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.

Wasteland 3 hits Fig

October 10th, 2016 9:18 AM
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Some Apple II games never die, no matter what post-apocalyptic future they endure. Not even a nuclear holocaust can stop Brian Fargo, the inimitable founder of game studio Interplay, where he developed both The Bard's Tale and Wasteland. Now the head of inXile Entertainment, Fargo has brought both of those former franchises to Kickstarter, resulting thus far in the release of Wasteland 2 in 2014 for Steam and in 2015 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

It's been four years since the successful Kickstarter for Wasteland 2, so Fargo is going back for more: last week, he announced Wasteland 3, extending the adventures of the 22nd-century Desert Rangers. But this time, instead of Kickstarter, Fargo has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Fig.

Fig (whose advisory board includes Fargo) was founded in August 2015 as a crowdfunding platform specifically for computer and video games. Besides that dedicated focus, the biggest difference from Kickstarter is that Fig allows not just donations and preorders, but actual investments, establishing equity in the final product and its success. Investments occur in $1,000 increments up to $2.25 million. If Wasteland 3 sells 500,000 units, investors receive a 1.36x return on their investment; if 1,000,000 units are sold, the return is 1.8x. It's by no means a get-rich-quick scheme, especially for small investors such as I would be. I've instead donated a mere $5 to show my support, knowing that my contribution won't make or break the campaign; at the time of my pledge, Wasteland 3 was already 99% of the way to its goal, needing only another $50,000. (The campaign will succeed if it raises $2,750,000 by Thursday, November 3, 2016.)

Upon completion of the Fig campaign, Wasteland 3 will go into inXile's development queue. Two of inXile's previously crowdfunded projects are still unreleased: Torment: Tides of Numenera; and The Bard's Tale 4. But that shouldn't count against inXile's track record. As the Wasteland 3 pitch video explains, game development occurs in stages, and those artists who contribute to a game's early stages, such as the writers, have completed their work on those other two projects and are eager to begin something new.

But what about the game itself? I never played the original Wasteland (which inspired the Fallout franchise) or its sequel, even though I mentioned both in my KansasFest 2016 presentation of Steam games. But it looks like the series' third entry introduces many new features, including drivable vehicles, multiplayer mode, a Colorado setting, and simultaneous releases for Steam and consoles (PS4 & Xbox One) in late 2019. Take a gander at the turn-based combat in this (NSFW) gameplay video:

It's exciting to see a series that originated on the Apple II continue to resonate with modern gamers who are willing to pledge their dollars to ensure the franchise's future. Long live Wasteland!

Cinnamon II hits Kickstarter

August 3rd, 2015 7:13 AM
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Smart watches have a way of setting a precedent and establishing a trend: rumors of the Apple Watch started almost as soon as the first Pebble raised over $10 million on Kickstarter in 2012. Shortly before the Apple Watch was finally released in 2015, we saw the Apple II adapted to that form factor with the Apple II Watch, DJ Harrigan's 3D-printed hack that simulates the hardware and software aesthetics of the Apple II.

Now, entrepreneur Damian Peckett is taking it a step further by putting an actual Apple II inside a watch. Introducing the Cinnamon II:

Although Kickstarters are more effective when they have a pitch video, this campaign lacks one, though it does offer this 12-second demo:

The hardware specs roughly mirror an Apple II Plus, with a "virtualized 6502 clocked at a blistering 1 Megahertz and a whopping 32K of memory… binary compatible with the original 1977's microcomputer. Complete video / sound / keyboard emulation is provided. The Cinnamon II also features a Micro SD socket that offers disk drive emulation." However, the resolution is 160×128, compared to the original Apple II's 280×192, so things are going to be a bit squished.

The dimensions also bring challenges for interacting with such a small Apple II. The available options are limited: "One button brings up a smart onscreen keyboard that allows you to scroll through various keyboard options. The other two buttons are available to user mode applications mapped to the up/down keys. Gesture control is provided via an on board accelerometer that is user programmable. It can be used to interact with user interface elements."

There is only one reward level: $159 AUD will get you the watch. Limited production runs are expensive, so Peckett has set the minimum at roughly 850 watches — hence the crowdfunding goal of $150,000 AUD ($114,842 USD) by August 13, 2015.

Unfortunately, like Bride of the Wizard King before it, this campaign lacks several important components: not only a pitch video, but a breakdown of expenses and different reward levels. The first Pebble offered 11 rewards starting at a mere $1, which 2,615 backers selected — raising more money at that level alone than the Cinnamon II is likely to.

Nonetheless, the Cinnamon II is a cool idea, and I'd like to see it developed further and perhaps open-sourced — I'm sure its ideas can be refined further and its production made more affordable and accessible.

The Bard's Tale IV hits Kickstarter

June 8th, 2015 9:33 AM
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Brian Fargo is at it again. After creating The Bard's Tale and Wasteland on the Apple II for Interplay three decades ago, he revived the latter franchise in 2012 via Kickstarter; the result, Wasteland 2, has an 81% average rating. Now Fargo seeks to crowdfund a revival of The Bard's Tale:

More than a concept, the game already has an in-engine graphics demo that looks quite impressive:

However, there's more to a series than its titular lineage or polygon count. Any time a franchise is revived years after its debut, there's a question of how much of the original talent is still involved. Two years ago, Richard Garriott successfully crowdfunded a game called Lord British's Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues. It doesn't have the name "Ultima", and it wasn't published by Origins or Electronic Arts — but it's nonetheless an Ultima game in all but name only, as only the creator of that fantasy world could produce.

Similarly, The Bard's Tale may not involve the most prominent developers and designers to contribute to its last outing. Rebecca Heineman, programmer of 1988's The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, says she offered to contribute to Fargo's latest project — an offer that was declined. Her team at Olde Sküül is instead working on a dungeon crawler of their own, entitled Dragons of the Rip — prompting her to ask on Facebook, "Do you want a game by someone who financed Bard's Tale, or by the people who actually MADE Bard's Tale III?"

Fortunately, we do not live in an either-or world. Fargo's Kickstarter will almost certainly achieve its crowdfunding goal of $1.25M — at the time of this writing, it's 85% funded with 34 days to go — so we can look forward to playing both The Bard's Tale and Dragons of the Rip. It's a good time to be a retrogamer!

UPDATE (11-Jun-15):

Exciting news today: every backer of The Bard's Tale IV ($20 or more) will get free digital copies of the original The Bard's Tale, The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight and The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate!

The emulated versions of the classic games will be released for free at the end of the campaign for every backer at $20 or higher, and distributed through our backer web site. This is our way of giving our thanks back to you for all your support and helping us bring back The Bard's Tale.

Some of you may know that the emulated versions of these games work on most modern machines, but are a little rough around the edges. Thus, we have an agreement with the original The Bard's Tale III programmer Rebecca "Burger" Heineman and her company Olde Skueuel to update the games for modern machines! She will be working to make the games run natively, without needing emulators, on PC or Mac. This re-releases will be primarily based on the Apple IIGS versions of the games, along with updated art.

Trekking the Orion Trail

February 16th, 2015 10:20 AM
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I could do an entire blog — not just a blog post, but a blog — on the many Kickstarter campaigns influenced by the 8-bit era of computers. We've seen the return of games, franchises, and styles such as Maniac Mansion, Ultima, Shadowgate, Leisure Suit Larry, Wasteland, and interactive fiction; documentaries on Sierra On-Line and the 6502; and concerts including 8 bit Weapon's.

Oregon Trail alone has prompted several Kickstarters, from the successful Organ Trail to the failed Dead Man's Trail. The latest game likely to join the camp of successful projects is Orion Trail, which combines the gameplay of Oregon Trail with the humor of Space Quest and Galaxy Quest.

The best Kickstarters are those that come to the table with not just a concept, but a prototype — and Orion Trail delivers. If you have the Unity browser plugin installed, you can play an early version of Orion Trail today. I went a few rounds and enjoyed the graphics and humor, but I was demoralized by some of the scenarios my crew encountered. Whether I was being boarded by aliens, encountering space merchants, analyzing an asteroid, or attacking a doomsday machine, I always had three choices, and each seemed equally likely to produce a satisfying solution. No matter my choice, the game spun a random number wheel that somehow determined the result. Perhaps it was this peek at the game's inner workings, but I didn't feet like it mattered what choice I made.

On the bright side, you'll notice some obvious homages to classic computing. "The music was made with the SID emulation engine on an Elektron Monomachine," says the project page. "You'll recognize the SID's distinctive sound from your fondest memories of gaming on a C64 back in the day." Wrong computer for the Apple II community, but admirable nonetheless!

Developer Schell Games looks to release Orion Trail for Mac, Windows, and Linux in December 2015. The game has been Greenlit on Steam, which means when and if Orion Trail is published, it has been approved for distribution on the Steam game platform. Early Access will occur around August.

Before all that happens, the project must obtain a minimum of $90,000 in crowdfunding by March 12. It's currently a third of the way there, which bodes well: in Kickstarter's history, 79% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal were successfully funded. It's likely we will all be making a star trek along the Orion Trail later this year.

Orion Trail

I have died.

UPDATE (13-Mar-15): This crowdfunding campaign successfully concluded with $97,801 — 108% of the minimum.

(Hat tip to Jenna Hoffstein)

Crowdfunding Thimbleweed Park

December 15th, 2014 8:08 AM
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This summer, Ron Gilbert unearthed his Maniac Mansion design notes. What was a seemingly nostalgic trip down memory lane may in fact have been the first steps toward the future: a return to his roots, crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

That's where Gilbert and Gary Winnick, Maniac Mansion co-designer, have successfully funded Thimbleweed Park, a new point-and-click adventure in the style of Maniac Mansion. "Why do we want to make Thimbleweed Park?" asks their campaign, which concludes the afternoon of Thursday, December 18. "Because we miss classic adventures and all their innocence and charm."

Ken Macklin, who designed Maniac Mansion's cover art, will return for Thimbleweed Park. So will David Fox, Lucasfilm's SCUMM scripter who decided to put the hamster in the microwave. And while the game will feature classic pixel art, there'll be a modern soundtrack by Steve Kirk. Writes Gilbert:

Don't get me wrong, I loved the SID chip, PC speaker, the Adlib card and amazing digital sound of the SoundBlaster (that still sounded like it was coming out of a PC speaker), but so much 'emotional data' can be carried in music and your eyes are already bleeding from the awesomely retro art, so why should your ears bleed too?

With all that said, though… what about the gameplay? I'm concerned that the interface appears a little too old school, which, as the developers of Shadowgate recently learned, isn't necessarily designed with modern gamers in mind. And what of the puzzles — will they be more logical? Or will be be sticking hunks of cheese in car ignitions? Gilbert's last game, The Cave, promised to be reminiscent of Maniac Mansion, with multiple playable characters, each with unique talents. But the game didn't exactly tear up the charts.

That all said, I'm willing to give this team and game a chance. I've backed Thimbleweed Park for $20 mark, essentially preordering the finished product, due for delivery in June 2016. I am sorely tempted to kick it up to $50, at which level the reward is having my name and phone number included in an in-game phonebook — and when players dial that number, they'll get my actual voicemail! Either way, stay tuned to this blog in two years to hear my thoughts on what comes next from Gilbert & Co.