Chris Torrence reviews the AP40

January 23rd, 2017 11:28 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
no comments yet.

In October, Hong Kong hardware developer 8bitdo launched a Kickstarter for a wireless Bluetooth controller for the Apple II. Although I originally backed the project, I eventually cancelled my pledge only out of personal dissatisfaction with the potential product and its management. That said, I was still glad to see the campaign succeed at 135% its crowdfunding goal.

One of the 313 backers is Assembly Lines editor and KansasFest alumnus Chris Torrence. He quickly produced an unboxing video, in which he rightly predicted my critical reception:

This video was followed by a more extensive testing session:

Between the two videos, Chris tested the AP40 controller with a variety of Apple II games, including Lode Runner, Choplifter, and Castle Wolfenstein. The verdict seems to be that it's a great device for games that require digital input — i.e., games that read only the direction, not the degree, to which you are pushing the controller. But since the Apple II can read 0–255 values on both the X and Y axes, games that rely on that analog input will not work as well.

Had I not cancelled my Kickstarter pledge, I would've reviewed the AP40 for Juiced.GS. But I don't think even I could've done as good a job as Chris, which is why I'm excited he'll be making his Juiced.GS debut when we publish his more comprehensive written review in the March 2017 issue!

(Full disclosure: I back Chris on Patreon.)

8bitdo brings Bluetooth connectivity to Apple II

October 17th, 2016 8:18 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
Comments Off on 8bitdo brings Bluetooth connectivity to Apple II

Games are my favorite genre of Apple II application, so anything that makes it easier to play my favorite Apple II games is something I'll line up for. It's why I just bought Alex Lukacz's 4play card (reviewed in the September 2016 issue of Juiced.GS) and am now awaiting the AP40 controller, currently on Kickstarter.

The AP40 is a Bluetooth controller with an aesthetic reminiscent of the classic Apple logo. Its name is both an evolution of the developer's previous model, the AP30, as well as an acknowledgement of 2017 being the 40th anniversary of the Apple II.

By itself, this play on nostalgia is nothing special — skins and themes for Bluetooth controllers are not hard to come by. The killer app aspect of the AP40 is that it comes with a wireless receiver that plugs into the Apple II, enabling the use of any Bluetooth controller. Although the project description cites compatibility with the Apple IIc specifically, I emailed the developers and confirmed that any model of Apple II will work.

If you're interested, there are a couple purchasing options to consider. The AP40 gamepad alone costs $49, but if you have another Bluetooth controller you're happy with, you can get just the receiver for $49; or buy both for $85. A limited-edition controller with mini-Apple II stand costs $69, but there is no turnkey package that includes both this special edition and a wireless receiver.

The AP40 has made headlines like few other pieces of retrocomputing tech has, having been featured in Forbes, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Cult of Mac, and more. For all that, there may nonetheless be a marketing issue, because the controller seems to be getting more press coverage than its Apple II compatibility; when I mentioned the Kickstarter on the Retro Computing Roundtable episode #138, one of the other hosts who'd seen these headlines was flabbergasted to discover the controller worked on actual Apple II hardware.

For personal use, I wanted just the receiver, for use with my PlayStation 4's DualShock controller — but for the purposes of a proper review in the pages of Juiced.GS, I've emailed 8bitdo and assembled a package of limited-edition controller complete with receiver. The Kickstarter currently has nine days to go but has already exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $16,111 USD; given the developer's track record, I'm confident the products will ship on or near the promised delivery date of January 2017, in time for the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS.

Generational hardware gap tres

September 3rd, 2012 12:43 PM
by
Filed under History, Mainstream coverage;
Comments Off on Generational hardware gap tres

Last month, the Commodore 64 turned 30 years old. Normally, that'd not be an appropriate topic for this Apple II blog; in fact, the wrong readers might take it as an opportunity to burn me in effigy, minus the effigy.

But the way in which Mat Allen chose to commemorate the occasion offers a cross-platform look at the way different generations interact with classic technology. Having seen this concept explored first in France and then in the USA, Allen invited several young Brits to play with his C64, to demonstrate that the game system of his youth was as entertaining and relevant today.


The video focuses primarily on the loading times, which is so obsolete an experience as to almost have faded from memory; I'm not surprised Allen's audience wandered away. Still, I wish he'd run a second experiment where the game was already loaded, so that the kids could provide feedback based more on interacting with the software instead of the hardware.

It was cute to hear the students couch their words to be as delicate as possible; referring to the C64's rudimentary graphics, one child commented, "For them, it must've been pretty incredible."

Kickstarter brainstorming at KansasFest

July 23rd, 2012 9:54 AM
by
Filed under Happenings, Musings;
7 comments.

On Saturday, July 21, I gave a presentation at KansasFest 2012 about Kickstarter. I reviewed what the crowdfunding site is and how it works before presenting and analyzing examples of various campaigns. After reviewing successful projects (Double Fine, Leisure Suit Larry, Diaspora, TikTok, Pebble) and some unsuccessful or poorly designed ones (Rolling High, What's Where in the Apple, MULE), I identified three qualities that lend themselves to meeting one's crowdfunding goal: the fame, reputation, or track record of the artist (Jason Scott, Penny Arcade, Andrew Plotkin); a convincing pitch video (Huck Finn, Nataly Dawn) that doesn't necessarily need to be expensive to produce; and attractive rewards (Pebble; Joulies).

Kickstarter logo

Due to both the previous session and my own running long, after we watched Kickstarter pitch videos and dissected their strengths and weaknesses, I didn't have as much time as I'd like for my presentation's interactive component: brainstorming Apple II projects to launch on Kickstarter. I started by asking the audience what products we'd like to see that would require a financial investment, then who in the community has the reputation to attract a funding audience, followed by what the reward levels for such a Kickstarter campaign would be. As with all brainstorming sessions, I wrote down every idea regardless of feasibility. We then conducted an informal poll to narrow the choices to those bolded in the below table.

ProjectsSponsorsRewardsDonation level
VGA cardKen GagneContributor credit on Web site$10
Bluetooth / Wi-Fi cardVince BrielAccess to contributor-only blog$25
Accelerator cardRich DreherUSB adapter$50
Ethernet cardTony DiazUSB adapter & name in manual$75
Magazine PDF archiveJames LittlejohnTwo USB adapters$90
Buy rights and inventory from ReactiveMicroWozLimited-edition model$150
System 7.0Apple II t-shirt$250
USB input device adapter10 adapters$450
Buy the copyright to somethingSilkscreen greet on the board$500
Spectrum Internet Suite (SIS) updateLunch with the designer$1000
Full-color Juiced.GS
Ad-free RCR
Open Apple merchandise
Retrocomputing video podcast
Mark Twain clone
KansasFest scholarship
Open-source programming language
Woz action figure (with 9 points of articulation)
KansasFest FOREVER

Note that the first two columns do not line up with each other or the other two columns, but the third and fourth columns line up with each other. Also, some reward levels (access to contributor-only blog) include the previous rewards, whereas others (two USB keyboard adapters) do not.

Of all the bolded projects, we deemed the USB adapter the most affordable and thus the most likely to be funded. The proposed adapter would not only work with keyboards, joysticks, and mice, but it would adapt them to multiple platforms: Apple II, Commodore 64, and more. As the Battle Chess Kickstarter campaign demonstrated, limiting your product to only one audience (in that case, Windows) diminishes your chances of getting funded: more potential customers equals more money, as evidenced by the success of many old franchises that are being revived for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.

A wide audience requires a creator with exposure and recognition beyond the Apple II community, for which reason I nominate Vince Briel. The inventory of Briel Computers, from the Replica 1 to the Micro-KIM to the ALTAIR 8800micro, appeal to retrocomputing hobbyists of many ages and interests, and Briel's track record as a businessman, from shipping products to offering customer support, is unparalleled. Briel has the reputation that could get a Kickstarter project funded.

Briel was in the audience for this brainstorming session but did not actually drive this proposal. But if he were to accept it, I would be first in line to give him my money.

For more advice on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, check out Nelson De Witt's A Kickstarter's Guide free e-book and Tyler York's "How to succeed on Kickstarter" blog post.

UPDATE (Oct 21, 2015):: Courtesy Kevin Savetz, here is a video of my KansasFest session.

Hardware restoration done right

February 23rd, 2012 2:14 PM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods;
Comments Off on Hardware restoration done right

There is so much work being done to preserve Apple II software and documentation that we sometimes overlook the value of maintaining hardware, too. But that may be our most precious resource of all; after all, software can be duplicated, manuals can be reproduced, but hardware is unique and something they're not making any more of.

Just this month, two different Apple II users expressed their care and admiration for original hardware by rescuing vintage equipment, painstakingly restoring it — and exhaustively documenting the process in photos.

Kevin Rye of RescueMyClassicMac.com AppleToTheCore.me has saved two peripherals: first, a CH Products joystick; then, a week later, an Apple IIc external 5.25" floppy drive. Useful to the reader are Kevin's instructions for disassembling each piece of hardware, showing how he took everything apart then put it back together in working order. As for the actual cleaning, some of Kevin's techniques may seem crude but are effective: "I could just just wipe the whole thing down with some alcohol and have at it with some Q-tips, but there's too many little nooks and crannies that are caked with dirt and grime. It needs to be taken apart and washed in the sink. I might even give it a quick dip just to lighten it up a bit." But he does apply alcohol, peroxide, and Retr0bright where appropriate.

Meanwhile, Mike Maginnis had the opportunity to restore a full Apple IIc computer. His written documentation doesn't detail disassembly or cleaning techniques, but his photos of the IIc are brilliant, thorough, and artistic, as you would expect from Mike.

IIc keyboard

Before and after. Photo by Mike Maginnis.

For more details on how to restore your hardware to its original function and appearance, Tony Diaz has given multiple sessions on this topic at KansasFest. You can bring your goods to KFest for his expert evaluation, or view one of his previous presentations:

(Hat tip to the 68K MLA forum)

The 555 footstool

July 18th, 2011 11:11 AM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

The Apple II popularized many processors and chips, most notably the 6502. But as a games machine, the Apple II relied heavily on an unsung hero: the 555, a timer IC that allowed two joysticks to be connected for head-to-head play.

Now you can give the 555 a new lease in your daily life courtesy Mad Scientist, which has adapted the chip into a footstool.

555Footstool20

According to their blog, all it took was "datasheets, cnc routing, laser engraving, plywood, glue, chips, all-thread, angle grinders, mountains of sawdust, dowel rods, [and] spray paint." Sadly, none of those ingredients allow the footstool to interface with your Apple II. Nonetheless, this retrofurniture can be yours for the exacting price of $555.

(Hat tip to Matthew Humphries)