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.

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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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The personal touch

June 15th, 2015 8:35 AM
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I love the Internet and social media: email, Twitter, and Facebook have made it possible to reach people who'd never otherwise be accessible, and easier than ever to remain in contact with friends and family near and far.

But there's still something to be said for taking our communications offline. KansasFest is the most obvious example, when we get to welcome new users to our community and catch up with long-time attendees. Newcomers who think this event is a one-time affair to check off their bucket list are often discover the energy and camaraderie they find there is addicting, requiring the event become an annual staple in their calendar.

But for those who can't make it to KansasFest, it doesn't take much to let them know they're remembered. Eight years ago in the September 2007 issue of Juiced.GS, Peter Watson of MUG! fame wrote:

In 1992, I was fortunate enough to attend KansasFest in its heyday when it was still run by Tom Weishaar at Avila College… Unfortunately I haven't been able to make it back since… But every year I read all the plans and wish I could win a lottery so I could attend…

Today that vicarious KFest experience came a little closer and a little less "imaginary" when a postcard from Kansas City arrived in the mail … I read the greetings from many of the other attendees at KFest as well, and I can honestly say I was touched. Heck, "blown away" might be a better description!

I'd just like to say "Thank you!" to the people who took the time to sign the card. It would have taken seconds of your time, but it's created a memory for me that will last much, much longer!

The Apple II was and is a special computer partly because of the people that were attracted to it, and who stayed. I've seen another example of those people today.

I'm reminded of this gesture by Steve Wozniak, who recently spoke at the University of Buffalo. Despite his affinity for technology, Woz was once reminded of the power of not letting machines express express his gratitude for him:

When Wozniak was on Dancing with the Stars in 2009, he figured he would be voted off the show right away, so he should buy gifts for all the cast early on. He made gifts for all the cast with joke books, $2 bills, business cards and computerized letters about what a great time had and how to contact him.

"And then I thought, like education when I was giving computers to schools, it you have a lot of money, it's easy to give money away but not to give yourself," Wozniak said. "That's why I started teaching. If you really have it in your heart, it's got to be more than words."

He decided to just write handwritten letters to all 26 members of the celebrity and professional dance crew.

Woz gave us the tools and infrastructure that brought us together and keeps us together; we should never discount their utility. But let us remember the significance of occasionally disconnecting and using other means to let our fellow community members know they are thought of and appreciated.

The Bard's Tale IV hits Kickstarter

June 8th, 2015 9:33 AM
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Brian Fargo is at it again. After creating The Bard's Tale and Wasteland on the Apple II for Interplay three decades ago, he revived the latter franchise in 2012 via Kickstarter; the result, Wasteland 2, has an 81% average rating. Now Fargo seeks to crowdfund a revival of The Bard's Tale:

More than a concept, the game already has an in-engine graphics demo that looks quite impressive:

However, there's more to a series than its titular lineage or polygon count. Any time a franchise is revived years after its debut, there's a question of how much of the original talent is still involved. Two years ago, Richard Garriott successfully crowdfunded a game called Lord British's Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. It doesn't have the name "Ultima", and it wasn't published by Origins or Electronic Arts — but it's nonetheless an Ultima game in all but name only, as only the creator of that fantasy world could produce.

Similarly, The Bard's Tale may not involve the most prominent developers and designers to contribute to its last outing. Rebecca Heineman, programmer of 1988's The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, says she offered to contribute to Fargo's latest project — an offer that was declined. Her team at Olde Sküül is instead working on a dungeon crawler of their own, entitled Dragons of the Rip — prompting her to ask on Facebook, "Do you want a game by someone who financed Bard's Tale, or by the people who actually MADE Bard's Tale III?"

Fortunately, we do not live in an either-or world. Fargo's Kickstarter will almost certainly achieve its crowdfunding goal of $1.25M — at the time of this writing, it's 85% funded with 34 days to go — so we can look forward to playing both The Bard's Tale and Dragons of the Rip. It's a good time to be a retrogamer!

UPDATE (11-Jun-15):

Exciting news today: every backer of The Bard's Tale IV ($20 or more) will get free digital copies of the original The Bard's Tale, The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight and The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate!

The emulated versions of the classic games will be released for free at the end of the campaign for every backer at $20 or higher, and distributed through our backer web site. This is our way of giving our thanks back to you for all your support and helping us bring back The Bard's Tale.

Some of you may know that the emulated versions of these games work on most modern machines, but are a little rough around the edges. Thus, we have an agreement with the original The Bard's Tale III programmer Rebecca "Burger" Heineman and her company Olde Skueuel to update the games for modern machines! She will be working to make the games run natively, without needing emulators, on PC or Mac. This re-releases will be primarily based on the Apple IIGS versions of the games, along with updated art.

Apple forgets its history

June 1st, 2015 10:06 AM
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For more than a decade, Apple's website has offered free downloads of legacy software, including a variety of Apple II and Classic Mac OS operating systems and utilities. The URL was always the same:

http://www.info.apple.com/support/oldersoftwarelist.html

This page was referenced throughout the years in Juiced.GS, as recently as September 2014. It wasn't a resource that was often called upon, but it was often relied upon as a place where Apple acknowledged its history and provided some meager support for its legacy customers.

All good things must come to a 404: as Ivan Drucker reported this weekend, this directory has simply disappeared from Apple's website. Steve Weyhrich contacted support to ask where it went and was told simply that it's gone. And, thanks to the site's prohibitive robots.txt file, to Google's cache and the Wayback Machine, it's as if the page never existed.

Both Ivan and Dagen Brock pointed out a harsh reality: Apple doesn't care about anyone who hasn't bought anything from them in the last 36 months (the span of AppleCare). Whether this obsolescence is planned or not, Apple's business is in selling you new hardware and software. Support for older equipment is only a means to that end — or, in the case of Apple II software, a dead end.

It's sad to realize that Dan Budiac's Apple IIc registration card and David Greelish's petition for an Apple museum were both for naught.

Dan Budiac's Apple IIc registration card

Fortunately, the omnipresent Jason Scott has succeeded where Apple has failed: his byline is on a 2012 upload to the Internet Archive of Apple's complete older software list. And since we're dealing with decades-old software, this mirror being three years old is of no consequence — nothing's changed in that time.

Although it may not make any business sense to do so, it's a shame Apple doesn't better respect its history, especially when there's little cost to doing so. Thank goodness for the community of Apple II enthusiasts who still remember where we came from.

Game tournaments at KansasFest 2015

May 25th, 2015 11:41 AM
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On the KansasFest email list, Michael Sternberg proposed to organize a third annual Apple II game tournament. This is Sternberg's forté, as he not only ran the Structris competition in 2013–2014, but modified Martin Haye's original game to create the tournament edition used in the event. I captured some of Sternberg's talent and passion in this video for Computerworld:

Sternberg has asked, what game should we play this year? Puzzle games seem a popular choice: GShisen is a KansasFest classic, having been featured in tournaments run first by Juiced.GS founder Max Jones, then by me. Structris, being inspired by Tetris, is also a puzzler, but with an action component that I enjoy. That hybrid nature also describes I classified in Juiced.GS as one of my favorite Apple II games of all-time. Its creator, Steve Chiang, is big in the modern gaming industry; and its artist, Dave Seah, recently made an appearance in the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook. Maybe they'd sponsor a competition with some sort of promotion or giveaway!

But for those retrocomputing enthusiasts whose reaction times have not yet faded with age, there are plenty of action games to choose from, too. Retrobrite afficionado Javier Rivera, who this year will make his KansasFest debut, recently demonstrated two color LCD screens displaying the same video output simultaneously. His software for this test? Karateka.


It's a dual duel!

Charles Mangin proposed we hack this game to allow a second player to control the opponent. Head-to-head Karateka? I'm in!