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!

Battle Chess & Space Quest return

May 14th, 2012 5:27 PM
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Tim Schafer, what hath you wrought? The extravagant funding his unidentified adventure game received via crowdfunding site Kickstarter has opened the floodgates to a resurgence of vintage franchises: Wasteland, Leisure Suit Larry, Shadowrun, and more.

The latest Apple II licenses to seek resurrection via Kickstarter are Space Quest and Battle Chess. The former, dubbed "SpaceVenture" (they apparently couldn't get the rights to the original name), will be produced by Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, aka "The Two Guys from Andromeda", the two designers who created the series for Sierra On-Line in the first place. The development seems to be pretty well outlined, with several notable voice actors having signed on, though I've seen no assets from the game as of yet. The final game will be installable on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android, or playable in Google's Chrome Web browser. A preorder will cost you $15 and get them that much closer to the usual half-a-million goal before the June 12, 2012, deadline.

By contrast, the Battle Chess project couldn't be more different. Subdued Software, developers of no games I've ever heard of, have licensed the Battle Chess name and have essentially completed production of an update to the classic strategy game. All that remains before its October 2012 release is to add Internet support, for which they are asking for a paltry $100,000:

… implementing a full featured online experience, like the one we have planned, will take several months. A list of features include; Skilled Based Matchmaking, Statistics, Leaderboards, Achievements and in-game chat. We also needed to factor in the cost of fulfilling rewards and running this campaign. We have carefully planned out the costs of staffing the programmers, artists and testers necessary to complete online multiplayer feature and arrived at this amount.

This modest ambition extends to the scale of the release: $100K will secure a PC-only release, with additional funding promising ports to Mac, iOS, Android, and Xbox 360. If you're counting on support for one of those platforms, one course of action is to pledge your dollars to the project — and, if they don't collect enough funding for additional systems before the June 1 deadline, withdraw your pledge. (Selfish, no?)

The lack of accessibility to Battle Chess brought to mind a potential alternative. Longtime readers of this blog may remember my discussion of a similar game, Battle vs. Chess, originally scheduled for release on Sep 28, 2010, then pushed back to Spring 2011. To date, Battle vs. Chess has still not been released in the United States, according to Wikipedia, "due to an injunction by Interplay Entertainment for trademark infringement due to its similarity to Interplay title Battle Chess." In February 2012, I received this update from Robin Kunimune, Community Manager of publisher TopWare Interactive:

… Battle Vs. Chess has not been released in the USA, yet. If it were in our power, we would do so in a heartbeat, but sadly the publishing rights remain with a company with which we no longer associate. We are currently waiting for said company to fold and declare bankruptcy (at which point we would regain the publishing rights and release the game) or to go ahead and release the game themselves.

In the meantime, the "true" Battle Chess is looking pretty polished, with plenty of neat death sequences — although the outcome is determined in accordance with the rules of chess, it's still fun to watch the characters duke it out, with each potential matchup of pieces and winners resulting in a unique encounter. Check out these three gameplay videos:

Whether you support an ambitious game that's still in the planning stage and not coming out until 2013 but for a variety of platforms, or a game that's all but finished with a meager fundraising goal and target platform — or both — is between you and your wallet. Happy funding!

The origins of Interplay

February 21st, 2011 12:26 PM
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With a portfolio that includes games like Baldur's Gate, Earthworm Jim, and Fallout, software publisher Interplay may be better known to PC and console gamers than to retrogamers. But Interplay, founded in 1983, was a friend to the Apple II for nearly a decade. Over the years, they developed and/or published such memorable titles as The Bard's Tale, Tass Times in Tone Town, Neuromancer, Battlechess, Dragon Wars GS, and Out Of This World. And let's not forget the first-person role-playing game, Dungeon Master, which TSR's Dragon Magazine granted the "Beastie Award" for best Apple IIGS game of 1989.

Many of these titles are thanks in no small part to Interplay founder Brian Fargo hiring as one of his first three employees prolific Apple II programmer Rebecca Heineman, who was recently interviewed on the Matt Chat. This video podcast series is hosted by gamer and historian Matt Barton, author of Dungeons & Desktops. Now, Barton has turned the camera on Fargo, who left Interplay in 2002 but has many fond memories of the company's humorous titles and the creative geniuses behind them. For a fun reminiscence of early Apple II gaming, check out the entire three-part series.

(Hat tip to Blue's News)

Warring Battle Chess reactions

September 27th, 2010 12:33 PM
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There's a new game being released tomorrow that should seem familiar to Apple II users. Here's a preview trailer:

Battle vs. Chess is, as many games have been over the years, inspired by Battle Chess, Interplay's first-ever computer game, for which there was an Apple IIGS version. This new take will be released on Sept. 28, and will cost $40 for Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3; $30 for Nintendo Wii; and $20 for the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) handhelds, as well as for Mac OS X and Windows.

When I first saw those prices, I was disappointed — and then confused at my own disappointment. Battle Chess is one of my favorite incarnations of chess and was one of the few games I was able to play online against other gamers in the pre-Internet days. I was excited to discover Battle vs. Chess, which I could play online easily; offline, its AI would probably make its moves less ponderously than my 2.8 MHz Apple allowed. Shouldn't I be eager to pay at least as much for this experience as I did for the original in 1988?

And yet I'm not. As primarily a console gamer, I want to play Battle vs. Chess on my Xbox 360 — but no matter what I paid for Battle Chess back in the day, $40 now seems too much for a digital version of the board game in my closet. I expected Battle vs. Chess to be a $15 digital release, not a full-fledged retail product.

Why the change in reception? What could prompt me to pay full price for an animated chess game twenty years ago, but not today, despite the benefits of advances in technology that the interceding time affords this new game? I faced the same disparity six years ago when I played the Xbox game Wrath Unleashed, which was an almost perfect clone of another favorite Apple II strategy game, Archon. I still occasionally play Archon to this day, while LucasArts' spiritual successor for Xbox, which is both glitzier and more accessible, gathers dust.

If this were mere nostalgia, then, much like the Angry Video Game Nerd, I would be discovering that I'd been remembering the games of my youth more fondly than they deserved. But Battle Chess and Archon are still fun. How come their modern equivalents don't inspire similar enthusiasm?

My best guess is that, no matter what the presentation style or interface, the core gameplay of games like Battle Chess and Battle vs. Chess are identical, and the updated graphics and additional gameplay features aren't enough for me to spend money on a game I already own. These timeless experiences would benefit little from a mere a visual upgrade.

So yes, Battle vs. Chess is worth $40 — which is why I already bought it twenty years ago. But $20 for a new Mac version? That I might be able to swing, just for old times' sake.

(Hat tip to Joystiq)

UPDATE: Release of this game has been pushed back to Spring 2011, per an email to me of from James Seaman, Managing Director of Topware Interactive.

UPDATE 2: This game was eventually renamed Check vs. Mate.