Travel Oregon: The Game

July 9th, 2018 11:06 AM
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The Oregon Trail is the perennial Apple II game: everyone has played some version of it, with it being adapted to feature zombies, reapppropriated by travel brands, and more. Regardless of how the game has evolved, it has the constant goal of arriving safely in Oregon. But what does one do once the party has reached its destination?

The state of Oregon itself offers its answer in Travel Oregon: The Game. This parody browser game offers a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into the experiences awaiting you in Oregon. As in the original game, you start by choosing your profession, except updated for the place and age: yoga teacher; apple farmer; ski pro; rancher; fly fisherman; winemaker; or surfer. Starting funds can be used to buy artisanal coffee, craft beer, kombucha, snow chains, newspapers, dry socks, spare tires, and gas cans. At stops along the way, you can buy cheese-flavored snack mix, sequined ice skates, crossword puzzles, phone chargers, beef jerky, a fisherman's hat, pinot gris, baby carrots, and more. Once equipped, there are plenty of fun minigames to play, from figure-skating to fishing. But it's not all fun and games, as poor party management can still lead to unfortunate consequences. As the state describes it:

While playing it, you can hunt (but make sure to buy a hunting license or you’ll be fined), build snowmen, and buy gas station sushi. You can choose to travel to the high desert or go down south to fish for steelhead among the rapids. There are quirky moments that distinctly remind you of how strange Oregon (and by extension, Portland) can be, like choosing the class, stats, and backstory for your freshly built snowman, or dueling a ghost to the… undeath?

Here are some photos I snapped in my travels throughout Oregon.

Want to make your virtual adventures a reality? The game offers a menu item to book your trip today! Come experience everything to offer in Oregon — only slightly exaggerated:

(Hat tip to Alec Blouin)

Ready Player One's Richard Garriott inspiration

June 11th, 2018 1:01 PM
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Ready Player One was my favorite novel of 2011, providing a dystopian cyberpunk adventure targeted at geeks who grew up immersed in 1980s pop culture. I've since recognized the book's problematic elements with gatekeeping, transphobia, and fan service without substance … yet I still can't help but be fascinated by all the elements author Ernest Cline wove into his narrative.

With Ready Player One's recent adaptation to film, audiences are discovering anew the Oasis, the fictional virtual world created by James Halliday (played by Sir Mark Rylance), a virtuoso computer programmer who sets himself up as the massively multiplayer online role-playing game's benevolent (but absent) god. Many of Halliday's (and thus Cline's) favorite games make appearances in Ready Player One, and in this new WIRED interview, Cline details each and every game in the movie — with one in particular being of interest to Apple II users.

Turns out one of the Apple II's own played a major role in the story:

Akalabeth is one of the first attempts by a computer programmer to translate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons into a computer game. It was created by Richard Garriott, who also helped serve as the inspiration for James Halliday. Richard Garriot is a famous video game designer from Austin, Texas, where I live, who has an alter-ego: his Dungeons & Dragons and game avatar called Lord British. He would dress up as Lord British in public at press events and things. He eventually ended up using his video-game money to travel into space and go on the International Space Station. He was really an inspiration to me as like a geek with unlimited funds and what could be accomplished. So he and Howard Hughes helped inspire James Halliday in my book. And his game, Akalabeth, and the games that followed it: Ultima I, II, III, IV, and then Ultima Online, the first MMO, those all helped inspire the Oasis in my novel.

While Garriott was directly referenced in the book, I didn't pick up any mentions in the movie. Little did I know that an entire, integral character was based on Lord British himself!

(Hat tip to Hades Kong via WTF Dragon)

The opera of Steve Jobs

August 31st, 2015 11:17 AM
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Since his passing (and well before), Steve Jobs has pervaded popular media, appearing in dramatizations, documentaries, and graphic novels. Now his memory is set to invade another artistic medium: the opera.

Russell Contreras of the Associated Press reports reports that the Santa Fe Opera has commissioned The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs for their 2017 season. Rather than the drama and grandstanding of Jobs' public life, the opera will deal with the character's more human elements:

The production will examine Jobs facing his own mortality and circles back to the events and people in his past that shaped and inspired him… the story of Jobs is a great intersection of creativity, innovation and human communication. His relationship with those who helped him along that journey also will help tell the story in the opera.

I'd expect a show like this to come out of San Francisco, not Santa Fe. But New Mexico makes a feeble attempt at relevancy to Jobs' life:

New Mexico in recent years has worked to honor it connections to technology innovators like Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. For example, a Route 66 motor lodge in Albuquerque where Bill Gates and Paul Allen lived while launching Microsoft Corp. is being redeveloped into apartments as part of a neighborhood revival project.

While Gates worked on his project, Jobs operated from in his garage in Los Altos, California, and with partner Steve Wozniak released the compact Apple II at the time Albuquerque was a technology hub.

It's unlikely such a show would remain limited to New Mexico; I predict a touring a company will launch within a year of the opera's debut. That leaves us years to ponder whether opera is the best venue in which to explore Steve Jobs. Unlike a musical, which intersperses song with spoken dialogue, an opera is almost entirely sung or accompanied by music. It need not be in Italian or another foreign language — Gilbert & Sullivan's operas, such as The Pirates of Penzance, were in English.

Unlike the unnecessarily dramatic soundtrack of the Ashton Kutcher film, perhaps some meaningful music will bring Jobs to life as we haven't seen him before. Says the Santa Fe Opera: "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs seeks to capture the buzzing creative realm of Silicon Valley with a kinetic electro-acoustic score, lush vocal writing, a compelling non-linear narrative, and a production as innovative as the man himself."

Anything is possible! Consider this creative reinterpretation of a traditionally tragic scene:

Bet you never thought of it quite like that before, eh?

(Hat tip to Showbits and Zachary Woolfe)

Real-life Prince of Persia

March 8th, 2012 1:38 PM
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Filed under Musings, People;
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When Jordan Mechner developed Karateka in 1984, audiences were astounded by the fluidity and realism of his rotoscoped graphics — a technique more effectively executed five years later when applied to Prince of Persia. With the upcoming remake of Karateka, I'm left wondering just how much more realistic Mechner's work can become. Will he go for a classic, retro look; something more modern; or a blend of new and old? Comedy troupe Karahat proposes the latter with their comedy sketch, Real Prince of Persia:

This fun skit employs the cutting edge of 1984 technology, such as cardboard and rubber bands. But I'm hoping the woman in this skit was expecting to be accosted and was not an unwilling participant. The potential of invisible theater to discomfort its unwilling participants is exactly what makes me so uncomfortable about watching many of Mega64's videos.

Oh, and still wondering the correct way to pronounce "Karateka"? Don't look for answers in Open Apple #13, in which each guest and host has his own idea about how to say the game's name. Listen instead to 1:11 into Jordan Mechner's interview with G4 / X-Play:

(Hat tip to — who else? — Jordan Mechner)

Batman: Year One, Apple Two

November 24th, 2011 10:20 AM
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In its lifetime, the Apple II computer has a variety of unusual uses, from making piano player music to demonstrating motion-activated inputs. How about an ultrasound monitor?

That is the application to which the Apple II was put in last month's direct-to-DVD release of Batman: Year One. The tale is set at the dawn of Bruce Wayne's superhero career, reflect in the movie's slightly antiquated look. In one scene, Jim Gordon's wife visits the hospital for an ultrasound; in another, a trauma victim's vitals are monitored. Both times, an Apple II can be seen in the background.

Batman: Year One

According to the 1985 journal article "Mixing Apple microcomputer graphics for ultrasound scan measurement" in Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, the official journal of the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, Batman: Year One is not playing fast and loose with its historical fiction but is instead accurately portraying the technology of the era and its capabilities:

A modern microcomputer with high-resolution graphics can provide an inexpensive method for measurement on video images from a real-time ultrasound scanner. The problem which has to be overcome to allow the computer graphics to be superimposed on the ultrasound video image and permit subsequent analysis is that of synchronization. The video signals must be synchronized before they can be mixed, but neither microcomputers nor ultrasound scanners provide facilities for external synchronization of their video output. A mixer has been designed which uses a buffer memory and allows the graphics of an Apple II microcomputer to be synchronized and mixed with an external video image; we used a Hitachi EUB22 real-time ultrasound scanner. The resulting combination is a versatile instrument which permits a wide range of measurements on ultrasonic images.

Facebook user Herbert Fung first spotted these artifacts, reporting the sighting on October 22 and following up a day later with the above screen captures. Dave Miller provided the historical context.

Prince of Persia 64

October 17th, 2011 11:41 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Software showcase;
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There's long been a rivalry (friendly and otherwise) between the Apple II and Commodore 64 communities. But there's much goodwill, too, with software and hardware being adapted from one to the other. The latest such example is Prince of Persia, the classic platform game that debuted on the Apple II in 1989; Mr. SID, a programmer from the Netherlands, has now ported it to the C64, with the result available for free and immediate download. Here's a sample of the gameplay:

Wired's Duncan Geere reported that the game was "painstakingly recreated the game from scratch using the original Apple II code." That seemed an unlikely contradiction: was it made from scratch, or did it use Jordan Mechner's original code? If the latter, from where was that non-open-source code obtained?

A more careful reading of the developer's blog reveals that the Apple II version's graphics and level data were indeed used, but the game engine came from Freeprince's Princed Project, a reverse-engineering of the Apple II game:

The Princed Project is the sum of many sub-projects related to Prince of Persia. Such software includes level editors, graphic and sound editors, resource extractors, and a new open source engine for the game. All the software in this website is Free Software, and is also available for several platforms.

Is this piracy? IANAL, but even from an ethical perspective, it's hard to say. As I opined in Open Apple, the effort and passion that drives an unauthorized port honors the original and pays it homage. And since there is no alternative to playing this game on the Commodore 64, this port does not detract from sales of the original, mitigating the damage. But none of this changes the fact that it is unauthorized and likely infringes on the original author's rights. It's a gray area.

Regardless, Mr. SID's accomplishment is remarkable, and I applaud him for spreading the Apple II love.

UPDATE: Jordan Mechner himself commented on the developer's blog:

That's crazy! Back in 1989, when I was making POP on the Apple II, I couldn't get anyone interested in doing a C64 port… because it was too old a system :)

Hat tip to Wesley Yin-Poole, by way of Edge Magazine.