Triumph of the mod

March 31st, 2014 2:52 PM
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Although improved access to tools and funding are allowing more people to become developers of full-fledged games like Dead Man's Trail, in the days of the Apple II — when almost everyone perforce had some programming ability — the best most of us could do was work within the games others had already created. Usually, this hacking took the form of copy deprotection (and their accompanying crack screens). But sometimes, it was more creative.

In "Triumph of the Mod" a 2002 article by Wagner James Au for Salon.com, Tom Hall, a co-founder of id Software, says he recalls the first mod — "a fan-made modification to a pre-existing game" — as being Castle Smurfenstein, Andrew Johnson and Preston Nevins' hack of Silas Warner's Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II. Writes Johnson:

The nazi guards became Smurfs, the mostly uninteligible German voices became mostly unintelligible Smurf voices. We created a new title screen, new ending screen, new opening narration, and an opening theme, and changed the setting from Germany to Canada. (I'm still not too sure why we had this Canadian fixation, but then growing up near Detroit does expose one to a fair degree of Canadian culture.)

The conversion was pretty straightforward, needing only a paint program, a sector editor, and Muse Software's very own 'the Voice' to add in the new audio. I think we did this during the summer of 1983 but I'm not completely sure.

As indicated, the hack involved the game's audio, visuals, and text. A deafening WAV demonstrates the Smurf's trademark chant as digitized for an 8-bit computer, and screenshots show the hack's new splash screen. (Oddly, I could find no YouTube videos of Castle Smurfenstein, but Johnson does offer a disk image that works with most any emulator.)

Castle Smurfenstein

Despite the fame of this hack, it was likely not the first-ever mod, since Johnson and Nevins both document an earlier Smurf-inspired hack: Dino Eggs became Dino Smurf. A proposed third hack would've turned Sky Fox into Sky Smurf, completing the trilogy. "Unfortunately the third game only got as far as the new plot and a partial title screen before college beckoned," laments Johnson.

Still, modding has become a lucrative industry and backdoor into the gaming industry. Would it be a stretch to say the Apple II led the way?

Accessing MOD music files on the Mac

May 6th, 2010 11:37 AM
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In 2008, Geoff Weiss and I collaborated on a Juiced.GS article that described how to convert and play MOD music files on a modern computer. I was motivated by holiday memories of Christmas tunes piping out of Tony Morales' Sonobox NDA. How could I get these songs back and into a format that I can enjoy in iTunes?

The first step in the solution came from Dr. Steve Weyhrich, digital historian extraordinaire, who at KansasFest 2008 presented a session on audio preservation, during which he mentioned PlayerPRO, a music player for Mac OS X. I went home to play with the program and was thrilled to find it plays the hundreds of MOD files I'd collected on my Apple II. Converting the MODs to MP3s, as detailed in Juiced.GS, provides the added benefit of accessing them from iTunes and, thus, your iPod — but if all you want is to play them in your Mac environment, PlayerPRO can do it for you without the effort of conversion.

PlayerPRO, which was first released in 1990, was most recently updated in January 2010. I haven't explored alternatives to PlayerPRO, but whatever your operating system, there's likely to be a MOD music player available.

Once you have the software, you can find several hundred, if not thousand, MODs to play in Esprit de Apple Corps, a once-commercial product that Russell Nielson and I reclassified as freeware at the 2008 KansasFest.