Author Archive

I'm Ken Gagne, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Juiced.GS, the longest-running Apple II print publication, as well as marketing director for annual Apple II convention KansasFest and and co-host of Open Apple, the Apple II community's first and only co-hosted podcast. I've been an active member of the Apple II online community for over two decades, including on CompuServe, GEnie, Delphi, and Syndicomm Online. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

In ten years I'll be cool

August 24th, 2015 9:07 AM
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I don't remember ever not having an Apple II in my house — and our early acquaintance made for a rough childhood. My very small elementary school class was composed primarily of jocks who didn't take kindly to bookworms and computer nerds, producing an unwelcoming environment, to say the least. I often wondered, would it ever get better?

I didn't have to wait long to find out. Ten years after middle school, I was in a college where computer prowess was lauded; ten years after that, the things I was into as a kid were mainstream and cool.

So if you ever wonder if things get better, just wait ten years — that's the time in which geeks become hip, as detailed in H.P. Mendoza's music video, "In Ten Years", off the 2004 album Everything Is Pop:

And yep, that's an Apple II in the first shot — or at least, it appears to be. Says Charles Mangin, "It looks like a II or II Plus with the badge on the cover removed, or a close clone. The drive certainly looks like a Disk II with the Apple logo removed or covered." The first game of the video being King's Quest (with Sir Graham later getting jiggy) seems to cement the theory.

We shouldn't be surprised. Of course Apple II users are cool! Wil Wheaton would agree: it's awesome to be a nerd.

(Hat tip to Infamous Quests, with whom I appeared on a panel this past spring about point-and-click adventure games!)

Strong Museum's Hall of Fame

August 17th, 2015 10:36 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
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We could debate endlessly over the best Apple II games — such a list remains one of my most popular blog posts to date. From Adventure to Prince of Persia, Choplifter to Lode Runner, the candidates are endless.

So I don't envy The Strong Museum of Rochester, New York, home of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. ICHEG recently announced the World Video Game Hall of Fame, into which would be inducted games with an "undeniable impact on popular culture and society in general" and "games [that] have helped shape the way that people across the globe play and relate to one another," wrote ICHEG director Jon-Paul Dyson.

Journalists, scholars, and other industry professionals chose the original list of 15 candidate games. I have bolded the six that were ultimately inducted:

  • • Angry Birds (2009)
  • Doom (1993)
  • • FIFA (1993)
  • • The Legend of Zelda (1986)
  • • Minecraft (2009)
  • • The Oregon Trail (1971)
  • Pac-Man (1980)
  • • Pokemon (1996)
  • Pong (1972)
  • • The Sims (2000)
  • • Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
  • • Space Invaders (1978)
  • Super Mario Bros. (1990)
  • Tetris (1984)
  • World of Warcraft (2004)

It's regrettable that no native Apple II games made the cut — but we are not entirely without representation: Tetris exists for every platform, including the Apple II; and Doom is the infamous brainchild of John Romero, who got his start on the Apple II and regularly revisits his roots, as he did when he delivered KansasFest 2012's keynote speech.

You may disagree with the ICHEG's choices, but it's important those disagreements be founded not in what were the "best" or most fun games of all time, but which were the most important. In that context, which Apple II games would you have nominated for inclusion n the World Video Game Hall of Fame's first class?

Interviewing Wade Clarke of Leadlight Gamma

August 10th, 2015 9:47 AM
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As host of the IndieSider podcast, I'm constantly on the prowl for new indie (self-published) computer and video games. I like to help my listeners discover obscure titles that represent a variety of genres and themes whose developers are available for podcast interviews about the game development process.

Last month, I found my biweekly guest within the Apple II community with Wade Clarke, creator of Leadlight, a text adventure released in 2010 for the Apple II. The game was featured on the cover of Juiced.GS Volume 16, Issue 1, and Wade declared his intention to translate the game from Eamon to Inform in Volume 17, Issue 2. That project was completed earlier this year with the release of Leadlight Gamma, a game that runs natively on Windows and Mac and is one of the first products under Wade's new label, Heiress Software.

Since Juiced.GS has already covered interactive fiction at length — we have an entire themed PDF on the subject — associate editor Andy Molloy and I decided to give the genre some love in another outlet — namely, the IndieSider podcast. And since I'd already asked Wade about the genesis and influences of Leadlight, I focused this conversation on its transition from the Apple II to modern platforms. The result is episode #26 of IndieSider:

In addition to subscribing to the show in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice, you can also listen to the above audio interview paired with video of the game being played on YouTube:

Text adventures may not lend themselves to a visual medium like YouTube, but that's exactly why I did it: there are far fewer examples of interactive fiction on YouTube than there are other genres of games. Wrote one of my regular viewers, "I've never seen this type of game in life."

Getting the word out about games, genres, and developers that mainstream gamers may otherwise overlook? Mission accomplished!

Cinnamon II hits Kickstarter

August 3rd, 2015 7:13 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
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Smart watches have a way of setting a precedent and establishing a trend: rumors of the Apple Watch started almost as soon as the first Pebble raised over $10 million on Kickstarter in 2012. Shortly before the Apple Watch was finally released in 2015, we saw the Apple II adapted to that form factor with the Apple II Watch, DJ Harrigan's 3D-printed hack that simulates the hardware and software aesthetics of the Apple II.

Now, entrepreneur Damian Peckett is taking it a step further by putting an actual Apple II inside a watch. Introducing the Cinnamon II:

Although Kickstarters are more effective when they have a pitch video, this campaign lacks one, though it does offer this 12-second demo:

The hardware specs roughly mirror an Apple II Plus, with a "virtualized 6502 clocked at a blistering 1 Megahertz and a whopping 32K of memory… binary compatible with the original 1977's microcomputer. Complete video / sound / keyboard emulation is provided. The Cinnamon II also features a Micro SD socket that offers disk drive emulation." However, the resolution is 160×128, compared to the original Apple II's 280×192, so things are going to be a bit squished.

The dimensions also bring challenges for interacting with such a small Apple II. The available options are limited: "One button brings up a smart onscreen keyboard that allows you to scroll through various keyboard options. The other two buttons are available to user mode applications mapped to the up/down keys. Gesture control is provided via an on board accelerometer that is user programmable. It can be used to interact with user interface elements."

There is only one reward level: $159 AUD will get you the watch. Limited production runs are expensive, so Peckett has set the minimum at roughly 850 watches — hence the crowdfunding goal of $150,000 AUD ($114,842 USD) by August 13, 2015.

Unfortunately, like Bride of the Wizard King before it, this campaign lacks several important components: not only a pitch video, but a breakdown of expenses and different reward levels. The first Pebble offered 11 rewards starting at a mere $1, which 2,615 backers selected — raising more money at that level alone than the Cinnamon II is likely to.

Nonetheless, the Cinnamon II is a cool idea, and I'd like to see it developed further and perhaps open-sourced — I'm sure its ideas can be refined further and its production made more affordable and accessible.

Apple Games Done Quick

July 27th, 2015 8:41 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Happenings;
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This month at KansasFest, I gave attendees a crash course in two genres of YouTube gaming videos: unboxings and Let's Plays. There's yet another genre that I have no participatory experience with but am nonetheless in awe of: speedruns.

A speedrun is an attempt to finish a game as quickly as possible without using any external cheats — by which I mean emulation, ROM hacking, Game Genies, or other devices. What is allowed are exploitation and manipulation of glitches (intentional or otherwise) within the game. This approach can allow the Super Nintendo game Super Mario World to be finished in under five minutes — even though the programmers never intended it, they nonetheless laid the groundwork for their game to be abused in this fashion.

Speedruns are extraordinary for the players' intimate knowledge of the game. They've memorized minutia and can predict likely outcomes, demonstrating a depth of mastery that few casual or even hardcore gamers can ever hope to achieve. Unlike unboxings or Let's Plays, which are done for fun or profit, speedruns are highly competitive, even if the player is challenging only himself to shave a second or two of world record.

When it comes to organization Games Done Quick, that competitive force is used for good. Their twice-annual events — Awesome Games Done Quick and Summer Games Done Quick — are video game marathons that raise money for charity. Players — as many as 150 — congregate in a single location and stream their speedrun trials, encouraging viewers to donate to various non-profits. For SGDQ15, which began yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota, and runs through August 1, the charity is Doctors Without Borders.

That's all well and good — but where's the Apple II connection? The answer to that question comes at 6:45 AM CDT this Thursday, July 30, on the speedrun schedule. At that wee hour, under the subcategory of "Silly Games Done Quick", runners will be playing Oregon Trail. Confirmed Facebook user Cat Morgan: "Yes, they are hoping to do it on an Apple — they are waiting for the hardware to arrive to test it with their streaming rig." Their intended completion time is a mere 15 minutes — which should be feasible, given that a tool-assisted speedrun uploaded to YouTube just this month shows the game being completed in 8:24.63:

The hardware and software demonstrated in my Let's Play tutorial opens the door for many more Apple II speedruns. Maybe you'll be the next gamer whose retrocomputing will help Games Done Quick raise money for a good cause!

UPDATE (Aug 1, 2015): A YouTube record of the #SGDQ15 speedrun of Oregon Trail is now online:

Recording Let's Plays on the Apple II

July 20th, 2015 10:31 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Hacks & mods, Happenings;
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Last week I attended the 27th (and my 18th) annual KansasFest, a convention for Apple II users. I was thrilled to be among fellow retrocomputing enthusiasts, charging my batteries for another year of Juiced.GS and other hobby projects.

As an educator and public speaker, I love giving presentations at KansasFest. Most of the event's talks are technical in nature, whereas I tend to take what I've learned in the other areas of my life — podcasting, crowdfunding — and apply them to the Apple II. This year, I drew upon my experience developing a YouTube channel and demonstrated how to record a Let's Play video using the Elgato Game Capture HD hardware (but not the more expensive HD60, which lacks the necessary A/V input port).

This $150 device is normally used to capture HDMI audio and video, but with an included adapter, it can capture component video as well. By plugging the red component cable into an Apple II's composite video output, and then connecting the computer's headphone jack to a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter, the audio and video from an Apple II will show up oon a PC or Mac in the Elgato's software — but with a delay. A monitor stills need to be connected to the Apple II, which is why I used Chris Torrence's Night Owl monitor plugged into the IIc's video port; an RGB monitor connected to a IIGS will work as well. Then I used a 3.5mm Y-splitter to connect headphones or speakers to the Apple II. (Note that the IIc Plus does not have a headphone jack; neither does the IIe, unless you add a RetroConnector adapter.) Finally, a USB headset allowed me to overlay my audio commentary over the recorded gameplay footage.

Prefer to learn these techniques visually? Mike Whalen streamed my KansasFest session and has made it available on YouTube:

Here's the Let's Play Flapple Bird video that I recorded during this session.

The capture process was not perfect, as I had to make two edits in Final Cut Pro X before uploading to YouTube: the height of Elgato's exported video was stretched (654 x 480), so I reduced the Y-scale to 85% (though ultimately I went with an X-scale of 147.79% and Y-scale of 125.62%, so as to occupy the full window); and the color was off, so I adjusted it per this screenshot.

Final Cut Pro X

Editing Flapple Bird in Final Cut Pro X.
I saved this setting as an "Apple II" preset.

Also, I should've disabled the KansasFest sound system, as I was close enough to the speaker for my USB headset to pick up my booming voice, resulting in poor audio quality.

Although my session focused primarily on Let's Play videos, I also gave a brief introduction to unboxing videos, the genre with which I launched my YouTube channel. I combined unboxing Let's Play, and the Apple II when I unboxed and played Retro Fever.

Not sure why anyone would watch someone else play a video game — or what my "I moth stories" shirt meant? Both are explained in this video from a monthly storyslam I attend in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I hope this session was useful and that it inspired attendees to record and share their subjective experience with Apple II software. I look forward to your YouTube videos!