Two-player Karateka

August 13th, 2018 8:22 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
Comments Off on Two-player Karateka

I thought I knew Charles Mangin: hardware guru extraordinaire, maker of connectors, adapters and miniature models. His RetroConnector brand has enabled Apple II keyboards to talk to USB-enabled machines, modern joysticks to be played on Apple II computers, and other interactions that span the eras. With a 3D printer, he's created miniature working monitors and Raspberry Pi cases shaped like a IIe. Well before I ever met him at KansasFest, I was blogging about Charles putting computers in Apple II peripherals. Creating intergenerational hybrids is Charles' niche.

Or so I thought. First, he started sharing his hardware knowledge in a video podcast series, How II. Then he was giving KansasFest sessions about music synthesizers. No 3D printers to be seen, but these topics could still be broadly categorized as hardware projects.

But now Charles is making a name for himself in a wholly new realm: software development. After tackling the significant task of teaching himself 6502 assembly, he released his first game, a Minesweeper clone. Then he innovated with an original title, Jumpy Guy. These are fun, simple games that demonstrate Charles' growth in this new role.

Now Charles is punching his way through one of the most famous games of all time: Karateka. No longer the tale of a lone gamer storming Akuma's fortress, Jordan Mechner's first published title has been patched to enable a second player to control Akuma's foot soldiers, putting some actual intelligence behind the hero's adversaries and making it more akin to the Apple II arcade port Karate Champ.

I would ask Charles to detail his patch in an issue of Juiced.GS, but he has already been thoroughly transparent on his website, detailing the mere 42 bytes that constitute the efficient patch. The updated game is playable online on the Internet Archive:

In the course of reinventing himself, Charles has reinvented Karateka. But gamers are a hungry lot, and some are already clamoring for more features, including joystick input and network play. I'd rather wait and see what Charles does of his own volition: like Apple Inc., he has an uncanny sense for giving us what we didn't know we've always wanted. Who knows where he'll take us — and himself — next?

Happy birthday, 1 MHz

May 7th, 2018 9:46 AM
by
Filed under History;
Comments Off on Happy birthday, 1 MHz

When Ryan Suenaga launched the A2Unplugged podcast on August 8, 2006, he declared it the world's first Apple II podcast. He quickly discovered that someone who'd never been to KansasFest, subscribed to GEnie, or read Juiced.GS had beaten him to the punch by only three months and a day: on May 7 of that year, Carrington Vanston debuted 1 MHz — originally "the Apple II podcast", soon "an Apple II podcast".

1 MHz podcast

Free as in beer, and free as in freedom.

Over six years and sixteen episodes, Carrington played 8-bit Apple II games both popular and obscure: Wasteland, Bureaucracy, Archon, Apple Panic, and more. Almost a decade before podcasts like New Game Plus and Do You Want to Keep Playing? made "retro game of the week" their schtick, 1 MHz was plumbing the depths of classic adventures, putting them in historical context and gushing over their feelies, exhibiting an enthusiasm normally reserved for someone discovering these games for the first time.

What Carrington had in quality, he made up for in lack of quantity. Sixteen episodes over 75 months is not frequent — it's roughly one every five months. The shortest span between episodes was four weeks; and the longest was two years, eight months. At that rate, it became an event when a new episode debuted, with my friends hurriedly texting me, "Did you hear? A new episode of 1 MHz is out!!"

1 MHz is not the only show to have fluctuated the Apple II airwaves. After four years of broadcasting, A2Unplugged aired its 36th and final episode in July 2010; host Ryan Suenaga passed away nine months later, in April 2011. But he lived to hear the debut of Open Apple, a show Mike Maginnis and I created to do what no other Apple II podcast was doing: interviewing the voices that constitute this amazing community. I departed that show after three years, but despite occasional hiatuses, Open Apple continues to this day, with Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy and I guest-appearing on the latest episode, #76.

Meanwhile, in the last four years, traditional episodes of 1 MHz have been absent — but Carrington has not been silent. His rambunctious style of podcasting can be heard today not only on the Retro Computing Roundtable but on Eaten by a Grue, a game review podcast in the style of 1 MHz that Carrington co-hosts with Kevin Savetz. Last month, episode #17 aired, making it a more prolific podcast than 1 MHz.

But the great thing about retrocomputing podcasts is that they're never outdated: by covering topics that aren't contemporary, the podcasts themselves become timeless. So to celebrate the 12th anniversary of 1 MHz's premiere, I've ensured that Carrington's show will never be lost to the tides of time, and I've uploaded it to the Internet Archive.

Here's to ensuring a long life for the first — and one of the best — Apple II podcasts!

Spoiler! Apple II game endings

January 30th, 2017 9:07 AM
by
Filed under Game trail;
1 comment.

Screenshots are glorious things. Disk images offer an interactive experience of classic software, and video helps capture it in action — but a screenshot is a single, discrete work of art — a frozen frame of creativity. For the Apple II, a screenshot captures the artistry of yesterday's programmers who were also expected to produce a game's graphics using a limited palette. Jason Scott created the Screen Shotgun to add thousands of screenshots to the Internet Archive, including crack screens that Kevin Savetz has repurposed as a screensaver and a Twitter account.

But these screenshots are often taken from either the opening scenes of a game, or from random points therein. What about that most rarely viewed moment in a game, the one that we're all driven to see: the end screen?

Now you can finally see what comes at the end of the game thanks to Samuel & Simon Ng, who have compiled 73 game-ending screens.

The collection is missing some obvious titles (Conan, Choplifter, Lode Runner, King's Quest) and has some hacks instead of the originals (Castle Smurfenstein, but it's an impressive start — especially if the screens were captured during the uploader's own gameplay sessions. That would mean they finished 73 Apple II games, which is more than many people. Despite the small floppy sizes, these games could take days, weeks, or longer to complete, due to punishing difficulty, lack of automaps, and Byzantine logic. To have conquered as many games as are seen in this collection is a monumental effort.

Screenshots capture unique moments in gaming history. But sometimes, the screenshots capture us in our pursuit to experience, archive, and share those classic experiences.

(Hat tip to Jorma Honkanen)

Apple forgets its history

June 1st, 2015 10:06 AM
by
Filed under History;
Comments Off on Apple forgets its history

For more than a decade, Apple's website has offered free downloads of legacy software, including a variety of Apple II and Classic Mac OS operating systems and utilities. The URL was always the same:

http://www.info.apple.com/support/oldersoftwarelist.html

This page was referenced throughout the years in Juiced.GS, as recently as September 2014. It wasn't a resource that was often called upon, but it was often relied upon as a place where Apple acknowledged its history and provided some meager support for its legacy customers.

All good things must come to a 404: as Ivan Drucker reported this weekend, this directory has simply disappeared from Apple's website. Steve Weyhrich contacted support to ask where it went and was told simply that it's gone. And, thanks to the site's prohibitive robots.txt file, to Google's cache and the Wayback Machine, it's as if the page never existed.

Both Ivan and Dagen Brock pointed out a harsh reality: Apple doesn't care about anyone who hasn't bought anything from them in the last 36 months (the span of AppleCare). Whether this obsolescence is planned or not, Apple's business is in selling you new hardware and software. Support for older equipment is only a means to that end — or, in the case of Apple II software, a dead end.

It's sad to realize that Dan Budiac's Apple IIc registration card and David Greelish's petition for an Apple museum were both for naught.

Dan Budiac's Apple IIc registration card

Fortunately, the omnipresent Jason Scott has succeeded where Apple has failed: his byline is on a 2012 upload to the Internet Archive of Apple's complete older software list. And since we're dealing with decades-old software, this mirror being three years old is of no consequence — nothing's changed in that time.

Although it may not make any business sense to do so, it's a shame Apple doesn't better respect its history, especially when there's little cost to doing so. Thank goodness for the community of Apple II enthusiasts who still remember where we came from.

My personal contribution to preventive archiving

February 27th, 2012 11:45 AM
by
Filed under History, Musings;
Comments Off on My personal contribution to preventive archiving

People like Mike Maginnis and Jason Scott have done a great deal to preserve the history of the Apple II. I got a taste for what it's like to contribute to that effort when I recorded KansasFest 2010, publishing dozens of videos of otherwise ephemeral experiences — but it wasn't until we lost Ryan Suenaga nearly a year ago that I realized the urgency of this work.

Ryan's passing was unexpected, and he left many people lost without him. The consequences to his friends and family make everything else seem trivial by comparison, but I had to contribute what little I could to aspects of Ryan's legacy that may otherwise go overlooked. I reconstituted RyanSuenaga.com, a domain that had expired during Ryan's lifetime but which he was too busy to maintain. Similarly, Tony Diaz purchased A2Unplugged.com, ensuring that episodes of the A2Unplugged podcast — still the most prolific Apple II podcast to date, despite not having published a new episode in nearly two years — will remain available.

In a way, it's too little, too late. We need to think about these worst-case scenarios before they happen. What does that mean for me? I don't arrogantly assume my original work will be missed, but I recognize that my primary role in the Apple II community is as a channel for other people's talents: I solicit and publish writers in Juiced.GS; I help bring people and luminaries together for KansasFest; and, with my co-host, I interview community members on Open Apple. Out of respect for the many volunteers who contribute to these outlets, I want this work to be tamper-proof while I'm alive — and continued when I'm not.

Last year, I devised a method for my digital assets to be accessed by a designated individual in the event of an emergency. It is a convoluted strategy that involves sealed envelopes, cross-country phone calls to strangers, and clues to decipher. Why I didn't simply put my passwords in a bank deposit box to which a relative has the key, I don't know. Perhaps I've watched National Treasure too many times.

But more immediately, I wanted to get data that is already publicly available into more hands, to ensure it doesn't suffer from a single point of failure. I'm relieved to have finally gotten to a point where I believe I have accomplished that goal. With help from Mike Maginnis, Steve Weyhrich, Ewen Wannop, Jeff Kaplan, and more, today marks a series of coordinated announcements:

Distribution and preservation: The benefits of an ISSN
Juiced.GS receives an ISSN from the Library of Congress and is archived by ten museums and universities around the world.
Preserving KansasFest videos: Internet Archive, iTunes, YouTube
KansasFest videos from 2009 and beyond to be made available in the Internet Archive, via an iTunes video podcast, and on YouTube.
Open Apple on the Internet Archive
Episodes of the Apple II community's only co-hosted podcast now permanently available from a 501(c)(3) online library.

Some of these developments were easily accomplished; others required hours of busy work and calling in personal favors. Some were free but for our time and energy; others cost hundreds of dollars. All were group efforts that require ongoing commitments.

The work to ensure our Apple II heritage remains available to current and future generations never ends. Let's make sure that which is unique is never lost.