Apple IIc at BostonFIG

October 1st, 2018 7:03 AM
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One of my favorite annual traditions is the Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG. Currently in its seventh year, this one-day event held at MIT is an opportunity for independent game developers to exhibit their works in progress and new releases. I love the creativity on display, where game designers who are not beholden to major studios can demonstrate original game ideas and concepts, be they commercially viable or simply interesting.

Interactive fiction has made appearances at BostonFIG before, and this year's festival was no exception. The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation is based out of Boston, and their booth this year showed off everything from Infocom games (perhaps not indie, but Boston-based!) to the more recent Hadean Lands (whose Kickstarter I supported way back in 2010!). The IFTF is such a staple of BostonFIG that I was chatting with its organizers for a minute before I realized something new right in front of me.

Apple IIc at BostonFIG

An Apple IIc… at BostonFIG!

I always thought it would be fun to bring an indie game like Lawless Legends to BostonFIG, but the IFTF beat me to it by using an Apple IIc to show off classic Infocom games. They were running off the original floppies, as opposed to 4am's newer Pitch Dark GUI. The table was manned by Andrew Plotkin, who I interviewed for Juiced.GS's cover story about interactive fiction seven years ago; and the Apple IIc was provided by Nick Montfort, an MIT professor whose book, Twisty Little Passages, Juiced.GS reviewed nine years ago.

So as to not block the table from interested festival-goers who might not already have heard the good word of interactive fiction, I didn't linger at the table. But I was very glad to see this precedent set, and I hope to see the Apple II at future BostonFIGs.

The music of interactive fiction

July 29th, 2013 10:40 AM
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Juiced.GS has just shipped a PDF on the subject of interactive fiction. At 14 pages long, it's a digestible yet diverse tour of the various aspects of modern IF. Once you've loaded the file onto your e-reader of choice and settled into your study's reading chair, the only component missing is some background music to set the mood.

Enter Tony Longworth. The musician whose work has previously appeared in such documentaries as Get Lamp and Going Cardboard has released a new album, Memories of Infocom. "These pieces of music will transport you from ancient empires, to crime scenes, to outer space and beyond", the album's description states. "This album captures the magic of those heady days of Interactive Fiction, so sit back and let yourself be transported to the 80s when text was king." The dozen tracks can be purchased for a dollar each or $9.99 for the lot, which clocks in at 57:55.

Memories of Infocom

Despite having often written about text adventures for Juiced.GS and this blog, I am not personally acquainted with many Infocom games, sadly. So although the songs have titled such as "Enchanter" and "Planetfall", I can't say how those games may have inspired these tunes, or how pairing them might prove a complementary experience. But if you like ambient/background/electronic music and want to support a fellow retrogaming enthusiast, then check out these tunes.

(Hat tip to Lorien Green)

Livescribe Zork

January 27th, 2011 9:53 AM
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As people like Andrew Plotkin and Wade Clarke and games like A House in California demonstrate, text adventures and their cousins are still capable of innovative gameplay, decades after the genre's emergence. Such creativity usually takes the form of unique software features and storytelling techniques — but let's not overlook the role of hardware.

I first became aware of the Livescribe Echo pen in Major Nelson's podcast, when co-host Laura Massey demonstrated a small portion of its features. This traditional ink pen includes modern electronic features to remember what you wrote and even interact with those writings. For example, by drawing a picture of a piano keyboard, one can then use the pen to tap on the keys of the piano illustration, and the pen will emit the corresponding tones, as if it were a real piano.

Apparently the pen is also programmable, allowing the implementation of original functions. One hacker took advantage of this opening to create two games for his writing implement. The first, Tic-Tac-Toe, is not of specific interest to readers of this blog, but I'm including it in the embedded video to provide a simple demonstration of how the pen works. But the second game, Zork, seems beyond what any pen should be capable of.

Infocom games have long been ported from their original platforms, with a move to portable devices being especially popular these past few years. But the above example is an entirely new medium in which to play interactive fiction. Practical? Not especially. But it showcases the outside-the-box thinking that has made text adventures popular in the first place. Who knows where they'll go next?

If you prefer a classic interface for this classic game, try Good Old Games, which is currently selling six Zork games for six dollars.

(Hat tips to Eric Neustadter and Jason Scott)

Nuclear Apple

October 4th, 2010 11:05 AM
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On Mar. 29, 1955, the United States' Los Alamos National Laboratory detonated a 14-kiloton nuclear bomb in Nye County of southern Nevada, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Codenamed "Apple", this test was the the eighth of 18 nuclear tests the government would conduct that calendar year.

Five weeks later, on May 5, 1955, another bomb was detonated in the same space. Unlike the previous low-yield weapon, this one measured in the intermediate range at 29 kilotons. It used its predecessor's naming convention for the codename: "Apple-2".

Apple-2 nuclear test.

As Apple II historian Steve Weyhrich wrote, "[I] never realized what a hot commodity we've been dealing with over the past 30 years."

That groaner aside, it's a fascinating to know the coincidental history of the Apple II name. Although the weapon of mass destruction presumably did not inspire the personal microcomputer (nor, obviously, vice versa), nuclear warfare would ultimately have a bearing on the development of the platform. The USA's first-ever nuclear weapon test, conducted on July 16, 1945, was codenamed "Trinity", which became the name of Infocom's post-apocalyptic text adventure, whose feelie was a comic book entitled The Illustrated Story of the Atom Bomb.

Two years later, in 1988, the Apple II revisited the horror of nuclear armageddon with Electronic Arts' role-playing game, Wasteland, the spiritual origin for the extremely popular modern-day RPG series, Fallout.

The Apple II and the nuclear bomb: both incredibly powerful tools — one for creation, the other for destruction — yet sharing the same name. A brilliant team of well-funded scientists can change the world as much as a lone genius in a garage. If only all creations left as positive a legacy as Steve Wozniak's.

(Hat tip to David Gewirtz)