Gaming at @party

August 22nd, 2016 12:57 PM
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It's not often I get to evangelize the Apple II outside our own community — KansasFest, Juiced.GS, and the Retro Computing Roundtable are preaching to the choir, essentially. When I do get to speak to other audiences, it's usually those who "get" retrocomputing but may not know the details of this specific platform.

Such was the case in 2012 at @party, a demoparty held annually here in Boston. It's a venue for programmers of any and all retrocomputers to strut their stuff by creating the most complex, elaborate, and impressive graphical and aural demos in the most constrained spaces. Despite not being a programmer, I attended the founding event in 2010 and was invited back in 2012 to represent the Apple II community.

My favorite anecdote of that day came when I bumped into another attendee outside the event venue. The front door was locked, and while we waited to be buzzed in, we introduced ourselves by first names. I asked what Mike's interest was in the demoscene, after which he asked why I was attending. I said I was one of several people invited to represent various communities. Mike asked what community I was representing, and I said the Apple II.

At which point he stopped, looked at me, and exclaimed, "You're Ken Gagne!" Who knew Mike Erwin was an Open Apple listener?

That wasn't the only revelation of the day. The presentation I gave, "The Apple II Lives! KansasFest And Beyond", a variation on a presentation I'd given to the Denver Apple Pi users group the previous summer, cited many examples of games that had made the Apple II both popular and memorable. My goal was to not only demonstrate the impact that the machine had had on the computing landscape of the 1980s, but to appeal to the nostalgia of the audience's non-Apple II users who may've nonetheless encountered these franchises on other platforms.

The presentation (executed in Prezi) was well-received, but the most surprising response came from someone who had used the Apple II solely as a productivity machine. Her experience had been limited to VisiCalc, AppleWorks, and Dazzle Draw, completely omitting such classics as Lode Runner, Choplifter, Ultima, and King's Quest.

I was sad that anyone would come so close to such a great gaming machine and have overlooked what made it great to me — not everyone is a gamer, but I know this person to be, and while her background with the Apple II was as valid as my own, I couldn't help but feel like she'd missed something wonderful. But I was also glad for the opportunity @party presented me to give a more complete picture of the Apple II's legacy and livelihood. It's never too late to discover the Apple II's library of games!

Temporal anomaly in MazeFire

February 1st, 2016 11:54 AM
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Back in the summer of 2014, I attended a Boston Games Forum event. This group, now known as Playcrafting, gives local game developers opportunities to network, hone their craft, and showcase their work. Not being a developer, I enjoy Playcrafting letting me get my hands on new and upcoming games as I scout potential candidates for my YouTube channel and IndieSider podcast.

That night, one of the games being demoed was billed as a maze, though it seemed more a multiple-choice trivia/quiz-type game: each correct answer would automatically advance you through from one side of a grid to another. There was nothing a-maze-ing about it, but I was drawn to the theme of the questions: each one was about the history of computer and video games, from Pong to EverQuest and more. The random selection of 19 questions weren't hard, since they were often accompanied by a screenshot of the game featured in the correct answer, but it was still neat to see our history being celebrated.

One of the questions was just slightly wrong in its details, though:

MazeFire (2014)

The game may've come out in 1981 — but it certainly wasn't being played on an Apple IIe, which wasn't released until 1983.

The game in question is the first Wizardry:

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was an incredibly addictive game developed by Greenberg and Woodhead and launched in 1980 at the Boston Computer Convention. Character classes, alignments, specializations (Samurais and ninjas) along with maze tricks and keys all foreshadowed the MMORPGs of the modern era. Probably was not used for military training, although it was a favorite of at least one Fort Riley US Army Officer.

The text has been updated in the latest version of the game:

mazefire-2016.jpg

You can play Mazefire online for free and test your own knowledge of gaming history.

Reboot Our Roots at PAX East 2015

March 2nd, 2015 8:38 AM
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This week marks Boston's sixth annual PAX East, and my sixth time attending the video game expo with Juiced.GS editor Andy Molloy. Inspired by our Apple II magazine's 2014 cover stories about Leisure Suit Larry and Shadowgate, we'll be bringing our retrogaming love to bear on the event.

On Sunday, March 8, at 1:30 PM EDT, I'll be moderating the panel "Reboot Our Roots: Bringing Our Favorite Genres Back to Life"

Many of today's indie games are spiritual successors of yesteryear's hits, from King's Quest to Gabriel Knight to Quest for Glory — with some even being developed by the same teams that brought us the originals. What's it like to reboot a franchise or genre after 30 years? How do you update a classic while staying true to the original? Industry veterans share their stories of revisiting their roots, taking up their heroes' mantles, and what they've learned in the intervening years.

I'm excited to be hosting this panel with so many talented developers. Katie Hallahan of Phoenix Online Studios will be representing Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, as well as the King's Quest fan sequel The Silver Lining, which I previously presented at KansasFest 2010. Steven Alexander will be on the panel discussing Quest for Infamy, a spiritual successor to Quest for Glory, while Dave Wadjet will present his original creation, the Blackwell series, a point-and-click adventure inspired by the games of yesteryear.

This will be my third year moderating panels at PAX East, and the third year the Apple II has influenced my contributions to PAX. In 2013, I coordinated the donation of an Apple II gaming rig to become a permanent part of the freeplay console room. And in 2014, I moderated a panel on gender equality in gaming, which was made possible through 8-bit connections.

If you're in Boston this weekend and have a ticket to this sold-out show, please stop by "Reboot Our Roots" on Sunday afternoon and say hello — it'll be great to meet fellow gamers who have been around long enough to appreciate these classic genres and franchises. If you can't make it ot the panel, it will be recorded by Travis Stewart of Broken CRT Productions and will be posted to Apple II Bits at a later date.

UPDATE (May 25, 2015): Here's a video of the panel, as well as coverage from 2Old2Play.

Digital Den launch party

October 28th, 2013 10:59 AM
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Mary Hopper began making waves this August when she announced her intention to found a computer history museum in Boston. News of the Digital Den was picked up by Open Apple, the Retro Computing Roundtable, the Boston Globe, and Apple II Bits.

The museum continues to evolve into a extant institution, as evidenced by the launch party held on October 20. As a backer of the museum's Indiegogo campaign, I received an invitation to the event, where I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Dr. Hopper, Adam Rosen of the Vintage Mac Museum, and Ian S. King of the Living Computer Museum, as well as catch up with fellow retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross. On-hand were classic computers such as the Apple II, TI-99, and Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as newer tech like the Oculus Rift. It was an encouraging occasion for a museum that continues to seek a permanent home.

My photos from the event are posted below and are available under a CC-BY-NC license. The book featured below, Gordon Bell's Out of a Closet: The Early Years of The Computer [x]* Museum, is available online as a PDF. For more photos from the event, including a silly one of me by Rus Gant, see the Digital Den's first exhibit photos.

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Next-generation Structris

September 16th, 2013 12:11 PM
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Yesterday I attended the second annual Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Developers from throughout the Boston region set up shop at MIT to demonstrate a passion and talent that shines despite a lack of funding or big-name notoriety.

In anticipation of this event, The Boston Globe's Jesse Singal published an article, "Cool titles await at Festival of Indie Games", which described one game, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment, as "'Tetris,' only there¬ís a little guy — controlled by your human opponent — running around at the bottom trying not to get crushed by the falling blocks."

Sound familiar? I was perhaps the only BostonFIG attendee with the background to find the game evocative of Martin Haye's Structris. Admittedly, it'd bit of a stretch to accuse Explosive developer Barbaric Games of ripping off Martin's idea. Plus, Barbaric Games promised their take would be "bloodier and with an extra dimension".

As it turned out, there was much more to their game than that. Read my report on Computerworld.com for more details.

A computer history museum returns to Boston

September 2nd, 2013 6:41 PM
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Eight years ago, I took Ryan Suenaga to the Boston Museum of Science, whose "ComputerPlace" exhibit featured an Apple II with a copy of VisiCalc. Although exciting to see, this one display was the extent of Boston's preservation of computer history. The Computer History Museum, now a Silicon Valley landmark, had its humble beginnings in Boston, where it lived for 15 years. Upon its relocation to Mountain View, California, no similar establishment remained in Boston.

Northeastern University lecturer Mary Hopper aims to rectify that. As the Boston Globe reports, when the Computer History Museum left Boston, Hopper started collecting computer artifacts (including an Apple II Plus), waiting for the day she could donate them to whatever local institution took the CHM's place. With that not having happened, she's now setting out to establish her own computer museum: the Digital Den. To do so, she's turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo to raise $25,000 by September 23. She's presently at 6% of her goal.

How this project got so far under the radar baffles me. I asked local representatives of @party, the Artisan's Asylum, and KansasFest, and nobody had heard of this endeavor. I'm also concerned about how vast an enterprise Hopper is undertaking — there's more to starting a museum than having an inventory. However, a visit to the Den by local retrocomputing enthusiast Dave Ross resulted in an encouraging report:

Mary is every bit as impressive as her bio makes her out to be. She's done some impressive work and has been involved with making sure her work and the work of those around her were preserved well before they could be considered "history".

She's also been talking to lawyers and other museums to get a sense of what she can legally do for fundraising and what kind of donations she can accept. It's refreshing to see that kind of due diligence.

If Hopper can accomplish what no one else has tried in more than a decade, then I will do what I can to support her — and already have, thanks to Indiegogo. I look forward to visiting the Den for myself!