Retro games as iPod wallpaper

October 14th, 2013 10:47 AM
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This summer, I bought an iPod. It was the first iPod I'd bought in eight years, during which time the product had evolved quite a bit. No longer just an MP3 player, this iOS device allows for unparalleled customization in terms of software functionality and layout, both of which can be used to manifest its owner's love for classic Apple.

Juiced.GS has reviewed plenty of games that appeal to Apple II enthusiasts, but I rarely play games on mobile devices. However, I do see the lock screen on my iPod every time I pull it out of my pocket. That seemed the best place to remind myself of my iPod's roots. I had iPhoto automatically set to sync any assets used in the Juiced.GS 2013 wall calendar, but calendars are formatted for landscape images, and the iPod's lock screen is portrait only. A quick Google search for Apple II games produced some additional art.

Here then is my gallery of what vintage Apple II games look like as iPod lock screens:

Although I prefer the aesthetic of the Karateka screen, I like the juxtaposition of the Wolfenstein screenshot. Slide to unlock? Better hope your phone doesn't explode!

What's on your iPod?

Rescuing the Prince of Persia from the sands of time

October 15th, 2012 2:17 PM
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Jordan Mechner is a hot ticket these days. I don't know exactly when that happened — in 2003 when his Apple II classic Prince of Persia got rebooted for a modern gaming audience, or 2010 when the franchise was adapted to film, or 2012 when he was the PAX East keynote speaker. Regardless, he and his properties seem to be popping up everywhere these days, with The Last Express coming out for iOS this month and a new Karateka due out real soon now.

The Mechner story that was perhaps of most relevance to Apple II users occurred earlier this year, when the source code for his original Prince of Persia was found and salvaged. The effort was 95% Tony Diaz, with the other 5% being Jason Scott knowing to bring Diaz into the equation. As the connective tissue, Scott observed the entire experience and gave a presentation about it on Friday, September 28, 2012, at Derbycon. The entire 52-minute session is now available online (note: contains NSFW language):

Remove the foul language and the tendency toward eccentric clothing, and Scott is still an entertaining speaker who knows his material and has a good delivery style. I recommend this and any other presentation of his you have the opportunity to attend.

What's next for Jordan Mechner? At PAX East, he commented that computer gaming was essentially a sidequest toward his goal of becoming a Hollywood scriptwriter. Yet gaming seems to be where he's known best, and he continues to return to that scene. Whichever one makes him happy, I look forward to his continued works.

Recovering the code of Prince of Persia

March 29th, 2012 10:18 PM
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Jordan Mechner, rockstar programmer responsible for Prince of Persia and Karateka and keynote speaker of next week's PAX East convention, published a comprehensive journal of the making of Prince of Persia. In the book and on Mechner's Web site are notes, sketches, concept art, demo videos, and more — a wealth of information he preserved from decades ago.

Yet for all that time, there was one vital piece of data he was missing: the original source code. Whether it had been overwritten, lent or donated, mistakenly or purposely trashed, or simply lost remained unknown to Mechner, despite his best efforts.

This week, that long-lost treasure fell in his lap when his father mailed him a box of assorted unidentified floppies. Contained therein was Prince of Persia in its rawest form.

It never occurred to me that Mechner didn't already have PoP's source code. Given that PoP has appeared on platforms as recent as the Xbox 360, I wonder what version or fork they were basing that port on. It makes even more recent independent ports all the more impressive.

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal followed his role as Mechner's Prince of Persia
with the lead in
Source Code... coincidence?!

Mechner's next task is to verify the integrity of the floppies and migrate the data off them. New hardware like the FC5025 and Kyroflux are miracle workers in our ability to access vintage media via a modern operating system, but the fact remains that the floppy disk is a magnetic medium whose charge is dying. I started (but did not finish) my own floppy migration two years ago. It's easy to dismiss it as a low-priority project compared to ongoing and more demanding tasks, but it will be all too soon that I'll have put it off too long.

Once the code is recovered, I wonder what Mechner will do with it? It's still copyrighted material, so will he continue to keep it a secret — or will he publish it under Creative Commons, allowing a variety of variations and ports?

All this reminds me: David X. Cohen, co-creator of the television show Futurama, reported almost five years ago that he too had programmed an Apple II game that needed rescuing from floppies. I wonder what ever came of that?

UPDATE (Mar 30): Jason Scott tells me, "You'll be delighted to know I am leading this expedition."

(Hat tip to Sean Fahey)

Real-life Prince of Persia

March 8th, 2012 1:38 PM
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When Jordan Mechner developed Karateka in 1984, audiences were astounded by the fluidity and realism of his rotoscoped graphics — a technique more effectively executed five years later when applied to Prince of Persia. With the upcoming remake of Karateka, I'm left wondering just how much more realistic Mechner's work can become. Will he go for a classic, retro look; something more modern; or a blend of new and old? Comedy troupe Karahat proposes the latter with their comedy sketch, Real Prince of Persia:

This fun skit employs the cutting edge of 1984 technology, such as cardboard and rubber bands. But I'm hoping the woman in this skit was expecting to be accosted and was not an unwilling participant. The potential of invisible theater to discomfort its unwilling participants is exactly what makes me so uncomfortable about watching many of Mega64's videos.

Oh, and still wondering the correct way to pronounce "Karateka"? Don't look for answers in Open Apple #13, in which each guest and host has his own idea about how to say the game's name. Listen instead to 1:11 into Jordan Mechner's interview with G4 / X-Play:

(Hat tip to — who else? — Jordan Mechner)

The legacy of Prince of Persia

February 13th, 2012 1:45 PM
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I've written several times about Prince of Persia, Jordan Mechner's seminal platformer that debuted on the Apple II and has since been translated, reimagined, and adapted across video game platforms, comic books, and Hollywood. At its core, the game and its plot are simple yet enduring, having survived across decades and dozens of reinterpretations. Why?

wallpaper_prince_of_persia_warrior_within_08_1600This is not the Prince of Persia you grew up with. What's given him so long a life?

Ryan Lambie at the Den of Geek has an answer. In a thoughtful if occasionally rosy reflection on the original game, he points to Prince of Persia's tension and challenge as its timeless qualities.

It didn't matter that the levels themselves were a comparatively sparse amalgam of grey walls, blue tiles and white spikes — when the Prince hung by his fingertips above a precipice, or leapt through a closing gate with barely a second to spare, the experience was akin to stepping into the shoes of Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker.

[But] was the game's challenge that made it so addictive. No other game could match its sense of danger, nor the horrendous sense of loss when the Prince was inevitably sliced in two, run through with a sword, impaled by spikes, crushed by falling masonry, or had his bones shattered by a precipitous drop. Even now, it's difficult to think of a game whose animation, control system (which, looking back, was extremely fiddly) and level design merge so seamlessly.

As true as it is that Prince of Persia possessed these traits, I'm not sure they can explain what makes the franchise unique. Many early computer and arcade games possessed their own kind of anxiety and difficulty: who can forget being chased by stormtroopers through the halls of Castle Wolfenstein? That game inspired a 1992 first-person shooter and a series of modern sequels, but I've not witnessed it infusing popular (or at least geek) culture of the degree Prince of Persia has.

Is it just luck of the draw that made Prince of Persia succeed in ways that its contemporaries, such as Choplifter and Lode Runner, have not? Or has Jordan Mechner's genius made his opus into something unquantifiable and irreproducible?

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.