Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

Lode Runner, Choplifter, Oregon Trail, and other classic diversions from 8-bit gaming.

Prince of Persia is turning 30!

July 15th, 2019 11:46 AM
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The original Prince of Persia game turns thirty years old this October 3, and in anticipation of that anniversary, the game's original creator, Jordan Mechner, has some news to share.

First, his 1980s development journals, which were previously published in paperback and ebook editions, will be re-published in hardcopy with new illustrations. This version will come from Stripe Press, whose "books contain entirely new material, some are collections of existing work reimagined, and others are republications of previous works that have remained relevant over time or have renewed relevance today." The book will be finalized in time for the game's release anniversary this fall, with autographed editions available next February at PAX East, an annual video game convention that Mechner keynoted in 2012. Since Juiced.GS already reviewed the paperbacks back in 2013, we probably won't go as in-depth with the new release, though we'll certainly report the news in DumplinGS!

Being able to publish a book is as magical to Mechner as making a game once was. The democratization of publication he something he attributes the Apple II to initiating:

For me as a kid who dreamed of creating mass entertainment, in the pre-internet days, when you still needed a printing press to make a book and a film lab to make a movie, the Apple II was a game-changer: a technological innovation that empowered every user to innovate. Suddenly, I didn't need adult permission (or funding) to tell a story of adventure that might reach thousands — and ultimately millions — of people.

Second, Mechner was recently interviewed at Gamelab, a game development conference held in Barcelona. Venturebeat has an edited transcript in which Mechner recalls some of his original inspirations:

Anybody here remember Choplifter? This blew my mind in 1982. It was the first game I’d played that told a story. Asteroids, Space Invaders, you had three lives and you had to get a high score. All of that was based on the business model of putting quarters into machines. Choplifter told a story, and at the end it said "The End." That was the inspiration for my next game, Karateka.

Jordan Mechner plays Prince of Persia in 1989.


Third, Mechner not only reflected on the past but also looked to the future, noting that there is no new Prince of Persia game to announce — yet:

Many of you have asked when there will be a new PoP game (or movie, or TV series). If you feel that it's been a long time since the last one, you're not alone. I wish I had a magic dagger to accelerate the process… [but I'm] in the midst of longer-term projects whose announcement is still a ways off.

Until the new books and possible new games come out, there's still plenty of Prince of Persia to enjoy. The source code is publicly available; maybe someone can hack in a two-player mode, as Charles Mangin did with Karateka.

MAD Magazine's Spy vs. Spy

July 8th, 2019 8:46 AM
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I grew up reading MAD Magazine, having inherited a collection of back issues from my oldest brother. I was sometimes too young to get the humor, but I always enjoyed the comics, especially Spy vs. Spy.

Licensed computer games were rarer in the 1980s than they are now; the technology to produce an authentic adaptation from one medium to another just wasn't there. But Spy vs. Spy's simple angles and slapstick antics made for a wonderful two-player Apple II game, packaged in an impressive clamshell case.

My youngest brother and I would wake up early Saturday mornings to compete in this split-screen game. I would always be the white spy as we wandered the embassy, searching for secret documents and setting traps for each other. Like in Space Ship of Death, a BBS door game I later adapted to the Apple II, each trap had a defense: a bucket of acid propped on a door could be protected against with an umbrella. But since we shared a monitor, my brother and I could see where the traps were being set, ruining the element of surprise. If no defense was available, it wasn't uncommon for one of us to simply stop playing, stubbornly refusing to trigger a trap we knew was there. Still, it was a fun game and one of the few areas of my life where I felt I could sometimes best my sibling.

When the pages of MAD Magazine advertised that a sequel to the game was coming to Commodore 64, I wrote a letter to the editor asking why it wasn't being released for the Apple II. I actually got a letter back, explaining how it cost money to make a game and they had to be sure they'd make that money back by adapting it to another computer system. I was confused: didn't they know I would buy it? Wasn't that enough??

Today, my letter would've gotten me added to a marketing email list, with my specific interests indicated as Spy vs. Spy and the Apple II. But back then, this one-time exchange wasn't enough to warrant MAD following up with the official news, prompting me to organically discover when Spy vs. Spy II: The Island Caper was eventually released for the Apple II:

I didn't think it possible, but this game was even better than the original. The setting was more exotic, the traps were more ingenious, the gameplay was more intuitive, and the graphics were more distinct. Although my brother and I were getting to the ages where we were too old to play together, we still got in several rounds of this game.

It wasn't until 2012 that I found out there had been a third game in the series, Spy vs. Spy III: Arctic Antics. Replacing "health" with "body heat" is clever, but the bleak landscape makes me think the series peaked with its second iteration.

A version of the original game was later released for iOS, but it was never updated to be 64-bit; it stopped working with iOS 11 and is no longer available in the App Store. Even when it did work, the touch interface did not lend itself well to the intricate machinations of one spy, let alone two.

The brand was also licensed to a PlayStation 2 / Xbox game, but it has little if anything to do with the original trilogy.

A new game in the series, Spies, is tentatively under development. A lengthy description claims Spies will be inspired by "the original", though it's unclear if they're referring to the Apple II game or the later PS2 title.

Sadly, just as this franchise has struggled in the past decades, so too has its source material. MAD Magazine will cease publication of original content later this year, switching to reprints of classic material with a single annual issue of new content.

I regret the passing of an iconic institution of America's cultural landscape. But just like the Apple II game was better than the PS2, sometimes revisiting the past is better than trying to recapture it with reimagings. For all the fond memories of sibling rivalry it gave me, I hope MAD Magazine finds success in its new format.

Shirts & game crossovers

June 17th, 2019 9:43 AM
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Chris Torrence, host of the Assembly Lines video podcast and volunteer at the Media Archaeology Lab, recently added an e-commerce store to his online offerings.

T-shirts based on 8-bit franchises and artwork are nothing new; my closet is full of KansasFest, A2Central.com, and even InTrec shirts. But one item in Chris's catalog caught my eye.

This shirt doesn't just juxtapose Choplifter and Oregon Trail; it actually has them interacting in an unexpected fashion. I was tickled by this unique approach! After Chris confirmed that it is an original design, the Twitterverse requested other crossovers. Chris quickly responded by mocking up Lemonade Stand and Karateka:

Karateka guy kicking Lemonade Stand

Mark Lemmert of 6502 Workshop proposed a Lemonade Stand / Castle Wolfenstein mashup, which caught Kevin Savetz's attention:

I then responded to @rubygolem's proposal for The Bard's Tale and Carmen Sandiego, prompting them to rise to the occasion:

I proposed a boatload of other crossovers, too:

There are plenty of other crossovers I'd like to see, either in game or shirt form, some which may be more a stretch than others:

  •  Leisure Suit Larry / Space Quest: Meet exotic aliens. Have sex with them.
  •  One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird / Olympic Decathlon: Play basketball while simultaneously breaking your keyboard.
  •  Tass Times in Tone Town / Escape from Antcatraz: The colony's grandfather ant has gone missing! Trace his disappearance across several anthills.
  •  Jungle Hunt / Impossible Mission: Avoid drones and alligators while saving damsels and cracking safes.
  • Video game crossovers are becoming more common: just this past week, Nintendo joined forces with Sega for a Mario & Sonic game and with Square Enix for a Smash Bros. team-up. In those scenarios, companies collaborate to lend each other their well-known brands and icons. That wouldn't be possible with many Apple II games, whose copyright holders are defunct or just not good with sharing.

    But it doesn't mean a creative entrepreneur like Chris Torrence couldn't mock something up!

    (Full disclosure: As an Automattic employee, I recommended Chris use WordPress as his store's content management system (CMS) of choice and gave some minor advice upon its launch. I also support Chris' Patreon.)

    Panthers game montage

    May 19th, 2019 12:38 PM
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    Last fall, the Portland Trail Blazers announced their basketball schedule with a video inspired by Oregon Trail. Though the NBA season is still ongoing, the NFL isn't waiting to tout their own schedule, starting this September.

    Of all the football teams, Carolina Panthers made the splashiest announcement, with each game on their tour represented by a classic video game in this retro video:

    At 0:41, we yet again see the Apple II edutainment title Oregon Trail, described as:

    A computer game designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life. Doesn't sound all than fun, but man, this game was wildly entertaining.

    California Games from Epyx also makes an appearance:

    According to Wikipedia, California Games is a "1987 Epyx sports video game originally released for the Apple II and Commodore 64." It sounds old. It looks old. It is old. … The pixelated Hollywood sign and palm trees are perfect touches for a season-opening matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

    And, of course, there's John Madden Football, a franchise that originated on the Apple II.

    It's fascinating to see professional sports using video games in their marketing materials for a couple of reasons. First, esports are on the rise, and while audience members can certainly enjoy both football and Fortnite, I would expect them to spend more time on the latter. Instead of focusing on their core audience, nhe NFL seems to be trying to expand their audience to include gamers.

    The other reason I'm surprised by this advertising approach is the demographic of the participants. The average age of NFL and NBA players is roughly 26.7 years old, meaning they were born in 1990 — five years after Oregon Trail was released for the Apple II. I wasn't using computers in school until I was 12 years old, which for the average athlete would've been 2002, 17 years after the version of Oregon Trail seen in this video. I'm guessing that the athletes themselves aren't the ones coming up with the idea to insert themselves into such archaic media.

    I'm the last person to criticize someone for enjoying media that's older than they are, having been on the receiving end when it comes to my passion for the Apple II! Whether these athletes grew up with Pitfall or Portal, I hope they've eventually discovered the joy of classic gaming. It warms my heart to imagine them showing off this video to their friends and family as a melding of their passions, as opposed to shrugging it off and saying, "I dunno what those games are."

    Colossal Cave in the Hall of Fame

    May 13th, 2019 9:58 AM
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    For the fifth year, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, inducted new games into its Video Game Hall of Fame, part of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. Among this year's inductees were Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Kart, and Microsoft Windows Solitaire, recognized for their "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

    Most years, I experience faux indignation when the museum snubs the Apple II by not including one of its original titles. But this year, even I can't feign umbrage when considering one of the inductees was Colossal Cave.

    Colossal Cave, the invention of Will Crowther and Don Woods, was the first text adventure game, one that was eventually ported to the Apple II, which was invented just a year later. Its induction to the Hall of Fave is a timely one, and not only because of the recent release of source code for Infocom games, all of which were inspired by Colossal Cave.

    This past December, in my quest to visit all fifty of the United States, I crossed off Kentucky when I visited Mammoth Cave, off which Colossal Cave was based. Although I didn't see any of the landmarks or rooms directly referenced in the game, nor was the game mentioned as part of the guided tour, I enjoyed an additional layer of meaning that was hidden from the other tourists.

    I'd say more, except I wrote about my trip to Mammoth Cave in the spring 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, and there's more about the cave's history right here on this blog from nine years ago this month. Jason Scott's 90-minute interview with Don Woods is also available on YouTube:

    For once, even my grumpy persona gives a nod of approval to the Strong's selection. Colossal Cave and Mammoth Cave are landmarks of a different sort, and it's wonderful to see both being recognized.

    (Hat tip to Dean Takahashi)

    I backed Nox Archaist's second Kickstarter

    May 6th, 2019 7:27 PM
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    Last week, 6502 Workshop launched the second Kickstarter for Nox Archaist, an original 8-bit RPG for the Apple II.

    As a teacher of crowdfunding workshops at every level from local libraries to graduate programs at Emerson College and Harvard University, I'd been invited to consult on this campaign several months ago. I gave them some advice, though mostly minor, as they'd already learned their lessons from their first Kickstarter.

    That previous crowdfunding attempt launched in September 2017 and was cancelled a month later after raising $19,656, well short of its $43,078 goal. Using production and marketing strategies they outlined in the March 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, the team behind Nox Archaist brought their costs down to $8,500. The second Kickstarter hit that goal in under two hours and raised more funding in 8.5 hours than their first campaign did in an entire month.

    The campaign's success is now a certainty; the only uncertainty was whether I should've backed it.

    That's not a question of the game's quality, which looks amazing; the team's dependability, in which I am confident; or my own eagerness, which is evident! But I always think twice before backing a product that I'll ultimately be responsible for reviewing, or for editing a review of. Nox Archaist is a prime candidate for a Juiced.GS review or feature, and one could say that, by dropping $89 on the collector's edition boxed set, I have an investment in the game's success. I would counter that I'm simply preordering the game, which is less ethically complicated than a member of the press accepting a free review copy — but then, why preorder the game instead of just waiting to buy it when the finished product is made commercially available to the general public?

    The answer has to do with the size of the Apple II community. There is almost no one making sizable (or any) profits off Apple II hardware or software these days; everyone does what they do for the love of it. The very first Kickstarter I ever backed was for Jason Scott's sabbatical. Shortly thereafter, when interviewing him for a Computerworld article, I asked him a question that had been lingering in the back of my mind: why should I have backed his Kickstarter, primarily to fund the completion of the GET LAMP documentary, when he'll be eventually make money off the finished documentary's sale? Jason acknowledged that this was a valid question, and if I wanted to judge a product by its commercial viability, then I shouldn't back such projects. But not every product that's valuable or important is also commercially viable, and a single person's pledge can make the difference between such a product existing and it not existing.

    I want Nox Archaist to exist. Even if I never play it, I want to live in a world where Nox Archaist exists. Having spoken with 6502 Workshop's Mark Lemmert online and at KansasFest, I know Nox Archaist is something he's passionate about. He's made his investment; now he's asking us to match it with dollars.

    If that means putting a disclaimer in an issue of Juiced.GS, then that's worth it.