Which Apple II games are timeless?

November 11th, 2019 10:08 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
10 comments.

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!

Game tournaments at KansasFest 2015

May 25th, 2015 11:41 AM
by
Filed under Game trail, Happenings;
Comments Off on Game tournaments at KansasFest 2015

On the KansasFest email list, Michael Sternberg proposed to organize a third annual Apple II game tournament. This is Sternberg's forté, as he not only ran the Structris competition in 2013–2014, but modified Martin Haye's original game to create the tournament edition used in the event. I captured some of Sternberg's talent and passion in this video for Computerworld:

Sternberg has asked, what game should we play this year? Puzzle games seem a popular choice: GShisen is a KansasFest classic, having been featured in tournaments run first by Juiced.GS founder Max Jones, then by me. Structris, being inspired by Tetris, is also a puzzler, but with an action component that I enjoy. That hybrid nature also describes I classified in Juiced.GS as one of my favorite Apple II games of all-time. Its creator, Steve Chiang, is big in the modern gaming industry; and its artist, Dave Seah, recently made an appearance in the Apple II Enthusiasts group on Facebook. Maybe they'd sponsor a competition with some sort of promotion or giveaway!

But for those retrocomputing enthusiasts whose reaction times have not yet faded with age, there are plenty of action games to choose from, too. Retrobrite afficionado Javier Rivera, who this year will make his KansasFest debut, recently demonstrated two color LCD screens displaying the same video output simultaneously. His software for this test? Karateka.


It's a dual duel!

Charles Mangin proposed we hack this game to allow a second player to control the opponent. Head-to-head Karateka? I'm in!

DuelTris's Steve Chiang makes it big at Zynga

September 23rd, 2013 10:34 PM
by
Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

Game Informer has proven an unlikely yet excellent source for insights into Apple II celebrities. The monthly gaming magazine covers the electronic entertainment industry that consists of Windows, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, and iOS games, among others. But their regular back-of-the-book feature, "Classic GI", delves into the history of Apple II games such as Maniac Mansion and companies like Activision, while interviews go direct to the source with gamers who got their start on the Apple II, like Steve Wozniak.

In June 2012, the print edition's monthly interview was with someone named Steve Chiang. I found that curious, since there's another Steve Chiang in the Apple II world: DuelTris, a 1992 multiplayer Tetris variation with an excellent soundtrack and power-ups that enhance, rather than muddy, the gameplay, was developed by DreamWorld, an Apple IIGS software company consisting of Steven Chiang, Dave Seah, and James Brookes. But this interview was with someone who was big in the modern, not retrocomputing, game industry, so I chalked it up to coincidence: perhaps it was a common enough a name that Game Informer had found someone else in the industry who shared a name with the developer of one of my all-time favorite Apple II games. (I've been wanting to set up a DuelTris tournament at KansasFest for years!)

Steve Chiang
Who might this Steve Chiang be?

Wanting to learn more about this unknown figure, I scanned the article's margin for his professional timeline:

  • 1983: BONDING Chiang meets Jason Andersen, who would go on to co-found Tiburon. The pair bonds over games
  • 1990: FIRST STEPS In the summer. Chiang and Andersen begin working on a paint program for the Apple IIGS called Dream Graphics
  • 1992: INDIE PUBLISHING The pair release the finished Dream Graphics and sell around 5,000 copies
  • 1994: WEAPONLORD Chiang follows Andersen to Visual Concepts and helps create the ultra-challenging cult SNES/Genesis fighting game Weaponlord
  • 1995: NEW BEGINNINGS Chiang leaves Visual Concepts to join Andersen and John Schappert's new development studio, Tiburon
  • 1996: BIG BREAK After Visual Concepts fails to deliver a PlayStation version of Madden NFL 96, Tiburon is given the chance to turn its college football game into Madden NFL 97
  • 1999: PRODUCING HITS Chiang ships his first game as a producer, NCAA Football 2000
  • 2002: MANAGING GROWTH Co-founder John Schappert departs to EA Canada, and Chiang earns the title of general manager at EA Tiburon
  • 2007: THE SPORTING LIFE As senior vice president and group general manager of EA Sports, Chiang oversees all development of sports games
  • 2010: THE SOCIAL SCENE Sensing a chance in the market, Chiang departs Electronic Arts to work for Zynga as president of games

That's right: it's the same Steve Chiang, an Apple IIGS shareware game programmer, who went on to become president of games for the company that makes FarmVille.

For an Apple II programmer to "make it big" is not unheard of — just look at Bill Budge, Brian Fargo, Jordan Mechner, or any of the other developers John Romero interviewed for his KansasFest 2012 keynote speech. But it strikes me as unusual to see a game developer advance up the corporate ranks, as opposed to continuing to make games.

What could've led Chiang to change his career path? The answer may lie with us. From the DuelTris documentation:

Registration

There are two ways to register your copy of DuelTris.

  1. Send a $15 check or money order to the address below. In return, we will send you a version of DuelTris with preferences and high scores enabled.
  2. Send a $20 check or money order to the address below [redacted]. In return we will send you the Limited Edition version of DuelTris, which includes the fully functional game, plus a special 3.5" disk case, similar to a CD jewel case w/ a full color insert and printed instructions.
  3. All registered users will be entitled to future versions of the game.

    If enough people send in their registration fees, I'd be interested in adding more features to the DuelTris, such as joystick support, modem support, tournament mode so you can set-up round robin tournaments, saving of each person's win-loss record, better computer logic, etc. I'd also be very tempted to start another 2 player game. Otherwise, I'll stick to commercial software.

If only we'd paid our shareware fees, we might never have gotten FarmVille! (Or maybe we would've, except for the Apple II.)

But it might not be too late. If we all send our DuelTris registration fees today to Chiang, c/o Zynga, maybe we'll rekindle his love for the Apple II. I wonder how many of those Limited Editions he has kicking around the office…?

(Hat tip to Open Apple)