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!

French Touch's Scroll Scroll Scroll

January 19th, 2015 11:10 PM
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Arnaud Cocquière and the team at French Touch have released a new 8-bit demo: Scroll Scroll Scroll. Below is a YouTube video of the program, which you can download and run as a disk image.

Although I'd not previously heard of French Touch, this demo is not their debut: previous demos include Unlimited Bobs and Ibiza, among others.

The demo scene is more fascinating and storied than I can detail here: it already has its own documentary and deserves a complementary Juiced.GS feature. While I do that digging, enjoy Scroll Scroll Scroll.

(Hat tip to Antoine Vignau)

A holiday snow demo

December 29th, 2014 8:13 AM
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Last year, inspired by Blake Patterson's annual Christmas playlist, I uploaded to YouTube a recording of the FTA's XMAS 1990 demo. While I'm glad to have contributed to the archive of holiday demos, it was nothing original I produced — not like what Dagen Brock has done.

Host of the GS Programmer's Home, Dagen recently released his own snow demo, writing:

It snowed this week and that reminded me of a simple snow routine I did for the Apple IIgs around this time last year. I had grand plans to add in music and sprites for a demo, but I've decided to just release the routine as-is.

The code for the snow animation is not the best, but it works. The image uses the lz4 source from Brutal Deluxe and I was also hoping to give a lesson on using that some day, but you can look at the disk image for now. I probably won't post the source anywhere else. Only because it's not of good quality and I will eventually post quality code examples for LZ4, NoiseTracker, Mr. Sprite, etc.

In a Facebook thread, Open Apple co-host Quinn Dunki suggested:

Love it, Dagen . I have the sudden urge to make two updates:

  1. Lower the disappearance coordinate for the snow. The dip on the ground isn't quite getting hit.
  2. Make the snow accumulate like it did in the FTA Xmas demo (one of my favorite parts of that demo- left it running for hours once :)

Dagen replied:

Sorry Quinn, I was hoping no one would notice. Flakes actually go to the bottom, I just hacked the VBlank in a weird way because I was too busy to optimize my code to run fully at 60FPS. You're seeing the undraw hit too early. I originally had planned this to be a big demo to show off loading lz4 images, Mr. Sprite, and Tool 219/220, but I have shelved that idea for now and just threw something out there for the sake of getting something out.

I applaud Dagen for not letting perfect be the enemy of done. That same "release it!" attitude is what led Martin Haye to finally publish Structris, which has since gone on to critical acclaim. As a friend of mine says: "Don't make art — just make something!"

(Hat tip to Dagen Brock)

An underwhelming Karateka demo

November 12th, 2012 1:31 PM
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I had marked November 17th as the date Jordan Mechner would return to the world of Karateka, his classic Apple II fighting game. Ten days early, Sean Fahey announced that my marked date was for the PC, iOS, and PlayStation 3 versions of the new Karateka, but that the Xbox Live Arcade version was now available.

As primarily an Xbox gamer, I was happy to hear this news and immediately downloaded the game, accepting of the fact that I'd be unable to load it upside-down. Up until then, I'd wondered as to the game's genre and nature: was it best described as a sequel? A reboot? A reimagining? Having played only the ten-minute free trial, I would describe the game as a remake — and one that doesn't capture modern gamers with its demo.

Karateka

How much has Karateka changed in the last 30 years?

With an art style and musical underpinning that harken back to the classic Apple II fighting game, Karateka is a visual and aural delight. The Japanese gardens and goofy goons that our hero encounters are evocative of another time and place. There is little freedom to explore these environments, though, as the protagonist (one of three) proceeds through it on two-dimensional rails, unable to move any direction but forward.

Once he engages with a foe, the opportunity for input becomes limited to three buttons: punch, kick, and block. It is impossible to strike an enemy without first blocking his own attack, at which point his guard is lowered and he is open to a chain of attacks. In an interview with Polygon's Samit Sarkar, Mechner describes the combat system as rhythm-based in which players "have to time your attacks to the score from Grammy-winning composer Christopher Tin". This was not my experience; my blocks were based solely on cues from the castle's keepers — tells that they were about to strike. A successful block then let me pound the punch and kick buttons, but there seemed to be neither functional difference between the two nor incentive to experiment with a variety of combos.

In an interview with Steve Peterson, Mechner indicates that the simplistic gameplay is intentional, allowing other aspects of Karateka to take center stage:

Mechner believes Karateka is an unusual design, one that will attract a broader audience. "It's not a fighting game in the sense of trying to rack up points, or fighting for fighting's sake. It's fighting in order to get to the happy ending in the story, and it's a love story. I think we're appealing to a slightly different audience than most fighting games," he says.

I can appreciate Jordan Mechner, as someone whose ambition has always been to write Hollywood scripts, wanting to focus on that aspect of Karateka. Storytelling has become an increasingly important part of both big-budget and indie games, with hits such as Braid, Portal, and even the BIT.TRIP series having set new milestones for their innovative and memorable plots.

But plot is also the hardest quality for a game to convey in a short demo. It is more effective to draw players in with engaging gameplay, then present them with an increasingly intricate and meaningful narrative. In that respect, the free demo I played falls flat. The only challenges I encountered in my time with Karateka was identifying a foe's pattern and timing my blocks accordingly. With digital distribution and mobile apps, there are much more involving experiences I could get for my $10, and demos that give me more confidence in that investment than Karateka has.

(Hat tips to Blake Patterson, John August, and Steve Melton)

Woz meets Spock

January 9th, 2012 9:58 AM
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No big story here, just a geek encounter that's too cool to go unnoticed: Apple II inventor Steve Wozniak gets grilled by Leonard Nimoy, aka Spock.

This crossover, orchestrated by VentureBeat's Matt Marshall, occurred Thursday, January 5, in San Francisco at DEMO Enterprise, an event hosted by my employer, IDG Enterprise and sponsored by Woz's Fusion-io. It's not clear to me what the science officer of the Federation starship Enterprise was doing there, but given how much closer to Star Trek's 23rd century Apple technology has brought us, it seems a fitting intersection.

(Hat tip to Computerworld)