Apple II at the National Videogame Museum

April 11th, 2016 10:59 AM
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PAX East, the annual video game convention that attracts 70,000 gamers to my native Boston, is next week. While I'm eager to attend PAX's 2016 iteration with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, I was recently surprised by the conclusion to a chain of events that prompted me to recall our time at PAX East 2013.

It started last week when I received a Kickstarter update from The Videogame History Museum. I'd backed this project to create a physical museum for video games, computers, and machines back in 2011; this update was the first peep I'd heard from the project since 2012. I'd honestly forgotten it was a thing, but here was news that the project had been realized, and the doors had opened on their space at 8004 Dallas Parkway, Frisco, Texas.

Texas is a long way from Boston, so rather than check the place out for myself, I sent the news to two KansasFest alumni from Texas: Mike Whalen and Michael Sternberg. I should've known they'd be on top of a museum opening in their own backyard, as sure enough, they were quick to respond that they'd attended the opening weekend. Whalen further sent along some photos that he hadn't found a place to host. I offered to publish them on Gamebits but recommended that, in the meantime, he share the photo of the museum's Apple II with the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook.

Up went the photo… which looked familiar to fellow Bostonian Paul Hagstrom. "I think that's actually the very system that Wayne, Ken, and I put together," he remarked.

Apple II at the National Videogame Museum

Photo courtesy Mike Whalen.

Omigosh — he was correct! I didn't immediately recognize it, but that Apple II was donated by Wayne Arthurton, with joystick and monitor by Paul, physically transported to PAX East 2013 by T.J. Awrey, and coordinated by me as a donation to the Videogame History Museum. Look!

Donated

I'm awaiting official confirmation that this is indeed the same system, but given that it's the same organization at both PAX East 2013 and in Frisco, Texas, I believe it is. Three years ago, I wrote, "The Apple II was not just a temporary exhibit for PAX East; it has been permanently donated to the Videogame History Museum and will make appearances at conferences and conventions throughout the country, such as the Game Developers Conference, MAGFest, and PAX Prime." But I never imagined that it would become a literal museum piece. How amazing that a donation that was intended to benefit a single event will now be preserved for all time.

Now I know not to expect its appearance at next week's PAX East 2016, but in the meantime, you can read the original blog post from 2013:

Apple II at PAX East 2013

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"

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.

UPDATE (May 25, 2015): Here's a video of the panel, as well as coverage from 2Old2Play.

Apple II & feminism at PAX East 2014

March 17th, 2014 1:00 PM
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Two years ago today, I was at GameFest, the opening weekend of The Art of Video Games, an art exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was the performance of chiptune artists 8 Bit Weapon and ComputeHer that drew me there, but I went home with connections to the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers.

A year later, that connection landed me on stage at Boston's PAX East gaming convention, moderating a panel on the best video games of the year. Having developed my moderation skills at KansasFest, I found PAX an exciting and encouraging venue in which to continue hosting discussions on some of my favorite hobbies.

Emboldened, I sought to return the PAX stage in 2014 with a panel of more critical social value. Inspired by the work of Anita Sarkeesian, whose work I discovered upon backing her Kickstarter, I started brainstorming with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy as far back as June 27 and finally submitted my proposal last month. With the official schedule for PAX East having been announced last week, I'm pleased to announce that my proposal has been accepted, and I will be moderating the panel "Sex, Sexy & Sexism: Fixing Gender Inequality in Gaming".

The Apple II connection? Not only would this panel never have developed without chiptune artists, Juiced.GS editors, and KansasFest sessions — I was also able to feature the Apple II itself at ten seconds into the above trailer.

The Apple II — it makes all things possible!

Apple II at PAX East 2013

March 25th, 2013 10:41 AM
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I'm currently recovering from an exhausting, exhilarating weekend spent at PAX East, the annual video game convention hosted by Penny Arcade. The event attracts to Boston 80,000 gamers of the board, card, computer, and video variety, among them many Apple II users. I have attended all four years of the event with Andy Molloy, and lately with Wayne Arthurton as well; even Jordan Mechner has made an appearance. But it wasn't enough to have Apple II enthusiasts in attendance; we wanted an Apple II there as well.

I reached out to Joe Santulli of the Videogame History Museum, an organization that, along with Digital Press Videogames, coordinates PAX's retro room. This dedicated space features consoles and computers from years past — everything from Commodore 64 to Atari 2600 to Sega Dreamcast. They'd never had an Apple II in the collection, and I asked Joe if I could rectify that. He gladly accepted.

I decided to take the role of coordinator rather than donor. I put out a call on Facebook, Google+, and the KansasFest email list, asking if anyone could donate some aspect of a complete 8-bit gaming rig. I received enough responses that, courtesy Wayne Arthurton, Paul Hagstrom, and Mike Maginnis, with logistical support from Thomas Awrey, I was able to put together an unenhanced Apple IIe with 5.25" floppy disk drive, joystick, and bevy of memorable games.

The hardware and software was delivered to PAX as soon as the show opened Friday morning. I stopped into the room several times over the course of the three-day event to check on the machine. No matter the hour of the day, it was always in use, and even more people nearby were talking about it, usually to the effect of "I remember those" or "I can't believe they have an Apple II!" The computer was a hit! Oregon Trail was a popular choice, with Karateka a close second. Ghostbusters, Castle Wolfenstein, and even some BASIC programming also made appearances. Click the below thumbnails for evidence of its popularity (or visit Gamebits for a complete PAX East 2013 photo album).

The Apple II was not just a temporary exhibit for PAX East; it has been permanently donated to the Videogame History Museum and will make appearances at conferences and conventions throughout the country, such as the Game Developers Conference, MAGFest, and PAX Prime.

My thanks to all contributors and attendees who've helped the Apple II spirit come alive at PAX!

Jordan Mechner releases Deathbounce

April 12th, 2012 8:38 AM
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(Note: I originally wrote the below blog post for Apple II Bits but ultimately sent it to PCWorld, with whom I now have a relationship to publish gaming articles after covering last month's GameFest.)

Last week, Jordan Mechner was the keynote speaker at PAX East, Penny Arcade's annual three-day celebration of gaming and gamers. Mechner kicked off the event with his personal story of how creating Karateka and Prince of Persia indirectly led him to fulfill his life goal of breaking into Hollywood, and how he has since revisited those properties many times across various media.

Mechner's tale was one of persistence and perseverance. When he first tried his hand at programming in 1982, his debut game garnered the attention of Broderbund's Doug Carlston. "Unlike in Asteroids, where you're a triangle-shaped ship shooting at rocks," described Mechner, "in my game, you're a triangle-shaped ship shooting at colored balls. It had physics and everything." Despite the wicked awesome name of Deathbounce, the game remained unpublished — "There's a reason [Carlson] passed on that," said Mechner.

But once Mechner went public with the story of Deathbounce, PAX attendees demanded its release, going so far as using the Q&A session to hand Mechner money toward a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Hey, if it's worked for Tim Schafer, Brian Fargo, and Al Lowe, why not Jordan Mechner?

Continue reading this story at PCWorld.com »

(Hat tip to Jordan Mechner, via Paul Marzagalli of NAVGTR)

SimCity at GDC

March 14th, 2011 11:56 AM
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Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy and I are exhausted from a weekend spent at PAX East, an annual video game convention held in Boston. There were some fun classic computer references: Bill Amend put up a picture of an old, non-Apple II computer as representative of the state of technology when he started drawing FoxTrot; Paul Saunders of LoadingReadyRun and The Escapist cited Hard Hat Mack as one of his first and favorite games as a kid (he can expect an issue of Juiced.GS in his mailbox later this month), while his colleague Graham Stark acknowledged The Interbank Incident; and Jerry Holkins reminisced about thinking for a week that he'd lost his Wasteland save game before realizing it was on the other side of the floppy. He actually hugged his mom, crying, "We're back!"

For gamers, there were several classic arcade and console rooms, the former courtesy the American Classic Arcade Museum to which Andy and I made our annual pilgrimage last month, but other than the aforementioned hat tips, there wasn't much here for retrocomputing enthusiasts. Such was not the case at the Game Developers Conference earlier this month, where an iOS version of Out of This World was announced. But there was some other insight out of GDC of interest to Apple II users.

A popular form of GDC panel is the post-mortem, in which developers talk about the thought and processes that went into a game that was released anywhere from a day to a decade ago. Will Wright of SimCity fame was one such presenter, discussing the origin of Raid on Bungeling Bay:

When he decided to make a game after learning BASIC and Pascal, "It was almost more of a whim," he said. At that point, a lot of people on the Apple II were on their second or third generation games, so he was worried about competing with them.

But the Commodore 64 had just come out, "so I thought I'll just buy one of these new computers, make a game on that, and level the playing field," said Wright. He actually programmed the game on the Apple II, then dumped it onto the C64.

"I remember I was 4 or 5 years old, and I went on a helicopter ride, and it was one of the coolest things in the world," he said, so he knew he wanted helicopters in the game, as well as some sort of clockwork world. And since the Apple II's games were all very simple screens, "I wanted a very large world that I could really get lost in, and feel like it was that large."

He made two tools to build the game world: Chedid was a character editor, which was “really primitive,” he said. Wedit lets you scroll around the world and place the characters from Chedid. “Wedit eventually evolved into Sim City,” he said. “I was scrolling around the world and having a lot of fun with it.”

So, there you have it: SimCity was designed to be a map editor for an Apple II game. How frustrating that the Apple II's role in the creation of one of gaming's most celebrated franchises has not been rewarded with its own version of SimCity. With the source code having been made available some years ago, shouldn't it just be a matter of time? It's a popular topic in csa2, but AFAIK, the only attempts to port the game were made before the source was released. How about a renewed effort?

UPDATE: The video, audio, and slides from this GDC presentation are now available.

(Hat tip to Jason Scott)