Apple IIc at BostonFIG

October 1st, 2018 7:03 AM
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One of my favorite annual traditions is the Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Currently in its seventh year, this one-day event held at MIT is an opportunity for independent game developers to exhibit their works in progress and new releases. I love the creativity on display, where game designers who are not beholden to major studios can demonstrate original game ideas and concepts, be they commercially viable or simply interesting.

Interactive fiction has made appearances at BostonFIG before, and this year's festival was no exception. The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is based out of Boston, and their booth this year showed off everything from Infocom games (perhaps not indie, but Boston-based!) to the more recent Hadean Lands (whose Kickstarter I supported way back in 2010!). The IFTF is such a staple of BostonFIG that I was chatting with its organizers for a minute before I realized something new right in front of me.

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

An Apple IIc… at BostonFIG!

I always thought it would be fun to bring an indie game like Lawless Legends to BostonFIG, but the IFTF beat me to it by using an Apple IIc to show off classic Infocom games. They were running off the original floppies, as opposed to 4am's newer Pitch Dark GUI. The table was manned by Andrew Plotkin, who I interviewed for Juiced.GS's cover story about interactive fiction seven years ago; and the Apple IIc was provided by Nick Montfort, an MIT professor whose book, Twisty Little Passages, Juiced.GS reviewed nine years ago.

So as to not block the table from interested festival-goers who might not already have heard the good word of interactive fiction, I didn't linger at the table. But I was very glad to see this precedent set, and I hope to see the Apple II at future BostonFIGs.

Keyboard navigation in a GUI world

August 4th, 2011 3:38 PM
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Computers have come a long way since the Apple II, with important improvements to both hardware and software. But along the way, a few valuable computing aspects were lost.

A recent ITworld.com story looks at features that lost the evolutionary war: "… there are some things they don't do that the old, slow, often command-line-intead-of-GUI-oriented applications did." The first page of the story focuses on the losses associated with the transition from a command-line interface (CLI) to a graphical user interface (GUI). One consultant laments the loss of programmable function keys and other shortcuts that extended keyboards once offered. These features were never available to the Apple II user, but I can commiserate with the need for shortcuts that don't require a pointing device.

My first six years as a Macintosh predominantly took the form of a laptop (a PowerBook 1400cs) with an external trackball (an ADB Kensington TurboMouse). That trackball had four buttons that could be programmed for a variety of custom functions, such as right-clicking or switching applications. My right hand rarely strayed from that device, as it was impossible to use Mac OS Classic without it.

After switching to Mac OS X on December 7, 2003, I began to rely less and less. I found this reinvention of the Macintosh operating system featured keyboard-based shortcuts that I'd previously used the TurboMouse for. Now, I could switch windows, applications, and more while keeping my hands on the keyboard. In this way, OS X is actually a bit more similar to the Apple II with which I grew up. Navigating Microsoft Word will never be as intuitive or efficient as using AppleWorks, but it's a bit closer.

With all my Macs having always been portable, it's important for such power to be inbuilt, though I imagine those with desktop computers might enjoy the options such a stable position brings. For example, Andrew Plotkin, in an interview with The Setup (the same site that previously interviewed Bert Kersey), recommended the Matias Tactile Pro 3 keyboard, saying, "If your typing doesn’t sound like a hailstorm on a tin roof, you’re not typing." (This is despite the keyboard being connected to a MacBook Pro; says Plotkin, "I essentially never move it — I’m not a laptop person at heart.")

As a former or current Apple II user, by what input device or method do you prefer to navigate your modern computer? Is there particular hardware you favor or recommend?

The return of interactive fiction

November 18th, 2010 10:09 AM
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Text adventures, or interactive fiction, are currently en vogue, as evidenced by more than the release of the medium's own documentary. Beyond GET LAMP and its niche market, IF has been making appearances in even mainstream media, leading the way for new and exciting developments in this classic gaming genre.

My cousin, bless her heart, emailed me this clip from the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory, asking, "Do you remember these games, or are they before your time?"

I suspect most of BBT's geeky audience will recognize and appreciate this nod to gaming's textual origins, as even modern gaming has taken to acknowledging its roots. Earlier this month, Activision released the highly anticipated first-person shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops (or CoD:BlOps for short). The game includes an Easter Egg: hidden within but accessible from a virtual computer terminal in the game's militaristic setting is none other than Zork itself. This treat is made possible by Activision's purchase of Infocom in 1986, seven years after the company was founded and three before it was shut down.

Although this bonus feature is an amazing opportunity to introduce the current generation of gamers to interactive fiction, Jason Scott points out an inherent flaw in the context in which Activision has chosen to do so. Players of CoD:BlOps are expecting an intense, fast-paced, and violent experience, filled with twitch reactions and realistic graphics. To ask them to slow down, sit at a virtual keyboard, and be challenged by the puzzles of Zork only brings into contrast how far gaming has come, and the obstacles IF now faces.

Nonetheless, those obstacles are being tackled — and overcome — by the likes of Andrew Plotkin. This IF designer, interviewed in GET LAMP, recently set out to use Kickstarter to raise enough money to quit his day job and dedicate himself to creating text adventures for Mac, PC, and iPhone. He hoped to raise $8,000 in 30 days; in the first twelve hours, he raised $12,000.

Many of Plotkin's current works can be played on his homepage, where we should expect to find the fruits of his labors continue to be published once his sabbatical begins.

In the meantime, if you want to try a point-and-click interface that explores abstract concepts in an interactive fiction-like experience, try A House in California, loosely based on the Apple II classic Mystery House. It's one example of how far IF actually has come in the past three decades — even if it is no Call of Duty.

(Hat tips to Andy Molloy and Jason Scott)