Which Apple II games are timeless?

November 11th, 2019 10:08 AM
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Canadian comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun, true to their eponymous C64 roots, often includes retrocomputers in their weekly news report. This past week was no exception:

Although this news, citing a blog post by Internet Archive employee and KansasFest regular Jason Scott, is specifically about MS-DOS, the concept applies to the Apple II as well: there are at least 3,170 Apple II games currently playable in the Internet Archive — far more than any of us have ever played in our lifetimes or likely ever will.

But how many of them stand the test of time? As Brendan John "Beej" Dery notes in the above LRR report, games aren't always as fun as we remember them being as kids, when basic inputs returned minimal rewards conveyed with simple graphics and rudimentary sound. Cumbersome controls and user interfaces that we tolerated when we didn't know any better have evolved into more elegant designs and complex narratives. What games still hold up and can still be fun, with our without a healthy dose of nostalgia?

Instead of focusing on games that haven't aged well (such as some text adventures or RPGs), I'd argue that these games remain fun:

  • Lode Runner: When I was a guest on the New Game Plus podcast three years ago, I invited its hosts to play Lode Runner. Having never played the game before, all three found it enjoyable. Recent iterations of Lode Runner have introduced new graphics, but the core gameplay remains as fun today as it was upon its debut.
  • Shadowgate: This point-and-click gothic adventure game was worth remaking in 2012, which improved not just the graphics but also the interface. It would've been for naught if the original game weren't fun. It still is!
  • Prince of Persia: While the battle system is somewhat rudimentary, the dungeon platformer is still challenging for those who want to rescue the princess within the allotted time.
  • Snake Byte: Variations on this game have appeared on countless devices (especially mobile) for decades — a testament to the basic gameplay's staying power.
  • Arkanoid: Not only does this successor to Breakout stand the test of time — we need more games like this. Paddle input devices have practically gone extinct; while mobile devices seem well-suited to movement on one plane, something is lost with a touch interface.
  • BattleChess: Creative animations injected this serious game with levity. The computer's time to make each move and then draw the animations was tedious; a CPU accelerator fixes that, but it also speeds up the animations, which should be savored.
  • DuelTris: The Apple II was young enough that most of its games were original, rather instead of improvements on existing franchises, of which there weren't many. DuelTris is an exception, taking the basic rules ofo Tetris and adding power-ups, a two-player mode, and a rocking soundtrack. DuelTris struck just the right balance of classic and enhanced gameplay; mess with Tetris more than this, and you ruin it.
  • Othello, mahjongg, and other tile games: These classic games feature timeless mechanics that don't significantly benefit from faster computers or better graphics.

This list is by no means exhaustive; such an undertaking could span an entire website, with one game per blog post! But I would love my readers' help in filling in the gaps. What are some Apple II games you've revisited and found to still be fun, all these years later? Leave a comment with your recommendations!

Commander Keen & Softdisk PC in the news

February 25th, 2019 2:49 PM
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Ever since game consoles started featuring Internet connectivity and online stores, the number of downloadable games to choose from has exploded. With no need to manufacture or distribute expensive physical units, almost any indie developer can publish a game online. Often, these are small, indie titles with almost no marketing or name recognition flooding the online catalog. But while recently browsing the Nintendo Switch's eShop, I saw a old familiar name that caught my eye: Commander Keen, in his original adventure.

That name may not ring a bell to Apple II users, as Commander Keen was originally released in 1990 for MS-DOS only, with a Game Boy Color sequel arriving over a decade later. But look behind the scenes of this franchise from id Software, and you'll find a familiar lineage: Tom Hall, John Carmack, John Romero, and Adrian Carmack. These four creators founded id Software specifically to publish Commander Keen after originally developing the game while working at Softdisk. It was at Softdisk that Romero and company also created such memorable Apple II titles as Dangerous Dave.

So what's behind this sudden revival of Commander Keen? Once again, LoadingReadyRun has the full story in the latest CheckPoint:

Just like how John Carmack still loves his Apple II, and John Romero ported Dangerous Dave to iOS, it's great to know that former id Software creative director Tom Hall is still passionate about his classic games. Even if we'll never see an Apple II port, let's hope Commander Keen's Switch release is a sign of things to come.

The superiority of obsolete operating systems

April 14th, 2014 10:09 PM
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The savvy comedians of LoadingReadyRun — who have previously tipped their hat to computers of yore with their Desert Bus fundraiser, references to HyperCard, and spotlight on the Apple II — are at it again. In today's weekly video, "The New Old Thing", they put forth an earnest proposal: replace Windows 8.1 with MS-DOS.

Earlier this year, MS-DOS's source code was donated to the Computer History Museum, joining a collection that already includes Apple's DOS 3.1. LRR's video makes a compelling argument for why this newly available older operating system is a superior productivity platform. An excerpted transcript follows, though I've replaced references to MS-DOS with DOS 3.1:

Newer stuff isn't necessarily better. Think of DOS 3.1 as a hand-crafted, artisinal operating system. [A GUI, mouse support, 3D graphics, 1080p video, the Internet] — all that stuff just slows you down. DOS 3.1 turns your computer into a mean, lean computing machine. Background processes hogging up all your memory? DOS 3.1 only runs one program at a time. Distracted by TVTropes at work? DOS 3.1 doesn't go on the Internet! It just gets out of your way and lets you get your work done.

What's so great about a GUI anyway? How many times have you lost a file in that maze of folders on your computer? With DOS, you just type the name of the file, and bam! You're there! And you don't have to worry about remembering the name of the file, because they can only be eight characters long, anyway. And another thing! A Windows 8 install is almost 20 gigabytes. DOS 3.1 is only 300K — as in kilobytes! It takes up less space than that picture you tweeted this morning of your venti ice non-fat hazelnut macchiato.

Bottom line: if you want to mess about and play Angry Birds, just use your phone or your tablet. When you want to get some serious, distraction-free work done, DOS 3.1 is for you.

I made several similar observations six years ago when I argued that GS/OS is better than Windows Vista and OS X (an article I've since wished I'd written for Juiced.GS, not Computerworld). We keep using this software because it provides a focused environment with familiar, fast methods for accomplishing specific, basic tasks. Older software is more stable, secure, compatible, and portable.

Like A2Central.com once said: it's not obsolete — it's proven technology.

UPDATE (May 15, 2014): DOS is good enough for George R. R. Martin!

Apple II, King of the Desert Bus

December 9th, 2013 8:50 AM
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LoadingReadyRun, a comedy troupe named after the Commodore 64 but which has avowed Apple II users among its ranks, is in this business for more than just giggles. They're also here to make a difference with the Desert Bus for Hope, an annual video game marathon to raise money for Child's Play, a non-profit that provides toys to children's hospitals around the globe.

The seventh annual Desert Bus kicked off on November 16 and ran for more than six days, all of which was streamed live over the Internet. The event featured many special guests, among them Penn and Teller, Paul and Storm, and Bill Corbett — but none as special as the Apple II.

Audience participation is a key factor of Desert Bus, and one challenge invited viewers to create a six-second looping Vine video that somehow commemorated Desert Bus. Apple II community member Lady Sephiroth submitted this entry:

Lady Sephiroth tells me that the featured Apple IIe was in fact connected to the Internet at the time of the video. So this was no academic exercise: she truly was navigating to DesertBus.org, using the IIe as a terminal to access the event's IRC channel.

Desert Bus to IIe

Connecting to the Desert Bus IRC channel via an Apple IIe. Photo by Lady Sephiroth.

An Apple II being featured in a live event is neat, but the real win? Desert Bus for Hope raised $521,450 — more than half a million dollars — for a lifetime total of $1,790,133.57.

For the children.

UPDATE (2-Jan-13): The total raised by Child's Play Charity in 2013 is $7.6 million.

HyperCard for the Apple II, but not the iPhone

June 7th, 2010 12:21 PM
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The Escapist News Network is at it again. A recent episode of their satirical news show looked at motion-sensing input devices in video games and how the likes of Microsoft's Project Natal are replacing virtual hands with real ones, allowing users to manipulate digital environments with authentic gestures. At the video's 0:54 mark, ENN lamented the obsolescence with which this technology threatens traditional pointing devices:

ENN & Hypercard

Wave goodbye to the pointy hand.

It's not surprising to see such retro references in ENN, given that the show is produced by a troupe with a name like LoadingReadyRun:

LoadingReadyRun

Photo courtesy Gamebits.

More relevant to the Apple community is ENN's acknowledgement of HyperCard, which has recently been making the real news as well. Apple's capriciousness in allowing some third-party iPhone and iPad apps into the App Store and not others is well-known: One of my favorite podcasts spent several months jumping through Apple's whimsical hoops, while the infamous Baby Shaker app was approved (though later removed). But more damaging is Apple's curtailing of the iPhone as a creative tool. MIT's educational programming environment, Scratch, was denied admission to the App Store. HyperCard, the hypermedia software that originated on the Macintosh and was later ported to the Apple IIGS, is the most recent victim of Apple's barriers — even though earlier this year, Jobs himself pondered, "Something like HyperCard on the iPad? Yes, but someone would have to create it."

I can understand Apple's desire to keep the iPhone user-friendly and free of potential malware and other malicious code. Steve Jobs says that the only digital freedom he's destroying is "Freedom of programs that steal your data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom." But how realistic is this goal? I can't help but think that the more Jobs tightens his grip, the more star systems — er, apps — will slip through his fingers. As a result of the denial of the Scratch app one friend of mine has already sold his iPhone, calling prohibiting children access to educational software "morally reprehensible."

The solution? An Apple II far cheaper than an iPhone or iPad, and kids rarely care what CPU is powering their favorite software, so why not avoid these modern dilemmas by going back to HyperCard's roots? The Apple II version of the program is still available as both a free download and physical disks. Create a retro lab and teach your kids something about both programming and history for a fraction of the price.

In the meantime, check out the full ENN news report after the jump, which has other treats for retrocomputing enthusiasts. At time indices 1:30–2:25, Graham Stark relates the historical pains of being a Mac gamer, while neo-retro Atari commercials debut at 2:57–5:25.

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Escapist News Network's unmarked Apple

May 10th, 2010 11:44 AM
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The Apple II made a brief visual appearance, though earned no actual mention, in last week's episode of the Escapist News Network, a satirical weekly news report of the electronic entertainment industry. Appearing at time index 2:25 – 2:35, the image accompanied a story that "Developer Splash Damage is claiming that the AI in their upcoming game, Brink, is so advanced, players won't know whether they're playing against a computer or not."


Escapist News Network's Apple II

The Escapist News Network's Apple II

I wasn't confident that the computer pictured was in fact an Apple II. The form factor of the floppy drive is that of a Disk II but lacks the distinctive rainbow Apple logo, as does the computer on which it rests. For additional perspectives, I consulted with Andy Molloy, associate editor of Juiced.GS, who offered, "It sure looks like a[n Apple] II [and a] Disk II to me. Unless it's a Russian clone or something." Dr. Steve Weyhrich of the Apple II History site agreed that the computer looks like a typical Apple II configuration, adding, "I am suspicious that the Apple logo was Photoshopped out of the picture. Or, as Andy said, it might be a foreign clone that didn't bother putting up a logo of any kind."

Consider this similar picture found via a Google image search:

Apple II comparison shot

This is not the same photo as ENN's, but the setup is similar enough to suggest that they are the same computer. What do you think is the source of ENN's vintage computer? Did they grab and edit the first photo they found online? If so, why the coverup? If not, do they in fact have a rare unmarked knockoff?

The full ENN video report is after the jump.
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