Archive for March, 2020

Ahh Ahh by Maggi Payne

March 30th, 2020 1:38 PM
by
Filed under Musings;
Comments Off on Ahh Ahh by Maggi Payne

Chiptune music — original songs compused primarily using 8-bit microcomputers or their style — is nothing new; in particular, 8 Bit Weapon has been using the Apple II to perform in this genre since 1998.

But we don't often talk about music composed using the Apple II back during its heyday. Some computer games featured simple soundtracks, but was the computer itself ever used to produce musical products that were independent of any software?

The answer is yes, with one example being musician Maggi Payne's album Ahh Ahh. This album wasn't released until 2012, but it features music Payne composed in the mid-1980s using a variety of instruments, including the Apple II computer.

This six-track album was re-released last week by Aguirre Records and is now available on vinyl or can be downloaded from Bandcamp. While the LP costs €21, the digital version costs a mere €6, with three of the tracks streaming for free.

According to the product description:

Composed on an Apple II computer and various early sampling devices, Payne's compositions are a vibrant response to the call from the moving body. Populated with buoyant pulses, graceful analogue swells, dense fog-like drones and cascading rhythms that shift in space, Ahh Ahh is a vital document of not only these early collaborations, but of computer based music as well.

Here is the opening number, "Flights of Fancy":

If you're looking to expand your musical portfolio with something familiar yet off the beaten path, check out Ahh-Ahh.

(Hat tips to Lazlo Rugoff and Wade Clarke)

The Strong's Hall of Fame candidates for 2020

March 23rd, 2020 10:14 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
2 comments.

It's time once again for the Strong Museum of Play to consider which video games are worth being inducted into the Video Game Hall of Fame. Every year since 2015, the Strong's International Center for the History of Electronic Games considers what software from the last century is notable for its "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence". Previous inductees familiar to Apple II users include Colossal Cave and Oregon Trail.

One game is does not include is King's Quest, which was nominated but not accepted into the Hall of Fame in 2018. It'll get another chance this year as one of these dozen games that the Strong is currently considering:

Strong ICHEG 2020 candidates

Welcome, class.

  • • Bejeweled
  • • Centipede
  • • Frogger
  • • GoldenEye 007
  • • Guitar Hero
  • • King's Quest
  • • Minecraft
  • • NBA Jam
  • • Nokia Snake
  • • Super Smash Bros. Mêlée
  • • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • • Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Only six of these games will make the cut. Between King's Quest and Carmen Sandiego, there's a 17% chance that the Apple II will be represented.

Those are good odds, given the candidates: King's Quest was designed by Roberta Williams, who is currently featured in the Strong's Women in Games exhibit, with the franchise's latest entry having been released in 2015; and Carmen Sandiego has inspired countless sequels and television shows, including a Netflix animated series that's still in production.

If it were up to me, the six games I would chose from the above list would be Bejeweled, Frogger, GoldenEye 007, King's Quest, Minecraft, and Super Smash Bros. Mêlée. I haven't played all these games, but I respect their lasting cultural impact.

Here's hoping the Strong's new class represents the Apple II!

A profile of Wolfenstein's Silas Warner

March 16th, 2020 12:30 PM
by
Filed under Mainstream coverage, People;
Comments Off on A profile of Wolfenstein's Silas Warner

Long before John Romero and company produced their 3D adaptation, Castle Wolfenstein was a 2D stealth game for the Apple II. It was the brainchild of one man: Silas Warner.

While I've long known about his most famous game, I knew little about the man himself, other than that he was also a musician and had died in 2004 at the age of 54.

Polygon journalist Colin Campbell set out to learn even more, interviewing Warner's widow, Kari Ann Owen. The resulting profile, "The man who made Wolfenstein", is a fascinating look at Warner, Muse Software, Wolfenstein, Robot Wars, and more.

Castle Wolfenstein
Campbell drew on a variety of sources for his research, from memorial pages to Silas Warner to previous interviews in now-defunct magazines. One such source was Silas Warner himself: he spoke at KansasFest 1992, and an audio recording of that presentation is available. I'm glad Campbell found this piece of history and was able to incorporate it into the profile.

But what if he hadn't? After all, audio is not indexed by Google, so depending on how Campbell has searched, he might not have found it. And once he found it, he had to put in the time to listen to the recording to find the facts and quotations needed for his article.

I thought we should make it easier for future historians to find and reference Warner's presentation, so I had it transcribed. The full text of 6,827 words is now available on the KansasFest website in HTML and text formats.

My thanks to Campbell for spotlighting this important figure in Apple II and gaming history, and to KansasFest for hosting these files for Campbell and others who wish to remember Silas Warner.

Lode Runner: Mad Monks' Revenge

March 9th, 2020 9:08 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
Comments Off on Lode Runner: Mad Monks' Revenge

I love Lode Runner: the platform-puzzle game by Doug E. Smith features fast action, clever strategy, and timeless gameplay. The Apple II original spawned a franchise that includes at least forty desktop, mobile, and board games, with Lode Runner Legacy being the most recent installment.

I was reminded while visiting Stavros Karatsoridis this weekend just how few of those Lode Runner sequels I've played. While perusing Stavros' retrocomputing collection, I found boxed copies of Lode Runner: The Legend Returns and Lode Runner: The Mad Monks' Revenge, released in 1994 and 1995 respectively. I was still exclusively an Apple II user at that time, causing me to miss these classic Mac and Windows titles.

Fortunately, Stavros pointed me to a modern alternative to emulating these classics: an unofficial modern port of Mad Monks' Revenge, dubbed the Definitive Edition. It runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux, uses the same graphics and sounds as the 1995 original, and optionally features the same bugs. It is actively supported, with the latest version having been released just this month, yet it features full compatibility with any custom levels released for the the original Mad Monks' Revenge. There's even a turbo mode that emulates my childhood experience of playing Lode Runner on an accelerated Apple IIe.

After Stavros and I said our goodbyes, I downloaded the Mac version of the Definitive Edition to my laptop. Alas, I was quickly stymied: none of the keyboard inputs worked at all, even after I\ remapping them. But the controls default to a numerical keypad, so I connected an extended keyboard and was up and running — and digging! Mad Monks' Revenge starts off with some enemy-free levels as an opportunity to get to know the miner's abilities. Before long, I was dashing up ladders, burying monks, and capturing gold. There were some new mechanics as well, such as a red key to unlock a corresponding red door, though I couldn't figure out how to actually collect the key, despite having gotten all the level's gold. Later levels feature bombs and other unique tools and mechanics.

I've so far played Mad Monks' Revenge for only a handful of minutes, but I'll be exploring it further. I haven't try the local multiplayer mode, the online multiplayer found no random games for me to join, and, like in the original game, the level editor doesn't appeal to me. But I'm happy to have a free, authentic, new-to-me one-player Lode Runner to explore — thanks, Stavros!

Ken with Stavros' computers

Photo courtesy Stavros Karatsoridis

37-year-old bug in Three Mile Island

March 2nd, 2020 11:50 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
Comments Off on 37-year-old bug in Three Mile Island

On, March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant became the site of "the most significant accident in United States commercial nuclear energy".

Later that year, Three Mile Island was released as a nuclear simulation game for the Apple II. It too suffered from its own kind of tragic accident: fatal crashes when trying to save your progress.

This bug wasn't present in the first version of the game Muse Software shipped, back when DOS 3.1 was the standard. But when the game was unofficially transcribed to DOS 3.3, incompatibilities between the operating systems introduced this fatal flaw.

Three Mile Island screenshot

She's gonna blow!!

Jorj Bauer didn't know that, though; all he knew was that this game had been broken for 37 years. Deciding that this bug has existed for 37 years too long, he set out to sleuth the problem and provide a fix. His three-part journal detailing his investigation makes for fascinating reading, akin to a good 4am crack.

You don't need to be a detective to enjoy the fruits of Jorj's labor: the fixed version of the game can be played in the Internet Archive, courtesy Jason Scott.

That's one fewer meltdown for the world to face.

(Hat tip to Lewin Day)