Archive for the ‘Software showcase’ Category

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

Wizardry: The first CRPG?

March 12th, 2018 7:11 AM
Filed under Game trail;

Many of us know that the venerable Ultima series of role-playing games had its spiritual origin when Richard Garriott developed Akalabeth for the Apple II in 1979. But according to SyFy, it was the 1981 game Wizardry that qualifies as "the first computer-based RPG".

Although declaring anything the "first" is debatable, the video is a good overview of the era in which Wizardry released and the factors that made it popular. I would've appreciated if the video dissected the game's reception in other regions: Wizardry achieved significant fame in Japan and saw many sequels exclusive to that country. The game was also translated to French, as I discovered with this manual that Brutal Deluxe brought to KansasFest 2017.

The Wizardry manual… in French!

The write-up that accompanies the SyFy video is less accurate: observing that "[The developers] had to face the technical limitations of the era (such as writing the game in basic and very limited memory space)" overlooks that the final game was developed in Pascal. And saying that "There were eight games in all in the Wizardry series, starting with the notoriously hard Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and ending with Wizardry 8, released in 2001" is accurate insofar as the main series goes, but it omits the franchise's spin-offs, of which there have been many.

Sadly, there aren't many modern versions of Wizardry available for gamers to choose from these days. In 2011, I blogged about the PlayStation 3 and iOS release of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. But the PlayStation 4 supplanted the PS3 in 2013, and the game is no longer available on iOS, either. The only modern incarnation of the franchise that's currently available is Wizrogue – Labyrinth of Wizardry, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux on Steam as of February 24, 2017.

Given the lack of gameplay, it's not the most compelling trailer. But it's nonetheless good to see the series live on, if in name only.

The Oregon Trail handheld game now available

March 5th, 2018 7:54 AM
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Oregon Trail is seeing not only a resurgence in popularity, but also translation to a variety of media, from card game to stage play to Minecraft skin. Just now hitting the streets is yet another adaptation: the Oregon Trail electronic handheld game.

This game is the product of Basic Fun, a company that has released dedicated handhelds based on arcade classics such as Frogger, Q*Bert and Pac-Man. Oregon Trail seems to be the first time they've adapted a computer game, especially one that requires alphanumeric input. As such, this is not a straight port, having been adapted to use the handheld's directional keys.

This is not the first Oregon Trail game to be available exclusively from Target, with the 2016 card game and its follow-up being the first. But unlike those previous releases, Basic Fun's game isn't yet listed on the store's website, and it can't even be found on store shelves — at least not when I tried. After confirming Target had the game in stock, I asked a store clerk about the game and provided them with DPCI (similar to a SKU) 087-10-2886. They looked it up in their inventory and found that all 12 of the store's units were still sitting in a box in the back room, yet to have been put on display. Knowing how hard it'd be to find these games once they were released, I asked if there was a limit to how many I could buy. Indeed there was: I was limited to the 12 they had in stock.

I, uh… I may have gotten a bit carried away.

I'll continue my exploration of this handheld journey to Willamette Valley in Juiced.GS!

(Hat tips to Kevin Savetz and Kirk Millwood)

Oregon Trail IRL

February 5th, 2018 12:59 PM
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As art imitates life, so too does life occasionally imitate art. Such is the case with Oregon Trail, a 2,170-mile wagon route that became the basis for a timeless Apple II game. The edutainment software has in turn been adapted to real-life interactive events, as with Oregon Trail Live, an annual event in Salem, Oregon, that will next be held on Saturday, September 8.

But for those in Colorado who didn't want to wait that long, the non-profit History Colorado recently hosted Oregon Trail IRL, a one-day event officially sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

Relive your childhood, as the vintage The Oregon Trail video game becomes a live-action experience set throughout the museum. Test your pioneering skills as you hunt for food, ford a river in a human hamster ball, play the original game in our '90s throwback library computer lab, plus so much more. Finish your immersive experience in our graveyard lounge with cash bar and music.

Colorado itself has few ties to the historical Oregon Trail; according to Wikipedia, "A branch of the Oregon trail crossed the very northeast corner of Colorado if they followed the South Platte River to one of its last crossings." But the state does lay claim to Chris Torrence, renowned Apple II blogger and videographer. The latest episode of video podcast series, Assembly Lines, features his expedition to the sold-out Oregon Trail IRL.

Oregon Trail IRL looks just like the game it's based on: both fun and educational. My thanks to Chris for capturing this experience for the rest of us!

(Full disclosure: I support Chris on Patreon.)

Bard's Tale post-mortem at GDC

December 11th, 2017 8:10 AM
Filed under Game trail, Happenings;

The Game Developer's Conference is an annual event that invites members of the computer and video game industry to collaborate, inspire, and share their stories and best practices. This professional affair is expensive to attend but nonetheless attracts developers both mainstream and indie.

One of the flagship offerings of each year's GDC schedule is the post-mortem, where developers take attendees behind the scenes of their memorable games, be they modern or historical. Past post-mortems have included games Maniac Mansion for the Apple II and Raid on Bungeling Bay for Commodore 64.

At GDC 2018, to be held in San Francisco on March 19–23, another classic game will enter the post-mortem vault: The Bard's Tale I and II. Dr. Michael Cranford, creator of The Bard's Tale series and programmer for the Apple II version of Donkey Kong, will host the session:

Cranford… will share the vision that led him to the game's conception, design, and development from his years as a dungeon master. The games are an expression of Cranford's personal love for the genre and desire to surpass the experience of tabletop gaming. The session will explore the vision behind the game and help illuminate a trajectory in gaming which has remained strong to the current day… [and] many elements in current RPGs are developed in 'The Bard's Tale'.

… this talk is not going to be technical. This session targets those who are interested in concepts behind game design (RPG game design in particular), how that came together in the early '80s, and how it impacted so many people.

Although I've not played many games in The Bard's Tale series, I recognize the role it played in gaming history, as it was named among the top RPGs of all time by both Game Informer and Retro Gamer, inspiring me to back the Kickstarter for The Bard's IV. I would love to be in the audience for this upcoming talk… but alas, attendance at GDC is not for the casual gamer, with passes starting at $999 $149. I will instead hope the video and slides will eventually make their way into the GDC Vault, where they will be preserved and made available to the wider audience interested in RPG history.

(Hat tip to Gamasutra)

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

December 4th, 2017 9:46 AM
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I subscribe to only two monthly magazines, one of which is Game Informer. While it's not my only source for video game news, I enjoy its in-depth features on game development, previews of upcoming titles, and reviews of games I might never play.

One of those games is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, a first-person shooter and the eighth in the Wolfenstein series, released just this past October. The game follows protagonist William "B.J." Blazkowicz, introduced in 1992 in the series' original first-person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, as he sets about to free an alternate-history modern America of its Nazi rule.

I haven't played any Wolfenstein games since that 1992 title, but I was struck by this passage in Game Informer's review of the latest game:

The New Colossus does not shy away from tough themes but, on the contrary, aggressively pursues them. The 14-hour campaign tackles racism, being complicit in cruelty, executions, child abuse, despair, patricide, the holocaust, white supremacy, and terrorism. While these themes are dark, the game handles them well, giving a proper amount of drama and emotional depth to each while also refusing to offer easy answers to the questions that plague the characters’ hearts. However, this parade of tragedy is never too much to bear, because the game takes the time to throw in wacky humor, like when machines are zapping Nazis into a fine red goop while Set Roth explains to B.J. just how broken his body is. You also see heartfelt moments of romance and friendship among the crew; amongst all the murder and sorrow, The New Colossus makes room for love and hope. Where these brands of tragedy and comedy might mix as well as water and oil in other games, here they are necessary parts to making this experience work as a cohesive whole.

My first reaction was to be impressed that the game had such a strong narrative. I'm a big fan of narrative-driven games, from Life Is Strange to Gone Home, and while first-person shooters often have story, they're hardly the reason gamers play them. But it seems developer MachineGames and publisher Bethesda Softworks have nonetheless taken Wolfenstein's plot seriously. For the first time in 25 years, I find myself wanting to play a Wolfenstein game.

My second reaction was to laugh at the absurdity of the juxtaposition of such a strong narrative with incredibly violent gameplay. The New Colossus is rated 'M' by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for reasons that include plot and narrative but which focus primarily on the action: "Combat is frenetic, with realistic gunfire, explosions, screams of pain, and large blood-splatter effects. Some weapons allow players to blow off enemies' heads or cut off their limbs; cutscenes sometimes show decapitations and/or acts of disembowelment." It is no doubt this gratuitous violence, not the "heartfelt moments of romance and friendship", that will attract most gamers.

My third reaction was disbelief at how far the Wolfenstein franchise has come. Although it may have achieved mainstream popularity with its 3D incarnation in 1992, the series was founded in 1981 by Silas Warner's Castle Wolfenstein, a 2D, top-down stealth game. Did Warner ever expect that his humble program would evolve to "make room for love and hope"? Would he see any of his genetic code embedded in this descendant? What would he think of The New Colossus?

It's impossible to say: the first and latest Wolfenstein games are so far removed from each other at this point as to share only a name and general anti-Nazi theme, such that Warner may see only a passing resemblance. But as a gamer, I'm heartened that the Apple II has made possible such a prominent, highly anticipated, and well-received entry in the modern gaming landscape. Whether or not most gamers realize it, our lineage persists.

Teens play Oregon Trail

November 27th, 2017 3:35 PM
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Last month, 1990s kids played Oregon Trail. They had nostalgia going for them when they set out from Independence, Missouri. Would a new generation of travelers, untested on the Oregon Trail, find a similar appeal on the road to Williamette Valley?

A year after shooting the original video, Buzzfeed returned to the Oregon Trail with that question by inviting three pairs of teens to play Oregon Trail.

"I have trouble believing this is from the 1990s," said one kid; "it looks prehistoric." Well, sure: the original version was released in 1971, and the Apple II edition from 1985 remained largely unchanged for the 1990 MS-DOS port played here. By that point, the game had nearly 20 years of history behind it. But kids who are teens now likely weren't alive in the 1990s, so in that sense, the game is "prehistoric".

Even though today's gamers may be accustomed to more action and less information, I'm still surprised by the response of one teen who survived all the way to Williamette Valley: "It's pretty underwhelming." Oregon Trail's graphics aren't significantly different from the variety of pixel-art retrogames available today, such as VVVVVV, or the reading required by gamebooks, such as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Given that many of these kids had never heard of Oregon Trail, I'd be very curious to know if their impressions would've changed had Oregon Trail been presented as a modern game designed with a retro aesthetic.