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+.

Preparing Steamed Apples

June 20th, 2016 2:07 PM
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Filed under Game trail, Happenings;
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KansasFest 2016 is less than a month away, which means I have some preparation to do. Besides being the biggest one-day sales event for Juiced.GS, it's also an opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest minds and innovators in the Apple II community. I like to fool myself into believing I belong among such an echelon by submitting a session: it gives me something to do, look forward to, and contribute throughout the week of KansasFest. But what to present?

SteamThis year I took Andy Molloy's advice and settled on a follow-up to sessions I gave in 2009 and 2010: Classic gaming inspirations and classic gaming inspirations, part deux. For old-school gamers, I demonstrated some modern games that are spiritually inspired by our favorite Apple II classics. It's been six years, during which time Steam and Kickstarter have hid their stride, resulting in an abundance of low-budget, high-quality indie games — just like we used to have in the day. So for this year's session, I'm limiting my selections exclusively to Steam:

Steam is the largest online marketplace for PC, Mac, and Linux games, making it easy for independent game developers to distribute their software. But indie game developers often lack the resources of major game studios. What they lack in funding, they make up for in creativity, turning to classic games and genres for inspiration. We'll look at many Steam titles where the Apple II influence is strong, suggesting modern games that will appeal to classic gamers.

I'm looking forward to plumbing the roster of games I've featured on the IndieSider podcast and possibly discovering some new ones in the course of my research. Any assistance you can provide would be most welcome! What classic games did you enjoy that you'd like to see modern counterparts to — or what modern games have you played that reminded you of classic games?

Ode to the ImageWriter & The Print Shop

June 13th, 2016 12:09 PM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
2 comments.

Someone at Motherboard loves the Apple II. Last summer, writer Jason Koebler attended KansasFest, resulting in a fantastic article and podcast.

Now Ernie Smith has taken a deep dive into dot-matrix printers and The Print Shop:

… in its original form, [The Print Shop] was an '80s-tastic program that redefined the parameters of print design into something that could literally be called child's play. Wanna make a greeting card? Follow these instructions, then print on your dot-matrix printer. Need a sign for your lemonade stand? No problem—you can even add a picture of the Easter Bunny on that sign, if you want. It was a bold redefinition of something that once required a whole boatload of specialized equipment.

The article is more about the business and legal ramifications of the article without capturing the user experience — which I'm happy to provide, as the Print Shop was a staple of my household. My three brothers and I used for everything from school essay cover sheets to birthday cards to banners. I remember campaigning for the elected position of seventh grade class treasurer using signs made in The Print Shop; when I defeated the most popular kid in the class in the election, he said it was because I did a better job advertising myself.

The vehicle by which The Print Shop outputted these creations was my family's ImageWriter II printer, complete with ink ribbons and pin-feed paper. Tearing the edges off the paper into long strips was practically an arts-and-crafts exercise, as they inevitably became loops, braids, and other figures.

But the time spent printing would occupy the computer, leaving it unavailable for other tasks. I remember when I discovered Quality Computers sold a 32K print buffer hardware accessory, I thought it was a ridiculous expense just to get back a few minutes of computer time. But as I discovered more that my Apple II could do and wanted to make the most of that time, it wasn't long before I decided the buffer was a worthwhile investment. Its installation coincided with my father having some computer issues, and conflating correlation with causation, he demanded I remove the buffer. I never did, and his unrelated issues eventually resolved themselves.

Printing

And let us note the role that desktop publishing (DTP) played in the development of Juiced.GS. Although the magazine was designed not in The Print Shop but in GraphicWriter III, an Apple IIGS program, early issues featured DTP heavily. Across six years and eleven issues, the late Dave Bennett penned a series creatively entitled "Desktop Publishing". And the final issue of Juiced.GS's first volume included M.H. "Buzz" Bester's hardware tutorial on ImageWriter maintenance.

My thanks to Smith for taking a moment not only to investigate how The Print Shop evolved, but also for prompting me to revisit these moments. ImageWriter printouts may long be faded, but these memories never will.

(Hat tip to Javier Rivera)

How to leave a YouTube comment

June 6th, 2016 10:27 AM
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Filed under Musings;
2 comments.

One of the first rules for interacting with online media and communities is don't read the comments. It's terrible advice, actually, with some notable exceptions — such as when you're the one responsible for managing a community and cultivating a safe, welcoming environment.

I consider that to be one of the responsibilities that comes with being a YouTube content creator. In the last 3.5 years, I've read roughly 34,152 comments that have been posted to my channel's 600 videos. (My most popular video currently has 10,767 comments.) Wanting anyone who comes to my channel to know that they can leave feedback without fear of threats or reprimands, I reply to as many comments as I can — and, just as important, I delete those comments I deem inappropriate.

Some commenters come specifically to troll — not in the "online abuse" sense, but by intending to be argumentative and disrupt conversation. The modern Apple II community is fairly free of such pests, fortunately: as a niche hobby, it's just not worth someone's time to get involved only to annoy so few.

But what if the two communities intersected, and trolls used Apple II computers to leave provocative YouTube comments? YouTube artist Techmoan crafted a video demonstrating that exact hypothetical scenario in "How to Write A YouTube Comment in 10 Steps":

Why this puppet is using an Apple IIc of all computers is a mystery, but Techmoan has demonstrated himself a fan of old technology in other videos, such as when he made an iPad dock out of a Mac Classic. I haven't seen the IIc show up elsewhere in his channel, but this one appearance has made its mark. A couple of great animated GIFs, perfect for embedding on social media, have been produced from this video:

This look inside a troll's mind reminds me of another classic, Bernard Smith's 2007 music video, "YouTube Is My Life":

I'm glad the Apple II community is above such behavior — I get enough of it from my "fans" on YouTube!

(Hat tip to Lisa Anne Allyn)

New Game Plus: Lode Runner

May 30th, 2016 9:56 AM
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Filed under Game trail;
4 comments.

It's hard for Apple II enthusiasts to be unbiased about our favorite games. Whenever we play or discuss Oregon Trail, Choplifter, or Tass Times in Tone Town, our experiences and memories are inevitably colored by nostalgia as we recall how groundbreaking these games were upon their release and how derivative their successors seem by comparison.

What if we could wipe the slate clean and come at these games afresh? Would they stand the test of time and still appeal to a modern gamer's sensibilities?

New Game Plus
That's the charter of New Game Plus, a podcast that launched this past October. Each week, three young men select a random classic computer or video game that they then spend seven days playing before reporting back their experiences. I discovered the show with episode 7, when they played their first Apple II game, Prince of Persia. I then cherry-picked other episodes to listen to, selecting games that I recalled fondly to see if these enthusiastic whippersnappers would enjoy them as well.

When they reviewed Contra III, a game I'd previously recorded a Let's Play video of, I was surprised to hear the show deviate from its format: instead of the game selection being random, it was chosen by their first guest. It was fun to hear someone with passion and familiarity for the week's game be brought into the mix — and it also gave me an idea.

Now that I knew New Game Plus had a precedent for allowing guests, I brazenly emailed them, touting my Apple II credentials, to ask if they would consider having me on a future episode. To my surprise and delight, they thought this was an excellent idea!

Their homework for me: select an Apple II game. This was a tougher assignment than I expected! My first thought was to nominate Conan: Hall of Volta, one of my favorite games from childhood. But at only six levels, I thought it might wear thin and not leave the hosts much to discuss. I instead turned to the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook and asked for recommendations. I received many suggestions, including from John Romero.

But readers' comments only cemented the second choice I'd already settled on: Lode Runner. With 150 levels, a storied lineage, and web-playable versions — both the emulated original and a native remake — I felt this game would be both technically accessible and sufficiently substantial to record a podcast about. And, having originally been released in 1983, it would also be the oldest game yet to have been featured on New Game Plus.

But just because I'd played the game as a kid didn't excuse me from joining the other hosts in "researching" it! I played the game for just an hour or so and was able to make it to level 17. Although the difficulty of those levels varied wildly — as early as level 6, there are as many as 16 pieces of gold to collect! — I was surprised at my ability to progress. I attributed my success to the game freely awarding an extra life for each level completed. By the time I closed my browser window, I could've easily continued playing with the dozen lives I had remaining.

All this work was in preparation to record the actual episode, which has since aired as episode 35 of New Game Plus:

I had a blast chatting about Lode Runner and its creator, Douglas E. Smith, with Dustin, Nolan, and Kenny, and I was much relieved to hear that they enjoyed their first experiences with this classic game, earning it an across-the-board recommendation for modern gamers.

My thanks to New Game Plus for hosting me. I hope they continue to feature the Apple II on future episodes of the show! What games would you recommend they play next?

(Hat tip to Paulo Garcia)

Say goodbye to Tekserve

May 23rd, 2016 8:56 AM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

When my father brought home our first Apple II, it came from Computer Systems & Software, an authorized Apple dealer. Back then, this was one of the only ways to get an Apple product: there was no online ordering, few mail-order opportunities, and definitely no Apple Stores, which didn't debut until 2001.

When Apple opened its first retail stores, doing so cut out the middleman — small businessmen such as the proprietor of Computer Systems & Software. That competition, combined with the advent of Internet sales, made it difficult for mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar shops to stay in business. It was unpleasant but unexpected when CS&S closed up shop some time ago.

The next victim appears to be one of CS&S's contemporaries. Tekserve has served New York City since 1987, providing sales and service to consumers and businesses alike. And while Tekserve will continue to exist, its quaint retail outlet — featuring not only classic computers, but "ancient radios, an antique Coke machine… massive old RCA microphones… and a stereoscope with hundreds of photographs" may soon be closing shop.

As reported by Jeremiah Moss, Tekserve will be reducing or eliminating its consumer retail presence this fall. They will continue to sell and service products for small- and medium-sized business clients, so the company as a whole is not going away. But a lot of employees, services, and artifacts are likely to disappear as a result of this transition.

I visited Tekserve in 2012 and received a behind-the-scenes tour, resulting in the below photo gallery. It's a damn fine place with a heritage of and respect for Apple products — including the Apple II — that you don't often find. If you can visit the store before their September transition, please do.

(Hat tip to Jason Scott)

Oregon Trail Hall of Fame

May 16th, 2016 8:47 AM
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Filed under Game trail, History;
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The International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play recently inducted the 2016 class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Back in January, I encouraged readers to submit nominations to correct the oversight made in 2015 when no native Apple II games were inducted into the inaugural class.

We had better luck in 2016, with Oregon Trail now being recognized as one of the most important video games of all time. Granted, the game may not have debuted on the Apple II, but it's inarguable that it's on the Apple II that Oregon Trail found its place in history.

And how fitting that should be, given that it's a game about history! One of the game's original creators, Don Rawitsch, recently hosted a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). He addressed everything about what was cut from the original version, to the iOS remake, to his views on gamification, to his favorite parody of Oregon Trail (that being Organ Trail).

The conversation also unearthed this 2011 gem: a one-hour presentation by Rawitsch on the history of Oregon Trail.

But what about the history not of Oregon Trail, but the Oregon Trail — the grueling, 2,170-mile route on which so many pioneers died? We may think it was an adventure filled with dysentery and bison, but the truth is that many travellers lost their lives making that trek. "The R-rated Oregon Trail" is, despite its name, not a snuff film, but an unfiltered look at the challenges faced by those settlers for whom the Oregon Trail was not a game:

The AMA, two of the three above videos, and the Hall of Fame induction all happened in this calendar year. Oregon Trail has always been a popular source of nostalgia, but especially lately, it seems our sights are set firmly to the west. Wagons, ho!

(Hat tips to Javier A. Rivera and Tony Diaz)