Preparing Steamed Apples

June 20th, 2016 2:07 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, Happenings;
Comments Off on Preparing Steamed Apples

KansasFest 2016 is less than a month away, which means I have some preparation to do. Besides being the biggest one-day sales event for Juiced.GS, it's also an opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest minds and innovators in the Apple II community. I like to fool myself into believing I belong among such an echelon by submitting a session: it gives me something to do, look forward to, and contribute throughout the week of KansasFest. But what to present?

SteamThis year I took Andy Molloy's advice and settled on a follow-up to sessions I gave in 2009 and 2010: Classic gaming inspirations and classic gaming inspirations, part deux. For old-school gamers, I demonstrated some modern games that are spiritually inspired by our favorite Apple II classics. It's been six years, during which time Steam and Kickstarter have hid their stride, resulting in an abundance of low-budget, high-quality indie games — just like we used to have in the day. So for this year's session, I'm limiting my selections exclusively to Steam:

Steam is the largest online marketplace for PC, Mac, and Linux games, making it easy for independent game developers to distribute their software. But indie game developers often lack the resources of major game studios. What they lack in funding, they make up for in creativity, turning to classic games and genres for inspiration. We'll look at many Steam titles where the Apple II influence is strong, suggesting modern games that will appeal to classic gamers.

I'm looking forward to plumbing the roster of games I've featured on the IndieSider podcast and possibly discovering some new ones in the course of my research. Any assistance you can provide would be most welcome! What classic games did you enjoy that you'd like to see modern counterparts to — or what modern games have you played that reminded you of classic games?

More Tetris and Not Tetris

October 29th, 2012 6:33 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
2 comments.

Two years ago, I discovered Not Tetris, a physics-based puzzle game inspired by the classic that so addicted the Woz. It was a cute variation on the original, but since the trademark line-clearing mechanic of Tetris was absent, it offered little replay value.

The creatively named sequel, Not Tetris 2, resolves that issue:

Not Tetris 2 is the spiritual successor of the classic Tetris mixed with physics. The result is a fun spinoff in which blocks are no longer bound to the usual grid. Blocks can be rotated and placed at any angle, resulting in a complete mess if not careful. And with the newest cutting edge technology, Not Tetris 2 allows line clears when the lines are sufficiently filled. The old mode is still available for play and is now called Stack.

Stack mode simulates the original Not Tetris, making it obsolete in the face of the sequel. The implementation of the line-clearing function is strange, though. It seems to clear individual lines of pixels, not blocks, and can occur well below where the current piece has been placed, as if the pile were being jostled into completion.

A typical Not Tetris 2 playing field,
after some lines have been cleared.
The results of my first round of
Not Tetris 2.

But it's still a fun game with all the familiar graphics and tunes, including one I recognized from a Tetris-themed video on the history of the USSR — a popular Russian folk song, perhaps?

Not Tetris 2 is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, with the separate Löve extension no longer needed for the Windows and Mac versions. The game is courtesy of Maurice Guegan of Stabyourself.net (which describes itself as "Commodore 64 compatible"), creator of the Mario / Portal mashup Mari0.

If you prefer your Tetris a bit more hardcore and unadulterated, check out Ecstasy of Order, a documentary about Tetris champions that I caught at last month's BostonFIG:

Or, if you want to kick it old school, watch hard floppy drives play the Tetris theme song. (Hey, if they can do Star Wars, why not Tetris?)

It's good to see a game that's survived long enough to have had an official Apple II incarnation continue to be enjoyed and innovated!

The evolution of gaming

July 30th, 2012 3:14 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
Comments Off on The evolution of gaming

At this month's KansasFest, John Romero spoke at length about the role the Apple II has played in the evolution of computer gaming and the development of specific programmers, such as Will Wright and Jordan Mechner. The research Romero conducted for this speech, and the awareness of his audience he demonstrated by focusing on his pre-Wolfenstein 3D experiences, made for one of the most engaging and memorable keynotes KansasFest has had the pleasure of hosting.

As further exemplified later in the week by Wayne Arthurton's presentation, franchises and influences that had their start on the Apple II have echoed throughout several generations of game design. This truism is succinctly demonstrated in this montage on the evolution of computer games. How many Apple II games can you spot — and how many descendants can you identify?

(Hat tip to John Walker)

OUYA returns gaming to the Apple II age

July 16th, 2012 11:36 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Hacks & mods;
1 comment.

In the last six months, Apple II users have enjoyed the fruits of Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site that's been used to revive many classic game franchises. Soon, for the first time in decades, we'll be able to enjoy new Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games.

But what if Kickstarter was used to reboot not just a particular franchise, but the entire gaming industry?

That's what OUYA, a new video game console, looks to do.

The Android-based OUYA aims to move gamers away from mobile devices and place them in front of stationary consoles — but its OUYA's development platform that is the focus of the Kickstarter pitch. The company's founder, Julie Uhrman, harkens back to the days of the unwalled garden that early Apple products represented: "In the early days of gaming, you could take your Apple IIe, write your own programming, and take your game to market." Further endorsement from inXile's Brian Fargo, creator of Wasteland, supports that throwback. Those were the golden days of gaming that launched epic series that continue to this day (again, courtesy Kickstarter). There was little competition in this new world, and artists and programmers were able to quickly stake their claim not only financially, but imaginatively, creating worlds for the sake of exploring this new digital realm. OUYA wants games to again be something that anyone can make and share.

But that was a different day and age. Although computers were accessible to program, the overall audience was small, making for a proportionally small number of programmers. Yes, there were games of questionable software — but there were so few games that the poor ones didn't last long.

Bu contrast, today, anyone can be a programmer — and anyone often is. Although I'm all for the freedom and democratization if information, the fact that OUYA seems to be specifically not setting themselves up as curators of content on their console is concerning. If anyone can produce as much content, then anyone will, resulting in a glut of poor-quality software, or shovelware. I agree that Apple shouldn't be their model — as gatekeepers of quality content, they do a pretty poor job (since "quality" to Apple doesn't mean fun). But perhaps OUYA should look to the Nintendo Seal of Quality, which ostensibly meant that only that the publisher had paid a licensing fee, but realistically meant that gamers would experience a certain minimum amount of fun. The Seal was introduced to motivate publishers to put their best foot forward, limiting them to only three games per year. Programmers literally could not afford to produce bad games.

And from a technological perspective, it's not challenging to stream video from an iOS or Android device to an HDTV. Is a separate console truly needed? Or is the attraction of OUYA not that it does something original, but that it does it simply, without the need for complicated or expensive peripherals?

Regardless of these questions and concerns, OUYA is already a success: at the time of this writing and with three more weeks to go, it has raised nearly $5 million USD, a funding level of 508% more than its required minimum. When over 32,000 backers get their consoles this September, we'll find out if it has enough critical mass and sufficiently powerful mission statement to attract gamers — and developers.

UPDATE: For more on this subject, see my PCWorld blog post featuring video footage of KansasFest 2012, "John Romero Speculates On The Future of Ouya".

Competing for a gamer's heart

July 11th, 2011 3:54 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, History, Software showcase;
3 comments.

Popular culture abounds with tales of lovers lost to gaming addictions. Guys and gals who can't tear themselves away from World of Warcraft often emerge from their fantasy to find themselves without the partner they'd attracted offline.

Peter Molyneux. Photo by Daniel Alexander Smith.I never understood the competition some romancers feel toward electronic entertainment. Computer and video games can be great bonding experiences, whether you're playing cooperatively or competitively, or simply offering a passive experience for your partner to observe and enjoy.

Nonetheless, resentment has been a popular emotion engendered by gaming for longer than there have been MMORPGs — though role-playing games do tend to be a trend, as evidenced by Peter Molyneux's own tale. The creator of popular PC and Xbox games Populous, Black & White, and Fable was recently prompted to recall his first encounter with computer games:

The first proper game was probably Wizardry on the old Apple II. I totally became obsessed with that game, to the point where I lost my girlfriend by playing it – I left her down the pub three times! Because it was on floppy disk… Once, my floppy disk was written off and that night I immediately got in the car and I drove 150 miles to find another Wizardry player so I could get a copy of the disc. It was the first game really that I ever played with levelling-up. It was set in a dungeon, and there was a mad god, and it had spells. It was wireframe, but in my imagination I was down there in that dungeon.

Given the career and status this famed developer has attained since being inspired by that Apple II game in 1981, it's certainly the girlfriend's loss to have not seen the potential in that marriage.

Have you ever had to curb your gaming enthusiasm to placate your partner? What have you done to try to turn a paramour into a player?

(Hat tip to Neon Kelly)

Out of this World for iOS

March 10th, 2011 9:06 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
Comments Off on Out of this World for iOS

In the latest episode of Open Apple, Mike and I noted both that the 25th Game Developers Conference was held last week in San Francisco, and that iOS is becoming a great platform for retrogaming. I didn't realize at the time that there was a recent intersection of those two topics: Out of this World, a classic Apple IIGS game, is coming to iOS.

As reported by Touch Arcade, Éric Chahi, the game's original developer, made the announcement at GDC that Out of this World, known overseas as Another World, will arrive on the iPad and iPhone at an unspecified future date.

At the time of its 1991 release, when 16-bit graphics weren't quite realistic enough, this puzzle-platform game from Interplay used rotoscoping techniques to transport the earthly scientist Lester Knight Chaykin to an alien planet. Each non-scrolling screen presented a different puzzle and a part of the narrative of his adventure to return home. Surrounded by foreign technology and unintelligible lifeforms, Lester's journey is one of beauty and inscrutability.

I enjoyed OotW on the Super Nintendo but found it a relatively short game once mastered. In my recent attempts to replay it, I found it rather obtuse and far from what modern gamers would expect from what is ostensibly an action game. In my former career as a high school teacher of technical writing, I thought OotW would be a perfect case study: give it to students without instruction, and have them write the documentation from scratch. Trying to decipher the game in both internal and external contexts would've been fascinating. Unfortunately, such an assignment was impossible due to predating the game's many freeware ports.

I did eventually beat this game on the SNES but was dismayed to find its cliffhanger of an ending unresolved; the squel, Heart of the Alien, was released only for the ill-fated Sega CD console system, limiting its accessibility. But maybe, if the series' first half sells well on iOS, it won't be long before we finally see the resolution of Lester's quest.

UPDATE: The video, audio, and slides from this GDC presentation are now available.

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson and Jason Scott)