An Arduino keyboard for the Apple II

November 20th, 2017 7:50 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods;
2 comments.

My first computer was an Apple IIe that my father purchased to help manage the family business. Given the wealth of games that were also available for the Apple II, it was inevitable that its use spread to his four sons. All was going well until one of us reached for a box of floppies on the shelf above the computer and dropped it on the keyboard, busting a keycap. My father angrily decreed his expensive business computer was henceforth off-limits to us kids — a restriction that I don't recall lasting more than a week.

With the exception of that mishap, our keyboard always performed admirably, without failures or flaws. I don't recall the Apple IIe showing any other signs of wear, tear, or distress in the five years we owned it.

The same can't be said for Max Breedon, who recently unearthed his Epson AP-200 an Apple IIe clone he acquired from a pawn shop twenty years ago. The keyboard decoder chip, a C35224E, was non-functional — but that didn't stop Breedon. After consulting Mike Willegal's keyboard page and doing some testing of his own, Breedon put an Arduino on a daughterboard that connects the keyboard to the motherboard. His solution is actually better than the original, since it speeds data entry of program listings found on the Internet — something the clone's manufacturers never anticipated:

[T]he Arduino can not only decode the keyboard but also you can upload text directly into the Apple as if you typed it in. This is achieved through serial communication from your PC to the Arduino: the Arduino is listening for serial data and any that it receives it converts into keypresses and pipes it into the Apple. This means that you can cut and paste basic programs directly off the internet and upload them into the apple as if you typed it in on the actual keyboard!

Arduino keyboard

That's a neat trick! I've never used an Arduino, so I wouldn't be able to duplicate this functionality — but it could be the underpinnings for a product I'd purchase for an official Apple II. There's more technical information on Breedon's website, should anyone else wish to investigate or re-create his work.

(Hat tip to John Baichtal)

Temporal anomaly in MazeFire

February 1st, 2016 11:54 AM
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Filed under Game trail;
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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.

Apple II at PAX East 2013

March 25th, 2013 10:41 AM
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Filed under Game trail, Happenings;
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I'm currently recovering from an exhausting, exhilarating weekend spent at PAX East, the annual video game convention hosted by Penny Arcade. The event attracts to Boston 80,000 gamers of the board, card, computer, and video variety, among them many Apple II users. I have attended all four years of the event with Andy Molloy, and lately with Wayne Arthurton as well; even Jordan Mechner has made an appearance. But it wasn't enough to have Apple II enthusiasts in attendance; we wanted an Apple II there as well.

I reached out to Joe Santulli of the Videogame History Museum, an organization that, along with Digital Press Videogames, coordinates PAX's retro room. This dedicated space features consoles and computers from years past — everything from Commodore 64 to Atari 2600 to Sega Dreamcast. They'd never had an Apple II in the collection, and I asked Joe if I could rectify that. He gladly accepted.

I decided to take the role of coordinator rather than donor. I put out a call on Facebook, Google+, and the KansasFest email list, asking if anyone could donate some aspect of a complete 8-bit gaming rig. I received enough responses that, courtesy Wayne Arthurton, Paul Hagstrom, and Mike Maginnis, with logistical support from Thomas Awrey, I was able to put together an unenhanced Apple IIe with 5.25" floppy disk drive, joystick, and bevy of memorable games.

The hardware and software was delivered to PAX as soon as the show opened Friday morning. I stopped into the room several times over the course of the three-day event to check on the machine. No matter the hour of the day, it was always in use, and even more people nearby were talking about it, usually to the effect of "I remember those" or "I can't believe they have an Apple II!" The computer was a hit! Oregon Trail was a popular choice, with Karateka a close second. Ghostbusters, Castle Wolfenstein, and even some BASIC programming also made appearances. Click the below thumbnails for evidence of its popularity (or visit Gamebits for a complete PAX East 2013 photo album).

The Apple II was not just a temporary exhibit for PAX East; it has been permanently donated to the Videogame History Museum and will make appearances at conferences and conventions throughout the country, such as the Game Developers Conference, MAGFest, and PAX Prime.

My thanks to all contributors and attendees who've helped the Apple II spirit come alive at PAX!