The Apple //e, Part 1: Monochrome Memories

I touched on the Apple //e’s influence on me a bit in last week’s Industry Memoirs post, but when I thought about it afterwards, I realized just how big of an impact it had on me. More so than our Atari 2600, Apple’s popular home computer — and more specifically its games — would chart a course that led me to my first job in the videogame industry. This installment focuses on the very first year the //e entered our home.


My father purchased the computer when we were living in Spring, Texas in 1984. I remember going with him to ComputerCraft to pick it up, and all told, it cost him about $1,400, including a new desk. The store itself was very big and had a couple different floors. I still distinctly remember the smell of electronics and the glow of the monitors, something I still gravitate towards when I go to department stores today.

20120320_apple_gearEven back then, Apple knew that presentation and brand loyalty was important. The boxes were attractive and sturdy. Everything came with high-quality spiral-bound manuals. Their 5.25″ floppy disks were adorned with full-color labels and sleeves. Even their included software, like the classic Apple Presents… Apple, possessed a level of polish and fun that anyone in the family could enjoy and learn from. I “played” it endlessly, learning about the computer, its capabilities, but most importantly getting to the open apple/closed apple sorting minigame!

20120318apple2_2The hardware itself was also slick, with an attractively molded case that felt premium to the touch, with easy access to the internal expansion slots. The keyboard was comfortable and fully integrated. The Disk ][ drive’s door had a satisfying tactile feel and sound when you opened and closed it. The green monochrome monitor had “show-off” features like a tilting screen and a design that made it sit beautifully flush atop the computer.

It didn’t look like a boring business machine at all, and instead felt like something that accentuated the room it was in. Even though it wasn’t something I bought (I was only 10), I treated it with care, keeping the screen clean and the entire system covered when not in use.

20140502_karatekaThose early years with the //e were pretty magical. One of the first games I ever played was the classic Karateka. Released that same year, it was the game that first made me realize that videogames could be cinematic. Characters had personalities, emotion, and possessed great detail in their design and animation. The short, effective musical pieces exemplified early leitmotif that sounded terrific through the computer’s internal speaker. The small touches, like how you can respectfully bow to certain opponents or the various ways that the player can die, added to its uniqueness. A great intro, multiple endings, and its attention to the smallest detail totally blew me away.

20140502_microwaveAnother lesser-known game that I played to death early on was Microwave, similar in style to many maze games of that era. I loved this one, though, because it was the first computer game I’d ever heard with background music during gameplay. Not just any soundtrack either, as I distinctly remember one of the tunes being a direct lift of the well-known Creature Cantina song from Star Wars. Game soundtracks would become a very important focus for me during the 8-bit console era and beyond, much to the credit of this little gem.

20140502_stellar7Pulling off a good 3D game on the //e was pretty tough, but that didn’t stop companies from trying. One of my favorites was the Battlezone-inspired Stellar 7. The warp/launch sequence that would play after successfully completing a level was so good, pushed over the edge by the great sound effects. I also really liked the wireframe models and being able to move around them in 3D space. Very impressive, and even though the objects were simple, they were highly stylized with very memorable designs.

Dynamix remade Stellar 7 years later in 1990, which I bought without hesitation. It’s a great 256-color VGA game that is an excellent remake of the original, with clean graphics and sound card support.

20140502_loderunnerAhh, Lode Runner, one of the all-time best build-it-yourself games. Broderbund was a company that could do no wrong in the //e era, and were also responsible for the aforementioned Karateka, as well as other essentials like Choplifter and the wildly popular Print Shop.

Lode Runner is a fun game in its own right, but where I spent most of my time was in its level editor. Not only was it intuitive, but it breathed endless life into an already great title. I credit this game for getting me interested in game design. It taught me a lot about good level flow, level-breaking item and enemy placement, and being disciplined about balancing function with form. It’s a beautiful game that plays as good today as it did in the ’80s.

Another realization I had while writing this was that there are so many other games I want to talk about. For every one I brought up, there were ten others that came to mind! As I said, it was a magical time, and one that I’ll be revisiting again soon in a future GHG entry.

Have a great weekend!


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