What Remains of Edith Finch

January 15th, 2018 10:29 AM
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After investing hundreds of hours playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I needed something smaller and more narrative-driven to cleanse the palate. A game I'd long had on my to-play list was What Remains of Edith Finch, an indie game that takes only 2–3 hours to complete. My friend Susan had called it one of her favorite games of 2017, so I booted my PlayStation 4 and played it through.

The game is a series of vignettes told from the first-person perspective of various ancestors in the Finch family across the last century. As such, it is set in different eras, and their house is redecorated each time to match the period. Naturally, this put me on the lookout for an Apple II computer, which can be an obvious visual signifier of one's setting. And although I did find a desktop computer, it was an unidentifiable, generic machine.

I finished the game sad for this missed opportunity and watched the credits crawl.

But wait — what was that?!

What Remains of Edith Finch

Each developer is represented in the credits by an actual photo from their childhood… and lead artist Brandon Martynowicz is featured with his Apple II! I thought it might be a IIe, which would've been era-appropriate: looking at Martynowicz's LinkedIn résumé, I'd estimate him to have been born around 1982, and he appears 2–2½ years old in this photo, putting it at 1985, two years after the IIe's debut. But Steve Weyhrich clarified: "The badge should be on the left if it was a IIe. They keyboard is much more Apple II/II Plus-ish, particularly the power light by itself on the left. My guess would be either a II/II Plus with some other sticker to the left of the regular badge, or a clone with a different badge."

Martynowicz left Edith Finch developer Giant Sparrow in February 2017, two months before the game's debut. He now works at Riot Games, developer of the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game League of Legends, inspired by Warcraft III. It's unlikely we'll see his Apple II in that fantasy setting… but I'm glad he worked it into as fitting a game as Edith Finch!

Gaming across the platforms

December 30th, 2013 11:35 AM
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I spent much of December overwhelmed by too many freelance commitments. Activities that are supposed to be fun, like writing articles and playing video games, adopt a different tone when a deadline is applied. But I kept my sanity in large part to the opportunities these pursuits gave me to interact with my fellow Apple II users outside our usual contexts of Juiced.GS, Open Apple, and KansasFest.

Specifically: we've been playing video games. Lots of them.

My YouTube channel, where I unboxed the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One, gained the attention of prolific and accomplished media producer Lon Seidman, former guest of Open Apple. Although I lack the polish and equipment of his A/V setup, he invited me onto his show for a livestream first look at the Xbox One.

It was fun to see and work with Lon in real-time — a first! Who knows what other opportunities he and I may have to collaborate? Could an Apple II show be far off?

That same weekend, I was invited to be a guest on the weekly Internet radio show Pixel Pizza, hosted by Jared Ettinger, a student at Emerson College, where I'm on the adjunct faculty. I was concerned that I'd be outed for my lack of hardcore gaming experience, but I was able to turn the conversation to more technical details about the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that I could expound upon. My confidence was further bolstered to know Steve Weyhrich of the Apple II History site was listening live. During sign-off, I thanked him on-air with a plug for his book, Sophistication & Simplicity.

Interviews and talk shows are all well and good — but video games are meant to be played, not discussed. So this past Friday evening, I switched on my Xbox 360, connected to Xbox Live, and met Dain Neater and Andy Molloy for some online gaming. Our weapons in this duel were high-performance speed demons, with us racing down the California coast trying to escape the police (or, sometimes, each other) as we duked it out in Need for Speed Hot Pursuit.

So thanks, Microsoft, for giving us Apple II users so many gaming platforms to discuss and play on. Any medium that serves to connect us retrocomputing enthusiasts is okay by me!

A chat with Bill Budge

October 13th, 2011 11:53 AM
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If a wave of nostalgia and retrocomputing enthusiasm has led to a resurgence in the popularity of the Apple II, then it's natural that a spillover would effect the platform's past and present celebrities. Bill Budge, for one, was honored with the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences's Pioneer Award, concurrent with an in-depth profile by Wired magazine.

You'd think that the popular press might have forgotten Budge since then, but you'd be wrong. Gamasutra recently ran Brandon Sheffield's lengthy interview with the programmer. In it, Budge talks about his evolution from programming games to tools for Electronic Arts 3DO, Sony, and Google — the seeds of which can be seen in his Apple II landmarks, Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set. The four-page, 4,383-word interview is somewhat technical as he reviews his favorite languages and the aspects that appeal to him. Fortunately, Apple II users tend to be a technical lot that's likely to find much of interest in this piece.

As a programming peon, I most appreciated Budge's closing remark:

At the end of the day, I think all that matters is what have you done. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how brilliant do you sound, or whether you sound like an academic paper when you talk. What really impresses me is people who have built things, who made things that really worked, who did something that nobody else thought would work, or followed their vision and made it real. That, to me, is very admirable; the only thing that counts.

By his own measure, I'd say Budge has earned our admiration.

The history and future of Wizardry

March 24th, 2011 5:08 PM
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The Magic Candle is one of my all-time favorite role-playing games — though on the computer platform, it doesn't have much competition for that title: I honestly can't recall any other RPG I've played for the Apple II or Mac. All other games in that genre were either console exclusives, such as Final Fantasy, or ports from the computer, like Ultima.

One such port was Wizardry, which you wouldn't think would work on a two-button controller, but with no basis for comparison, I enjoyed the Nintendo version just fine. There was little the interface could do to strengthen or soften what was already a punishing experience. As Wizardry's adventurers explored the labyrinthine dungeon of despair from a first-person perspective, developer Sir-Tech made sure they encountered wave after wave of more powerful foes. It was only by playing it safe, not venturing far past the dungeon entrance, and fighting only minor foes before escaping to the safety of camp — a process eventually known as "grinding" that players could slowly prepare themselves to pursue more tempting treasures.

At the dawn of electronic entertainment, "challenge" and "gameplay" were practically interchangeable, so for the reasons above, I found myself drawn to Wizardry. Unlike with the more narrative Final Fantasy, I was not locked to a specific party but could design my own, encouraging endless experimentation. In fact, by some fluke, the very first character I ever rolled up was given enough discretionary building points that I could've created a ninja, right off the bat. But I'd never played the game before and didn't know what a high number I'd rolled; I must've hit "reset" to see if I could do better, as I never did get that ninja.

Bitmob recently published a history of Wizardry, detailing its origins, successes, and anime adaptations (the game was even bigger in Japan than in the USA). The article ends with the series' ultimate demise in North America — or ultimate, up until recently. Announced yesterday was the return of this franchise for a new generation of gamers, marking the first Wizardry title in a decade. But unlike with the series debut, where players could choose between the console or computer versions, this time, there is no choice: Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be exclusive to the PlayStation Network, an online "app store" for the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console. If that weren't change enough, the game will have a distinct Eastern flair, as seen in this screenshot of the character creation process.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls

Photo courtesy RPGFan

It's too soon to tell how this spring 2011 release will be received, and whether it'll be too modern for retrogamers or too hard for PS3 players. In the meantime, if you'd rather return to the age of classic Wizardry, I highly recommend Jeff Fink's Silvern Castle. This ridiculously comprehensive RPG offers everything Wizardry did on the Apple II and more, all while running from Applesoft BASIC on any 8- or 16-bit Apple II.