Updated art & music for The Bard's Tale

July 2nd, 2018 8:29 PM
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Three years ago this month, the company that brought us the Wasteland game series took to Kickstarter to revive another classic franchise: The Bard's Tale. With Brian Fargo of inXile entertainment helming the project, the fourth entry in the RPG series was sure to harken back to its roots.

Although the game is still in development, we are already seeing — and hearing — evidence of that history. Jason Wilson at Venturebeat got a demo of an early build of the game, during which he interviewed creative director and lead designer David Rogers, who said:

"We took the old MIDI tracks and we brought them forward and orchestrated them, had our sound designers pour their love into it," Rogers said. He went on to note that the games (they were on Apple II, Apple II GS, MS-DOS, Amiga, Commodore 64, and other formats) had different MIDI tracks, so the best depended on what platform you played on. He wasn't sure what versions they used, but an InXile rep said over email that "some are from the GS and some from the Amiga. We picked and chose our fav[orite] ones."

As part of the original Kickstarter pitch, the original trilogy was also promised to be ported to modern systems. That deliverable has hit some bumps that were addressed in a campaign update on May 17 from Lindsay Parmenter, head of development at Krome Studios, who's handling the remaster:

The original Bard's Tale games hold a special place in our hearts – many of us here at Krome Studios, especially Design Lead James Podesta and myself, played the games back in the 80s and are also backers of Bard's Tale IV.

After some casual conversations with the inXile team, the opportunity came up to put something together that we think will be really great for the Trilogy remaster. Not only are we updating the games to work natively on modern systems, but we're also putting on a fresh coat of paint, to give a new generation of role-playing and dungeon-crawling fans an easier opportunity to experience these classic games.

As a short list, our goals for the Trilogy remaster are:

  • • Up-res the original art, but keep the art in theme with the originals
  • • Add in various audio throughout the games for attacks, spells, and more.
  • • Add some quality of life improvements, such as the automap, tooltip popups in the UI, etc.

Here is some art from the Amiga version of the game compared to the updated art.

Personally, I prefer the original art. It leaves more to the imagination and is more evocative of its era, whereas the updated art seems a bit more… generic.

Will you play either the remasters or the new Bard's Tale IV upon their release later this year?

Richard Garriott at The Moth

June 25th, 2018 8:06 AM
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What I love about The Moth storyslam is how relatable it is. Attendees throw their names in the hat for an opportunity to tell a true story from their own lives in which they feature as the protagonist. From falling in love to being lost to finding your way, the stories echo themes that resonate with their listeners, whether in a live audience or on the podcast.

But a select few Moth stories extend beyond the boundaries of everyday occurrences. The Moth Mainstage invites singers, actors, even astronauts to share their experiences — but these extraordinary lives still retain humble themes of humanity.

While I've come to expect the occasional mainstream celebrity to make an appearance at The Moth, I was surprised to find a superstar from our own niche Apple II community take the stage. As I queued the latest episode of The Moth podcast, a familiar name and voice were introduced: Richard Garriott, creator of the legendary role-playing game franchise Ultima.

In his story, "Reach For The Stars One Small Step At A Time", he reflects on how his perspective on the world changed as he grew up, from discovering a world beyond his neighborhood to one beyond the horizon, and the ensuing ambition that drove his career and his life.

As someone who's seen the documentary Man on a Mission: Richard Garriott's Road to the Stars, I still learned more about Garriott from this story: he was not a star academic student; he lost almost everything when the dot-com bubble burst; the vision issues that originally grounded him were part of the research he conducted in space.

I love how The Moth provides an outlet for us to be vulnerable. By sharing his weaknesses and how he overcame them, Richard Garriott spun a story that Apple II users and others can relate to.

Apple II animated GIF

June 18th, 2018 7:19 PM
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There are many efforts being made to capture the design and aesthetic of early modern computers. The Vanamo Online Game Museum produces high-resolution, public-domain photos of vintage hardware; Charles Mangin creates 3D-printed miniature replicas; and Steve Weyhrich adapted the Apple II into a Minecraft structure.

All these facsimiles are, for the most part, static: once produced, they don't move or change. James Ball pursued a more dynamic form of art with his recent online exhibit, "I am a computer". His medium of choice: the GIF.

Like Vanamo, Mangin, and Weyhrich, Ball began with a physical models by photographing sixteen computers at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. He then adapted those photos into his own stylized, animated art.

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Wrote Ball:

'I am a computer' celebrates the visual character of desktop computing machines from a colourless period in industrial design.

From word processors and video terminals, to the very first desktop personal computers, these compact machines heralded a beige age, a period of microcomputing from the the 1970s and early 80s when design standards had conformed to realise a palette of neutral coloured machines throughout offices and later the home.

Any new way to depict an old computer is a welcome one. My thanks to Ball for including the Apple II in his gallery!

(Hat tip to Matthew Gault)

Ready Player One's Richard Garriott inspiration

June 11th, 2018 1:01 PM
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Ready Player One was my favorite novel of 2011, providing a dystopian cyberpunk adventure targeted at geeks who grew up immersed in 1980s pop culture. I've since recognized the book's problematic elements with gatekeeping, transphobia, and fan service without substance … yet I still can't help but be fascinated by all the elements author Ernest Cline wove into his narrative.

With Ready Player One's recent adaptation to film, audiences are discovering anew the Oasis, the fictional virtual world created by James Halliday (played by Sir Mark Rylance), a virtuoso computer programmer who sets himself up as the massively multiplayer online role-playing game's benevolent (but absent) god. Many of Halliday's (and thus Cline's) favorite games make appearances in Ready Player One, and in this new WIRED interview, Cline details each and every game in the movie — with one in particular being of interest to Apple II users.

Turns out one of the Apple II's own played a major role in the story:

Akalabeth is one of the first attempts by a computer programmer to translate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons into a computer game. It was created by Richard Garriott, who also helped serve as the inspiration for James Halliday. Richard Garriot is a famous video game designer from Austin, Texas, where I live, who has an alter-ego: his Dungeons & Dragons and game avatar called Lord British. He would dress up as Lord British in public at press events and things. He eventually ended up using his video-game money to travel into space and go on the International Space Station. He was really an inspiration to me as like a geek with unlimited funds and what could be accomplished. So he and Howard Hughes helped inspire James Halliday in my book. And his game, Akalabeth, and the games that followed it: Ultima I, II, III, IV, and then Ultima Online, the first MMO, those all helped inspire the Oasis in my novel.

While Garriott was directly referenced in the book, I didn't pick up any mentions in the movie. Little did I know that an entire, integral character was based on Lord British himself!

(Hat tip to Hades Kong via WTF Dragon)

Let's Play Lode Runner Legacy

June 4th, 2018 9:00 AM
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Just over a year ago, I shared the trailer for Lode Runner Legacy, the first original game in the Lode Runner series in almost a decade. The game was finally released for Windows in July 2017 but didn't receive its console debut until May 2018, when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch edition retails the voxel graphics style of its Windows counterpart, as well as its multiple modes: adventure; puzzle; and world levels, where players can craft and exchange their own creations. Best of all, its "classic" mode features all 150 levels of the Apple II original! At only $11.99, it's hard to beat.

Still, I have a habit of buying games and never finishing them (or sometimes even starting them!), making me hesitant to purchase Lode Runner Legacy, despite its generally favorable Metacritic score of 77%. Fortunately, the Switch edition offers a free demo that includes ten playable adventure levels and five puzzle levels. I gave this trial edition a spin in my latest Let's Play video.

Legacy plays a bit slower than the Apple II version I remember — but then, I remember playing it with an accelerator, so that may not be a fair comparison. Legacy also features much bigger sprites, and thus smaller levels, than the original — though the game hints at later, more sweeping levels that pull the camera back a bit, allowing for a larger play field.

Although I'm not a huge fan of the art style or the loading time between levels, I didn't see anything in Legacy that would keep me from buying it. I just need to clear some other games off my plate first…

In the meantime, you can hear me rave about the original game in episode #35 of the New Game Plus podcast.

The health savings of computer history

May 28th, 2018 8:39 AM
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My only visit to the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, occurred in December 2015, when Martin Haye and I squeezed in a visit after attending GaymerX in nearby San Jose. I was already familiar with the museum, both from its origin in my backyard of Boston and as an archive of Juiced.GS, and I was thrilled to finally step foot in the halls of such hallowed technology preservation. But it wasn't until years later that I'd learn this same museum could preserve so much more.

Shortly after that visit, I began teaching myself about finances and investments: 401(k), Roth IRA, socially responsible investing (SRI), and more. As part of this move toward fiscal maturity, I started using an FSA, or Flexible Spending Account. An FSA is a savings account you can contribute pre-tax dollars to from your paycheck; those monies can then be used to pay any medical expenses, from surgery to prescriptions to contact lens solution. If you spend $2,000 a year on healthcare, it's like getting a $2,000 tax credit.

An FSA is not without its downsides: it has an annual contribution cap of $2,600, and only $500 rolls over every calendar year; the rest of the account is "use it or lose it". As a result, you have to predict what your health expenses will be a year in advance, which is difficult to do accurately. And if you leave the participating employer, your FSA disappears.

But this year, I moved to an employer that instead offers an HSA, or Health Savings Account. An HSA has a maximum annual contribution of $3,450, and its value never expires, even if I switch jobs. As a result, I don't need to anticipate my expenses, instead using the HSA as a long-term investment account — especially since, unlike an FSA, an HSA gains interest!

I don't know why every employer doesn't offer an HSA, but the good news is that you don't need a generous boss: you can get your own HSA. Many banks offer them — but if yours doesn't, then check out First Tech Federal Credit Union of Beaverton, Oregon. They offer an HSA with no setup or maintenance fees and no minimum balance to qualified members.

What qualifies one to join First Tech? You can work for the State of Oregon, or any one of hundreds of participating employers. But my preferred route is to be a member of the Computer History Museum for either $15 or $75 a year. Simply donating to the museum makes you eligible to receive all the membership benefits of First Tech.

What better or more affordable way to preserve computer history and your own health?

(Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor, nor am I a customer or affiliate of First Tech. I have historically donated to the Computer History Museum, but currently, my only contributions are the aforementioned issues of Juiced.GS.)