Apple IIe: Childhood Games of Frustration
My introduction to computers came in the form of an Apple IIe bought by my parents. It had a green monitor, a floppy disk drive, and a dot matrix printer – freaking awesome technology at the time. While all the other kids with their Atari 2600s got to stare at cubes and blocks, my brothers and I got to stare at green dots and lines and punch holes in a floppy to make it double-sided. Try doing that with a cartridge. It rocked!
I also spent a lot of time playing video games on the Apple IIe, marking time until the Nintendo came out. Anyhow, I recently revisited some Apple IIe games through the magic of emulation. Some are still pretty impressive (which I’ll document in a future post). But here are a few that I seriously can’t understand why I ever played:
1. Super Quest
This was a Dungeons and Dragons type game that on a good day, could be seen as a precursor to Baldar’s Gate or even World of Warcraft. But here, your character is a capital letter that you moved around with the arrow keys. A true testament to the power of imagination, the letter “V” represents a vampire. This is a good example of how incredibly basic (no pun intended) the graphics these games were. I never finished this game since it was so ridiculously difficult.
Lesson Learned: Imagination is a powerful thing.
This was a trading game set in Asia that was largely text based. You’d load your junk up with capitalist goods and then pick a port to sail to. Along the way you’d get attacked by pirates, and treated to an awesome display of graphic power. In retrospect, it was basically a text game. The result: I wasted a lot of time trading virtual goods and I don’t even remember what the ultimate point of the game was. Maybe it had something to do with Hon Hai or stocking WalMart.
Lesson Learned: Debt blows.
This was some kind of medieval themed, kiddie educational game that consisted of little mini-games. The ultimate goal was to get to a Black Knight’s castle. In this screen shot, you have to get to the top of the hill without being crushed by barrels. Other games involved jumping over rocks and catching bags of flour in a cart. I think all the violence was sucked out of it in order to appeal to the Candy Land set. Yeah, it sucked.
Lesson Learned: Kids games are for kids.
Bilestoad was a top-view gladiator game. You basically fought another gladiator with an axe until bloody body parts littered the ground. Sounds cool, but as a kid I remember the controls being so confusing that if I just pressed keys randomly until my gladiator was spinning around like a windmill, the effect was essentially the same as if I consciously tried to win: I lost.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes too much complexity is no better than random.
5. Way Out
A truly strange first person point-of-view maze game. Your goal was to find the exit. The wrinkle was that a spinning rectangle would chase you down and if it touched you, would steal your map, which was basically essential to getting out of the maze. In order to get the map back you’d have to hunt down the spinning rectangle, and touch it. Fun, but in retrospect I played this game way too much for the eventual pay off which was essentially zip. You didn’t even have a chainsaw or a shot gun to defend yourself. I remember the end result was frustration and bitter hate towards spinning rectangles. Maybe this is one reason why I dislike Flash banner ads.
Lesson Learned: Even simple can be annoying.
Aztec was the epitome of frustration. You controlled an Indiana Jones type archaeologist venturing into a dungeon to retrieve a sacred idol. There were lots of cool things you could do, like run, jump, use a knife, fire a gun, and light dynamite, but unfortunately the controls were complex and the character had an annoying habit of hitting walls or falling off of stairs and going unconscious. You’d then have to wait until he woke up, and sometimes he’d immediately stand up, hit his head, and fall unconscious again. So many times I’d get pissed and angry, yelling at a comatose green Indiana Jones stand-in while spiders and water filled up the room and he died.
Lesson Learned: Never play a game where the animation for “run” is basically “walk” sped up.
The fun here is driving a tank around a maze looking for alien bases defended by enemy fighters. Sounds fun, but the time was mostly spent roaming or running away. Plus, if you hit a wall, you died. The game got fiendishly difficult the longer you waited as the enemy fighters would quickly take over the maze. Also, some of the enemy fighters’ flying capabilities were insanely hard to beat with a lowly tank. Definitely more frustrating than fun.
The moral: Anything with a base and a big explosion still reminds me of Star Wars.
8. Spy Vs. Spy
I read MAD magazine as a kid and therefore played this game with my brother. I think the basic idea was to wander around the rooms of a house setting traps for the other Spy character and trying to hurt him. This was essentially one of the things we’d do to each other as kid brothers in real life, so I don’t get why we played this particular video game.
The moral: I shouldn’t have thrown out my old Mad magazines.
9. One On One
Whenever you wonder how far sports games have come graphics-wise, remember this Electronic Arts basketball game. It was a half-court challenge between Larry Bird and Dr. J. I feel I have to explain it since I don’t think that would be evident from the screen shot above.
The moral: In retrospect, game graphics improve at a staggering rate.
10. Star Blazer
I hate Tony Suzuki. I think I was obsessed with this game because as a confused kid, I thought it had some relation to the Star Blazers cartoon show. Basically you flew a jet on missions to bomb a radar, an ICBM, and a tank. The tank was the bitch, as in order to destroy it you had to push down on the joystick hard and press the fire button at the exact right time to get a bomb to fall straight down. Now that was a skill really worth spending hours mastering. Anyhow, the reward was just more missions – no secret easter egg featuring Nova or Princess Starsha.
And that was truly frustrating to me as a prepubescent, video game playing kid.
The moral: Don’t confuse a television show with a video game.