Minecraft Oregon Trail

September 25th, 2017 12:26 PM
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Steve Weyhrich has gone whole-hog on Minecraft, having used the construction game to develop multiple Apple II models. Now Microsoft, the owners of Minecraft, are getting in on the retro action by infusing their virtual world with the most emblematic of Apple II software: Oregon Trail.

Now available is an Oregon Trail world. Just download the free package, install it in Minecraft Education Edition, and you'll find yourself in the town of Independence, Missouri, deciding whether to be a farmer, banker, or carpenter — just like on the Apple II.

Said Caroline Fraser, senior vice president of Oregon Trail publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: "We are delighted to partner with Minecraft Education, giving students a new way to experience one of the most popular educational games of all time, The Oregon Trail. Through the unique magic of Minecraft, students will be drawn to discover the wonders and challenges that pioneers encountered on this famous journey."

However, this version of the Apple II classic comes saddled with limitations. First, the downloaded world does not change Minecraft's rules of game mechanics; it does not introduce new features. While there are signposts along the journey asking players how they want to ford the river, for example, this is more an opportunity for classroom discussion than it is part of an interactive branching narrative; the game doesn't require any action in response to these billboards.

Also, the world works exclusively in the educational version of Minecraft, which was released in 2016 to schools and educators. The average consumer will not have access to this version of the game, nor will the Oregon Trail world work in any other version of Minecraft.

What happens if you try installing the world in a non-educational edition of Minecraft? In an email, the Apple II community's resident Minecraft expert, Steve Weyhrich, suggests there are further differences under the hood:

The original Minecraft, written in Java, is what runs on Mac and Windows, and has it's own data structure and format. Microsoft is now calling this "Minecraft: Java Edition". The newer Minecraft, now just called "Minecraft", is written in some version of C, and they are trying to make all of the various platforms (pocket edition, Windows 10 edition, etc) use the same world structure… That Oregon Trail world in that download you linked does not work on the Java edition.

It's a rare case of the Apple II version actually seeming more accessible and educational by comparison!

(Hat tip to Stephen Noonoo)

Steve Weyhrich's Minecraft Apple II

June 5th, 2017 10:30 AM
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When it comes to video games, crafting is something I profess to hate. This is a gameplay mechanism wherein you engage in trivial quests to discover or harvest random materials that, by themselves, do nothing, but when combined, may create a unique, useful, or powerful item. But figuring out what items produce these meaningful combinations, and which others result in meaningless junk, is part of the "fun". The whole process is mundane, tedious, and frustrating.

And yet crafting is the titular theme of Minecraft, which is the second best-selling video or computer game of all time, behind only Tetris. I've never played Minecraft, so it's probably not actually as banal as I expect, especially since 121 million people would disagree with me.

One of those people is Steve Weyhrich, and even I have to admit that, whatever I think of the methodology, his results are astounding. Six years ago, Steve presented the fruits of his labor: a massive, to-scale Apple II Plus that you could walk around in. The attention to detail was remarkable, as was the amount of time and dedication such a creation must've required.

In hindsight, perhaps I should not have been so dazzled — because Steve certainly wasn't. Five years later, unsatisfied with his original effort, Steve set out to create an even better Apple II. In his latest video, released two months ago today, Steve shows off a virtual Apple IIe, complete with modem, retrocomputing magazines, and soda.

I don't know how or why Steve does what he does. And since I've never played Minecraft, I don't know if there's any way to share his creation — a sort of Shapeways for Minecraft creations. But I don't need to play Minecraft or explore Steve's Apple myself to be impressed. I knew both Steve and Minecraft were capable of fantastic works of art, but this latest invention surpasses all expectations.

Maybe crafting isn't all that bad, after all.

Building a Lego Apple

April 1st, 2013 2:26 PM
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Creativity in one discipline does not necessarily lend itself to others. My tenures at Computerworld and Juiced.GS have developed my imagination such that I have no trouble pulling ideas for feature stories from thin air. But one area in which I have always gone strictly by the book, doing exactly what I'm told without deviation or desire for variance — is Legos. The lethally edged gouging objects taught me to follow step-by-step instructions, a skill that, as an adult, has proven handy in the kitchen. But it was always the picture on the box, not in my mind, that I was driving to make a reality.

So I'm all the more impressed by Chiukeung (CK Tsang), who used the Lego building blocks to create a model Apple II.

2013_LEGO_APPLEII01e2

Just like Woz intended, you can even open the machine for direct access to its motherboard and expansion slots.

2013_LEGO_APPLEII04e

CPU, lid, keyboard, floppy drive, monitor — this machine has it all! Everything except for scale, actually — there's nothing to compare its size to, though I suspect it's smaller than Steve Weyhrich's virtual Minecraft Apple.

The Apple II is not the first computer CK has rendered in blocks. Check out his model Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), aka the Famicom, which coincidentally also uses a 6502 chip.

(Hat tip to Kelly Hodgkins)

The Minecraft-Apple II connection

February 2nd, 2012 2:06 PM
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Filed under Game trail, History, Software showcase;
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There are plenty of places on the Internet to find people's stories of their introduction to the Apple II: blogs, podcasts, videos, and tweets. Though games are often early computer users' gateway to the platform, I don't expect to find their stories within a game.

Troy Cheek is the exception with his YouTube channel, which features a daily Minecraft video blog. As he explores the sandbox world from a first-person perspective, he records his musings, which meander through both the virtual world and his own history. On day 142, posted on New Year's Eve 2011, Troy tells the story of his first Apple II program and its unexpected longevity. The first mention is at the 2:00 mark, but the below video starts at 3:24 with the crux of the odd juxtaposition of Minecraft and Apple II.

At 3:55, Troy says that his school bought computers "not for computer science geeks, but for the business office — the vocational education people." That reminds me of Mark Simonsen, who said in his KansasFest 2010 keynote speech that he first encountered computers in his college accounting class. I wonder how many people were introduced to the Apple II almost by accident, as a tangent to some other professional endeavor, without anticipating the impact it could have on their lives?

At 14:34, Troy mentions that the school attendance program he developed employed the bubble sort algorithm, which he calls "the redheaded stepchild of the sorting family". It's true that it's not the most efficient way to sort a large data set, but it's also one of the easiest to implement and the best-known. Heck, even President Barack Obama is familiar with it:

Of course, Troy isn't the first person to intersect the Apple II with Minecraft. Steve Weyhrich did so nearly a year ago with his amazing and faithful re-creation of an Apple II using Minecraft building blocks. He later presented his work at KansasFest 2011, including a virtual Apple Store.

What other inspirations of the Apple II have you seen in your favorite games?