In memory of Christian Oberth

August 6th, 2012 9:34 AM
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The Apple II community has suffered some prominent losses in the past year, such as Stan Marks and Steve Jobs. One that recently flew under the radar was that of programmer Christian Oberth, who passed away in mid-July at the age of 59.

By the time Oberth turned 30, he'd developed an extensive résumé, creating computer and arcade games for companies such as Milton Bradley, Stern Electronics, and Datamost. His published titles for the Apple II included 3-D Docking Mission (1978), Depth Charge (1978), and Phasor Zap (1978). He also programmed coin-op arcade games such as Armored Car (1981) and, perhaps most notably, Anteater (1982), adapted in 1983 to the Apple II as Ardy the Aardvark.

Sadly, the extent of Oberth's portfolio was not fully recognized in his obituary, which offered only the summary: "He was an original Apple programmer, made an anteater game and was passionate about making and playing games."

Donations in Oberth's name can be made to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, a four-star charity on Charity Navigator.

(Hat tip to Craig Grannell)

Jack Tramiel dies at 83

April 9th, 2012 9:58 PM
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Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore and Atari Corporation, the latter a gaming company he salvaged from Atari Inc., passed away yesterday at the age of 83.

The Commodore 64 was a better-selling computer than the Apple II. Due to an original larger user base than our community's, their retrocomputing scene is in many ways still more active, allowing an ancient rivalry to some places persists to this day.

Yet the competition wasn't personal between the computers' founders. Tramiel never met his contemporary and competitor, Steve Wozniak, until the 25th anniversary of Commodore at the Computer History Museum in 2007, an event which shed some details on their history:

With no money to build thousands of the Apple machines, Wozniak and Jobs approached Commodore about distributing the Apple II. "Chuck Peddle from Commodore came to the garage, and he was one of about three people we showed the Apple II prototype," Wozniak said.

As struggling 20-year-olds with zero savings and no business experience, the idea of a stable job at Commodore comforted them, Wozniak said. "Steve [Jobs] started saying all we want to do was offer [Apple II] for a few hundred thousand dollars, and we will get jobs at Commodore, we'll get some stock, and we'll be in charge of running the program," Wozniak said.

Commodore rejected the idea, preferring instead to develop its own simpler … machine without the pizazz of the Apple II, Wozniak said. Commodore could do it more quickly and thought at the time that would be a better course for the company, he said.

I've never used a C64 but, so close to having lost Steve Jobs, I can appreciate what Jack Tramiel's passing means to his fans. I offer my thanks to the man who played such a significant role in the founding of an era, and my sympathy and condolences to his many admirers, both then and now.

(Hat tip to Mike Maginnis, as retweeted by Eric Shepherd)

On death and dying on the Apple II

November 14th, 2011 1:00 PM
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There's a saying among gamers: if a video game is unreasonably challenging, especially as a result of unfair tactics that rely on luck or manipulating arbitrary rules to overcome, that game is "Nintendo hard" — a reference to the 8-bit era of the Nintendo Entertainment System and its ridiculously difficult games.

That term must've originated among those unfamiliar with the computer games of the era, as anyone who's played Sierra On-Line's adventure titles or even a classic text adventure knows how inscrutable those puzzles and answers can be. Lately, those old-school computer gamers have risen to represent their memories in video format, spurred first by this compilation of arcade deaths, posted by Rob Beschizza:

Inspired, Blake Patterson followed up with his own montage of deaths specifically from Apple II games, but set to Commodore 64 music:

Since then, a YouTube user named MrWhitman has become fixated on such fatalistic experiences, documenting them in his video channel. His 263 videos, many of them falling under the "Ways to Lose" or "Ways to Die" categories, showcase a variety of ways to not play your favorite adventure games. Although many of the videos, such as those of the original Police Quest, capture the 8-bit glory of early computer gaming, others, such as Space Quest, rely on various remakes with updated graphics.

I don't remember any Apple II game being so challenging that I would throw the joystick in anger, though maybe I was just accustomed to the illogic of the burgeoning genre. Are classic games more difficult by comparison to today's entertainment? Would we find ourselves less patient with a classic game today? What has your experience with retrogaming been?

(Hat tips to Open Apple and Seth Sternberger)

Reactions to Steve Jobs

October 6th, 2011 4:13 PM
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I update this blog every Thursday. There's no rule against me updating it more than once.

Steve Jobs has passed away. My co-workers and I got together this morning to reflect on what this means for us and our world.

Great work by Keith Shaw in producing and editing this video. I know of at least one more video and one podcast that will feature Apple II users. I'll post them here on Monday.

Steve Jobs dies at 56

October 6th, 2011 12:00 AM
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Steve Jobs passed away yesterday at the age of 56.

Steve Jobs

Image courtesy Apple.

Here's a video from Computerworld with more details.

An excellent profile of the man and his insights and wisdom is available in this 2005 commencement speech from Stanford.

I'm not really sure what more to say. Apple II users Dan Bricklin, Bill Budge, Chris Espinosa, John Romero, and Wil Wheaton do.