Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

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

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)

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)

Fallout 3 terminal emulator

April 18th, 2016 11:51 AM
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I'm a fan of both retro and modern video games, and I love to see the lines blur between the two — whether that's a new game like Plangman that has a classic feel, or a modern game like Halo that's ported to a classic console such as the Atari 2600.

Falling into the latter camp is the work of thewheelman282, a fan of the action-RPGs Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, released in 2008 and 2010, respectively. This franchise is set in the 21st century that arose after nuclear war broke out in the 1950s, impeding the advancement of technology beyond a Cold War state. In this fictional future, players use monochromatic computer terminals that wouldn't look out of place in an Apple II user's collection.

thewheelman282 brought that connection to its logical conclusion by porting the Fallout 3 terminal software to the Apple II. He gives a demo starting at 2:55 in this video, which uses the Agat emulator:

I've never played Fallout 3 so would have no idea how to use this program without the above tutorial, as the software comes with no documentation or inline help that I can find. However, it does appear to function quite similarly to the source material:

This program was written to perform a specific function and doesn't allow the input of new commands or programs, recreating a utility instead of an environment. I think it'd therefore be more accurate to call it a simulator instead of an emulator. Regardless, it's an impressive work of 958 lines of Applesoft BASIC code, which you can download in disk image format. I converted that source code to a text file, which is available here.

I originally thought thewheelman282 was going to demonstrate piping Fallout 3 output to an Apple II, similar to what Joshua Bell did with Second Life. While that too is an impressive hack, it's been done before, and eight years ago at that. To see something original and which is further available for us to download and play with is pretty cool. Thanks, thewheelman282!

(Hat tip to Robert Rivard)

Plangman on IndieSider

March 14th, 2016 11:03 AM
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Candidates for my biweekly IndieSider podcast can be difficult to come by. The show looks behind the scenes at the development of indie (self-published) computer and video games, of which there are many — the indie tag on software distribution platform Steam currently lists 7,391 titles, with more being added every day.

But I limit IndieSider to games that I like, so as to avoid an awkward conversation with a developer of "Why does your game suck?" I instead look for games that offer original experiences and progressive gameplay in genres that I like: action, adventure, puzzle, narrative. There's then an evaluation period where I test a game to determine if it'll be a good fit for the show.

The latest episode of IndieSider features a game that bypassed that evaluation entirely. No game has hit my sweet spot as neatly as Plangman, which caught my attention in the first two seconds of its trailer:

A platform game with the puzzle elements of Hangman and featuring what appeared to be the runner from Microsoft's Olympic Decathlon as the protagonist? Was this game somehow made for me?!

I was quick to get developer Ehren von Lehe on the phone for episode #39 of IndieSider. Through Facebook and Juiced.GS, I thought I knew almost all the major Apple II players out there. I was pleasantly surprised to discover Ehren's interest in the Apple II is as alive and well as any retrocomputing enthusiast. Plangman was inspired by watching his daughter play with his own Apple II, recently taken out of mothballs. The playable character is based on Captain Goodnight, not the Olympic decathlete. Ehren mentioned an Infocom documentary also played a role. Aha! Another fan of Jason Scott's GET LAMP. When I added that Jason had been the keynote speaker at an annual Apple II convention, Ehren asked, "Is that KansasFest?" It was almost as if Ehren and I had been members of the same community for years and had never met!

The resulting conversation can be heard in this audio podcast:

or this video

It's not unusual for my gaming pursuits to introduce me to people who got their start on the Apple II and who remember the platform fondly. It's unprecedented for me to encounter in that course someone who's actively keeping the Apple II alive through modern software development. If you want a retro aesthetic in a new game, I highly recommend you check out Plangman.

(Hat tip to Javy Gwaltney)