Akalabeth

AkalabethThe Game: You start the game by creating a character, Basic D&D style, who enters the world defenseless and just this side of naked. It’s your job to arm and armor your alter-ego, buy plenty of rations, and then set out to explore See the videothe world of Britannia, and the treacherous dungeons that lie beneath it. A visit to the castle of Lord British will give you a chance to level up for deeds accomplished, and receive an assignment from him for your next adventure. (California Pacific Computer, 1980)

Memories: Like so many amateur-programmed Apple II games at the dawn of the 1980s, Akalabeth was distributed via floppy disk in a plastic bag with modest documentation and packaging. So what makes it so special now? Simply put, Akalabeth was also the dawn of a gaming empire – or the origin of one. It was the first computer game programmed and released by Richard Garriott, an avid fan of paper-and-dice role playing games with medieval settings. Both the game and its creator would transform over time – the basic structure of Akalabeth became the basis of the early Ultima games, and Garriott of course became known as his alter ego, the benevolent ruler of the Ultima universe, Lord British. Continue reading

Mystery House

Mystery HouseThe Game: You find yourself outside an inviting two-story house, and when you go in, you find several people waiting for you – and that inviting front door suddenly locked behind you. When dead bodies turn up on the second floor and night See the videobegins to fall (hope you found the matches in the cupboard already!), it quickly becomes apparent that among the friendly faces of the first floor is a cold-blooded killer. (On-Line Systems, 1980)

Memories: The very first game released by a new company formed by husband-and-wife team Ken and Roberta Williams, Mystery House is the first in a series of “Hi-Res Adventures” combining simple graphics and text descriptions and actions. The “Hi-Res Adventures” series would grow to include titles licensed from Disney and the Jim Henson Company, and would even survive the Williams’ company’s transformation from On-Line Systems into Sierra On-Line. Continue reading

Checkers

CheckersThe Game: The classic game of strategy is faithfully reproduced on the Apple II. Two armies of twelve men each advance diagonally across the checkerboard, jumping over opponents and attempting to reach the enemy’s home squares to be crowned. Whoever still has pieces still standing at the end of the game wins. (Odessa Software, 1981)

Memories: At the time of its release, Odessa Software’s Apple version of checkers was a reasonably big deal, since it had been given its “smarts” by one of the leading experts in programming computers to play chess and checkers. Continue reading

Jawbreaker

JawbreakerThe Game: You’re a mobile set of chattering teeth, gobbling up goodies in a maze as jaw-breaking candies pursue you. If you bite down on one of these killer candies, you’ll rack up quite a dental bill (enough to lose a life). You can snag one of four snacks in the corners of the maze and suddenly the tooth-rotting treats become crunchy and vulnerable. Advance to the next level by clearing the maze of dots. (On-Line Systems, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Atari’s home version of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 was like a trail of telltale blood in a tank full of pirhanas. It was quickly apparent that there was one wounded one in the group, and other predators quickly closed in for the kill – or, in the case of Pac-Man, provided games for various platforms that duplicated the Pac-Man experience better than Atari could apparently manage to do. Continue reading

Taxman

TaxmanThe Game: As a round white creature consisting of a mouth and nothing else, and apparently somehow tied to the Internal Revenue Service, you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful See the videomonsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. Periodically, assorted items appear near the center of the maze, and you can consume these for additional points as well. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and, after spending some noncorporeal time floating around and contemplating taxation without representation, return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (H.A.L. Labs, 1981)

Memories: Alas, the folly of H.A.L. Labs and Taxman. Clearly a copy of Pac-Man – with only the names changed – this game was crippled by keyboard controls that were counterintuitive even back then. The sad thing is, given the graphics and sound limitations of the Apple II, the rest of the game was stellar, a near-perfect port of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Tranquility Base

Tranquility BaseThe Game: You are go for landing on the moon – only the moon isn’t there to make it easy for you. Craggy mountains and craters make it difficult for you to find one of the few safe landing spots on the surface, and even when you’re See the videoaligned above level ground, your fuel is running out fast. Do you have the right stuff that it’ll take before you can take one giant leap? (Bill Budge, 1981 / re-released by Eduware in 1984)

Memories: This game was one of the earliest efforts by a budding Apple II programmer named Bill Budge, before he achieved fame as the author of Pinball Construction Set. At the time, Budge was experimenting with interchangeable modules that could be slotted into the code of any number of games, including one for smoothly rotating 3-D wireframe objects – well, smoothly where the Apple II was concerned. The result was this unforgiving homage to Atari’s cult coin-op Lunar Lander. Continue reading

Ultima

UltimaThe Game: You set out alone on an adventure spanning countryside, mountains, oceans, towns and dungeons. You can purchase food rations, weapons and armor in the towns, visit Lord British in a castle for his wisdom, maybe a level-up, See the videoand your next assignment, or you can venture forth into the dungeons to test your skill against the denizens of the underworld. (California Pacific Computer, 1981)

Memories: Richard Garriott has said that the first Ultima game – which was originally marketed as Ultimatum – essentially “uses Akalabeth as a subroutine”, and while that may be oversimplifying how much or how little new code Ultima added to the game, it’s essentially true – the dungeons are practically vintage Akalabeth fare, while the towns and the above-ground portions of the game are literally a whole different animal. Continue reading

Spy’s Demise (Apple II)

Spy's DemiseThe Game: Players control a spy sneaking through a building looking for secret information. High-speed elevators zoom up and down their cables throughout each See the videofloor at random intervals, making it difficult to accomplish the goal of crossing to the other side of the screen (the only way to ascend to the next floor). It takes skill, timing and nerves of steel to keep one’s spies from their demise. (Penguin Software, 1982)

Memories: An addictively fun and frustrating early entry on the Apple II computer, Alan Zeldin’s Spy’s Demise gave players some real elevator action. Continue reading

Jawbreaker II

Jawbreaker IIThe Game: Ever had a sweet tooth? Now you are the sweet tooth – or teeth, as the case may be. You guide a set of clattering teeth around a mazelike screen of horizontal rows; an opening in each row travels down the wall See the videoseparating it from the next row. Your job is to eat the tasty treats lining each row until you’ve cleared the screen. Naturally, it’s not just going to be that easy. There are nasty hard candies out to stop you, and they’ll silence those teeth of yours if they catch you – and that just bites. Periodically, a treat appears in the middle of the screen allowing you to turn the tables on them for a brief interval. Sierra On-Line, 1982

Memories: Faced with the threat of imminent legal action from Atari, Sierra – known by its original name, On-Line Systems – yanked the very Pac-Man-like Jawbreaker off the market, replacing it with a new version that was less obviously attempting to copy the game mechanics of Pac-Man. Those familiar with the Atari 2600 edition of Jawbreaker will find this game familiar: the maze is out, and the horizontal rows of dots with “sliding doors” are in. Though there are still elements similar to Pac-Man – at this point, really just the power pellet-like energizers in the four corners of the screen – the whole thing is different. Continue reading

Rocky’s Boots

Rocky's BootsThe Game: Rocky is trying to build machines to kick stuff. He provides players with a number of connectors and components, and shows them how they can be used to achieve See the video!different tasks. (The Learning Company, 1982)

Memories: Fresh from leaving Atari and then taking a vacation, game designer and programmer Warren Robinett was ready to get back into the game, literally. But he had languished in anonymity at Atari as one of the last holdouts at a time when many of the company’s original pool of programming talent was defecting to Activision and Imagic; when Robinett returned to game making, he’d do it on his own terms. Continue reading

Taipan!

Taipan!The Game: The coast of 19th century China could be a dangerous place – pirates lay in wait for passing (and relatively defenseless) ships, and that’s just the obvious danger. The buyer’s and seller’s markets in dry goods, weapons, silk and opium could pose just as much of a hazard to an independent trader’s finances. And then See the videothere’s Li Yuen’s protection racket… (Avalanche Productions [designed by Art Canfil], 1982)

Memories: One of the first trading strategy games I ever encountered, Taipan! has been a favorite of mine for something like 20 years. When I played it as just one of many games in an all-day weekend screen grab-o-rama, I found myself playing the thing for hours. Continue reading

Telengard

TelengardThe Game: Using primitive text-based graphics, Telengard books for you a no-expenses-paid vacation through dungeons and hallways full of orcs and other nasties. If you can map the twisty passages, you might just make it back to the Adventurers’ Inn to claim your newfound experience points and heal from your many battles…and if you get lost? There are other inns out there – and many painful ends as well. (Avalon Hill, 1982)

Memories: Telengard was my introduction to computer-based adventure RPGs. I was already one foot into the Dungeons & Dragons world at the time, though truthfully some of the people I played those pencil-and-paper-and-dice RPGs with scared me. Some of them – not all of them, by any means, but a few – tackled these games with enough intensity to make a kid nervous. Continue reading

Tron

TronThe Game: Up to two players control light cycles that leave a solid light trail in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other player by surrounding them with a light trail that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to run into their own trail. Coming into contact with a light trail, either yours or the other player’s, collapses your own trail and ends your turn. The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (“Ivan”, circa 1982)

Memories: The Apple II software library is as huge as it is because of games like this. It’s a safe bet that “Ivan” didn’t charge for his simple tribute to Tron‘s light cycle scenes; if anyone did charge for it, “Ivan” – whoever he was – probably didn’t see a dime of that. (And even if “Ivan” did try to sell his game, it was probably on such a local basis that Disney never heard of it.) Tron is a homebrew, from an age when nearly every Apple user’s library had at least a few homebrews in it. Continue reading

Ultima II: Revenge Of The Enchantress

Ultima IIThe Game: Not happy with her consort’s defeat at your hands (assuming, of course, that you won Ultima I, the enchantress Minax tracks you down to your home planet of Earth and begins the test anew, sending legions of See the videodaemons and other hellspawn to strike you down before you can gain enough power to challenge her. This time, you have intercontinental and even interplanetary travel at your disposal via the moongates, which appear and disappear based on the phases of the moon. Each destination has unique challenges that help to prepare you for the showdown with Minax herself. (Sierra On-Line, 1982)

Memories: The second in the seminal Ultima role-playing game series, Ultima II has always managed to elicit little excitement from me. Continue reading

Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

Zork I: The Great Underground EmpireThe Game: You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a mailbox here. (Infocom, 1982)

Memories: A direct descendant of the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired all-text mainframe adventure games of the 1970s, only with a parser that can pick what it needs out of a sentence typed in plain English. In truth, Zork‘s command structure still utilized the Tarzan-English structure of the 70s game (i.e. “get sword,” “fight monster”), but the parser was there to filter out all of the player’s extraneous parts of speech – anything that wasn’t a noun or a verb, the game had no use for. Many a player just went the “N” (north), “U” (up), “I” (inventory) route anyway. Continue reading

Apple Cider Spider

Apple Cider SpiderThe Game: You control a spider, wandering though a factory that makes cider, and to survive this trip you better be a good hider, for the spider can’t survive with any apples that might collide ‘er. The spider can become a rider on conveyor belts, but she can also fall off if the spider tries to jump over something wider than she can navigate. See the videoThe goal is to help your spider reach home despite all the perils that would divide ‘er. (Sierra On-Line, 1983)

Memories: A cute game requiring heaps of good timing, Ivan Strand’s Apple Cider Spider takes some staples of the platform/climbing genre, adds a few twists, and pours on the cute for good measure. It’s a delightful game that’s funny because nothing really violent can happen here, aside from stumbling into a few grisly ways to die here and there. (Well, grisly if you’re a spider.) Continue reading

Archon

ArchonThe Game: What if chess pieces were living creatures, each with its own unique abilities? And what if, every time to pieces met on the board, they had to fight amongst themselves to occupy the square in question? That’s Archon in a nutshell. (Electronic Arts, 1983)

Memories: Whoever came up with this game is a total genius. This is the sort of game that won lots of fans in the early days who may not have necessarily been computer or video game afficionados – a modern variation on the game of chess, with arcade-flavored action segments to determine control of contested territories. Continue reading

Cavern Creatures

Cavern CreaturesThe Game: Why do mountain climbers climb mountains? Because they’re there. Why are you flying a spacecraft into a vast complex of subterranean caverns? Because they’re there, and apparently because you want to blast the multitudes of critters who lurk there. The bad news: there are a lot more of them than there are of you. The good news? Your ship’s cannons fire in four directions simultaneously. Given that fact, and your ship’s maneuverability, you might just survive this little bit of aerial spelunking. (Datamost [designed by Paul Lowrance], 1983)

Memories: These days, the ‘net is loaded with tributes to video games past and present. But Cavern Creatures was one of the first tributes to classic games, and it’s an interesting tribute – it too is playable. Continue reading

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