Archive for February, 2011

Early appearances of Steve Jobs

February 28th, 2011 1:45 PM
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Several historical depictions of Steve Jobs have recently been unearthed, giving us a visual glimpse of the man who came to helm one of Silicon Valley's most influential companies.

Though Jobs may be known as the suave and articulate emcee of many Apple events, he was not born to be in front of the camera. Moments before this early television appearance, he's clearly not ready to become a media star.

Later, he became more comfortable being recorded on film, as demonstrated by this excerpt from the 1998 documentary Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which is still available from the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. After hearing Woz speak on this illicit subject so many times, it's a pleasant change to hear his more severe counterpart acknowledge the company's origins.

Finally, there's this AP photo that shows a rather hirsute Jobs sporting a tie and an extra-large Apple II.

Steve Jobs with the Apple II

Steve Jobs with the Apple II

With Jobs currently on medical leave, it's interesting to see how far he's come — and how far we hope he still has to go.

(Hat tips to Richi Jennings, Your Daily Apple News, Adam Rosen, and David Ewalt)

The Magic Candle

February 24th, 2011 10:16 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
3 comments.

I grew up with both an Apple II and a Nintendo, and both captivated me with their games. Although over time, I grew to become primarily a console gamer, there are some genres that computers are inherently superior for, such as role-playing games.

Perhaps that's why, two decades later, after having played a dozen Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games on Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and PlayStation, one of my favorite RPGs of all time is The Magic Candle, for the Apple II.

When I first played The Magic Candle sometime after its 1989 release, I was overwhelmed by its scope and complexity. Dragon Warrior on the NES, which I once rented for three weeks straight, had only two buttons and simplistic menus by which to guide a lone hero through a series of one-on-one battles in his linear exploration of the land of Alefgard. By contrast, The Magic Candle used the full keyboard and a large party of adventurers, and the manual suggested five directions from which to strike out from the first town. I was utterly dismayed, but I stuck with it — I'd spent my birthday money on this game, and I was not going to let that investment go to waste!

I'm glad I persisted, as the adventure that followed was one of the most diverse and rewarding experiences I've ever had. The balance between freedom and necessity was unparalleled: Parties could be divided, with some members taking jobs to earn money or apprenticing themselves to earn valuable skills. Citizens would not talk to you unless you had sufficient charisma or were of a particular race. Time passed realistically, with towns having day and night sequences, during which certain taverns or people would present themselves. Weapons wore down, and warriors got hungry.

I could continue to wax whimsical about this grand journey, but my musings would be based on decades-old memories. A fresher and more accurate perspective is provided by JJ Sonick, who has thus far blogged a twopart tour as he rediscovers this game for himself.

Alas, the story of The Magic Candle on the Apple II ends with its first chapter. The end of the game let players save their characters to be imported into the sequel, The Magic Candle II: The Four and Forty, which came out three years later, though seemingly not for the Apple II.

More disappointing is the current lack of availability of the original game: a search on eBay for a used copy produces no hits. Around 15 years ago, I called Interplay, the then-employer of the game's creator, Ali N. Atabek, to ask about reclassifying his work as a Lost Classic, but I never got through. I'm hopeful that someday, someone will be able to legally publish this classic game for all to enjoy.

The origins of Interplay

February 21st, 2011 12:26 PM
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With a portfolio that includes games like Baldur's Gate, Earthworm Jim, and Fallout, software publisher Interplay may be better known to PC and console gamers than to retrogamers. But Interplay, founded in 1983, was a friend to the Apple II for nearly a decade. Over the years, they developed and/or published such memorable titles as The Bard's Tale, Tass Times in Tone Town, Neuromancer, Battlechess, Dragon Wars GS, and Out Of This World. And let's not forget the first-person role-playing game, Dungeon Master, which TSR's Dragon Magazine granted the "Beastie Award" for best Apple IIGS game of 1989.

Many of these titles are thanks in no small part to Interplay founder Brian Fargo hiring as one of his first three employees prolific Apple II programmer Rebecca Heineman, who was recently interviewed on the Matt Chat. This video podcast series is hosted by gamer and historian Matt Barton, author of Dungeons & Desktops. Now, Barton has turned the camera on Fargo, who left Interplay in 2002 but has many fond memories of the company's humorous titles and the creative geniuses behind them. For a fun reminiscence of early Apple II gaming, check out the entire three-part series.

(Hat tip to Blue's News)

Steve Wozniak at the Children's Discovery Museum

February 17th, 2011 10:09 AM
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Steve Wozniak is admirable not just for his inventions or even his stature as a geek role model, but also for his philanthropy. Consistent with his childhood dream to be a fifth-grade teacher, a dream he realized for eight years after leaving Apple, he also founded the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose — hence its location on Woz Way.

Furthering the cause of creativity and childhood education, on February 1, Woz sat down with CBS journalist Dana King at the Bay Area Discovery Museum to talk about his life, education, and accomplishments. The audio is marred by the sounds of the lunching audience, but it's worth tolerating for the opportunity to hear Woz speak.

The full interview is 1:05:15 long. Here's an excerpt from 32:01 into the video, where Woz describes how he introduced color to the Apple II:

One of my favorite questions to Woz was, "What's it like in your head?" His rather humble reply should surprise nobody. He also makes an observation that will resonate with Apple II users: "I'm glad I had a part in this: Computers are not just the work tools, but they're fun."

The full video is available at Fora.TV or after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Castle Wolfenstein painting for auction

February 14th, 2011 10:38 AM
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1 comment.

Growing up with the Apple II, I enjoyed the computer more as a games machine than anything else. Sure, punching numbers into Visicalc or writing short stories in Apple Writer can be fun, but not so captivating to a five-year-old's imagination as Choplifter or Lode Runner.

One game that made an impression like no other was Castle Wolfenstein. Eleven years before its 3D successor, this Apple II game was spouting synthesized German at players as they made their way through a Nazi stronghold. I would wake up Saturday mornings before the rest of my family to play this game, and to have the pre-dawn silence suddenly broken by a stormtrooper bursting into the room and screaming at me was nerve-wracking. Castle Wolfenstein and Silent Hill are the only games that have made me so scared, I wanted to turn off the system. It's a powerful legacy for its late creator, Silas Warner, to have left.

Now, a piece of that history is up for auction. The box art for Castle Wolfenstein was based on an original painting which is currently listed on eBay. Here are the details:

Castle Wolfenstein paintingThis is the original painting by John D. Benson used as the cover for Muse Software’s 1981 game “Castle Wolfenstein” – the game that inspired id Software’s “Castle Wolfenstein 3D”! Castle Wolfenstein is the first in the genre of stealth-based computer games. Created by Muse software, it was available on the Apple II, DOS, Atari 8-bit family and the Commodore 64.

[The piece is for sale by Walter Costinak, who] was an incredibly successful video-game web designer, having created sites for id Software, Activision, Ritual Entertainment and many more. About nine years ago he bought this painting on eBay for his personal collection from someone who had acquired all the art from Muse's assets.

The original artist has contact me to let me know the painting is done with Alkyd Oils, not watercolor.

The dimensions of the piece (including matte and frame) are 27 1/4 inches by 23 1/4 inches. Also included are the original C64 manual and game disk (NOTE: disk slipcover is *not* original, and I don’t know if the disk still works).

Proudly show off the retro gaming geek that you are and hang this is your home, office, boardroom, or subterranean lair! Good luck on your bidding, schweinhund!

Although the artwork itself may not be a masterpiece, its historical value is at least that of its current bid, which at the time of this writing hasn't increased from $305 in the last 48 hours. I'll be watching this auction with more than a passing interest. Best of luck to all bidders!

(Hat tip to Andy Chalk)

Honoring Bill Budge

February 10th, 2011 10:36 PM
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Earlier today, Bill Budge was honored by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences with the Pioneer Award, making him only the second recipient of the award. The first was David Crane, co-founder of Activision and creator of Pitfall!, putting Budge in good company.

In conjunction with this award, Wired magazine published an elegant and insightful profile of Budge, creator of the Apple II pinball programs Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set. But other media have given us additional looks at Budge over the years — most notably in the early 1980s, when he first achieved fame, and then in the late 1990s, when he came out of semi-retirement and returned to the electronic entertainment industry.

First was his appearance on the Computer Chronicles, a PBS show that ran 1981–2002. Watch time indices 12:46–22:21 of this episode from September 28, 1984:

I was intrigued by Budge's belief that a programmer can't ask a gamer what kind of game he wants to play; a programmer has to have an "inner conviction" about what kind of game to make. Such a sentiment echoes Steve Jobs' own successful design philosophy.

Budge also participated in an eloquent interview with James Hague for a 1997 e-book called Halcyon Days, now available for free online. Here, Budge talked about his transition from programmer to entrepreneur to early retiree:

I realized I could do what my "publisher" was doing. In other words, put the program in a Ziploc bag with a sheet of instructions and sell them a thousand at a time to a distributor like Softsel, which was big in those days. So my sister and I started BudgeCo. I wrote the programs–"Raster Blaster" and "Pinball Construction Set"–and she ran the business. But it was getting harder to sell software. Before, it had sold itself. By 1983, you needed reps and a whole sales organization. We continued until the industry grew, and we either had to grow or ally with someone bigger. I didn't want to be an entrepreneur, so when EA approached me I was ready to sign …

[But] I [got] burned out from trying to constantly out-do myself. This was after spending a lot of time thinking what to do after "Pinball Construction Set." … I filled a lot of notebooks with design ideas. I spent a few summers in Maui windsurfing. I did some programming for Apple that got bundled with the Apple II mouse … I realized that what I loved to do is build things and that I wasn't happy unless I was excited about my work. So I decided that even if I was only programming video games, I could be happy as long as I was trying to do the best video game.

In the first episode of the Open Apple podcast, I recalled Budge's ambition to follow the Pinball Construction Set with Construction Set Construction Set, which would allow users to design their own games. It was too complex a concept for the hardware of the era, though it eventually saw fruition with tools now in use in freshman courses in game design programs at colleges across the country. Budge didn't think he'd live to see the day:

I think the construction set construction set is kind of a doomed concept. Construction sets are an exciting category, and I wish there were more of them. It's not easy to design them.

In a rather rudimentary interview with Sam Gabrielsson published in late 1998, made another prediction that might've required some re-evaluation, in light of technologies such as the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect:

Some areas of technology like computing cost and speed are advancing rapidly. But other technologies, like true 3D displays and tactile feedback are in their infancies and may face insurmountable obstacles. For example, feedback to simulate a solid object requires force powerful enough to rip your arm off. I could be wrong, but I think computer pinball should strive to exploit its special advantages, rather than just be a copy of real pinball machines.

Budge also talked about how Electronic Arts tried to make a star out of him:

Yeah, they sent me out on a kind of celebrity rock star tour. But it became obvious pretty quickly that programmers aren't quite rock stars. But it was a fun experience. I don't have a scanned autograph yet!

Even if he didn't achieve rockstar status, Budge is one of the few programmers to have created and maintained a reputation that has spanned the decades. Besides Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates, the only other name that comes to my mind is Jordan Mechner. As Open Apple co-host Mike Maginnis said on the show, "I sometimes tend to forget that [people like Bill Budge] went on to do other things in the industry. When I see Bill Budges name, I go, 'Oh, he's that Apple II guy from way back when!' But he's been in the industry this whole time."

Congratulations, Mr. Budge, on your accomplishment. You've earned it!

UPDATE: GameSpot and G4tv have post-event wrap-ups of the award ceremony.