Wizardry comes to iOS

November 7th, 2011 12:14 PM
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Back in March, I wrote that Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, a new entry in the classic RPG series, was coming exclusively to the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network (or the PS3 PSN). But in this age of multiple gaming platforms, it is rarely economically feasible to dedicate one's product to a single audience. It therefore is only mildly surprising that Wizardry is now available for iOS (though, oddly enough, not optimized for iPad). Behold the opening sequence and 15 minutes of gameplay:

The game, released on November 3, is a free download, but the press release states a caveat: "While players will initially be able to level their characters up to level five and explore the entire first floor of the 'Dungeon of Trials,' brave adventurers who want to dig deeper into the depths of Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be able to unlock the full Wizardry experience for $9.99 via In-App Purchase."

A bit too expensive for you? Then kick it old school for just $1.99 with Akalabeth, an iOS version of the precursor to Ultima. Though not the same series as Wizardry, they share a common history as predominantly first-person RPGs. Or go the free route on classic hardware with similar to Silvern Castle for the Apple II. Sounds like the best of all fantasy worlds to me.

(Hat tip to Eli Milchman)

Engadget Woz

May 19th, 2011 11:48 AM
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Another podcast I finally caught up on this past weekend was Engadget's interview with Steve Wozniak, which debuted this past January. It had taken this long for me to listen because the episode is available as an MP4 video only. I eventually stripped the audio and put it on a portable player I could listen to on my way home from VCF.

I've featured plenty of interviews with the Woz, but this one has to be my favorite. Unlike his brief appearance on NPR last December, it was nice and lengthy, running more than a half-hour. Given so much time, he was able to pontificate on a variety of topics. The tricks he'd played in his youth have been well-reported, but this was the first time I'd heard of him extending that mischief to his encounters with the government. It was also one of the rare times I heard Woz talk about his role with, and the future of, storage and memory company Fusion-io, which is soon to make an IPO. And with a moderator to guide Woz, he was less rambling yet more interesting than his recent appearance at the American Humanist Association.

The interview starts just a few minutes into the episode and runs until 40:51, followed by some live chiptune music by Zen Albatross. You can download the show from iTunes or watch it here:

Out of this World for iOS

March 10th, 2011 9:06 AM
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In the latest episode of Open Apple, Mike and I noted both that the 25th Game Developers Conference was held last week in San Francisco, and that iOS is becoming a great platform for retrogaming. I didn't realize at the time that there was a recent intersection of those two topics: Out of this World, a classic Apple IIGS game, is coming to iOS.

As reported by Touch Arcade, Éric Chahi, the game's original developer, made the announcement at GDC that Out of this World, known overseas as Another World, will arrive on the iPad and iPhone at an unspecified future date.

At the time of its 1991 release, when 16-bit graphics weren't quite realistic enough, this puzzle-platform game from Interplay used rotoscoping techniques to transport the earthly scientist Lester Knight Chaykin to an alien planet. Each non-scrolling screen presented a different puzzle and a part of the narrative of his adventure to return home. Surrounded by foreign technology and unintelligible lifeforms, Lester's journey is one of beauty and inscrutability.

I enjoyed OotW on the Super Nintendo but found it a relatively short game once mastered. In my recent attempts to replay it, I found it rather obtuse and far from what modern gamers would expect from what is ostensibly an action game. In my former career as a high school teacher of technical writing, I thought OotW would be a perfect case study: give it to students without instruction, and have them write the documentation from scratch. Trying to decipher the game in both internal and external contexts would've been fascinating. Unfortunately, such an assignment was impossible due to predating the game's many freeware ports.

I did eventually beat this game on the SNES but was dismayed to find its cliffhanger of an ending unresolved; the squel, Heart of the Alien, was released only for the ill-fated Sega CD console system, limiting its accessibility. But maybe, if the series' first half sells well on iOS, it won't be long before we finally see the resolution of Lester's quest.

UPDATE: The video, audio, and slides from this GDC presentation are now available.

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson and Jason Scott)

Steve Jobs' greatest hits

January 24th, 2011 1:04 PM
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Steve Jobs, a survivor of pancreatic cancer who in 2009 underwent a successful liver transplant, is currently on medical leave from Apple Inc.

Many would argue that Apple's health is directly tied to that of its co-founder and CEO, as evidenced by the company's floundering without his leadership from 1985 to 1997. To commemorate that perspective, Computerworld recently published a gallery that highlights 12 noteworthy innovations rolled out under Jobs' leadership at Apple. Though Jobs' role in the design of many Apple products is questionable, we circumvented the issue by simply saying that these were products launched while he was CEO — a rather inarguable fact.

I was assigned this story by the publication's chief news editor, Ken Mingis, who selected the contents of the gallery. It was originally proposed to cover only those products launched since Jobs' return to the company in 1997 and not any of the releases from his first tour of duty, from the company's founding in 1977 to when he was ousted in 1985. I had no issue with that — an article has to be focused, lest it try to cover all of existence — but we were challenged to explain to the readers how or why we could omit such milestones as the Apple II and the Macintosh. We compromised by adding those two products to the original ten, resulting in this final, chronological lineup:

  1. Apple II (1977)
  2. Macintosh (1984)
  3. iMac (1997)
  4. Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)
  5. Mac OS X (2001)
  6. iPod (2001)
  1. iMac G4 (2002)
  2. Mac mini (2005)
  3. iPhone (2007)
  4. MacBook Air (2008)
  5. iPad (2010)
  6. iPhone 4 (2010)

Had it been up to me, I would've omitted different models of the same product, such as the iMac G4 and the iPhone 4, and maybe included more failures, like the Apple III and Apple Lisa (the latter especially being notable for its pre-Mac GUI). But even without those changes, it's a pretty thorough gallery. Still, I still expected Apple fans to be more contentious in the selection, yet the article has thus far produced little discussion and feedback. What about you — what products would you have added or removed?

I was encouraged to be "witty" with each product's headline, so I relied heavily on this list of Apple advertising slogans. Although it might've been clearer to use the product name and release date instead, editor Mike Barton, who also selected the photos, instead bolded the product name in its brief description, allowing us to be both witty and clear.

I hope everyone enjoys this brief review of Apple's history. Whether or not you like Jobs, he and his company deserve to be in good health.

(Hat tip to Arnold Kim)

Classic gaming inspirations

July 5th, 2010 11:25 AM
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In January of last year, Darren Gladstone posted a blog to PCWorld.com entitled "Classic Apple II Games That Inspired Today's Greats", though it wasn't until three months later that I found it. Wanting to spread the word of the Apple II's influence, and under the content-sharing agreement between PCWorld and my own employer, I reposted the blog to Computerworld.com. For some reason, that republication got noticed more than the original, and sites like Virtual Apple experienced a noticeable increase in traffic.

That same blog post got me thinking not just about classic Apple II games, but also their modern analogues on the Mac or online. I started drawing mental comparisons, similar to the Life & Death / Trauma Center similarities I've already outlined here. As the list grew, I decided to present my findings at KansasFest 2009. To streamline the presentation by remaining within a single operating system, I downloaded YouTube videos demonstrating the gameplay of Apple II classics and had their Mac or online equivalents ready to show. I didn't have time to make all the comparisons I'd prepared, but here are those that were showcased:

Apple IIEquivalentMaciOSFlash
Montezuma's RevengeMidnight Mansion
Conan: Hall of VoltaMidnight Mansion
RobotronGrid Wars
Lode RunnerAndroid
Qixl1neum
ChoplifterChopper
SolsticeAlien8
ShadowgateMalstrum's Mansion
Oregon TrailThule Road Trip

Click on the checkmark in the appropriate column above to find that version of the game. Note that Grid Wars is listed but no longer available from its official source due to a potential copyright infringement with the popular video game Geometry Wars. Grid Wars' Wikipedia entry suggests alternatives.

I've compiled a YouTube playlist demonstrating the gameplay of the above Apple II games:

The session was better received than I anticipated. I didn't think anyone would enjoy watching me play games, but the trip down memory lane paired with modern gaming somehow seemed to resonate. In hindsight, the only game I should not have included was Solstice, as it turned out to be for the Nintendo only and was never released for the Apple II — no wonder my audience didn't recognize it!

The positive feedback from my 2009 session has motivated me to revisit the topic later this month at KansasFest 2010. I have nearly a dozen more games to compare and contrast, but I welcome your suggestions. What Apple II entertainment software would you like to find an equivalent for on a modern platform?

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

June 10th, 2010 10:43 AM
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This week at the WWDC, the iPhone 4.0 was unveiled, and with it, several new apps, including Activision's own Guitar Hero, a music rhythm game that first debuted on the PlayStation 2 and allows players to use a plastic guitar to strum along to on-screen color-coded symbols. Games in the Guitar Hero franchises have sold over 40 million copies, warranting its first appearance on an Apple platform.

It's encouraging that an entire genre has sprung up around a game's audio component. Game soundtracks have often taken the backseat to visuals, which is unfortunate; years after we last play a game, it's the melodies that we remember best, rising unbidden to our whistling lips. Apple IIGS users are especially fortunate to have enjoyed this element of the gaming experience, as the machine's Ensoniq sound chip performed far better than stock IBM clones of the era. I have a Soundmeister sound card in my IIGS, though I don't recall exactly what benefits it bequeathed; all I remember is that, even prior to that upgrade, my DOS-based friends were jealous of my computer's capabilities.

With all that aural processing power, I can't help but wonder why the iPhone has Guitar Hero but the Apple II doesn't? Turns out, we do:

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

Guitar Hero for the Apple II!
Image courtesy Mac-TV.

This advertisement is for a sound card that Steve Weyhrich's Apple II History site describes: "ALF Music Card (ALF Products, Inc.) was strictly a music synthesizer, with some included software to aid in producing the music." This card, released in the early 1980s, was outclassed a few years later by the Apple IIGS. But in theory, both 8- and 16-bit model of Apple II should be capable of a Guitar Hero-like game, sans peripherals. It requires playing music and accepting input simultaneously, but also matching the accuracy of the input with the time of the music. That too shouldn't be difficult: the input routine doesn't need to be aware of the music, so long as it has its own counter by which to judge input. (Five seconds into the game, it looks for the letter 'A'; six seconds in, it'll accept only 'F'. etc.) If the keyboard input and sound output routines were in fact separate, then the former wouldn't even be complicated by the latter using Vince Briel's MP3 peripheral. Even barring that, there are so many chiptune artists who use the Apple II to create original or remix songs that assembling a sweet soundtrack should be trivial. On the visual side, it's already been proven that the Apple II can produce music videos in time with external audio, so such a game could truly be a complete package.

Has anything like this been done before? Since music rhythm did not emerge as its own genre until the 1990s, I can't think of any software titles that predate that label which would nonetheless suit it. Are there Apple II games that rely predominantly on sound to prompt user input? If not, why not?

(Hat tip to dangerman and Mac-TV)