back at the invention and inventors that shaped an industry, narrating the creation of the Apple II and the roles Woz and Jobs each played in its design. Demonstrating an intimate knowledge of the subject, McCracken acknowledges the contributions of other, oft-overlooked players, such as Mike Markkula, Rob Janoff, Jerry Manock, and Ron Holt. McCracken's written history features a complementary slideshow of 18 photos, visualizing highlights and milestones of the computer's early life, from its Apple-1 predecessor to Apple growing large enough to warrant a new office. The slideshow's last photo, as well as another from the retrospective article, are from Andy Molloy's KansasFest 2011 online album.

The occasion isn't all dry dates, names, and images. Want to actively participate in the Apple II's birthday bash? McCracken provides 14 ways to celebrate the computer's 35th anniversary:

  1. Read an epic account of its life and time
  2. Watch a so-so TV movie’s depiction of its launch
  3. Read a great first-hand report of the introduction
  4. Watch a very early ad for the Apple II
  5. Watch some later Apple II ads
  6. Buy your very own Apple II
  7. Seek Apple II support from Apple
  8. Play some Apple II games, on whatever computer you’ve got
  9. Watch a movie or TV show guest-starring the Apple II
  10. Visit the Apple II Day Spa in Arvada, Colorado
  11. Watch a 1988 TV show about the aging Apple II line
  12. Attend an Apple II conference
  13. Read classic Apple II coverage at TIME.com

Scott Miller plays Lode Runner

Scott Miller plays Lode Runner at KansasFest 2011
on the computer made famous by Technologizer.
Photo by Andy Molloy; used with permission.

Or, if you're a college student, you might celebrate by receiving a complimentary iPad 3.

Although the Apple II had more affordable and even more popular contemporaries, such as the Commodore 64, the Apple II is especially deserving of recognition. McCracken's closing statement succinctly summarizes:

… if Apple’s only computer had been the Apple I, it would be remembered today only by scholars with an arcane interest in the prehistory of the personal computer. But if the company had folded after releasing the Apple II, it would still be one of the best-known PC companies of all time. The II was — and is — that important.

Here's to 35 more!

Jordan Mechner releases Deathbounce

April 12th, 2012 8:38 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, People, Software showcase;
2 comments.

(Note: I originally wrote the below blog post for Apple II Bits but ultimately sent it to PCWorld, with whom I now have a relationship to publish gaming articles after covering last month's GameFest.)

Last week, Jordan Mechner was the keynote speaker at PAX East, Penny Arcade's annual three-day celebration of gaming and gamers. Mechner kicked off the event with his personal story of how creating Karateka and Prince of Persia indirectly led him to fulfill his life goal of breaking into Hollywood, and how he has since revisited those properties many times across various media.

Mechner's tale was one of persistence and perseverance. When he first tried his hand at programming in 1982, his debut game garnered the attention of Broderbund's Doug Carlston. "Unlike in Asteroids, where you're a triangle-shaped ship shooting at rocks," described Mechner, "in my game, you're a triangle-shaped ship shooting at colored balls. It had physics and everything." Despite the wicked awesome name of Deathbounce, the game remained unpublished — "There's a reason [Carlson] passed on that," said Mechner.

But once Mechner went public with the story of Deathbounce, PAX attendees demanded its release, going so far as using the Q&A session to hand Mechner money toward a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Hey, if it's worked for Tim Schafer, Brian Fargo, and Al Lowe, why not Jordan Mechner?

Continue reading this story at PCWorld.com »

(Hat tip to Jordan Mechner, via Paul Marzagalli of NAVGTR)

7ads6x98y