Archive for the ‘Mainstream coverage’ Category

The Apple II is everywhere, as evidenced by these reports.

The Strong's Hall of Fame candidates for 2020

March 23rd, 2020 10:14 PM
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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
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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.

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!

Dan Bricklin for President

January 20th, 2020 9:06 AM
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In a recent letter to the the Concord Monitor, the daily newspaper of Concord, New Hampshire, a reader submitted a letter about our country's upcoming presidential election. He compared two politicians, saying one was a "visionary", the first to present the ideas; but the other would be the "implementer", the one better suited to execute the ideas.

He then made an analogy using names Apple II users may recognize:

Do you know who Dan Bricklin is? Ever even heard of him? Dan Bricklin invented the spreadsheet. VisiCalc was the product that made the Apple II a viable business tool and the rest is history. Bricklin is a visionary and hero to software people like me.

But as often happens in software, first or even best doesn’t always win the game. First Lotus with 123 took the spreadsheet market and made it a real business game changer, followed by Microsoft Excel years later. Mitch Kapor (Lotus) and Bill Gates got the vision done.

This view of history rings false to me. Perhaps it's my Apple II bias, but Dan Bricklin did everything this reader says Mitch Kapor and Bill Gates did. VisiCalc was the first "killer app", demonstrating the value of personal computers and justifying their existence is offices and businesses across the country. Steve Jobs himself went on the record as saying that if it weren't for VisiCalc, there wouldn't've been an Apple Computer Inc.: "If Visicalc had been written for some other computer you'd be interviewing somebody else right now."

Did Lotus 1-2-3 improve upon VisiCalc? Certainly. According to Wikipedia, "1-2-3 quickly overtook VisiCalc, as well as Multiplan and SuperCalc, two VisiCalc competitors." But that's simply the nature of software development and evolution: any product that comes later will benefit from better hardware and development tools. Lotus 1-2-3's release in 1983 does not diminish the vision and implementation achieved by Bricklin in 1979.

As the Concord Monitor reader acknowledges, Bricklin is a hero and visionary — without whom we wouldn't have Lotus 1-2-3. Bricklin deserves credit not just for VisiCalc, but for helping the personal computer revolution succeed and for paving the way for visionaries to come.

Jimmy Grewal's Dubai collection

December 16th, 2019 10:32 PM
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There are Apple II collections all around the world — most densely in the United States, but also in Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic, and more.

Now we can add one more global destination to that list: the United Arab Emirates.

Reporter Cody Combs of The National (the UAE's premier news source) recently profiled Jimmy Grewal, a former Microsoft employee who now serves as executive director of a maritime technology company in Dubai. He's collected nearly a hundred Apple desktops, laptops, and PDAs, including an Apple-1 and eleven Apple II computers. One of them can be seen — and overlooked — in this video.

Fortunately, the article itself does not overlook our favorite Apple, mentioning:

As he points toward what first appears to be yet another Apple II, he explains why it’s different. “This is actually one of the rarest computers I have because it doesn’t have any vents,” he says, pointing out the completely solid casing in contrast to the other Apple II in the room with small gaps to allow for air flow.

Jimmy is active on Twitter and YouTube; the latter includes a video documentary of his Apple-1 restoration.

While Grewal's collection is not open to the public, he is planning for the day when these artifacts can be housed somewhere that everyone can enjoy them. On that day, add Dubai to your international retrocomputing itinerary.