Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

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

Let's Play Death in the Caribbean

April 7th, 2014 11:39 AM
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This winter, I launched a Google+ page for my YouTube gaming channel. As I began exploring the gaming communities on this social network, I discovered Leigh Alexander, a Gamasutra editor with a large following. She is an accomplished fiction author and columnist, and I've now enjoyed her writing for some time. But when she chose to expand into video, I was pleasantly surprised by the subject that a journalist on the cutting edge of technology would choose for her YouTube debut.

Alexander's first foray into video is a Let's Play of the Apple II game, Death in the Caribbean:

A "Let's Play" is a video game walkthrough with commentary that focuses on the player's experience, instead being a tutorial that provides strategy (though it can do that, too). Alexander follows through with that promise, having grown up playing this game with her father. On a recent return to her parents' home in Massachusetts (hey, that's where I live!), she recorded this video that reflects not only on how the game expanded her vocabulary with words such as "crevasse" and "brazier", but on other lessons: "[Death in the Caribbean] taught me from an early age that disaster can happen anywhere, at anytime. Even if the whole world sprawls out in front of you like a beautiful place ready to be explored — you can die, just by being a little bit wrong" — something you're never too young to learn.

The launch of Apple II Bits in 2010 coincided with my discovery of Let's Plays, at which time the genre was relatively unknown. I imagined myself being one of the first to bring this video format to the Apple II. While I've since recorded dozens of Let's Play videos of Nintendo games, I've never executed on the idea to apply that experience to my favorite retrocomputer.

Four years later, Let's Plays are booming, with no less prestigious an outlet than The Atlantic giving the issue coverage, detailing how PewDiePie, the most popular channel on YouTube, makes millions of dollars a year producing Let's Play videos. If you're baffled why Let's Plays are so popular, Jamin Warren of PBS Digital Studios explains the appeal of Let's Play videos:

Between the proliferation of Let's Plays and the age of the Apple II, you might think, what more remains to be said about our favorite games? Plenty, reminded one of my YouTube followers. "I hate it when people who LP an older game and say 'I have nothing original to contribute'," commented Gaming Media. "YES YOU DO! If you grew up with the game, you have stories about the game that no one else has."

Even those who didn't grow up with a game can still provide unique commentary. As Alexander did, Gaming Media recently turned to Virtual Apple ][ and recorded a Let's Play of Oregon Trail, a game that came out decades before he did:

(Skip to 4:52 into the first video for a fun blatant plug!)

Neither of these recent videos is the first Let's Play to come from the Apple II: Jesse Hamm recorded his own playthrough of Death in the Caribbean three years ago; Brian Picchi has recorded reviews of games like Gold Rush! that could be considered Let's Plays; and I in turn recorded a similar hybrid video of Picchi's Retro Fever, a year after unboxing and playing Zéphyr.

There indeed remains much to be preserved, shared, and experienced of the Apple II on YouTube. I hope that Alexander, Gaming Media, Picchi, and I continue to find the time and enthusiasm to explore this fun intersection of old and new media. What games would you like to see us play next?

Triumph of the mod

March 31st, 2014 2:52 PM
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Although improved access to tools and funding are allowing more people to become developers of full-fledged games like Dead Man's Trail, in the days of the Apple II — when almost everyone perforce had some programming ability — the best most of us could do was work within the games others had already created. Usually, this hacking took the form of copy deprotection (and their accompanying crack screens). But sometimes, it was more creative.

In "Triumph of the Mod" a 2002 article by Wagner James Au for Salon.com, Tom Hall, a co-founder of id Software, says he recalls the first mod — "a fan-made modification to a pre-existing game" — as being Castle Smurfenstein, Andrew Johnson and Preston Nevins' hack of Silas Warner's Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II. Writes Johnson:

The nazi guards became Smurfs, the mostly uninteligible German voices became mostly unintelligible Smurf voices. We created a new title screen, new ending screen, new opening narration, and an opening theme, and changed the setting from Germany to Canada. (I'm still not too sure why we had this Canadian fixation, but then growing up near Detroit does expose one to a fair degree of Canadian culture.)

The conversion was pretty straightforward, needing only a paint program, a sector editor, and Muse Software's very own 'the Voice' to add in the new audio. I think we did this during the summer of 1983 but I'm not completely sure.

As indicated, the hack involved the game's audio, visuals, and text. A deafening WAV demonstrates the Smurf's trademark chant as digitized for an 8-bit computer, and screenshots show the hack's new splash screen. (Oddly, I could find no YouTube videos of Castle Smurfenstein, but Johnson does offer a disk image that works with most any emulator.)

Castle Smurfenstein

Despite the fame of this hack, it was likely not the first-ever mod, since Johnson and Nevins both document an earlier Smurf-inspired hack: Dino Eggs became Dino Smurf. A proposed third hack would've turned Sky Fox into Sky Smurf, completing the trilogy. "Unfortunately the third game only got as far as the new plot and a partial title screen before college beckoned," laments Johnson.

Still, modding has become a lucrative industry and backdoor into the gaming industry. Would it be a stretch to say the Apple II led the way?

Dead Man's Oregon Trail

March 24th, 2014 11:53 AM
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The gaming industry is currently experiencing the popularity of three trends: indie studios, retrogaming, and zombies. All three converge in in an upcoming remake of Oregon Trail in which you travel across the country through hordes of undead.

Wait — didn't I already write that blog post? Three years ago, I was playing Organ Trail, a free browser game that later held a successful Kickstarter to release a director's cut edition on Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, and Ouya.

So what's new in 2014? Dead Man's Trail, a modern action/resource management game inpsired by Oregon Trail. Development studio E4 Software is aware of the precedent of Organ Trail and is taking their game in a different direction:

We're very aware of the existence of Organ Trail and are actually very big fans of the game. We were in early planning stages when Director's Cut came out but decided to move ahead with DMT anyway because we had ideas for things that differentiated us from Organ Trail, such as giving each party member a specific role, having procedurally generated 3D looting levels, having one resource perform several different functions (bullets are ammo and currency), etc.

Where Organ Trail elicits its charm from using mechanics and presentation elements from the original, think of ours as an expanded follow up that wants to go beyond the original Oregon Trail to create a Walking Dead/World War Z atmosphere. We're hoping that several years on from the release of Organ Trail, fans of that project will see our game and want to play it as a next step.

I'm excited to see a game that offers more customization than the traditional Oregon Trail format — most notably, characters with unique skills, such as firearms expert, paramedic, and mechanic (think Left 4 Dead); and different vehicles. If you had to plow through a sea of zombies, would you do so in a station wagon? No way! Give me a school bus or 18-wheeler… and leave me to be concerned about fuel economy after we break down in the middle of nowhere.

The looting element of the game is where Dead Man's Trail most notably diverges from the Oregon Trail formula. Although inspired by the original game's hunting sequences, looting occurs in urban settings from a 3D, isometric perspective. It's not an experience I looking forward to grappling with on a mobile device's tiny screen.

Whereas Organ Trail kept much of Oregon Trail's gameplay and aesthetic, Dead Man's Trail is potentially much more ambitious. Correspondingly, Organ Trail needed only the realistic sum of $3,000 in crowdfunding, whereas DMT is asking for $50,000 on Kickstarter.

Dead Man's Trail is halfway through its one-month crowdfunding campaign and has raised less than 5% of its goal. The game is far enough along that it will likely see release one way or another, but Kickstarter will help ensure the final product is timely and true to the creators' vision. If all goes well, we'll see Dead Man's Trail hit Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS this October.

Unboxing & Let's Play Retro Fever

March 10th, 2014 1:01 PM
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In November 2012, I stumbled into success on YouTube when I posted an unboxing video. It's a genre I discovered during my six years at Computerworld: point the camera at a new tech product and narrate as you open its packaging and dissect its contents. A month later, I delved into another genre, this one introduced to me by the narrator of Open Apple: Let's Play videos, in which gameplay footage is captured and combined with running commentary.

Yes — people actually watch me open boxes and play video games on YouTube, such that humanity has spent an aggregate of fifty years on my channel.

I don't understand it, but if the interest is there, I'm happy to bring it to bear on the Apple II. I applied these two video styles last year to Zéphyr, the 1987 action game recently published by Brutal Deluxe. Today, I bring my attention to Retro Fever, a new game from budding programmer Brian Picchi.

An unboxing video of a new Apple II product may be even more pointless than the average unboxing. Says PBS of the genre, "[Unboxing] videos show what the products ARE, without the annoying filter of marketing." Yet almost no Apple II product has a marketing budget to begin with, allowing for a more WYSIWYG experience from conception to purchase.

Nonetheless, there you have it: my first experience with the first Apple II game to be published in 2014. Get your own copy for free or in hardcopy, or play it online, at Brian Picchi's website — and learn more about how he became the programmer he is today in the March 2014 issue of Juiced.GS.

Wizard of Id

February 3rd, 2014 1:32 PM
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Although I am not and have never been a reader of newspapers, I grew up in a household that purchased five every day. I would abscond with the only section that mattered to me: the comic strips.

Although online publishing has granted us an abundance of exclusive content in the form of webcomics, I still enjoy the old standbys originally found in print. I read my daily funnies via GoComics.com — some of which are new to me (Heavenly Nostrils), others because they remind me of old favorites (The Argyle Sweater), and others because, despite often not being funny, they are old, familiar friends.

In that last category is Wizard of Id, launched in 1964, which follows the king, wizard, and soldiers of the medieval Kingdom of Id and its Idiots. The strip frequently makes anachronistic jokes and references — a recent one, as Bill Loguidice documented, is a reference to the strip's appearance on the Apple II.

In 1984, Sierra On-Line, publisher of landmark point-and-click adventure games such as King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry, also put out two games based on the Wizard of Id. With the Apple II being popular in education, it made sense to shoehorn this license into a pair of edutainment titles. One was Wizard of Id's WizType:

The game is broken into two sections: The first section pits players as the Wiz, matching wits against the Evil Spirit, an apparition that lives in the Wizard's vat. The Wizard must quickly type out the words that the Evil Spirit gives him in order to diminish the Spirit and win the round. Failure to spell words properly, or taking too long to spell results in the Evil Spirit morphing into a dragon, and singing the Wizard to a crisp.

The second part of the game has the player trying to keep up with Bung the Jester. In this segment, players must type out a pre-written paragraph in order to keep pace with Bung, who is hopping along the words on a pogo stick.

The other was Wizard of Id's Wizmath:

Spook needs to escape from the King of Id's dungeons. He slips out but Turnkey is in pursuit. He needs to solve math problems to open the way to his escape.

Wizard of Id's WizMath is an educational game to teach mathematics. Using your joystick, you must move blocks into place so they complete a correct math problem and answer. If you push against a block, you will send it flying until it hits a wall or another block. You can also face a block and hold down the button. While keeping the button down, you can then slide the block as needed. There is a sixty second time limit and you are being pursued by Turnkey. Early levels require only one math problem to exit but later levels require two or more.

Early in the game, you can select a floor on an elevator. The higher the floor, the more difficult the math problems. The game also asks your age. The older you say you are, the higher a floor it tries to start you on, although you can select a lower floor.

Whereas WizType was published for the Apple II, Commdore 64, Atari, and DOS, MobyGames indicates Wizmath was released for only C64 and the video game console ColecoVision.

Edutainment titles don't have much appeal beyond their young demographic, but a point-and-click adventure might've aged well. That's the parody that Loguidice recently shared. Why this strip just recently posted a reflection on life in 1984, I'm unsure — unless they were tying into the 30-year anniversary of the release of the Apple Macintosh, even though that platform didn't have a corner on the adventure game market. Still, it's a fun opportunity to reflect on not just the early history of licensed games, but the adventure genre that is making a comeback, courtesy multiple Kickstarter revivals.

UPDATE (Mar 5, 2014): There was also at least one B.C. game for the Apple II — Quest for Tires!

The secret origin of John Madden

January 13th, 2014 12:48 PM
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John Madden NFLMadden NFL is one of the most enduring franchises in video game history. For 25 years, annual installments of this game from publisher Electronic Arts have represented some of the best virtual football experiences on any console.

Such reflection may not interest the modern Apple II user, but it should: as detailed in Wayne Arthurton's KansasFest 2012 session, "The Apple II's Gaming Legacy", John Madden Football got its start on the Apple II. ("A surprising number of modern games can directly trace their heritage to games originating on our favorite machine.")

That heritage is now being marked on the occasion of the franchise's silver anniversary with an exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image of Astoria, New York:

The exhibition explores this landmark series, highlighting the game's focus on sports simulation, and its aesthetic evolution and enduring cultural legacy. In addition to the five playable games, from the original John Madden Football (1988) on Apple II to the latest release Madden NFL 25 (2013) on Xbox One, presented as a large-scale projection, the exhibition also features a dynamic timeline charting milestones in the series' development highlighted by gameplay footage from each year.

Take a look at how far the game has come from its Apple II origin:

to this past November's release of Madden 25:

See an evolution? Robin Antonick did. He was a key developer for the original Apple II version of the game, which he argued in an April 2011 lawsuit entitled him to 1.5% royalties for any subsequent version that relied upon his code. Last summer, a federal court jury agreed with him, "finding that Madden games published on consoles between 1990 and 1996 shared substantial similarities to the original PC game, from in-game playbooks and formations to virtually identical graphics and gameplay style." Antonick was awarded $11 million.

From courtrooms to museums, a single game published on the Apple II in 1988 has been one for not just the playbooks, but the history books.

UPDATE (Jan 24, 2014): The verdict in favor of Antonick has been overturned.

(Hat tip to Dave Tach)