Chris Torrence reviews the AP40

January 23rd, 2017 11:28 AM
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In October, Hong Kong hardware developer 8bitdo launched a Kickstarter for a wireless Bluetooth controller for the Apple II. Although I originally backed the project, I eventually cancelled my pledge only out of personal dissatisfaction with the potential product and its management. That said, I was still glad to see the campaign succeed at 135% its crowdfunding goal.

One of the 313 backers is Assembly Lines editor and KansasFest alumnus Chris Torrence. He quickly produced an unboxing video, in which he rightly predicted my critical reception:

This video was followed by a more extensive testing session:

Between the two videos, Chris tested the AP40 controller with a variety of Apple II games, including Lode Runner, Choplifter, and Castle Wolfenstein. The verdict seems to be that it's a great device for games that require digital input — i.e., games that read only the direction, not the degree, to which you are pushing the controller. But since the Apple II can read 0–255 values on both the X and Y axes, games that rely on that analog input will not work as well.

Had I not cancelled my Kickstarter pledge, I would've reviewed the AP40 for Juiced.GS. But I don't think even I could've done as good a job as Chris, which is why I'm excited he'll be making his Juiced.GS debut when we publish his more comprehensive written review in the March 2017 issue!

(Full disclosure: I back Chris on Patreon.)

Apple II companies are people

November 14th, 2016 3:15 PM
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I engage in as much online commerce as I do offline. Whether I'm buying a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop or going to the movies to see the latest Marvel movie, or I'm buying a book on Amazon.com or a mobile app from Apple, I don't personally know the people handling my transaction. We're polite to each other and treat each other with respect — as any decent human being should — but we don't take the time to address each other by name or inquire as to each other's wellbeing. Once the transaction is complete, the interaction is concluded and the relationship ends.

The Apple II industry is different. The size of each company is proportionate to the size of the community — that is, small. While my credit card receipts may show me to have patronized such companies as RetroConnector, a2RetroSystems, and Manila Gear (to name a few), I never saw it that way. Rather, I was supporting Charles Mangin, Glenn Jones, and Jon Co & John Valdezco. Each of these technical geniuses have long been members of the Apple II community, supporting it not just with their inventions (off which they rarely, if ever, profit), but with their camaraderie on IRC and Twitter and at KansasFest. Through their long commitment to the platform and their people, they've earned our trust, friendship, and patronage.

This reputation isn't reserved to the privileged few who are able to make their way to KansasFest and meet these vendors; for example, Glenn Jones and Jon Co have yet to make their way from Canada and Australia to our Midwest convention. Given our geographic diversity, a lot of community-building is instead accomplished online. For my part, it's not enough to let the Juiced.GS store's automatic receipts be a new customer's first impression. I personally email each new subscriber to ask them how they came to our publication and what their history with the Apple II is. You can say that I'm doing so to build customer retention or to scout potential content contributors — and you wouldn't be wrong. But that alone would not be enough. I cherish my quarterly mailing parties where I get to see the name on each mailing label and recall the stories of each person this community has introduced me to.

I've grown so accustomed to these personal interactions that, when I have the opposite experience within the Apple II community, it's noticeable and jarring. Such is the case with 8bitdo's recent Kickstarter to create the AP40, an Apple II-themed game controller with Apple II-compatible wireless receiver. While I was excited by the prospects of the hardware, I was surprised to see it come from an organization our community had never heard of. I've since exchanged several emails with the AP40's creators, but I never once had my inquisitiveness or enthusiasm reciprocated. When I mentioned possibly reviewing their hardware for Juiced.GS, they glossed over it; their emails are always signed with their company's name, not an individual's; the campaign had few progress updates; and the pitch video featured none of the talent responsible for the product. They seem utterly uninterested in the Apple II community or being a part of it.

If this were Amazon.com, a coffee shop, or Apple, I wouldn't bat an eye at such behavior; it'd be expected. But in the Apple II community, AP40's outsider status and indifference is unmistakeable. I was so disappointed and dissatisfied that I ultimately requested that my Kickstarter pledge be cancelled [see comments below for more details]. Maybe I'm a snob for refusing to associate with those outside some Apple II "inner circle". But I was always taught to "support those who support the Apple II" — and support takes many forms.

8bitdo brings Bluetooth connectivity to Apple II

October 17th, 2016 8:18 AM
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Games are my favorite genre of Apple II application, so anything that makes it easier to play my favorite Apple II games is something I'll line up for. It's why I just bought Alex Lukacz's 4play card (reviewed in the September 2016 issue of Juiced.GS) and am now awaiting the AP40 controller, currently on Kickstarter.

The AP40 is a Bluetooth controller with an aesthetic reminiscent of the classic Apple logo. Its name is both an evolution of the developer's previous model, the AP30, as well as an acknowledgement of 2017 being the 40th anniversary of the Apple II.

By itself, this play on nostalgia is nothing special — skins and themes for Bluetooth controllers are not hard to come by. The killer app aspect of the AP40 is that it comes with a wireless receiver that plugs into the Apple II, enabling the use of any Bluetooth controller. Although the project description cites compatibility with the Apple IIc specifically, I emailed the developers and confirmed that any model of Apple II will work.

If you're interested, there are a couple purchasing options to consider. The AP40 gamepad alone costs $49, but if you have another Bluetooth controller you're happy with, you can get just the receiver for $49; or buy both for $85. A limited-edition controller with mini-Apple II stand costs $69, but there is no turnkey package that includes both this special edition and a wireless receiver.

The AP40 has made headlines like few other pieces of retrocomputing tech has, having been featured in Forbes, Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Cult of Mac, and more. For all that, there may nonetheless be a marketing issue, because the controller seems to be getting more press coverage than its Apple II compatibility; when I mentioned the Kickstarter on the Retro Computing Roundtable episode #138, one of the other hosts who'd seen these headlines was flabbergasted to discover the controller worked on actual Apple II hardware.

For personal use, I wanted just the receiver, for use with my PlayStation 4's DualShock controller — but for the purposes of a proper review in the pages of Juiced.GS, I've emailed 8bitdo and assembled a package of limited-edition controller complete with receiver. The Kickstarter currently has nine days to go but has already exceeded its crowdfunding goal of $16,111 USD; given the developer's track record, I'm confident the products will ship on or near the promised delivery date of January 2017, in time for the March 2017 issue of Juiced.GS.