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?

The 10 most expensive Apple II games

October 21st, 2013 5:22 PM
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Brian Picchi: I'm your biggest fan. You were a great guest on Open Apple; your Apple II videos on YouTube are informative and entertaining; your Deadly Orbs game is killer; and your website runs WordPress.

But where have you been all my life — or at least, the last month? I haven't heard so much as a peep out of you, so I went digging through your YouTube channel to find the latest. Uploaded on September 14, your rundown of the most expensive Apple II games on eBay was a fun watch:

For your fans in a rush, here is a summary of your findings:

Game
Value
Wings Out of Shadow$0709
Labyrinth of Crete$1000
Cranston Manor$1525
Mystery House$1691.66
Ultima I+II$1775
Time Zone$1825
Softporn Adventure$1999
Zork$2495
Starcross$2495
Akalabeth$4900

I'm not much of an eBay user, having taken 14.5 years to earn my 100-star rating this month. The only Apple II software I've bought on eBay is Microzines; I've never paid more than $20 or so for anything Apple II-related on the auction site. That anyone has so much money to spend on these games is a little baffling to me. I understand the appeal of collecting items of historical significance — no one is buying Akalabeth to play it — but that's a lot of dough to drop on something of esoteric interest. A framed Akalabeth over your mantle won't engage many house guests.

But hey, I know you're not just trolling eBay to pick up some games, Brian Picchi; you're one of those hawkers of rare goods, with a copy of Akalabeth all your own. I'm sure your wife will be happy when you cash in those chips.

So keep up the good work, Brian Picchi — just don't go a whole month between videos, if you can help it.

Lon Seidman's Apple IIGS on TWiT

May 20th, 2013 11:19 AM
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Unless the subject is video games, I don't listen to any modern technology podcasts. Perhaps as a result of having been a Computerworld editor for six years, I feel sufficiently connected to the state of modern IT without spending my spare time consuming audio or video content on the subject. As a result, I'm largely unfamiliar with Leo Laporte and his expansive This Week in Tech broadcasting empire. What little I've been exposed to has left me underwhelmed. When the stars of his shows are Apple II heroes such as Dan Bricklin or Jeri Ellsworth, then I always walk away satisfied and enlightened. But without those outside personalities, I find Laporte and his cronies to be pretentious and bombastic.

I recently made an exception for The Giz Wiz #1377, which aired all the way back on August 14, 2012. I'd added the episode to my queue long enough ago that I'd forgotten my motivation for doing so. But I trusted my past self and listened to the entire episode. It wasn't until time indices 52:39–58:16, after nearly an hour of listening to Laporte and co-host Dick DeBartolo discuss SkyMall's catalog, that I found the show's relevancy to this retrocomputing enthusiast:

To this episode, Lon Seidman submitted a video tour of his Apple IIGS. Enhancements include not only an overclocked Transwarp GS but also the Uthernet networking card and Rich Dreher's CFFA3000. We don't get to see much of the software or unique uses Seidman has for his Apple II, and that which we do see will be familiar to members of the modern Apple II community — but the segment was short and focused enough to get picked up by TWiT, making for excellent publicity for our hobby. Way to go, Lon!

For other video reviews and tours of Apple II hardware, check out the work of Brian Picchi and Terry Stewart.

VisiCalc review

June 25th, 2012 8:30 PM
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I have a soft spot in my heart for VisiCalc, though perhaps more as an idea than a piece of software. I don't advocate using the world's first-ever electronic spreadsheet in modern times, except perhaps as a learning tool or torture device. But with this the software that cemented the Apple II's place in business having been invented practically in my own backyard (Massachusetts) by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, I can't help but have a sense of pride and nostalgia for the little productivity tool.

YouTube artist Brian Picchi is apparently also a fan, as he's recently deviated from his usual computer game reviews to spend five minutes with VisiCalc:

Half historical narrative and half review, Picchi's video is an effective summary of the key points of VisiCalc's significance and function. I didn't remember VisiCalc's formulae for equations, so it was interesting to see that they aren't much different from the syntax used in AppleWorks or Excel.

I could've interviewed Brian for more details about his video, but since he often reads this blog, I'll ask him to leave a comment: Where did you get your v1.37 VisiCalc, Brian?

For more non-gaming critiques from Picchi, check out his top ten television shows cancelled after one season.

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)

Enhancing AppleWorks 4

February 6th, 2012 11:12 AM
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Last summer, I found my copy of the 1993 VHS tape Enhancing AppleWorks 4, a 26-minute video in which software developers Randy Brandt and Dan Verkade discuss the program's origin and the optional enhancements one can make to Quality Computers' 1993 update to the classic word processor, spreadsheet, and database productivity suite.

I recently decided to part with the video (before finding out that the intended party didn't want it), so I finally digitized it so that everyone could enjoy it. It seemed especially timely to do so, given Randy's recent reappearance in the Apple II community. Though it's true this video is already available on YouTube courtesy the generous Antoine Vignau, he writes, "My VCR is NTSC compatible on output to a TV screen, but my Plextor digitizer sees the flow as black & white only." I knew from my previous conversions of Quality Computer videos that my setup was capable of color, so I now offer a more picturesque alternative in this single Vimeo video:

Q/Vision, a division of Quality Computers, presents this introduction to AppleWorks 4 and the Apple II programmers behind it. Starring QC employees Randy Brandt, Dan Verkade, Katherine Hempton, and Walker Archer, written by Jerry Kindall, and produced and directed by Sam Mannino, this 1993 video was converted from VHS and is posted here with permission from copyright holder Joe Gleason.

I am not skilled at editing video and so did not run the above MP4 file through free utilities such as JES Deinterlacer and JES Video Cleaner. If anyone wishes to do so, the video file can be freely downloaded from Vimeo for further processing. Please let me know of your results, and I can replace the Vimeo file with a superior quality version without changing the URL.

It's important to remember that physical media have additional aspects that can be lost in a straight conversion, so I have also scanned all pertinent materials associated with this VHS tape into a PDF.