Archive for April, 2018

Apple II Bits' octal birthday

April 30th, 2018 7:46 AM
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This past weekend, I set up my Apple IIGS in my game room and connected it to my HDTV. I popped in some floppies and played a few classic games: Choplifter, Lode Runner, Karateka, and Conan. Each was as fun as I remembered.

The excuse for this occasion was research for a Juiced.GS article. As editor of that publication, most of my contributions and responsibilities don't require me to work on the metal, but this particular article called for the real thing.

But underpinning this academic exercise was unbridled enthusiasm for returning to my roots. I spend my days on a laptop with macOS and WordPress, all environments that I very much enjoy and which even inspire a degree of devotion. But nothing brings a smile to my face like the Apple II.

It was fitting that this game session coincided with the eighth anniversary of Apple II Bits: on April 29, 2010, I published my first blog post to this site. I've continued to write about the Apple II every Monday since. Whereas once such musings would constitute my quarterly "A Word or ][" column for Juiced.GS, I've now written 524 such columns for this website — enough to sustain 125 years of Juiced.GS.

Eight apples

Eight apple bits = one apple byte?

I'm never wanting for something to say about the Apple II, but some times are easier than others. One August, freshly home from KansasFest, I found myself bursting with ideas and wrote the next several months' worth of columns in advance. Other times, I come home from work on Monday night, knowing what to say but having only until midnight to say it.

Regardless of the volume or urgency, there's always a new chapter to write. Whenever Steve Wozniak is a speaker somewhere, he's introduced as the inventor of the Apple II. Anytime a "top games of all time" list is compiled, an Apple II game makes an appearance. And wherever Raspberry Pi and Arduino hacking occurs, it's often to connect Apple II equipment to modern environments.

I've always said of Juiced.GS that the magazine will publish as long as there are stories to tell, writers to tell them, and subscribers to read them. With Apple II Bits, I need only one of those three criteria: stories to tell.

At this rate, another eight years seems assured.

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Dungeons & Microzine

April 23rd, 2018 11:45 AM
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Earlier this month, I attended my ninth annual PAX East, a video game convention held here in Boston, Massachusetts. The event offers panels, game demos, competitions, and merchandise. That's roughly the order in which the parts of PAX appeal to me, as I try to save my money and avoid the merch table. But there's one kind of merch I can never resist: dice.

When my age was in the single digits, I found my older brother's Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, complete with polyhedral dice. I'd never before encountered dice with more than six pipped sides and was fascinated to discover dice could have any number of sides: four, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty! I eventually saved my pennies and bought a one-hundred-sided die from the TSR Hobby Shop.

Dice

A fraction of my collection.

These days, every trip to PAX East includes a stop by the Chessex booth, where I pore over dice of different shapes, colors, and materials. Even though I no longer play D&D, I usually go home from PAX East with a few additions to my dice collection.

I want my nephews to experience some of the same awe and fantasy I did as a kid. When I saw one of them randomly rolling dice last month, I decided to expand his horizons with more dice acquired at PAX East.

But what was he to do with these dice? Rolling them at random without purpose or structure would be entertain for only so long. So I set out to find some games he could play.
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Apple Personal Modem rescue

April 16th, 2018 11:32 AM
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When I recall my first dial-up connection, I think about the Apple II and CompuServe. But I often overlook the piece of hardware that connected the two: the Apple Personal Modem.

The Apple Personal Modem was a first-party peripheral, matching the color palette and design aesthetic of the Apple IIe I used it with. The modem maxed out at a whopping 1200 bps, which, if I recall, was roughly reading speed — perfect for the all-text interface of CompuServe. The modem dutifully granted me access to the Academic American Encyclopedia (GO AAE), an invaluable resource for my secondary education.

When we moved houses and upgraded to an Apple IIGS, many other upgrades followed, among them more RAM, a SCSI card, and a faster modem, and then still a faster modem. These years later, I can't tell you the brand or model of those later modems that enabled me to download such games as Plunder and Bouncin' Ferno — but the Apple Personal Modem has remained memorable for its heft, handheld-sized form factor, and unusual power supply, eschewing a power cord or brick in favor of plugging directly into a wall outlet. In fact, it wasn't until I watched this unboxing video that I discovered there was another model that did not have the inbuilt prong but instead used a more traditional power cord.

I don't know what happened to my Apple Personal Modem; I haven't seen it in decades. Rather than it being buried somewhere in my collection, it more likely was disposed of as soon as it was no longer of practical value.

Recently, a friend who was visiting Apple Rescue of Denver asked me if there was anything I wanted salvaged. Of everything in the store's inventory, I don't know what drew me to the Apple Personal Modem, but as soon as I saw it, I knew we needed to be reunited.

Since I still have those faster modems and even an Uthernet II card, the Apple Personal Modem remains more a curiosity than the connection to the online world that it once represented. But for the reasonable fee of $15, I'm glad to again own this pioneering peripheral.

Now if only I could remember the name of the telecom software I used with it…

King's Quest a Hall of Fame candidate

April 9th, 2018 7:48 AM
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Every year, the World Video Game Hall of Fame — a product of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York — conducts a poll of which video games deserve to be inducted into the annals of history. The criteria are not what games we had the most fun playing or are the most nostalgic for, but which games have "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

Given the substantial impact such games must've had on the industry, you'd think Apple II software would be a shoe-in. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Not a single Apple II game was inducted in 2017, and previous years overlooked such obvious candidates as Oregon Trail.

Video Game Hall of Fame 2018

This year's candidates—recognize any?

This year isn't looking to make a much stronger showing, unfortunately. From the following dozen finalists, three have been selected to be added to the Hall of Fame in 2018:

All 12 games are worthy candidates, but the Apple II can lay claim to only two of them: King's Quest and John Madden Football. Of the two, I'd much rather see King's Quest be inducted. But does Sierra On-Line's flagship title have the longevity, geographic reach, and influence to attain that status?

We'll find out soon enough — voting ended last Wednesday, and the winners will be announced on Thursday, May 3. Stay tuned!

(Hat tip to the AP)

KansasFest is the Greatest Show!

April 2nd, 2018 9:20 AM
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Registration for KansasFest 2018 is now open. I've now signed up for the 30th, and my 21st, annual Apple II expo.

A highlight of KansasFest used to be the celebrity roast, in which a member of the community was lovingly raked over the coals by his best friends and peers. That tradition has been replaced by the Apple II Forever awards, which let me off the hook for coordinating the annual roast.

But the awards themselves are not… entertaining. To make up for that, committee member Steve Weyhrich has taken to riffing on pop songs, creating original music videos and lyrics that are astounding displays of creativity and passion. There is no better representation of the enthusiasm and unique nature of the Apple II community and its annual convention than Dr. Steve's productions.

These videos usually debut at KansasFest, but this year, Steve has decided to leave his camera at home. We instead get to enjoy his video four months early, with the opening of this year's registration coinciding with the release of "The KFest Show", a parody of "The Greatest Show" from the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman:

Holy cow, Steve. Had I known you were capable of such impressive feats, I would've resigned from the committee sooner and given you my seat!