Archive for October, 2019

Apple II in Six, SIx, Six

October 28th, 2019 4:41 AM
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While recently touring the Rijksmuseum, I was reminded just how influential Christianity has been on classical art. The Bible must be the most inspirational and reinterpreted book in history, as evidenced by the many paintings hanging in the Rijksmuseum galleries.

With the Apple II being just as important to the development of personal computers, I shouldn't be surprised that it and Christianity should intersect to make history.

In 1984, six-year-old music band DeGarmo & Key released the record Communication. On this LP was the single "Six, Six, Six", for which they produced this music video featuring Satan using the Apple II as a medium to seduce a young man.

Upon first viewing, I found the premise rather objectionable. The Apple II as a tool the Devil? A Commodore 64 would've been more believable. Also, who loads random software into their computer without knowing where it's from?? Then I remembered that viruses were scarce 35 years ago, and their ability to infect other programs was limited by the nature of floppy disks. As someone who was always hungry for the latest and greatest games, I probably would've inserted any floppy that promised a modicum of entertainment.

Good thing that kid was of a similar mindset, as otherwise we wouldn't have this fascinating music video to analyze. I see in it many motifs that were later repeated in other movies about games, computers, and wish fulfillment. As in the movie Shazam, a powerful figure offers teenagers untold power by first tempting them with great evil. Similar to "The Bishop of Battle", the main character is pulled into the game. Like in The Matrix, anyone in this virtual world could be an agent of the enemy. And ultimately, just like Jumanji, the cursed game is discarded by the hero, only to be found by a new, unsuspecting victim.

But these are not the reasons the music video made history. According to Wikipedia:

DeGarmo & Key were the first American Christian group to have a music video appear on MTV …The original video for the song "Six, Six, Six" was one of a number of videos that MTV pulled from rotation due to violent content. The purge was a public reaction to the U.S. Senate hearings on sex and violence in music. MTV had misinterpreted the song "Six, Six, Six" as an anti-Christian statement. According to industry news reports at the time, MTV executive Sandra Sparrow was unaware that DeGarmo & Key were a Christian band when she included the video in a list of videos to be excised. MTV allowed DeGarmo & Key to submit a re-edited version, which was placed back into rotation. Removed from the re-edited video was a short scene of a man representing the Antichrist being set on fire.

I'm not familiar with those particular Senate hearings, though they're similar to the ones I researched for my thesis on moral panics: when a new form of media or entertainment appears, adults blame it for juvenile delinquency — similar to how the Apple II is depicted here.

The resulting edited, "tamer" music video, which retains the Apple II's role in full, is here:

Whichever the version, this wasn't the Apple II's last appearance in a music video — but it's surely the first time it appeared in a banned music video!

(Hat tip to Randy Brandt!)

Jean Armour Polly put computers in libraries

October 21st, 2019 7:00 AM
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Last month, the Internet Hall of Fame inducted a new class. Among its members was Jean Armour Polly, who pioneered free Internet access in public libraries.

And she did so with an Apple II, according to Syracuse.com. While the Internet and the Apple II were not exactly contemporaries, Polly was an advocate for computers in libraries well before they were put online.

It was 1981 and this was groundbreaking. They set up the computer, a black Apple 2 Plus, in a spot where everyone could use it. The American Legion raised money to buy the printer. At the time, Liverpool was one of two libraries in the country with a computer, said Polly, a Syracuse University alumna.

That's not Polly's only contribution to computer literacy and Internet lore: she also popularized the term "surfing" for Internet activity.

While Polly popularized the phrase, she didn't coin it. The first use of "surfing the Internet" was by Mark McCahill on the Usenet newsgroup alt.gopher on February 25, 1992:

There is a lot to be said for surfing the internet with gopher from anywhere that you can find a phone jack.

I'm a big fan of public libraries, making weekly visits to mine to get free movies, books, and video games (and to look for Apple II software). While I haven't needed to use a library's computers, I realize that making this resource available to the community is an invaluable service with a high return on investment.

Our thanks to Polly for being among those who got the ball rolling with an Apple II Plus!

(Hat tip to Andy Molloy)

Jeri Ellsworth of Tilt Five

October 14th, 2019 8:51 AM
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Sometimes, Apple II users have ambitions bigger than their humble retrocomputers. Steve Chiang went to work at Zynga and Warner Bros. Richard Garriott flew into space.

And now, Jeri Ellsworth is setting out to redefine reality with Tilt Five.

Jeri's mixed reality rig is impressive in its own right. But it's all the cooler due to Jeri being an Apple II rockstar, too… Well, maybe more Commodore 64.

But she was a cover story for Juiced.GS, too!

Jeri Ellsworth on cover of Juiced.GS

Doug Cuff's interview with Jeri opens:

She's a self-confessed hardware nerd, and she has a mission. She wants to rebuild one of the most popular and beloved microcomputers of the 1980s: the Commodore 64.

On the way, she's going to be a big help to the Apple II. But even if she wasn't, you would still want to pay homage to Jeri Ellsworth.

When she was 16, Jeri Ellsworth was playing with her Commodore 64, and she wanted it to have more colors. (Just as with the Apple II, people mentally dismissed the C-64 long before production stopped. The last C-64 rolled off the production line in 1992.)

By the time she had explored the idea of improving on the C-64's hardware, Jeri wanted to create a C-64 on a single chip. She liked the idea of a C-64 palmtop. And she was still being driven by forces that most of us can understand: she wanted to play all her old games, and at the same time, she wanted them to have better graphics.

Jeri is also an alumna of KansasFest, Vintage Computer Festival East, and the JoCoCruise, at all of which our paths have crossed.

Tilt Five's Kickstarter was the latest opportunity for me to intersect with Jeri, as her project was a perfect fit for my monthly gaming podcast, Polygamer. Our hour-long chat (with a few opening and closing remarks about the Apple II) aired last week.

It was a pleasure to catch up with Jeri. It was also completely unsurprising to discovery she is as much an ambitious yet humble geek as ever. I didn't feel like I was talking to someone who had outgrown the Apple II; rather, it was two old friends picking up right where we left off.

Jeri asked that I not air the video of us singing karaoke. In truth, no such video exists —  but there is video of her beating me badly at arm wrestling. So really, even if I did have any dirt on Jeri, I'd be highly incentivized to keep it to myself!

Prince of Persia turns 30

October 7th, 2019 9:00 AM
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Back in July, I blogged about Prince of Persia's pending thirtieth birthday. Well, it happened! Last Thursday, Prince of Persia turned thirty years old, having originally been published on October 3, 1989.

Several mainstream and gaming news outlets commemorated the occasion, reflecting on the Prince's place in history and how it impacted game design and development. Goomba Stomp's Patrick Murphy waxed about the game's fluid, groundbreaking rotoscoped animation:

Here was a video game character that didn’t go from standing to jumping in one frame, whose run action didn’t come off as robotic and endlessly recycled. The Prince seemed to move like a real person (or at least a beautifully drawn cartoon), with all the fluidity and momentum that living beings have.

In contrast to the game's historical significance, Forbes' Matt Gardner shared a fact that I was unaware of:

Despite great reviews, Prince of Persia sold poorly in North America; just 7,000 copies were bought in its first year. It was only when it reached Japan and Europe that it became a true hit with audiences, due to the game finding ubiquity through official ports.

That slow, international acceptance of the game reminds me of Wizardry. Bitmob once wrote of Sir-Tech's computer role-playing game:

When it first came to Japan in the eighties, Wizardry had also inspired a media blitz across print and video that left a huge impression on the RPG audience. Not only did its phenomenon reach across media channels in Japan back in the day, the series continues on with a list of spin-offs and original productions catering to a dedicated fanbase.

Both Prince of Persia and Wizardry have had spinoffs, some more successful than others. In Let's Play of Prince of Persia: Escape, the endless runner released earlier this year for mobile devices, I was lukewarm at best. PocketGamer's Cameron Bald was less reserved and more decisive, calling it "a sham product: ugly, cynical, and cruelly manipulative." Oof!

I don't remember on what platform I originally played Prince of Persia; by the time it was released in 1989, I was deep into console games, meaning I may have first played the Super Nintendo version published by Konami.

Wherever it's been popular or ported, or however successful its regions or spin-offs have been, Prince of Persia's release was a landmark in computer gaming. May it celebrate many birthdays to come — long live the Prince!