Playing Lode Runner on iOS

January 21st, 2013 1:22 PM
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Last summer, I wrote a convoluted blog post about how Lode Runner Classic, featuring all the levels and original graphics of the Apple II game from 1983, were coming to iOS and Android. I'm happy to report that last Thursday, nearly a half-year after its announcement and three decades since the franchise's debut, Lode Runner Classic has finally landed on these mobile platforms.

Title screen

Welcome to Lode Runner Classic.

I picked up the Apple version for $2.99, played the first dozen levels in both expedition and time attack modes, and was pleased by how little the gameplay has changed. Developer Tozai Games has not added power-ups, extra enemies, boss battles, or other unnecessary flair: the game looks, sounds, and plays in a fashion befitting of its titular adjective. Any additional features are entirely optional, such as a soundtrack that can be disabled separately from the sound effects, a customizable color palette, and speed settings. That last one is especially attractive to me, for as I once wrote for Computerworld:

Over the years, [my family] tricked it [our Apple IIGS] with the usual upgrades: SCSI card, sound card, handheld scanner, modem, joystick, 4MB of RAM. An accelerator boosted the CPU to 10 MHz, which may not sound like much, but it was quadruple the stock speed — making Lode Runner quite a challenge to play. (The enemies moved four times faster; my brain and reactions didn't.)

Options screen

More options than you can shake a stick at!

However, I'm finding Lode Runner Classic challenging even without that increase in speed, due primarily to the interface. There are three ways to control your digger: a tilt mechanism that employs the iOS device's accelerometer and gyroscope; a swipe interface that makes no sense to me (I continuously die while figuring out how to get my guy to move, even after reading the instructions); and an on-screen joypad. The last one is the most intuitive, but it shrinks the gameplay screen to create margins in which to display the controls. Even with this option, I find the "dig" buttons are too large, requiring me to reach too far into the center of the iPad to reach them.

The on-screen controls mode is also the only one in which the "magnification" option is unavailable. This setting keeps the entire gamefield visible while focusing on the action, squishing the parts of the screen where the player isn't and expanding them as the digger moves left and right, up and down. Oddly, since the interfaces that support this feature are the ones where the game already fills the entire screen, they are the ones that are least in need of magnification!

On-screen controls

Here's what the virtual D-pad controls look like.

Despite the limitations (or at least learning curve) inherent to the platform, this is the Lode Runner you grew up with. I didn't hesitate to drop $3 on this game, and neither should you.

If you prefer a desktop version, you can get ZX Games' unauthorized Windows clone, subtitled Classicwards, which offers 75 levels for $9.95. Want an actual sequel with update graphics and gameplay? Check out Lode Runner X, available for Xbox 360 and Android.

Karateka sequel's unknown genre

September 17th, 2012 1:26 PM
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In February, I shared the news that Jordan Mechner's original Apple II game, Karateka, is being relaunched. But as discussed in the September episode of Open Apple, the direction this reimagining is taking could leave traditionalists perplexed.

When an iOS port of the new Karateka was confirmed, Touch Arcade reported this summary of the game:

In this rhythm-fighting game, players assume the role of three Japanese warriors attempting to rescue a kidnapped princess from an evil warlord. Players engage in frenetic one-on-one battles with various enemies, using timed martial arts moves (i.e., punch/kick combos) to stun opponents and drain their health meters. Matches are highlighted by battle cries, colorful light flashes, and slow motion effects; when players' character is knocked out, a brief cutscene depicts him falling down the side of a mountain.

A rhythm game? One in which players time their input to match the game's soundtrack — like PaRappa the Rapper?

At the time of PaRappa's release for the original Sony PlayStation in 1997, I gave it a score of 8.0 out of 10 — not terribly compelling in today's competitive video game market. But PaRappa has stood the test of time better than I expected, and most gamers who knew this quirky little title look back on it fondly. It's often considered the first modern rhythm game, a genre that grown in popularity thanks to titles such as Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Elite Beat Agents.

So yes, rhythm games can be fun — but I'm having a hard time envisioning the hero's ascent of Akuma's fortress to rescue Princess Mariko as a music-based game. What sparse soundtrack the original Karateka featured was not central to the gameplay experience, so to introduce a core mechanic absent in the series origin strains the continuity of the franchise.

It's also possible that Touch Arcade was fed inaccurate infomration. We'll find out when the game is released for Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, and other platforms later this year.

Lode Runner Classic comes to iOS

August 27th, 2012 11:28 AM
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Mike Maginnis and I were driving home from KansasFest 2012, half-listening to the Major Nelson podcast, when I thought I heard news of something called "Lode Runner Classic", featuring the Apple II game's original 150 levels. Since this was primarily an Xbox 360 podcast, and I consider Lode Runner one of the best games ever, I was excited by the prospect of a follow-up to 2009's Lode Runner sequel. I love remakes and reboots, but there's just something about going back to the source that can be extremely satisfying.

I rewound the podcast to hear the details I'd missed… and alas: the game was released for Windows Phone 7, a mobile operating system I'll never have access to.

Yesterday, Kotaku ran a "one month later, this game is still great" review. As an aside, the author, Mike Fahey, briefly mentions: "Nearly three decades later, Tozai Games has released Lode Runner Classic for Windows Phone 7, with versions coming soon for iOS and Android."

WHAT?! iOS version? Truly??

The developer's official Web site says only: "Don't worry, Android and iOS fans — your versions will be releasing soon with shared leaderboards, country-code bragging rights and achievements!"

Okay. I can wait. After all, it was nearly two years between when Lode Runner for Xbox 360 was announced and it was released. I just need to remember to breathe. In the meantime, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one excited by this release. Said the franchise's creator, Douglas E. Smith, on the game's official Web site:

When Lode Runner came out on the Apple II, the last thing I expected was that the game would be alive and kicking on platforms as advanced as today's smartphones. It's really gratifying to me that so many people are still interested in the game.

And, as the Kotaku critic commented:

Thirty years down the road I feel I've developed a much deeper appreciation for Lode Runner than I had as a child. This seemingly simple title is actually a rather complex mechanism crafted specifically to hand me my [butt]. I've not gotten any better at it, but at least now I understand my failure is a result of brilliant programming.

Apple's return to education

January 23rd, 2012 1:51 PM
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Last week, Apple announced iBooks textbooks and iBooks author, two iPad applications designed to redefine education.

Although I still favor physical literature for leisure reading, the elimination of physical textbooks in favor of e-books has been a long time coming, as outlined in this 2009 column by Mike Elgan who proposed that "education reform should begin by burning all the textbooks." And Apple may be just the company to get the ball rolling. Some pundits are seeing this move as a return to Apple's origin: the iPhone and iPad, which have been aimed at consumers and the enterprise, overlooked that "schools have been one of Apple's biggest market since the days of the Apple II", writes Ryan Faas for Computerworld.

Others are less optimistic, saying that Apple's methodology is fundamentally flawed by being based on false assumptions and failing to address long-standing issues. Glenn Fleishman, a senior contributor to Macworld, remembers hearing these same promises in the days of the Apple II and cites a nine-year-old study that questions the value of technology in education (in contrast to a recent pilot program by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):

It is not yet clear how much computer-based programs can contribute to the improvement of instruction in American schools. Although many researchers have carried out controlled evaluations of technology effects during the last three decades, the evaluation literature still seems patchy.

Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief of CNET Reviews, says that no matter how elegant the software, the problem of hardware remains the same as it has the past three decades: "There was an Apple II in my third-grade classroom. We used it to play Oregon Trail. Then it died. Therein lies the problem with iPads in high school: devices break."

iPads are expensive, and they do break. And it may be true that Apple is simply trading one set of problems (the expense, weight, and outdatedness of textbooks) for another. But much of Apple's early success was found in the education market; "Education has always been a big part of Apple's DNA," said Eddy Cue, senior VP of Internet software and services, in the above video. Millions of today's adults may not be able to tell you exactly what they learned by playing Oregon Trail, but they remember the experience and the introduction it gave them to the computers that demand familiarity from today's workforce. Don't today's students deserve the same opportunities with today's tools that my generation had with the Apple II?

Woz loves Android

January 19th, 2012 8:21 PM
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Last summer, I attended the CIO 100 Symposium, a conference hosted by my employer, IDG Enterprise. In one of the sessions, "New Ways To Manage Change", I and several IT professionals discussed the emerging trend of "Bring Your Own Device", in which employees supply their own technology rather than rely on corporate-issued hardware. An interesting correlation surfaced from one of the table discussions: whether it be theirs or their employers', salespeople wanted to use iPhones, whereas the engineering department wanted Android devices. It seems engineers don't want to work in a walled garden, preferring a machine that they can more easily tamper with.

Steve Wozniak, the quintessential hacker, recently reinforced that dichotomy. Woz, a known owner of several iPhones (simultaneously!), commented to Dan Lyons of The Daily Beast:

"My primary phone is the iPhone," Woz says. "I love the beauty of it. But I wish it did all the things my Android does, I really do."

Android phones aren’t as simple to use as the iPhone, but they’re not that much more complicated, and "if you’re willing to do the work to understand it a little bit, well I hate to say it, but there’s more available in some ways," Woz says.

Although initially surprising to hear the Apple co-founder say anything that could be construed as disparaging against an Apple device, Woz's desire to operate outside the constraints of iOS is consistent with the creativity and innovation that led him to design the Apple II in the first place.

In the end, though, maybe there's something to be said for ease of consumption. After all, despite the above comments, Woz still uses an iPhone — and most of the world no longer uses the Apple II.

All the less power to them!

(Hat tip to Dwight Silverman)

Another World for iOS

November 10th, 2011 10:54 AM
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I don't mean for this to be "iOS Gaming Week" here on Apple II Bits — the impressive Touch Arcade already has the corner on that market. But I do want to follow up on a post from last March, in which I eagerly anticipated Out of this World (OotW) coming to iOS. I greatly enjoyed this creative (albeit brief) game on the Super NES, which shared the same processor as the IIGS, making a port to the Apple II a no-brainer. A more accessible rendition of this classic game would be welcome.

Since I don't actually own an iOS device, the port fell off my radar, replaced by news and reviews of From Dust, an Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) game released this past July by OotW creator Éric Chahi. Great, I thought — has he been so swamped with this new title that he's forgotten his roots?

Nope! Out of this World for iOS was released last month under the name Another World for $4.99.

Out of this World

Can you bring scientist Lester Knight Chaykin home?

If Out of this World leaves you hungry for more, there's no news on a similar port of the much rarer sequel, Heart of the Alien. But you can play OotW's spiritual successor, Flashback, on iOS for $1.99.

(Hat tip to Carrington Vanston of the Retro Computing Roundtable)