Friday, July 1, 2022

Mass Storage and the Apple II - Conquering the Final Frontier

When we think about storage devices and the Apple II, everyone's first thought is usually the same, the 5.25" floppy disk.  Maybe the more historically informed of us may think of cassette tape or 3.5" disks or even the Apple Hard Disk 20SC, but those devices come a distant second to the mainstay of Apple II program and data storage, the 5.25" floppy disk.  When one is introduced to the Apple II, one must at least understand how floppies work on the basic level.  But what can you do when you want to go beyond the standard floppy disk to explore faster, higher capacity storage solutions.  If all software of any note was originally released on copy protected floppy disks, why bother looking for something else?  And if you want to explore, what will you need?  In this blog entry, I will try to answer these questions.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Successors: Evolution of Monochrome Handhelds after the Game Boy

When the Nintendo Game Boy was released in April/July, 1989 (Japan/North America), there was nothing like it on the market.  The Game Boy was the first programmable handheld system with sufficient capabilities to play games that were similar to the home consoles of its day.  The Game Boy was intended to be an inexpensive device, so it used a monochrome reflective green screen rather than a difficult-to-manufacture and power hungry backlit color screen like its main competitors, the Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear, NEC Turbo Express and later the Sega Nomad.  Although the Game Boy definitively ruled over the color competing systems, dominating the market until its successor, the Game Boy Color, was released in October/November of 1998, that does not mean it was the only monochrome handheld game console on the market.  Early in its lifetime it had competitors from Taiwan which tried to take away some of its market with little success.  Later, more established companies tried to get on the monochrome bandwagon, only to find that lightning does not necessarily strike twice.  Recently, as retro style gameplay experiences have found a market in the age of the Nintendo Switch, we have seen at least one or two companies try their hand at a monochrome handheld.  In this article we will trace the evolution of the consoles that tried to compete with the Game Boy or invoke its success.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Modern Unfriendliness of 8-bit Keyboard Layouts

Keyboards today have a standard layout.  All keyboards are based off the 104-key standard layout from the mid-1990s, and before that the IBM Model M 101 key layout.  But back before the IBM PC line introduced the 101 and brought uniformity to the home computer world, things were not standard at all.  Every home computer manufacturer had its ideas about what keys should be on the keyboard and where they should be.  This tends to cause some annoyances for emulating those computers, especially when the program relies on certain keys being in certain places.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

List of PCjr. and Tandy Exclusive Enhanced Games

The IBM PC computing platform supported gaming from the beginning, but at first its graphical and sound capabilities were not that much more advanced than an Apple II's. Other inexpensive home computers of the day (Atari 800, Commodore 64, TI-99/4A) could run rings around the IBM PC in the video and audio departments. IBM sought to improve its PC line's graphics and sound in an affordable system which became the PCjr., but that was a flop.  Tandy cloned the graphics and sound of the PCjr. and put it into a much more PC-compatible system, the Tandy 1000.  Between the two, the exclusive PCjr./Tandy graphics and sound hardware received wide support from game developers in the mid and late 1980s.  In this article, I will attempt to give a definitive list of games which have "better" graphica or sound on a PCjr. or Tandy 1000 due to this support or have unique video and audio support even if the game can utilize EGA, VGA, Adlib, Game Blaster or Sound Blaster or MT-32.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Mastering the Sega Master System

The Sega Master System was Sega's first major attempt to market and sell a home video game console overseas.  Its Japanese predecessors, the SG-1000, the SC-3000, the SG-1000 II, and the Mark III, were not very successful compared to Nintendo's Famicom and similarly the US release of the Master System was not very successful against Nintendo's NES.  In the European market did Sega sell more consoles than Nintendo, thanks to Nintendo's fractured distribution system and Sega's placing the Master System as a budget console.  Sega also did extraordinarily well in Brazil whereas Nintendo floundered.  In this blog entry we will go over the various issues with the Master System and why you would want one.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Baldur's Gate Version, Release and Demo History

Baldur's Gate is one of my most favorite games and has a surprisingly complex patching, release  and demo history.  I have written this blog article to help enlighten people on the version and patches available for the original game, significant physical releases and localization changes and finally the three demos of the game which were sold at some point.  I will not discuss any unofficial patches (such as the Baldurdash and Dudleyville fixpacks), engine conversions (such as BG1Tutu or Baldur's Gate Trilogy) or Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition.  

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Combat & Complexity in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

When Gary Gygax was transforming Original Dungeons and Dragons into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, one of the core components of the rules he focused on were the combat rules.  Combat was rather sketchily defined in OD&D, and that is being kind.  His priorities for the Advanced system were that combat was to have a sufficient rule structure so that one game of AD&D would play more or less the same as the next.  This was at a time when campaigns often had 35th level fighters and 26th level balrogs in the same party!  But perhaps Gygax was a little too overzealous in laying down rule after rule to govern every conceivable aspect of combat he had encountered to that time.  In this blog article we will explore some of the more obtuse rules and see how they worked in print, what may have happened in practice and how the 2nd Edition of the Rules tried to address issues with the 1st Edition.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Official Nintendo Player's Guide - Review of the First US-Based NES Game Guide

When the NES was just starting out in 1985 and 1986, there really was not a whole lot of information available about the games for the system other than TV and magazine ads and the manuals, advertisements and posters included with the games.  At the beginning of 1987, Nintendo began publishing a subscription newsletter called the Nintendo Fun Club.  Priced at $2.50 an issue and continually improving for its seven issues before Nintendo expanded the magazine to become Nintendo Power, it was one way by which Nintendo could connect with its ever-growing audience of fans and game players.  The magazine began by offering tips and previews for the latest games, but the early issues were fairly limited in their ability to provide a comprehensive look into more than one game per issue.  So Nintendo advertised a special book in its later issues of the Fun Club, The Official Nintendo Player's Guide, copyright 1987.  In this blog post I will take a look at it and its significance to Nintendo's history.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Removed or Changed References to J.R.R. Tolkien and His Works in D&D

When Dungeons and Dragons was first released, it made no secret of its many literary influences.  Authors which helped inspire the game included Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance.  One author which stood above all others in the fantasy writer canon was J.R.R. Tolkien, whose work, The Lord of the Rings, had a popularity unmatched by any other fantasy author at that time and arguably since.  

Even though Gary Gygax, the author of Chainmail (1971) and co-author of Dungeons and Dragons (1974), was not the greatest fan of Tolkien's work, he had no compunction about including certain of Tolkien's creations in his published work.  The most notable was the inclusion of Hobbits as playable troop types characters whose characteristics were described in the above-mentioned works.  Other Tolkien creations, like Balrogs and Ents, also featured in the games.  Their inclusion continued in the five D&D Supplements and the D&D Basic Set published from 1975 to 1977.  

While D&D was a small niche hobby publication, this unapproved borrowing did not attract notice, but as the popularity of D&D increased it started receiving mainstream attention.  Sometime in mid-to-late 1977 TSR, the publishers of D&D, received a letter from representatives of Tolkien Enterprises (which held the film rights) demanding they cease using Tolkien's literary creations in their products.  TSR then complied with the demand by trying to rename every instance of a Tolkien-derived name from their products and reprinting them.  But some references were thought too blatant to just handle with a name change, so the balrog and several references to Tolkien got cut from the texts.  This blog entry will try to identify every change in these works.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Dungeons and Dragons, Chainmail & Outdoor Survival - The Intersection of Wargame, Boardgame and the RPG Ur-Text

When one reads the Three Little Brown Booklets (3LBB) which constituted the first publication of the Original Dungeons and Dragons rules, several issues become apparent.  The first issue is that they are a product of their time, written by people who were charting a course into something new and whose potential they had yet to fully grasp.  The second thing is that the authors were not masters of explication, with many assumptions made of the reader which turned out to be unwarranted in many instances.  The third is that the original release of D&D does not stray far from its wargaming roots, it is said to require a copy of Chainmail to play. 

In this blog article, we will examine how much of a requirement this turned out to be and how the Chainmail rules could have and likely may have been incorporated into early D&D combat and other procedures.  At the end we will also consider how well Outdoor Survival, also mentioned in the 3LBBs, is incorporated into D&D.  Hopefully one can impart some of the challenges in trying to understand a ruleset from almost fifty years ago and how interpretation informed by experience is vital to understanding the development of the Role Playing Game.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes) Basic Set - Beginnings of the Friendly RPG

Cover to Holmes Basic Book by David C. Sutherland III

The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, released by TSR in 1977, was the first time a table top role playing game tried to break into the mainstream.  Although role playing was already a few years old at this point, it was not an approachable game for the novice even by the standards of its day.  Role Playing had evolved from wargaming and was still somewhat confined to that crowd after Original Dungeons & Dragons had been released.  One admirer of the D&D game was a physician and neurologist named John Eric Holmes.  He approached TSR and offered to consolidate the existing ruleset into something more approachable for new and younger players.  Gary Gygax accepted his assistance, as Gygax was developing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in order to move away from the unstructured nature of OD&D.  

Holmes compiled a manuscript which turned into a 48-page booklet, which was put in a colorful box with a module or supplementary dungeon building material and a set of polyhedron dice which was released in 1977 as the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set.  Intended to be only an introductory product to help players understand how to play and run an RPG, it proved to be very popular and spawned many successors.  For several years it was one of TSR's most popular products, selling upwards of 12,000 copies per month by 1980.  But is it playable today when those successors are as easy to find and buy?  Let's take a look on how Holmes' distilled OD&D and presented it as a game in comparison with the later versions of the Basic Set.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Dark Shadows - The Complete Original Series Review

Dark Shadows is a landmark of classic television, introducing the concept of a supernatural, gothic horror soap opera to daytime television.  The series ran for 1,225 22-minute episodes from 1966-1971.  While I could wax on all day about the history of Dark Shadows and its significance, and have in the past, there are other sites on the internet which can do that in a more knowledgeable manner.  Today I am hear to talk about the epitome of Dark Shadows, the Complete Original Series boxset (DS:COS) and offer my review of it.