Let's Play Lode Runner Legacy

June 4th, 2018 9:00 AM
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Just over a year ago, I shared the trailer for Lode Runner Legacy, the first original game in the Lode Runner series in almost a decade. The game was finally released for Windows in July 2017 but didn't receive its console debut until May 2018, when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch edition retails the voxel graphics style of its Windows counterpart, as well as its multiple modes: adventure; puzzle; and world levels, where players can craft and exchange their own creations. Best of all, its "classic" mode features all 150 levels of the Apple II original! At only $11.99, it's hard to beat.

Still, I have a habit of buying games and never finishing them (or sometimes even starting them!), making me hesitant to purchase Lode Runner Legacy, despite its generally favorable Metacritic score of 77%. Fortunately, the Switch edition offers a free demo that includes ten playable adventure levels and five puzzle levels. I gave this trial edition a spin in my latest Let's Play video.

Legacy plays a bit slower than the Apple II version I remember — but then, I remember playing it with an accelerator, so that may not be a fair comparison. Legacy also features much bigger sprites, and thus smaller levels, than the original — though the game hints at later, more sweeping levels that pull the camera back a bit, allowing for a larger play field.

Although I'm not a huge fan of the art style or the loading time between levels, I didn't see anything in Legacy that would keep me from buying it. I just need to clear some other games off my plate first…

In the meantime, you can hear me rave about the original game in episode #35 of the New Game Plus podcast.

Leigh Alexander's Patreon for Lo-Fi Let's Play

September 19th, 2016 1:54 PM
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Two-and-a-half years ago, I pointed Apple II Bits readers to the YouTube videos of Leigh Alexander. This renown and accomplished journalist in the video games industry was creating Let's Play videos of classic Apple II games, recording her gameplay experiences combined with her personal commentary. It was a fun and original look at one player's history with her childhood computer.

A lot has happened to gaming and to Alexander since that April 2014 blog post. In August 2014, GamerGate broke. In December 2014, Juiced.GS reviewed Alexander's e-book, Breathing Machine. In April 2015, Alexander became editor-in-chief of Offworld, a BoingBoing-run video game journalism website with a focus on publishing marginalized voices. In February 2016, Alexander departed Offworld and the gaming industry entirely.

I was concerned we'd heard the last of this powerful and important voice — so I was delighted this month when she launched a Patreon to support her latest initiative: the return of her Lo-Fi Let's Play video series.

"What started as a fun outlet for me to recapture some of the sense of mystery and wonder I once felt about games became much more popular than I expected," writes Alexander:

Rediscovering and sharing these charming old works was a great source of comfort and joy toward the end of my time in the game industry. They had a sort of innocence I had missed, and a pioneer spirit I felt warmly toward, and they reminded me in an essential way why playing computer games was once a source of uncomplicated joy and imagination for me. The simplicity of their infrastructure, the severity of their limitations, and their earnestness in the face of those limitations is still a touchstone of inspiration for me in the age of modern high-end hardware and noisy social media. I can't tell you how thrilled I am that there are folks out there that share these feelings with me.

Alexander is asking for contributions on a per-video basis of an amount of your choosing. At $5, you get a newsletter with behind-the-scenes storytelling; at $20 and $200, Alexander sacrifices some degree of editorial control to let you help pick what games she plays next.

You may wonder why one should contribute anything; after all, "Thanks to the magic of emulation and the tireless work of archivists, the videos cost me nothing but time and love to make, and they are and will always be ad-free and available to all on YouTube," acknowledges Alexander. "But sadly, life as a freelancer means that the things I get paid for need to come first, leaving passion projects to languish."

I don't tend to watch Let's Play videos myself, but I acknowledge their value and importance in capturing the experience the Apple II invokes. I'm contributing to Alexander's campaign and encourage you to do so, too — but even if you don't, I hope you'll check out her videos and share in her joy for the gaming heritage of the Apple II.

If this is your first Patreon, don't let it be your last — these other Apple II creators are also seeking your support:

Let's Play Death in the Caribbean

April 7th, 2014 11:39 AM
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This winter, I launched a Google+ page for my YouTube gaming channel. As I began exploring the gaming communities on this social network, I discovered Leigh Alexander, a Gamasutra editor with a large following. She is an accomplished fiction author and columnist, and I've now enjoyed her writing for some time. But when she chose to expand into video, I was pleasantly surprised by the subject that a journalist on the cutting edge of technology would choose for her YouTube debut.

Alexander's first foray into video is a Let's Play of the Apple II game, Death in the Caribbean:

A "Let's Play" is a video game walkthrough with commentary that focuses on the player's experience, instead being a tutorial that provides strategy (though it can do that, too). Alexander follows through with that promise, having grown up playing this game with her father. On a recent return to her parents' home in Massachusetts (hey, that's where I live!), she recorded this video that reflects not only on how the game expanded her vocabulary with words such as "crevasse" and "brazier", but on other lessons: "[Death in the Caribbean] taught me from an early age that disaster can happen anywhere, at anytime. Even if the whole world sprawls out in front of you like a beautiful place ready to be explored — you can die, just by being a little bit wrong" — something you're never too young to learn.

The launch of Apple II Bits in 2010 coincided with my discovery of Let's Plays, at which time the genre was relatively unknown. I imagined myself being one of the first to bring this video format to the Apple II. While I've since recorded dozens of Let's Play videos of Nintendo games, I've never executed on the idea to apply that experience to my favorite retrocomputer.

Four years later, Let's Plays are booming, with no less prestigious an outlet than The Atlantic giving the issue coverage, detailing how PewDiePie, the most popular channel on YouTube, makes millions of dollars a year producing Let's Play videos. If you're baffled why Let's Plays are so popular, Jamin Warren of PBS Digital Studios explains the appeal of Let's Play videos:

Between the proliferation of Let's Plays and the age of the Apple II, you might think, what more remains to be said about our favorite games? Plenty, reminded one of my YouTube followers. "I hate it when people who LP an older game and say 'I have nothing original to contribute'," commented Gaming Media. "YES YOU DO! If you grew up with the game, you have stories about the game that no one else has."

Even those who didn't grow up with a game can still provide unique commentary. As Alexander did, Gaming Media recently turned to Virtual Apple ][ and recorded a Let's Play of Oregon Trail, a game that came out decades before he did:

(Skip to 4:52 into the first video for a fun blatant plug!)

Neither of these recent videos is the first Let's Play to come from the Apple II: Jesse Hamm recorded his own playthrough of Death in the Caribbean three years ago; Brian Picchi has recorded reviews of games like Gold Rush! that could be considered Let's Plays; and I in turn recorded a similar hybrid video of Picchi's Retro Fever, a year after unboxing and playing Zéphyr.

There indeed remains much to be preserved, shared, and experienced of the Apple II on YouTube. I hope that Alexander, Gaming Media, Picchi, and I continue to find the time and enthusiasm to explore this fun intersection of old and new media. What games would you like to see us play next?

OUYA returns gaming to the Apple II age

July 16th, 2012 11:36 AM
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In the last six months, Apple II users have enjoyed the fruits of Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site that's been used to revive many classic game franchises. Soon, for the first time in decades, we'll be able to enjoy new Space Quest and Leisure Suit Larry games.

But what if Kickstarter was used to reboot not just a particular franchise, but the entire gaming industry?

That's what OUYA, a new video game console, looks to do.

The Android-based OUYA aims to move gamers away from mobile devices and place them in front of stationary consoles — but its OUYA's development platform that is the focus of the Kickstarter pitch. The company's founder, Julie Uhrman, harkens back to the days of the unwalled garden that early Apple products represented: "In the early days of gaming, you could take your Apple IIe, write your own programming, and take your game to market." Further endorsement from inXile's Brian Fargo, creator of Wasteland, supports that throwback. Those were the golden days of gaming that launched epic series that continue to this day (again, courtesy Kickstarter). There was little competition in this new world, and artists and programmers were able to quickly stake their claim not only financially, but imaginatively, creating worlds for the sake of exploring this new digital realm. OUYA wants games to again be something that anyone can make and share.

But that was a different day and age. Although computers were accessible to program, the overall audience was small, making for a proportionally small number of programmers. Yes, there were games of questionable software — but there were so few games that the poor ones didn't last long.

Bu contrast, today, anyone can be a programmer — and anyone often is. Although I'm all for the freedom and democratization if information, the fact that OUYA seems to be specifically not setting themselves up as curators of content on their console is concerning. If anyone can produce as much content, then anyone will, resulting in a glut of poor-quality software, or shovelware. I agree that Apple shouldn't be their model — as gatekeepers of quality content, they do a pretty poor job (since "quality" to Apple doesn't mean fun). But perhaps OUYA should look to the Nintendo Seal of Quality, which ostensibly meant that only that the publisher had paid a licensing fee, but realistically meant that gamers would experience a certain minimum amount of fun. The Seal was introduced to motivate publishers to put their best foot forward, limiting them to only three games per year. Programmers literally could not afford to produce bad games.

And from a technological perspective, it's not challenging to stream video from an iOS or Android device to an HDTV. Is a separate console truly needed? Or is the attraction of OUYA not that it does something original, but that it does it simply, without the need for complicated or expensive peripherals?

Regardless of these questions and concerns, OUYA is already a success: at the time of this writing and with three more weeks to go, it has raised nearly $5 million USD, a funding level of 508% more than its required minimum. When over 32,000 backers get their consoles this September, we'll find out if it has enough critical mass and sufficiently powerful mission statement to attract gamers — and developers.

UPDATE: For more on this subject, see my PCWorld blog post featuring video footage of KansasFest 2012, "John Romero Speculates On The Future of Ouya".