Archive for September, 2013

Working on Juiced.GS's deadline

September 30th, 2013 6:15 PM
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The latest issue of Juiced.GS shipped this weekend, and it's already arriving in subscribers' mailboxes on both coasts, as reported on Facebook and Google+. It's gratifying to know all the last-minute work is now being enjoyed. I was at the printshop as soon as they opened on Saturday morning to collect the quarterly bounty. I then hauled the issues to a corner of the USPS, combined them with the stamped and labeled catalog envelopes I had with me, and handed the set to the clerk.

Juiced.GS envelopes

The postmaster was nearly crushed by the avalanche of Apple II magazines.


This issue marks my 23rd as publisher of Juiced.GS. In that time, the magazine has always been mailed in the month printed on the cover; not once has that deadline been missed. But sometimes it's been close, and I wonder why I do it to myself — why couldn't I have built more leeway into the schedule?

To be fair, sometimes it's not me doing it — writers have been known to miss their deadlines, leaving the layout to the last minute! But planning starts at the top, and I hold myself responsible for delays or conflicts. For example, this fall was my first juggling both the annual MS Challenge Walk and teaching at Emerson College. With both events commencing within days of each other, there were two straight weeks when almost all the content for this issue of Juiced.GS had been submitted to me and I did nothing with it. Surely I could've seen that coming — both were scheduled at least six months out.

But I wonder if things would turn out better, or even any different, if Juiced.GS were prepared further in advance. Sometimes the best work is done under pressure, and it isn't until all the pieces come together that the issue can be evaluated as a whole. That's when the entire Juiced.GS staff pores over the pages, knowing that if we don't all pitch in now, the readers won't get the quality publication that we all put our names on.

Whatever our standards, even if Juiced.GS is the best Apple II publication currently in print, I'm always looking for ways to make it and its workflows serve its constituents better. Each issue is a new opportunity, and I'm already looking forward to December — and beyond!

DuelTris's Steve Chiang makes it big at Zynga

September 23rd, 2013 10:34 PM
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Game Informer has proven an unlikely yet excellent source for insights into Apple II celebrities. The monthly gaming magazine covers the electronic entertainment industry that consists of Windows, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, and iOS games, among others. But their regular back-of-the-book feature, "Classic GI", delves into the history of Apple II games such as Maniac Mansion and companies like Activision, while interviews go direct to the source with gamers who got their start on the Apple II, like Steve Wozniak.

In June 2012, the print edition's monthly interview was with someone named Steve Chiang. I found that curious, since there's another Steve Chiang in the Apple II world: DuelTris, a 1992 multiplayer Tetris variation with an excellent soundtrack and power-ups that enhance, rather than muddy, the gameplay, was developed by DreamWorld, an Apple IIGS software company consisting of Steven Chiang, Dave Seah, and James Brookes. But this interview was with someone who was big in the modern, not retrocomputing, game industry, so I chalked it up to coincidence: perhaps it was a common enough a name that Game Informer had found someone else in the industry who shared a name with the developer of one of my all-time favorite Apple II games. (I've been wanting to set up a DuelTris tournament at KansasFest for years!)

Steve Chiang
Who might this Steve Chiang be?

Wanting to learn more about this unknown figure, I scanned the article's margin for his professional timeline:

  • 1983: BONDING Chiang meets Jason Andersen, who would go on to co-found Tiburon. The pair bonds over games
  • 1990: FIRST STEPS In the summer. Chiang and Andersen begin working on a paint program for the Apple IIGS called Dream Graphics
  • 1992: INDIE PUBLISHING The pair release the finished Dream Graphics and sell around 5,000 copies
  • 1994: WEAPONLORD Chiang follows Andersen to Visual Concepts and helps create the ultra-challenging cult SNES/Genesis fighting game Weaponlord
  • 1995: NEW BEGINNINGS Chiang leaves Visual Concepts to join Andersen and John Schappert's new development studio, Tiburon
  • 1996: BIG BREAK After Visual Concepts fails to deliver a PlayStation version of Madden NFL 96, Tiburon is given the chance to turn its college football game into Madden NFL 97
  • 1999: PRODUCING HITS Chiang ships his first game as a producer, NCAA Football 2000
  • 2002: MANAGING GROWTH Co-founder John Schappert departs to EA Canada, and Chiang earns the title of general manager at EA Tiburon
  • 2007: THE SPORTING LIFE As senior vice president and group general manager of EA Sports, Chiang oversees all development of sports games
  • 2010: THE SOCIAL SCENE Sensing a chance in the market, Chiang departs Electronic Arts to work for Zynga as president of games

That's right: it's the same Steve Chiang, an Apple IIGS shareware game programmer, who went on to become president of games for the company that makes FarmVille.

For an Apple II programmer to "make it big" is not unheard of — just look at Bill Budge, Brian Fargo, Jordan Mechner, or any of the other developers John Romero interviewed for his KansasFest 2012 keynote speech. But it strikes me as unusual to see a game developer advance up the corporate ranks, as opposed to continuing to make games.

What could've led Chiang to change his career path? The answer may lie with us. From the DuelTris documentation:

Registration

There are two ways to register your copy of DuelTris.

  1. Send a $15 check or money order to the address below. In return, we will send you a version of DuelTris with preferences and high scores enabled.
  2. Send a $20 check or money order to the address below [redacted]. In return we will send you the Limited Edition version of DuelTris, which includes the fully functional game, plus a special 3.5" disk case, similar to a CD jewel case w/ a full color insert and printed instructions.
  3. All registered users will be entitled to future versions of the game.

    If enough people send in their registration fees, I'd be interested in adding more features to the DuelTris, such as joystick support, modem support, tournament mode so you can set-up round robin tournaments, saving of each person's win-loss record, better computer logic, etc. I'd also be very tempted to start another 2 player game. Otherwise, I'll stick to commercial software.

If only we'd paid our shareware fees, we might never have gotten FarmVille! (Or maybe we would've, except for the Apple II.)

But it might not be too late. If we all send our DuelTris registration fees today to Chiang, c/o Zynga, maybe we'll rekindle his love for the Apple II. I wonder how many of those Limited Editions he has kicking around the office…?

(Hat tip to Open Apple)

Next-generation Structris

September 16th, 2013 12:11 PM
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Yesterday I attended the second annual Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Developers from throughout the Boston region set up shop at MIT to demonstrate a passion and talent that shines despite a lack of funding or big-name notoriety.

In anticipation of this event, The Boston Globe's Jesse Singal published an article, "Cool titles await at Festival of Indie Games", which described one game, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment, as "'Tetris,' only there¬ís a little guy — controlled by your human opponent — running around at the bottom trying not to get crushed by the falling blocks."

Sound familiar? I was perhaps the only BostonFIG attendee with the background to find the game evocative of Martin Haye's Structris. Admittedly, it'd bit of a stretch to accuse Explosive developer Barbaric Games of ripping off Martin's idea. Plus, Barbaric Games promised their take would be "bloodier and with an extra dimension".

As it turned out, there was much more to their game than that. Read my report on Computerworld.com for more details.

Resurrecting Athletic Diabetic

September 9th, 2013 5:49 PM
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When Ryan Suenaga passed away in April 2011, I was made acutely aware of the need to have a digital proxy — that is, someone who can make decisions about the continued existence of my digital footprint, much as my healthcare proxy can decide whether or not to pull the plug on my organic life. More recently, Google also saw the wisdom of such a backup, having introduced the Inactive Account Manager — but my data extend well beyond Google, and I wanted such security years before Google thought to go there. That's why I established a secure contingency plan of someone who will acquire all my passwords and data in case of an emergency, but not before.

However, that doesn't help Ryan, who had no reason to expect he'd not be managing his own data for years to come. Tony Diaz stepped in and managed to acquire backups of several of Ryan's sites. I too picked up some of the pieces Ryan left behind, one of which was ryansuenaga.com, the registration of which Ryan had let lapse within his lifetime; paying that particular bill hadn't seemed a priority to him. With the help of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, I restored it.

Today, I'm relieved to bring another of Ryan's sites back to life. This past summer solstice, one of his former domains became available. I wasn't at my computer the moment it was released — fittingly enough, I was out for a bike ride that evening — but the domain was secured for me by proxy bidding service NameJet. I waited the requisite two months before transferring the registration to my preferred hosting company, DreamHost, then asked Tony if he had a backup of the original WordPress site. He did. After cleaning hacked files, updating plugins, disabling comments, and changing administrative contacts, Athletic Diabetic is once again available:

Athletic Diabetic

This blog is meant to share information from my personal experiences dealing with diabetes and exercise. I’m a medical social worker who not just works with diabetics, I am a Type II diabetic. I’ve lost over 80 pounds and counting since 2002 and have completed century (100 mile) bike rides and a marathon. I’ll be relating my experiences and research in both the diabetic and athletic arenas through this blog.

I hope you enjoy yourself here!

All 439 posts Ryan wrote between Apr 4, 2009, and April 19, 2011, have been restored to their original URLs.

In the grand scheme of life, what I've done doesn't amount to much — but the quality of the thing doesn't always matter. As Ryan would say: a site that exists is better than one that doesn't.

A computer history museum returns to Boston

September 2nd, 2013 6:41 PM
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Eight years ago, I took Ryan Suenaga to the Boston Museum of Science, whose "ComputerPlace" exhibit featured an Apple II with a copy of VisiCalc. Although exciting to see, this one display was the extent of Boston's preservation of computer history. The Computer History Museum, now a Silicon Valley landmark, had its humble beginnings in Boston, where it lived for 15 years. Upon its relocation to Mountain View, California, no similar establishment remained in Boston.

Northeastern University lecturer Mary Hopper aims to rectify that. As the Boston Globe reports, when the Computer History Museum left Boston, Hopper started collecting computer artifacts (including an Apple II Plus), waiting for the day she could donate them to whatever local institution took the CHM's place. With that not having happened, she's now setting out to establish her own computer museum: the Digital Den. To do so, she's turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $25,000 by September 23. She's presently at 6% of her goal.

How this project got so far under the radar baffles me. I asked local representatives of @party, the Artisan's Asylum, and KansasFest, and nobody had heard of this endeavor. I'm also concerned about how vast an enterprise Hopper is undertaking — there's more to starting a museum than having an inventory. However, a visit to the Den by local retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross resulted in an encouraging report:

Mary is every bit as impressive as her bio makes her out to be. She's done some impressive work and has been involved with making sure her work and the work of those around her were preserved well before they could be considered "history".

She's also been talking to lawyers and other museums to get a sense of what she can legally do for fundraising and what kind of donations she can accept. It's refreshing to see that kind of due diligence.

If Hopper can accomplish what no one else has tried in more than a decade, then I will do what I can to support her — and already have, thanks to Indiegogo. I look forward to visiting the Den for myself!