In ten years I'll be cool

August 24th, 2015 9:07 AM
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I don't remember ever not having an Apple II in my house — and our early acquaintance made for a rough childhood. My very small elementary school class was composed primarily of jocks who didn't take kindly to bookworms and computer nerds, producing an unwelcoming environment, to say the least. I often wondered, would it ever get better?

I didn't have to wait long to find out. Ten years after middle school, I was in a college where computer prowess was lauded; ten years after that, the things I was into as a kid were mainstream and cool.

So if you ever wonder if things get better, just wait ten years — that's the time in which geeks become hip, as detailed in H.P. Mendoza's music video, "In Ten Years", off the 2004 album Everything Is Pop:

And yep, that's an Apple II in the first shot — or at least, it appears to be. Says Charles Mangin, "It looks like a II or II Plus with the badge on the cover removed, or a close clone. The drive certainly looks like a Disk II with the Apple logo removed or covered." The first game of the video being King's Quest (with Sir Graham later getting jiggy) seems to cement the theory.

We shouldn't be surprised. Of course Apple II users are cool! Wil Wheaton would agree: it's awesome to be a nerd.

(Hat tip to Infamous Quests, with whom I appeared on a panel this past spring about point-and-click adventure games!)

Reboot Our Roots at PAX East 2015

March 2nd, 2015 8:38 AM
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This week marks Boston's sixth annual PAX East, and my sixth time attending the video game expo with Juiced.GS editor Andy Molloy. Inspired by our Apple II magazine's 2014 cover stories about Leisure Suit Larry and Shadowgate, we'll be bringing our retrogaming love to bear on the event.

On Sunday, March 8, at 1:30 PM EDT, I'll be moderating the panel "Reboot Our Roots: Bringing Our Favorite Genres Back to Life&quot:

Many of today's indie games are spiritual successors of yesteryear's hits, from King's Quest to Gabriel Knight to Quest for Glory — with some even being developed by the same teams that brought us the originals. What's it like to reboot a franchise or genre after 30 years? How do you update a classic while staying true to the original? Industry veterans share their stories of revisiting their roots, taking up their heroes' mantles, and what they've learned in the intervening years.

I'm excited to be hosting this panel with so many talented developers. Katie Hallahan of Phoenix Online Studios will be representing Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, as well as the King's Quest fan sequel The Silver Lining, which I previously presented at KansasFest 2010. Steven Alexander will be on the panel discussing Quest for Infamy, a spiritual successor to Quest for Glory, while Dave Wadjet will present his original creation, the Blackwell series, a point-and-click adventure inspired by the games of yesteryear.

This will be my third year moderating panels at PAX East, and the third year the Apple II has influenced my contributions to PAX. In 2013, I coordinated the donation of an Apple II gaming rig to become a permanent part of the freeplay console room. And in 2014, I moderated a panel on gender equality in gaming, which was made possible through 8-bit connections.

If you're in Boston this weekend and have a ticket to this sold-out show, please stop by "Reboot Our Roots" on Sunday afternoon and say hello — it'll be great to meet fellow gamers who have been around long enough to appreciate these classic genres and franchises. If you can't make it ot the panel, it will be recorded by Travis Stewart of Broken CRT Productions and will be posted to Apple II Bits at a later date.

King's Quest returns

December 22nd, 2014 10:30 AM
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At KansasFest 2010, I presented a session on modern spiritual successors to classic games. Among them was The Silver Lining, an unofficial sequel to King's Quest. The fan-produced game was long delayed due to legal issues with the official copyright holders of the King's Quest series, finally being cleared to begin its episodic release in 2010. Although received to mixed reviews, it was nonetheless a welcome, if unofficial, revival of the King's Quest series, which had lain dormant since Mask of Eternity's 1998 release.

Now it is time for the series to receive an official revival. The brand name of original publisher Sierra has been revived, and in 2015, they will publish King's Quest.

The new game has the blessing of none other than Sierra founders Ken and Roberta Williams, who accepted an award for their contributions to the industry at the recent Game Awards.

Apple II users should be interested to see where this series goes, as its origin is on their favorite computer. Many early King's Quest games were released for the Apple II or IIGS:

  • • Wizard and the Princess (1980)
  • • King's Quest: Quest for the Crown (1984)
  • • King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985)
  • • King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)
  • • King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)

Will this latest sequel return the game to its roots? Or will it be a reboot for a new generation of gamers? We'll find out when it releases in Fall 2015 for PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, and Windows.

Real-life King's Quest

July 15th, 2013 12:34 PM
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In researching last week's blog post about the history of Sierra On-Line, I came across some underwhelming reviews of the new Leisure Suit Larry for hewing too closely to the original. Apparently, critics are not enjoying reliving what passed for puzzles in 1987.

Uh-oh! That's not good. Early adventure games could be devilishly obtuse and unforgiving, as Joe Keiser of Gameological recently demonstrated. As an example of a game that isn't fair, he chose King's Quest V:

Early in the game, a custard pie can be purchased. King’s Quest V then spends hours imploring you to eat it. It looks delicious, the game says. It is the best pie you have ever tasted, the game says. There is even a puzzle where you are starving, and eating the pie will solve it. And yet once you’ve eaten the pie, you have already lost. Oh, you can continue playing, but eventually you will reach a mountain, and there will be a yeti there, and it will kill you because you do not have a pie to throw at it. Now you have to start the game over, because you did what the game asked instead of saving a pie to throw at a yeti. No one could blame you if you’ve spent the last 23 years mad about this.

This particular installment in the King's Quest franchise was never released for the Apple II, yet it's the only King's Quest I've ever played, courtesy the Nintendo version. I can therefore empathize with Keiser's frustration — but I can also laugh at it, courtesy this brilliant real-life send-up:

Whatever our memories, adventure games are making a comeback, courtesy the combination of tablet gaming and Kickstarter funding. Let's hope as good as we remember and better than they actually were!

(Hat tip to Emily Kahm)

Kickstarting the history of Sierra On-Line

July 8th, 2013 2:00 PM
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We retrocomputing enthusiasts have seen Kickstarter used for books (The First Apple, What's Where), games (Shadowgate, Ultima), and documentaries (GET LAMP, 6502). Now it's time to open your wallets again, as the latest project to warrant an Apple II user's investment is a documentary of Sierra On-Line.

Sierra On-Line was the developer and publisher of such classic point-and-click adventure games as the noble King's Quest, comedic Space Quest, avaricious Gold Rush!, and lascivious Leisure Suit Larry (a modern remake of which was published just last month, courtesy Kickstarter). Many of these franchises got their start on the Apple II, so naturally we should be keen to back this project, right?

I bid caution: Kickstarter is an investment platform, and you'd do well to research this project. In this case, this project already toured the Kickstarter circuit in 2012, when the creators asked for $40,000; they received $1,312. Their pitch video at the time consisted entirely of gameplay footage and title cards — no interviews, no introductions, no voiceovers. To their credit, that initial fundraising failure didn't deter the film crew, as their new pitch video demonstrates they've spent the past year conducting interviews with Sierra On-Line luminaries. Having that in their pocket may justify their new request for $125,000. (Makes you wonder what they were hoping to accomplish with just a third that sum!) They have thus far received $10,367, or nine times more than their last effort — but it's a slow start, an still a long ways from their goal.

One thing missing from their new video is the talent behind the camera. I'd like to know that the documentarians dedicating themselves to this project are as passionate about adventure gaming as they need their backers to be. The enthusiasm that Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder brought to their comic strip documentary, Stripped, was contagious and, I suspect, a large part of why it raised double its goal on its first Kickstarter and its second Kickstarter. Between the lack of personality in the video and the relatively terse text write-up, the drive behind the Sierra On-Line film is not as explicit.

The Sierra On-Line documentary is entitled Heroes, an improvement over the original name, So You Want To Be A Hero? One backer suggested, why not call it Quests? I like the ring of that, since it abstracts and plays upon the King's/Space/Police Quest series. The project creators acknowledged and thoughtfully responded to that suggestion:

We chose the title Heroes for the film for a variety of reasons. Chief among them, the term "Hero" was a theme rooted in the adventure games. From the perspective of all of us who played the games, we had the opportunity to be a hero. We also felt that this was an appropriate term that serves as an homage to all of those at Sierra who worked tirelessly to create the games we all know and love a success.

Will this Kickstarter meet or even exceed its fundraising? Will the final film, scheduled for a March 2014 release, reveal anything new about this storied game company, or will it cater more to nostalgic fans? We'll begin to have the answers when the Kickstarter campaign closes on the evening of August 5.

In the meantime, digital antiquarian Jimmy Maher, whom we interviewed this year on Open Apple, has written extensively about the history of Sierra. Although he's not collected his works on this particular subject into a book, I encourage you to scroll through his posts and read them in the order in which they were published; the detail and accuracy of his narratives are remarkable.

UPDATE: This project has failed, having raised only $28,872, or 23% of its goal.

Ancient DOS games

August 15th, 2011 11:11 AM
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Thirty years ago, when multiple incompatible computer formats vied for dominance, there were as many cross-platform games as there were exclusives. Companies who could afford to port their software benefitted from a larger potential audience, resulting in Mac, DOS, and Apple II users having similar yet disparate experiences of games such as the Ultima series.

The modern benefit to such historical cross-pollination is that many classic Apple II games can still be enjoyed, albeit in alternative formats. For example, in the July episode of Open Apple, I mentioned a free version of Ultima IV that requires DOSBox. (Several listeners recommended I instead run the game using Boxer, a DOS emulator specifically for the Macintosh.)

For a more turnkey approach to reliving the classics, I recommend two online distributors who have made games such as Ultima and Zork available again: Steam, and Good Old Games (GOG). Unlike the remake of Ultima IV (or even ADG's non-profit remakes of King's Quest), Steam's and GOG's offerings are not free for the taking — but these commercial products are designed to be run from a modern operating system, usually Windows XP or higher but occasionally for the Mac as well. How else can you easily and legally enjoy the Zork anthology for just $3.59, or four classic LucasArts point-and-click adventures for $9.97, in a native, offline environment?

If you're not sure which of these games to start with, you don't need to delve into old issues of Nibble to find what critics of the age had to say. Modern reviews are still being published at Web site Pixelmusement under the title Ancient DOS Games (ADG). Here's their review of King's Quest II:

They may not be identical with the Apple II games you remember, but these games are legitimate originals that have taken straight from the past to be enjoyed in the present. So… enjoy!