Archive for December, 2014

A holiday snow demo

December 29th, 2014 8:13 AM
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Last year, inspired by Blake Patterson's annual Christmas playlist, I uploaded to YouTube a recording of the FTA's XMAS 1990 demo. While I'm glad to have contributed to the archive of holiday demos, it was nothing original I produced — not like what Dagen Brock has done.

Host of the GS Programmer's Home, Dagen recently released his own snow demo, writing:

It snowed this week and that reminded me of a simple snow routine I did for the Apple IIgs around this time last year. I had grand plans to add in music and sprites for a demo, but I've decided to just release the routine as-is.

The code for the snow animation is not the best, but it works. The image uses the lz4 source from Brutal Deluxe and I was also hoping to give a lesson on using that some day, but you can look at the disk image for now. I probably won't post the source anywhere else. Only because it's not of good quality and I will eventually post quality code examples for LZ4, NoiseTracker, Mr. Sprite, etc.

In a Facebook thread, Open Apple co-host Quinn Dunki suggested:

Love it, Dagen . I have the sudden urge to make two updates:

  1. Lower the disappearance coordinate for the snow. The dip on the ground isn't quite getting hit.
  2. Make the snow accumulate like it did in the FTA Xmas demo (one of my favorite parts of that demo- left it running for hours once :)

Dagen replied:

Sorry Quinn, I was hoping no one would notice. Flakes actually go to the bottom, I just hacked the VBlank in a weird way because I was too busy to optimize my code to run fully at 60FPS. You're seeing the undraw hit too early. I originally had planned this to be a big demo to show off loading lz4 images, Mr. Sprite, and Tool 219/220, but I have shelved that idea for now and just threw something out there for the sake of getting something out.

I applaud Dagen for not letting perfect be the enemy of done. That same "release it!" attitude is what led Martin Haye to finally publish Structris, which has since gone on to critical acclaim. As a friend of mine says: "Don't make art — just make something!"

(Hat tip to Dagen Brock)

King's Quest returns

December 22nd, 2014 10:30 AM
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At KansasFest 2010, I presented a session on modern spiritual successors to classic games. Among them was The Silver Lining, an unofficial sequel to King's Quest. The fan-produced game was long delayed due to legal issues with the official copyright holders of the King's Quest series, finally being cleared to begin its episodic release in 2010. Although received to mixed reviews, it was nonetheless a welcome, if unofficial, revival of the King's Quest series, which had lain dormant since Mask of Eternity's 1998 release.

Now it is time for the series to receive an official revival. The brand name of original publisher Sierra has been revived, and in 2015, they will publish King's Quest.

The new game has the blessing of none other than Sierra founders Ken and Roberta Williams, who accepted an award for their contributions to the industry at the recent Game Awards.

Apple II users should be interested to see where this series goes, as its origin is on their favorite computer. Many early King's Quest games were released for the Apple II or IIGS:

  • • Wizard and the Princess (1980)
  • • King's Quest: Quest for the Crown (1984)
  • • King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985)
  • • King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)
  • • King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)

Will this latest sequel return the game to its roots? Or will it be a reboot for a new generation of gamers? We'll find out when it releases in Fall 2015 for PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, and Windows.

Crowdfunding Thimbleweed Park

December 15th, 2014 8:08 AM
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This summer, Ron Gilbert unearthed his Maniac Mansion design notes. What was a seemingly nostalgic trip down memory lane may in fact have been the first steps toward the future: a return to his roots, crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

That's where Gilbert and Gary Winnick, Maniac Mansion co-designer, have successfully funded Thimbleweed Park, a new point-and-click adventure in the style of Maniac Mansion. "Why do we want to make Thimbleweed Park?" asks their campaign, which concludes the afternoon of Thursday, December 18. "Because we miss classic adventures and all their innocence and charm."

Ken Macklin, who designed Maniac Mansion's cover art, will return for Thimbleweed Park. So will David Fox, Lucasfilm's SCUMM scripter who decided to put the hamster in the microwave. And while the game will feature classic pixel art, there'll be a modern soundtrack by Steve Kirk. Writes Gilbert:

Don't get me wrong, I loved the SID chip, PC speaker, the Adlib card and amazing digital sound of the SoundBlaster (that still sounded like it was coming out of a PC speaker), but so much 'emotional data' can be carried in music and your eyes are already bleeding from the awesomely retro art, so why should your ears bleed too?

With all that said, though… what about the gameplay? I'm concerned that the interface appears a little too old school, which, as the developers of Shadowgate recently learned, isn't necessarily designed with modern gamers in mind. And what of the puzzles — will they be more logical? Or will be be sticking hunks of cheese in car ignitions? Gilbert's last game, The Cave, promised to be reminiscent of Maniac Mansion, with multiple playable characters, each with unique talents. But the game didn't exactly tear up the charts.

That all said, I'm willing to give this team and game a chance. I've backed Thimbleweed Park for $20 mark, essentially preordering the finished product, due for delivery in June 2016. I am sorely tempted to kick it up to $50, at which level the reward is having my name and phone number included in an in-game phonebook — and when players dial that number, they'll get my actual voicemail! Either way, stay tuned to this blog in two years to hear my thoughts on what comes next from Gilbert & Co.

Think Retro debuts at Macworld

December 8th, 2014 11:58 AM
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Macworld has seen some hard times lately: on September 10, just a day after the Macworld staff labored to cover Apple's unveiling of the iWatch, most of its writers and editors were laid off and its print edition shuttered. Macworld was the last consumer magazine published by IDG, parent company of Computerworld, my own employer 2007–2013 and present publisher of my freelance pieces. Although I'd never written for Macworld nor knew its staff personally — Computerworld is an enterprise publication and doesn't mingle much with the consumer side of IDG — it still hit close to home to see Macworld mark its 30th anniversary in so punishing a manner.

For all that, though, there is still much good left at Macworld, including last month's debut of a new weekly column: "Think Retro", written by Christopher Phin, former editor at MacUser and MacFormat. Unlike the occasional feature or mainstream news story, "Think Retro" is a regular, ongoing "celebration of classic Apple hardware and software". While none of the four columns published to date are specifically about the Apple II, they does offer practical, relevant information to the modern retrocomputing enthusiast, such as how to use an ADB keyboard with a USB computer or how to open your old ClarisWorks files in Mac OS X.

Apple adjustable keyboard

The Griffin iMate is no RetroConnector, but chances are you have one of these.
Photo copyrighted by Macworld.

While I lament the magazine and website Macworld once was, I'm glad through columns such as "Think Retro" that the brand still offers value to Apple diehards, including us Apple II fans.

Ron Wayne's documents up for sale

December 1st, 2014 1:23 PM
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When I left my position as an editor at Computerworld two years ago, I suggested that their Apple II coverage would be no more. That was an exaggeration, of course — while I did contribute offbeat articles interviewing KansasFest attendees and reviewing Apple biopics, the day-to-day coverage of mainstream events in the retrocomputing world were Gregg Keizer's bailiwick, with frequent reports of Apple history hitting the auction block.

And so it's Keizer who put the Apple-1 back on the Computerworld.com homepage last month with news that Apple co-founder and Adventures of an Apple Founder author Ron Wayne's historical documents are up for sale. "It includes original working proofs of the Apple-1 manual, Wayne's original company logo — perhaps the oldest in existence," reports Keizer, "and design renderings of a proposed Apple II case." A phone interview with Steve Wozniak adds some perspective on the widespread interest in Apple's early history.

Wayne's lot is listed at Christie's and is estimated to sell for $30,000 – $50,000 USD. If you want a closer look at the goods in advance of the December 11 auction, Engadget posted over five dozen images of Wayne's library three years ago.

Ron Wayne's prints

Image courtesy Engadget

I'm hopeful Wayne, the perennial down-on-his-luck example of a missed opportunity, will see some profit from this sale. It's a wonder neither of the Apple co-founders shared their fortunes with their former partner — whether because he warrants or deserves it (would Apple exist without him?), or just out of pity.

UPDATE (13-Dec-14): Ron Wayne's lot sold for $25,000.

(Hat tip to Darrell Etherington and Robert McMillan)