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+.

John Romero's Stage of Development

November 16th, 2015 10:59 AM
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I started my academic career in computer science but ended in communications. One way I currently marry those disciplines is not by developing games, as I originally thought I would, but by interviewing those who do. The IndieSider audio podcast airs biweekly with stories of independent game development (including on the Apple II), showcasing the design, execution, and funding challenges encountered by small studios with big dreams.

Documentarian Russ Pitts of Flying Saucer Media has a dream of his own: to produce a series of video profiles of games industry personalities. Think of Stage of Development as similar to IndieSider, but more professional, more visual, better funded, and not focusing exclusively on indie game developers. In fact, one early episode will spotlight one of the biggest names in the industry: John Romero, KansasFest 2012 keynote speaker.

In 1998, Romero hosted an Apple II reunion attended by platform luminaries, such as Dan Gorlin (Choplifter), Jordan Mechner (Prince of Persia), Doug Smith (Lode Runner), Joel Berez (Infocom), and Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion). In the summer of 2015, Romero threw another such party, with the guest list including Robert Woodhead (Wizardry), Chuck Sommerville (Snake Byte), David Mullich (Heroes of Might and Magic), and Margot Comstock (Softalk). Not only was the event extensively documented by Jason Scott, but Romero had each of the attendees sign his Apple II case; a glimpse of their autographs can be seen in the opening moments of the above Stage of Development video.

I'm excited to see Romero's contributions recognized and the human side of game development brought to life by Pitts' series. Though Stage of Development didn't meet its Kickstarter crowdfunding goal, the project is nonetheless moving forward. You can subscribe to receive email updates on the series.

(Hat tip to Polygamer)

Fallout '84

November 9th, 2015 10:16 AM
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Patient fans of the 1988 game Wasteland have had much to celebrate these past few years. After a successful Kickstarter, the original creator released the long-awaited sequel Wasteland 2 in September 2014, returning gamers to the post-apocalyptic landscape as a Desert Ranger, set 15 years after the original game. Wasteland 2: Director's Cut released October 13, 2015, marking the game's first appearance on the Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4.

Those 15 years were not a wasteland of their own, though. Fallout, the spiritual successor to Wasteland, debuted in 1997 and has seen multiple sequels since then. The latest entry in the franchise, Fallout 4, releases tomorrow, November 10, promising to abscond with gamers eager to explore a bombed-out Boston.

But neither Fallout 4 nor Wasteland 2 have brought their series back to their roots: despite the variety of editions and ports, neither game has appeared on the Apple II. Chiptune artist 8 Bit Weapon has set out to correct that oversight, with the following proof of concept of Fallout '84:

This demo was made using the Outlaw Editor, a tool that was was profiled in the September 14 issue of Juiced.GS and devised to assist with the creation of upcoming Old West RPG Lawless Legends. The song with which the above video opens is "Apple Core II", which was released on the album Bits with Byte.

Although the editor and song are available, the Fallout '84 demo is not, limited in distribution to its creators. But gamers can still enjoy the unique experiences of Wasteland 2, Fallout 4, and Lawless Legends — two of which are out now, with the third exploding onto the scene in 2016!

(Hat tips to Seth Sternberger and Mike Fahey)

Computer Show

November 2nd, 2015 9:11 AM
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In the late 1970s and early 1980s — and, some would argue, well beyond then — computers were portrayed in the media as a novelty or fad. But one show took them seriously: Computer Chronicles, a PBS talk show created and co-hosted by Stewart Cheifet. Across nearly two decades of the show's run, technologies such as the Internet and guests such as Bill Budge were presented to a mainstream audience for the first time.

Computer Chronicles has been off the air for 13 years — but now, Computer Show picks up where it left off, serving as a parody that mimics the original show's format. Much as the underrated Brady Bunch Movie transposed the original characters, unaffected by the passage of time from their native 1970s, into a contemporary 1990s setting, Computer Show's hosts are firmly rooted in the early 1980s, baffled by their guests from modern-day Silicon Valley. The guests are actual luminaries playing themselves, from the founders of to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

To date, two episodes have been released, the first being about the intersection of art and technology:

and another about communities:

Computer Show is the product of Sandwich Video, a company that makes commercials for tech products. Their casting of Rob Baedeker as socially awkward Gary Fabert is perfect, creating one of those rare opportunities when it feels okay to laugh at someone instead of with them. Though I confess to being a little tired of Adam Lisagor, who shows up in practically every Sandwich commercial ever.

Computer Show is a brilliant amalgam of classic sensibilities and modern tech, with plenty of Apple II cameos. Check it out!

(Hat tip to Dan Frommer and Proma Khosla)

Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs

October 26th, 2015 9:01 AM
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The third Steve Jobs film in two years opened nationwide this past Friday. Having just seen the Steve Jobs documentary last month, I wasn't inclined to consume more history of Apple's co-founder — not to boycott his deification or the potential misrepresentation of Steve Wozniak, but due to an oversaturation of the topic.

In fact, this past August, I emailed my freelance employer, Computerworld, to ask which they wanted me to review: the documentary, or the drama? They responded with the former. I assumed this was because every media outlet was going to review the Michael Fassbender movie, whereas the documentary was more likely to fly under the radar; Computerworld could stand out by being one of the few sites to cover it.

Then they emailed me this month to ask that I review the Fassbender film anyway, with the thinking being that, if everyone else is reviewing it, Computerworld would be remiss to not also do so. I guess it works both ways: if no one is doing it, you should; and if everyone is doing it, you should!

My review was published last week, but here's a summary: of the three films, Steve Jobs is the least historically accurate — and the most enjoyable. I was surprised how much I liked it, though I think it helped that I knew not to expect it to be true to life. For example, the character Seth Rogen plays is not Steve Wozniak — but he is a good character who serves a narrative purpose and drives the plot forward. It's a good story, and a good movie.

Seth Rogen admitted that, despite meeting and studying the real Woz, the script made any adherence to Woz's personality almost impossible:

… the character wasn’t really written that much in the voice of the actual Steve Wozniak, in my opinion. I think the themes are real to Steve Wozniak, the things he cared about, but the way he presents those ideas and the way he literally just interacts with people, from what I see, it’s not an incredibly realistic interpretation.

The cinematic and actual Wozes recently appeared together on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where they played the game "True Confessions". Woz, Rogen, and Fallon each wrote a truth and a lie about themselves: one was then chosen at random and shared with the other players, and they had to guess if it was the truth or the lie. Woz went last, with his turn starting at 6:11 in this video:

They obviously had fun playing this game — just as I enjoyed Rogen's spin on Woz.

Look for Eric Shepherd's review of Steve Jobs in the December 2015 issue of Juiced.GS.

(Hat tip to Seth Sternberger)

Woz's TED talk on the early days

October 19th, 2015 10:22 AM
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I'm a fan of TED talks: the 18-minute presentations by experts in technology, entertainment, and design are both entertaining and educational, giving us opportunities to learn from industry leaders for free.

While participating in or attending official TED talks is an exclusive affair, smaller TEDx talks are more accessible, being hosted throughout the country and allowing community members to share their ideas. TEDxBerkeley held an event this past February, for which they invited one of their distinguished alumni to present: Rocky Clark, aka Steve Wozniak.

Woz shared his familiar formula for happiness, one seemingly inspired by a McDonald's commercial: Food + Fun + Friends. But his earlier iteration on this equation was even simpler: Happiness = Smiles – Frowns. It's a theory echoed by another TED talk by Jane McGonigal: "If you can manage to experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of an hour, a day, a week, you dramatically improve your health and your ability to successfully tackle any problem you're facing. This is called the three-to-one positive emotion ratio."

I've heard Woz speak many times, including as at KansasFest 2003, but this TED talk was the first opportunity I've had to listen to him in the year or two that I've started performing at Moth StorySLAMs. One of the rules for a Moth story it that it must have a beginning, middle, and end. TED recommends a similar structure: in the TEDx Speaker Guide, they suggest outlining an introduction, body, and conclusion. Given the Moth and TEDx frameworks, I've finally realized that these storytelling qualities are something Woz lacks: his presentations usually consist of discrete anecdotes that aren't strung together into a cohesive whole. They might have a connective theme, as his TEDx talk did about his time at Berkeley and pranks he pulled there, but they don't build to a conclusion that ties it all together. Remove any one of his anecdotes, and you don't end up with a weaker thesis, just a shorter presentation.

Woz is a genius who applies technology to making the world a better place; he's in it for the philanthropy, not the profit. He's a hero to geeks and should be an example for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are too often focused on getting the customer's money instead of giving the customer an experience. If Woz had the same genius for storytelling that he does with computers, I think he could be a powerful and visible role model not just for engineers, but for businessmen as well.

(Hat tip to Southgate Amateur Radio News)

Reflecting on my past & do-overs

October 12th, 2015 10:23 AM
Filed under Musings;
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After a six-month hiatus, I recently resumed guest-appearing on the Retro Computing Roundtable podcast. As always, this multi-platform show leaves this Apple II-only guy little to contribute, but I'm happy to listen and pipe up when called upon — as in episode #106, when host Earl Evans asked: what do you wish you'd done differently in your history with computers, and is it too late to do so now?

I really had to think about that one! There are so many things I don't regret that stretch back so far: going to KansasFest every year since 1998; being editor of Juiced.GS for a decade; subscribing to Softdisk GS until the end. I made some mistakes in those years, often surrounding business transactions that went foul, but the loss of a few dollars or some minor hardware didn't ultimately have any significant, long-term repercussions.

In the grand scheme of things, the only regret I may have is not pursuing a minor in computer science. I'd started my undergraduate career as a CS major, but after two years, I switched to technical, scientific, and professional communications (TSPC), or what the school now calls professional writing (PW). The only career I felt qualified to pursue with that degree was one in tech writing, which I believed meant documentation. In fact, I nearly got a contract to write the manual for a cell phone, and later interviewed for a documentation position at Mozilla, neither of which in hindsight would've been that scintillating.

It wasn't until I got to Computerworld that I married my TSPC degree with my concentration in CS. As a Computerworld editor (and then as a freelancer), I wrote about enterprise IT and other technical subjects for an audience that was focused on CIOs and CTOs but which could include software developers, helpdesk technicians, and curious consumers.

Still, at some point in my career, not having any formal degree or certificate in computer science felt like an oversight — and while my undergraduate school's name carries weight in the local IT industry, having the words "Computer Science" on my actual degree would help solidify my strength and in that area.

But, as Earl pointed out, its absence didn't stop me from ending up at Computerworld — and I now have a portfolio that speaks for itself. Perhaps a minor wouldn't add much to my credentials. Even at the time I switched majors all those years ago, I was so disillusioned with CS that I never wanted to take another course; pursuing a minor might've been intolerable at the time.

So maybe I did make the right decision, after all.

Thanks for helping me come to peace with my past, Earl and RCR!