Archive for the ‘Software showcase’ Category

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

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!

Pokémon GO

August 15th, 2016 9:24 AM
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On July 6, 2016, Pokémon GO was released for iOS and Android.

This mobile game in the 20-year-old franchise throws good UX/UI design and traditional social engagement out the window — yet it's quickly garnered more users and engagement than Twitter, Tinder, Snapchat, and Instagram. Not only that, but it released fewer than two weeks before KansasFest.

While at Rockhurst University, roommate Andy Molloy and I took an evening stroll around campus, finding and capturing the infamous pocket monsters while I introduced him to the game's mechanics. Only a week earlier, Kevin Savetz and I had been learning the basics ourselves as we explored downtown Portland, Oregon.

It wasn't Pokémon that brought me, Kevin, and Andy together in the first place, of course — it was the Apple II. And just like with Kerbal Space Program, we're not above porting our favorite games back to our favorite machine.

What would Pokémon GO look like on the Apple II? Charles Mangin tried but failed to conceive of such a thing:

Pokémon GO

Meanwhile, Steve Weyhrich, a long-time gamer, "gets" Pokémon GO and how to adapt it to the Apple II — if not programmatically, then thematically:

OK, game programmers, here is a concept for you to work on:

"Retro Go", a game in which Professor Woz sends you out on a quest to "catch 'em all"! You start with an Apple II, a TRS 80, or Commodore PET and then set off on your journey.

Along the way, you will see various retro computers, peripherals, or software appear in your path. When you see them, frisbee-throw a floppy disk to capture it for your collection.

When you capture enough retro equipment, take it to the user group meeting to battle it out between the various platforms and level up. Apple II versus Macintosh! Atari versus C64! ZX spectrum against IBM PCjr!

Don't let retro arguments be battled out in terms of rational platform performance – see how a level 124 TRS 80 Model 100 with the power of "LCD dazzle" fares against a level 80 Atari 800 with with modem and its "ANTIC smash" attack!

Don't spend REAL money on eBay- use this game to collect every Apple II model "in the wild" and put it on display in your retro bag. Earns the respect of Professor Woz as the greatest retro trainer of them all!

I'd catch that!

For more on Pokémon GO, listen to my podcast interview with Serenity Caldwell on Polygamer #49:

Steamed Apples at KansasFest 2016

August 1st, 2016 7:06 PM
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I love presenting at KansasFest. Speaking at such an esteemed gathering of Apple II aficionados reaffirms that I nonetheless have something to contribute to this community, despite not having extensive knowledge of Apple II hardware or software.

In brainstorming this year's presentation, I emailed KFest schedulemeister Andy Molloy for ideas. He suggested:

How about something like "10 influential Apple II games" and then you talk about them, demo them and show how they are cool. There's certainly a segment of the audience (i.e., me) who loves to watch old Apple II games, which is why I liked Bruce's stuff. Or something like "here are 10 Apple games that were later remade on modern systems".

It was a great idea — so great, that it'd already been done: I presented "Classic Gaming Inspirations" at KansasFest 2009 and "Classic Gaming Inspirations, Part Deux" in 2010. In each, I demoed modern games for Mac, PC, and iOS that were reminiscent of classic Apple II games. Despite being a familiar theme, I enjoyed giving those talks and felt that enough time had passed, so I decided to dust off the theme for 2016.

This year's constraint: all the games had to be available for Steam, the digital distribution platform for games. And they had to be available for Mac, PC, and Linux. Fortunately, even given these limitations, I was not wanting for ideas, as I'd discovered many such games through IndieSider, my biweekly podcast where I interview indie game developers. Most KFesters know my podcasting efforts in the vintage computing realm, specifically on Open Apple and the Retro Computing Roundtable, but were not aware that I host gaming podcasts as well. It was fun to share this other side of myself with the audience.

Here are the Apple II genres and games I started with and the Steam games in which a modern gamer might find an echo of the past.

GenreClassic gameSteam gameIndieSider?
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateShadowgateYes
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateRead Only MemoriesYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKing's QuestNo
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKathy RainYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestThe Blackwell LegacyNo
SurvivalOregon TrailOrgan TrailNo
PlatformDangerous DaveVVVVVVNo
PlatformDangerous DavePlangmanYes
PlatformImpossible MissionMaster SpyYes
ActionPac-ManPac-Man 256Yes
RPGWastelandWastelandNo
RPGWastelandWasteland IINo

Thanks to Jason Scott's speedy turnaround, a video of the presentation is already available online:

I had so many games in mind for this year's talk that I had to keep many in reserve. Expect to see more Steam games at KansasFest 2017!

A literary Oregon Trail

June 27th, 2016 11:07 PM
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Oregon Trail has been adapted, reimagined, and rebooted more times than we can count. It's become a live-action role-playing game, a movie trailer, and a zombie apocalypse. But at no point has the real-life journey of American pioneers circa 1836 been recreated — until now.

The Oregon Trail is a hardcover book released last summer, with the paperback hitting just this month on June 7. With a title like that, I assumed it to be an ode to the computer game that introduced a generation of students to personal computers. But this book — the fifth from Rinker Buck, born in 1950 — is something far more daring. Here's an Amazon.com synopsis from Jon Foro:

Well into middle-age, Rinker Buck found himself divorced, at the edge of bankruptcy, and growing blunt through the twin demons of ennui and alcohol … On a whim, he found himself in a museum at the head of the Oregon Trail, realizing that even as a fairly serious American history buff, he knew virtually nothing about the pivotal era when 400,000 pioneers made their way West in quests for land, gold, and new lives. On a much bigger whim, Buck decided to travel the 2,000 miles of ruts and superseding highways in a mule-driven wagon on his own “crazyass” quest for a new beginning. The result is a dense-yet-entertaining mix of memoir, history and adventure, as Buck– joined by another brother, Nick, and his “incurably filthy” dog, Olive Oyl–struggle with the mechanical, environmental, and existential challenges posed by such an unusually grueling journey. Buck is an engaging writer, and while the book pushes 500 pages, the story never lags. By the end, you’ll know more about mules than you ever thought you would (just enough, actually), and you’ll have a better perspective on the Trail, its travelers, and the role it played in shaping the modern United States. (And is Rinker Buck not a pioneer-worthy name for an tale such as this?)

The book is available now on Amazon.com. Here's an excerpt of the author reading from the audiobook:

I'm not a huge fan of history, but The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey hits a sweet spot by intersecting with real and digital history. Even if the book never once mentions the game, I may need to pick it up to see what Buck's experience was and how it compares to that of the early settlers after two hundred years.

Preparing Steamed Apples

June 20th, 2016 2:07 PM
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KansasFest 2016 is less than a month away, which means I have some preparation to do. Besides being the biggest one-day sales event for Juiced.GS, it's also an opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest minds and innovators in the Apple II community. I like to fool myself into believing I belong among such an echelon by submitting a session: it gives me something to do, look forward to, and contribute throughout the week of KansasFest. But what to present?

SteamThis year I took Andy Molloy's advice and settled on a follow-up to sessions I gave in 2009 and 2010: Classic gaming inspirations and classic gaming inspirations, part deux. For old-school gamers, I demonstrated some modern games that are spiritually inspired by our favorite Apple II classics. It's been six years, during which time Steam and Kickstarter have hid their stride, resulting in an abundance of low-budget, high-quality indie games — just like we used to have in the day. So for this year's session, I'm limiting my selections exclusively to Steam:

Steam is the largest online marketplace for PC, Mac, and Linux games, making it easy for independent game developers to distribute their software. But indie game developers often lack the resources of major game studios. What they lack in funding, they make up for in creativity, turning to classic games and genres for inspiration. We'll look at many Steam titles where the Apple II influence is strong, suggesting modern games that will appeal to classic gamers.

I'm looking forward to plumbing the roster of games I've featured on the IndieSider podcast and possibly discovering some new ones in the course of my research. Any assistance you can provide would be most welcome! What classic games did you enjoy that you'd like to see modern counterparts to — or what modern games have you played that reminded you of classic games?

New Game Plus: Lode Runner

May 30th, 2016 9:56 AM
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It's hard for Apple II enthusiasts to be unbiased about our favorite games. Whenever we play or discuss Oregon Trail, Choplifter, or Tass Times in Tone Town, our experiences and memories are inevitably colored by nostalgia as we recall how groundbreaking these games were upon their release and how derivative their successors seem by comparison.

What if we could wipe the slate clean and come at these games afresh? Would they stand the test of time and still appeal to a modern gamer's sensibilities?

New Game Plus
That's the charter of New Game Plus, a podcast that launched this past October. Each week, three young men select a random classic computer or video game that they then spend seven days playing before reporting back their experiences. I discovered the show with episode 7, when they played their first Apple II game, Prince of Persia. I then cherry-picked other episodes to listen to, selecting games that I recalled fondly to see if these enthusiastic whippersnappers would enjoy them as well.

When they reviewed Contra III, a game I'd previously recorded a Let's Play video of, I was surprised to hear the show deviate from its format: instead of the game selection being random, it was chosen by their first guest. It was fun to hear someone with passion and familiarity for the week's game be brought into the mix — and it also gave me an idea.

Now that I knew New Game Plus had a precedent for allowing guests, I brazenly emailed them, touting my Apple II credentials, to ask if they would consider having me on a future episode. To my surprise and delight, they thought this was an excellent idea!

Their homework for me: select an Apple II game. This was a tougher assignment than I expected! My first thought was to nominate Conan: Hall of Volta, one of my favorite games from childhood. But at only six levels, I thought it might wear thin and not leave the hosts much to discuss. I instead turned to the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook and asked for recommendations. I received many suggestions, including from John Romero.

But readers' comments only cemented the second choice I'd already settled on: Lode Runner. With 150 levels, a storied lineage, and web-playable versions — both the emulated original and a native remake — I felt this game would be both technically accessible and sufficiently substantial to record a podcast about. And, having originally been released in 1983, it would also be the oldest game yet to have been featured on New Game Plus.

But just because I'd played the game as a kid didn't excuse me from joining the other hosts in "researching" it! I played the game for just an hour or so and was able to make it to level 17. Although the difficulty of those levels varied wildly — as early as level 6, there are as many as 16 pieces of gold to collect! — I was surprised at my ability to progress. I attributed my success to the game freely awarding an extra life for each level completed. By the time I closed my browser window, I could've easily continued playing with the dozen lives I had remaining.

All this work was in preparation to record the actual episode, which has since aired as episode 35 of New Game Plus:

I had a blast chatting about Lode Runner and its creator, Douglas E. Smith, with Dustin, Nolan, and Kenny, and I was much relieved to hear that they enjoyed their first experiences with this classic game, earning it an across-the-board recommendation for modern gamers.

My thanks to New Game Plus for hosting me. I hope they continue to feature the Apple II on future episodes of the show! What games would you recommend they play next?

(Hat tip to Paulo Garcia)