Author Archive

I'm Ken Gagne, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Juiced.GS, the longest-running Apple II print publication, as well as marketing director for annual Apple II convention KansasFest and and co-host of Open Apple, the Apple II community's first and only co-hosted podcast. I've been an active member of the Apple II online community for over two decades, including on CompuServe, GEnie, Delphi, and Syndicomm Online. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Apple II animated GIF

June 18th, 2018 7:19 PM
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There are many efforts being made to capture the design and aesthetic of early modern computers. The Vanamo Online Game Museum produces high-resolution, public-domain photos of vintage hardware; Charles Mangin creates 3D-printed miniature replicas; and Steve Weyhrich adapted the Apple II into a Minecraft structure.

All these facsimiles are, for the most part, static: once produced, they don't move or change. James Ball pursued a more dynamic form of art with his recent online exhibit, "I am a computer". His medium of choice: the GIF.

Like Vanamo, Mangin, and Weyhrich, Ball began with a physical models by photographing sixteen computers at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. He then adapted those photos into his own stylized, animated art.

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Wrote Ball:

'I am a computer' celebrates the visual character of desktop computing machines from a colourless period in industrial design.

From word processors and video terminals, to the very first desktop personal computers, these compact machines heralded a beige age, a period of microcomputing from the the 1970s and early 80s when design standards had conformed to realise a palette of neutral coloured machines throughout offices and later the home.

Any new way to depict an old computer is a welcome one. My thanks to Ball for including the Apple II in his gallery!

(Hat tip to Matthew Gault)

Ready Player One's Richard Garriott inspiration

June 11th, 2018 1:01 PM
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Ready Player One was my favorite novel of 2011, providing a dystopian cyberpunk adventure targeted at geeks who grew up immersed in 1980s pop culture. I've since recognized the book's problematic elements with gatekeeping, transphobia, and fan service without substance … yet I still can't help but be fascinated by all the elements author Ernest Cline wove into his narrative.

With Ready Player One's recent adaptation to film, audiences are discovering anew the Oasis, the fictional virtual world created by James Halliday (played by Sir Mark Rylance), a virtuoso computer programmer who sets himself up as the massively multiplayer online role-playing game's benevolent (but absent) god. Many of Halliday's (and thus Cline's) favorite games make appearances in Ready Player One, and in this new WIRED interview, Cline details each and every game in the movie — with one in particular being of interest to Apple II users.

Turns out one of the Apple II's own played a major role in the story:

Akalabeth is one of the first attempts by a computer programmer to translate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons into a computer game. It was created by Richard Garriott, who also helped serve as the inspiration for James Halliday. Richard Garriot is a famous video game designer from Austin, Texas, where I live, who has an alter-ego: his Dungeons & Dragons and game avatar called Lord British. He would dress up as Lord British in public at press events and things. He eventually ended up using his video-game money to travel into space and go on the International Space Station. He was really an inspiration to me as like a geek with unlimited funds and what could be accomplished. So he and Howard Hughes helped inspire James Halliday in my book. And his game, Akalabeth, and the games that followed it: Ultima I, II, III, IV, and then Ultima Online, the first MMO, those all helped inspire the Oasis in my novel.

While Garriott was directly referenced in the book, I didn't pick up any mentions in the movie. Little did I know that an entire, integral character was based on Lord British himself!

(Hat tip to Hades Kong via WTF Dragon)

Let's Play Lode Runner Legacy

June 4th, 2018 9:00 AM
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Just over a year ago, I shared the trailer for Lode Runner Legacy, the first original game in the Lode Runner series in almost a decade. The game was finally released for Windows in July 2017 but didn't receive its console debut until May 2018, when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch.

The Switch edition retails the voxel graphics style of its Windows counterpart, as well as its multiple modes: adventure; puzzle; and world levels, where players can craft and exchange their own creations. Best of all, its "classic" mode features all 150 levels of the Apple II original! At only $11.99, it's hard to beat.

Still, I have a habit of buying games and never finishing them (or sometimes even starting them!), making me hesitant to purchase Lode Runner Legacy, despite its generally favorable Metacritic score of 77%. Fortunately, the Switch edition offers a free demo that includes ten playable adventure levels and five puzzle levels. I gave this trial edition a spin in my latest Let's Play video.

Legacy plays a bit slower than the Apple II version I remember — but then, I remember playing it with an accelerator, so that may not be a fair comparison. Legacy also features much bigger sprites, and thus smaller levels, than the original — though the game hints at later, more sweeping levels that pull the camera back a bit, allowing for a larger play field.

Although I'm not a huge fan of the art style or the loading time between levels, I didn't see anything in Legacy that would keep me from buying it. I just need to clear some other games off my plate first…

In the meantime, you can hear me rave about the original game in episode #35 of the New Game Plus podcast.

The health savings of computer history

May 28th, 2018 8:39 AM
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My only visit to the Computer History Museum of Mountain View, California, occurred in December 2015, when Martin Haye and I squeezed in a visit after attending GaymerX in nearby San Jose. I was already familiar with the museum, both from its origin in my backyard of Boston and as an archive of Juiced.GS, and I was thrilled to finally step foot in the halls of such hallowed technology preservation. But it wasn't until years later that I'd learn this same museum could preserve so much more.

Shortly after that visit, I began teaching myself about finances and investments: 401(k), Roth IRA, socially responsible investing (SRI), and more. As part of this move toward fiscal maturity, I started using an FSA, or Flexible Spending Account. An FSA is a savings account you can contribute pre-tax dollars to from your paycheck; those monies can then be used to pay any medical expenses, from surgery to prescriptions to contact lens solution. If you spend $2,000 a year on healthcare, it's like getting a $2,000 tax credit.

An FSA is not without its downsides: it has an annual contribution cap of $2,600, and only $500 rolls over every calendar year; the rest of the account is "use it or lose it". As a result, you have to predict what your health expenses will be a year in advance, which is difficult to do accurately. And if you leave the participating employer, your FSA disappears.

But this year, I moved to an employer that instead offers an HSA, or Health Savings Account. An HSA has a maximum annual contribution of $3,450, and its value never expires, even if I switch jobs. As a result, I don't need to anticipate my expenses, instead using the HSA as a long-term investment account — especially since, unlike an FSA, an HSA gains interest!

I don't know why every employer doesn't offer an HSA, but the good news is that you don't need a generous boss: you can get your own HSA. Many banks offer them — but if yours doesn't, then check out First Tech Federal Credit Union of Beaverton, Oregon. They offer an HSA with no setup or maintenance fees and no minimum balance to qualified members.

What qualifies one to join First Tech? You can work for the State of Oregon, or any one of hundreds of participating employers. But my preferred route is to be a member of the Computer History Museum for either $15 or $75 a year. Simply donating to the museum makes you eligible to receive all the membership benefits of First Tech.

What better or more affordable way to preserve computer history and your own health?

(Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor, nor am I a customer or affiliate of First Tech. I have historically donated to the Computer History Museum, but currently, my only contributions are the aforementioned issues of Juiced.GS.)

Game Informer's top 300 games

May 21st, 2018 8:32 AM
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Every one-hundred monthly issues, Game Informer magazine compiles a list of the best games of all time. These lists fluctuate with the magazine's staff and as new games are released and old games are forgotten. Recently, issue #300 revisited this tradition with the staff's top 300 games. You could call the result arbitrary in the sense that they are highly subjective, but it doesn't change the fact that, with roughly 300 new games being released on Steam every month, to be counted among the top 300 games of all time is an honor, regardless of who it's coming from or how the decision came to be.

While some institutions frequently overlook the Apple II's contributions to gaming, Game Informer has not committed that error, with four games — more than a full percent of the list! — being for the Apple II. Every game on the list got at least a one-sentence summary; most games also had a screenshot; some games further received a full paragraph. All four Apple II games warranted screenshots, and two of them received those lengthier write-ups:


Oregon Trail (#104)

Oregon Trail

Fording a river, contracting snakebites, starving — you and your friends probably died in all these ways and more while playing The Oregon Trail. This wasn't just an entertaining simulation; MECC's revolutionary piece of educational software leveraged new technology to engage students' imaginations beyond textbooks. While the Apple II version of The Oregon Trail wasn't technically the first, it's the one most ids played as they crowded into school computer labs.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (#131)

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Sir Tech's text-heavy dungeon crawl provided the backbone for many of the long-running RPG series that followed.

Zork (#186)

Zork

Though this text game is hard to go back to now, Zork is undisputedly the progenitor of any video game that sought to emulate having an adventure.

Lode Runner (#197)

Lode Runner

Lode Runner combined twitch Pac-Man skills with the ability to dig into the level, trap enemies, and collect gold, creating an ever-changing puzzle game with seemingly infinite configurations, including levels of your own design. It also required both quick thinking and the strategic foresight to decipher increasingly complex levels, becoming a must-have for the home computer, and setting itself apart in the arcade-dominated market.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hulk SMASH!

May 14th, 2018 9:20 AM
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Avengers: Infinity War, now playing in theaters, is the 19th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tying together nine film franchises: Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, and Black Panther. These characters have decades of comic book history dating back to 1962, with some of them seeing their first live-action interpretations only now.

But many of them have appeared in other media as well — and that includes Apple II games. Kat Bailey at USGamer has compiled the video game history of every major hero in Avengers: Infinity War. The Apple II gets a special shout-out for being the first video game to ever feature The Incredible Hulk:

Hulk is known as the unstoppable force of destruction, but his first video game appearance was in… an adventure game? Yep, Hulk's video game debut was in 1984's Questprobe, a trilogy of command-based adventure games for the Apple II and Commodore 64 [also] featuring Spider-Man, The Human Torch, and The Thing. It had fantastic art for its time, but the graphical splendor resulted in severely limited commands, hurting overall gameplay.

MobyGames offers this plot summary:

1st in the Questprobe Marvel Comics series. Play Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk through this interactive fiction game with graphics. You awake as Banner, tied by ropes to your chair in a bunker in the desert; once you free yourself, collect all the gems to escape this hellhole.

These games were designed by Scott Adams, author of many classic Apple II text adventures. However, The Hulk was the first in the Questprobe series, with the sequels using a much-improved game engine; as a result, Hulk may not have been Adams' finest hour.

Although Avengers is tearing up the box office, the Hulk didn't similarly smash his way to success in his Apple II outing: Questprobe, originally planned to be a series of a dozen games, was cancelled after the third title when its developer went bankrupt. Such was the case for many text-adventure publishers of that era, as more processing power became available and gamers migrated to more visual genres of entertainment.

A greater loss than Hulk's defeat at retail is his disappearance from history: my initial search in the Internet Archive revealed many playable copies of Questprobe, but only for the Spectrum ZX and Atari 800 computers; the Apple II version was surprisingly absent.

Surely that floppy disk isn't rarer than an Infinity Stone. If the Avengers can come together to save the day, we can do our part to preserve the Hulk! Fortunately, all it took was a tweet aimed at the right persons:

… and the game is now available.

Hulk was NOT slain by Thanos, for the good of the Universe. Phew!