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)

The Voyage of the Kansasian

October 1st, 2012 11:09 AM
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A little game that's been making the rounds this month is FTL: Faster Than Light, released on September 14 for Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is first game to have sought Kickstarter funding and be released after Double Fine Adventure broke the dam on indie game funding. Like Tim Schafer, FTL developers Subset Games got much more than they asked for: their goal was $10,000, and they got $200,000.

Some of the media is describing FTL as a roguelike — that is, a game like Rogue, a fantasy role-playing game that was ported to the Apple IIGS. (Don Worth's Beneath Apple Manor for the Apple II has also been described as a roguelike, even though its release predates Rogue by two years.) A roguelike is "characterized by level randomization, permanent death, and turn-based movement", though the outer space setting and spaceship interface of FTL has prompted its developers to call it a "roguelike-like".

Gamer and KansasFest alumnus Wayne Arthurton decided to plot a retro course for his FTL spaceship by christening it after the premier Apple II convention and manning it with fellow geeks. The virgin flight of the Kansasian was last week, with more adventures to follow:

Like Wayne, I too have named characters after Apple II users. Andy, Wayne, and I are all gamers on the Xbox 360, where we sometimes play Worms 2: Armageddon. Annelids named Sheppy and Antoine have taken a few bazooka missiles to the face in their day.

Another opportunity to connect KFesters with gaming may come at KansasFest 2013, where it's been proposed we play Artemis, a starship simulator modeled after Star Trek. Artemis networks several Windows terminals as bridge stations such as helm, communications, and weapons. Here's a sample of a game with a six-person bridge crew:

Who knows in what other actual or virtual gaming environments we KFesters may encounter each other?

UPDATE: Artemis is coming to iOS and will be cross-platform compatible with the PC original. That should make a KansasFest session much easier to arrange. Thanks for the heads-up, Sean Fahey!

Woz meets Spock

January 9th, 2012 9:58 AM
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No big story here, just a geek encounter that's too cool to go unnoticed: Apple II inventor Steve Wozniak gets grilled by Leonard Nimoy, aka Spock.

This crossover, orchestrated by VentureBeat's Matt Marshall, occurred Thursday, January 5, in San Francisco at DEMO Enterprise, an event hosted by my employer, IDG Enterprise and sponsored by Woz's Fusion-io. It's not clear to me what the science officer of the Federation starship Enterprise was doing there, but given how much closer to Star Trek's 23rd century Apple technology has brought us, it seems a fitting intersection.

(Hat tip to Computerworld)