Battle of the 'bots

February 9th, 2012 1:45 PM
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As I've discussed in Open Apple but not previously on Apple II Bits, you absolutely must check out Jimmy Maher's blog, The Digital Antiquarian. His exhaustive, academic, focused writings on the Apple II and aspects of its history and games (specifically what he refers to a "ludic narratives") are fun and informative reads worth making the time for.

His travels through Apple's history have most recently taken him to the works of Silas Warner, best known for the seminal stealth game Castle Wolfenstein but also developer of RobotWar, published by MUSE Software in 1981. True to its PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) origins, the game served as an instructional tool for teaching programming, challenging users to create routines that describe the behavior of a combative robot. As Maher describes:

You don’t get to design your robot in the physical sense; each is identical in size, in the damage it can absorb, in acceleration and braking, and in having a single rotable radar dish it can use to “see” and a single rotatable gun it can use to shoot. The programming language you work with is extremely primitive even by the standard of BASIC, with just a bare few commands. Actual operation of the robot is accomplished by reading from and writing to a handful of registers. That can seem an odd way to program today — it took me a while to wrap my mind around it again after spending recent months up to my eyebrows in Java — but in 1981, when much microcomputer programming involved PEEKing and POKEing memory locations and hardware registers directly, it probably felt more immediately familiar.

Two to five players would then enter their routines into an arena, and may the strongest robot win!

Terminator T-800 vs Robocop

Inspired by the RobotWar competitions Computer Gaming World once hosted, Maher is looking to resurrect these epic duels with a contest of his own. One cool feature not possible at the time of RobotWar's debut: Maher will do a screencast of each battle and upload the video recording, so that players can not just know the outcome but watch how it came to be. Contestants can tweak their winning 'bots between battles, evolving them to face ever stiffer competition. Grand prizes await the mightiest mech.

This sounds like great fun, in the tradition of HackFest and RetroChallenge. I applaud Maher for actively supporting and even expanding the Apple II community, and I encourage anyone reading this to consider entering the contest.

One shall stand… and one shall fall!

RetroChallenge Winter Warmup commences

January 6th, 2011 9:57 AM
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One of my favorite KansasFest activities is the HackFest, which challenges KFest attendees to write the coolest Apple II program possible within the time constraints of the convention. My programming skills are meager, I found that creativity counted for more than technical accomplishment. I used Applesoft, GSoft, or Spectrum scripting to place in many consecutive competitions, until finally my I tapped dry my well of ideas and switched over to the judging panel.

HackFest continues to be a popular feature of KansasFest, though some have called for it to be less stringent in its rules. "Why should someone have to be at KansasFest to compete in HackFest?" I've been asked. Partly it's for the contestants' benefit: the synergy and inspiration abound at KFest, with contestants often working alongside each other, advising them on particular programming challenges. Such was the case with my own now-infamous Maxster, which I believe placed second to my roommate Geoff Weiss's Taipan script.

Nonetheless, it remains true that, although everyone should attend KansasFest, not everyone can. For them, there is an alternative: the RetroChallenge. This competition is held every summer and is not restricted to the Apple II. RetroChallenge occasionally is held in the winter as well, to keep everyone's programming skills current. Courtesy volunteer urbancamo (filling in for traditional host Simon Williams), the RetroChallenge 2011 Winter Warmup is now underway. From the event's Web site:

In a nutshell, the RetroChallenge is a loosely disorganised gathering of RetroComputing enthusiasts who collectively do stuff with old computers for a month.

The event is very much open to interpretation: individuals set [their] own challenges, which can range from programming to multimedia work; hardware restoration to exploring legacy networking — or just plain [messing] around. It really doesn't matter what you do, just so long as you do it.

While the RetroChallenge has its competitive side, it's not really a contest — it's more like global thermonuclear war: everyone can play, but no [one person] really wins.

Come on — give it a go!

The rules aren't quite as stringent as HackFest's and permit the use of any 20th-century pre-Pentium computer, including game consoles and PDAs. Check out the event's discussion forum and Twitter feed for more details.

I won't be able to participate this year, focused as I am on retrocomputing multimedia projects that require no programming — but I encourage all programmers, both budding and veteran, to get out there and represent the Apple II!