Let's Play Prince of Persia Escape

January 7th, 2019 10:53 AM
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Karateka and its spiritual successor, Prince of Persia, have enjoyed diverse incarnations on mobile devices. Karateka saw a re-invention as a rhythmic fighting game, spurring interest in the later release of Karateka Classic. Likewise, the original Prince of Persia was released as Prince Retro but never updated for iOS 11; what took its place in iOS 12 was Prince of Persia Classic HD, which updated the graphics until they're unrecognizable from their Apple II origins.

Now there's a new Prince of Persia for iOS and Android, and it's in the sub-genre of platformers known as a runner. Here, the Prince runs to the right side of the screen while dodging obstacles, but never combating foes or solving puzzles. He moves left and right and jumps at the player's discretion, but beyond that, there's little variety.

That didn't sound like much fun to me, but it seemed an easy Let's Play video to record, so I took the free version of the game for a spin. Spoiler: it's not much fun. But at least I worked some Apple II graphics into the background and outro.

Judging from other Let's Play videos of this game, the level design doesn't get more diverse in the first fifty stages, either. And some reports indicate the game has 500+ levels. Who has time for that?

It's not unreasonable for classic licenses to be reincarnated in new genres. Sometimes it works well: I felt more positive about the similar adaptation of Super Mario to the running genre. Prince of Persia Escape doesn't inspire any strong feelings either way, but if it makes enough profit to keep the Prince alive, then I look forward to seeing his next reinvention.

Let's Play Lode Runner Legacy

June 4th, 2018 9:00 AM
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Just over a year ago, I shared the trailer for Lode Runner Legacy, the first original game in the Lode Runner series in almost a decade. The game was finally released for Windows in July 2017 but didn't receive its console debut until May 2018, when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch edition retails the voxel graphics style of its Windows counterpart, as well as its multiple modes: adventure; puzzle; and world levels, where players can craft and exchange their own creations. Best of all, its "classic" mode features all 150 levels of the Apple II original! At only $11.99, it's hard to beat.

Still, I have a habit of buying games and never finishing them (or sometimes even starting them!), making me hesitant to purchase Lode Runner Legacy, despite its generally favorable Metacritic score of 77%. Fortunately, the Switch edition offers a free demo that includes ten playable adventure levels and five puzzle levels. I gave this trial edition a spin in my latest Let's Play video.

Legacy plays a bit slower than the Apple II version I remember — but then, I remember playing it with an accelerator, so that may not be a fair comparison. Legacy also features much bigger sprites, and thus smaller levels, than the original — though the game hints at later, more sweeping levels that pull the camera back a bit, allowing for a larger play field.

Although I'm not a huge fan of the art style or the loading time between levels, I didn't see anything in Legacy that would keep me from buying it. I just need to clear some other games off my plate first…

In the meantime, you can hear me rave about the original game in episode #35 of the New Game Plus podcast.

Let's Play Stair Quest

February 6th, 2017 12:30 PM
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Last summer saw the release of King's Quest, an episodic interquel based on Sierra's classic point-and-click adventure game. I enjoyed the first hour of seeing King Graham in his youth as he explored a dragon's den and learned to be brave, clever, and kind. But at some point, the game became too open-ended and the puzzles too illogical, frustrating me in much the way its namesake did a generation ago. I expected this game to overcome the design constraints of its ancestors.

At the other end of the spectrum is Stair Quest, a new title with retro sensibilities. It discards all that was good about the original King's Quest and instead relishes in its impossibly unfair challenges: navigating three-dimensional passageways using two-dimensional controls. Players are tasked with using just the four cardinal arrow keys to traverse stairways that bend, curve, and climb in all directions. A pixel too far in the wrong direction, and our hero plummets to his or her death, sending the player back to the beginning of the room… assuming you remembered to save your game.

Although I found this game incredibly frustrating, I was simultaneously delighted by it. These challenges were not a design flaw or constraint, nor was it poor implementation on the behalf of the developers. Everything about Stair Quest is intentional.

Stair Quest is a free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The development team at No More For Today is an all-star cast of indie game designers, podcasters, and historians whom I was glad to encounter in my own podcasting journey. Kudos to them for knowing what they wanted to do and for executing it with style.

Leigh Alexander's Patreon for Lo-Fi Let's Play

September 19th, 2016 1:54 PM
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Two-and-a-half years ago, I pointed Apple II Bits readers to the YouTube videos of Leigh Alexander. This renown and accomplished journalist in the video games industry was creating Let's Play videos of classic Apple II games, recording her gameplay experiences combined with her personal commentary. It was a fun and original look at one player's history with her childhood computer.

A lot has happened to gaming and to Alexander since that April 2014 blog post. In August 2014, GamerGate broke. In December 2014, Juiced.GS reviewed Alexander's e-book, Breathing Machine. In April 2015, Alexander became editor-in-chief of Offworld, a BoingBoing-run video game journalism website with a focus on publishing marginalized voices. In February 2016, Alexander departed Offworld and the gaming industry entirely.

I was concerned we'd heard the last of this powerful and important voice — so I was delighted this month when she launched a Patreon to support her latest initiative: the return of her Lo-Fi Let's Play video series.

"What started as a fun outlet for me to recapture some of the sense of mystery and wonder I once felt about games became much more popular than I expected," writes Alexander:

Rediscovering and sharing these charming old works was a great source of comfort and joy toward the end of my time in the game industry. They had a sort of innocence I had missed, and a pioneer spirit I felt warmly toward, and they reminded me in an essential way why playing computer games was once a source of uncomplicated joy and imagination for me. The simplicity of their infrastructure, the severity of their limitations, and their earnestness in the face of those limitations is still a touchstone of inspiration for me in the age of modern high-end hardware and noisy social media. I can't tell you how thrilled I am that there are folks out there that share these feelings with me.

Alexander is asking for contributions on a per-video basis of an amount of your choosing. At $5, you get a newsletter with behind-the-scenes storytelling; at $20 and $200, Alexander sacrifices some degree of editorial control to let you help pick what games she plays next.

You may wonder why one should contribute anything; after all, "Thanks to the magic of emulation and the tireless work of archivists, the videos cost me nothing but time and love to make, and they are and will always be ad-free and available to all on YouTube," acknowledges Alexander. "But sadly, life as a freelancer means that the things I get paid for need to come first, leaving passion projects to languish."

I don't tend to watch Let's Play videos myself, but I acknowledge their value and importance in capturing the experience the Apple II invokes. I'm contributing to Alexander's campaign and encourage you to do so, too — but even if you don't, I hope you'll check out her videos and share in her joy for the gaming heritage of the Apple II.

If this is your first Patreon, don't let it be your last — these other Apple II creators are also seeking your support:

Let's Play Operation Lambda

December 28th, 2015 9:39 AM
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At KansasFest 2015, I gave a presentation on how to record Let's Play videos on an Apple II. These videos combine A/V capture of Apple II software, usually games, with the player's audio commentary of their session. It's a way not only to demonstrate the program, but also to capture one person's unique, subjective experience.

My YouTube channel consists primarily of Let's Play videos of modern gaming consoles, such as the Sony PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Wii U. I occasionally mix it up with videos featuring other kinds of content, though my ability to produce any videos at all depends on how available my day job, night job, and Juiced.GS leave me. I recently enjoyed a bout of freedom from other obligations, and so from October 22 to December 9 — 50 consecutive days — I was able to produce one video a day. I capped that streak with a Let's Play of one of the most impressive games for the Apple IIGS: Operation Lambda.

"A logic/action game, where you work your way through a space station under distress, deflecting laser beams and saving hostages," describes developer Bret Victor on the game's website. The press release lists the game's features:

  • • 100 levels, ranging from simple to challenging to brain-boggling
  • • an original, kickin', five-song musical score
  • • impressive graphics from the PowerGS staff artist and former LiveWire IIgs art editor
  • • smooth, flicker-free animation
  • • three difficulty settings
  • • written in 100% assembly language for speed
  • • a concise, one-page printed manual

For the purpose of this recording, I used Eric Shepherd's Sweet16 emulator, as it was quicker and easier to set up than capturing video off an actual IIGS would've been. It was fun to revisit this title from the creator of TextFighter, PuyoPuyo, SurfBurgers, and Opening Line.

Bret Victor was a genius programmer to have developed Operation Lambda at only 16 years old; he was interviewed for Juiced.GS Volume 2, Issue 1 and wrote the cover story for Volume 3, Issue 1. He remains a genius software developer, speaking at a Dropbox developer conference in 2013 on the future of programming:

Personally, I'd like the future of programming to include ports of Victor's classic games. John Romero recently released Dangerous Dave for iOS — a platform I can see Operation Lambda residing on. Any chance we'll see updates to these lost classics from Right Triangle Productions?

Recording Let's Plays on the Apple II

July 20th, 2015 10:31 AM
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Last week I attended the 27th (and my 18th) annual KansasFest, a convention for Apple II users. I was thrilled to be among fellow retrocomputing enthusiasts, charging my batteries for another year of Juiced.GS and other hobby projects.

As an educator and public speaker, I love giving presentations at KansasFest. Most of the event's talks are technical in nature, whereas I tend to take what I've learned in the other areas of my life — podcasting, crowdfunding — and apply them to the Apple II. This year, I drew upon my experience developing a YouTube channel and demonstrated how to record a Let's Play video using the Elgato Game Capture HD hardware (but not the more expensive HD60, which lacks the necessary A/V input port).

This $150 device is normally used to capture HDMI audio and video, but with an included adapter, it can capture component video as well. By plugging the red component cable into an Apple II's composite video output, and then connecting the computer's headphone jack to a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter, the audio and video from an Apple II will show up oon a PC or Mac in the Elgato's software — but with a delay. A monitor stills need to be connected to the Apple II, which is why I used Chris Torrence's Night Owl monitor plugged into the IIc's video port; an RGB monitor connected to a IIGS will work as well. Then I used a 3.5mm Y-splitter to connect headphones or speakers to the Apple II. (Note that the IIc Plus does not have a headphone jack; neither does the IIe, unless you add a RetroConnector adapter.) Finally, a USB headset allowed me to overlay my audio commentary over the recorded gameplay footage.

Prefer to learn these techniques visually? Mike Whalen streamed my KansasFest session and has made it available on YouTube:

Here's the Let's Play Flapple Bird video that I recorded during this session.

The capture process was not perfect, as I had to make two edits in Final Cut Pro X before uploading to YouTube: the height of Elgato's exported video was stretched (654 x 480), so I reduced the Y-scale to 85% (though ultimately I went with an X-scale of 147.79% and Y-scale of 125.62%, so as to occupy the full window); and the color was off, so I adjusted it per this screenshot.

Final Cut Pro X

Editing Flapple Bird in Final Cut Pro X.
I saved this setting as an "Apple II" preset.

Also, I should've disabled the KansasFest sound system, as I was close enough to the speaker for my USB headset to pick up my booming voice, resulting in poor audio quality.

Although my session focused primarily on Let's Play videos, I also gave a brief introduction to unboxing videos, the genre with which I launched my YouTube channel. I combined unboxing Let's Play, and the Apple II when I unboxed and played Retro Fever.

Not sure why anyone would watch someone else play a video game — or what my "I moth stories" shirt meant? Both are explained in this video from a monthly storyslam I attend in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I hope this session was useful and that it inspired attendees to record and share their subjective experience with Apple II software. I look forward to your YouTube videos!