Archive for the ‘Happenings’ Category

The Apple II isn't just a computer; it's a community. Conferences, conventions, and parties are where to meet your fratres in computatrum.

Apple Games Done Quick

July 27th, 2015 8:41 AM
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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!

KFest Funk

July 13th, 2015 12:40 PM
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Today is the eve of KansasFest 2015, the annual gathering of Apple II enthusiasts in Kansas City, Missouri. This year's event marks a milestone: it's the first to feature a keynote speaker from the LGBT community and a code of conduct, and it marks half my life I've been attending KansasFest.

It's the attendees that make KansasFest such an exuberant event, and one of the people I most look forward to seeing is Steve Weyhrich. Author of the definitive history of the Apple II, Sophistication & Simplicity, Steve is also a KansasFest committee member who puts plenty of time and energy into making the event as fun and zany as possible. One year he did so by filming a series of on-site vignettes that he, parodying the role of CSI's David Caruso character, investigated, concluding with a series of silly zingers.

This year's addition to Steve's video repertoire is no less ridiculous. I'm not cool enough to be familiar with the song "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson — I was only the 789,569,005th person to discover it since its YouTube debut this past November. Steve, being the hip daddy-o he is, took that hit song and adapted it to be about KansasFest. Introducing the music video "KFest Funk":

My thanks to Steve, the committee, and all the attendees for making every KansasFest unique, special, and fun. I can't wait to see you all tomorrow!

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.

IMG_5399

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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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!

Photos of KansasFests past

May 18th, 2015 9:15 AM
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I've been bringing a digital camera to KansasFest every year since 2002. Every year, I come home with dozens or hundreds of photos that require sorting, cropping, tagging, and uploading. And every year, as I take more photos, I fall further behind in doing so.

This problem is getting bigger.

This problem is getting bigger.

The biggest hangup is metadata — specifically, captions. I like to write captions for each photo that suggests what could be but isn't happening. Sometimes it's taking note of something happening in the background, or expressing what someone in the photo might be thinking. And the more photos I take, the longer this process.

I used to post the photos in August, shortly after I returned home from KansasFest; then, when I adopted an academic schedule, I'd wait until Christmas break; now my goal is simply to get them posted before the next KansasFest.

I'm relieved to say that KansasFest 2014's photos are finally online. I selected two hundred of my 266 photos to post, then chose eight to share on Facebook, Google+ and Flickr.

Why eight? If you look at my Facebook profile, you'll see I have hundreds of albums, but each one is limited to exactly eight photos. There are three reasons for this self-imposed restriction:

  1. Any photo uploaded to a social network grants a license to that network to use the photo as they see fit. Copyright is the lifeblood of a professional content creator, so I want to grant that license on only a representative sample of my work. The rest are hosted on my own server, where I can claim sole copyright — while knowing that anyone can still copy and distribute a photo as they see fit, at least I am not granting them permission to do so.
  2. As a content consumer, I know how little interest I have in browsing hundreds of other people's photos. I respect people's time by presenting them only a reasonable number of photos; those who wish to explore further may exercise the option of clicking the link to view the full gallery.
  3. As a writer, I've learned how necessary it can be to say something in as few words as possible. Choosing eight photos out of hundreds to best represent an event is the photographic equivalent of that economy of expression.

I doubt anyone was waiting for these photos to be released or even noticed their absence, but given my past involvement in the planning of KansasFest and the production of Juiced.GS, my photos have a tendency to show up in ads, flyers, videos, and more. I like to think that someone, somewhere, sometime, will take a moment to read some of the two hundred captions and enjoy my perspective on this unique event.