Archive for December, 2015

Let’s Play Operation Lambda

December 28th, 2015 9:39 AM
Filed under Game trail;
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At KansasFest 2015, I gave a presentation on how to record Let’s Play videos on an Apple II. These videos combine A/V capture of Apple II software, usually games, with the player’s audio commentary of their session. It’s a way not only to demonstrate the program, but also to capture one person’s unique, subjective experience.

My YouTube channel consists primarily of Let’s Play videos of modern gaming consoles, such as the Sony PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Wii U. I occasionally mix it up with videos featuring other kinds of content, though my ability to produce any videos at all depends on how available my day job, night job, and Juiced.GS leave me. I recently enjoyed a bout of freedom from other obligations, and so from October 22 to December 9 — 50 consecutive days — I was able to produce one video a day. I capped that streak with a Let’s Play of one of the most impressive games for the Apple IIGS: Operation Lambda.

“A logic/action game, where you work your way through a space station under distress, deflecting laser beams and saving hostages,” describes developer Bret Victor on the game’s website. The press release lists the game’s features:

  • • 100 levels, ranging from simple to challenging to brain-boggling
  • • an original, kickin’, five-song musical score
  • • impressive graphics from the PowerGS staff artist and former LiveWire IIgs art editor
  • • smooth, flicker-free animation
  • • three difficulty settings
  • • written in 100% assembly language for speed
  • • a concise, one-page printed manual

For the purpose of this recording, I used Eric Shepherd’s Sweet16 emulator, as it was quicker and easier to set up than capturing video off an actual IIGS would’ve been. It was fun to revisit this title from the creator of TextFighter, PuyoPuyo, SurfBurgers, and Opening Line.

Bret Victor was a genius programmer to have developed Operation Lambda at only 16 years old; he was interviewed for Juiced.GS Volume 2, Issue 1 and wrote the cover story for Volume 3, Issue 1. He remains a genius software developer, speaking at a Dropbox developer conference in 2013 on the future of programming:

Personally, I’d like the future of programming to include ports of Victor’s classic games. John Romero recently released Dangerous Dave for iOS — a platform I can see Operation Lambda residing on. Any chance we’ll see updates to these lost classics from Right Triangle Productions?

Scoring Dangerous Dave

December 21st, 2015 11:39 AM
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On IndieSider, my biweekly podcast, I interview game developers about the creative process. The Apple II is one of the platforms that got me into gaming, so I enjoy the opportunities to feature it on my show, bringing everything full circle. For example, Episode #16 featured the voice talents of Brutal Deluxe‘s Antoine Vignau, whereas episode #26 highlighted the work of Wade Clarke in interactive fiction.

Some of my podcast subjects come to me through public relations specialists such as Emily Morganti, whom I’ve found to be a gamer with excellent taste in games. She recently pitched me a game she didn’t realize I have a long history with: Dangerous Dave. This franchise of side-scrolling platform games was founded on the Apple II, where it had two famous names attached to it: publisher Softdisk and developer John Romero.

John has been a friend to the Apple II community before, during, and since his success with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake: he was the KansasFest 2012 keynote speaker, and his writing is featured in this month’s issue of Juiced.GS. He recently ported one of his Dangerous Dave games to iOS — but it was not Mr. Romero that Ms. Morganti was representing. Instead she was putting me in touch with Dren McDonald, the composer who created the score for Gathering Sky, a game I featured in IndieSider #28.

I took the opportunity to interview Dren about his long history of collaborations with the Romero family; creating an original soundtrack for an Apple II game; the programming tools that a digital musician employs; and what constitutes the "chipbilly" genre he invented for this game, seemingly inspired by chiptune. The resulting interview became IndieSider #34, which can be viewed on YouTube:

or listened to in your podcatcher of choice:

I appreciated featuring one of the many creative artists who contribute something to a game other than design or development. It takes a village to keep the Apple II alive!

Erasing the Apple II

December 14th, 2015 11:31 AM
Filed under Mainstream coverage, Steve Wozniak;

We all know the history of Apple Computer Inc. (now Apple Inc.), and how its first products were the Apple-1 and Apple II, designed primarily by Steve Wozniak. The Apple II was the company’s cash cow up to and well after the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, as has been documented in interviews with John Sculley and represented in films such as Steve Jobs.

While Woz laid the foundation for Apple, it was Steve Jobs who built upon it; now, so many generations of products removed from the Apple II, it’s easier to think of Apple as Jobs’ company more than Woz’s. And apparently, that perception is not only just fine by Apple — the company is actively encouraging it. Starting with the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 8, 2015, all Apple press releases close with this tagline:

"Apple revolutionized personal technology with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984."

That’s a true statement, and from a marketing perspective, it’s sensible to reference a product that’s still on the market. But it also starts in the middle of the story, ignoring the genius of "the other Steve" and the products that launched an enterprise.

It’s not news that Apple abandoned the Apple II — in fact, the last Apple press release to mention the Apple II at all was June 22, 2010. But for this new tagline to eliminate seven years of its history from press releases seems deceptive. Should Apple take a step back and publicly acknowledge its heritage?

(Hat tips to Sam Varghese and Darrick Deel)

Steve Jobs: Genius by Design

December 7th, 2015 12:00 PM
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In the past two years, I’ve reviewed three Steve Jobs films for Computerworld. While that market may be saturated, there are still other media left in which to explore the history and personality of Apple’s most infamous co-founder. So, while waiting for the 2017 debut of the opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, I hit up the local library for the graphic novel Steve Jobs: Genius By Design, by Jason Quinn and Amit Tayal.

It was a fun book, and one that presented Jobs in a much more human light than many interpretations. The comic book medium affords the opportunity to visualize its characters’ internal monologues through thought balloons, giving us some insight into Jobs’ drive even as he’s denigrating his own employees. The art and language are fairly simple, by which I mean accessible — the 104-page book is rated for ages ten and up, cementing the book as being for young adults.

Still, I sometimes question the art and word choices. The opening page shows the entire cast of characters from throughout Jobs’ life all chatting together. Here, Woz makes his debut, looking rather apish with dialogue that sounds forced.

But the book is a short read and a welcome reprieve from the cinematic interpretations of Steve Jobs.