Archive for the ‘Software showcase’ Category

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

No More Heroes: Apple Strikes Again

January 21st, 2019 11:29 AM
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If I had to say what my brand was, it'd be a mix of Apple II, video games, Star Trek, and WordPress. Of them, those first two are the likeliest to intersect — but even I am sometimes late to catch those crossovers.

One recent video game I overlooked is Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes, a Nintendo Switch exclusive released just three days ago, on January 18, 2019, and the latest in the No More Heroes franchise that started on the Wii in 2007. I've not played any games in this series and wasn't planning to start now. But then the Australian video game website Vooks made this passing remark in their review of the game: "The cutscenes … [are] handled through a visual novel with an Apple II filter."

I wondered what "an Apple II filter" was, suspecting it was just lazy shorthand for pixel art or some other retro aesthetic. Some searching on YouTube revealed that Vooks was in fact quite accurate in its description.

It's not a perfect match for the Apple II: the resolution is a bit too high and the font is off, to name a few. (Another review called it a "Apple II / TRS-80 style"; maybe that's the influence.) Regardless, if I were to see these cutscenes without context, the Apple II would probably be the first thing I thought of, too — either that or Plangman, another modern game with an Apple II vibe.

I continued poking into the history of the No More Heroes franchise and discovered this sequel is not the first to reference the Apple II. The original 2007 game featured the Orange II, "a retractable, cleaver-esque beam katana model designed by Orange Computer… The name is a parody of Apple Computers and its first computer sold for public use, the Apple II."

I apparently need to add Travis Strikes Again to my gaming backlog!

Let's Play Prince of Persia Escape

January 7th, 2019 10:53 AM
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Karateka and its spiritual successor, Prince of Persia, have enjoyed diverse incarnations on mobile devices. Karateka saw a re-invention as a rhythmic fighting game, spurring interest in the later release of Karateka Classic. Likewise, the original Prince of Persia was released as Prince Retro but never updated for iOS 11; what took its place in iOS 12 was Prince of Persia Classic HD, which updated the graphics until they're unrecognizable from their Apple II origins.

Now there's a new Prince of Persia for iOS and Android, and it's in the sub-genre of platformers known as a runner. Here, the Prince runs to the right side of the screen while dodging obstacles, but never combating foes or solving puzzles. He moves left and right and jumps at the player's discretion, but beyond that, there's little variety.

That didn't sound like much fun to me, but it seemed an easy Let's Play video to record, so I took the free version of the game for a spin. Spoiler: it's not much fun. But at least I worked some Apple II graphics into the background and outro.

Judging from other Let's Play videos of this game, the level design doesn't get more diverse in the first fifty stages, either. And some reports indicate the game has 500+ levels. Who has time for that?

It's not unreasonable for classic licenses to be reincarnated in new genres. Sometimes it works well: I felt more positive about the similar adaptation of Super Mario to the running genre. Prince of Persia Escape doesn't inspire any strong feelings either way, but if it makes enough profit to keep the Prince alive, then I look forward to seeing his next reinvention.

AppleWorks & TimeOut Grammar

December 10th, 2018 11:46 AM
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I was working on a particularly complex Juiced.GS article recently, so I did something I hadn't done in awhile: I loaded it into AppleWorks Classic and ran it through TimeOut Grammar. It's a tool that has served me well for decades.

For much of my academic career starting in fourth grade and continuing at least through undergraduate, AppleWorks was my primary word processor. It wasn't just habit or nostalgia: its plain-text nature let me focus on the words and their meaning, and its spellcheck function's interface was more efficient than any I've seen to this day.

But just as important was TimeOut Grammar (copyright 1992 by Dan Verkade; published by Beagle Bros Inc. and Quality Computers). This add-on module was, like most grammar checkers even today, simply a dictionary of search/replace patterns: phrases that are often used incorrectly or which can be more succinctly replaced with other phrases. TimeOut Grammar rarely understood context: gender-specific pronouns could be decried as "sexist", even when I was writing about religions or eras that have very gender-specific roles. But more often than not, it helpfully taught me to be concise and accurate, avoiding language that was wordy ("in order to"), vague ("nice"), cliché ("the fact is"), and redundant ("very").

I learned to write so that TimeOut Grammar's first pass would find as few errors as possible. When I mentioned this habit to a fellow teacher, he laughed, "That's scary!" Perhaps a computer teaching someone to write didn't sit well with him — especially when the computer, as mentioned, lacked the nuance and frame of reference that a human writer or editor does.

But not only did TimeOut Grammar never force a rewrite; it also occasionally reminded me just how smart it wasn't. My favorite idiosyncrasy is one I previously related on Syndicomm Online, as captured in the March 2005 issue of The Lamp!:

Appleworks SPEAKS SPANISH?
""""""""""""""""""""""""""
One of my favorite AppleWorks quirks: try grammar checking "not likely to", and accept all suggested corrections. The result will be "unliprobablyo".

I didn't know AppleWorks knew Spanish! :-)

-Ken

(KGAGNE, Cat 9, Top 20, Msg 18)

TimeOut Grammar must've stored a copy of the original document in its memory — a copy that wasn't aware of the module's own substitutions. So when "not likely" got replaced by "unlikely", it didn't stop Grammar from continuing to see the original "likely" and wanting to replace it with "probably".

Writing is quirky and creative — something you don't necessarily want your computer programs to be. But when used in moderation and with discretion, TimeOut Grammar was a wonderful tool that helped me along my way.

Narrative choice in Law of the West

October 29th, 2018 1:01 PM
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The console gaming world is in a tizzy over this past week's release of Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), an open-world adventure game set in the Old West. To commemorate the occasion, Rhain Radford-Burns of OnlySP (Single Player) produced a historical chronicle, "The Origins of Virtual Gunslinging — History of Western Games (Part One: 1971–1994)" (a timeline that would exclude Lawless Legends). The hunting scenes in Oregon Trail earned a mention, of course — but so did another game I'd never heard of: Accolade’s Law of the West.

Law of the West (which can be played online in the Internet Archive) features four settings from a frontier town: the bank, the saloon, the Wells Fargo wagon, and the train depot, each populated by cowboys, teachers, deputies, desperadoes, and more. Each scene introduces a character who interacts with the sheriff and then departs. After eleven of these vignettes, the player is given a score based on community relations, crimes prevented, and romantic success.

Most notable is how the player engages with the townsfolk. While some gunslinging does occur, this action takes a backseat to dialogue. For each line a citizen delivers, the sheriff chooses from one of four responses, resulting in a branching dialogue tree. This plot device is common in modern adventure games — not only in indie titles developed in the Twine game engine such as Depression Quest, but also mainstream games from BioWare's Mass Effect to Telltale's The Walking Dead to Dontnod's Life Is Strange.

But according to Wikipedia, this gameplay mechanic was unprecedented at the time (emphasis mine):

The actual gameplay mostly concerns the Sheriff discussing with the various characters via a selection menu similar to those in contemporary graphical adventures. For each line the other character says, the game offers a selection of four different responses, and the discussion progresses depending on the chosen response. Law of the West marks the first use of this now-common interaction style.

If true, then it's fascinating to discover that such a well-known narrative device debuted in 1985 on the Apple II from a company that went defunct in 2000. To this day, the choice to engage with non-player characters instead of blindly shooting them is something players yearn for. In Chris Plante's review of RDR2 for Polygon, he describes one scene:

A crowd watches a public hanging. After the execution, the crowd disperses, and I find the victim's mother weeping in the mud. I want to console her, but for whatever reason, the game won't let me "greet" or "antagonize" the distraught mother. The only option it gives me is to pull a gun on her.

Maybe someone at Rockstar should've studied their history and learned the Law of the West.

Oregon Trail Blazers

October 22nd, 2018 1:57 PM
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I've never been one for competitive sports. I enjoy heading to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game every few years, but I've never been to a Patriots, Celtics, or Bruins game. Perhaps this stems from an ancient schoolyard rivalry, where my geeky hobbies were never deemed good enough for the jocks. They always tried forcing their pastimes on me without being similarly open to my passions.

Decades later, maybe those barriers are finally starting to erode. The Portland Trail Blazers are an NBA team whose name shares a word with with classic Apple II edutainment title Oregon Trail. In the lead-up to the official start of basketball season last week, this Oregon team released a video portmanteau of their name and the game's: Oregon Trail Blazers.

This reel consists primarily of traveling from one city to another; with the exception of a brief hunting scene, we don't see any of the riveting decisions that are the hallmark of Oregon Trail. Should the team ford the river? Trade with locals? What happens if someone breaks an arm? We may never know!!

Though the video is simple, the pixel art and chiptune soundtrack showcase a sincere affinity for Oregon Trail. It's great to see these two pastimes playing well together.

(Hat tip to Cat Morgan)

Behind the scenes of Ninjaforce demo Kernkompetenz

September 24th, 2018 6:41 PM
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One of my favorite Juiced.GS articles series is "Behind the Scenes", in which a hardware or software developer writes in his own words how their product came to be. These articles can look at the hardware production, language selection, beta-testing process, or books read — anything that shows the reader how the author got from Point A to Point B. In the last 11 years, Juiced.GS has gone behind the scenes of 35 products, starting with Mark Percival's DiskMaker 8 and continuing to such releases as Slammer, 73H 0r3g0n 7r41L, Nox Archaist, and Lawless Legend's Outlaw.

Last year in Volume 22, Issue 2, Jesse Blue of Apple IIGS programming group Ninjaforce took us behind the scenes of Revision, an annual demoparty held in Germany. It was here in 2017 that Ninjaforce showcased the first demo they'd released in 20 years, Kernkompetenz. This article was classified in Juiced.GS as "Event Coverage", as it wasn't about the actual development of the demo. But shortly after the article's publication, Jesse published a complementary video that reveals the software's secrets.

This 23-minute narrated slideshow starts with a four-minute overview of the Apple IIGS's hardware capabilities, followed by a demo of the, uh, demo. Jesse then continues with tables and diagrams that explain how Kernkompetenz works its magic. Whether you're an experienced programmer or are just casually interested in the inner workings of this 16-bit machine, the video is an easy-to-follow guide to Ninjaforce's latest demo.

Still haven't tried Kernkompetenz yourself? You can download it from their website, or watch a video.

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson)