Trekking the Orion Trail

February 16th, 2015 10:20 AM
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I could do an entire blog — not just a blog post, but a blog — on the many Kickstarter campaigns influenced by the 8-bit era of computers. We've seen the return of games, franchises, and styles such as Maniac Mansion, Ultima, Shadowgate, Leisure Suit Larry, Wasteland, and interactive fiction; documentaries on Sierra On-Line and the 6502; and concerts including 8 bit Weapon's.

Oregon Trail alone has prompted several Kickstarters, from the successful Organ Trail to the failed Dead Man's Trail. The latest game likely to join the camp of successful projects is Orion Trail, which combines the gameplay of Oregon Trail with the humor of Space Quest and Galaxy Quest.

The best Kickstarters are those that come to the table with not just a concept, but a prototype — and Orion Trail delivers. If you have the Unity browser plugin installed, you can play an early version of Orion Trail today. I went a few rounds and enjoyed the graphics and humor, but I was demoralized by some of the scenarios my crew encountered. Whether I was being boarded by aliens, encountering space merchants, analyzing an asteroid, or attacking a doomsday machine, I always had three choices, and each seemed equally likely to produce a satisfying solution. No matter my choice, the game spun a random number wheel that somehow determined the result. Perhaps it was this peek at the game's inner workings, but I didn't feet like it mattered what choice I made.

On the bright side, you'll notice some obvious homages to classic computing. "The music was made with the SID emulation engine on an Elektron Monomachine," says the project page. "You'll recognize the SID's distinctive sound from your fondest memories of gaming on a C64 back in the day." Wrong computer for the Apple II community, but admirable nonetheless!

Developer Schell Games looks to release Orion Trail for Mac, Windows, and Linux in December 2015. The game has been Greenlit on Steam, which means when and if Orion Trail is published, it has been approved for distribution on the Steam game platform. Early Access will occur around August.

Before all that happens, the project must obtain a minimum of $90,000 in crowdfunding by March 12. It's currently a third of the way there, which bodes well: in Kickstarter's history, 79% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal were successfully funded. It's likely we will all be making a star trek along the Orion Trail later this year.

Orion Trail

I have died.

UPDATE (13-Mar-15): This crowdfunding campaign successfully concluded with $97,801 — 108% of the minimum.

(Hat tip to Jenna Hoffstein)

Burt Rutan: Space race is like the Apple II

December 3rd, 2012 11:05 AM
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The Up Experience, held October 25, 2012, in Houston, Texas, was "an engaging and intellectually stimulating event that brings together 16 of the world's most extraordinary thought leaders, creators, and innovators". It was akin TED Talk, providing which guests with 20 minutes to share their ideas, experiences, and philosophies.

What did Virgin Galactic spacecraft designer Burt Rutan do with that limited time? The same thing any of us would: cite the Apple II! Rutan made the case for the privatization of space travel and the industry of space tourism by likening it to the perpetual force behind technological innovation: entertainment.

Aerospace engineer and founder of Scaled Composites,
Burt Rutan imagines what investing in suborbital and
commercial spaceflight means for the future of space technology.

I find the historical precedent Rutan cites to be accurate: the need for more powerful graphic cards in the 1990s arose from a desire not to produce more accurate CAD models, but to play Doom and Quake. It was all other enterprises that rely on high-fidelity imaging that then benefitted. Would the film industry have Adobe Premier and Final Cut if its producers and editors hadn't grown up playing first-person shooters?

Perhaps some day we'll send an Apple II into space, and then the circle will be complete. In the meantime, the full video of Rutan's speech was recorded by Fora.TV, the same channel that produced last year's interview with Steve Wozniak about the Children's Discovery Museum.

(Hat tip to Doug Messier of Parabolic Arc)