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.

Roger Wagner to keynote KansasFest 2018

February 12th, 2018 10:32 AM
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Over the last twenty KansasFests, I've listened to many keynote speeches. Some have been elaborate affairs with thoughtfully designed slides; others have been more freewheeling strolls down memory lane. My favorites have been those delivered by Randy Wigginton (2013), John Romero (2012), and Jason Scott (2009). The alternating historical luminaries and modern historians has provided a variety of perspectives on the current and historical aspects of the Apple II and its community.

After hosting the long-running Apple II development team Brutal Deluxe in 2017, KansasFest returns to the past with Roger Wagner, whose last gave the keynotes in 1991 and 1995. Not only do those years predate my first attendance at KansasFest 1998, but it also predates my peak years as an Apple IIGS power user. Wagner is most famous for the invention of HyperStudio, which bore many functional similarities to the World Wide Web, which Sir Tim Berners-Lee would not invent until two years later. Sadly, I to this day have never used HyperStudio; in fact, I can't even find a reference in the Juiced.GS index to any article that has covered it specifically.

That's not to say I haven't felt Wagner's influence. Four years ago, Chris Torrence collaborated with Wagner to compile all 33 installments of his Softalk column, "Assembly Lines" into a book that he made available in print and for free online. Many Apple II developers have since cited it as an invaluable resource, not only in long-term projects such as Nox Archaist but also short sprints such as the HackFest project Kaverns of KFest.

So instead of being unimpressed by the committee's selection of keynote speaker, I'm instead eager to finally meet the visionary who laid the foundation for the World Wide Web and who continues to inspire generations of Apple II developers. Here's to Wagner's third and best keynote speech!

Bard's Tale post-mortem at GDC

December 11th, 2017 8:10 AM
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The Game Developer's Conference is an annual event that invites members of the computer and video game industry to collaborate, inspire, and share their stories and best practices. This professional affair is expensive to attend but nonetheless attracts developers both mainstream and indie.

One of the flagship offerings of each year's GDC schedule is the post-mortem, where developers take attendees behind the scenes of their memorable games, be they modern or historical. Past post-mortems have included games Maniac Mansion for the Apple II and Raid on Bungeling Bay for Commodore 64.

At GDC 2018, to be held in San Francisco on March 19–23, another classic game will enter the post-mortem vault: The Bard's Tale I and II. Dr. Michael Cranford, creator of The Bard's Tale series and programmer for the Apple II version of Donkey Kong, will host the session:

Cranford… will share the vision that led him to the game's conception, design, and development from his years as a dungeon master. The games are an expression of Cranford's personal love for the genre and desire to surpass the experience of tabletop gaming. The session will explore the vision behind the game and help illuminate a trajectory in gaming which has remained strong to the current day… [and] many elements in current RPGs are developed in 'The Bard's Tale'.

… this talk is not going to be technical. This session targets those who are interested in concepts behind game design (RPG game design in particular), how that came together in the early '80s, and how it impacted so many people.

Although I've not played many games in The Bard's Tale series, I recognize the role it played in gaming history, as it was named among the top RPGs of all time by both Game Informer and Retro Gamer, inspiring me to back the Kickstarter for The Bard's IV. I would love to be in the audience for this upcoming talk… but alas, attendance at GDC is not for the casual gamer, with passes starting at $999 $149. I will instead hope the video and slides will eventually make their way into the GDC Vault, where they will be preserved and made available to the wider audience interested in RPG history.

(Hat tip to Gamasutra)

KansasFest at Rockhurst

August 14th, 2017 9:20 AM
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Those feeling the withdrawal of KansasFest 2017 now have something to look forward to, as the dates and venue for KansasFest 2018 have been announced: the world's largest and longest-running annual Apple II convention returns to Rockhurst University next July 16–22.

There has been much unsolicited, unofficial discourse on the KansasFest email list about whether Rockhurst should remain the venue for KansasFest. Those hoping for a change in 2018 shouldn't be surprised: executing an event like KansasFest takes almost an entire year of preparation, and pivoting to a new venue more quickly than that should occur only when no alternative is available, as when Avila decided to stop hosting KansasFest after 2004.

That doesn't mean the debate is over. For KansasFest 2019 and beyind, there are plenty of compelling opinions about where the event should be held. In the pro-Rockhurst camp:

  • • Rockhurst is exceedingly cheap — only a few hundred dollars for five nights, eleven meals, and conference registration makes it an incredibly affordable vacation.
  • • There are few other retrocomputing conventions where attendees stay right where the event is, making for a 24-hour event. Rockhurst enables this.
  • • The dormitory setting encourages socializing both in lounge areas and in private rooms with open doors.
  • • For the duration of KansasFest, the Corcoran student hall is exclusive to us, without needing to be shared by other guests, students, or events.
  • • After 13 years of hosting us, Rockhurst and KansasFest have developed an amicable working relationship and can anticipate each other's needs and expectations.

Those proposing we move to a hotel make the following points:

  • • Many attendees are at a point in their lives where they can afford nicer accommodations.
  • • A hotel is likely to have a more robust dining menu, accommodating more diverse tastes and diets.
  • • Hotels have larger, more comfortable beds.
  • • Hotel rooms have private bathrooms and showers.
  • • Hotels wouldn't cap attendance at 100 people.

As a former member of the KansasFest committee, I have no weight or authority beyond that of any other attendee. I, like 92 other attendees of KansasFest 2017, am happy to pay my cheap dues and enjoy a week of camaraderie with no responsibilities. If I am able to engage in that spirit of the event, then the trappings matter little.

To that end, it seems moving from Rockhurst wouldn't benefit the event itself, but its creature comforts. I've read no concerns about Rockhurst's ability to host the convention aspect: the presentation hall, the space for Sean's Garage Giveaway, and the Internet bandwidth have all suited our needs, and I've yet to encounter suggestions to the contrary. It's better room and board accommodations that folks want.

But I'm okay with the way things are. Sleeping and eating are two things I don't spend a lot of time doing at KansasFest; they're certainly not why I go. I've lived in college dorms before, and while I'm not nostalgic for those conditions, I can tolerate them for a week.

Rockhurst dormitory in 2006

Rockhurst in 2006. It's even nicer now.

But better accommodations may be more than KansasFest can afford, costing us both money and attendees. It's been said that if you're not turning people away, then you're not charging enough. With KansasFest hitting its attendee cap of 100 in 2017, perhaps we could charge more. But that would reduce the number of people can afford to attend KansasFest, negating the benefit of moving to a venue with no attendance cap.

And besides, do we want more than 100 people attending? I say this not out of elitism, but because I like the intimate scope of KansasFest as it is now. As we approach Dunbar's number, the ability to meet and get to know every attendee diminishes. I prefer quality time with a smaller number of people, which I find harder to achieve with more attendees.

I recall the multiple years of dwindling attendance, with each KansasFest leaving us wondering if it would be the last. It seems impossible that we've quadrupled our numbers since those pessimistic years of just a decade ago. Perhaps we've grown to the point where we've outgrown Rockhurst. From my perspective as an attendee, that doesn't seem the case. I'm happy to continue returning to its familiar campus for as long as the committee decides we should.

Old friends of KansasFest

July 17th, 2017 10:31 AM
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KansasFest 2017 is this week, and more than a dozen attendees will be arriving with shirts from KFests past to make a group photo happen. While I was looking for examples of previous such photos, I came across this artifact.

Ryan Suenaga, Steve Gozdziewski, Ken Gagne

Dain Neater snapped this photo outside Avila University at KansasFest 2002. Here I am, chatting with Ryan Suenaga and Steve Gozdziewski. In this moment, Ryan is in his first year as editor-in-chief of Juiced.GS, and Steve is the committee chair of KansasFest.

Legends.

When I think back to those early KansasFests, what I remember most aren't the sessions or the product reveals; it's the camaraderie. It's finally meeting people whom I'd known for years from GEnie or CompuServe and clicking with them immediately. It's the laughter of delight in being among people who get each other. Ryan and Steve were a big part of that, not only by creating the platforms, but by also being wonderful people to be around. They were weird and quirky and absolutely selfless, and they shaped my early experiences in the Apple II community.

Ryan died on April 24, 2011, at age 44; Steve passed away on December 31, 2016, at 69. I wrote their obituaries for both A2Central.com and Juiced.GS.

Everyone who attends KansasFest was or is at some point a new friend. And with KansasFest 2017 hitting its attendance cap at one hundred Apple II enthusiasts, I look forward to making many new friends this year.

But damned if I don't miss the old ones.

The shirts of KansasFest

July 3rd, 2017 1:48 PM
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Earlier this year, I wrote a tribute to an Apple II user who had passed away — something I've now done too many damn times. But in remembering Steve Gozdziewski, I also recalled sharing this moment with him at KansasFest 2002:

KansasFest attendees wearing shirts representing the event's different years

Many of those pictured had been coming to KansasFest for years (2002 was the event's fourteenth year, and my fifth), and we spontaneously decided to represent our long lineage by donning the various years' shirts that we'd happened to bring with us. (We staged a similar shot another year, though I can't seem to find it in the available archives.)

That got me thinking: why not plan another shirt photo? With this month's KansasFest being the 29th, it's unlikely we'll have representatives from every year — but it'd be fun to try!

So if you've ever attended a previous KansasFest and are one of the hundred who are coming to KansasFest 2017, please use the below form to indicate which years' KansasFest shirts you own. A week from today, July 10, I'll email everyone their packing instructions to ensure we show up in Kansas City with as complete a set as possible!

Let's create another photo by which to remember the many years and friends we've shared across the decades.

Gaming at @party

August 22nd, 2016 12:57 PM
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It's not often I get to evangelize the Apple II outside our own community — KansasFest, Juiced.GS, and the Retro Computing Roundtable are preaching to the choir, essentially. When I do get to speak to other audiences, it's usually those who "get" retrocomputing but may not know the details of this specific platform.

Such was the case in 2012 at @party, a demoparty held annually here in Boston. It's a venue for programmers of any and all retrocomputers to strut their stuff by creating the most complex, elaborate, and impressive graphical and aural demos in the most constrained spaces. Despite not being a programmer, I attended the founding event in 2010 and was invited back in 2012 to represent the Apple II community.

My favorite anecdote of that day came when I bumped into another attendee outside the event venue. The front door was locked, and while we waited to be buzzed in, we introduced ourselves by first names. I asked what Mike's interest was in the demoscene, after which he asked why I was attending. I said I was one of several people invited to represent various communities. Mike asked what community I was representing, and I said the Apple II.

At which point he stopped, looked at me, and exclaimed, "You're Ken Gagne!" Who knew Mike Erwin was an Open Apple listener?

That wasn't the only revelation of the day. The presentation I gave, "The Apple II Lives! KansasFest And Beyond", a variation on a presentation I'd given to the Denver Apple Pi users group the previous summer, cited many examples of games that had made the Apple II both popular and memorable. My goal was to not only demonstrate the impact that the machine had had on the computing landscape of the 1980s, but to appeal to the nostalgia of the audience's non-Apple II users who may've nonetheless encountered these franchises on other platforms.

The presentation (executed in Prezi) was well-received, but the most surprising response came from someone who had used the Apple II solely as a productivity machine. Her experience had been limited to VisiCalc, AppleWorks, and Dazzle Draw, completely omitting such classics as Lode Runner, Choplifter, Ultima, and King's Quest.

I was sad that anyone would come so close to such a great gaming machine and have overlooked what made it great to me — not everyone is a gamer, but I know this person to be, and while her background with the Apple II was as valid as my own, I couldn't help but feel like she'd missed something wonderful. But I was also glad for the opportunity @party presented me to give a more complete picture of the Apple II's legacy and livelihood. It's never too late to discover the Apple II's library of games!