Tag Archives: Apple

Reviving the 190cs and Some History

I’ve written some about my early days of gaming, days dominated first by the Atari 2600 and then the Apple II.  I have also written extensively about the era from EverQuest forward, when I was playing on a Windows machine of one sort or another.

But there is a whole middle-era that I have mostly left out, or only alluded to in passing, that involves me working and playing games on the Apple Macintosh platform.  And it was quite a big part of my evolution as a gamer.  Flashes of that have come through when I wrote about Air Warrior or when I mention things like Marathon or Bolo.  But it isn’t a topic I’ve delved into much, for reasons I will get to.  But first, some history.

Being in Silicon Valley and an Apple II enthusiast meant it was easy to keep an eye on all things Apple, including the coming of the original Macintosh.  But even though 1984 wasn’t like 1984, or so that ad told me, I wasn’t buying a Mac. (This is also why I have no Nintendo nostalgia.  Who needed a NES when you had an Apple II?)

I was still invested in the Apple II though, which had more software, did more things, and was all I needed at the time.  I played Wizardry and Ultima III and Bard’s Tale and Karatka and was happy.   Meanwhile, the original Macintosh was neat and all, but other that drawing pictures in MacPaint, there wasn’t much to it.

Time moved on, and new Mac models came out.  I used my student discount to buy my friend Kip a Mac 512Ke, but stuck with my Apple II.  Then two things happened.  First, somebody swiped a box of mine while I was moving out of the dorm at the end of the semester.  That box contained mostly Apple II disks, which cut the legs out from under my investment in the hardware.  I didn’t lose everything, but a lot of software was gone and I wasn’t going to go buy it all again.  I wasn’t even sure I could buy all of it again.

Second, as part of a group project we did a bunch of work at one person’s office.  They did all their stuff on the Mac and so I did a bunch of the writing for the project on a Mac SE with an Apple Extended Keyboard on Microsoft Word.

The Mac SE was the first model to lose the already dowdy looks of the original Mac, a look that was still present in the Mac Plus.  The new Apple Desktop Bus keyboard and mouse that came with it were a lot better than the original Mac versions.  And Microsoft Word was really good on the Mac.  I really like the WYSIWYG aspect of it.  It was light and ran well.  Add in the ability to print your documents out on one of those new laser printers and I was sold.

In early 1987 I bought a Mac SE through a contact that was able to buy at the Apple developer support prices, which probably saved me $1,500.  Computers were expensive back then.

It was a dual floppy unit, because I came from the Apple II world and having two floppy drives was freaking critical… especially if you wanted to copy disks for friends.  (I remember sitting there with the cover off of both Apple II floppy drives, adjusting the speeds of both to get them sync’d up in order to get past some particularly gnarly copy protection scheme or another.)

But I still needed a hard drive.  You couldn’t get by without that even back then, the sizes of which seem comically small by today’s standards.  A 20MB drive was a pretty common option, but I went out and spent all that money I saved on the Mac SE on a 70MB drive from Jasmine Technologies, a company I would later end up working for.

Anyway, I was committed.  My Mac era had begun, and would continue on for almost exactly a decade.  I ended up working at companies that did Mac products, even working directly with Apple on a few things.  I ran a Mac oriented BBS from 1990 to 1995, which gave me a knowledge of modems at the dawn of the dial up internet which also got me a few jobs.

But Apple was a ship without a rudder in the 90s, wandering thither and yon, unfocused and living on its past reputation.  By 1997 the place looked doomed.  Michael Dell was telling people that the company should shut down and give the stockholders the proceeds.  The startup I was working at folded up shop and I had to take what little Windows knowledge I had gained to try and find a job elsewhere.  Having Macintosh on your resume at the time was only slightly better than having McDonald’s listed.  A lot of people I knew made the transition.

A year later I had a job in enterprise software, secured largely on my rather superficial knowledge of ISDN (I was hired to work on that, then never did, moving immediately into speech technologies), and a Windows NT Desktop machine in front of me.

Since it had always been my habit to have a machine similar to my work machine at home, I swapped over to Windows there was well.  I soon had a Dell Pentium II machine set to dual boot into either Win95 or WinNT.  It wasn’t my first Windows box.  I had a 66MHz 486 a few years back just to tinker with Win95, but it was the first Windows box set to be my main machine.  Somewhere along the line I got a 3Dfx Voodoo I card… I forget now why I bought it… some game needed it I am sure… so when EverQuest came out I was ready to go.

And almost all of that Mac stuff went away.  I kept that Apple Extended Keyboard for a long time.  It just sat on a shelf, gathering dust, but it was such a good keyboard that I hated to just toss it.  I got rid of the PowerMac 8500, the last desktop Mac I owned, and the Windows compatibility cared I had borrowed from a friend at Apple so I could run ZMud when playing TorilMUD.  After using it on that other Windows machine, I had to find a way to keep using it.

Other bits and pieces disappeared over time.  The TI MicroLaser Plus laser printer stayed a bit, but it was a decade old and supplies were getting scarce.  Boxes, diskettes, CDs, and manuals of various historical value got tossed as time went on as my wife and I moved, then moved again.

Now, more than a decade on from our last move there are very few things around the house to suggest I ever had anything other than a Windows box during my career.  There are some Mac World Expo badges hanging off a peg, a couple of really old CD jewel cases with titles like Spaceship Warlock or Pathways into Darkness (early Bungie title!), or my affection for the big ball Kensington Trackball that might give it away, but not much else.  I am in a constant battle between keeping old stuff and not having my office turn into a trash heap of old crap.  So I do my own Marie Kondo thing and sift through stuff and ask myself if it brings me joy or not, which gets me to throw things out now and again.

And I have forgotten much.  I am able to go write about TorilMUD as often as I do not because I played it so much during the 90s, but because it is still there and I can get ZMud to still launch, so I can revisit and refresh old memories.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was once again going through my office and throwing things away (like a Jambalaya MRE a friend brought back from the Gulf War) and in a drawer in a dresser that is stuffed in the closet in my office I found my old Macintosh PowerBook 190cs along with the power supply… and the receipt.  I paid $1,499 for it at ComputerWare back in early 1996.

I remember having this laptop… the only laptop I have ever purchased for myself, since work has always seen fit to issue me one if they think I need one… but I didn’t know I still had it until I dug it up.

It was a curious model, straddling the 500 series and 5300 series of Apple PowerBooks.  It had the then new simpler design aesthetic (the 500 series looked like Batman’s laptop) but was powered by the 68040 processor rather than the PowerPC processors then entering the Macintosh model line.

It was the last 68K series laptop Apple produced, and the last 68K Mac I ever owned, putting it at the end of a long line that included the SE, Plus (to run my BBS at one point), SE/30, IIci, IIsi, Quadra 700, and Quadra 800.

I pulled this antique out of the drawer and set it up on my desk, uncertain if it even still worked more than 20 years after I purchased it.  I had to figure out how to turn it on.  It was part of the ADB era, when Apple put a power button on the keyboard with a symbol I had long since forgotten.  But when I figured it out, the speaker chimed and the unit spun up into life.

MacOS 7.5.2 – And Look at all that RAM!

The motherboard battery had faded years ago, so the time and date came up as midnight on January 1, 1904, the default day zero of the MacOS at that time.  I was a little concerned as to whether or not it would recognize 21st century dates, but it seemed to handle that.

Digging through the drive, I found some old apps.  There was a copy of Eudora, my favorite email app of old, probably full of notes to my girlfriend at the time, now my wife.  I used to write her emails while builds ran.  Now I just text her.

There was a copy of Claris Emailer, which I used to monitor the support account.  At a startup you have to do all the things.

There were all sorts of little utilities.  A copy of Microsoft Word 5.1a, the last good version of Word.  At that point it had achieved a fullness of features yet still fit on a 1.4MB floppy.

And in a folder titled “Games ƒ” I found… some games.  Old games.  Games from 20 years back.

Not a lot of games.  This was my work laptop after all.  But a few goodies in there that I didn’t think I still had around.  So I have something from that era to write about, old games played on era authentic hardware.

But first I want to get the PowerBook on the network so I can get some screen shots moved over.  The 190cs didn’t come with built-in Ethernet, but I had a Global Village PC Card that had both modem and Ethernet support.  However, that needed an external dongle (referred to as Clyde by the team that worked on it for reasons I do not recall) and I could not find the dongle.

But a packrat friend and former co-worker of mine had one and sent it to me. Now I just need to get it configured.  As it turns out, MacTCP from 1995 was pretty primitive.  There is, for example, no support for DHCP.  So far I’ve gotten to the point where the router sees the 190cs and has allocated it the IP address it asked for, but it cannot ping anything and cannot resolve any domain names.  Launching Netscape Navigator 4.04, the only browser installed on the unit, yields no web yet.

At least I have a bunch of network utilities in another folder.  20+ year old network utilities, but maybe they will tell me something.  We shall see.

Also found in the same drawer as the 190cs:

Recorded off the air, circa 1980

Maybe I’ll get to that later.  I do still own a car with a cassette deck.

Friday Bullet Points Gaze into the Future

Another Friday where I have a few items that I could probably force into full length posts, but I just don’t have the stamina to get there.  So I will pack them into one post.

Truth in Advertising?

There was a recent Star Citizen weekly update from RSI that seemed to unintentionally confirmed my suspicions.

It barely feels like it has been 25 years

The update itself was a lore item about some in-game entity celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the first glace at the top of the message made me wonder if they were admitting it was going to take 50 years to get where they plan to go.

Apple and OpenGL

One tidbit that came up at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference was the plan to deprecate OpenGL support with the Mojave release of the MacOS and in iOS 12.  This led to a panic about there being no more video games on the Mac.

I haven’t been to a WWDC since 1995…

OpenGL has been around for a long time and, among other things, its openess helped nVidia get in and dethrone 3dfx Interactive and their proprietary Glide API back in the day.  And deprecate doesn’t mean pulling it out wholesale.  It will still be there for a couple of years.  But if you find a problem or need an update, Apple isn’t going to help you.

Still, Apple will drop it eventually.  Past history says that will probably get announced in 2020 or so.  Apple would like you to use their Metal interface instead, and some companies have support for that on the way.  You can use Metal with World of Warcraft currently if your hardware and OS are current. (And probably should use it, as it fixes a crashing issue with WoW.)  But if you are a serious PC gamer you probably have a Windows partition on you Mac, if not a Windows machine already.

Blizzard and Diablo IV

It was noted that Blizzard had posted a job listing looking for a dungeon artist for an as yet unannounced Diablo project.  This led to a hysteria of complaints and the projection of personal feelings onto the idea.  Just Google “diablo iv” and look at the headlines. (And yes, I am going to call it Diablo IV at this point.)  Everything from “when are we going to get it?” to “Oh lord, no!” pops up.  So I figured I ought to note this as the week the controversy began.  We know nothing so far, but some people are already angry.

I for one welcome our new demonic overlords.

Despite the one-two punch of the auction house and the horrible itemization (the latter which I remain convinced was there to drive you to the auction house), Blizzard eventually got the game in order by killing the auction house and fixing itemization, making Diablo III a pretty decent game.  The “always online” bit is still annoying, but Blizz is hardly alone in demanding that.  And they have continued to tend the now six year old game, which is more than they ever did for Diablo II.  By any practical measure the game is a success and warrants a sequel. (It sold lots of copies on the PC and consoles.)

Hopefully Blizzard will run with what they have learned and stick with the roots of Diablo as the foundation for the next game rather than, say, making it a Battle Royale title or something.

Minecraft Subnautica

On a closer horizon, the Minecraft Java Edition 1.13 release, the Aquatic Update, looks to be slowly making its way to us.

Under the sea…

The update entered pre-release at the start of the week, whatever that means, so I think we should be getting the official release soon.  I have actually been avoiding our Minecraft server, knowing that I’ll want to go play when this hits.

Free Games for Amazon Prime Subscribers

In yet another benefit for Amazon Prime subscribers, you can now download any of five free games before the end of June.

Amazon Prime benefits

The games are Tumblestone, Treadnauts, Strafe, Banner Saga, and Banner Saga 2.  You need to have the Twitch client to download them (the Twitch client is what the old Curse client became when Amazon bought Curse… and Twitch) and you need to have linked your Twitch account to your Amazon account.  This sounds like a recurring deal, so there will likely be more games in the future as the Amazon Prime largess train continues on.

As an aside, the first version of this Amazon post I saw said it was six games.

Is it five or six?

However the image only shows five games and I didn’t click on the link until later, so I don’t know if there was a sixth game at one point, if a sixth game was planned but was removed and the word didn’t get out, or if it was always five games and somebody just messed up.  (h/t to Corr who first linked this to me and who had that second image handy.)

Pokemon Zygarde Download Event

Despite the impending end of Pokemon on the Nintendo 2DS/3DS, download events continue for the current core RPG titles.  During the month of June in the US you can go to your local GameStop for a download code for a shiny Zygarde.

Zygarde

This event is only for Pokemon Sun & Moon and Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon.  Instructions for claiming the legendary Pokemon are available at the Pokemon site.

Why I Didn’t Buy Your 99 Cent App

Every once in a while I run across anger or angst from developers of iOS apps about how people aren’t buying their app.  It is, after all, only 99 cents!

This is my all time champion complaint:

People are spending money at Kickstarter when they could be buying his app.  And he worked HARD on it.

The perception seems to be that people are complete cheapskates when it comes to apps for their iOS device.

There is a comic up over at The Oatmeal that illustrates this perception.

(Click on that link, or the image, to see the whole comic.)

Yes, that is exaggerating for comic effect, but it still implies that 99 cents is a barrier for people who think nothing of plonking down five bucks a day for coffee.

Oh, and expectations are too high.

Not sure what that was in reference to, but I though I would just throw that in there.  Hi Andrew!

Yet none of this rings true for me.

Price has never stood in the way of me buying an app that I really wanted.  I have some $9.99 apps on my iPad.

I don’t think I expect a lot from a 99 cent app, though clearly there is a lot of variation in how much apps at that price deliver.

Finally, I have hurled very little money at Kickstarter projects, and none of that actually has gone to video game projects.  But had I, that money hurled would not in anyway impact my iOS app buying decisions.  Attempting to make that connection seems laughable at best.

So I sat down and made a list of reasons why I might not have purchased any given app, which gave me eight bullet points, which I was able to combine down to five.

These are my reasons, and might as a whole apply just to me.  But I am going to guess that some of this list will apply to other people as well.

1 – I have never heard of it

Developers, the App Store is your biggest enemy.

This is, far and away, the most likely reason I have not bought your app.

I would like to rant about how annoying it is to browse the App Store, except that I find it annoying to browse things on the internet in general.  Amazon, Audible.com, Steam, iTunes, NetFlix and a host of other sites all seem to fail to get right the one thing a physical store can, which is to let the customer easily browse through the merchandise.

Part of it is selection; there is too much.   At a site like Amazon, which has listings for every book published in the last forty years and more, try browsing science fiction titles.  There are something like 90,000 choices at the top level.  In reality the list is smaller, because they list every edition (paperback, hardcover, audio, Kindle) separately.  But lets say I just want Kindle versions, that still leave more than 26,000 options.

I estimated once that my favorite local used book store had about 14,000 science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, which is a lot.  Yet in a physical space where I can scan whole shelves, that does not seem unmanageable.  But online, viewing in batches of 8-20 titles at a time, it is an unwieldy mess on which I quickly give up.

So for me to buy an app or a book or rent a movie, it pretty either has to show up on the front page of a search or somebody I respect has to recommend it.

The secret to success: Get Jeff Green to tweet that he likes you iOS app.  I went with him on Kingdom Rush HD and everything he has mentioned since.

2 – The price point is a red flag

Assuming I found your app on the App Store, I have to admit a bias against apps that cost only 99 cents.  My actual expectation is that your app will suck.

There appears to be so much crap at that price that my base assumption is that anything that is 99 cents is not worth my time.  This is based on my experience with apps at that price point.  If there are two similar apps that I am interested in, I will usually go with the more expensive of the two.

Looking at what is on my iPad right now, I have a bunch of apps that were $2.99-$9.99, a bunch that were free, and exactly one 99 cent app, Fancy Pants Adventures.  And for a 99 cent app, that is an awesome game.  If you think people have high expectations, maybe those expectations are being set by your competitors.

But the only reason I bought that app was because I had already played a version on the PlayStation 3.  So, again, get Jeff Green or somebody on the case to recommend your app.  Or charge more for a quality app.  I will pay more for one.

3 – The store page drove me off

Bad reviews and a low overall rating screams “pass” in my ear.  We are talking about something akin to an impulse buy, and nothing shuts down that impulse quicker that two stars and the last couple of reviews that say, “This version is totally broken!”

For a purchasing decision where reviews are mixed, I will usually go read the two and three star reviews, since those people seem most interested in communicating.  However, the App Store makes this annoying, so I just go with the overall review most times.  The App Store is your enemy.

4 – Your app appears to be an uninspired rip-off

Yes, there really is nothing new under the sun.  Everything has been done.  But if you are going to remake the same game, at least do so with some passion.  You have have to give me a hook, a reason why I should choose your app to guide a penguin/car/elf through ice floes/Manhattan/forest to help find fish/a gas station/the peace of eternal sleep.

Of course, sometimes it probably isn’t a total rip-off.  Sometimes there is a new twist.  Occasionally something new is brought to the table.  But your coding skills do not always translate well into communication skills, leaving me reading a few bland sentences that send me off to the next app.

5 – I am just picky

I do not like to have a ton of apps cluttering up my iPad.  This is often the primary reason I do not buy an app.  Once I get beyond four pages of apps on my iPad, it becomes clear that I have too many and it is time to pare down the list.

To this end, I also try to avoid cluttering up my iPad with crap in the first place.  For example, I have an app called Apps Gone Free that puts up a list daily of apps that are temporarily available for no charge.  It is a rare week if I download more than one app from the five to fifteen they list every day.  But then, a lot of the apps that show up for free are of the “99 cents and rightfully so variety” that I am already biased against.

And, finally, any app that requires me to tilt the iPad to steer a vehicle is right out.  Screw you Sonic & SEGA All Star Racing. (Also because you are really an uninspired Mario Kart ripoff.)

So What?

I realize that I may not be the ideal target market for developers making 99 cent apps.

I am old and cranky and use an iPad, which means I want full screen versions of apps, which usually costs more.  For example, Kingdom Rush is only 99 cents on the iPhone, but the HD version for the iPad is $2.99.  The same goes for what is probably my most played iPad game, Ticket to Ride, which runs $4.99 on the iPad. (And I have purchased all the DLC as well.)

On the flip side, I will gladly pay more than 99 cents for quality.  At least if I find out about it.  The App Store still sucks at just about any price point.

So how about you?  Do you buy lots of 99 cent games?

Do any of my reasons ring true for you?

Joining the Tablet Generation

In the end, it came down to my eyes no longer being able to focus on the type in your typical paper back book.

The array of ebook readers out there was not foreign to me.  Both of my parents have an Amazon Kindle.  My daughter has a Nook Color.  A friend of ours has a Kindle Fire.

But being something of a Luddite at times, I clung to books in their physical form.

Until this past summer when middle age struck again, and I ceased to be able to focus on anything within “book range” of my face without a pair of 1.25 diopter reading glasses.  Getting old sucks.

Oddly, I do not have problems with text on the computer screen and am able to read the default teeny-eyestrain-o-vision font used in EVE Online without having to blow it up into human proportions

Glasses are a pain.  I have not built up a lifetime of eyewear management like many of my family and friends.  I have to have multiple pairs of sunglasses just to ensure I can find one pair when I need them.  And even that isn’t always doable.

So an ebook reader, where one can increase the size of the type to read, seemed like an idea whose time had come for me.  But I wanted something backlit, light for reading being a rare commodity in our home, which left the standard Kindle devices off the list.  As for the Nook Color and Kindle Fire, those 7″ screens seemed a bit wee.  I like to get more than a short paragraph read per “page.”

Which left me with a muddle of Android based tablets and the iPad.

But with the holidays and money being tight, I didn’t want to face another $500 on the already potentially scary credit card bill.  So my wife managed to piece together an array of gift cards that were all redeemable at one local Target that also happened to be in a Westfield Shoppingtown mall.  I only had to pay the tax out of cash in my wallet.

So that was my post-Christmas present, a base model iPad 2.

I immediately downloaded the Amazon Kindle app for the iPad.  I have a nearly 15 year relationship with Amazon, so that seemed the best place to start.

A couple of books in, I have to say that the iPad works find as an ebook reader.

I also grabbed the Barnes & Noble app, which lets me download any books my daughter has on her Color Nook.  While all of those Warrior Cats books are not so interesting, I have been reading The Hunger Games trilogy with her.

I haven’t done anything with iBooks yet, though I see that a number of publishers have an option to buy ebooks directly that can be imported into iBooks.

Of course, with this brand new tablet, I could not just read books.  I had to get some apps.

And there are apps out there for everyone.

Everyone in the house has played with my iPad

There are lots of apps in the Apple store.  But as with iTunes… and frankly almost all online shopping… browsing is a pain.  If you know exactly what you want, you can get it, but just sifting through the lists of apps… not so much.

I refused to get Angry Birds, since I think we have that on enough devices already.  I did indulge my daughter and let her get Fruit Ninja, a game at which I am comically bad.

And there was, of course, the Games for Cats app pictured above.  A simulated laser pointed works as well as the real thing, though sometimes Trixie starts digging under the iPad when it goes off screen.

I also grabbed a few reference apps, such as the ones for NPR, BBC, PBS, WordPress, and the Internet Movie Database.  I am semi-disappointed in the lot of them, as none seem to improve much (or at all) on just using their web sites with a browser.

There was a nice EVE Online app, EVE Universe, which I grabbed.  It just shows information based on your API Key, but it looks good.

On the science front, among the many astronomy choices, I bought Celestron’s SkyQ app.  I can stand in the family room now, waving a 10″ diagonal window around, showing my daughter the sky we would be able to see if the city lights were not so bright that they blot out pretty much anything dimmer than the moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Sirius, Polaris, and Orion’s Belt.

But so far the most entertaining app I have downloaded has been the iPad version of the board game Ticket to Ride.  I actually own the physical game, but the iPad version is so good that I may never use that again.  It translate the game to the tablet very well, picks up all the minor administrative tasks, and offers solo play against bots, local play via hot swap or wireless connection, and online play against strangers. (Though, par for the course, people still disconnect the moment they are going to lose. I hate that.)  More games like this please, as opposed to the EA games which, if I read the reviews correctly, you pay for and then they pop up ads during play that obscure the game.  Nice.

I also grabbed the Rift Mobile app, which is somewhat limited in functionality, but which does give me palanarite lotto scratcher every hour, up to a maximum of six queued up, that have been helping to feed my planarite needs in the game.

And, finally, I resubscribed to NetFlix stream and have streamed some movies and TV shows to the iPad with very good success.  I have used it ala the Syp method, allowing me to watch a show and play EVE Online.

All in all, I quite like the iPad.  I have to take it away from my daughter now and again, who will sit in her room and stream Futurama if I don’t keep an eye on her.  Mostly it gets used for reading and playing Ticket to Ride.  I have hit something of a wall when it comes to apps though.  Not that I need a lot more.  But every time I use the iTunes app store, I just feel in my bones that there has to be a better way to organize and display apps.