Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

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

Panthers game montage

May 19th, 2019 12:38 PM
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Last fall, the Portland Trail Blazers announced their basketball schedule with a video inspired by Oregon Trail. Though the NBA season is still ongoing, the NFL isn't waiting to tout their own schedule, starting this September.

Of all the football teams, Carolina Panthers made the splashiest announcement, with each game on their tour represented by a classic video game in this retro video:

At 0:41, we yet again see the Apple II edutainment title Oregon Trail, described as:

A computer game designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life. Doesn't sound all than fun, but man, this game was wildly entertaining.

California Games from Epyx also makes an appearance:

According to Wikipedia, California Games is a "1987 Epyx sports video game originally released for the Apple II and Commodore 64." It sounds old. It looks old. It is old. … The pixelated Hollywood sign and palm trees are perfect touches for a season-opening matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

And, of course, there's John Madden Football, a franchise that originated on the Apple II.

It's fascinating to see professional sports using video games in their marketing materials for a couple of reasons. First, esports are on the rise, and while audience members can certainly enjoy both football and Fortnite, I would expect them to spend more time on the latter. Instead of focusing on their core audience, nhe NFL seems to be trying to expand their audience to include gamers.

The other reason I'm surprised by this advertising approach is the demographic of the participants. The average age of NFL and NBA players is roughly 26.7 years old, meaning they were born in 1990 — five years after Oregon Trail was released for the Apple II. I wasn't using computers in school until I was 12 years old, which for the average athlete would've been 2002, 17 years after the version of Oregon Trail seen in this video. I'm guessing that the athletes themselves aren't the ones coming up with the idea to insert themselves into such archaic media.

I'm the last person to criticize someone for enjoying media that's older than they are, having been on the receiving end when it comes to my passion for the Apple II! Whether these athletes grew up with Pitfall or Portal, I hope they've eventually discovered the joy of classic gaming. It warms my heart to imagine them showing off this video to their friends and family as a melding of their passions, as opposed to shrugging it off and saying, "I dunno what those games are."

Colossal Cave in the Hall of Fame

May 13th, 2019 9:58 AM
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For the fifth year, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, inducted new games into its Video Game Hall of Fame, part of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. Among this year's inductees were Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Kart, and Microsoft Windows Solitaire, recognized for their "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

Most years, I experience faux indignation when the museum snubs the Apple II by not including one of its original titles. But this year, even I can't feign umbrage when considering one of the inductees was Colossal Cave.

Colossal Cave, the invention of Will Crowther and Don Woods, was the first text adventure game, one that was eventually ported to the Apple II, which was invented just a year later. Its induction to the Hall of Fave is a timely one, and not only because of the recent release of source code for Infocom games, all of which were inspired by Colossal Cave.

This past December, in my quest to visit all fifty of the United States, I crossed off Kentucky when I visited Mammoth Cave, off which Colossal Cave was based. Although I didn't see any of the landmarks or rooms directly referenced in the game, nor was the game mentioned as part of the guided tour, I enjoyed an additional layer of meaning that was hidden from the other tourists.

I'd say more, except I wrote about my trip to Mammoth Cave in the spring 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, and there's more about the cave's history right here on this blog from nine years ago this month. Jason Scott's 90-minute interview with Don Woods is also available on YouTube:

For once, even my grumpy persona gives a nod of approval to the Strong's selection. Colossal Cave and Mammoth Cave are landmarks of a different sort, and it's wonderful to see both being recognized.

(Hat tip to Dean Takahashi)

I backed Nox Archaist's second Kickstarter

May 6th, 2019 7:27 PM
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Last week, 6502 Workshop launched the second Kickstarter for Nox Archaist, an original 8-bit RPG for the Apple II.

As a teacher of crowdfunding workshops at every level from local libraries to graduate programs at Emerson College and Harvard University, I'd been invited to consult on this campaign several months ago. I gave them some advice, though mostly minor, as they'd already learned their lessons from their first Kickstarter.

That previous crowdfunding attempt launched in September 2017 and was cancelled a month later after raising $19,656, well short of its $43,078 goal. Using production and marketing strategies they outlined in the March 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, the team behind Nox Archaist brought their costs down to $8,500. The second Kickstarter hit that goal in under two hours and raised more funding in 8.5 hours than their first campaign did in an entire month.

The campaign's success is now a certainty; the only uncertainty was whether I should've backed it.

That's not a question of the game's quality, which looks amazing; the team's dependability, in which I am confident; or my own eagerness, which is evident! But I always think twice before backing a product that I'll ultimately be responsible for reviewing, or for editing a review of. Nox Archaist is a prime candidate for a Juiced.GS review or feature, and one could say that, by dropping $89 on the collector's edition boxed set, I have an investment in the game's success. I would counter that I'm simply preordering the game, which is less ethically complicated than a member of the press accepting a free review copy — but then, why preorder the game instead of just waiting to buy it when the finished product is made commercially available to the general public?

The answer has to do with the size of the Apple II community. There is almost no one making sizable (or any) profits off Apple II hardware or software these days; everyone does what they do for the love of it. The very first Kickstarter I ever backed was for Jason Scott's sabbatical. Shortly thereafter, when interviewing him for a Computerworld article, I asked him a question that had been lingering in the back of my mind: why should I have backed his Kickstarter, primarily to fund the completion of the GET LAMP documentary, when he'll be eventually make money off the finished documentary's sale? Jason acknowledged that this was a valid question, and if I wanted to judge a product by its commercial viability, then I shouldn't back such projects. But not every product that's valuable or important is also commercially viable, and a single person's pledge can make the difference between such a product existing and it not existing.

I want Nox Archaist to exist. Even if I never play it, I want to live in a world where Nox Archaist exists. Having spoken with 6502 Workshop's Mark Lemmert online and at KansasFest, I know Nox Archaist is something he's passionate about. He's made his investment; now he's asking us to match it with dollars.

If that means putting a disclaimer in an issue of Juiced.GS, then that's worth it.

An adventure in Rocky's Boots

April 22nd, 2019 1:04 PM
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My reputation as any workplace's resident (and only) Apple II expert began at my first salaried job as a high-school teacher. I'd often annoy the computer-science teacher, Ms. Lang, by extolling the virtues of BASIC as a programming language (she preferred Scheme); and when I had to substitute for her for a day, I taught her students how to use VisiCalc, as detailed in a Juiced.GS article.

One day, that same teacher came to me for help. She'd recently come back from a conference with a copy of an old Apple II program used to teach programming logic using circuits and gates — could I boot it in my emulator so she could assess its usefulness to her class? I'd never heard the game, but as soon as it started, I gasped. "This is the work of Warren Robinett!"

In Rocky's Boots, players control a simple square as it navigates single-screen rooms, picking up items by colliding with them and transporting them through exits. Sword-like arrows guide the player from room to room.

It was the exact same design and interface as a game I'd grown up with: Adventure on the Atari 2600. Using a joystick and a single button, I'd guided that square on expeditions to distant castles, raiding their treasure while dodging and defeating terrifying, duck-like dragons, all while hoping not to be abducted by a random bat. Adventure's place was cemented not just in my memory but also in history for featuring the first-ever Easter egg: a hidden room with the developer's name, Warren Robinett.

Warren Robinett's name in Adventure's hidden room

Warren Robinett's name in Adventure's hidden room.

It was thanks to that Easter egg that I knew who must be responsible for Rocky's Boots. It's rare for a developer to have such an identifiable style, but when I saw Rocky's Boots, I knew it had to be, if not the same developer, then at least the same engine. I'd never researched Robinett's portfolio beyond that historical Atari 2600 game; until that moment in my high school office, I didn't realize Robinett had adapted his work to any other platform. But in a video demoing the 1982 eudcational title, Robinett describes it: "It uses some of the same ideas from the Adventure game for Atari: A network of interlinked screens, objects that you could pick up…"

I haven't played Rocky's Boots since that day in 2005, but it recently become easier to explore this educational curiosity, thanks to the work of 4am:

My thanks to 4am for preserving this classic, to Robinett for developing it, and to Karen Lang for introducing me to it. Now go try it yourself and enjoy this adventure on the Apple II!

Razer's Min-Liang Tan

April 1st, 2019 12:20 PM
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Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft are well-known developers of game consoles — but some players prefer to interface with those devices with third-party peripherals. When they do, Razer is one of the go-to manufacturers of controllers, keyboards, and mice. Razer is also yet another modern game company that might not exist if not for the Apple II, which got 41-year-old Razer founder Min-Liang Tan hooked on gaming. He waxed eloquent about these classic games in this recent interview with Abacus News.

Tan got his start on Lode Runner and Rescue Raiders, but he specifically called out Ultima IV's virtue system as being groundbreaking. "All of a sudden, it wasn't just about hack and slash and killing everything. You need some kind of a moral code."

I'm not familiar with the Apple II's adoption rate in Tan's native Singapore, but it apparently made its way into Tan's hands when it mattered most. As far as I know, Tan never developed hardware or software for the Apple II, unlike Steve Chiang, the current Executive Vice President of Worldwide Production and Studios at Warner Bros. Games. But that he remembers those classic titles all these decades later and cites them among his favorites is a testament to the influence and staying power of Apple II games.

Maybe we'll see Razer developing new Apple II joysticks next!

Mark Pelczarski & Spy's Demise

March 11th, 2019 2:07 PM
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From the IIe's release in 1983 to when I switched to the Apple IIGS in 1988, I used the Apple II primarily as a gaming machine. Many of our family's games were cracked, pirated copies, though I can't tell you where they came from — perhaps our local Apple retailer snuck them to my dad on the sly, or my older brothers were exchanging floppies on the playground. Regardless, it exposed me to many quirky titles that I may otherwise never have encountered.

One such game was Spy's Demise. As a kid growing up watching Inspector Gadget and reading Dungeons & Dragons novels such as Hero of Washington Square, I knew all about spies! (Mission: Impossible's 1988 revival and reruns of Get Smart! wouldn't come until later.) But demise? Not if I had anything to do about it!

Spy's Demise was an action game in which players navigated a spy across the horizontal floors of a building, avoiding a collision course with elevators as they vertically travel their shafts. It reminded me of Elevator Action, a Data East coin-op that my father and I would play together on family vacations.

I doubt I ever finished the game or even knew that there was an ending. Those who did get that far were presented with a hidden cryptogram and a phone number to call. What they got for their efforts, I don't know, but based on other prizes of the era offered by Nintendo or Atari, I'd guess it was a sew-on patch with the company logo.

It wasn't until researching this post that I also learned the game had a sequel, The Spy Strikes Back!, which offers a top-down view as the spy tries to avoid motion-sensing drones.

What brings these games to mind after so many years is last week's announcement of the KansasFest 2019 keynote speaker. Mark Pelczarski is the co-author of The Spy Strikes Back! and the founder of Penguin Software, the company that published both Spy games as well as many others, including Translyvania and The Coveted Mirror. Pelczarski was also a columnist for Softalk and, before that, a high-school math teacher and college instructor of computer science. His LinkedIn profile outlines his many contributions since then to education, democracy, and web development.

Today, his roles include "consulting regarding software, data mining and integrity, and web security". No doubt this expertise in online security and cryptography originated with leaving clues and secrets for early Apple II spies. I look forward to meeting the secret agent who sent me on so many missions!