Gaming at @party

August 22nd, 2016 12:57 PM
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It's not often I get to evangelize the Apple II outside our own community — KansasFest, Juiced.GS, and the Retro Computing Roundtable are preaching to the choir, essentially. When I do get to speak to other audiences, it's usually those who "get" retrocomputing but may not know the details of this specific platform.

Such was the case in 2012 at @party, a demoparty held annually here in Boston. It's a venue for programmers of any and all retrocomputers to strut their stuff by creating the most complex, elaborate, and impressive graphical and aural demos in the most constrained spaces. Despite not being a programmer, I attended the founding event in 2010 and was invited back in 2012 to represent the Apple II community.

My favorite anecdote of that day came when I bumped into another attendee outside the event venue. The front door was locked, and while we waited to be buzzed in, we introduced ourselves by first names. I asked what Mike's interest was in the demoscene, after which he asked why I was attending. I said I was one of several people invited to represent various communities. Mike asked what community I was representing, and I said the Apple II.

At which point he stopped, looked at me, and exclaimed, "You're Ken Gagne!" Who knew Mike Erwin was an Open Apple listener?

That wasn't the only revelation of the day. The presentation I gave, "The Apple II Lives! KansasFest And Beyond", a variation on a presentation I'd given to the Denver Apple Pi users group the previous summer, cited many examples of games that had made the Apple II both popular and memorable. My goal was to not only demonstrate the impact that the machine had had on the computing landscape of the 1980s, but to appeal to the nostalgia of the audience's non-Apple II users who may've nonetheless encountered these franchises on other platforms.

The presentation (executed in Prezi) was well-received, but the most surprising response came from someone who had used the Apple II solely as a productivity machine. Her experience had been limited to VisiCalc, AppleWorks, and Dazzle Draw, completely omitting such classics as Lode Runner, Choplifter, Ultima, and King's Quest.

I was sad that anyone would come so close to such a great gaming machine and have overlooked what made it great to me — not everyone is a gamer, but I know this person to be, and while her background with the Apple II was as valid as my own, I couldn't help but feel like she'd missed something wonderful. But I was also glad for the opportunity @party presented me to give a more complete picture of the Apple II's legacy and livelihood. It's never too late to discover the Apple II's library of games!

French Touch's Scroll Scroll Scroll

January 19th, 2015 11:10 PM
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Arnaud Cocquière and the team at French Touch have released a new 8-bit demo: Scroll Scroll Scroll. Below is a YouTube video of the program, which you can download and run as a disk image.

Although I'd not previously heard of French Touch, this demo is not their debut: previous demos include Unlimited Bobs and Ibiza, among others.

The demo scene is more fascinating and storied than I can detail here: it already has its own documentary and deserves a complementary Juiced.GS feature. While I do that digging, enjoy Scroll Scroll Scroll.

(Hat tip to Antoine Vignau)

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)

Demoparty at the @party

May 17th, 2010 12:47 PM
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So there's a party coming to town — a demoparty. These gatherings of hackers and crackers date back more than three decades, when they were closely tied to the pirate community. Today, demoparties seem more artistically oriented as opportunities for programmers to show off self-running demonstrations of the graphical and audio capabilities of a computer, often a retrocomputer. Though entries must be registered ahead of time, their creators need not be present, creating a global competition with personalized starting points and a common deadline.

I've never attended a demoparty but must've become aware of them as a result of following digital archivist and demoparty coordinator Jason Scott on Twitter. Several Apple II users I spoke with were unfamiliar with demoparties, but they should be familiar with its content, as the IIGS has hosted many fantastic demos of its own — most notably those of the Free Tools Association, or FTA. Modulae, Bulla, DELTA, and others showed off that which "can't be done on an Apple II".

Given this opportunity to experience an aspect of history I've previously missed, I've registered for @party. The event will be held June 18–20 in Harvard, Mass., at a retreat center run by a friend of mine (who to this day maintains the facility's Web site with Claris Home Page v1.0. Talk about retro! The last version of this WYSIWYG HTML editor, v3.0, was released in 1998). The event's coordinator, Valerie Grimm, confirmed that there will be an appropriate opportunity for me to hand out Juiced.GS sample issues and KansasFest flyers to @party attendees. That's hardly the only reason I'm going — I'll take community over commerciality anyday — but it's good to know that, even if I don't benefit from my own attendance, someone else will.

There are no guarantees there will be any Apple II computers present, but if there are, it could make for a short article for Juiced.GS. In lieu of that, my interest in retrogaming (as documented by my video game blog) should keep me entertained. As an example, the country's longest-running demoparty, Blockparty, was held last month and produced its first-ever Colecovision demo, "Waterline":

See you at the party!