Shirts & game crossovers

June 17th, 2019 9:43 AM
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Chris Torrence, host of the Assembly Lines video podcast and volunteer at the Media Archaeology Lab, recently added an e-commerce store to his online offerings.

T-shirts based on 8-bit franchises and artwork are nothing new; my closet is full of KansasFest, A2Central.com, and even InTrec shirts. But one item in Chris's catalog caught my eye.

This shirt doesn't just juxtapose Choplifter and Oregon Trail; it actually has them interacting in an unexpected fashion. I was tickled by this unique approach! After Chris confirmed that it is an original design, the Twitterverse requested other crossovers. Chris quickly responded by mocking up Lemonade Stand and Karateka:

Karateka guy kicking Lemonade Stand

Mark Lemmert of 6502 Workshop proposed a Lemonade Stand / Castle Wolfenstein mashup, which caught Kevin Savetz's attention:

I then responded to a request for The Bard's Tale and Carmen Sandiego:

And proposed a boatload of other crossovers:

There are plenty of other crossovers I'd like to see, either in game or shirt form, some which may be more a stretch than others:

  •  Leisure Suit Larry / Space Quest: Meet exotic aliens. Have sex with them.
  •  One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird / Olympic Decathlon: Play basketball while simultaneously breaking your keyboard.
  •  Tass Times in Tone Town / Escape from Antcatraz: The colony's grandfather ant has gone missing! Trace his disappearance across several anthills.
  •  Jungle Hunt / Impossible Mission: Avoid drones and alligators while saving damsels and cracking safes.
  • Video game crossovers are becoming more common: just this past week, Nintendo joined forces with Sega for a Mario & Sonic game and with Square Enix for a Smash Bros. team-up. In those scenarios, companies collaborate to lend each other their well-known brands and icons. That wouldn't be possible with many Apple II games, whose copyright holders are defunct or just not good with sharing.

    But it doesn't mean a creative entrepreneur like Chris Torrence couldn't mock something up!

    (Full disclosure: As an Automattic employee, I recommended Chris use WordPress as his store's content management system (CMS) of choice and gave some minor advice upon its launch. I also support Chris' Patreon.)

    A VisiCalc time capsule

    June 10th, 2019 12:56 PM
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    When I was in sixth grade, my class created personal time capsules. We took various pop culture artifacts, put then in a shoebox, and then applied newspapers to decoupage the assembled work. There was no coordinated effort to bury the capsules, though — we brought them home and did whatever 11-year-olds do with completed homework, which in my case was shove it under my bed. It's still there, and the decoupage didn't permanently seal the box, as every few years, I open it to paw through what I thought was important thirty years ago.

    Or, actually, what was unimportant: I couldn't imagine parting with anything I actually valued and bequeathing it to unknown citizens of generations hence. My capsule instead consisted of newspaper comics, McDonald's Happy Meal toys, and other random gadgets I wouldn't miss. It wasn't the most representative selection of the time.

    Architect Frank Gehry did a better job of preserving 20th-century history in a time capsule donated to MIT. Its contents were assembled in 1999, a mere twenty years ago. It was meant to remain sealed for another fifteen years, but its creator locked it with a cryptographic puzzle that would've taken the computers of his era ages to unlock, whereas today's machines made short work of it.

    Regardless, he did a much better job than I did in selecting artifacts of value. The contents of the time capsule were already old when he chose them, such as the user manual for VisiCalc, the world's first-ever electronic spreadsheet. VisiCalc was invented by Dan Bricklin, an MIT graduate, so its inclusion in the capsule was of local interest as well.

    Unlocking the time capsule.

    The capsule's other contents would also be of interest to Apple II users. They included a copy of Microsoft BASIC for the Altair, donated by Bill Gates, who attended the 1999 ceremony in which the capsule was originally sealed. Altair's BASIC was Microsoft's first product, laying the foundation for the company to later create Applesoft BASIC for the Apple II.

    In sixth grade, I plenty of Apple II paraphernalia that would've been right at home in a time capsule. It never occurred to me to include any not because I thought it was insignificant, but because it was too important for me to part with. The Apple II was a computer I used daily from 1983 to 1997, and via emulation ever since; I was too selfish to sacrifice some aspect of it for historical preservation.

    Fortunately, nowadays we can have our artifacts and preserve them, too. Microsoft BASIC's source code has been released; the VisiCalc manual has been scanned; heck, even VisiCalc itself is available for download from Dan Bricklin's website.

    But you can't digitize a Happy Meal toy, so maybe I didn't do so badly, after all.

    (Hat tip to Jesus Diaz)

    Rainbows adorn Apple Park campus

    June 3rd, 2019 10:51 AM
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    Apple's logo has had many variations through the years: while always the same shape, it's gone from multicolored to monochromatic, 2D to 3D and back to 2D. But Rob Janoff's original rainbow scheme remains in the hearts of old-school Apple enthusiasts, with its appearance instantly striking a nostalgic chord.

    Apple occasionally bandies that classic logo when it suits them, especially if playing to that nostalgia can bring commercial success — behold last year's proposal for rainbow shirts and hats. But sometimes, Apple can be as nostalgic as its fans, using the logo to acknowledge its history and pay tribute to its founders.

    Apple's new campus, Apple Park, celebrated its formal opening on May 17, and as a tribute to Steve Jobs, the rainbow logo was on display in full force, as seen in these photos from MacRumors.

    Jony Ive told Cult of Mac: "There is the resonance with the rainbow logo that’s been part of our identity for many years. The rainbow is also a positive and joyful expression of some of our inclusion values… The rainbow’s presence and optimism is keenly felt in many places and at the end of the day — it’s hard to find somebody that doesn’t love a rainbow."

    It sometimes feels like Apple wants to forget its history with the Apple II. But when our retrocomputer's logo inspires this modern décor, it gives me hope that we've earned a place not only in the history books, but in the hearts of Apple.

    Tour de Microzine

    May 27th, 2019 9:53 AM
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    I've been collecting Scholastic Microzines for years — not only the ones I played in elementary school but all the ones I never got to try as a kid. It's been so hard to assemble a complete collection (I'm still missing issue #32) that it seemed all the more important to preserve and archive these disks, to ensure that somewhere, a collection did exist.

    So, four years ago, I took my Microzines for a ride.

    My mode of transit supported this use of their vehicles.

    The disks' destination: Paul Hagstrom of the Retro Computing Roundtable. Although we most frequently see each other 1,419 miles away at KansasFest, Paul and I are both residents of the suburbs of Boston. So, four years ago, when he offered to archive my disks using his Applesauce floppy disk controller, I was happy to make the loan.

    Those of you following this timeline may be objecting: the Applesauce didn't exist four years ago. True! When I gave the disks to Paul, other means of archiving were in play. But I was in no rush to get the disks back, and the delay allowed better archival methods to appear.

    This past Monday, a WordPress meetup I was speaking at happened to be in Paul's neighborhood. Rather than haul my disks to Kansas City to make the handoff, he hoofed it to the event venue. Afterward, as we walked back to Coolidge Corner, he humored me with a selfie of our clandestine exchange.

    Paul handing Ken a bag of disks

    It was worth every penny.

    Thank you, Paul, for serving as custodian to my edutainment for nearly half a decade. The fruits of your efforts will be appreciated for generations to come!

    Panthers game montage

    May 19th, 2019 12:38 PM
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    Last fall, the Portland Trail Blazers announced their basketball schedule with a video inspired by Oregon Trail. Though the NBA season is still ongoing, the NFL isn't waiting to tout their own schedule, starting this September.

    Of all the football teams, Carolina Panthers made the splashiest announcement, with each game on their tour represented by a classic video game in this retro video:

    At 0:41, we yet again see the Apple II edutainment title Oregon Trail, described as:

    A computer game designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life. Doesn't sound all than fun, but man, this game was wildly entertaining.

    California Games from Epyx also makes an appearance:

    According to Wikipedia, California Games is a "1987 Epyx sports video game originally released for the Apple II and Commodore 64." It sounds old. It looks old. It is old. … The pixelated Hollywood sign and palm trees are perfect touches for a season-opening matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

    And, of course, there's John Madden Football, a franchise that originated on the Apple II.

    It's fascinating to see professional sports using video games in their marketing materials for a couple of reasons. First, esports are on the rise, and while audience members can certainly enjoy both football and Fortnite, I would expect them to spend more time on the latter. Instead of focusing on their core audience, nhe NFL seems to be trying to expand their audience to include gamers.

    The other reason I'm surprised by this advertising approach is the demographic of the participants. The average age of NFL and NBA players is roughly 26.7 years old, meaning they were born in 1990 — five years after Oregon Trail was released for the Apple II. I wasn't using computers in school until I was 12 years old, which for the average athlete would've been 2002, 17 years after the version of Oregon Trail seen in this video. I'm guessing that the athletes themselves aren't the ones coming up with the idea to insert themselves into such archaic media.

    I'm the last person to criticize someone for enjoying media that's older than they are, having been on the receiving end when it comes to my passion for the Apple II! Whether these athletes grew up with Pitfall or Portal, I hope they've eventually discovered the joy of classic gaming. It warms my heart to imagine them showing off this video to their friends and family as a melding of their passions, as opposed to shrugging it off and saying, "I dunno what those games are."

    Colossal Cave in the Hall of Fame

    May 13th, 2019 9:58 AM
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    For the fifth year, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, inducted new games into its Video Game Hall of Fame, part of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. Among this year's inductees were Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Kart, and Microsoft Windows Solitaire, recognized for their "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

    Most years, I experience faux indignation when the museum snubs the Apple II by not including one of its original titles. But this year, even I can't feign umbrage when considering one of the inductees was Colossal Cave.

    Colossal Cave, the invention of Will Crowther and Don Woods, was the first text adventure game, one that was eventually ported to the Apple II, which was invented just a year later. Its induction to the Hall of Fave is a timely one, and not only because of the recent release of source code for Infocom games, all of which were inspired by Colossal Cave.

    This past December, in my quest to visit all fifty of the United States, I crossed off Kentucky when I visited Mammoth Cave, off which Colossal Cave was based. Although I didn't see any of the landmarks or rooms directly referenced in the game, nor was the game mentioned as part of the guided tour, I enjoyed an additional layer of meaning that was hidden from the other tourists.

    I'd say more, except I wrote about my trip to Mammoth Cave in the spring 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, and there's more about the cave's history right here on this blog from nine years ago this month. Jason Scott's 90-minute interview with Don Woods is also available on YouTube:

    For once, even my grumpy persona gives a nod of approval to the Strong's selection. Colossal Cave and Mammoth Cave are landmarks of a different sort, and it's wonderful to see both being recognized.

    (Hat tip to Dean Takahashi)