KansasFest at Rockhurst

August 14th, 2017 9:20 AM
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Those feeling the withdrawal of KansasFest 2017 now have something to look forward to, as the dates and venue for KansasFest 2018 have been announced: the world's largest and longest-running annual Apple II convention returns to Rockhurst University next July 16–22.

There has been much unsolicited, unofficial discourse on the KansasFest email list about whether Rockhurst should remain the venue for KansasFest. Those hoping for a change in 2018 shouldn't be surprised: executing an event like KansasFest takes almost an entire year of preparation, and pivoting to a new venue more quickly than that should occur only when no alternative is available, as when Avila decided to stop hosting KansasFest after 2004.

That doesn't mean the debate is over. For KansasFest 2019 and beyind, there are plenty of compelling opinions about where the event should be held. In the pro-Rockhurst camp:

  • • Rockhurst is exceedingly cheap — only a few hundred dollars for five nights, eleven meals, and conference registration makes it an incredibly affordable vacation.
  • • There are few other retrocomputing conventions where attendees stay right where the event is, making for a 24-hour event. Rockhurst enables this.
  • • The dormitory setting encourages socializing both in lounge areas and in private rooms with open doors.
  • • For the duration of KansasFest, the Corcoran student hall is exclusive to us, without needing to be shared by other guests, students, or events.
  • • After 13 years of hosting us, Rockhurst and KansasFest have developed an amicable working relationship and can anticipate each other's needs and expectations.

Those proposing we move to a hotel make the following points:

  • • Many attendees are at a point in their lives where they can afford nicer accommodations.
  • • A hotel is likely to have a more robust dining menu, accommodating more diverse tastes and diets.
  • • Hotels have larger, more comfortable beds.
  • • Hotel rooms have private bathrooms and showers.
  • • Hotels wouldn't cap attendance at 100 people.

As a former member of the KansasFest committee, I have no weight or authority beyond that of any other attendee. I, like 92 other attendees of KansasFest 2017, am happy to pay my cheap dues and enjoy a week of camaraderie with no responsibilities. If I am able to engage in that spirit of the event, then the trappings matter little.

To that end, it seems moving from Rockhurst wouldn't benefit the event itself, but its creature comforts. I've read no concerns about Rockhurst's ability to host the convention aspect: the presentation hall, the space for Sean's Garage Giveaway, and the Internet bandwidth have all suited our needs, and I've yet to encounter suggestions to the contrary. It's better room and board accommodations that folks want.

But I'm okay with the way things are. Sleeping and eating are two things I don't spend a lot of time doing at KansasFest; they're certainly not why I go. I've lived in college dorms before, and while I'm not nostalgic for those conditions, I can tolerate them for a week.

Rockhurst dormitory in 2006

Rockhurst in 2006. It's even nicer now.

But better accommodations may be more than KansasFest can afford, costing us both money and attendees. It's been said that if you're not turning people away, then you're not charging enough. With KansasFest hitting its attendee cap of 100 in 2017, perhaps we could charge more. But that would reduce the number of people can afford to attend KansasFest, negating the benefit of moving to a venue with no attendance cap.

And besides, do we want more than 100 people attending? I say this not out of elitism, but because I like the intimate scope of KansasFest as it is now. As we approach Dunbar's number, the ability to meet and get to know every attendee diminishes. I prefer quality time with a smaller number of people, which I find harder to achieve with more attendees.

I recall the multiple years of dwindling attendance, with each KansasFest leaving us wondering if it would be the last. It seems impossible that we've quadrupled our numbers since those pessimistic years of just a decade ago. Perhaps we've grown to the point where we've outgrown Rockhurst. From my perspective as an attendee, that doesn't seem the case. I'm happy to continue returning to its familiar campus for as long as the committee decides we should.

Parsely Games comes to Kickstarter

July 24th, 2017 11:15 AM
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Text adventures are alive and well, including at KansasFest. Not only did Charles Mangin place in last week's HackFest courtesy his Inform 7 adventure, but several live-action text adventures have been played at KFest over the years. In 2010, 2014 & 2015, I emceed Parsely adventures, where a human replaces the parser and accepts two-word commands from audience members, responding with the results. Jared Sorensen created the Parsely games, sold online and at game conventions such as PAX East. Although the nearly dozen scripts appear to currently be out of print, that's about to change courtesy the Parsely Games Kickstarter.

This Kickstarter has already successfully met its crowdfunding goal of $12,000, well before its August 11 deadline. With these funds, Sorensen will publish a hardcover book of the ten existing Parsely adventures, including the three games I've brought to KansasFest: Action Castle, Jungle Adventure, and Space Station. plus two original titles. The book will also include two original games, bringing the total to 12. All these can be yours for $15 (PDF) or $30 (hardcopy), with rewards all the way up to $2,500, where Sorensen will fly anywhere in the USA or Europe to run a Parsely adventure for you and your group.

While I'm tempted to buy the ten-pack of books and redistribute them at KansasFest 2018, the product will not be ready until a month later, in August 2018 — and that's assuming it ships on time, which Kickstarters do not have a good record of doing. But Parsely adventures have already brought so much joy to KansasFest, the least I can do is support their continued existence. Count me among this campaign's backers!

Old friends of KansasFest

July 17th, 2017 10:31 AM
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KansasFest 2017 is this week, and more than a dozen attendees will be arriving with shirts from KFests past to make a group photo happen. While I was looking for examples of previous such photos, I came across this artifact.

Ryan Suenaga, Steve Gozdziewski, Ken Gagne

Dain Neater snapped this photo outside Avila University at KansasFest 2002. Here I am, chatting with Ryan Suenaga and Steve Gozdziewski. In this moment, Ryan is in his first year as editor-in-chief of Juiced.GS, and Steve is the committee chair of KansasFest.

Legends.

When I think back to those early KansasFests, what I remember most aren't the sessions or the product reveals; it's the camaraderie. It's finally meeting people whom I'd known for years from GEnie or CompuServe and clicking with them immediately. It's the laughter of delight in being among people who get each other. Ryan and Steve were a big part of that, not only by creating the platforms, but by also being wonderful people to be around. They were weird and quirky and absolutely selfless, and they shaped my early experiences in the Apple II community.

Ryan died on April 24, 2011, at age 44; Steve passed away on December 31, 2016, at 69. I wrote their obituaries for both A2Central.com and Juiced.GS.

Everyone who attends KansasFest was or is at some point a new friend. And with KansasFest 2017 hitting its attendance cap at one hundred Apple II enthusiasts, I look forward to making many new friends this year.

But damned if I don't miss the old ones.

The shirts of KansasFest

July 3rd, 2017 1:48 PM
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Earlier this year, I wrote a tribute to an Apple II user who had passed away — something I've now done too many damn times. But in remembering Steve Gozdziewski, I also recalled sharing this moment with him at KansasFest 2002:

KansasFest attendees wearing shirts representing the event's different years

Many of those pictured had been coming to KansasFest for years (2002 was the event's fourteenth year, and my fifth), and we spontaneously decided to represent our long lineage by donning the various years' shirts that we'd happened to bring with us. (We staged a similar shot another year, though I can't seem to find it in the available archives.)

That got me thinking: why not plan another shirt photo? With this month's KansasFest being the 29th, it's unlikely we'll have representatives from every year — but it'd be fun to try!

So if you've ever attended a previous KansasFest and are one of the hundred who are coming to KansasFest 2017, please use the below form to indicate which years' KansasFest shirts you own. A week from today, July 10, I'll email everyone their packing instructions to ensure we show up in Kansas City with as complete a set as possible!

Let's create another photo by which to remember the many years and friends we've shared across the decades.

Charles Babbage Institute on Juiced.GS

May 29th, 2017 11:55 AM
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In the summer of 2011, I applied for Juiced.GS to receive an International Standard Serial Number. My goal in having an industry-standard reference number was to make this quarterly publication easier to accession into libraries and archives. Once the ISSN was issued, I contacted institutions around the world to ask if they would accept a complete collection of Juiced.GS.

One such organization that was at the top of my list was the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Although perhaps not as well-known as the Computer History Museum in California or as geographically accessible as the Strong Museum of Play in New York, both of which have a tourist appeal to them, the CBI is nonetheless widely respected as a research center for history of information technology. It was an honor for Juiced.GS to be accepted into its archives.

Four years later, I was travelling en route to KansasFest 2015. I decided to fly from Boston to Fargo, North Dakota, to visit my friend Sabriel, who had been a guest on my podcast, Polygamer. Not only was I looking forward to spending time with her in a less harried environment than our usual gaming conferences, but North Dakota was one of the seven United States I'd never been to; checking it off would bring me closer to having visited all fifty.

From Fargo, there were a couple different routes to KansasFest, including driving. But the timing didn't work out to stop in Nebraska and carpool with any of the KFesters there, so I decided to fly. The only problem was that there were no direct flights from Fargo to… almost anywhere, including Kansas City. My flight would have a layover in Minneapolis.

J. Arvid Nelson, CBI curator and archivist, shows off the gem of the CBI collection.Minneapolis! That's the home of the Charles Babbage Institute! Instead of an indirect flight, Sabriel graciously drove me to Minneapolis the day before my flight. I emailed my contact there, Arvid Nelsen, to let him know we were coming, and he offered us an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour. That visit is documented on the Juiced.GS blog.

During that tour, Arvid and I discovered that we both had an interest in the diversity of the tech industry, both modern and historical. I was only a year into my Polygamer podcast back then, but when I got home, I emailed him to see if he'd like to be a guest. It took awhile to coordinate, but two years later, that interview with Arvid and current CBI archivist Amanda Wick finally happened in last week's podcast.

It's not uncommon for my gaming interests to lead to Juiced.GS stories: my attendance at MAGFest resulted in a Juiced.GS cover story about Al Lowe, creator of Leisure Suit Larry; and my IndieSider podcast interview with the creator of Shadowgate similarly led an another cover story.

But this is the first time I can think of that the Apple II led to an episode of Polygamer. Having attended the last nineteen KansasFests, I've observed that we tend to be a fairly homogenous population, which wouldn't normally be a good fit for a podcast about diversity. I'm delighted that the Apple II and the Charles Babbage Institute nonetheless resulted in a fascinating conversation about history, diversity, and archiving. Please do visit the CBI, either online or in-person as I have, and listen to our podcast.

KansasFest goes to Funspot

October 31st, 2016 9:41 AM
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At KansasFest, Apple II users from around the world meet and share a unique experience. The games we play there — be it computer games like Structris and KABOOM!, board games such as Lode Runner, or the card game Oregon Trail — forge friendships that are often revisited only once a year at KansasFest.

But sometimes, the stars align to reunite those friends in new and unusual venues. That happened this past weekend, when Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, staff writer Ivan Drucker, Retro Computing Roundtable co-host Carrington Vanston, and I made the trek to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, USA.

ACAM is the world's largest video game arcade, as determined by Guinness World Records. With over 300 machines from the 1970s and 1980s, the arcade is home to coin-ops both classic and rare — all still just a token each. I first discovered this arcade thirty years ago, when its games were new. I returned every summer for over a decade, then relegated it to a childhood memory for another ten years. I finally started going back in 2006 and recruited Andy in 2007. Having now been making an annual pilgrimage to Funspot for nearly a decade, we decided it was time to evangelize and spread the good word to Carrington and Ivan, who'd never been there.

Carrington, who co-founded the podcast No Quarter, was of course familiar with many of Funspot's games, but Ivan knew few beyond his favorites. He schooled us all in Donkey Kong but then proved vulnerable to the first shrubbery he encountered in Paper Boy. We each sought out individual rounds of Marble Madness, Frogger, Asteroids, and Robotron 2064, but the most fun was had when we went head-to-head. Ivan, Andy, and I lost to the computer in Super Sprint. Carrington, Andy, and I then demolished cities in Rampage, after which Carrington, Andy, and Ivan launched bombs at Sinistar; we all four finally teamed up to play to the eleventh dungeon of Gauntlet II.

There were two surprising discoveries of the day. The first was Donkey Kong II, which looked and played like a sequel to the Nintendo classic — except Ivan had never heard of it. Was it possible for a game with such storied lineage to have escaped his notice for so long?

Donkey Kong 2 at Funspot

The answer is no: Donkey Kong II is an unofficial ROM hack consisting of the original game's four levels and four new levels. It made its arcade debut at Funspot in 2006 but is more easily playable online.

The other surprise was Chiller, a disturbing lightgun game. Developed by Exidy of Death Race infamy, Chiller challenges players to shoot as many human prisoners as possible in a short amount of time. These living targets are found in torture chambers, ensconced in guillotines, racks, and other vehicles of pain, waiting for the player to deliver the fatal blow. While it sounds perverse, my gaming buds excused it by how cartoonish its artwork was, saying they'd never play a modern game with motion-capture video that featured such ghoulish, gratuitous violence. Still, I enjoyed playing the role of the disapproving prude, sternly frowning and shaking my head in their direction with each playthrough, while in the back of my mind wondering how I could excuse my ownership of the NES port.

Due to how far our far-flung party had to travel to return home, we did not have time to cap the evening at Pinball Wizard, another excellent arcade in southern New Hampshire. We were also left with a heavy cupful of leftover tokens from Funspot. With this many games, there is never enough time to play them all.

Fortunately, Funspot — much like KansasFest and the friendships it forms — is forever.