Keeping Stanford's football statistics

January 12th, 2015 10:34 AM
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Stanford University's athletics department recently produced a piece of investigative journalism that I'm jealous didn't appear in Juiced.GS. By focusing on a niche intersection of industries, author David Kiefer has made a bold claim: the Apple II was the first computer used to track football statistics.

In 1980, Stanford football statistician Ken Lorell was seeking a solution to a problem, and the result was a revolutionary way of keeping stats … on a computer. This had never been done before.

Apple Computer was founded in 1976 and a year later released the Apple II, the first successful mass-produced microcomputer. Lorell saw the computer’s value in statkeeping, especially as offenses became more complex — with passing attacks becoming more sophisticated and the run and shoot opening up the world of hurry-up attacks.

After the 1979 season, Lorell approached the Stanford athletic department about the idea of purchasing a personal computer for statistical purposes. It was a tough sell, especially because the Apple II was originally retailing for $1,298 with 4 KB of RAM, and $2,638 for the maximum 48 KB.

Lorell nonetheless got the funding and had the machine up and running in time for the next season. But a minor hardware glitch would delay its successful debut.

On Sept. 6, 1980, it was ready for a trial run. Stanford opened at Oregon and Lorell and the Cardinal stat crew gathered at Lorell's Palo Alto home. The team would assemble the stats as if it were a home game, with some of the crew acting as spotters while watching on television. The television was used for visuals only while the sound and descriptions were created by the radio commentary of Don Klein and Bob Murphy.

All was well until someone tripped over the power cord. The data for the entire first half was lost.

Fortunately, one of the crew had kept the play-by-play on paper as a backup. Because the stats did not have to be compiled in order, the data was reconstructed by the end of halftime. Later, the Oregon stats were discovered to have an error. The computerized stats were more accurate.

"We did it," Lorell said. "We were so happy this thing worked."

Computerized stats made their official debut on Sept. 13, 1980, in Stanford’s 19–13 victory over visiting Tulane. And they’ve been there ever since.

This means that the Apple II appeared in football well before football appeared on the Apple II — the popular John Madden video game franchise, which continues to this day, didn't debut until 1988.

Nor was this the last appearance of the Apple II at Stanford University. Not only did the school once offer a course called "History of Computer Game Design", which perforce includes the Apple II, but Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously delivered their 2005 commencement speech.

But where has the Apple II been at Stanford since then — specifically, the one that made this groundbreaking appearance in sports statistics?

As for the Apple II, Lorell had to return it to the Stanford athletic department. No telling if it still exists.

"It literally is a museum piece," said Lorell, 70, who is now retired. "It is one of the historic, iconic products from the early days of Silicon Valley. The iPhones we have in our pockets are a thousand times more powerful."

At the time, it was a revolution that Lorell and Stanford played a role in. It may not be told in the annals of Silicon Valley innovation, but it remains an achievement with a lasting legacy – in every football stadium in the country.

Lazily revisiting Retro Fever

January 5th, 2015 11:25 AM
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Last March, I followed up my unboxing and Let's Play of Zéphyr with a video about Retro Fever. This game by Brian Picchi might be better called a metagame, as players assume the role of a retrocomputing enthusiast charged with adding as many classic computers to their collection as possible — a game most of us already play every day.

I'm no Internet celebrity, and my video did little to bring attention to Picchi's work. Finally, Retro Fever is getting the spotlight it deserves: Lazy Game Reviews (whose website looks quite familiar!) has nearly a quarter million YouTube users who were recently exposed to founder Clint Basinger's own unboxing and Let's Play of Retro Fever.

Amazing what someone with actual talent can do, no? For more Apple II goodness from Basinger, catch his Moon Patrol unboxing.

Want to learn how Picchi makes such great software? He took Juiced.GS readers behind the scenes of Retro Fever and his previous game, Lamb Chops, in Volume 19, Issue 1. Or you can download the Lamb Chops source code, released just last week.

(Hat tip to Tony DiCola)

A holiday snow demo

December 29th, 2014 8:13 AM
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Last year, inspired by Blake Patterson's annual Christmas playlist, I uploaded to YouTube a recording of the FTA's XMAS 1990 demo. While I'm glad to have contributed to the archive of holiday demos, it was nothing original I produced — not like what Dagen Brock has done.

Host of the GS Programmer's Home, Dagen recently released his own snow demo, writing:

It snowed this week and that reminded me of a simple snow routine I did for the Apple IIgs around this time last year. I had grand plans to add in music and sprites for a demo, but I've decided to just release the routine as-is.

The code for the snow animation is not the best, but it works. The image uses the lz4 source from Brutal Deluxe and I was also hoping to give a lesson on using that some day, but you can look at the disk image for now. I probably won't post the source anywhere else. Only because it's not of good quality and I will eventually post quality code examples for LZ4, NoiseTracker, Mr. Sprite, etc.

In a Facebook thread, Open Apple co-host Quinn Dunki suggested:

Love it, Dagen . I have the sudden urge to make two updates:

  1. Lower the disappearance coordinate for the snow. The dip on the ground isn't quite getting hit.
  2. Make the snow accumulate like it did in the FTA Xmas demo (one of my favorite parts of that demo- left it running for hours once :)

Dagen replied:

Sorry Quinn, I was hoping no one would notice. Flakes actually go to the bottom, I just hacked the VBlank in a weird way because I was too busy to optimize my code to run fully at 60FPS. You're seeing the undraw hit too early. I originally had planned this to be a big demo to show off loading lz4 images, Mr. Sprite, and Tool 219/220, but I have shelved that idea for now and just threw something out there for the sake of getting something out.

I applaud Dagen for not letting perfect be the enemy of done. That same "release it!" attitude is what led Martin Haye to finally publish Structris, which has since gone on to critical acclaim. As a friend of mine says: "Don't make art — just make something!"

(Hat tip to Dagen Brock)

King's Quest returns

December 22nd, 2014 10:30 AM
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At KansasFest 2010, I presented a session on modern spiritual successors to classic games. Among them was The Silver Lining, an unofficial sequel to King's Quest. The fan-produced game was long delayed due to legal issues with the official copyright holders of the King's Quest series, finally being cleared to begin its episodic release in 2010. Although received to mixed reviews, it was nonetheless a welcome, if unofficial, revival of the King's Quest series, which had lain dormant since Mask of Eternity's 1998 release.

Now it is time for the series to receive an official revival. The brand name of original publisher Sierra has been revived, and in 2015, they will publish King's Quest.

The new game has the blessing of none other than Sierra founders Ken and Roberta Williams, who accepted an award for their contributions to the industry at the recent Game Awards.

Apple II users should be interested to see where this series goes, as its origin is on their favorite computer. Many early King's Quest games were released for the Apple II or IIGS:

  • • Wizard and the Princess (1980)
  • • King's Quest: Quest for the Crown (1984)
  • • King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985)
  • • King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)
  • • King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)

Will this latest sequel return the game to its roots? Or will it be a reboot for a new generation of gamers? We'll find out when it releases in Fall 2015 for PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, and Windows.

Crowdfunding Thimbleweed Park

December 15th, 2014 8:08 AM
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This summer, Ron Gilbert unearthed his Maniac Mansion design notes. What was a seemingly nostalgic trip down memory lane may in fact have been the first steps toward the future: a return to his roots, crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

That's where Gilbert and Gary Winnick, Maniac Mansion co-designer, have successfully funded Thimbleweed Park, a new point-and-click adventure in the style of Maniac Mansion. "Why do we want to make Thimbleweed Park?" asks their campaign, which concludes the afternoon of Thursday, December 18. "Because we miss classic adventures and all their innocence and charm."

Ken Macklin, who designed Maniac Mansion's cover art, will return for Thimbleweed Park. So will David Fox, Lucasfilm's SCUMM scripter who decided to put the hamster in the microwave. And while the game will feature classic pixel art, there'll be a modern soundtrack by Steve Kirk. Writes Gilbert:

Don't get me wrong, I loved the SID chip, PC speaker, the Adlib card and amazing digital sound of the SoundBlaster (that still sounded like it was coming out of a PC speaker), but so much 'emotional data' can be carried in music and your eyes are already bleeding from the awesomely retro art, so why should your ears bleed too?

With all that said, though… what about the gameplay? I'm concerned that the interface appears a little too old school, which, as the developers of Shadowgate recently learned, isn't necessarily designed with modern gamers in mind. And what of the puzzles — will they be more logical? Or will be be sticking hunks of cheese in car ignitions? Gilbert's last game, The Cave, promised to be reminiscent of Maniac Mansion, with multiple playable characters, each with unique talents. But the game didn't exactly tear up the charts.

That all said, I'm willing to give this team and game a chance. I've backed Thimbleweed Park for $20 mark, essentially preordering the finished product, due for delivery in June 2016. I am sorely tempted to kick it up to $50, at which level the reward is having my name and phone number included in an in-game phonebook — and when players dial that number, they'll get my actual voicemail! Either way, stay tuned to this blog in two years to hear my thoughts on what comes next from Gilbert & Co.

Think Retro debuts at Macworld

December 8th, 2014 11:58 AM
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Macworld has seen some hard times lately: on September 10, just a day after the Macworld staff labored to cover Apple's unveiling of the iWatch, most of its writers and editors were laid off and its print edition shuttered. Macworld was the last consumer magazine published by IDG, parent company of Computerworld, my own employer 2007–2013 and present publisher of my freelance pieces. Although I'd never written for Macworld nor knew its staff personally — Computerworld is an enterprise publication and doesn't mingle much with the consumer side of IDG — it still hit close to home to see Macworld mark its 30th anniversary in so punishing a manner.

For all that, though, there is still much good left at Macworld, including last month's debut of a new weekly column: "Think Retro", written by Christopher Phin, former editor at MacUser and MacFormat. Unlike the occasional feature or mainstream news story, "Think Retro" is a regular, ongoing "celebration of classic Apple hardware and software". While none of the four columns published to date are specifically about the Apple II, they does offer practical, relevant information to the modern retrocomputing enthusiast, such as how to use an ADB keyboard with a USB computer or how to open your old ClarisWorks files in Mac OS X.

Apple adjustable keyboard

The Griffin iMate is no RetroConnector, but chances are you have one of these.
Photo copyrighted by Macworld.

While I lament the magazine and website Macworld once was, I'm glad through columns such as "Think Retro" that the brand still offers value to Apple diehards, including us Apple II fans.