The opera of Steve Jobs

August 31st, 2015 11:17 AM
Filed under Steve Jobs;
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Since his passing (and well before), Steve Jobs has pervaded popular media, appearing in dramatizations, documentaries, and graphic novels. Now his memory is set to invade another artistic medium: the opera.

Russell Contreras of the Associated Press reports reports that the Santa Fe Opera has commissioned The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs for their 2017 season. Rather than the drama and grandstanding of Jobs' public life, the opera will deal with the character's more human elements:

The production will examine Jobs facing his own mortality and circles back to the events and people in his past that shaped and inspired him… the story of Jobs is a great intersection of creativity, innovation and human communication. His relationship with those who helped him along that journey also will help tell the story in the opera.

I'd expect a show like this to come out of San Francisco, not Santa Fe. But New Mexico makes a feeble attempt at relevancy to Jobs' life:

New Mexico in recent years has worked to honor it connections to technology innovators like Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. For example, a Route 66 motor lodge in Albuquerque where Bill Gates and Paul Allen lived while launching Microsoft Corp. is being redeveloped into apartments as part of a neighborhood revival project.

While Gates worked on his project, Jobs operated from in his garage in Los Altos, California, and with partner Steve Wozniak released the compact Apple II at the time Albuquerque was a technology hub.

It's unlikely such a show would remain limited to New Mexico; I predict a touring a company will launch within a year of the opera's debut. That leaves us years to ponder whether opera is the best venue in which to explore Steve Jobs. Unlike a musical, which intersperses song with spoken dialogue, an opera is almost entirely sung or accompanied by music. It need not be in Italian or another foreign language — Gilbert & Sullivan's operas, such as The Pirates of Penzance, were in English.

Unlike the unnecessarily dramatic soundtrack of the Ashton Kutcher film, perhaps some meaningful music will bring Jobs to life as we haven't seen him before. Says the Santa Fe Opera: "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs seeks to capture the buzzing creative realm of Silicon Valley with a kinetic electro-acoustic score, lush vocal writing, a compelling non-linear narrative, and a production as innovative as the man himself."

Anything is possible! Consider this creative reinterpretation of a traditionally tragic scene:

Bet you never thought of it quite like that before, eh?

(Hat tip to Showbits and Zachary Woolfe)

In ten years I'll be cool

August 24th, 2015 9:07 AM
Filed under Musings;
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I don't remember ever not having an Apple II in my house — and our early acquaintance made for a rough childhood. My very small elementary school class was composed primarily of jocks who didn't take kindly to bookworms and computer nerds, producing an unwelcoming environment, to say the least. I often wondered, would it ever get better?

I didn't have to wait long to find out. Ten years after middle school, I was in a college where computer prowess was lauded; ten years after that, the things I was into as a kid were mainstream and cool.

So if you ever wonder if things get better, just wait ten years — that's the time in which geeks become hip, as detailed in H.P. Mendoza's music video, "In Ten Years", off the 2004 album Everything Is Pop:

And yep, that's an Apple II in the first shot — or at least, it appears to be. Says Charles Mangin, "It looks like a II or II Plus with the badge on the cover removed, or a close clone. The drive certainly looks like a Disk II with the Apple logo removed or covered." The first game of the video being King's Quest (with Sir Graham later getting jiggy) seems to cement the theory.

We shouldn't be surprised. Of course Apple II users are cool! Wil Wheaton would agree: it's awesome to be a nerd.

(Hat tip to Infamous Quests, with whom I appeared on a panel this past spring about point-and-click adventure games!)

Strong Museum's Hall of Fame

August 17th, 2015 10:36 AM
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

We could debate endlessly over the best Apple II games — such a list remains one of my most popular blog posts to date. From Adventure to Prince of Persia, Choplifter to Lode Runner, the candidates are endless.

So I don't envy The Strong Museum of Rochester, New York, home of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. ICHEG recently announced the World Video Game Hall of Fame, into which would be inducted games with an "undeniable impact on popular culture and society in general" and "games [that] have helped shape the way that people across the globe play and relate to one another," wrote ICHEG director Jon-Paul Dyson.

Journalists, scholars, and other industry professionals chose the original list of 15 candidate games. I have bolded the six that were ultimately inducted:

  • • Angry Birds (2009)
  • Doom (1993)
  • • FIFA (1993)
  • • The Legend of Zelda (1986)
  • • Minecraft (2009)
  • • The Oregon Trail (1971)
  • Pac-Man (1980)
  • • Pokemon (1996)
  • Pong (1972)
  • • The Sims (2000)
  • • Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
  • • Space Invaders (1978)
  • Super Mario Bros. (1990)
  • Tetris (1984)
  • World of Warcraft (2004)

It's regrettable that no native Apple II games made the cut — but we are not entirely without representation: Tetris exists for every platform, including the Apple II; and Doom is the infamous brainchild of John Romero, who got his start on the Apple II and regularly revisits his roots, as he did when he delivered KansasFest 2012's keynote speech.

You may disagree with the ICHEG's choices, but it's important those disagreements be founded not in what were the "best" or most fun games of all time, but which were the most important. In that context, which Apple II games would you have nominated for inclusion n the World Video Game Hall of Fame's first class?

Interviewing Wade Clarke of Leadlight Gamma

August 10th, 2015 9:47 AM
Filed under Game trail, People;
1 comment.

As host of the IndieSider podcast, I'm constantly on the prowl for new indie (self-published) computer and video games. I like to help my listeners discover obscure titles that represent a variety of genres and themes whose developers are available for podcast interviews about the game development process.

Last month, I found my biweekly guest within the Apple II community with Wade Clarke, creator of Leadlight, a text adventure released in 2010 for the Apple II. The game was featured on the cover of Juiced.GS Volume 16, Issue 1, and Wade declared his intention to translate the game from Eamon to Inform in Volume 17, Issue 2. That project was completed earlier this year with the release of Leadlight Gamma, a game that runs natively on Windows and Mac and is one of the first products under Wade's new label, Heiress Software.

Since Juiced.GS has already covered interactive fiction at length — we have an entire themed PDF on the subject — associate editor Andy Molloy and I decided to give the genre some love in another outlet — namely, the IndieSider podcast. And since I'd already asked Wade about the genesis and influences of Leadlight, I focused this conversation on its transition from the Apple II to modern platforms. The result is episode #26 of IndieSider:

In addition to subscribing to the show in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice, you can also listen to the above audio interview paired with video of the game being played on YouTube:

Text adventures may not lend themselves to a visual medium like YouTube, but that's exactly why I did it: there are far fewer examples of interactive fiction on YouTube than there are other genres of games. Wrote one of my regular viewers, "I've never seen this type of game in life."

Getting the word out about games, genres, and developers that mainstream gamers may otherwise overlook? Mission accomplished!

Cinnamon II hits Kickstarter

August 3rd, 2015 7:13 AM
Filed under Hacks & mods;
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Smart watches have a way of setting a precedent and establishing a trend: rumors of the Apple Watch started almost as soon as the first Pebble raised over $10 million on Kickstarter in 2012. Shortly before the Apple Watch was finally released in 2015, we saw the Apple II adapted to that form factor with the Apple II Watch, DJ Harrigan's 3D-printed hack that simulates the hardware and software aesthetics of the Apple II.

Now, entrepreneur Damian Peckett is taking it a step further by putting an actual Apple II inside a watch. Introducing the Cinnamon II:

Although Kickstarters are more effective when they have a pitch video, this campaign lacks one, though it does offer this 12-second demo:

The hardware specs roughly mirror an Apple II Plus, with a "virtualized 6502 clocked at a blistering 1 Megahertz and a whopping 32K of memory… binary compatible with the original 1977's microcomputer. Complete video / sound / keyboard emulation is provided. The Cinnamon II also features a Micro SD socket that offers disk drive emulation." However, the resolution is 160×128, compared to the original Apple II's 280×192, so things are going to be a bit squished.

The dimensions also bring challenges for interacting with such a small Apple II. The available options are limited: "One button brings up a smart onscreen keyboard that allows you to scroll through various keyboard options. The other two buttons are available to user mode applications mapped to the up/down keys. Gesture control is provided via an on board accelerometer that is user programmable. It can be used to interact with user interface elements."

There is only one reward level: $159 AUD will get you the watch. Limited production runs are expensive, so Peckett has set the minimum at roughly 850 watches — hence the crowdfunding goal of $150,000 AUD ($114,842 USD) by August 13, 2015.

Unfortunately, like Bride of the Wizard King before it, this campaign lacks several important components: not only a pitch video, but a breakdown of expenses and different reward levels. The first Pebble offered 11 rewards starting at a mere $1, which 2,615 backers selected — raising more money at that level alone than the Cinnamon II is likely to.

Nonetheless, the Cinnamon II is a cool idea, and I'd like to see it developed further and perhaps open-sourced — I'm sure its ideas can be refined further and its production made more affordable and accessible.

Apple Games Done Quick

July 27th, 2015 8:41 AM
Filed under Game trail, Happenings;
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This month at KansasFest, I gave attendees a crash course in two genres of YouTube gaming videos: unboxings and Let's Plays. There's yet another genre that I have no participatory experience with but am nonetheless in awe of: speedruns.

A speedrun is an attempt to finish a game as quickly as possible without using any external cheats — by which I mean emulation, ROM hacking, Game Genies, or other devices. What is allowed are exploitation and manipulation of glitches (intentional or otherwise) within the game. This approach can allow the Super Nintendo game Super Mario World to be finished in under five minutes — even though the programmers never intended it, they nonetheless laid the groundwork for their game to be abused in this fashion.

Speedruns are extraordinary for the players' intimate knowledge of the game. They've memorized minutia and can predict likely outcomes, demonstrating a depth of mastery that few casual or even hardcore gamers can ever hope to achieve. Unlike unboxings or Let's Plays, which are done for fun or profit, speedruns are highly competitive, even if the player is challenging only himself to shave a second or two of world record.

When it comes to organization Games Done Quick, that competitive force is used for good. Their twice-annual events — Awesome Games Done Quick and Summer Games Done Quick — are video game marathons that raise money for charity. Players — as many as 150 — congregate in a single location and stream their speedrun trials, encouraging viewers to donate to various non-profits. For SGDQ15, which began yesterday in St. Paul, Minnesota, and runs through August 1, the charity is Doctors Without Borders.

That's all well and good — but where's the Apple II connection? The answer to that question comes at 6:45 AM CDT this Thursday, July 30, on the speedrun schedule. At that wee hour, under the subcategory of "Silly Games Done Quick", runners will be playing Oregon Trail. Confirmed Facebook user Cat Morgan: "Yes, they are hoping to do it on an Apple — they are waiting for the hardware to arrive to test it with their streaming rig." Their intended completion time is a mere 15 minutes — which should be feasible, given that a tool-assisted speedrun uploaded to YouTube just this month shows the game being completed in 8:24.63:

The hardware and software demonstrated in my Let's Play tutorial opens the door for many more Apple II speedruns. Maybe you'll be the next gamer whose retrocomputing will help Games Done Quick raise money for a good cause!

UPDATE (Aug 1, 2015): A YouTube record of the #SGDQ15 speedrun of Oregon Trail is now online: