Building an Apple II games database

August 18th, 2014 6:48 PM
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Whenever I've blogged about Brian Picchi, it's been in the context of the games he's made, such as Retro Fever or Deadly Orbs. But his latest undertaking is more meta and Sisyphean: a database of every 8-bit Apple II game.

The list, most recently updated on August 12, 2014, currently indexes the title, publisher, developer(s), year of publication, and media for 2,160 titles. The data are culled from such sources as MobyGames, GameFAQs, YouTube, and wikis

"It started both as a project Alex Lee and I were talking about, and because I was just curious as to how many Apple II games there are," said Picchi in an email to Apple II Bits. "Every site I had seen had under 1,000 games listed, despite claims of several thousand by other sources, including Apple."

But the database's value is in more than just verifying or setting records. "I also thought it might be helpful because I hear lots of people asking questions like 'What was that game from my childhood I can't remember, I know it was in an issue of Microzine?' or 'How many games supported Mockingboard?' or 'How many games did Sierra release for the Apple II?'" continued Picchi. "The list is available to anyone who wants to use it for any purpose." Anyone who wants to contribute to the database may do so via Google Docs.

As a metadata junkie, I'm excited to see so much information being compiling and to consider how much more can be added. Data such as game genre, additional assets such as box art, and links to related resources, such as Virtual Apple II or the Internet Archive's Console Living Room implementation of JSMESS. Picchi agrees: "I'd love to see it built into something like http://www.c64.com/ where you search for the game, can view screenshots, download it directly, etc."
Games databaseCollecting so much information is only half of this vast undertaking, with organizing and presenting it being another. The database is currently implemented using TablePress, one of my all-time favorite WordPress plugins. It's a powerful tool, but one that is ultimately limited in how much data it can associate and present with a single software title. The database may be better served by creating a Content Post Type, which would allow the definition of fields and attachments unique to this database.

The end result would be exactly why I was briefly enrolled in a Master's of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program: I love collecting and organizing information but lack the programming skills necessary to structure and host such vast quantities of data in a useful, meaningful way. But one thing I've learned about Picchi from reading his Juiced.GS article is that he's constantly expanding his boundaries, mastering new languages and platforms. Could WordPress be next? If so, it will be to the benefit of Apple II gamers the world over!

Unboxing & Let's Play Retro Fever

March 10th, 2014 1:01 PM
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In November 2012, I stumbled into success on YouTube when I posted an unboxing video. It's a genre I discovered during my six years at Computerworld: point the camera at a new tech product and narrate as you open its packaging and dissect its contents. A month later, I delved into another genre, this one introduced to me by the narrator of Open Apple: Let's Play videos, in which gameplay footage is captured and combined with running commentary.

Yes — people actually watch me open boxes and play video games on YouTube, such that humanity has spent an aggregate of fifty years on my channel.

I don't understand it, but if the interest is there, I'm happy to bring it to bear on the Apple II. I applied these two video styles last year to Zéphyr, the 1987 action game recently published by Brutal Deluxe. Today, I bring my attention to Retro Fever, a new game from budding programmer Brian Picchi.

An unboxing video of a new Apple II product may be even more pointless than the average unboxing. Says PBS of the genre, "[Unboxing] videos show what the products ARE, without the annoying filter of marketing." Yet almost no Apple II product has a marketing budget to begin with, allowing for a more WYSIWYG experience from conception to purchase.

Nonetheless, there you have it: my first experience with the first Apple II game to be published in 2014. Get your own copy for free or in hardcopy, or play it online, at Brian Picchi's website — and learn more about how he became the programmer he is today in the March 2014 issue of Juiced.GS.

The 10 most expensive Apple II games

October 21st, 2013 5:22 PM
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Brian Picchi: I'm your biggest fan. You were a great guest on Open Apple; your Apple II videos on YouTube are informative and entertaining; your Deadly Orbs game is killer; and your website runs WordPress.

But where have you been all my life — or at least, the last month? I haven't heard so much as a peep out of you, so I went digging through your YouTube channel to find the latest. Uploaded on September 14, your rundown of the most expensive Apple II games on eBay was a fun watch:

For your fans in a rush, here is a summary of your findings:

Game
Value
Wings Out of Shadow$0709
Labyrinth of Crete$1000
Cranston Manor$1525
Mystery House$1691.66
Ultima I+II$1775
Time Zone$1825
Softporn Adventure$1999
Zork$2495
Starcross$2495
Akalabeth$4900

I'm not much of an eBay user, having taken 14.5 years to earn my 100-star rating this month. The only Apple II software I've bought on eBay is Microzines; I've never paid more than $20 or so for anything Apple II-related on the auction site. That anyone has so much money to spend on these games is a little baffling to me. I understand the appeal of collecting items of historical significance — no one is buying Akalabeth to play it — but that's a lot of dough to drop on something of esoteric interest. A framed Akalabeth over your mantle won't engage many house guests.

But hey, I know you're not just trolling eBay to pick up some games, Brian Picchi; you're one of those hawkers of rare goods, with a copy of Akalabeth all your own. I'm sure your wife will be happy when you cash in those chips.

So keep up the good work, Brian Picchi — just don't go a whole month between videos, if you can help it.

The Deadly Orbs

December 17th, 2012 11:59 PM
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From the creative genius that brought you Applesoft Action and Dogfighters of Mars comes a new game: The Deadly Orbs!

Brian Picchi created this Applesoft BASIC game as part of Retrospectiva, a programming competition similar to RetroChallenge:

Retrospectiva is rediscover the fascination and wonder the first home computers generated in us. Challenges you to put your knowledge and inspiration to the test under the constraints of obsolete computers.If you like programming, draw or write music and are interested in the retro-computer world, this competition is meant for you.

Here's some gameplay footage of The Deadly Orbs:

The Deadly Orbs demonstrates a consistent improvement in the graphics of Picchi's products, as seen by comparing it with the blockier antagonist of his former Retrospectiva entry, Surfshooter. Orbs accepts input from either the keyboard or the joystick. With either, the pace is a bit slow for me, though maybe that's for the best, as I also find the orbs' movements less predictable than Picchi does, making for a good challenge. Speaking of patterns, some randomization in the initial placement of the sword would've made the levels, at least the first few steps, less rote.

The game took 30+ hours of extracurricular programming to produce, resulting in a self-booting .DO disk image inside a ZIP archive. It's an encouraging reminder that one person can be responsible for game design, programming, and art and still produce an entertaining title.

Applesoft Action & Dogfighters of Mars

March 5th, 2012 3:18 PM
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Brian Picchi, whose excellent software and hardware videos have graced YouTube, has recently taken a more hands-on approach to the Apple II gaming scene. In addition to commenting on other people's games, he's begun creating his own. The first two entries into his growing portfolio are both Applesoft BASIC games: Applesoft Action and Dogfighters of Mars.

Both titles are action games, which can be significantly harder to program than other genres. Whereas turn-based puzzle and strategy games can take their time accepting input and displaying the result, an action game is a far more immediate experience, as gameplay progresses with or without player interaction. Although I'm proud of my one Apple II game — an Applesoft adaptation of the text-based BBS door game Spaceship of Death — and I did successfully create a few action games for my graphing calculator, I doubt either experience gave me the knowledge, skills, or confidence to create anything like what Picchi has. Well done, sir!

CFFA3000 video review

December 15th, 2011 1:42 PM
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As mentioned on the latest episode of the Open Apple podcast, Brian Picchi has lately been putting out some remarkable YouTube videos. He started this time a year ago with a review of the IIGS itself. Lately he's cast a wider net, highlighting a variety of Apple II products from games to NDAs. One of his latest is a review of the CFFA3000, the CompactFlash and USB card from Rich Dreher. It's a card I had the opportunity to purchase in-person at KansasFest 2011. I passed at the time, as I was still months and thousands of miles away from my Apple II. Now I'm kicking myself, as not only does the card have scads more features than I realized, but the first batch sold out like hotcakes, with no more expected until 2012.

Brian's video is a good overview of what will have you too lining up for the second batch:

If you're looking for other ways to expand the hardware capabilities of your Apple IIGS, Brian's overview of several peripherals is also worth a watch. And be sure to read the comments on this and his other videos — unlike most YouTube comments, these are quite knowledgeable and constructive, suggesting yet more ways to improve your retrocomputing experience.

Keep up the great work, sir!