Beta-testing Wolfenstein 3D

April 13th, 2020 1:06 PM
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Years after the last Apple II rolled off the production line, there was still a lot of commercial and shareware software being developed for the IIGS. In the heyday of the GEnie online service, I somehow fell into a group beta testers of new programs for companies such as InTrec and Seven Hills.

One developer I especially enjoyed working for was Eric "Sheppy" Shepherd. His website of eponymous SheppyWare lists many programs I got to try before they were ready for prime time, such as gsAIM, Lemonade Stand, Shifty List, and WebWorks GS.

But the beta I most enjoyed was that for Wolfenstein 3D. The port had been a long time in development, with many parties involved: id Software, Logicware, Burger Becky, and Ninjaforce, to name a few. It was Sheppy who developed and project-managed the final release of this first-person shooter that had been so popular on my friends' MS-DOS machines.

But I've never owned a desktop computer that wasn't an Apple II, so Wolf3D had been something I'd only been able to envy without playing. Gaming was my Apple II niche — I got my start with Juiced.GS writing a review of Silvern Castle — so I was eager to finally dive into the heralded game.

Wolfenstein 3D title screen

Perhaps too eager. The Apple IIGS emulator of choice for Mac OS in the mid- to late 1990s was Bernie ][ the Rescue, so I booted up Bernie on my Wall Street and promptly launched Wolf3D.

CRASH! The game failed almost immediately. I was disappointed to not get my hands on the game, but also excited to contribute to the beta-testing process. I was certain I had acted so swiftly that no one else could've yet encountered this blocker of a bug. Without checking to see if that was true, I reported back to the testing group: "Hey, it crashes Bernie!"

In my haste to submit my first bug, I had completely ignored the release notes that had accompanied this version of Wolf3D, indicating that it was incompatible with Bernie ][ the Rescue. 🤦🏼‍♂️

Just a few months later, in the summer of 1998, I attended my first KansasFest. It was my first time meeting Sheppy and my fellow beta-testers, such as Ryan Suenaga and Dave Miller. We were celebrating the successful release of Wolf3D for the IIGS earlier that year, with Sheppy hosting a post-mortem of the game's development, giving all KansasFest attendees a peek behind the scenes.

It was there, at my first KansasFest, in front of all my friends and heroes, that I was stunned to receive a certificate of acknowledgement for my significant contribution to the development of Wolfenstein 3D.

Hey, It Crashes Bernie Award

Sheppy wasn't singling out the new guy, though — every beta tester got their turn. As reported a month later by Ryan Suenaga in in The Lamp!:

Sheppy also presented the _Wolfenstein 3D Beta Tester Awards_, for those of us who had gone through the intense last few weeks of beta testing for the most eagerly anticipated Apple IIgs game in history. The history behind these awards is too long to go into here–use your imagination:

  • Dan Krass: The Web Banner Plaque of Honor
  • David Miller: The ProTERM Mac Can Do It Citation
  • Ken Gagne: The "Hey, It Crashes Bernie" Certificate
  • Kirk Mitchell: The "Boy, Is This Fast on My G3" Award
  • Ryan Suenaga: The Floppy Disk Loaner Citation of Valor
  • Tony Diaz: The Last-Minute Crisis Award of Merit
  • Tony Ward: The Custom Scenario Proponent Citation

Perhaps I should've been mortified to have had my youthful exuberance enshrined in such a public and memorable manner. But instead, I was and am grateful to Sheppy for the wonderful opportunity to test Wolfenstein 3D and for being including in his community — not only of beta testers, but of friends he could count on to take a joke. I found everything I hoped for at KansasFest 1998; it's thanks to memories like these that I've been a part of KansasFest and the Apple II community ever since.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

December 4th, 2017 9:46 AM
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I subscribe to only two monthly magazines, one of which is Game Informer. While it's not my only source for video game news, I enjoy its in-depth features on game development, previews of upcoming titles, and reviews of games I might never play.

One of those games is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, a first-person shooter and the eighth in the Wolfenstein series, released just this past October. The game follows protagonist William "B.J." Blazkowicz, introduced in 1992 in the series' original first-person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, as he sets about to free an alternate-history modern America of its Nazi rule.

I haven't played any Wolfenstein games since that 1992 title, but I was struck by this passage in Game Informer's review of the latest game:

The New Colossus does not shy away from tough themes but, on the contrary, aggressively pursues them. The 14-hour campaign tackles racism, being complicit in cruelty, executions, child abuse, despair, patricide, the holocaust, white supremacy, and terrorism. While these themes are dark, the game handles them well, giving a proper amount of drama and emotional depth to each while also refusing to offer easy answers to the questions that plague the characters’ hearts. However, this parade of tragedy is never too much to bear, because the game takes the time to throw in wacky humor, like when machines are zapping Nazis into a fine red goop while Set Roth explains to B.J. just how broken his body is. You also see heartfelt moments of romance and friendship among the crew; amongst all the murder and sorrow, The New Colossus makes room for love and hope. Where these brands of tragedy and comedy might mix as well as water and oil in other games, here they are necessary parts to making this experience work as a cohesive whole.

My first reaction was to be impressed that the game had such a strong narrative. I'm a big fan of narrative-driven games, from Life Is Strange to Gone Home, and while first-person shooters often have story, they're hardly the reason gamers play them. But it seems developer MachineGames and publisher Bethesda Softworks have nonetheless taken Wolfenstein's plot seriously. For the first time in 25 years, I find myself wanting to play a Wolfenstein game.

My second reaction was to laugh at the absurdity of the juxtaposition of such a strong narrative with incredibly violent gameplay. The New Colossus is rated 'M' by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for reasons that include plot and narrative but which focus primarily on the action: "Combat is frenetic, with realistic gunfire, explosions, screams of pain, and large blood-splatter effects. Some weapons allow players to blow off enemies' heads or cut off their limbs; cutscenes sometimes show decapitations and/or acts of disembowelment." It is no doubt this gratuitous violence, not the "heartfelt moments of romance and friendship", that will attract most gamers.

My third reaction was disbelief at how far the Wolfenstein franchise has come. Although it may have achieved mainstream popularity with its 3D incarnation in 1992, the series was founded in 1981 by Silas Warner's Castle Wolfenstein, a 2D, top-down stealth game. Did Warner ever expect that his humble program would evolve to "make room for love and hope"? Would he see any of his genetic code embedded in this descendant? What would he think of The New Colossus?

It's impossible to say: the first and latest Wolfenstein games are so far removed from each other at this point as to share only a name and general anti-Nazi theme, such that Warner may see only a passing resemblance. But as a gamer, I'm heartened that the Apple II has made possible such a prominent, highly anticipated, and well-received entry in the modern gaming landscape. Whether or not most gamers realize it, our lineage persists.

Retro games as iPod wallpaper

October 14th, 2013 10:47 AM
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This summer, I bought an iPod. It was the first iPod I'd bought in eight years, during which time the product had evolved quite a bit. No longer just an MP3 player, this iOS device allows for unparalleled customization in terms of software functionality and layout, both of which can be used to manifest its owner's love for classic Apple.

Juiced.GS has reviewed plenty of games that appeal to Apple II enthusiasts, but I rarely play games on mobile devices. However, I do see the lock screen on my iPod every time I pull it out of my pocket. That seemed the best place to remind myself of my iPod's roots. I had iPhoto automatically set to sync any assets used in the Juiced.GS 2013 wall calendar, but calendars are formatted for landscape images, and the iPod's lock screen is portrait only. A quick Google search for Apple II games produced some additional art.

Here then is my gallery of what vintage Apple II games look like as iPod lock screens:

Although I prefer the aesthetic of the Karateka screen, I like the juxtaposition of the Wolfenstein screenshot. Slide to unlock? Better hope your phone doesn't explode!

What's on your iPod?

Presenting the Apple II

May 5th, 2011 5:55 AM
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Last Wednesday, I delivered the final presentation of my graduate student career. The course was in the theater education department of Emerson College, and the subject was non-profit grant-writing. Most of my classmates knew as much about theater as I do about computers, so I enjoyed the opportunity to be the most technically literate person in the crowd. Nonetheless, it also made me constantly mindful of my audience when presenting information.

My presentation was on the need to preserve the history of KansasFest. I started off with a brief overview of how Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded the company in their garage in 1977, with titles such as Oregon Trail and Visicalc making the machine a success in educational and business markets alike. I then traced the lineage that modern software owes to the Apple II by putting up a slide of the first-person shooter Call of Duty, which is derived from Wolfenstein 3D, which in turn was based on the Apple II game Castle Wolfenstein.

Most of the students recognized at least one of these titles, so by playing to their familiarity, I was able to keep them engaged — though one student seemed more enraptured than even I expected, with a face-splitting grin on her face at the screenshot of Castle Wolfenstein. I asked her later if she'd played that game. "No, but I grew up with King's Quest, so to see an old game like that was great," she enthusiastically replied. Ah! A retrogamer in the crowd. I followed up by emailing her a link to AGD Interactive.

KansasFest 2006 presentation

Watch as Ken presents the hell out of the Apple II.

The rest of the presentation went smoothly, due I believe in part to my M.O. when planning such events: I use as little text as possible. More often, my presentations could be better described as slideshows. Besides the fact that I'm a visual learner, I also didn't want to bore people by reading text off slides or by burying them with facts, statistics, and graphs that I may find interesting but which they do not. With a photo or screenshot, they can quickly absorb a visual complement to my speech without distracting them as they try to interpret the media.

The Q&A section was brief. One person asked if Apple Inc. still has an involvement in the Apple II and would be interested in participating in the preservation and continuation of KansasFest. Without trying to explain the Apple II downloads page of Apple.com, I told her that yes, Apple used to come to this event, but they hadn't been seen since my first year attending in 1998. Another student asked a question tangential to my proposal: have we figured out a way to put the Apple II online? In this, I momentarily forgot my audience by replying, "Sure — we've had dial-up modems since they were 300 baud." A few shrugs indicated that this reference was lost to them, so I moved on: "There is an Ethernet card for the Apple II, and just last week, I put the Apple II in my cubicle on the company network. Now I just need to install the Twitter client … It's pretty slick," I added, to their laughter.

Overall, it was a fun evening, especially since I was presenting on a topic I'm both knowledgeable and passionate about. I don't get many chances to present about the Apple II outside KansasFest, so to let my inner geek proudly shine — and, I hope, get an 'A' for it — was a great sendoff to my time at Emerson.

Castle Wolfenstein painting for auction

February 14th, 2011 10:38 AM
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Growing up with the Apple II, I enjoyed the computer more as a games machine than anything else. Sure, punching numbers into Visicalc or writing short stories in Apple Writer can be fun, but not so captivating to a five-year-old's imagination as Choplifter or Lode Runner.

One game that made an impression like no other was Castle Wolfenstein. Eleven years before its 3D successor, this Apple II game was spouting synthesized German at players as they made their way through a Nazi stronghold. I would wake up Saturday mornings before the rest of my family to play this game, and to have the pre-dawn silence suddenly broken by a stormtrooper bursting into the room and screaming at me was nerve-wracking. Castle Wolfenstein and Silent Hill are the only games that have made me so scared, I wanted to turn off the system. It's a powerful legacy for its late creator, Silas Warner, to have left.

Now, a piece of that history is up for auction. The box art for Castle Wolfenstein was based on an original painting which is currently listed on eBay. Here are the details:

Castle Wolfenstein paintingThis is the original painting by John D. Benson used as the cover for Muse Software’s 1981 game “Castle Wolfenstein” – the game that inspired id Software’s “Castle Wolfenstein 3D”! Castle Wolfenstein is the first in the genre of stealth-based computer games. Created by Muse software, it was available on the Apple II, DOS, Atari 8-bit family and the Commodore 64.

[The piece is for sale by Walter Costinak, who] was an incredibly successful video-game web designer, having created sites for id Software, Activision, Ritual Entertainment and many more. About nine years ago he bought this painting on eBay for his personal collection from someone who had acquired all the art from Muse's assets.

The original artist has contact me to let me know the painting is done with Alkyd Oils, not watercolor.

The dimensions of the piece (including matte and frame) are 27 1/4 inches by 23 1/4 inches. Also included are the original C64 manual and game disk (NOTE: disk slipcover is *not* original, and I don’t know if the disk still works).

Proudly show off the retro gaming geek that you are and hang this is your home, office, boardroom, or subterranean lair! Good luck on your bidding, schweinhund!

Although the artwork itself may not be a masterpiece, its historical value is at least that of its current bid, which at the time of this writing hasn't increased from $305 in the last 48 hours. I'll be watching this auction with more than a passing interest. Best of luck to all bidders!

(Hat tip to Andy Chalk)