Archive for the ‘Game trail’ Category

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

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!

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)

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!

Which Apple II games are timeless?

November 11th, 2019 10:08 AM
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Canadian comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun, true to their eponymous C64 roots, often includes retrocomputers in their weekly news report. This past week was no exception:

Although this news, citing a blog post by Internet Archive employee and KansasFest regular Jason Scott, is specifically about MS-DOS, the concept applies to the Apple II as well: there are at least 3,170 Apple II games currently playable in the Internet Archive — far more than any of us have ever played in our lifetimes or likely ever will.

But how many of them stand the test of time? As Brendan John "Beej" Dery notes in the above LRR report, games aren't always as fun as we remember them being as kids, when basic inputs returned minimal rewards conveyed with simple graphics and rudimentary sound. Cumbersome controls and user interfaces that we tolerated when we didn't know any better have evolved into more elegant designs and complex narratives. What games still hold up and can still be fun, with our without a healthy dose of nostalgia?

Instead of focusing on games that haven't aged well (such as some text adventures or RPGs), I'd argue that these games remain fun:

  • Lode Runner: When I was a guest on the New Game Plus podcast three years ago, I invited its hosts to play Lode Runner. Having never played the game before, all three found it enjoyable. Recent iterations of Lode Runner have introduced new graphics, but the core gameplay remains as fun today as it was upon its debut.
  • Shadowgate: This point-and-click gothic adventure game was worth remaking in 2012, which improved not just the graphics but also the interface. It would've been for naught if the original game weren't fun. It still is!
  • Prince of Persia: While the battle system is somewhat rudimentary, the dungeon platformer is still challenging for those who want to rescue the princess within the allotted time.
  • Snake Byte: Variations on this game have appeared on countless devices (especially mobile) for decades — a testament to the basic gameplay's staying power.
  • Arkanoid: Not only does this successor to Breakout stand the test of time — we need more games like this. Paddle input devices have practically gone extinct; while mobile devices seem well-suited to movement on one plane, something is lost with a touch interface.
  • BattleChess: Creative animations injected this serious game with levity. The computer's time to make each move and then draw the animations was tedious; a CPU accelerator fixes that, but it also speeds up the animations, which should be savored.
  • DuelTris: The Apple II was young enough that most of its games were original, rather instead of improvements on existing franchises, of which there weren't many. DuelTris is an exception, taking the basic rules ofo Tetris and adding power-ups, a two-player mode, and a rocking soundtrack. DuelTris struck just the right balance of classic and enhanced gameplay; mess with Tetris more than this, and you ruin it.
  • Othello, mahjongg, and other tile games: These classic games feature timeless mechanics that don't significantly benefit from faster computers or better graphics.

This list is by no means exhaustive; such an undertaking could span an entire website, with one game per blog post! But I would love my readers' help in filling in the gaps. What are some Apple II games you've revisited and found to still be fun, all these years later? Leave a comment with your recommendations!