Richard Garriott's teletype D&D ported

June 30th, 2014 11:17 AM
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In March 2013, Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, aka the Tony Stark of gaming, announced his return to Ultima with a spiritual successor called Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. This computer role-playing game, which will be playable both online and off, is scheduled for release in 2015. But we don't need to wait until then to see Lord British return to his roots.

This April, Garriott released the source code for his 1977 game called D&D #1, a precursor to Akalabeth, which itself was a precursor to Ultima. The code is BASIC and was written for a teletype machine. But it wasn't solely the code's historical significance that motivated its release. As a promotion for Shroud of the Avatar, Garriott announced a contest to port this ancient game to either Unity or a Web browser interface. Winners would receive the equivalent of the $500 backer tier from Shroud's Kickstarter. As always, the snarky team at LoadingReadyRun has the details:

I marvel that this programming contest could be seen as a challenge. Admittedly, the original game, roughly 1,112 lines of code, dwarfs a similar game I wrote in in 1996, a mere 624 lines of Applesoft. But a game for a teletype machine has to be even more basic than one for the Apple II, and development tools such as Unity make far more complex games even easier to develop than a BASIC game was 35 years ago. How hard could it be to port, or even develop from scratch, a new D&D #1?

Turns out a straight port might not be enough to win; it's the flair each developer implemented that earned them recognition. Sean Fahey recently alerted me that the contest winners had been announced, and that across the two categories were 24 entrants and six winners. Mundi King produced the winning Web port, though I've not been able to get past the initial prompts, being stymied by passive-aggressive "WHO SAID YOU COULD PLAY" responses. I prefer Santiago Zapata's runner-up entry, which sports an authentic interface:

Richard Flemming won the Unity version, which can also be run in your browser but requires a plugin. Flemming called the original "1,500 lines of single-letter variable names, magic numbers, and spaghetti logic."

These ports are neat bridges between Ultima's origin and future—and a timely one, given Juiced.GS's recent cover story on the fiftieth anniversary of BASIC. Though I'm not likely to spend much time playing these ports, I'm heartened to know that a new generation has the freedom to enjoy Garriott's legacy across the ages.

If you want to hear Garriott speak further about Ultima, he was interviewed by Greg Kasavin and Felicia Day at this month's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).

Little Inferno for Apples old and new

May 6th, 2013 11:56 AM
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One of the best Nintendo Wii games was an indie title called World of Goo. The 2009 release marked the first (and, so far, only) game from developer 2D Boy, who then went on to port it to Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, and BlackBerry, including as part of the Humble Indie Bundle — but the game was best in its original home on the Nintendo Wii.

Now Kyle Gabler, one of the leading forces behind 2D Boy, has released his first Nintendo Wii U game: Little Inferno. Unlike World of Goo, which received a 94% average rating (making it one of the best Wii games ever), Little Inferno has received only a 79% and described as more of a fireplace simulator that requires repetitive actions than an actual game.

Just as strange as the evolution from World of Goo to Little Inferno is the way in which the latter's developer and publisher, Tomorrow Corporation, announced the game's port to OS X. Five months after its Wii U debut, this image appeared on the game's Web site:

Little Inferno

This is not the Apple you're looking for.


That, dear reader, is most certainly NOT a Mac. It's an amusing image, but a perplexing one. What is Tomorrow Corporation trying to say about this port? That they find the Mac an archaic platform? That Little Inferno can run on anything? If so, it's a bit of an exaggeration — it's not like they actually ported a modern game to the Commodore 64 of anything.

Of the twenty comments on the blog post, only one, the first, acknowledges the discrepancy: "Hahaha, awesome. Of course you guys have a pic of it 'running' on an Apple II. You never fail to make me laugh. Kudos!"

If there's one thing I learned from World of Goo, it's that 2D Boy and Tomorrow Corporation certainly have a strange sense of humor.

(Hat tip to Mike Schramm via Steve Weyhrich)

Another World for iOS

November 10th, 2011 10:54 AM
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I don't mean for this to be "iOS Gaming Week" here on Apple II Bits — the impressive Touch Arcade already has the corner on that market. But I do want to follow up on a post from last March, in which I eagerly anticipated Out of this World (OotW) coming to iOS. I greatly enjoyed this creative (albeit brief) game on the Super NES, which shared the same processor as the IIGS, making a port to the Apple II a no-brainer. A more accessible rendition of this classic game would be welcome.

Since I don't actually own an iOS device, the port fell off my radar, replaced by news and reviews of From Dust, an Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) game released this past July by OotW creator Éric Chahi. Great, I thought — has he been so swamped with this new title that he's forgotten his roots?

Nope! Out of this World for iOS was released last month under the name Another World for $4.99.

Out of this World

Can you bring scientist Lester Knight Chaykin home?

If Out of this World leaves you hungry for more, there's no news on a similar port of the much rarer sequel, Heart of the Alien. But you can play OotW's spiritual successor, Flashback, on iOS for $1.99.

(Hat tip to Carrington Vanston of the Retro Computing Roundtable)

Prince of Persia 64

October 17th, 2011 11:41 AM
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There's long been a rivalry (friendly and otherwise) between the Apple II and Commodore 64 communities. But there's much goodwill, too, with software and hardware being adapted from one to the other. The latest such example is Prince of Persia, the classic platform game that debuted on the Apple II in 1989; Mr. SID, a programmer from the Netherlands, has now ported it to the C64, with the result available for free and immediate download. Here's a sample of the gameplay:

Wired's Duncan Geere reported that the game was "painstakingly recreated the game from scratch using the original Apple II code." That seemed an unlikely contradiction: was it made from scratch, or did it use Jordan Mechner's original code? If the latter, from where was that non-open-source code obtained?

A more careful reading of the developer's blog reveals that the Apple II version's graphics and level data were indeed used, but the game engine came from Freeprince's Princed Project, a reverse-engineering of the Apple II game:

The Princed Project is the sum of many sub-projects related to Prince of Persia. Such software includes level editors, graphic and sound editors, resource extractors, and a new open source engine for the game. All the software in this website is Free Software, and is also available for several platforms.

Is this piracy? IANAL, but even from an ethical perspective, it's hard to say. As I opined in Open Apple, the effort and passion that drives an unauthorized port honors the original and pays it homage. And since there is no alternative to playing this game on the Commodore 64, this port does not detract from sales of the original, mitigating the damage. But none of this changes the fact that it is unauthorized and likely infringes on the original author's rights. It's a gray area.

Regardless, Mr. SID's accomplishment is remarkable, and I applaud him for spreading the Apple II love.

UPDATE: Jordan Mechner himself commented on the developer's blog:

That's crazy! Back in 1989, when I was making POP on the Apple II, I couldn't get anyone interested in doing a C64 port… because it was too old a system :)

Hat tip to Wesley Yin-Poole, by way of Edge Magazine.

Out of this World for iOS

March 10th, 2011 9:06 AM
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In the latest episode of Open Apple, Mike and I noted both that the 25th Game Developers Conference was held last week in San Francisco, and that iOS is becoming a great platform for retrogaming. I didn't realize at the time that there was a recent intersection of those two topics: Out of this World, a classic Apple IIGS game, is coming to iOS.

As reported by Touch Arcade, Éric Chahi, the game's original developer, made the announcement at GDC that Out of this World, known overseas as Another World, will arrive on the iPad and iPhone at an unspecified future date.

At the time of its 1991 release, when 16-bit graphics weren't quite realistic enough, this puzzle-platform game from Interplay used rotoscoping techniques to transport the earthly scientist Lester Knight Chaykin to an alien planet. Each non-scrolling screen presented a different puzzle and a part of the narrative of his adventure to return home. Surrounded by foreign technology and unintelligible lifeforms, Lester's journey is one of beauty and inscrutability.

I enjoyed OotW on the Super Nintendo but found it a relatively short game once mastered. In my recent attempts to replay it, I found it rather obtuse and far from what modern gamers would expect from what is ostensibly an action game. In my former career as a high school teacher of technical writing, I thought OotW would be a perfect case study: give it to students without instruction, and have them write the documentation from scratch. Trying to decipher the game in both internal and external contexts would've been fascinating. Unfortunately, such an assignment was impossible due to predating the game's many freeware ports.

I did eventually beat this game on the SNES but was dismayed to find its cliffhanger of an ending unresolved; the squel, Heart of the Alien, was released only for the ill-fated Sega CD console system, limiting its accessibility. But maybe, if the series' first half sells well on iOS, it won't be long before we finally see the resolution of Lester's quest.

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

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson and Jason Scott)