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.

Steamed Apples at KansasFest 2016

August 1st, 2016 7:06 PM
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I love presenting at KansasFest. Speaking at such an esteemed gathering of Apple II aficionados reaffirms that I nonetheless have something to contribute to this community, despite not having extensive knowledge of Apple II hardware or software.

In brainstorming this year's presentation, I emailed KFest schedulemeister Andy Molloy for ideas. He suggested:

How about something like "10 influential Apple II games" and then you talk about them, demo them and show how they are cool. There's certainly a segment of the audience (i.e., me) who loves to watch old Apple II games, which is why I liked Bruce's stuff. Or something like "here are 10 Apple games that were later remade on modern systems".

It was a great idea — so great, that it'd already been done: I presented "Classic Gaming Inspirations" at KansasFest 2009 and "Classic Gaming Inspirations, Part Deux" in 2010. In each, I demoed modern games for Mac, PC, and iOS that were reminiscent of classic Apple II games. Despite being a familiar theme, I enjoyed giving those talks and felt that enough time had passed, so I decided to dust off the theme for 2016.

This year's constraint: all the games had to be available for Steam, the digital distribution platform for games. And they had to be available for Mac, PC, and Linux. Fortunately, even given these limitations, I was not wanting for ideas, as I'd discovered many such games through IndieSider, my biweekly podcast where I interview indie game developers. Most KFesters know my podcasting efforts in the vintage computing realm, specifically on Open Apple and the Retro Computing Roundtable, but were not aware that I host gaming podcasts as well. It was fun to share this other side of myself with the audience.

Here are the Apple II genres and games I started with and the Steam games in which a modern gamer might find an echo of the past.

GenreClassic gameSteam gameIndieSider?
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateShadowgateYes
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateRead Only MemoriesYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKing's QuestNo
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKathy RainYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestThe Blackwell LegacyNo
SurvivalOregon TrailOrgan TrailNo
PlatformDangerous DaveVVVVVVNo
PlatformDangerous DavePlangmanYes
PlatformImpossible MissionMaster SpyYes
ActionPac-ManPac-Man 256Yes
RPGWastelandWastelandNo
RPGWastelandWasteland IINo

Thanks to Jason Scott's speedy turnaround, a video of the presentation is already available online:

I had so many games in mind for this year's talk that I had to keep many in reserve. Expect to see more Steam games at KansasFest 2017!

Week of the KFest

July 25th, 2016 9:38 AM
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Today is the first day after KansasFest 2016. It's a day when I, like all 83 of this year's attendees — the largest turnout in my 19 consecutive years of attendance — am in a delirious stupor from too much excitement and too little sleep. I have unpacking to do, software to test, publications to read, photos to process, and memories to cherish. It's an event that will stay with me for a long time — at least until KansasFest 2017, scheduled for July 18–23 at Rockhurst University.

In the meantime, I admire all the contributions made by the attendees and the committee, from organizing the event to giving presentations to livestreaming the videos. But as a YouTube content creator, one of the KansasFest creations I admire the most comes once again from Steve Weyhrich. Just prior to KansasFest 2015, Steve — who once built an entire Apple II in Minecraft — debuted the music video "KFest Funk", an inspired parody of the 2014 tune "Uptown Funk". For KansasFest 2016, Steve decided to kick it old school by reimagining the 1982 classic "Eye of the Tiger". The result is the music video "Week of the KFest":

Many of the photos Steve used in each of his last two music videos are my own, yet he puts them in a far more imaginative context than I could ever imagine. Not only that, but his audio and video production qualities are significantly higher than my own, despite his use of iMovie compared to Final Cut Pro. Why isn't this creative genius a YouTube star?

My thanks to Steve for this fun memento that we can share with our friends and family who don't quite understand what KansasFest is all about!

The Terminator runs on 6502

July 18th, 2016 12:48 PM
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Apple II user Rino Mardo recently shared on Facebook a scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Terminator. This 1984 classic with Arnold Schwarzenegger stars a T-800 Model 101 cybernetic organism sent from the future to assassinate Sarah Connor. Despite a nuclear holocaust and the rise of sentient artificial intelligence, Skynet, the computer that created the T-800, still relied on proven, pre-apocalyptic technology to design its chrono-displaced robot: its CPU is a 6502, running assembly programming published in Nibble Magazine.

The Terminator

This Easter Egg isn't news: it was already well-known by the Apple II community even before Nibble founding editor David Szetela mentioned it during his KansasFest 2007 keynote speech. I then wrote about it a few months later in a blog post for Computerworld, a job I started just a few months before Szetela's speech.

The Terminator is one of only many movies that the Apple II has graced with an appearance. Starring the Computer, James Carter's impressive database of computers in movies, lists every Apple II model and the movies and television shows in which is featured. It includes such notable titles as TRON (which turned 34 this month), Hackers (reviewed in Juiced.GS in June 2006), Explorers, Kindergarten Cop, and Lost.

Although that filmography extends to films as recent as Iron Man, the Apple II's modern cinematic career is mostly limited to historical coverage — such as Welcome to Macintosh, the 2008 documentary reviewed in Juiced.GS and now available to view in full for free online:

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Preparing Steamed Apples

June 20th, 2016 2:07 PM
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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?

CaptionBot fails to recognize the Apple II

May 2nd, 2016 8:35 AM
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At KansasFest, you'll discover software and hardware you're unlikely to see anywhere else — yet diehard retrocomputing enthusiasts will no doubt recognize the floppy disks and circuit boards, identifiable by their unique schematics and labels. By contrast, a modern computer is more ubiquitous and even more powerful, but it's unlikely to be able to identify what makes the Apple II special… or even what the Apple II is.

That's a theory I put to the test with CaptionBot, Microsoft's online tool that accepts image uploads and attempts to describe their contents. Is it a group of people posing for a photo? Someone holding a book? CaptionBot is surprisingly good at recognizing people and their daily activities.

What it's not so good at is recognizing hardware and software. As a test, I threw at it some photos from the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook and found the results laughably terrible. So for this blog post, I more extensively trolled my KansasFest 2002–2015 photo archives to see what other guesses CaptionBot might get wrong. Here's what it thought we see and do in Kansas City:

Computers may be able to defeat humans at chess — but we're still one up on visual recognition. Let's see what we can capture at KansasFest 2016 to stymy Microsoft's latest attempt to bring about the singularity.

(Hat tip to Andy Hartup at GamesRadar+ for the inspiration!)