Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

Lode Runner, Choplifter, Oregon Trail, and other classic diversions from 8-bit gaming.

No More Heroes: Apple Strikes Again

January 21st, 2019 11:29 AM
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If I had to say what my brand was, it'd be a mix of Apple II, video games, Star Trek, and WordPress. Of them, those first two are the likeliest to intersect — but even I am sometimes late to catch those crossovers.

One recent video game I overlooked is Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, a Nintendo Switch exclusive released just three days ago, on January 18, 2019, and the latest in the No More Heroes franchise that started on the Wii in 2007. I've not played any games in this series and wasn't planning to start now. But then the Australian video game website Vooks made this passing remark in their review of the game: "The cutscenes … [are] handled through a visual novel with an Apple II filter."

I wondered what "an Apple II filter" was, suspecting it was just lazy shorthand for pixel art or some other retro aesthetic. Some searching on YouTube revealed that Vooks was in fact quite accurate in its description.

It's not a perfect match for the Apple II: the resolution is a bit too high and the font is off, to name a few. (Another review called it a "Apple II / TRS-80 style"; maybe that's the influence.) Regardless, if I were to see these cutscenes without context, the Apple II would probably be the first thing I thought of, too — either that or Plangman, another modern game with an Apple II vibe.

I continued poking into the history of the No More Heroes franchise and discovered this sequel is not the first to reference the Apple II. The original 2007 game featured the Orange II, "a retractable, cleaver-esque beam katana model designed by Orange Computer… The name is a parody of Apple Computers and its first computer sold for public use, the Apple II."

I apparently need to add Travis Strikes Again to my gaming backlog!

Let's Play Prince of Persia Escape

January 7th, 2019 10:53 AM
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Karateka and its spiritual successor, Prince of Persia, have enjoyed diverse incarnations on mobile devices. Karateka saw a re-invention as a rhythmic fighting game, spurring interest in the later release of Karateka Classic. Likewise, the original Prince of Persia was released as Prince Retro but never updated for iOS 11; what took its place in iOS 12 was Prince of Persia Classic HD, which updated the graphics until they're unrecognizable from their Apple II origins.

Now there's a new Prince of Persia for iOS and Android, and it's in the sub-genre of platformers known as a runner. Here, the Prince runs to the right side of the screen while dodging obstacles, but never combating foes or solving puzzles. He moves left and right and jumps at the player's discretion, but beyond that, there's little variety.

That didn't sound like much fun to me, but it seemed an easy Let's Play video to record, so I took the free version of the game for a spin. Spoiler: it's not much fun. But at least I worked some Apple II graphics into the background and outro.

Judging from other Let's Play videos of this game, the level design doesn't get more diverse in the first fifty stages, either. And some reports indicate the game has 500+ levels. Who has time for that?

It's not unreasonable for classic licenses to be reincarnated in new genres. Sometimes it works well: I felt more positive about the similar adaptation of Super Mario to the running genre. Prince of Persia Escape doesn't inspire any strong feelings either way, but if it makes enough profit to keep the Prince alive, then I look forward to seeing his next reinvention.

Narrative choice in Law of the West

October 29th, 2018 1:01 PM
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The console gaming world is in a tizzy over this past week's release of Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), an open-world adventure game set in the Old West. To commemorate the occasion, Rhain Radford-Burns of OnlySP (Single Player) produced a historical chronicle, "The Origins of Virtual Gunslinging — History of Western Games (Part One: 1971–1994)" (a timeline that would exclude Lawless Legends). The hunting scenes in Oregon Trail earned a mention, of course — but so did another game I'd never heard of: Accolade’s Law of the West.

Law of the West (which can be played online in the Internet Archive) features four settings from a frontier town: the bank, the saloon, the Wells Fargo wagon, and the train depot, each populated by cowboys, teachers, deputies, desperadoes, and more. Each scene introduces a character who interacts with the sheriff and then departs. After eleven of these vignettes, the player is given a score based on community relations, crimes prevented, and romantic success.

Most notable is how the player engages with the townsfolk. While some gunslinging does occur, this action takes a backseat to dialogue. For each line a citizen delivers, the sheriff chooses from one of four responses, resulting in a branching dialogue tree. This plot device is common in modern adventure games — not only in indie titles developed in the Twine game engine such as Depression Quest, but also mainstream games from BioWare's Mass Effect to Telltale's The Walking Dead to Dontnod's Life Is Strange.

But according to Wikipedia, this gameplay mechanic was unprecedented at the time (emphasis mine):

The actual gameplay mostly concerns the Sheriff discussing with the various characters via a selection menu similar to those in contemporary graphical adventures. For each line the other character says, the game offers a selection of four different responses, and the discussion progresses depending on the chosen response. Law of the West marks the first use of this now-common interaction style.

If true, then it's fascinating to discover that such a well-known narrative device debuted in 1985 on the Apple II from a company that went defunct in 2000. To this day, the choice to engage with non-player characters instead of blindly shooting them is something players yearn for. In Chris Plante's review of RDR2 for Polygon, he describes one scene:

A crowd watches a public hanging. After the execution, the crowd disperses, and I find the victim's mother weeping in the mud. I want to console her, but for whatever reason, the game won't let me "greet" or "antagonize" the distraught mother. The only option it gives me is to pull a gun on her.

Maybe someone at Rockstar should've studied their history and learned the Law of the West.

Oregon Trail Blazers

October 22nd, 2018 1:57 PM
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I've never been one for competitive sports. I enjoy heading to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game every few years, but I've never been to a Patriots, Celtics, or Bruins game. Perhaps this stems from an ancient schoolyard rivalry, where my geeky hobbies were never deemed good enough for the jocks. They always tried forcing their pastimes on me without being similarly open to my passions.

Decades later, maybe those barriers are finally starting to erode. The Portland Trail Blazers are an NBA team whose name shares a word with with classic Apple II edutainment title Oregon Trail. In the lead-up to the official start of basketball season last week, this Oregon team released a video portmanteau of their name and the game's: Oregon Trail Blazers.

This reel consists primarily of traveling from one city to another; with the exception of a brief hunting scene, we don't see any of the riveting decisions that are the hallmark of Oregon Trail. Should the team ford the river? Trade with locals? What happens if someone breaks an arm? We may never know!!

Though the video is simple, the pixel art and chiptune soundtrack showcase a sincere affinity for Oregon Trail. It's great to see these two pastimes playing well together.

(Hat tip to Cat Morgan)

Two-player Karateka

August 13th, 2018 8:22 AM
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I thought I knew Charles Mangin: hardware guru extraordinaire, maker of connectors, adapters and miniature models. His RetroConnector brand has enabled Apple II keyboards to talk to USB-enabled machines, modern joysticks to be played on Apple II computers, and other interactions that span the eras. With a 3D printer, he's created miniature working monitors and Raspberry Pi cases shaped like a IIe. Well before I ever met him at KansasFest, I was blogging about Charles putting computers in Apple II peripherals. Creating intergenerational hybrids is Charles' niche.

Or so I thought. First, he started sharing his hardware knowledge in a video podcast series, How II. Then he was giving KansasFest sessions about music synthesizers. No 3D printers to be seen, but these topics could still be broadly categorized as hardware projects.

But now Charles is making a name for himself in a wholly new realm: software development. After tackling the significant task of teaching himself 6502 assembly, he released his first game, a Minesweeper clone. Then he innovated with an original title, Jumpy Guy. These are fun, simple games that demonstrate Charles' growth in this new role.

Now Charles is punching his way through one of the most famous games of all time: Karateka. No longer the tale of a lone gamer storming Akuma's fortress, Jordan Mechner's first published title has been patched to enable a second player to control Akuma's foot soldiers, putting some actual intelligence behind the hero's adversaries and making it more akin to the Apple II arcade port Karate Champ.

I would ask Charles to detail his patch in an issue of Juiced.GS, but he has already been thoroughly transparent on his website, detailing the mere 42 bytes that constitute the efficient patch. The updated game is playable online on the Internet Archive:

In the course of reinventing himself, Charles has reinvented Karateka. But gamers are a hungry lot, and some are already clamoring for more features, including joystick input and network play. I'd rather wait and see what Charles does of his own volition: like Apple Inc., he has an uncanny sense for giving us what we didn't know we've always wanted. Who knows where he'll take us — and himself — next?

Travel Oregon: The Game

July 9th, 2018 11:06 AM
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The Oregon Trail is the perennial Apple II game: everyone has played some version of it, with it being adapted to feature zombies, reapppropriated by travel brands, and more. Regardless of how the game has evolved, it has the constant goal of arriving safely in Oregon. But what does one do once the party has reached its destination?

The state of Oregon itself offers its answer in Travel Oregon: The Game. This parody browser game offers a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into the experiences awaiting you in Oregon. As in the original game, you start by choosing your profession, except updated for the place and age: yoga teacher; apple farmer; ski pro; rancher; fly fisherman; winemaker; or surfer. Starting funds can be used to buy artisanal coffee, craft beer, kombucha, snow chains, newspapers, dry socks, spare tires, and gas cans. At stops along the way, you can buy cheese-flavored snack mix, sequined ice skates, crossword puzzles, phone chargers, beef jerky, a fisherman's hat, pinot gris, baby carrots, and more. Once equipped, there are plenty of fun minigames to play, from figure-skating to fishing. But it's not all fun and games, as poor party management can still lead to unfortunate consequences. As the state describes it:

While playing it, you can hunt (but make sure to buy a hunting license or you’ll be fined), build snowmen, and buy gas station sushi. You can choose to travel to the high desert or go down south to fish for steelhead among the rapids. There are quirky moments that distinctly remind you of how strange Oregon (and by extension, Portland) can be, like choosing the class, stats, and backstory for your freshly built snowman, or dueling a ghost to the… undeath?

Here are some photos I snapped in my travels throughout Oregon.

Want to make your virtual adventures a reality? The game offers a menu item to book your trip today! Come experience everything to offer in Oregon — only slightly exaggerated:

(Hat tip to Alec Blouin)