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 co-founder 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.

A profile of Wolfenstein's Silas Warner

March 16th, 2020 12:30 PM
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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
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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
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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)

A clear case for the IIGS

February 24th, 2020 8:47 AM
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Last fall, MacEffects launched a Kickstarter campaign for an injection-molded clear case for the Apple II and II Plus. Its 68 backers pledged $21,171, falling short of the $29,000 goal.

Deciding that the fatal flaw of their campaign was the limited audience of Apple II and II Plus owners, MacEffects has returned to Kickstarter with a new crowdfunding project. This time, it's to create a clear case for the more popular IIe and IIGS models.

But despite the project title of "Injection Molded Clear Case for Apple IIe and IIGS", you don't get to pick whether you want a IIe case or a IIGS case. Instead, only the IIe case is available, which the IIGS board can be adapted to fit using a kit included in certain reward tiers, such as "Clear Case Kit for Apple IIe > IIGS" ($350) and "Kitchen Sink" ($675). These options are proving quite popular, as evidenced by the first 32 backers raising $12,855. That's an average of $402 per donor, higher than their previous campaign's average of $311 per donor.

Even though MacEffects' previous campaign was unsuccessful, they've upped the ante this round with a goal of $35,000. At the current rate, they'll need a total of 87 backers to reach their goal.

I'm tempted to splurging on one of these cases for my own IIGS. But I recently transitioned to a nomadic lifestyle, putting most of my possessions in storage. It's motivated me to buy fewer things that I won't immediately use, including Apple II peripherals, sadly.

But that's a unique situation and one that shouldn't keep others from considering this project, which ends on April 19!

Starblaster launching for PS5

February 17th, 2020 1:57 PM
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As my PlayStation 4 sits in storage with a massive backlog of unplayed and unfinished games, Sony is trying to bury me further with news of the PlayStation 5. The new console launches at the end of 2020… and one of its launch titles may be of interest to Apple II users.

According to such news outlets as PlayStation Universe, one of the first games to be released for the PS5 is titled Starblaster. Many were quick to make a connection to an Apple II game by the same name.

Starblaster was a side-scrolling shoot-em-up, or "shmup". It was published by G&G Engineering, a company that included Gifford Computer Systems, as seen in this advertisement from BYTE Magazine. Bill Machrone called Gifford Computer Systems "the firm that first made hard disk subsystems a reality for [Bill Godbout's] CompuPro hardware". G&G was located at 1922 Republic Avenue, San Leandro, CA 94577 (415-895-0798), which is now home to an Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

BYTE Magazine from April 1983
Why would Sony make a sequel to an obscure 8-bit indie title instead of creating their own IP? We'd have to ask Mike or Dale Gifford, the co-founders of G&G. I'm guessing this is the LinkedIn profile for Michael Gifford, based on his location near San Francisco; a résumé that includes Microsoft, Apple, and Dell; and working as an "independent product design consultant" 1983–1987, around the time of Starblaster's release.

Or maybe we don't: other fans are theorizing that Starblaster is not a PS5 launch game, but a reference to a Sony CLI development tool.

In which case… maybe we should make the rumor a reality. Who's up for interviewing Mike Gifford to inquire about a PlayStation 5 port of his classic game?

Burger Becky's Out Of This World

February 10th, 2020 2:21 PM
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Six years after I backed its Kickstarter, and four years after the final product was due, I received the documentary GIRLS GAME: Women Who Game (originally entitled No Princess in the Castle). The film features interviews with women gamers and game developers about their experiences and passions.

GIRLS GAME features a few names that will be familiar to Apple II users: Jeri Ellsworth and Rebecca Heineman. Jeri has been a KansasFest attendee, a Juiced.GS cover story, and a guest on my Polygamer podcast. Alas, the topic of her Apple II origins and passions did not come up in the documentary.

Fortunately, Burger Becky ensured our favorite retrocomputer was represented. Toward the very end of the film, she holds up two games from her impressive résumé, declaring "They said it couldn't be done!". The movie offers little context to that statement, but it's not hard for us to figure it out.

Burger Becky holding up two game boxes
The games in question are Out of This World and The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate. It's no wonder they said Out of This World couldn't be done: when Jess Johnson asked Becky what her greatest achievement was, she cited this game.

That’s a tough call, since I’ve done so many projects in my career so far. I think I’d have to say was the evil MOD I had to do to get Out Of This World for the SNES to copy backgrounds quickly. Since Interplay wouldn’t pay for a SuperFX chip, I found a way to do it with static RAM on the cart and DMA which got me a great frame rate. Interplay wouldn’t pay for the static RAM either, so I ended up using Fast ROM and a MVN instruction. Interplay wouldn’t pay for a 3.6 MHz ROM either. So, frustrated, I shoved my block move code into the DMA registers and use it as RAM running at 3.6 MHz. It worked. I got fast block moves on slow cartridges and made a game using polygons working on a 65816 with pure software rendering.

This impressive feat could be worth a documentary of its own. In the meantime, thanks for working it into this film, Becky!