Archive for July, 2012

The evolution of gaming

July 30th, 2012 3:14 PM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
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At this month's KansasFest, John Romero spoke at length about the role the Apple II has played in the evolution of computer gaming and the development of specific programmers, such as Will Wright and Jordan Mechner. The research Romero conducted for this speech, and the awareness of his audience he demonstrated by focusing on his pre-Wolfenstein 3D experiences, made for one of the most engaging and memorable keynotes KansasFest has had the pleasure of hosting.

As further exemplified later in the week by Wayne Arthurton's presentation, franchises and influences that had their start on the Apple II have echoed throughout several generations of game design. This truism is succinctly demonstrated in this montage on the evolution of computer games. How many Apple II games can you spot — and how many descendants can you identify?

(Hat tip to John Walker)

Kickstarter brainstorming at KansasFest

July 23rd, 2012 9:54 AM
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Filed under Happenings, Musings;
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On Saturday, July 21, I gave a presentation at KansasFest 2012 about Kickstarter. I reviewed what the crowdfunding site is and how it works before presenting and analyzing examples of various campaigns. After reviewing successful projects (Double Fine, Leisure Suit Larry, Diaspora, TikTok, Pebble) and some unsuccessful or poorly designed ones (Rolling High, What's Where in the Apple, MULE), I identified three qualities that lend themselves to meeting one's crowdfunding goal: the fame, reputation, or track record of the artist (Jason Scott, Penny Arcade, Andrew Plotkin); a convincing pitch video (Huck Finn, Nataly Dawn) that doesn't necessarily need to be expensive to produce; and attractive rewards (Pebble; Joulies).

Kickstarter logo

Due to both the previous session and my own running long, after we watched Kickstarter pitch videos and dissected their strengths and weaknesses, I didn't have as much time as I'd like for my presentation's interactive component: brainstorming Apple II projects to launch on Kickstarter. I started by asking the audience what products we'd like to see that would require a financial investment, then who in the community has the reputation to attract a funding audience, followed by what the reward levels for such a Kickstarter campaign would be. As with all brainstorming sessions, I wrote down every idea regardless of feasibility. We then conducted an informal poll to narrow the choices to those bolded in the below table.

ProjectsSponsorsRewardsDonation level
VGA cardKen GagneContributor credit on Web site$10
Bluetooth / Wi-Fi cardVince BrielAccess to contributor-only blog$25
Accelerator cardRich DreherUSB adapter$50
Ethernet cardTony DiazUSB adapter & name in manual$75
Magazine PDF archiveJames LittlejohnTwo USB adapters$90
Buy rights and inventory from ReactiveMicroWozLimited-edition model$150
System 7.0Apple II t-shirt$250
USB input device adapter10 adapters$450
Buy the copyright to somethingSilkscreen greet on the board$500
Spectrum Internet Suite (SIS) updateLunch with the designer$1000
Full-color Juiced.GS
Ad-free RCR
Open Apple merchandise
Retrocomputing video podcast
Mark Twain clone
KansasFest scholarship
Open-source programming language
Woz action figure (with 9 points of articulation)
KansasFest FOREVER

Note that the first two columns do not line up with each other or the other two columns, but the third and fourth columns line up with each other. Also, some reward levels (access to contributor-only blog) include the previous rewards, whereas others (two USB keyboard adapters) do not.

Of all the bolded projects, we deemed the USB adapter the most affordable and thus the most likely to be funded. The proposed adapter would not only work with keyboards, joysticks, and mice, but it would adapt them to multiple platforms: Apple II, Commodore 64, and more. As the Battle Chess Kickstarter campaign demonstrated, limiting your product to only one audience (in that case, Windows) diminishes your chances of getting funded: more potential customers equals more money, as evidenced by the success of many old franchises that are being revived for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.

A wide audience requires a creator with exposure and recognition beyond the Apple II community, for which reason I nominate Vince Briel. The inventory of Briel Computers, from the Replica 1 to the Micro-KIM to the ALTAIR 8800micro, appeal to retrocomputing hobbyists of many ages and interests, and Briel's track record as a businessman, from shipping products to offering customer support, is unparalleled. Briel has the reputation that could get a Kickstarter project funded.

Briel was in the audience for this brainstorming session but did not actually drive this proposal. But if he were to accept it, I would be first in line to give him my money.

For more advice on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, check out Nelson De Witt's A Kickstarter's Guide free e-book and Tyler York's "How to succeed on Kickstarter" blog post.

UPDATE (Oct 21, 2015):: Courtesy Kevin Savetz, here is a video of my KansasFest session.

OUYA returns gaming to the Apple II age

July 16th, 2012 11:36 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Hacks & mods;
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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".

Preparing for the CFFA3000

July 9th, 2012 9:21 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
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The July episode of the Open Apple podcast debuted yesterday (a Sunday! Unprecedented!), featuring an interview with Rich Dreher, one of the Apple II community's foremost hardware developers. After having long been an admirer of his work, I met Rich at KansasFest 2011 — yet despite all that, I've never actually owned a product of his company, R&D Automation, LLC. By the time I'd dusted off my physical IIGS to complement my decade-long exclusivity with emulation, the second model of CFFA had already sold out, and the mythical CFFA3000, promising both CompactFlash and USB interfaces for the Apple II, was on the horizon. As I've reported before, I didn't buy one of the first batch — not even when presented with the opportunity to buy it directly from the dealer at KansasFest — because I spent last summer geographically removed from my Apple II and didn't want a card I could not immediately use. Foolish me! The first batch sold out faster than anyone expected, and the second was another year off.

Finally, the second run is now available and is shipping at the rate of fifty per week. I am invoice #3410, order sequence #134 — whatever that means. Regardless of when my particular order ships, I am looking forward to putting it in my Apple.

… but then what? I've heard folks say that the CFFA3000 revolutionized storage on their machines, eliminating the need for any other drive from floppy to hard. I don't see that happening in my case: I still have my 5.25" disks that need to be imaged, so floppy drives will always have a place in my daisy chain. But the CFFA will certainly make the imaging process faster and easier, eliminating the need to transfer files across a serial or Ethernet cable via the excellent ADTPro.

I'll have my own experiences to report soon, but in the meantime, I'd like to hear from other users of this device. Did you immediately grok the CFFA3000's potential and start using it to the fullest? Or was there a learning curve as you slowly transitioned from 30-year-old technology to this new hardware? Did the card live up to the hype in your experience?

Behind the scenes at Tekserve

July 2nd, 2012 9:39 AM
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Filed under Musings;
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While attending WordCamp NYC with representatives of IvanExpert last month, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Jazmin Hupp, director of marketing for Tekserve, New York City's oldest Apple specialist. She graciously provided us with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Tekserve space, from the classroom to the break room to the museum. I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of objects reflecting Tekserve's and Apple's heritage, including a typewriter, the Cirqus Voltaire pinball machine, and many models of Apple II and Macintosh models.

You don't need to have connections to see these artifacts for yourself: several will be placed on display on the main floor July 17 – September 6 as part of the store's 25th anniversary. In the meantime, this photo gallery should provide an intriguing vicarious experience of my tour.