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!

Steamed Apples at KansasFest 2016

August 1st, 2016 7:06 PM
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I love presenting at KansasFest. Speaking at such an esteemed gathering of Apple II aficionados reaffirms that I nonetheless have something to contribute to this community, despite not having extensive knowledge of Apple II hardware or software.

In brainstorming this year's presentation, I emailed KFest schedulemeister Andy Molloy for ideas. He suggested:

How about something like "10 influential Apple II games" and then you talk about them, demo them and show how they are cool. There's certainly a segment of the audience (i.e., me) who loves to watch old Apple II games, which is why I liked Bruce's stuff. Or something like "here are 10 Apple games that were later remade on modern systems".

It was a great idea — so great, that it'd already been done: I presented "Classic Gaming Inspirations" at KansasFest 2009 and "Classic Gaming Inspirations, Part Deux" in 2010. In each, I demoed modern games for Mac, PC, and iOS that were reminiscent of classic Apple II games. Despite being a familiar theme, I enjoyed giving those talks and felt that enough time had passed, so I decided to dust off the theme for 2016.

This year's constraint: all the games had to be available for Steam, the digital distribution platform for games. And they had to be available for Mac, PC, and Linux. Fortunately, even given these limitations, I was not wanting for ideas, as I'd discovered many such games through IndieSider, my biweekly podcast where I interview indie game developers. Most KFesters know my podcasting efforts in the vintage computing realm, specifically on Open Apple and the Retro Computing Roundtable, but were not aware that I host gaming podcasts as well. It was fun to share this other side of myself with the audience.

Here are the Apple II genres and games I started with and the Steam games in which a modern gamer might find an echo of the past.

GenreClassic gameSteam gameIndieSider?
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateShadowgateYes
Point and Click (First Person)ShadowgateRead Only MemoriesYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKing's QuestNo
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestKathy RainYes
Point and Click (Third Person)King's QuestThe Blackwell LegacyNo
SurvivalOregon TrailOrgan TrailNo
PlatformDangerous DaveVVVVVVNo
PlatformDangerous DavePlangmanYes
PlatformImpossible MissionMaster SpyYes
ActionPac-ManPac-Man 256Yes
RPGWastelandWastelandNo
RPGWastelandWasteland IINo

Thanks to Jason Scott's speedy turnaround, a video of the presentation is already available online:

I had so many games in mind for this year's talk that I had to keep many in reserve. Expect to see more Steam games at KansasFest 2017!

Shadowgate revisited

November 5th, 2012 3:37 PM
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I love Kickstarter. There's something about playing a role in helping artists realize their dreams that's empowering for all parties involved. And as Jason Scott pointed out in Juiced.GS, the small amounts that backers pay can make the difference between something existing and something not.

For retrocomputing enthusiasts, Kickstarter further represents the potential to resurrect many of the elements of our youth. We grew up playing electronic games on personal computers, many of them in franchises that have seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to crowdfunding. Now we can revive yet another one with this latest pitch:

Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs, formerly of ICOM and now of Zojoi, look to reimagine their classic point and click adventure, Shadowgate. Rather than a direct sequel, this version of Shadowgate will update the old puzzles as well as implement many ideas Marsh and Roelofs have had while designing and porting Shadowgate over the years. The new game will also include both an original soundtrack as well as Hiroyuki Masuno's NES composition.

They've set a modest goal of only $120,000 — heck, that's half as much as some cancelled old-school games get on Kickstarter. They met half their goal within the first week of their one-month fundraising term — and since 90% of Kickstarter projects that achieve at least 30% funding prove successful, this progress bodes well!

The most popular reward is the typical $15 for the Mac or PC version, though if you want a tablet edition, that'll cost you $60. Unless you want your name included in the game's end credits, a better deal is to wait for the game's release before buying it for iOS or Android.

Shadowgate, set in a fantasy world of dragons and magic, was one of my first encounters with the genre when it was ported from MacVenture's 1987 Mac version to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). I revisited it on the Game Boy Color a decade later and am hard-pressed to justify the low score I gave it. In 2006, I played the GBC game again, this time on the big screen, courtesy the GameCube's Game Boy Player adapter. I and a friend who was new to computer and video games had a great time spending several hours discovering the solutions to the mystical puzzles we encountered. Remembering that happy experience, I've gladly become a Kickstarter backer of the new Shadowgate.

Looking to explore the Shadowgate world around this game? I have fond memories of the young adult novel, Before Shadowgate — but can we pretend the game's TurboGrafx sequel, Beyond Shadowgate, never happened? Instead, check out Maelstrom's Mansion, a free online adventure that's as unforgiving in its deaths as Shadowgate ever was.

You've played the game — now wear the shirt!

UPDATE: In the creators' AMA on Reddit (they answered my question), they acknowledge that there are free, Java-based versions of Shadowgate. Want to play the original? Check it out online!

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?