Archive for October, 2012

More Tetris and Not Tetris

October 29th, 2012 6:33 AM
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Two years ago, I discovered Not Tetris, a physics-based puzzle game inspired by the classic that so addicted the Woz. It was a cute variation on the original, but since the trademark line-clearing mechanic of Tetris was absent, it offered little replay value.

The creatively named sequel, Not Tetris 2, resolves that issue:

Not Tetris 2 is the spiritual successor of the classic Tetris mixed with physics. The result is a fun spinoff in which blocks are no longer bound to the usual grid. Blocks can be rotated and placed at any angle, resulting in a complete mess if not careful. And with the newest cutting edge technology, Not Tetris 2 allows line clears when the lines are sufficiently filled. The old mode is still available for play and is now called Stack.

Stack mode simulates the original Not Tetris, making it obsolete in the face of the sequel. The implementation of the line-clearing function is strange, though. It seems to clear individual lines of pixels, not blocks, and can occur well below where the current piece has been placed, as if the pile were being jostled into completion.

A typical Not Tetris 2 playing field,
after some lines have been cleared.
The results of my first round of
Not Tetris 2.

But it's still a fun game with all the familiar graphics and tunes, including one I recognized from a Tetris-themed video on the history of the USSR — a popular Russian folk song, perhaps?

Not Tetris 2 is available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, with the separate Löve extension no longer needed for the Windows and Mac versions. The game is courtesy of Maurice Guegan of Stabyourself.net (which describes itself as "Commodore 64 compatible"), creator of the Mario / Portal mashup Mari0.

If you prefer your Tetris a bit more hardcore and unadulterated, check out Ecstasy of Order, a documentary about Tetris champions that I caught at last month's BostonFIG:

Or, if you want to kick it old school, watch hard floppy drives play the Tetris theme song. (Hey, if they can do Star Wars, why not Tetris?)

It's good to see a game that's survived long enough to have had an official Apple II incarnation continue to be enjoyed and innovated!

The BBS you can't telnet home to

October 22nd, 2012 1:22 PM
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Earlier this month, I received an email that BBSmates was resuming operation as of October 4. I had to read the full email to figure out what this meant, as apparently BBSmates had been out of commission long enough for me to have forgotten signing up for this email list in the first place! It is a telnet-based bulletin board system in the style of old-school dial-up BBSs that offers one of the most attractive features of that pre-Internet networking landscape: door games.

Legend of the Red DragonThese multiplayer online games were often played asynchronously, much like today's mobile apps such as Draw Something and Words With Friends. Since many dial-up BBSs had only one phone line, gameplay was limited to one player at a time. Gamers would log in, use up their allotted daily turns (in any number of text-based environments from a medieval forest to a futuristic space station), then log off and wait 24 hours to see what happens next. BBSmates offers plenty of classics — Legend Of The Red Dragon (LORD), Food Fight, Trade Wars, Usurper — playable by telnetting to the service or using a Web-based Flash interface.

I was excited to learn about BBSmates, as I was heavily into running and using BBSs from 1992 to 1997. Door games could make or break a caller's experience, and my favorite was Space Ship of Death, available for Commodore 64 and PC BBSs (and, once upon a time, playable on the Web at MurderMotel.com). I enjoyed it so much, I ported it to the Apple II for the Warp Six BBS software. Despite being only 624 lines of Applesoft BASIC code, it stands as the most complicated program I've written to date.

Despite these fond memories, I started wondering: can one truly go back again? I'd already tried once before — three years ago, when Zork was reimagined as a graphical Web-based game that ran from April 1, 2009, to May 31, 2011. I played it for the first two months, and the daily allotment of turns both reminded of the experience of early BBS games and encouraged me to play regularly. But ultimately, I fell off the wagon because I realized I wasn't connecting with the game. There were two factors missing.

One was a sense of community, which wasn't surprising, given the new Zork's its global audience. By contrast, access to a dial-up BBS was restricted by finances — only if you could afford long-distance charges was the world your oyster — so though I didn't know the people I was playing Trade Wars against, I knew they were nearby. Even that unexpressed commonality was enough to bring us together. I was fighting with and against potential neighbors, classmates, and citizens; on the Internet, I'm fighting the unknown world.

The second absent quality was a sense of investment. As prohibitive as those telephone charges were, it also gave the dial-up connection an intrinsic value. Time spent online was quantifiable at an hourly rate, which subconsciously trickled down to the actions and interactions one experienced on the service. Whether I played Zork or not, I wasn't at risk of losing anything; I had no stake in the experience.

I don't mean to disparage telnet BBSs in general or BBSmates specifically — door games still have the potential to be fun and need to be preserved and made accessible, both for those who enjoy them and for those curious for a hands-on experience with telecommunications history. In the latter category, BBSmates offers other valuable features, such as a BBS index, similar to Jason Scott's TEXTFILES.COM list but more searchable. (Yup, I'm in there!). And if it's just the games you want, BBSmates is not alone in offering a retro experience via telnet; The BBS Corner indexes over 350 such services still in operation — still a shadow of the peak in 1994 of 45,000 dial-up services.

Wherever you telnet to, if you want to go home again, the software is there to let you. It just may not be the home you remember.

Rescuing the Prince of Persia from the sands of time

October 15th, 2012 2:17 PM
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Jordan Mechner is a hot ticket these days. I don't know exactly when that happened — in 2003 when his Apple II classic Prince of Persia got rebooted for a modern gaming audience, or 2010 when the franchise was adapted to film, or 2012 when he was the PAX East keynote speaker. Regardless, he and his properties seem to be popping up everywhere these days, with The Last Express coming out for iOS this month and a new Karateka due out real soon now.

The Mechner story that was perhaps of most relevance to Apple II users occurred earlier this year, when the source code for his original Prince of Persia was found and salvaged. The effort was 95% Tony Diaz, with the other 5% being Jason Scott knowing to bring Diaz into the equation. As the connective tissue, Scott observed the entire experience and gave a presentation about it on Friday, September 28, 2012, at Derbycon. The entire 52-minute session is now available online (note: contains NSFW language):

Remove the foul language and the tendency toward eccentric clothing, and Scott is still an entertaining speaker who knows his material and has a good delivery style. I recommend this and any other presentation of his you have the opportunity to attend.

What's next for Jordan Mechner? At PAX East, he commented that computer gaming was essentially a sidequest toward his goal of becoming a Hollywood scriptwriter. Yet gaming seems to be where he's known best, and he continues to return to that scene. Whichever one makes him happy, I look forward to his continued works.

Wozstralia

October 8th, 2012 1:06 PM
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Switzerland may be the birthplace of the World Wide Web, but that invention is just a component of the larger Internet, for which the United States of America can claim responsibility. Yet the USA has fallen behind in broadband penetration and speed (6.7 Mbps average — just 43% of what South Korea attains).

So embarrassed by this performance that the USA may lose another of its children: Steve Wozniak wants to move to Australia, where a national broadband network is being deployed.

Sydney Opera House"I support it very much. It's one of the reasons why I actually like this country and want to become a citizen," Woz told the Australian Financial Review. "It turns out I can keep my American citizenship. I intend to call myself an Australian and feel an Australian, and study the history and become as much of a real citizen here as I can."

This isn't just idle chatter, either: The Mercury News reports that Woz was in Brisbane at the time of the iPhone 5's launch, filing the documents necessary to begin the citizenship process to settle in the Land of Woz.

It's ironic that Woz would place so much emphasis on personal broadband, as his current California residence lacks that connectivity. The Woz is apparently able to get by with mobile access from his multiple cell phones.

Be it mobile or broadband, Woz's and the world's connectivity needs are very different from the days in which the Apple II was invented. Even today, though the telecommunication projects of Ewen Wannop are nearly essential additions to any modern Apple II user's software library, there's so much we can do offline with our classic computers. While the same can be said for Macs and PCs — games and productivity suites often work fine without an Internet connection — I never feel as crippled with an offline Apple II as I do with an offline MacBook. Instead, I enjoy the slower pace of the Apple II, the thoughtful navigation and swapping of disks, and the monotasking work environment.

Does Woz need to switch countries — or computers?

(Hat tips to Paul Lilly and Om Malik)

The Voyage of the Kansasian

October 1st, 2012 11:09 AM
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A little game that's been making the rounds this month is FTL: Faster Than Light, released on September 14 for Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is first game to have sought Kickstarter funding and be released after Double Fine Adventure broke the dam on indie game funding. Like Tim Schafer, FTL developers Subset Games got much more than they asked for: their goal was $10,000, and they got $200,000.

Some of the media is describing FTL as a roguelike — that is, a game like Rogue, a fantasy role-playing game that was ported to the Apple IIGS. (Don Worth's Beneath Apple Manor for the Apple II has also been described as a roguelike, even though its release predates Rogue by two years.) A roguelike is "characterized by level randomization, permanent death, and turn-based movement", though the outer space setting and spaceship interface of FTL has prompted its developers to call it a "roguelike-like".

Gamer and KansasFest alumnus Wayne Arthurton decided to plot a retro course for his FTL spaceship by christening it after the premier Apple II convention and manning it with fellow geeks. The virgin flight of the Kansasian was last week, with more adventures to follow:

Like Wayne, I too have named characters after Apple II users. Andy, Wayne, and I are all gamers on the Xbox 360, where we sometimes play Worms 2: Armageddon. Annelids named Sheppy and Antoine have taken a few bazooka missiles to the face in their day.

Another opportunity to connect KFesters with gaming may come at KansasFest 2013, where it's been proposed we play Artemis, a starship simulator modeled after Star Trek. Artemis networks several Windows terminals as bridge stations such as helm, communications, and weapons. Here's a sample of a game with a six-person bridge crew:

Who knows in what other actual or virtual gaming environments we KFesters may encounter each other?

UPDATE: Artemis is coming to iOS and will be cross-platform compatible with the PC original. That should make a KansasFest session much easier to arrange. Thanks for the heads-up, Sean Fahey!