Archive for the ‘Software showcase’ Category

Old programs, new tricks, and ways to make the Apple II perform.

Beta-testing Wolfenstein 3D

April 13th, 2020 1:06 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, Happenings, History;
1 comment.

Years after the last Apple II rolled off the production line, there was still a lot of commercial and shareware software being developed for the IIGS. In the heyday of the GEnie online service, I somehow fell into a group beta testers of new programs for companies such as InTrec and Seven Hills.

One developer I especially enjoyed working for was Eric "Sheppy" Shepherd. His website of eponymous SheppyWare lists many programs I got to try before they were ready for prime time, such as gsAIM, Lemonade Stand, Shifty List, and WebWorks GS.

But the beta I most enjoyed was that for Wolfenstein 3D. The port had been a long time in development, with many parties involved: id Software, Logicware, Burger Becky, and Ninjaforce, to name a few. It was Sheppy who developed and project-managed the final release of this first-person shooter that had been so popular on my friends' MS-DOS machines.

But I've never owned a desktop computer that wasn't an Apple II, so Wolf3D had been something I'd only been able to envy without playing. Gaming was my Apple II niche — I got my start with Juiced.GS writing a review of Silvern Castle — so I was eager to finally dive into the heralded game.

Wolfenstein 3D title screen

Perhaps too eager. The Apple IIGS emulator of choice for Mac OS in the mid- to late 1990s was Bernie ][ the Rescue, so I booted up Bernie on my Wall Street and promptly launched Wolf3D.

CRASH! The game failed almost immediately. I was disappointed to not get my hands on the game, but also excited to contribute to the beta-testing process. I was certain I had acted so swiftly that no one else could've yet encountered this blocker of a bug. Without checking to see if that was true, I reported back to the testing group: "Hey, it crashes Bernie!"

In my haste to submit my first bug, I had completely ignored the release notes that had accompanied this version of Wolf3D, indicating that it was incompatible with Bernie ][ the Rescue. 🤦🏼‍♂️

Just a few months later, in the summer of 1998, I attended my first KansasFest. It was my first time meeting Sheppy and my fellow beta-testers, such as Ryan Suenaga and Dave Miller. We were celebrating the successful release of Wolf3D for the IIGS earlier that year, with Sheppy hosting a post-mortem of the game's development, giving all KansasFest attendees a peek behind the scenes.

It was there, at my first KansasFest, in front of all my friends and heroes, that I was stunned to receive a certificate of acknowledgement for my significant contribution to the development of Wolfenstein 3D.

Hey, It Crashes Bernie Award

Sheppy wasn't singling out the new guy, though — every beta tester got their turn. As reported a month later by Ryan Suenaga in in The Lamp!:

Sheppy also presented the _Wolfenstein 3D Beta Tester Awards_, for those of us who had gone through the intense last few weeks of beta testing for the most eagerly anticipated Apple IIgs game in history. The history behind these awards is too long to go into here–use your imagination:

  • Dan Krass: The Web Banner Plaque of Honor
  • David Miller: The ProTERM Mac Can Do It Citation
  • Ken Gagne: The "Hey, It Crashes Bernie" Certificate
  • Kirk Mitchell: The "Boy, Is This Fast on My G3" Award
  • Ryan Suenaga: The Floppy Disk Loaner Citation of Valor
  • Tony Diaz: The Last-Minute Crisis Award of Merit
  • Tony Ward: The Custom Scenario Proponent Citation

Perhaps I should've been mortified to have had my youthful exuberance enshrined in such a public and memorable manner. But instead, I was and am grateful to Sheppy for the wonderful opportunity to test Wolfenstein 3D and for being including in his community — not only of beta testers, but of friends he could count on to take a joke. I found everything I hoped for at KansasFest 1998; it's thanks to memories like these that I've been a part of KansasFest and the Apple II community ever since.

The history of Maxster

April 6th, 2020 2:28 PM
by
Filed under Software showcase;
2 comments.

This summer marks twenty years since I released Maxster. Enough time has passed that I can finally tell the true story of its development.

It was July 2000 at Avila College in Kansas City, Missouri, and I was attending my third KansasFest. HackFest had debuted two years earlier at my first KansasFest. Having entered and placed each year, I wanted to continue the streak. My toolkit was limited to Applesoft and Spectrum's scripting language, but I'd learned that creativity and earnestness counted for a lot at HackFest. All I needed was an idea.

As a college junior, I was aware of how popular Napster was for allowing my classmates to pirate free music. I wasn't a fan myself, but I understood the concept enough to get how it worked — and to know that it'd be impossible to implement on the Apple II.

It was the perfect project. And I knew just what to name it: Maxster, after Juiced.GS founding editor and HackFest judge Max Jones. (I wasn't above a little blatant flattery.)

After a few hours of Spectrum scripting, I had a "working" prototype. I'd downloaded a few songs, such as Weird Al's "Albuquerque" and They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul", and converted the first seconds of each into the rSound format used by the IIGS. If Maxster was asked to search the Napster network for these songs, it would "find" them and play a preview. Otherwise, Maxster would announce the file was unavailable, presenting a randomized list of users who had the MP3 but who were offline at that moment.

My presentation of Maxster had to seem authentic, though, which meant putting it online. This was in the days of dial-up ISPs, and I didn't have one with a Kansas City node. So without detailing what I needed it for, I asked my roommate Geoff Weiss if he could hook me up. He generously allowed me to use his connection, providing my demo the soundscape it needed.

When I debuted Maxster to the KansasFest community, they were wowed — more than I expected them to be. My delivery was completely deadpan, as I thought I wouldn't need to wink at the audience for them to know there was no way an Apple IIGS could download and decode even five seconds of an MP3 that quickly. (This was before Vince Briel's A2MP3 card.) Yet everyone seemed stunned and excited by what I had done.

Maxster logo
When I ended my talk and was met with applause, I grew concerned. I'd actually bamboozled everyone — something I never intended! I was a fraud. What if an actual Apple II program was overlooked because of my deception? As the time for judging approached, I grew more and more nervous.

Finally, the judges completed their deliberations, and HackFest founder Eric Shepherd took the stage to announce the winners. He'd just begun to address the audience when I sprang to my feet.

"Wait!" I blurted. "Can I talk to you privately?"

"Sure," a confused Sheppy said, following me out into the hallway.

Once we were alone, I confessed. "It's not real. Maxster, I mean. It doesn't actually do any of the things I claimed it did."

Sheppy smiled at me like I was an idiot. "We know," he said, much to my surprise and relief. "There's no way it could've done those things."

Mollified, I went back into the room to hear who the actual winners were. Somehow, despite my admission, Maxster was still recognized: I'd come in second place. The judges' announcement made no hint of the program's true nature.

Audience members' reactions were diverse. Geoff said that he'd been trying to figure out during my presentation what the TCP/IP connection he'd given me was actually doing and had correctly deduced that "it just sat there, doing nothing". I thanked him for his role in my deceit.

Greg Nelson proved a champion of a different sort. "You were robbed!" he exclaimed. "Your program was very impressive; it should've come in first."

Confused, I wanted to ensure Greg and I were on the same page. "Greg, what is it you think my program did?" I asked. He recited back to me everything I'd said and shown during my demo. When he was done, I again had to reveal the truth: "Greg… My program didn't do any of those things." Greg's reactions swiftly ran through perplextion, confusion, and amusement, ending with "Well, you should've come in first anyway, just for the convincing delivery!"

That October, Juiced.GS reported:

Second place went to Ken Gagne, who entertained KFesters with what appeared to be a Spectrum script that downloaded and played the first few seconds of MP3 music files.

In reality, the script turned out to be a spoof of the popular MP3 programs on the major platforms (Napster on the PC and Macster on the Mac). Gagne called his program Maxster (named after Juiced.GS publisher and HackFest judge Max Jones?) and displayed a working script that had all the appearances of real program.

Apple II News & Notes said of HackFest:

Special recognition to Ken Gagne for his incredible hoax named "Maxster" that had audience members puzzled, stunned, and rolling in laughter. Ken gained second place.

In a later Juiced.GS's response to a letter to the editor, Max wrote:

Placing second this year was Ken Gagne. You may remember that Ken burst onto the HackFest elite scene during Y][KFest with the way-cool program Maxster (named after yours truly). Ken's Spectrum script created the illusion of an MP3 player for the IIGS, and his presentation took on the air of stand-up comic rather than programmer.

Unbelievably, that was not the end of Maxster. Three months after that memorable KansasFest, I publicly released a version of Maxster that anyone could run. All the rSound files had been included in a compressed script, which not only streamlined the package but also obscured the source code; no one could see what was actually happening under the hood. And two months later, I updated this version to fix a bug Jeff Blakeney had reported that prevented "Albuquerque" from playing.

In July 2001, the Napster network as it was then known was shut down, allowing me a graceful out to say that development of Maxster has been permanently halted. Still, it remains one of my proudest (and most surprising) contributions to the Apple II community.

To commemorate the occasion of this story, I am for the first time releasing the Maxster source code. I've created a new page on this site that archives all my software, including Maxster, so anyone can fool their friends like it's the year 2000.

Anyone who would like to continue development of Maxster to support more songs is more than welcome to do so.

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!

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)

Starblaster launching for PS5

February 17th, 2020 1:57 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
Comments Off on Starblaster launching for PS5

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?