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Classic Games (Games) Businesses Apple

The History of the Apple II as a Gaming Platform 310

Matt Barton writes "Gamasutra is running a feature on the venerable Apple II platform, which practically defined the early home computer industry and was home to many of the greatest games and developers of all time. The authors discuss the platform's lifespan and many iterations, struggles with illegal distribution, and legendary Apple II games such as Prince of Persia, John Madden Football, and Ultima. 'How big of a problem was piracy? Although several software authors claim that they stopped developing games because of rampant piracy and the subsequent loss of revenue, piracy did expose more computer owners to more games than they otherwise would have been -- this was at a time before ubiquitous demos made it easier to "try before you buy." Another benefit of this piracy is that much of the software archived today at online repositories are the cracked versions.'"
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The History of the Apple II as a Gaming Platform

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  • Crisis Mountain, Lode Runner, BoulderDash, Choplifter
  • The good old days (Score:5, Informative)

    by eviloverlordx ( 99809 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:27PM (#22249400)
    That brings back memories of junior high school, and playing cracked versions of various arcade games (complete with signature opening screens) on the school's Apple //e machines. Not to mention 'hacking' the 5-1/4 SS floppies to get cheap DS usage. While today's games are certainly graphically superior, in many ways they've gotten to be somewhat pedestrian compared to the excitement of playing Dig Dug or Conan on the green monitors.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smokytgab ( 1062510 )
      I actually just finished getting a working one together and giving to my girlfriend and her suitemates. It defined a lot of elementary childrens' computer experiences and was actually my first computer as well. Even when I was looking up various information on how to get the various disk images onto 5 1/4 floppies (great program []), it amazed me how open and extendable the Apple ][ was. There are still small companies that make various expansion cards for things such as Ethernet
      • by Hatta ( 162192 )
        I actually just finished getting a working one together and giving to my girlfriend and her suitemates.

        Big mistake. Now she's not going to have to come over to your place to get her Apple ][ fix. She'll probably end up spending all her weekends in her basement hacking and you'll never get laid again.
      • by hitmark ( 640295 )
        send of a thanks to woz for the openness. after he walked out of day to day work at apple, its been going downhill in terms of openness...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sebastopol ( 189276 )
      Locksmith 3.0 FTW!
      • I remember the wannabe 'hackers' in my high school who thought they were elite (though I'm unsure whether that term was in usage back then) because they had Locksmith and a parameter list.

        I remember wandering the halls during some stupid 'pep rally' or something (actually I think it may have been an awards ceremony for the senior class), and getting stopped by a teacher and asked why we weren't there. We showed her our boxes of disks and mumbled something about 'doing computer stuff' and she let us go...
    • by Captain Splendid ( 673276 ) * <[capsplendid] [at] []> on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:40PM (#22249612) Homepage Journal
      in many ways they've gotten to be somewhat pedestrian compared to the excitement of playing Dig Dug or Conan on the green monitors.

      It occurs to me the reason we don't excited about games the way we did when we first played Pong, or messed around with early Apples and C64s is because back then, this was all cutting-edge stuff and very non-mainstream. We were doing cool shit that almost nobody else knew about. In the days before the NES and Sega Master system, I could count people I knew who played videogames on one hand.

      Nowadays, everybody and his cousin owns at least a couple piece of hardware able to play games, even if it's just a low-spec PC and a cellphone, and most games tend to basically be point releases, incremental upgrades designed to suck up your spare cash, not try anything new.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nacturation ( 646836 )
        Maybe this is just nostalgia talking, but a lot of games back then were just plain fun. I recently dug out my Apple IIc and was amazed that a lot of my floppies still worked. After playing a few games, they seem to have a character that's lacking in today's games. That's likely a reflection of your last point as well... the games today are just all rehashes. Most first person shooters are simply the same game engine with a new graphics and sound facelift.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fermion ( 181285 )
      The cool thing was that every thing was a game on the Apple. Shape tables made programming games relatively easy. Disk Muncher should have probably been on the controlled substances list as it was the gateway drug to what is now referred to as piracy. Even trig function took on a whole new meaning when manipulated on an Apple.

      The programming in particular was transformative. I already had opportunities to code in basic and Fortran on teletypes and dumb terminals. The graphics on the Apple were fascin

  • FTA (Score:2, Troll)

    Nevertheless, Woz, a fan of both Atari arcade games and engineering challenges, came to his friend's rescue. He completed the bulk of the work in about four days, with an efficient design that used far fewer chips than any other Atari arcade game at the time. Atari's engineers were impressed and Jobs received a nice payout and bonus --most of which he kept for himself. Breakout would become another arcade hit for Atari.

    Turns out, Woz is also behind most of the stuff that Apple pumps out these days. And of course, Jobs keeps the cash.

  • Let's not forget... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ivanmarsh ( 634711 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:30PM (#22249442)
    The original Castle Wolfenstein.

    Achtung! Damn exploding treasure chests. []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lord_mike ( 567148 )
      Or it's successor, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein!


      AUS PASS?

      AUS PASS?

      *fires shot*


      The best part of the games was, of course, the speech synthesis, which was revolutionary at the time. The games were creatively designed and a lot of fun, though. The only really annoying thing about both the games is when you run into a wall, and the screen totally flops out! I don't understand why that was considered to be a "feature".

      Man, this article is bringing back memories!
    • I remember listening for that damned lockpick noise on wolfenstein while being shot at by Nazi's... ah, the glory of an Apple childhood.
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:33PM (#22249498) Journal
    It's an Apple ][ - those brackets are absolutely necessary. Trust me.

    Now get off my lawn, and don't come back until you can code in 6502 machine language hex codes - I don't want any of you assembly language sissies hanging around here.

    • Remember how we used to laugh at 6502c coders who couldn't make the box squawk on a 6502 - 8086 and 8088 chipsets were lame, and we thought nothing of popping open a Timex-Sinclair to get at the board and probe it.

      Ah, hex. A1B2C3D4E5. F!

    • In those days I liked to go into a store that was selling Apple ][ machines and type in a short program in hex codes that printed a random character to the screen and clicked the speaker, in a tight loop, so the screen would fill with scrolling garbage while the machine emitted a buzzing sound.

      I feel bad about it now.
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 )
      Hex? Meh, over on the C64 and Vic 20 we spent the day coding in decimal.
    • by Nimey ( 114278 )
      Much as how correctly writes C=64.
    • My reply (Score:3, Funny)

      by ToastyKen ( 10169 )
      A946 9900 00A9 6999 0001 A972 9900 02A9 7399 0003 A974 9900 04A9 2199 0005

      (I think that should print "First!", but my 6502 machine code is rusty. :\)
  • My #1 game (Score:2, Interesting)

    by caywen ( 942955 )
    Aztec all the way, baby! That game was fun *because* of the bugs. I loved walking the Indiana Jones dude on top of the water, on top of alligators, and using grenades to create garbled spider sprites running around. Sea Dragon was a kick, too.. SEEEAAAA DRAGOOON! Speaker modulation on the Apple IIe done right.
  • Favorite emulator... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:37PM (#22249570)
    I'm curious how many got into programming because of ...

      * "I wonder how this game works..." or
      * "How do I remove the copy protection..."
      * "How do I cheat..." ;-) The 6502 was a nice CPU where one person could not only memorize all the opcodes, but understand the whole machine.

    I'm a little biased *cough*, but there is a a half-decent emulator (with mockingboard support) available at

    Gaming genres were defined in the '80s. I would highly recommend checking these out:

    * Anything by Br0derbund! (Lode Runner, Drol, Spare Change, Captain Goodnight, Carmen Sandiago)
    * Ultima series
    * Anything by the "Beagle Bros" for just plain hacking fun

    • On behalf of the Ministry of Truth and the entire loyal Ultima fan base, Ultima IX never happened. It is an un-game. Please update your records accordingly.
    • My brain hurts! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tony ( 765 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @03:22PM (#22250302) Journal
      Anything by the "Beagle Bros" for just plain hacking fun

      Ah! That took me back so fast, my brain is whiplashed. Painful.

      I loved the Beagle Bros. They had some of the *coolest* hacks. I learned more about the Apple system from them than from anywhere else. Between Beagle Bros and the Sweet-16 mini-assembler (no more hand assembling! yes!), the Apple ][ was the *greatest* platform for budding programmers.

      When people claim Microsoft started the computer revolution, I laugh gently, pat them on the head, and say, "Ah, you're so *cute*." The Apple ][ started it, followed by all the others: Commodore, Atari, Tandy, etc. *Those* were the days.

      Not that I'd go back. I do like where we're at today (though we should've been here 10 years ago).
  • by digitalcowboy ( 142658 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:43PM (#22249664)
    My first computer was an Apple IIc. I came from a lower middle class family and it was a sacrifice for my mother to buy the machine for me second-hand. She did it because she recognized my passion and wanted me to have the opportunity to pursue it. But there was no way my family could afford to buy any software, really, much less games at $50 a pop.

    Over the course of a couple of years I "acquired" two disk files full of software, much of it games. I paid for blank disks out of money I earned mowing lawns and such. I also accumulated a stack of magazines mostly donated by a teacher who took an interest in my interest and whose husband had an Apple II and a couple subscriptions.

    Long story short, I'm running two IT-based businesses today and I'm grateful for a mother that cared, a teacher (and her husband) that cared and "pirate" software. No one lost anything from my "piracy" because there was absolutely ZERO chance that I ever would have been able to buy any of the software or half of the magazines that I had available to me back then.

    All of that combined has defined the life I now lead and today I both give away software under OSS licenses and willingly pay for any commercial software that I use.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by heinousjay ( 683506 )
      No one lost anything from my "piracy" because there was absolutely ZERO chance that I ever would have been able to buy any of the software or half of the magazines that I had available to me back then.

      Your reasoning doesn't follow at all. You gained from your piracy, yes, but the copyright holder lost out on their right to profit from the distribution of the software. The fact that you see it as a net positive for yourself doesn't legitimize anything. Your greed for entertainment in no way trumps the rig
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Wylfing ( 144940 )

        the copyright holder lost out on their right to profit from the distribution of the software

        There is no right to profit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        but the copyright holder lost out on their right to profit from the distribution of the software

        How? How does a copyright holder lose their right to profit if a copy goes to someone who couldn't buy it in the first place? There is no loss there. That's absurd. Where's the loss?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rhakka ( 224319 )
        In other words, the "pirate" in this case got a concrete gain, while the copyright holder lost out only in principle, that someone got something for 'nothing'. Not, of course, that the copyright holder would in any case have gotten ANYTHING, so it's a principle only thing.. and, furthermore, the loss doesn't cost them anything at all. Meanwhile, society has been enriched by another enterprising young mind finding fertile ground for his technical curiousity.

        So society has gained, but of course, that's a ba
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I hear all that. I "pirated" almost everything back then too. I was a poor kid and I had no money after saving up for half the cost of the computer(which my mom and grandparents matched for the other half). Those game companies didn't lose any sales to me, you can't get blood from a turnip afterall. In fact, Origin in particular would go on to benefit long term, as I played ULtima I, II, and III for free, and when IV came out, I had a job and bought a copy of that and V-VI later(and I would in turn influenc
  • And most of us who did it would add improvements which we sent to the game authors.

    I remember having 172k of RAM (on a 48k Apple II+) that I used as a RAM drive to run programs 1000 times faster, with a dual floppy setup so I could have a data disk and a program disk.

    And it was fun creating the world's first play-by-mail role-playing games on it, doing nutso things like using word-processing macros to churn out character stories for each player, or automated D & D, Traveller, and other game system chara
  • by themushroom ( 197365 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @02:48PM (#22249752) Homepage
    Some years ago the author of the Atarisoft rendition of "Mario Bros" for the Apple // was writing about the title in a Usenet post, saying that Atarisoft never released the game yet it was leaked and everyone had it... and for that reason, he was still able to list it on his resume. :) That's gotta be weird, everyone knows your work yet you didn't get paid properly for it.

    Loderunner definitely made the Apple // a gaming platform, as did Wizardry.
  • The Apple IIc was the first computer I ever put my greasy little fingers on. I learned to create some Basic games from books - oh how I miss Goto 10.

    The picture in the article of Ultima IV takes me back. So many hours of my early teens lost playing that, Castle Wolfenstein and The Bard's Tale. I was addicted to the Bard's Tale, the glorious green screen of it!

    Who else remembers making 5 1/4 inch disks double sided! Hell yeah. How cool was that. A pair of scissors or hole punch and suddenly you had twice

  • ...North Atlantic '86 and The Bard's Tale (I and II). They were the games that made me buy my first Apple (a IIc). I played them on a IIe in the library almost every day until it closed. I finally decided if I was going to save the world from Soviet or magical domination, I'd better get a computer at home so I could devote myself to the cause.

    In my case, playing games led to buying a computer, which led to an interest in how computers worked, which led to a change in career from administrator to self-tau
  • Phantasie was one my early favorite games on the C64, and for the first time I got to see the box in the article. I had a cracked copy and photocopied instructions, and played it for what seems like a long, long time.
  • There was a game that I used to play on my Laser 128 (Apple IIc clone). I flew a helicopter, and was fighting against another helicopter as well as providing air support for my troops. The game would 2-D scroll side to side. I could drop 5 men from my helicopter paratrooper style, and there were floating balloons with cables. The helicopter had to "escort" tanks, antiaircraft trucks, "vans" and infantry
  • I think that to talk about Apple's role in gaming, it might be useful to abstract some of the concepts that stemmed from Apple's popularity and ubiquity.

    It wasn't just "video games" that made Apple great - it was the creation of "Home computer games", i.e. games that couldn't be played on the standalone devices or early consoles of the time.

    For example:

    Educational games emerged as a subgenre as part of the deals Apple did to make computers available to school.

    RPGs were available before, but they flourished
  • Does anyone remember the the ZORK Clone SMIRK? I could never find my way out of the maze. Anyone know where I can find this clone?
  • Oregon Trail. (ftw!)
  • I graduated from High School class of 2000, so that was a few years back, but when I left they still had quite a lot of Apple-][ systems in the public schools and this was in a fairly well to-do area too. They had been a mainstay in the classroom since the 1980's but even in the 1990's, the elementary and junior high and even high school still had a real lot of apple II systems in use. The "Apple Lab" had the IIGS but there were Apple IIe's floating around too. By the mid 1990's they were already very
  • Anyone remember Olympic Decathalon for Apple ][ from Microsoft? That game must have destroyed thousands of keyboards.
  • Heh, Ultima II pretty much rocked my world in high school (yes, I know I'm dating myself). I wasted nearly an entire summer glued to a green monitor while hacking away in some far-off dungeon. Loderunner also consumed a lot of time I could have been using for stuff like homework. I even missed BASIC programming; it may have been a relatively slow, high-level language but it was so easy to understand that even an idiot could pick up the basics (no pun intended) in a relatively short time.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )
      I tried playing Ultima II not too long ago. I stuck around on the overworld for too long, and killed all the creatures on the first continent without getting a boat. There must be some limit to the monsters in the overworld because it didn't create any new monsters, and the islands were full of them. Nothing I could do about it, so I deleted my character and started over. But the overworld was exactly the same! All the monsters still stuck on islands and none for me to kill. Frustrated, I gave up. Maybe
  • In no particular order:

    - Telengard [] but who knows how far I got or even if I made any progress period. This was one stood out in my memories because it was far more open ended than anything else I played at the time.
    - Agent USA [] was austenisbly a way to learn US geography by battling "fuzbodies" across the country. For some reason I remember pitched battles in Denver, CO.
    - Ultima IV was something I definitely remember beating... []
    - Ultima V was even better! Yay for throwing magic axes diagonally! []
    - Wings of F []
  • Foundly remember the Apple ][. Programming it in BASIC in 6-8th grade, playing Wizardy, Ultima 2/3/4/5, Phantasie, Castle Wolf, ahh the good old days. Think my parents paid about $1200 for a //e with 128k and 2 floppy drives. I also took part in the "scene" with my Apple Cat modem and PPP sites for transferring the warez.
  • I got sent to a school for gifted kids starting in the 5th grade ( and in a little room across the hall from the math classroom, was a pair of Apple ][+ machines. First time I had ever seen a REAL computer in person. There was a crowd of guys (all 6th graders) huddled around one machine playing a game called "Pulsar". It was similar to "Star Castle", except your ship moved strictly in a circular motion around the shielded ship in the center. On the second machine was a
  • I REPENT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by micromuncher ( 171881 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @04:00PM (#22250980) Homepage
    I was a good kid. But that's not really true. There was a moral ambiguity. My dad brought home an Apple ][+ in 1978 - and I was hooked. As soon as I discovered copy protection, I became disturbed. Why could a friend have a game and we couldn't share? I'd already started learning BASIC and 6502 machine language; but it didn't take me long to figure out how to "copy" something that wasn't meant to be copied. Disk duplication software was unreliable. Removal of the protection was the only way. And who did it really hurt...

    Some people pirated software. They collected it like baseball cards. Along comes an awkward teenager. All of a sudden, he has purpose and is "popular." Trading and playing software becomes less interesting than removal of protection. And notoriety does wonders for ego.

    You get an aliases. Alien, MicroMuncher, Optimus Prime and the Evil Sock... just to name a few (all the same person.) And the art and science of computing starts being applied to your evil deeds. It also leeds you to competition with other aliases that become friends; MicroManiac, and the Saint to name a couple. Removing protection isn't good enough. Things need to work exactly like the original. Something that fits on a disk (with potentially a foreign OS) must now be reduced to a file. And it must save high scores, or get you to the next level. Self loading software of minimum size. And then the glorious splash page! The fun of graphic arts and animation; sometimes the quality of which is better than the games its plastered over.

    For example... Dan Gorlin writes Airheart. A truly revolutionary game. And a revoluationary protection scheme. 18 sectors - and too much data to put on a single disk. What is a cracker to do? Re-write the OS to support block compression of course on a standard 16 sector format.

    Then a brutal realization as you enter adulthood. What if someone did that to you? Every excuse you had to copy or crack is recognized as an excuse. You feel bad. You wish you had written games instead of breaking them. You even go so far as to seek forgiveness from people who were truly exceptional. To create - that is the best you can do.

    Every time I see the old monikers I feel like crap. Going over asimov and noting the only reason certain software survives because YOU did something immoral - its like a WALL OF SHAME. I hang my head and punish myself a little more. I have nothing but reverance for the 8-bit pioneers and gaming gods.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      You're making too much of your purported achievements, and consequently, the need to repent.

      It doesn't matter what you did to crack protection, ultimately, if it served you in the future to do something better. I never read any stories about the game programmers having to eat dog food as a result of some trainer splashed in front of Karateka.

      But hey, if you were the dude that cracked Lode Runner, man, thank you. Also, thanks go to the guy who hacked Wizardry so we could use +25 swords.

  • Arcade conversions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RobotWisdom ( 25776 ) on Thursday January 31, 2008 @04:03PM (#22251060) Homepage
    In Chicago in 1981 I found it very easy to get hired to copy arcade games for the Apple, Atari, and C64 (all 6502). Roklan and Image Producers hired me to do Berzerk and Wizard of Wor (one was supposedly for Microsoft). There was no training or local expertise available, you just had to reverse engineer them. Then Atari(?) successfully sued somebody for a PacMan ripoff, and the whole bubble quickly burst...

    The Apple ][ was infamous for the bizarre layout of the graphics memory (supposedly Woz chose it to save a chip, or maybe a layer on the circuit board). And if the high bit was set, all the pixels in that byte shifted, creating the other two available colors.

    I found a hidden 'Hot Coffee' style easter egg in the text strings for Sierra's 'Wizard and the Princess'-- the placeholder text for the default/generic "I don't know how to **** something" reply was the f-word (never displayed)...
  • We got an Apple II in 1979 or 80. I was about 8 or 9 years old. I learned BASIC on it, but before that I learned the joy of computer gaming. It had 48k of RAM!!! Kickass!!! When we finally upgraded it to 64K I thought I was ready to play with the big boys.

    The first games we got for our Apple II were brought home by my dad with the computer. "Mystery House," which was an awesome text based ..I guess...adventure game w/some vector graphics...I remember finding a key in a chest and getting stuck in a damn for
  • All the games for the Apple IIe looked like crap because of those silly green monitors. Except, of course, for Lode Runner, which was unaffected.
  • Did this actually come out on the Apple ][? This was a mid-90s game, and if the ][ wasn't dead by then, I can't imagine it made much of a job of this game, as its main USP was the fluid, motion-captured animation of the characters.

    I write as an ignorant Brit who couldn't have afforded an Apple ][ in a million years.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.