Archive for the ‘Software showcase’ Category

Old programs, new tricks, and ways to make the Apple II perform.

The first game I ever played

August 28th, 2017 10:23 AM
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While VisiCalc and AppleWorks may've been system-sellers that established the Apple II in the business marketplace, they're not the programs we have fondest memories of. What really got us hooked on these machines and which built communities, demo parties, and more, were the games.

Tapping that trove of memories, the staff of PC Gamer recently asked each other: "What was the first PC game you played?" The answers are fun and diverse: Full Throttle, Rogue, Lemmings, X-Wings, and more, on such systems as the Atari ST, Magnavox Odyssey II, and Windows 95. Only one Apple II game made the list, that being Choplifter.

I don't remember the first Apple II game I ever played. There were so many in that era: not only Choplifter, but also Conan, Castle Wolfenstein, Microzine, Spy's Demise, and many others.

But the game I wrote about in a similar fashion to PC Gamer was Lode Runner. In 2008, when I was still on staff at Computerworld magazine, my fellow editors and I were asked the question: "What was the first personal computer you ever owned?" I answered:

1983: Growing up Apple

I don't remember ever not having the Apple IIe that I grew up with; it must've been delivered about the same time I was.

My family upgraded to an Apple IIgs in 1988. We still have that machine, as well as another IIgs that ran a dial-up BBS for four years.

Over the years, we tricked it out with the usual upgrades: SCSI card, sound card, handheld scanner, modem, joystick, 4MB of RAM. An accelerator boosted the CPU to 10 MHz, which may not sound like much, but it was quadruple the stock speed — making Lode Runner quite a challenge to play. (The enemies moved four times faster; my brain and reactions didn't.)

The original IIgs machine is still at my father's house, where he occasionally depends on it for the family business accounting. Though my current computer is a MacBook Pro, it has all the Apple II programs and files I accumulated over the years. I access them with the Sweet16 emulator, which turns my Macintosh into an Apple II laptop.

Emulating has allowed me to have used the same word-processing software, AppleWorks Classic, for the past 20 years, for everything from a 4th grade science paper on the whooping crane to my 100-page college thesis to all my Computerworld articles. All this history fills up only 3MB of my hard drive. Most recently, I created a quick-and-dirty Apple II program to convert 700 blog posts for importing into WordPress — a huge timesaver over doing it manually.

I just wrote a story about Dan Budiac, a guy who paid $2,600 on eBay to get back an old Apple IIc. Why not do what I did and just never stop using it in the first place?

These are just a few of my memories of the Apple II. What about you — what was your first game? Do you even remember?

The gift of AfterWork

August 21st, 2017 9:38 AM
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Last week was my dad's birthday, and someone asked me: had I ever gotten him a gift for the Apple II?

In fact, I had! It was one Christmas in the 1990s, and Dad was in his second decade of using AppleWorks on the Apple II to run the family business. We'd just upgraded our version of AppleWorks — one of many purchases we'd made from Quality Computers. Although I was still a minor at the time, it was not unusual for me to receive a QC catalog in the mail, call them to order something, and tell them to charge it to dad's credit card, which they had on file. If the purchase was a game or something else that couldn't be written off as a business expense, I would reimburse my parents from my allowance.

Even at that age, I'd already caught up to and surpassed my father's familiarity with the Apple II and its capabilities. I thought I should use that experience to benefit his AppleWorks experience, so I bought AfterWork, a screen saver specifically for AppleWorks.

Screen savers are still ubiquitous, but primarily as an artifact of an earlier time when they served a necessary purpose. Today's LCD monitors don't run the risk of burn-in, but on a CRT monitor like the AppleColor RGB monitor on our IIGS, my dad stepping away from work for an hour to play Tetris could have disastrous results. AppleWorks 4.0 would blank the screen, but with AfterWork, fun animations would flood his display until he came back to his spreadsheets.

I don't know that my dad appreciated receiving the gift as much as I did giving it. Most of my family see computers much like I see cars: a vehicle to get you from point A to point B. They don't enjoy tinkering or playing with it or making it do fun, cool things for the sake of it. But I was nonetheless proud to give my dad something that integrated seamlessly into his workflow. I wasn't trying to get him to use the Apple II in a different or "better" way — I just wanted his work day to be a little more amusing, and to give back to him a small part of the wonder and joy he'd given me by getting me into the Apple II in the fist place.

It's been decades since I've seen AfterWork in action: I don't have it installed in Sweet16, and there appear to be no screenshots or YouTube videos of it. What I can find online is a 1995 review of AppleWorks 5.0 by now-Juiced.GS staff writer Andrew Roughan, in which he states, "AppleWorks now includes the AfterWork screen saver and five sample modules. The full AfterWork package which has 21 modules is available separately." I'm left uncertain which Christmas I bought AfterWork or for what version of AppleWorks. But I'll always remember it as a gift that represented something my dad and I had in common.

More Steamed Apples

July 31st, 2017 10:40 AM
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At KansasFest 2016, I presented parallels between classic gaming and modern Steam games. The session was called "Steamed Apples" and was largely based on indie games I'd encountered while researching and hosting the IndieSider podcast.

That podcast ended earlier this month, but not before I discovered several more games reminiscent of Apple II software mechanics and aesthetics. That combined with unused notes from last year's presentation led to its follow-up at KansasFest 2017: "More Steamed Apples".

Unlike last year, I no longer constrained myself to games available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, as some of the below games are Windows-only (such as Lode Runner Legacy) but were too good a fit to pass up. Also, as I did last year with Plangman, I accidentally slipped one non-Steam game in when I included Leadlight Gamma, which is available from itch.io only.

I've recategorized the genres since the presentation to make them a better fit, and to be more consistent with last year's categories.

GenreClassic gameSteam gameIndieSider?
ActionCrystal QuestEllipsisYes
ActionDino EggsDino Eggs RebirthNo
AdventureOut of This WorldOutlandNo
ActionLode RunnerLode Runner LegacyNo
PuzzleLemmingsInklingsNo
PuzzlePipe DreamWorld of GooNo
SurvivalOregon TrailThe Flame in the FloodYes
Text AdventureZorkLeadlight GammaYes
Choose Your Own AdventureScholastic Microzine TwistaplotOpen SorceryYes
Choose Your Own AdventureScholastic Microzine TwistaplotEmily Is AwayYes
Choose Your Own AdventureScholastic Microzine TwistaplotThe Warlock of Firetop MountainYes
Choose Your Own AdventureScholastic Microzine TwistaplotFirewatchNo

As IndieSider has now concluded its run, I don't expect there will be a third session in this series. But the games included in these tables should be enough for any Apple II user to get their entertainment fix in a modern computing environment.

Parsely Games comes to Kickstarter

July 24th, 2017 11:15 AM
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Text adventures are alive and well, including at KansasFest. Not only did Charles Mangin place in last week's HackFest courtesy his Inform 7 adventure, but several live-action text adventures have been played at KFest over the years. In 2010, 2014 & 2015, I emceed Parsely adventures, where a human replaces the parser and accepts two-word commands from audience members, responding with the results. Jared Sorensen created the Parsely games, sold online and at game conventions such as PAX East. Although the nearly dozen scripts appear to currently be out of print, that's about to change courtesy the Parsely Games Kickstarter.

This Kickstarter has already successfully met its crowdfunding goal of $12,000, well before its August 11 deadline. With these funds, Sorensen will publish a hardcover book of the ten existing Parsely adventures, including the three games I've brought to KansasFest: Action Castle, Jungle Adventure, and Space Station. plus two original titles. The book will also include two original games, bringing the total to 12. All these can be yours for $15 (PDF) or $30 (hardcopy), with rewards all the way up to $2,500, where Sorensen will fly anywhere in the USA or Europe to run a Parsely adventure for you and your group.

While I'm tempted to buy the ten-pack of books and redistribute them at KansasFest 2018, the product will not be ready until a month later, in August 2018 — and that's assuming it ships on time, which Kickstarters do not have a good record of doing. But Parsely adventures have already brought so much joy to KansasFest, the least I can do is support their continued existence. Count me among this campaign's backers!

Game Informer's Top 100 RPGs

June 19th, 2017 7:51 AM
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In the 1980s, role-playing games, or RPGs, were my favorite genres of computer and video games. The hours of character development and narrative created a much richer fictional world than the era's action games. Perhaps due to their inability to translate to arcades, RPGs were a niche genre, and so I hungrily played any I could get my hands on.

The decades since have seen an explosion in the popularity of RPGs, or at least the willingness to serve that niche — so much, that the cover story of issue #290 of Game Informer is the staff's picks for the top hundred RPGs of all time. To have had that many to choose from in the 1980s would've been staggering, though Game Informer admits that the definition of RPG has become nebulous, now encompassing such modern titles as Mass Effect 3, Destiny, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Fortunately, Game Informer acknowledges the genre's roots by including several Apple II games on their list:

The criteria for the staff's selection were not disclosed, so it's hard to say whether these games were acknowledged because they were fun to play then, are still fun to play, or are important to the evolution of gaming. Wasteland, for example, is noted as being the pre-cursor to Fallout; Wizardry is "often cited as the first party-based RPG"; and for The Bard's Tale, "Some players may still have their hand-drawn graph paper maps tucked away in an old box."

Regardless, with so many franchises, platforms, publishers, and developers at play, it's impressive that the Apple II got so many mentions. But any listicle is bound to be contentious, and no one will fully agree with the choices or order of games. For example, Game Informer has probably never played one of my favorite Apple II games: The Magic Candle. With a jobs system in which player characters could learn crafts and trades, earn money from town jobs, and even split the party, it was an innovative and ahead of its time, being released three years before Final Fantasy V, which is often hailed for its job system.

What Apple II RPGs would you have included on this list, and why?

Steve Weyhrich's Minecraft Apple II

June 5th, 2017 10:30 AM
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When it comes to video games, crafting is something I profess to hate. This is a gameplay mechanism wherein you engage in trivial quests to discover or harvest random materials that, by themselves, do nothing, but when combined, may create a unique, useful, or powerful item. But figuring out what items produce these meaningful combinations, and which others result in meaningless junk, is part of the "fun". The whole process is mundane, tedious, and frustrating.

And yet crafting is the titular theme of Minecraft, which is the second best-selling video or computer game of all time, behind only Tetris. I've never played Minecraft, so it's probably not actually as banal as I expect, especially since 121 million people would disagree with me.

One of those people is Steve Weyhrich, and even I have to admit that, whatever I think of the methodology, his results are astounding. Six years ago, Steve presented the fruits of his labor: a massive, to-scale Apple II Plus that you could walk around in. The attention to detail was remarkable, as was the amount of time and dedication such a creation must've required.

In hindsight, perhaps I should not have been so dazzled — because Steve certainly wasn't. Five years later, unsatisfied with his original effort, Steve set out to create an even better Apple II. In his latest video, released two months ago today, Steve shows off a virtual Apple IIe, complete with modem, retrocomputing magazines, and soda.

I don't know how or why Steve does what he does. And since I've never played Minecraft, I don't know if there's any way to share his creation — a sort of Shapeways for Minecraft creations. But I don't need to play Minecraft or explore Steve's Apple myself to be impressed. I knew both Steve and Minecraft were capable of fantastic works of art, but this latest invention surpasses all expectations.

Maybe crafting isn't all that bad, after all.