KansasFest goes to Funspot

October 31st, 2016 9:41 AM
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At KansasFest, Apple II users from around the world meet and share a unique experience. The games we play there — be it computer games like Structris and KABOOM!, board games such as Lode Runner, or the card game Oregon Trail — forge friendships that are often revisited only once a year at KansasFest.

But sometimes, the stars align to reunite those friends in new and unusual venues. That happened this past weekend, when Juiced.GS associate editor Andy Molloy, staff writer Ivan Drucker, Retro Computing Roundtable co-host Carrington Vanston, and I made the trek to the American Classic Arcade Museum at Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire, USA.

ACAM is the world's largest video game arcade, as determined by Guinness World Records. With over 300 machines from the 1970s and 1980s, the arcade is home to coin-ops both classic and rare — all still just a token each. I first discovered this arcade thirty years ago, when its games were new. I returned every summer for over a decade, then relegated it to a childhood memory for another ten years. I finally started going back in 2006 and recruited Andy in 2007. Having now been making an annual pilgrimage to Funspot for nearly a decade, we decided it was time to evangelize and spread the good word to Carrington and Ivan, who'd never been there.

Carrington, who co-founded the podcast No Quarter, was of course familiar with many of Funspot's games, but Ivan knew few beyond his favorites. He schooled us all in Donkey Kong but then proved vulnerable to the first shrubbery he encountered in Paper Boy. We each sought out individual rounds of Marble Madness, Frogger, Asteroids, and Robotron 2064, but the most fun was had when we went head-to-head. Ivan, Andy, and I lost to the computer in Super Sprint. Carrington, Andy, and I then demolished cities in Rampage, after which Carrington, Andy, and Ivan launched bombs at Sinistar; we all four finally teamed up to play to the eleventh dungeon of Gauntlet II.

There were two surprising discoveries of the day. The first was Donkey Kong II, which looked and played like a sequel to the Nintendo classic — except Ivan had never heard of it. Was it possible for a game with such storied lineage to have escaped his notice for so long?

Donkey Kong 2 at Funspot

The answer is no: Donkey Kong II is an unofficial ROM hack consisting of the original game's four levels and four new levels. It made its arcade debut at Funspot in 2006 but is more easily playable online.

The other surprise was Chiller, a disturbing lightgun game. Developed by Exidy of Death Race infamy, Chiller challenges players to shoot as many human prisoners as possible in a short amount of time. These living targets are found in torture chambers, ensconced in guillotines, racks, and other vehicles of pain, waiting for the player to deliver the fatal blow. While it sounds perverse, my gaming buds excused it by how cartoonish its artwork was, saying they'd never play a modern game with motion-capture video that featured such ghoulish, gratuitous violence. Still, I enjoyed playing the role of the disapproving prude, sternly frowning and shaking my head in their direction with each playthrough, while in the back of my mind wondering how I could excuse my ownership of the NES port.

Due to how far our far-flung party had to travel to return home, we did not have time to cap the evening at Pinball Wizard, another excellent arcade in southern New Hampshire. We were also left with a heavy cupful of leftover tokens from Funspot. With this many games, there is never enough time to play them all.

Fortunately, Funspot — much like KansasFest and the friendships it forms — is forever.

Ivan Drucker's BASIC to Python

January 18th, 2016 9:41 AM
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Ivan Drucker is an unsung hero of the Apple II community. His line of programming utilities, networking tools, and Raspberry Pi applications might pigeonhole him as a software savant, but his contributions to the Apple II community extend across multiple media, including KansasFest presentations and Juiced.GS cover stories.

It's no surprise, then, that someone so prolific would be comfortable in many programming languages. His latest contribution to the community is a Python translation of an Applesoft BASIC program:

This is a line-for-line conversion of an edited version of CLOCK.PATCH from the System Tools 2 disk in GS/OS 6.0.1. It's not good Python, but I thought it would be an interesting exercise. In general I have tried replicate each line as closely to BASIC as possible.

For those of us who never learned a programming language that doesn't have line numbers, this Rosetta stone of classic and modern languages is fascinating. Since each translation performs the same function, seeing how similar concepts are expressed in different environments makes it easy for someone unversed in one language to follow the other.

Applesoft & Python

I don't know the practical value of this exercise, but that's what makes Ivan so great: he pursues goals he's passionate about because he finds them cool and fun. That's the epitome of the retrocomputing enthusiast.

Apple II Raspberry Pi on TV

February 23rd, 2015 12:13 PM
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After appearing on the Retro Computing Roundtable #94, I ordered myself a Raspberry Pi 2. It'll be my first single-board computer since the Replica 1 in 2009 — and frankly, I'm not sure what to do with it.

What I do know is that I want its presence and utility to be as influenced by my Apple II heritage as possible — and that means buying one of Charles Mangin's 3D-printed cases. Demoed at KansasFest 2014 and detailed in Juiced.GS, these nifty, tiny replicas are a marvelous marriage of new and old tech.

Mangin can now add "As seen on TV!" to his marketing copy, courtesy Ivan Drucker. As founder of Apple consulting firm IvanExpert, Drucker is the resident go-to guy when New York City's cable news stations need a sound bite from a knowledgeable, articulate, and fashionable expert. That sometimes means a peek into Drucker's work environment, as happened last summer when we spotted an Apple II sitting on his office desk.

Drucker was in the news again last week for the CBS news story "Stolen iPhone Turns Up In China":

Don't blink or you'll miss it: there's Charles' Pi case!

Ivan Drucker on CBS (Feb 2015)

Meticulously freeze-framed to be as flattering as possible.

It makes me want one all the more. Ivan Drucker and CBS, you're earning your commission!

Raspberry Pi on CBS

(Hat tip to — who else? — Ivan Drucker)

Let's Play Structris

August 4th, 2014 12:00 PM
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KansasFest is a week over, and all I have is memories.

Memories — and an awesome mug.

For the second consecutive year, attendee Michael Sternberg hosted a Structris tournament based on his version of Martin Haye's original Tetris game. I entered and, after a poor showing in 2013, rebounded in 2014: I had the highest score in the first round (100 points); went up against the reigning champion and broke the world record in the second round (249 points on level 17); and, in the third and final round, defeated the developer himself. It was pretty epic.

To give something back, I've created a Let's Play video of Structris, coinciding with last week's 25th anniversary of the North American launch of the Nintendo Game Boy, which came with Tetris. Enjoy!

The Apple II at IvanExpert

June 23rd, 2014 11:38 AM
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Ivan Drucker is a name known to many modern Apple II users. He's the networking genius behind A2SERVER and A2CLOUD and the programming savant responsible for Slammer and NuInput. He's on the staff of Juiced.GS and was Open Apple's first post-debut guest. He's an all-around nice guy.

But to the residents of New York City — yes, the Big Apple — he's the founder and chief technology expert of IvanExpert, an Apple consulting firm that's been providing superior Mac, iPhone, and iPad service for over ten years. The name he and his partner Caroline Green have developed for their company recently caught the attention of their local CBS station. When hackers discovered a way to lock users' iPhones remotely in exchange for ransom, CBS turned to IvanExpert for a video interview advising viewers how to avoid falling victim to this scam.

But wait — what was that?!

IvanExpert's office

Computer, magnify sector B2!

IvanExpert's Apple II

This isn't the first time Ivan's Apple II have been featured in video. When he got back from KansasFest 2011, IvanExpert's YouTube channel spotlighted the convention and why Ivan attends, with the Apple II prominently in the background.

Kudos to Ivan and the rest of the team at IvanExpert for keeping the Apple II in the forefront of their workplace and CBS's television coverage!

(Hat tip to Caroline Green)

Meet the geeks at KansasFest

August 19th, 2013 1:18 PM
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From 2007 through 2012, I covered KansasFest for Computerworld, a magazine and website of which I was an editor. When I left that position in early 2013, I did so on good terms, leaving open the possibility of freelance work. I solicited suggestions from other Apple II users for how I might pitch coverage of this year's KansasFest in a way that Computerworld hadn't done before. Eric Shepherd proposed a series of attendee profiles, in the style of my previous coverage of BostonFIG. My editor loved the idea but asked that, instead of photos and writeups, I produce short video interviews.

I'd long wanted to shoot video at KansasFest, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Andy Molloy helped me vet a list of attendees with unique, discrete roles who would exemplify the Apple II community. Throughout the week of KansasFest, I cornered a dozen people: programmers, historians, artists, gamers, and more.

Computerworld published eight of the videos in the slideshow, "Who goes to an Apple II convention in 2013?", which went live last Friday. This morning, KansasFest's official YouTube channel published an additional three. That makes eleven — the unpublished 12th video was one I shot of myself, as a proof of concept. No one needs to see that.

My thanks to all who contributed to this project! I hope the below videos serve as an example of the wonderful friends you can make at KansasFest. Click the thumbnails for an introduction!

Melissa Barron

The Artist

Steve Wozniak

The Founder

Randy Wigginton

The Speaker

Steve Weyhrich

The Historian

Carrington Vanston

The Podcaster

Michael Sternberg

The Gamer

Eric Shepherd

The Emulator

Kevin Savetz

The Rebel

Charles Mangin

The Inventor

Carl Knoblock

The Old-Timer

Ken Gagne

The Profiler

The Programmer

The Programmer