Ready Player One's Richard Garriott inspiration

June 11th, 2018 1:01 PM
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Ready Player One was my favorite novel of 2011, providing a dystopian cyberpunk adventure targeted at geeks who grew up immersed in 1980s pop culture. I've since recognized the book's problematic elements with gatekeeping, transphobia, and fan service without substance … yet I still can't help but be fascinated by all the elements author Ernest Cline wove into his narrative.

With Ready Player One's recent adaptation to film, audiences are discovering anew the Oasis, the fictional virtual world created by James Halliday (played by Sir Mark Rylance), a virtuoso computer programmer who sets himself up as the massively multiplayer online role-playing game's benevolent (but absent) god. Many of Halliday's (and thus Cline's) favorite games make appearances in Ready Player One, and in this new WIRED interview, Cline details each and every game in the movie — with one in particular being of interest to Apple II users.

Turns out one of the Apple II's own played a major role in the story:

Akalabeth is one of the first attempts by a computer programmer to translate the experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons into a computer game. It was created by Richard Garriott, who also helped serve as the inspiration for James Halliday. Richard Garriot is a famous video game designer from Austin, Texas, where I live, who has an alter-ego: his Dungeons & Dragons and game avatar called Lord British. He would dress up as Lord British in public at press events and things. He eventually ended up using his video-game money to travel into space and go on the International Space Station. He was really an inspiration to me as like a geek with unlimited funds and what could be accomplished. So he and Howard Hughes helped inspire James Halliday in my book. And his game, Akalabeth, and the games that followed it: Ultima I, II, III, IV, and then Ultima Online, the first MMO, those all helped inspire the Oasis in my novel.

While Garriott was directly referenced in the book, I didn't pick up any mentions in the movie. Little did I know that an entire, integral character was based on Lord British himself!

(Hat tip to Hades Kong via WTF Dragon)

An Apple II appearance in Beep!

February 13th, 2017 12:48 PM
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I have a growing collection of documentaries in my watch queue, many of them springing from Kickstarter. If I see a topic I like, I can't help but throw $15 at it — especially if it'll get me a digital copy of the movie, years down the road.

Such is the case with Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound. This movie, crowdfunded in 2014, chronicles the evolution of audio composition technology in the interactive entertainment industry, featuring interviews with composers for such classic games as Marble Madness. A variety of hardware platforms and sound processors are featured, especially the Commodore 64 and its infamous SID chip — but disappointingly, at no point did I hear mention of the Apple II.

But I did see it! In two scenes, the narrators' commentary is overlaid with B-roll footage of convention-goers (perhaps at MAGFest?) using classic computers. At 25:19, the machine on-screen is very obviously an Apple IIGS, though the exact software being demoed is indeterminable; minutes later, at 32:44, an Apple RGB monitor — perhaps the same one previously featured, but from a different angle — can be seen in the background.

Playing an Apple IIGS in Beep documentary

Apple IIGS monitor in background of Beep documentary

Given the breadth and depth that Beep set out to cover, it's unsurprising that they wouldn't have the opportunity to focus on our favorite retrocomputer. But the Apple IIGS's Ensoniq chip was one of the platform's hallmark features, warranting acknowledgement right in the model's name — the 'S' stands for "sound", after all. At least it had its cameo.

For more opinion about Beep, read my review on Gamebits.

An Apple in Christmas Vacation

January 9th, 2017 8:54 PM
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This holiday season, I revived a long-dormant tradition of watching one of my favorite Christmas movies: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. There are at least six movies in this franchise, but I've seen only Christmas and Las Vegas, with Christmas being my favorite by far.

Even though I haven't seen the original film in the series, that being 1983's Vacation, I'm aware that it featured a computer contemporary to that era: the Apple II. Clark Griswold used the household computer to plot the family's trip to Wally World, establishing a route only slightly less harrowing than the Oregon Trail:

No classic computer was featured so prominently in the succeeding Vacation films — but, despite having seen Christmas Vacation dozens of times, it was nonetheless hiding an Easter egg I'd never discovered.

One of the highlights of the film comes near the end, when Clark Griswold finally loses his cool and flips out, unleashing a torrent of epithets at his boss:

But, hey — what's that in the background?

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Enhance!

Apple Macintosh Plus

Why, it appears that, by 1989, the Griswold family had upgraded to an Apple Macintosh Plus! Having not been a Mac owner before 1997, I didn't recognize this model, but the reliable website Starring the Computer had the details. This must be the computer that many of my friends reference as their "first Apple II — you know, the one built into the monitor." (sigh)

I would've preferred to see that Clark had upgraded to an Apple IIGS… but still, knowing that he at least stuck with the Apple brand makes me appreciate one of my favorite films just a little bit more.

(Thanks to NMRJess's eagle eyes for spotting this!)

The Terminator runs on 6502

July 18th, 2016 12:48 PM
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Apple II user Rino Mardo recently shared on Facebook a scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Terminator. This 1984 classic with Arnold Schwarzenegger stars a T-800 Model 101 cybernetic organism sent from the future to assassinate Sarah Connor. Despite a nuclear holocaust and the rise of sentient artificial intelligence, Skynet, the computer that created the T-800, still relied on proven, pre-apocalyptic technology to design its chrono-displaced robot: its CPU is a 6502, running assembly programming published in Nibble Magazine.

The Terminator

This Easter Egg isn't news: it was already well-known by the Apple II community even before Nibble founding editor David Szetela mentioned it during his KansasFest 2007 keynote speech. I then wrote about it a few months later in a blog post for Computerworld, a job I started just a few months before Szetela's speech.

The Terminator is one of only many movies that the Apple II has graced with an appearance. Starring the Computer, James Carter's impressive database of computers in movies, lists every Apple II model and the movies and television shows in which is featured. It includes such notable titles as TRON (which turned 34 this month), Hackers (reviewed in Juiced.GS in June 2006), Explorers, Kindergarten Cop, and Lost.

Although that filmography extends to films as recent as Iron Man, the Apple II's modern cinematic career is mostly limited to historical coverage — such as Welcome to Macintosh, the 2008 documentary reviewed in Juiced.GS and now available to view in full for free online.

What are some of your favorite Apple II cameos on the silver screen?

Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs

October 26th, 2015 9:01 AM
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The third Steve Jobs film in two years opened nationwide this past Friday. Having just seen the Steve Jobs documentary last month, I wasn't inclined to consume more history of Apple's co-founder — not to boycott his deification or the potential misrepresentation of Steve Wozniak, but due to an oversaturation of the topic.

In fact, this past August, I emailed my freelance employer, Computerworld, to ask which they wanted me to review: the documentary, or the drama? They responded with the former. I assumed this was because every media outlet was going to review the Michael Fassbender movie, whereas the documentary was more likely to fly under the radar; Computerworld could stand out by being one of the few sites to cover it.

Then they emailed me this month to ask that I review the Fassbender film anyway, with the thinking being that, if everyone else is reviewing it, Computerworld would be remiss to not also do so. I guess it works both ways: if no one is doing it, you should; and if everyone is doing it, you should!

My review was published last week, but here's a summary: of the three films, Steve Jobs is the least historically accurate — and the most enjoyable. I was surprised how much I liked it, though I think it helped that I knew not to expect it to be true to life. For example, the character Seth Rogen plays is not Steve Wozniak — but he is a good character who serves a narrative purpose and drives the plot forward. It's a good story, and a good movie.

Seth Rogen admitted that, despite meeting and studying the real Woz, the script made any adherence to Woz's personality almost impossible:

… the character wasn’t really written that much in the voice of the actual Steve Wozniak, in my opinion. I think the themes are real to Steve Wozniak, the things he cared about, but the way he presents those ideas and the way he literally just interacts with people, from what I see, it’s not an incredibly realistic interpretation.

The cinematic and actual Wozes recently appeared together on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where they played the game "True Confessions". Woz, Rogen, and Fallon each wrote a truth and a lie about themselves: one was then chosen at random and shared with the other players, and they had to guess if it was the truth or the lie. Woz went last, with his turn starting at 6:11 in this video:

They obviously had fun playing this game — just as I enjoyed Rogen's spin on Woz.

Look for Eric Shepherd's review of Steve Jobs in the December 2015 issue of Juiced.GS.

(Hat tip to Seth Sternberger)

Michael Fassbender is Steve Jobs

July 6th, 2015 11:50 AM
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Can we have too many books and movies about Steve Jobs? Apparently not, as this October 9, the titular Steve Jobs hits theaters, with its first full trailer having been released last week:

Compared to an earlier teaser trailer, this look at Steve Jobs gives Michael Fassbender plenty of screen time in the title role. We see plenty of the ego and cruelty that often characterizes Steve Jobs; in that sense, Fassbender seems to be playing the role to a tee. But even critics of the 2013 film Jobs can likely agree that Ashton Kutcher looked much more the part than Fassbender does.

(Personally, I've never seen Fassbender in any role other than Magneto, so this will be a stretch for me.)

Aaron Sorkin was originally reported to be writing this film based on Isaac Walterson's biography but with only three scenes, which seemed awfully limiting. According to Esquire's story — which has a great headline: "Steve Jobs Is a Tech Visionary, Total Dick in the Steve Jobs Trailer" — the film is instead "structured around three Apple product lunches [sic]", which seems more reasonable. Spanning the eras will afford us the opportunity to see Jobs' maturation (or lack thereof) as a person and leader.

Some Apple II enthusiasts are already decrying this film for casting Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak. But if Woz has as small a role here as he did in Jobs, then it's likely not to matter — besides, even Woz himself says a bit of fiction makes for good cinema. So, as before, I'll be seeing this film — will you?

(Hat tip to Angela Watercutter)