Generational hardware gap tres

September 3rd, 2012 12:43 PM
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Last month, the Commodore 64 turned 30 years old. Normally, that'd not be an appropriate topic for this Apple II blog; in fact, the wrong readers might take it as an opportunity to burn me in effigy, minus the effigy.

But the way in which Mat Allen chose to commemorate the occasion offers a cross-platform look at the way different generations interact with classic technology. Having seen this concept explored first in France and then in the USA, Allen invited several young Brits to play with his C64, to demonstrate that the game system of his youth was as entertaining and relevant today.


The video focuses primarily on the loading times, which is so obsolete an experience as to almost have faded from memory; I'm not surprised Allen's audience wandered away. Still, I wish he'd run a second experiment where the game was already loaded, so that the kids could provide feedback based more on interacting with the software instead of the hardware.

It was cute to hear the students couch their words to be as delicate as possible; referring to the C64's rudimentary graphics, one child commented, "For them, it must've been pretty incredible."

Jack Tramiel dies at 83

April 9th, 2012 9:58 PM
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Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore and Atari Corporation, the latter a gaming company he salvaged from Atari Inc., passed away yesterday at the age of 83.

The Commodore 64 was a better-selling computer than the Apple II. Due to an original larger user base than our community's, their retrocomputing scene is in many ways still more active, allowing an ancient rivalry to some places persists to this day.

Yet the competition wasn't personal between the computers' founders. Tramiel never met his contemporary and competitor, Steve Wozniak, until the 25th anniversary of Commodore at the Computer History Museum in 2007, an event which shed some details on their history:

With no money to build thousands of the Apple machines, Wozniak and Jobs approached Commodore about distributing the Apple II. "Chuck Peddle from Commodore came to the garage, and he was one of about three people we showed the Apple II prototype," Wozniak said.

As struggling 20-year-olds with zero savings and no business experience, the idea of a stable job at Commodore comforted them, Wozniak said. "Steve [Jobs] started saying all we want to do was offer [Apple II] for a few hundred thousand dollars, and we will get jobs at Commodore, we'll get some stock, and we'll be in charge of running the program," Wozniak said.

Commodore rejected the idea, preferring instead to develop its own simpler … machine without the pizazz of the Apple II, Wozniak said. Commodore could do it more quickly and thought at the time that would be a better course for the company, he said.

I've never used a C64 but, so close to having lost Steve Jobs, I can appreciate what Jack Tramiel's passing means to his fans. I offer my thanks to the man who played such a significant role in the founding of an era, and my sympathy and condolences to his many admirers, both then and now.

(Hat tip to Mike Maginnis, as retweeted by Eric Shepherd)

Generational hardware gap deux

December 19th, 2011 7:36 PM
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Remember those modern kids confronted with ancient technology? They were, for the most part, baffled by archaic storage media and entertainment devices. It was an amusing demonstration of the changes in interfaces and expectations across the generations.

Here's another example of the clash between new and old. Four American kids, all siblings, are given three devices from their mother's attic: a tape deck, a Commodore Plus/4, and an Atari 2600.

It's great fun to see the girl's delight at getting the Commodore to work. Today's computers may be more elegant and inviting, but there's a far greater sense of accomplishment at mastering the rudimentary commands of yesterday's machines.

By contrast, it's challenging to believe the young man couldn't figure out how to fire in a game that has one button, it's not surprising that he and his brother would find the Atari games challenging. In 2009, I brought a 22-year-old to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot. Bred into being a multitasker by today's complex and staccato media, she was confused by the simplicity of the coin-ops of the 1980s. Surely there was more to it than that?

I'm glad there are retro enthusiasts out there who are not only holding onto their tech but are willing to share it with their kids. May we always remember the way things were — the better to appreciate the way things are!

(Hat tip to ComputeHer, 8 Bit Weapon)

Prince of Persia 64

October 17th, 2011 11:41 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
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There's long been a rivalry (friendly and otherwise) between the Apple II and Commodore 64 communities. But there's much goodwill, too, with software and hardware being adapted from one to the other. The latest such example is Prince of Persia, the classic platform game that debuted on the Apple II in 1989; Mr. SID, a programmer from the Netherlands, has now ported it to the C64, with the result available for free and immediate download. Here's a sample of the gameplay:

Wired's Duncan Geere reported that the game was "painstakingly recreated the game from scratch using the original Apple II code." That seemed an unlikely contradiction: was it made from scratch, or did it use Jordan Mechner's original code? If the latter, from where was that non-open-source code obtained?

A more careful reading of the developer's blog reveals that the Apple II version's graphics and level data were indeed used, but the game engine came from Freeprince's Princed Project, a reverse-engineering of the Apple II game:

The Princed Project is the sum of many sub-projects related to Prince of Persia. Such software includes level editors, graphic and sound editors, resource extractors, and a new open source engine for the game. All the software in this website is Free Software, and is also available for several platforms.

Is this piracy? IANAL, but even from an ethical perspective, it's hard to say. As I opined in Open Apple, the effort and passion that drives an unauthorized port honors the original and pays it homage. And since there is no alternative to playing this game on the Commodore 64, this port does not detract from sales of the original, mitigating the damage. But none of this changes the fact that it is unauthorized and likely infringes on the original author's rights. It's a gray area.

Regardless, Mr. SID's accomplishment is remarkable, and I applaud him for spreading the Apple II love.

UPDATE: Jordan Mechner himself commented on the developer's blog:

That's crazy! Back in 1989, when I was making POP on the Apple II, I couldn't get anyone interested in doing a C64 port… because it was too old a system :)

Hat tip to Wesley Yin-Poole, by way of Edge Magazine.

Superior artistry on the Commodore 64

April 25th, 2011 10:56 AM
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My recent blog post about Jeri Ellsworth produced an unexpected response on Facebook: it stoked the feud between Apple II and Commodore 64 users. "I didn't know Jeri was also interested in Apple II computers as well. I thought she was just a Commodore girl," wrote one of her friends. "I absolutely hated Apple systems when I was a kid. I thought they were so inferior to Commodore and overpriced. Plus they were ugly." Although this particular fan matured to appreciate both platforms, it underscores the rivalry and intense passion that platforms of the Eighties (and Apple products today) inspire.

I've never used a C64 so don't understand any antagonism that may have once existed or still does. But I have noticed what appears to be a difference in motivations among modern retrocomputing enthusiasts: Apple II users are more technically inclined, making their machines perform technological feats such as putting it on the Internet; whereas the output of C64 users is more artistically inclined. At least, that's the conclusion I've come to after observing something as amazing as the C64's own music video, courtesy Press Play on Tape:

There's also a "Happy Computer" mashup that's a bit stranger but still creative. More impressive is this gallery of pixel art, depicting amazing works of art recently drawn on a Commodore 64.

Even their sense of humor is remarkable, as demonstrated by this spoof of how Apple would market the C64:

I don't mean to discount the Apple II's impressive demo scene, but that is largely the work of decades past, with nothing recent to compete against the C64. I don't know that I prefer C64 users' approach to the more practical applications to which Apple II users dedicate themselves; each is its own kinds of art. But is there something about the Commodore 64 and its users that better lends themselves to these amazing visual and musical accomplishments? Will the Apple II ever have its own music video?

Jeri Ellsworth, TWiT

April 18th, 2011 11:29 AM
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KansasFest is by its nature attended by eclectic and fascinating people, without exception. But one of the most memorable people I've met in my years at the annual Apple II convention has been Jeri Ellsworth.

Jeri made her Apple II debut at KansasFest 2003, sufficiently impressing the then-editor of Juiced.GS enough with her homebrew hardware to earn her a cover story a few months later. She attended KFest again in 2004, when she and I were assigned to be roommates, inspiring her to decorate our door with the infamous Furbfish. (It was a pittance compared to the strangeness she brought into my home a week earlier, when we attended VCF East 2.0 with Ryan Suenaga, Andy Molloy, and Kelvin Sherlock.) At the last minute, she made her final KansasFest appearance in 2006, provoking a karaoke battle.

Roller Jeri at KansasFest 2006.Jeri's interests have always been diverse, from computer shops to roller derby and race cars. She had her own Web series, The Fat Man and Circuit Girl, for more than a year; nowadays, her passion is pinball. Running in so many circles has earned her plenty of attention; she is, aside from Bill Martens, the only currently active Apple II user I know to have her own Wikipedia page.

Most recently, Jeri appeared on an hour-long episode of Triangulation, a subsidiary of Leo Laporte's This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcast. The show was recorded on Jan 20, published on Feb 2, and mentioned on the KansasFest list by Dean Nichols on Apr 1. Notable segments include how her youth shaped her aspirations and passions, and the C64 DTV computer-in-a-joystick.

Unfortunately, she doesn't get in a word about her Apple II history — in fact, there's nary a single reference to the computer in the entire episode. I'm hoping this is not indicative of her future involvement in the community. I have done my best to lure her back to KanasFest, including by promising a private tour of the Electric Theatre retro arcade, scheduled to open in nearby Independence, Missouri, later this year.

KansasFest is filled with colorful people, and I hope Jeri will again bring her distinctive hue to the event.