Archive for March, 2018

An Apple II standing desk

March 26th, 2018 8:02 AM
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As part of starting a new job, my employer bought a standing/sitting desk for my home office. I moved my filing cabinets of Juiced.GS back issues to make room and set up the new furniture. To get a sense for its range, I then adjusted it to its maximum height.

Uplift's Bamboo Stand Up Desk, raised

A giant desk.

When I examined what I'd wrought, I didn't see a desk. What I instead pictured was this:

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Stephen Hawking, Richard Garriott and the Apple II

March 19th, 2018 9:21 AM
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The average intelligence of the human race dropped last week with the passing of Dr. Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist who conducted groundbreaking research into black holes, general relativity, and quantum gravity — none of which he may have been able to communicate without the Apple II.

The text-to-speech program that became synonymous with the renowned scientist was founded on the Apple II, as reported Wired in 2014:

Equalizer first ran on an Apple II computer linked to a speech synthesiser made by a company called Speech Plus. This system was then adapted by David Mason, the engineer husband of one of Hawking's nurses [Elaine Mason, whom Hawking would later marry], to a portable system that could be mounted on one of the arms of a wheelchair. With this new system, Hawking was able to communicate at a rate of 15 words per minute.

Hawking [became] very attached to his voice: in 1988, when Speech Plus gave him the new synthesiser, the voice was different so he asked them to replace it with the original. His voice had been created in the early 80s by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt, a pioneer of text-to-speech algorithms. He invented the DECtalk, one of the first devices to translate text into speech.

His trademark voice wasn't Dr. Hawking's only intersection with the Apple II over the years. He became friends with Richard Garriott, the intrepid explorer whose legendary role-playing games, Akalabeth and Ultima, took many an armchair adventurer into realms unknown. Garriott was likewise accompanied by Dr. Hawking on some extraordinary exploits: the two flew together in a "zero-g" flight in 2007.

Dr. Hawking's passing coincided with the annual media festival SXSW, prompting a programming change to accommodate a remembrance to the late physicist, "A SXSW Tribute to Stephen Hawking with Stories from Richard Garriott, Karl Gebhardt and Stephen Wolfram".

The world is poorer for the loss of Dr. Stephen Hawking — but Dr. Hawking and the Apple II community were richer for having known each other.

(Hat tips to Steve Weyhrich, Cult of Mac, India Today, iNews, and Spectrum Local News)

Wizardry: The first CRPG?

March 12th, 2018 7:11 AM
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Many of us know that the venerable Ultima series of role-playing games had its spiritual origin when Richard Garriott developed Akalabeth for the Apple II in 1979. But according to SyFy, it was the 1981 game Wizardry that qualifies as "the first computer-based RPG".

Although declaring anything the "first" is debatable, the video is a good overview of the era in which Wizardry released and the factors that made it popular. I would've appreciated if the video dissected the game's reception in other regions: Wizardry achieved significant fame in Japan and saw many sequels exclusive to that country. The game was also translated to French, as I discovered with this manual that Brutal Deluxe brought to KansasFest 2017.

The Wizardry manual… in French!

The write-up that accompanies the SyFy video is less accurate: observing that "[The developers] had to face the technical limitations of the era (such as writing the game in basic and very limited memory space)" overlooks that the final game was developed in Pascal. And saying that "There were eight games in all in the Wizardry series, starting with the notoriously hard Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and ending with Wizardry 8, released in 2001" is accurate insofar as the main series goes, but it omits the franchise's spin-offs, of which there have been many.

Sadly, there aren't many modern versions of Wizardry available for gamers to choose from these days. In 2011, I blogged about the PlayStation 3 and iOS release of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. But the PlayStation 4 supplanted the PS3 in 2013, and the game is no longer available on iOS, either. The only modern incarnation of the franchise that's currently available is Wizrogue – Labyrinth of Wizardry, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux on Steam as of February 24, 2017.

Given the lack of gameplay, it's not the most compelling trailer. But it's nonetheless good to see the series live on, if in name only.

The Oregon Trail handheld game now available

March 5th, 2018 7:54 AM
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Oregon Trail is seeing not only a resurgence in popularity, but also translation to a variety of media, from card game to stage play to Minecraft skin. Just now hitting the streets is yet another adaptation: the Oregon Trail electronic handheld game.

This game is the product of Basic Fun, a company that has released dedicated handhelds based on arcade classics such as Frogger, Q*Bert and Pac-Man. Oregon Trail seems to be the first time they've adapted a computer game, especially one that requires alphanumeric input. As such, this is not a straight port, having been adapted to use the handheld's directional keys.

This is not the first Oregon Trail game to be available exclusively from Target, with the 2016 card game and its follow-up being the first. But unlike those previous releases, Basic Fun's game isn't yet listed on the store's website, and it can't even be found on store shelves — at least not when I tried. After confirming Target had the game in stock, I asked a store clerk about the game and provided them with DPCI (similar to a SKU) 087-10-2886. They looked it up in their inventory and found that all 12 of the store's units were still sitting in a box in the back room, yet to have been put on display. Knowing how hard it'd be to find these games once they were released, I asked if there was a limit to how many I could buy. Indeed there was: I was limited to the 12 they had in stock.

I, uh… I may have gotten a bit carried away.

I'll continue my exploration of this handheld journey to Willamette Valley in Juiced.GS!

(Hat tips to Kevin Savetz and Kirk Millwood)