Where is Carmen Sandiego? On Netflix!

January 28th, 2019 10:50 AM
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I like to say that I got my start as a professional writer in the print industry, working for such publications as The Boston Herald and various MediaNews daily papers. But even before then, my first freelance writing assignment was for the Gamers Forum on CompuServe, whose sysop gave me a review copy of a Carmen Sandiego game for the Apple II.

I was still a preteen and was utterly unschooled in how to conduct a professional review. All I knew was that I'd been given a computer game for free, which for a kid was like Christmas in July! The resulting review was gushing, which I thought was a fair exchange for this bounty I'd been given. Between my amateurish writing and my lack of context for the review — I'd never played any DOS / Windows games and didn't know how the Apple II compared — the editor ultimately killed the review. I was more embarrassed by the experience than I was grateful that I got to keep the game.

Nonetheless, Carmen Sandiego has a soft spot in my heart: whatever factors may've unduly influenced my review, I did sincerely enjoy the puzzle-solving and using the reference book the game came with to decipher the history and geography of our country and world. It was nerdy and neat and actually educational in a way that Oregon Trail rarely was.

So my interest was absolutely piqued when I discovered Netflix was premiering a new Carmen Sandiego animated series.

This is not the scarlet thief's first appearance on television. First was the 1991 game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, perhaps most memorable for its Rockapella theme song, followed by the 1996 game show Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? In between, there was the 1994 animated series Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?. Of the three, I'd seen only the original game show, and even that only in passing; once again, I'm lacking context.

But the biggest change seems to be that Carmen Sandiego is now the protagonist. Whereas the original cartoon had her defecting from ACME Detective Agency to work for the Villains' International League of Evil, Netflix's series flips that: this young, teenaged Carmen Sandiego has defected from V.I.L.E. and now travels the world stealing back that which her former colleagues have stolen from their rightful owners. In both, Carmen communicates with "Player" — but whereas the original Player was an invisible, live-action character, here, he's a white-hat hacker who remotely partners with Carmen to get her past security intended to keep her out.

I've watched the first two of eight episodes, and I've liked what I've seen: Sandiego is a moral character who values teammates and teamwork but will stand up to her friends to be true to herself. I'm told there are homages, actors, and recurring characters from other Carmen Sandiego media, but I've not yet seen anything that references her Apple II roots.

Even if the new cartoon doesn't directly acknowledge the character's origins, it's still great to see the our favorite retrocomputer's legacy continue to this day. Where on Earth would Carmen Sandiego be without the Apple II?

… Just don't ask me to review it.

(Hat tips to TV Guide and Mashable via Susan Arendt and Sabriel Mastin)

A mathematical problem

October 11th, 2010 11:11 AM
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Filed under Software showcase;
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One problem with using a computer as old as the Apple II is that most of its software was released more than two decades ago. Finding and preserving that data is a never-ending quest, but we are sometimes stymied at the very first step: remembering what the programs were! A chance encounter with a random program when we were half the age we are now is a difficult one to pin down, as the software's function and interface often stick with us longer than its title screen, which is its most historically identifying feature.

Faced with this exact problem, gaming cartoonist Philip Armstrong recently explored this issue in the most descriptive manner he knows: comic strips. He drew three illustrated stories in which the main character, Oat the Retronaut, reminisces about "a series of forgotten edutainment titles that are the Apple II [equivalent] to Professor Layton[, Nintendo's series of handheld puzzle games]." Here's an excerpt:

Retronauts comic strip

Despite attending a grade school with a lab of Apple II computers, I grew up with little edutainment software. With the exceptions of Scholastic Microzine and Oregon Trail, I missed out on many classics like Number Munchers. I therefore have no recollection with which to help Mr. Armstrong find the games in question. The same goes for Asi Lang, who wrote to Juiced.GS with a similar request.

Can the Apple II community help either of these gentlemen reunite with their youth?

The real-life Oregon Trail

August 9th, 2010 1:21 PM
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The worlds of the Apple II and Hollywood recently collided when Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia platforming game was adapted to the silver screen. Despite mixed critical reviews, it was a commercial success, earning more money than any other video game adaptation to date. It can't be long before avaricious directors attempt to reproduce this film's profits by following the same formula. Similar success demands a similar source, so where else to look but to other Apple II games for inspiration?

Just because a movie is based on an existing property doesn't mean it need be unoriginal. With so many rich possibilities for interpretation, the potential for creativity is boundless. Instead of an action-packed film based on, say, Choplifter or Lode Runner, why not a character-driven drama that shows a journey both physical and emotional? American audiences have often enjoyed the intersection of personality and peril found in the Old West from Gunsmoke to Dr. Quinn to Deadwood. Given that undying demand, it's a natural fit for the next Apple II movie — Oregon Trail:



This trailer is the work of Half Day Today!, a Los Angeles-based new media production group. Although the trailer says the full movie is "coming soon", I suspect the trailer is the final product, and an excellent one at that.

Another group called Mega64 brings video games to life by acting them out amidst an unsuspecting citizenry. Their efforts are often embarrassing, though their Oregon Trail adaptation would be one of the better ones, were it not for the reliance on toilet humor.

By comparison, Half Day Today!'s work is not only a professional production, but one that has earned the accolades of alumni of MECC, the company responsible for the original educational software. Within two days of the Oregon Trailer's premiere, it became one of their most-watched videos. I hope their library capitalizes on that popularity by growing to include other ingenious Apple II adaptations.

(Hat tips to Bob's House of Video Games and Boing Boing)