Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

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

Video Game Hall of Fame overlooks the Apple II in 2017

May 22nd, 2017 8:45 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
3 comments.

Every spring, the World Video Game Hall of Fame expands its list of inductees. This virtual recognition, hosted by the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, acknowledges games that "have significantly affected the video game industry, popular culture, and society in general".

Since the games are assessed not for their cutting-edge graphics, replayability, or "fun factor", it makes sense that many inductees would be older titles. Despite being constrained by the technology of the era, these early games were foundational in creating an industry and its franchises. And few machines were as elemental in that process as the Apple II.

However, The Strong rarely recognizes native Apple II games. The first class of inductees, announced in 2015, passed over Oregon Trail in favor of Doom, Pac-Man, Pong, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and World of Warcraft. Oregon Trail finally got its due in 2016, but at the same time that John Madden Football got sacked to make room for The Sims, Sonic The Hedgehog, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, and Grand Theft Auto III.

Now it's 2017. Another class has been accepted into the Hall of Fame, and for the first time, no Apple II game was even nominated. Nominated but not accepted this year were Microsoft Windows Solitaire, Mortal Kombat, Myst, Portal, Tomb Raider, and Wii Sports; the winners were Donkey Kong, Halo: Combat Evolved, Pokémon Red and Green, and Street Fighter II. While Donkey Kong and Solitaire originated in the 1980s and had Apple II iterations, none of these titles and franchises were made popular by the Apple II, like Oregon Trail and John Madden were.

Rather than feel slighted in 2017, Let's ensure the 2018 ballot doesn't similarly overlook our favorite retrocomputer. What games should we nominate for consideration in next year's class — again, taking into account not how much time we spent playing these games, but their lasting impact on the industry and genre?

So as to not spread ourselves thin and divide our votes among too many choices, I have only two suggestions: Ultima and King's Quest. Both games created fully realized worlds and new ways to interact with them, introducing both franchises and gameplay mechanics that continue to this day. What more could the World Video Game Hall of Fame ask for?

Let's get the Apple II the recognition it deserves. In the meantime, as a platform-agnostic gamer, I offer my congratulations to all the non-Apple II titles that received this honor in 2017 — many of which made lasting impressions on both gaming culture and my own childhood.

Open Sorcery & the power of text

May 1st, 2017 1:00 PM
by
Filed under Game trail;
no comments yet.

In the course of producing my IndieSider podcast, I discover a variety of surprising, fascinating indie games. Wading through tons of clones and me-toos is worth it when I find a game that refines an old concept or executes something new — or both.

Such is the case with Open Sorcery, a Twine-based interactive fiction Steam game that replaces text adventures' traditional parser with hypertext and links. I saw Open Sorcery at two different game conventions before I finally got some one-on-one time with it at home. I ended up playing far longer than I do more visually complex games, growing attached to the characters and replaying it to get a "better" ending.

I was surprised — not that text can be so engaging, but that I'd ever forgotten it could be. I grew up on the Apple II playing text adventures and MUDs, from Eamon to British Legends, exploring worlds of fantasy and science fiction and getting lost in their puzzles and decisions. When away from the computer, I filled my time with Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest. With text leaving so many gaps for my imagination to fill, it was easy to inject myself into those adventures.

It was wonderful to rediscover the power of text, as described by Richard Bartle in this excerpt from Jason Scott's documentary, GET LAMP:

Modern-day shooters may strive for adjectives such as "gripping" and "compelling"; the best words I can use to describe Open Sorcery are "thoughtful" and "delightful". I highly recommend it.

Lode Runner Legacy trailer debuts

April 17th, 2017 8:37 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
no comments yet.

I waited a long time for Lode Runner to arrive on Xbox 360. I remember listening to Major Nelson's Xbox podcast when it was announced that Doug E. Smith's classic Apple II game was being resurrected with a new installment on Microsoft's platform. It was another year or two before the game was finally released, eight years ago this month, exclusively for the Xbox 360.

In video games, eight years is an entire generation — a time during which Lode Runner has again lain dormant. There have been some very fun classic titles, including 2013's mobile port of the original 150 levels, but home consoles have not seen a new Lode Runner: no title in the franchise has graced the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, or Switch.

This year will see that oversight corrected, as Tozai Games has announced the imminent release of Lode Runner Legacy.

The game features all-new levels, as well as the original 150, now all in 3D. Other features include a puzzle mode and editors for levels, characters, and items, as well as online rankings. The game will debut on Windows, with later releases for Mac and Linux. No console versions are specified, but Tozai promises, "Our ultimate goal is to release a new Lode Runner on every gaming platform available."

I shared the trailer with the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook, where it garnered a generally negative response. "That looks weird to me," wrote one. "They've destroyed the minimalist spirit of the original game," added another; "Adding a bunch of flashy graphic effects doesn't make [it] better."

The reception on Steam has been more positive, perhaps due to the number of fans sent there by this enthusiastic video by Jim Sterling:

Of the two camps, I'm with those who are more optimistic. I agree that the new visual style with large characters and scrolling levels seems a bit too Duplo for me. But while stubbornly sticking with a retro aesthetic might appeal to us old-school gamers, we are the minority in today's gaming demographic; I acknowledge that it's important that Tozai innovate to appeal to a larger audience, even if it doesn't include me.

It doesn't have to be one or the other, though. Look at these two screenshots:

These levels look consistent with the aesthetic and gameplay of the original! Yay!

We've already seen the original game's levels released for modern platforms, though, courtesy the aforementioned mobile port; we need something new. To that end, Lode Runner Legacy's level editor and online features should be paired to give us a truly original offering: compilations of new levels with classic gameplay, much as Championship Lode Runner once did. This kind of world-building and world-sharing was central to the popularity of Super Mario Maker, in which Nintendo took their most popular franchise and added content creation tools. Imagine if we could curate and distribute each other's Lode Runner levels as well!

Overall, Lode Runner Legacy has more going for it than against it. I'm cautiously optimistic and am eager for its release sometime in 2017.

Hard Hat Mack in Taiwan

March 20th, 2017 11:22 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
no comments yet.

Although the Apple II was invented and was popular in the United States, it's fun to see all the other places our favorite retrocomputer has popped up. We know the Apple II community has active contingents in Australia and France, but we've also seen the Apple II in more far-flung locations such as from Russia to Korea.

Thanks to a recent YouTube video, I've now seen the Apple II somewhere I hadn't before: Taiwan. It was the focus of a short segment on a television show in which the host introduced several girls to the 1983 game Hard Hat Mack on an Apple IIc:

I don't have many details about the show seen here: the Chinese caption translates only to "old game era Apple II". But I wonder what the standard format of the show is, that the host didn't seem to let his audience get their hands on the game.

I can commiserate, though: I too have never gotten my hands on Hard Hat Mack. As a young gamer, my attention was evenly divided between consoles and computers, which may've caused me to miss several classic computer games: not only Hard Hat Mack, but Tass Times in Tone Town, King's Quest, Ultima, and others. It looks like the kind of game I would enjoy, since Donkey Kong always earns my quarter on any visit to Funspot. As one of the first games (if not the first) to be published by Electronic Arts, Hard Hat Mack is a piece of history deserving an experience.

I don't have much excuse now, though, since Hard Hat Mack can be played online:

There's no need to go on a Taiwanese talk show to discover the classics — Hard Hat Mack is alive and well!

(Hat tip to Luke Hsu via Jorma Honkanen)

Let's Play Stair Quest

February 6th, 2017 12:30 PM
by
Filed under Game trail;
Comments Off on Let's Play Stair Quest

Last summer saw the release of King's Quest, an episodic interquel based on Sierra's classic point-and-click adventure game. I enjoyed the first hour of seeing King Graham in his youth as he explored a dragon's den and learned to be brave, clever, and kind. But at some point, the game became too open-ended and the puzzles too illogical, frustrating me in much the way its namesake did a generation ago. I expected this game to overcome the design constraints of its ancestors.

At the other end of the spectrum is Stair Quest, a new title with retro sensibilities. It discards all that was good about the original King's Quest and instead relishes in its impossibly unfair challenges: navigating three-dimensional passageways using two-dimensional controls. Players are tasked with using just the four cardinal arrow keys to traverse stairways that bend, curve, and climb in all directions. A pixel too far in the wrong direction, and our hero plummets to his or her death, sending the player back to the beginning of the room… assuming you remembered to save your game.

Although I found this game incredibly frustrating, I was simultaneously delighted by it. These challenges were not a design flaw or constraint, nor was it poor implementation on the behalf of the developers. Everything about Stair Quest is intentional.

Stair Quest is a free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The development team at No More For Today is an all-star cast of indie game designers, podcasters, and historians whom I was glad to encounter in my own podcasting journey. Kudos to them for knowing what they wanted to do and for executing it with style.

Spoiler! Apple II game endings

January 30th, 2017 9:07 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
1 comment.

Screenshots are glorious things. Disk images offer an interactive experience of classic software, and video helps capture it in action — but a screenshot is a single, discrete work of art — a frozen frame of creativity. For the Apple II, a screenshot captures the artistry of yesterday's programmers who were also expected to produce a game's graphics using a limited palette. Jason Scott created the Screen Shotgun to add thousands of screenshots to the Internet Archive, including crack screens that Kevin Savetz has repurposed as a screensaver and a Twitter account.

But these screenshots are often taken from either the opening scenes of a game, or from random points therein. What about that most rarely viewed moment in a game, the one that we're all driven to see: the end screen?

Now you can finally see what comes at the end of the game thanks to Samuel & Simon Ng, who have compiled 73 game-ending screens.

The collection is missing some obvious titles (Conan, Choplifter, Lode Runner, King's Quest) and has some hacks instead of the originals (Castle Smurfenstein, but it's an impressive start — especially if the screens were captured during the uploader's own gameplay sessions. That would mean they finished 73 Apple II games, which is more than many people. Despite the small floppy sizes, these games could take days, weeks, or longer to complete, due to punishing difficulty, lack of automaps, and Byzantine logic. To have conquered as many games as are seen in this collection is a monumental effort.

Screenshots capture unique moments in gaming history. But sometimes, the screenshots capture us in our pursuit to experience, archive, and share those classic experiences.

(Hat tip to Jorma Honkanen)