Archive for the Category ◊ General ◊

14 Oct 2013 Micro-design Can Give Mega-results
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I’ve had the opportunity in the past couple of weeks to listen to two podcasts in which game designers were interviewed. (I recommend you listen, also – ANTIC, The Atari 8-Bit Podcast #4 has an interview with Chris Crawford, who wrote games for the Atari 2600, Commodore PET, and Atari 400/800; No Quarter classic arcade podcast #52 has an interview with Brian Collin, who helped create the arcade game Rampage.) It brought back to mind similar stories like the making of Wolfenstein 3D for the Apple IIGS. In all of these situations the programmers had a limited space in which to do their work. They were limited in graphics abilities or limited in memory, or both, and yet they managed to create (or duplicate) games that were considered to be state-of-the-art in their day.

It brings to mind the problem on modern computers with what has been called “bloatware” – code that is large, takes up a lot of space in memory or storage or both, and often does only a little more than its predecessors.

The advantage of the small memory footprint and simpler processors in the micros of the 1970s and 1980s is that it was necessary to write compact, efficient code. The graphics had specific limitations that had to be honored. These programmers had to come up with tricks to get around those limitations, to push the boundaries to achieve the desired effect.

The programmers mentioned in the above three examples sometimes had to buck the accepted knowledge that said what they wanted to do was not possible. Brian Collin overcame memory limitations on Rampage by re-using the graphics layout for one of his monsters to create another one. Eric Shepherd had to almost re-invent how the graphics of Wolfenstein 3D were implemented in the Apple IIGS, in order to make it work. And Chris Crawford, like all who made games for the Atari 2600, had a tiny memory footprint in which to put the game itself as well as its graphics.

This limitation did not only apply to games. AppleWorks’ creator Rupert Lissner created memory management techniques that made a 64K or 128K computer and made it look like a much larger computer.

With modern computers, the programmer has exponentially more power available in which to implement his vision. The advantage is the ability to create things that could not happen in a classic microcomputer or game system. The disadvantage can be wasted resources and processor cycles. The programmer does not necessarily have to be efficient; he has a lot of space in which to work, and the operating system can take up the slack.

I have always maintained that Apple’s neglect of the Apple II platform actually resulted in the hardware being pushed to its full limits in ways that would not have been possible if they had taken the proper approach and evolved it, rather than continuing to invent successors. I admire and applaud the programmers who found their way around the limitations of the Apple II and were able to bend it to their will.

12 May 2013 Bell & Howell: Not Just Black
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Every so often, a new bit of Apple II trivia comes my way. I was recently sent a message asking about whether Bell & Howell had made a beige version of its computer. David Bohrman had pictures of this, and informed me so. I asked for some clarification, and he kindly sent me several pictures (which I have placed in the photo Museum here).

With further photos, Bohrman discovered that what he had was a product made by Bell & Howell for their black Apple II computer that made it more useful for schools, but one that had been made to match the color of a standard beige Apple II.

Beige Bell & Howell backpack: in place on an Apple IIe

This backpack was actually a great add-on to the Apple II, and would have been a good device for Apple to have included as an option to sell to customers. As uncommon as this item is, I suspect that Bell & Howell did not sell too many.

Beige Bell & Howell backpack: media plugins

This shows the media plugins on the left (as seen from the back).

Beige Bell & Howell backpack: power controls

And this is the power center on the right side.

See the entry in the Museum for a couple more pictures. Thanks to Mr. Bohrman for this interesting bit of history!

20 Feb 2013 Retrocomputing Mania!

The year 2013 is shaping up to be one in which there will be a bumper crop of retrocomputing goodness happening. The event I am most familiar with is KansasFest 2013, the 25th annual such event. Our keynote speaker will be Randy Wigginton, one of Apple’s early employees and significant in the early improvements to the Apple II. The committee has released the logo for the event, and will hopefully be open for registration soon.

kfest-2013-logo

But wait! There’s more!

If you live in the southeastern part of the United States (or even if you don’t and you don’t mind a bit of travel), the Vintage Computer Festival Southeast 1.0 (VCFSE) will be held in the Atlanta area on April 20 and 21, 2013. This event is hosted by the Atlanta Historical Computing Society and the Computer Museum of America. One of the featured speakers is Robert Tinney, who created the cover illustrations for many issues of BYTE magazine. Also at the VCFSE will be the Apple Popup Museum, an exhibit tracing the history of Apple Computer and its products, from the days of the Apple-1 to the present.

If you can make it, this event will be well worth it!

VCFSE 1.0 small

01 Jan 2013 The Final Year of Resource Central
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Looking through my archives of material, I found some items that I’ve never seen online anywhere else. The text of Open-Apple and A2-Central is available in a couple of places, but no one has posted PDFs of the newsletter Ahs that was released during 1994 as the organization tried to transition itself into the failing Apple II world.

AhsOn this page in my Files (downloads) section, there are five PDF files from this year. There is a single issue of the ICON Beacon from January 1994, introducing the organization; there are three issues of Ahs, for Spring, Summer, and Autumn 1994, and finally there is the Spring 1994 issue of the Resource Central catalog, which was advertising the new ICON organization.

 

In a separate section in the Files section I have also included a scan of the January 1989 issue of the GEnie Livewire magazine. This can be found here.

GEnie Livewire