Hard Hat Mack in Taiwan

March 20th, 2017 11:22 AM
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Although the Apple II was invented and was popular in the United States, it's fun to see all the other places our favorite retrocomputer has popped up. We know the Apple II community has active contingents in Australia and France, but we've also seen the Apple II in more far-flung locations such as from Russia to Korea.

Thanks to a recent YouTube video, I've now seen the Apple II somewhere I hadn't before: Taiwan. It was the focus of a short segment on a television show in which the host introduced several girls to the 1983 game Hard Hat Mack on an Apple IIc:

I don't have many details about the show seen here: the Chinese caption translates only to "old game era Apple II". But I wonder what the standard format of the show is, that the host didn't seem to let his audience get their hands on the game.

I can commiserate, though: I too have never gotten my hands on Hard Hat Mack. As a young gamer, my attention was evenly divided between consoles and computers, which may've caused me to miss several classic computer games: not only Hard Hat Mack, but Tass Times in Tone Town, King's Quest, Ultima, and others. It looks like the kind of game I would enjoy, since Donkey Kong always earns my quarter on any visit to Funspot. As one of the first games (if not the first) to be published by Electronic Arts, Hard Hat Mack is a piece of history deserving an experience.

I don't have much excuse now, though, since Hard Hat Mack can be played online:

There's no need to go on a Taiwanese talk show to discover the classics — Hard Hat Mack is alive and well!

(Hat tip to Luke Hsu via Jorma Honkanen)

Risk Factions introduces Commandant SixFour

December 12th, 2016 12:30 PM
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I grew up playing all sorts of computer and video games, but there was something especially magical about online multiplayer games. There weren't many of them back then, but in lieu of face-to-face interaction, the friendships I forged in CompuServe chat rooms were reinforced through those friendly competitions.

I still use online games to connect with people I know from other venues, such as KansasFest. The Xbox 360 was the first broadband console I used in that fashion, though I had a hard time finding two-player games that weren't sports or first-person shooters. Need for Speed and Castle Crashers fit the bill, but for more retro experiences, Worms and Lode Runner scratched that itch.

There's one game I enjoyed that I never finished, though: Risk: Factions. I enjoyed this 2010 release enough to rank it as one of my favorite Xbox Live Arcade games of the year — but, like the classic board game, a session of Risk can last an unreasonably long time. Alas, my counterparts and I could never find enough hours in one day to sit through an entire round.

But I did enjoy this game's cartoonish presentation (as opposed to the more realistic approach taken by its 2015 update, Risk). And I especially appreciated that it acknowledged the roots of early computer tactical games. Each country in the game was represented by an animated avatar, with one militaristic individual being identified as Commandant SixFour:

Like its namesake, the Commodore 64, the Commandant doesn't have the highest graphical fidelity. In Terminator fashion, we occasionally see the world through the Commandant's eyes, where everything is pixelated:

Pixelated image as seen by Commandant SixFour

INTRUDER ALERT

This lack of resolution isn't just a cheap joke: it becomes a vital plot point in the above cinematic video, introducing a new villain to the Risk storyline in Wargames style.

Both the Commandant and the Commodore are worthy enemies for their eras. Perhaps some day, I'll find the time to defeat one.

(Hat tip to Open Apple)

The ultimate game: Archon

May 12th, 2014 4:41 PM
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In the Austin Grossman novel You, our hero is asked, "So what's your ultimate game?

"You know, the game you'd make if you could make any game at all," the long-haired designed explained.

"Forget about budget," the short guy added. "You're in charge. Just do anything! Greatest game ever!"

"The Ultimate Game," I said, "I can do just… anything?"

They nodded. I felt ridiculous. Was the Ultimate Game the one in which I ride a hundred-foot-tall pink rhino through the streets, driving my enemies before me? The one where the chess pieces come alive and talk in a strange poetry? Is it just a game where I always win?

"So… okay, okay. You're playing chess, right, but all the pieces are actual monsters, and when you take one you have to… actually fight… it?" Why were they looking at me that way?

"You mean like in Archon? For the C64?"

"Um. Right."

Archon, a Greek word that means "ruler" or "lord"1 — also a monster in Dungeons & Dragons2 — was a multiplatform action-strategy game distributed by Electronic Arts in 1983. I played it on the NES, but it was also available for the Apple II. Players took turns moving pieces across a board that fluctuated through a spectrum of light and dark, with each extreme favoring a different team. The game pieces had different strengths and capabilities, from shapeshifting to spellcasting, that they brought into combat. I loved playing Archon with my older brothers, as its mix of fast-paced battle with more thoughtful tactics played to my jack-of-all-trades nature. Some of my brothers were faster than me, and others were smarter, but needing having to be both leveled the playing field more than other games did. (The Super NES game Actraiser would later take a similar approach, to great — and inimitable — success.)

A 1984 sequel, Archon II: Adept, was also published for home computers but never got ported to game consoles, thus escaping my notice.

But I did get to revisit the concept almost two decades later. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2003, my last year attending the still-ongoing event, I visited the LucasArts booth, which had more than just Star Wars games:

I briefly left a galaxy far, far away to observe Wrath Unleashed, an action-strategy game. It struck me as bearing a slight resemblance to another game, but the more I saw of Wrath Unleashed, the less slight the resemblance became, until I had to ask the LucasArts rep, "Have you ever played an old game called 'Archon'?" Rather than profess ignorance or extort the differences, he simply nodded and said, "Exactly."

But somehow, the core mechanics hadn't aged well. Perhaps it was because my brothers had grown up, leaving video games (and their gaming sibling) behind. But I didn't find the same engagement and tension in Wrath Unleashed that I did in Archon. (Sibling rivalry was likely a factor in Austin Grossman's affair with Archon, too: his brother Lev included it in his list of the ten greatest games for the Apple II.)

Is Archon the ultimate game? No. That title would likely belong to Zork, or The Legend of Zelda, or something equally revolutionary and genre-defining. But what Archon has in common with those games is timelessness: even today, playing the ruler of a shifting battlefield is still fun.

For a more thorough review of Archon, including a "Where are they now?" of the game's programmers, read The 8-Bit Game: Digesting Archon | 8bitrocket, by Jeff Fulton. (Hat tip to Blake Patterson)

The secret origin of John Madden

January 13th, 2014 12:48 PM
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John Madden NFLMadden NFL is one of the most enduring franchises in video game history. For 25 years, annual installments of this game from publisher Electronic Arts have represented some of the best virtual football experiences on any console.

Such reflection may not interest the modern Apple II user, but it should: as detailed in Wayne Arthurton's KansasFest 2012 session, "The Apple II's Gaming Legacy", John Madden Football got its start on the Apple II. ("A surprising number of modern games can directly trace their heritage to games originating on our favorite machine.")

That heritage is now being marked on the occasion of the franchise's silver anniversary with an exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image of Astoria, New York:

The exhibition explores this landmark series, highlighting the game's focus on sports simulation, and its aesthetic evolution and enduring cultural legacy. In addition to the five playable games, from the original John Madden Football (1988) on Apple II to the latest release Madden NFL 25 (2013) on Xbox One, presented as a large-scale projection, the exhibition also features a dynamic timeline charting milestones in the series' development highlighted by gameplay footage from each year.

Take a look at how far the game has come from its Apple II origin:

to this past November's release of Madden 25:

See an evolution? Robin Antonick did. He was a key developer for the original Apple II version of the game, which he argued in an April 2011 lawsuit entitled him to 1.5% royalties for any subsequent version that relied upon his code. Last summer, a federal court jury agreed with him, "finding that Madden games published on consoles between 1990 and 1996 shared substantial similarities to the original PC game, from in-game playbooks and formations to virtually identical graphics and gameplay style." Antonick was awarded $11 million.

From courtrooms to museums, a single game published on the Apple II in 1988 has been one for not just the playbooks, but the history books.

UPDATE (Jan 24, 2014): The verdict in favor of Antonick has been overturned.

(Hat tip to Dave Tach)

Wasteland sequel to hit Kickstarter

February 20th, 2012 1:28 PM
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Back in September, I called Martin Haye on Juiced.GS business. In this day of Twitter, Facebook, IM, and IRC, it's unusual for me to make a phone call to an Apple II user, and I'm always cognizant of the likelihood for intrusion when I do. In this case, I knew Martin was soon leaving on a camping trip, and I didn't want to interrupt his packing. Nope! He was playing Wasteland, Interplay's post-apocalyptic spiritual precursor to Fallout. "Oh," I said, "so this is a bad time to be calling." "Well, it's not like it's the kind of game that demands uninterrupted attention," he laughed.

Here's something that does deserve your attention, Martin: having recently developed Choplifter HD, original Wasteland co-designer Brian Fargo of inXile Entertainment is looking to reboot the franchise with a new, Kickstarter-funded game. The possible Wasteland 2 would be faithful to its origins by "focusing on top-down, probably isometric, party based, skill based — where if you'd just finished playing Wasteland and moved onto this you'd feel comfortable." But it'll stray from its roots by being for PC only, though an iOS edition would be considered.

Wasteland box art

All this for the cool price of one million dollars — that's how much Fargo estimates it'll take to fund the project. That's ambitious but, as of last week, not unprecedented. Still, it's a ton of dough to pony up for a game that's known to modern gamers more by name than by experience. Is Fargo daydreaming? He revealed his intentions after only 48 hours of consideration, after all. Or will we put our money where his mouth is when the Kickstarter campaign supposedly launches next month?

Will you support such a campaign? What's a new Wasteland worth to you?

(Hat tip to Andy Chalk)

A chat with Bill Budge

October 13th, 2011 11:53 AM
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If a wave of nostalgia and retrocomputing enthusiasm has led to a resurgence in the popularity of the Apple II, then it's natural that a spillover would effect the platform's past and present celebrities. Bill Budge, for one, was honored with the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences's Pioneer Award, concurrent with an in-depth profile by Wired magazine.

You'd think that the popular press might have forgotten Budge since then, but you'd be wrong. Gamasutra recently ran Brandon Sheffield's lengthy interview with the programmer. In it, Budge talks about his evolution from programming games to tools for Electronic Arts 3DO, Sony, and Google — the seeds of which can be seen in his Apple II landmarks, Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set. The four-page, 4,383-word interview is somewhat technical as he reviews his favorite languages and the aspects that appeal to him. Fortunately, Apple II users tend to be a technical lot that's likely to find much of interest in this piece.

As a programming peon, I most appreciated Budge's closing remark:

At the end of the day, I think all that matters is what have you done. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how brilliant do you sound, or whether you sound like an academic paper when you talk. What really impresses me is people who have built things, who made things that really worked, who did something that nobody else thought would work, or followed their vision and made it real. That, to me, is very admirable; the only thing that counts.

By his own measure, I'd say Budge has earned our admiration.