Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Unearthed arcana, milestones, and anniversaries.

Oregon Trail Hall of Fame

May 16th, 2016 8:47 AM
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The International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play recently inducted the 2016 class of the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Back in January, I encouraged readers to submit nominations to correct the oversight made in 2015 when no native Apple II games were inducted into the inaugural class.

We had better luck in 2016, with Oregon Trail now being recognized as one of the most important video games of all time. Granted, the game may not have debuted on the Apple II, but it's inarguable that it's on the Apple II that Oregon Trail found its place in history.

And how fitting that should be, given that it's a game about history! One of the game's original creators, Don Rawitsch, recently hosted a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). He addressed everything about what was cut from the original version, to the iOS remake, to his views on gamification, to his favorite parody of Oregon Trail (that being Organ Trail).

The conversation also unearthed this 2011 gem: a one-hour presentation by Rawitsch on the history of Oregon Trail.

But what about the history not of Oregon Trail, but the Oregon Trail — the grueling, 2,170-mile route on which so many pioneers died? We may think it was an adventure filled with dysentery and bison, but the truth is that many travellers lost their lives making that trek. "The R-rated Oregon Trail" is, despite its name, not a snuff film, but an unfiltered look at the challenges faced by those settlers for whom the Oregon Trail was not a game:

The AMA, two of the three above videos, and the Hall of Fame induction all happened in this calendar year. Oregon Trail has always been a popular source of nostalgia, but especially lately, it seems our sights are set firmly to the west. Wagons, ho!

(Hat tips to Javier A. Rivera and Tony Diaz)

40 years in 40 seconds

March 28th, 2016 9:16 AM
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Apple is the most profitable company in the world, based on its market cap of $672 billion. (That's more than half a trillion, folks.) The iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs all started in the apocryphal garage, where Steve Wozniak invented and Steve Jobs designed the Apple II.

Given all the success that's sprung from those early innovations, we diehard enthusiasts sometimes feel that modern-day Apple Inc. doesn't give its roots the recognition it deserves, as evidenced by the Apple II being erased from press releases. But our favorite computer finally did get a nod in this commercial celebrating Apple's 40th birthday on April 1, 2016:

On Facebook, commenters were underwhelmed, with "Not enough Apple II" being a recurring theme. It's true that Apple's classic machines constitute only a few of the video's opening seconds, but I'm not sure we could expect more than that: even more than the computers themselves, programs and peripherals for the Apple II lack the modern recognition of more recent innovations, such as iWork, AirPort, or Mighty Mouse.

Sometimes it's nice just to be mentioned.

(Hat tip to Shona Ghosh)

Europe's first Apple II

February 15th, 2016 8:03 AM
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Filed under History, Steve Jobs;
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Despite the impressive portfolios of such groups as Brutal Deluxe, the FTA, and French Touch, the Apple II was not as big in Europe and especially the United Kingdom as it was in the United States. Domestic machines, such as the BBC Micro or ZX Spectrum, had more inroads into the European personal computer market.

But were it not for Stephen Brewer, the Apple II's overseas footprint might've been even smaller, or completely nonexistent. John Kennedy at the Silicon Republic reports:

After learning about the first Macintosh computers, Brewer and his brother Michael sold everything they had, raised £400,000 and flew to a computer trade show in New York to meet Steve Jobs. After convincing Jobs to give them the first distributorship for Apple Computer in the UK, the Brewer brothers built up a thriving computer business called Microsense that, at its zenith, had a turnover of more than £20m before Apple acquired the company, and Brewer joined the board of Apple during its pivotal early growth years.

That story is told in this interview:

But it wasn't strictly a business relationship. Brewer has this surprising recollection of Steve Jobs:

"He was a good guy. I remember, I think it was June, 1979, I arrived in Cupertino, and he said, 'Stephen, I hope you haven't got have any plans for tonight, because we're having a barbecue for your birthday.' He was that sort of guy, and I feel that successful people are often like that: they care about the individual."

From this interview and anecdote, both Brewer and Jobs come across as transatlantic counterparts: kind, thoughtful individuals with a passion to bring personal computing to the masses. That description, being the opposite impression of the ruthless businessman needed to succeed in Silicon Valley, doesn't fit with what we know of Steve Jobs. Perhaps he had his moments of grace.

Regardless, this partnership helped spread the Apple II's influence across the globe, making for what remains to this day a global community — one that still enjoys its barbecues.

KFest Kookout

Kirk Mitchell at KansasFest 2005

Video Game Hall of Fame 2016

January 11th, 2016 3:21 PM
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The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, is an ardent supporter and ally of video game preservation. Their International Center for the History of Electronic Games has collaborated with countless developers to archive personal notes, hardware, and other artifacts of gaming history.

Some games deserve special recognition, and to that end, the ICHEG has instituted a World Video Game Hall of Fame. In June 2015, they inducted six games from a list of fifteen candidates "that have enjoyed popularity over a sustained period and have exerted influence on the video game industry or on popular culture and society in general". But in a gross oversight, none of those six games had their origins on the Apple II.

We retrocomputing enthusiasts now have the opportunity to correct that error. Nominations for the next annual round of inductees to The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame close February 29, 2016. It's as simple as filling out a form, though two questions will require some thought: "What are your reasons for nominating this game?" and "Tell us a story or experience you had with this game."

So, Apple II fans: what games will you nominate? Lode Runner? Choplifter? King's Quest? All these games and more resonated with us thirty years ago and continue to inspire games and game development today. Getting just one such landmark from the Apple II recognized should be a no-brainer.

But ultimately, all we can do is make these titles available for consideration: "Final selections will be made on the advice of journalists, scholars, and other individuals familiar with the history of video games and their role in society."

Let's get the Apple II's place in gaming history the recognition it deserves!

Reviving the 8-Bit Generation

January 4th, 2016 3:04 PM
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In February 2012, I heard of an upcoming computer documentary called 8-Bit Generation. As it was scheduled to ship imminently, I paid to preordered a copy to review in Juiced.GS. But the ship date came and went, no DVDs shipped, and emails to the director went unanswered. I learned that October that some customers had received refunds, but I was not one of the lucky ones.

Jason Scott saw the bigger picture: what we'd lost was not just a few preorders, but an impressive collection of documentary footage with industry founders and luminaries that may now never see the light of day. As a director himself of such invaluable productions as GET LAMP and BBS: The Documentary, Scott understood the trials of creating such a product and the value of seeing it through to the end.

Thanks in no small part to Scott's empathy and support, the film's producers came out of hiding and sought to finally finish what they'd begun. A successful Kickstarter this past fall produced the necessary funds to see the film through to completion. An email from the project manager assured me that those who have not yet received refunds from the original preorder will eventually receive the documentary. So instead of backing the project at a level that would get me the DVD, I backed the Kickstarter for $1 to get access to any backer-only updates.

The film still isn't done, and the last Kickstarter update is from two months ago, but I've seen enough to now believe that this film exists and will become a finished product. Bil Herd, a former Commodore engineer, will be the narrator, and interviews with the elusive (and now deceased) Jack Tramiel will be donated to the Internet Archive and the Computer History Museum.

Here's an example of a familiar story told in stunning HD quality:

I've never had the ambition or talent to create a documentary and don't envy those who would tackle such a challenge. I believe this time, they'll prove worthy of the faith that's been shown in them.

What makes Rock Band rock?

November 23rd, 2015 10:13 AM
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Last month I quit my job at MIT, taking with me the Apple IIGS that had been in my office for nearly three years. I'm not yet settled enough at my new place of employment to inquire if it'd be appropriate to install a 30-year-old machine in my office — but it's only a matter of time.

Fortunately, my computer wasn't my former employer's only connection to the Apple II. The MIT alumni association's podcast, Slice of MIT, recently aired an episode with Eran Egozy '95, who co-founded the video game developer Harmonix. In "What Makes Rock Band Rock?", Egozy gives credit to the Apple II for getting him his start. "When Eran was 15, his parents bought him an Apple II computer. He and a friend got together and decided to find a way to make the computer play back Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony," says the show's host. "This wasn't just one instrument of the symphony: the pair found the whole symphony score, complete with all of the different parts for the string instruments, the brass, and the woodwinds — and every day after school, they would translate the music into computer code. Every ten seconds of the score took 3–4 hours to code."

Here's the whole episode:

MIT and the Apple II: a winning combination!

(Hat tip to Kate Repantis)