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Doom, Zork and Wizardry: 20th Century Retro Gaming

Sunday, September 27th, 2020 | Posted by Doug Ellis

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Zork and Zork II for the Apple II (Personal Software and Infocom)

Back in the day, I used to play a lot of computer games. And to be honest, I still spend a fair amount of time each week playing, though these days it’s pretty much limited to Lord of the Rings Online.

I started out in the late 1970’s on the Apple II computers in our high school or at the houses of a few of my friends who were lucky enough to have a computer. I bought my first computer, a Commodore 64, when I went to college in 1981, and played a variety of games on it. I particularly remember Wizard of Wor, which was a port from the arcade game that I loved (my friends and I spent a lot of time, and quarters, in arcades during this period).

Later on, after I’d move to a Windows PC, my wife and I, along with a group of friends and family, used to play a lot of first-person shooters, such as Doom, Duke Nukem, Heretic, Hexen, Day of Defeat, Call of Duty and many others. To this day, several of my nephews and nieces still sometimes address me as Duke, a shortened form of the in-game nickname I used in the multi-player games (and no, it had nothing to do with Duke Nukem, but rather was inspired by David Bowie).

When Deb and I went to law school in 1985, we quickly found one of Cambridge’s top attractions (at least if you were a science fiction fan!). This was the Science Fantasy Bookstore, which was owned and run by Bruce “Spike” MacPhee. We used to visit the bookstore quite a bit during the three years we lived there, and always enjoyed talking with Spike, who was a passionate and knowledgeable SF fan. Spike had founded the bookstore in 1977 and it stayed open until 1989.

[Click the images for Retro-sized versions.]

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Microsoft Adventure for the Apple II (Microsoft)

Spike was a devoted collector of all things science fiction and fantasy, and a dedicated computer gamer. He sold them at his store and he played them in his home. He remained a passionate fan until he passed away on November 13, 2019.

For the past several months, we’ve been assisting his estate in selling portions of his collection. In July, we picked up several boxes filled with vintage computer games from the estate. Some of these were games Spike played; others were store stock that was left unsold (and still sealed) when his store closed. Most were for the Apple II, but there was a sprinkling of games for other platforms as well, including PET, C64, Atari 400/800 and TRS-80. While many of the games in his library are common, there are also a bunch that are rare, some exceedingly so. Some are from publishers who would go on to have long, successful lives, such as On-Line Systems (later Sierra On-Line) and Broderbund; others would flame out quickly, such as Crystalware and Ramware.

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Sands of Mars for the Apple II (Crystalware)

I’ve had a blast going through the boxes and organizing these games. It’s been quite a trip down memory lane. Many of these are games that I played back in the long ago days of my carefree youth, while others are games I’d heard about back then but never had a chance to play. And still others were completely unfamiliar to me, but I’ve enjoyed learning about them as well.

Like many gamers from that era, one of the earliest game genres I was exposed to was text adventure games. Spike had a bunch of these, including a copy of the first edition of Zork – while I’d played Zork long ago, I’d never seen this edition before.

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Hi-res Adventure #1: Mystery House for the Apple II (On-line Systems)

He also had several of the titles created by Scott Adams in the classic Adventure series, including the first, Adventureland, as well as others I was less familiar with, such as Ghost Town and Pyramid of Doom. Mystery House – the first graphical adventure game, one of the holy grails of adventure gaming – was also present, as was Microsoft Adventure. And for those who wanted to create their own adventure games was Genesis: The Adventure Creator, which frankly I’d never heard of before.

Back in the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s, I was an avid AD&D player. Not surprisingly, many of the computer games I enjoyed back then were fantasy games. Some were RPGs, others just had a fantasy setting. Spike clearly had similar tastes. Among these types of games in his library were classics such as The Temple of Apshai (first in the Dunjonquest line), Ultima and Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.

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Wizardry: Legacy of Llylgamyn for the Apple II (Sir-tech Software)

I also uncovered several titles in this genre which I’d not seen in person before, such as Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure and its sequel, Apventure to Atlantis, as well as Fracas (which was Stuart Smith’s first game). Poring through these certainly took me back!

In that long ago era, I was a big fan of Metagaming and their board game line of microgames, many of which were written by Steve Jackson. When Metagaming folded, I began buying games from Steve Jackson Games. Two of my favorites at that time were Ogre (which I remember occupied many high school study hall periods) and, later, Car Wars. Spike had both these in his collection, but he also had the computer games based on them, Ogre and Auto Duel.

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Auto Duel and Ogre for the Apple II (Origin Systems)

I also had (and still have) many board games from Avalon Hill, though I never bought any of their computer games. Spike just had one, Legionnaire, revolving around the campaigns of Julius Caesar. As I was a history major undergrad, focusing on ancient Rome, I wish I’d found this one back then!

I’ve previously mentioned that my friends and I used to blow through stacks of quarters at the arcade. Two of my favorite games were Missile Command and Galaxian. Spike’s collection contains clones of both. ABM is a take-off on Missile Command, while two clones for Galaxian were present – the pedestrianly titled Apple Galaxian and Galactic Chase.

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Cannonball Blitz for the Apple II (On-line Systems)

Others of his games which cloned arcade favorites were Jawbreaker (Pac Man), Cannonball Blitz (Donkey Kong) and Lunar Lander from Adventure International. Perhaps the rarest is Tranquility Base, which was another Lunar Lander clone, created by legendary programmer Bill Budge.

And of course, you can’t go to an arcade and not play pinball as well. Two early pinball games were in Spike’s gaming library – David’s Midnight Magic and Budge’s pioneering Raster Blaster.

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Raster Blaster for the Apple II (Budgeco)

I’ve also previously mentioned that my friends and I used to play first-person shooters quite a bit. Spike’s collection contains an early copy of one of the classics of the genre, Doom, which we used to play until all hours of the night several nights per week. There was also a copy of Castle Wolfenstein which wasn’t a FPS but predated that genre and helped inspire all of the various stealth FPS that came later. My first encounter with that game came in the early 1990’s with its sequel, Wolfenstein 3D, which was a FPS.

Spike was always very interested in space and science fiction, and it’s not a surprise that his computer game library had many titles focused on that. Many of these are early classics in the genre, including Invasion Orion, Starfleet Orion, SunDog: Frozen Legacy and Reach for the Stars. They also include the first entries into the Galactic Saga series from Broderbund – Galactic Empire, Galactic Trader and Galactic Revolution.

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Galactic Empire, Galactic Trader, and Galactic Revolution for the Apple II (Broderbund Software)

While I was a dedicated AD&D player, I never really got into GDW’s Traveller (although my wife, who I hadn’t met yet, and her friends were big fans in the late 1970’s). One of the SF games in this collection, the simply titled Space from Edu-Ware, was based on Traveller and GDW was not pleased when it and its sequel, Space 2, came out in 1979. GDW eventually sued for copyright infringement, and in a settlement the games were pulled from the market.

Edu-Ware’s more famous game, The Prisoner, also didn’t seek licensing approval from the TV show, but managed to avoid a lawsuit. Spike’s library contains this title, as well as another TV tie-in of a show near and dear to Deb’s and my hearts, Time Lord, based on Doctor Who. Unfortunately, all that remains of this exceedingly rare game in Spike’s collection is the disk; the minimal paperwork has been lost.

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Sundog Frozen Legacy for the Apple II (FTL Games)

I’ve spent numerous happy hours going through these games and learning about them. Some say you can’t go back again, but you certainly can, if only in your mind. I would have enjoyed talking with Spike about these games. I’m sure he had several favorites that I’ve not mentioned here; in total, the portion of his collection which is with me amounts to roughly 150 games.

I’ll be scratching my nostalgia itch and picking up some of these myself. As for the others, at some point in the next month or two, I’ll begin the process of putting them on eBay and finding happy homes for them with folks who will enjoy them as much as Spike did.

Below are a few more sample from Spike’s collection. I hope you enjoy poring over them as much as I did.

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Doom for the PC (ID Software)

 

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Swashbuckler for the Apple II (Datamost)

 

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Invasion Orion for the Apple II (Automated Simulations)

 

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Castle Wolfenstein for the C64 (Muse)

 

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Beneath the Pyramids and House of Usher for the Apple II (Crystalware)

 

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Ultima for the Apple II (California Pacific)

 

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Reach for the Stars for the Apple II (SSG)

 

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Moebius the Orb of Celestial Harmony for the Apple II (Origin Systems)

 

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Odyssey the Compleat Apventure for the Apple II (Synergistic Software)

 

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Apventure to Atlantis for the Apple II (Synergistic Software)

 

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Legionnaire for the Apple II (Avalon Hill)

 

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Dunjonquest: Temple of Apshai for the Pet (Automated Simulations)

 

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Escape from Rungistan for the Apple II (Sirius)

 

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Apple Galaxian for the Apple II (Broderbund Software)

 

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Adventure #1 and #2: Adventureland and Pirate Adventure for the Apple II (Adventure International)

 

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Adventure #8 and #4: Pyramid of Doom and Voodoo Castle for the Apple II (Adventure International)

 

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Adventure #7 : Mystery Fun House, Commbat, and Project Omega for the TRS 80 (Adventure International)

 


Doug is a collector of pulps, as well as of pulp, science fiction and fantasy art. He co-founded and co-organizes the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. For many years his Tattered Pages Press published the pulp fanzine Pulp Vault, as well as other books on the pulps. He was one of the authors of The Adventure House Guide to Pulps, and has edited several pulp anthologies, including the Best of Adventure series. His book, Uncovered: The Hidden Art Of The Girlie Pulps, an in-depth study of the spicy pulps and their art, was named ForeWord Magazine‘s 2003 Popular Culture Book of the Year. In 2013, Bob Weinberg, Bob Garcia and he collaborated on The Collectors’ Book of Virgil Finlay, a collection of Finlay’s gorgeous art.

Doug’s last article for Black Gate was The 19th Annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention.

6 Comments »

  1. […] (Black Gate): Back in the day, I used to play a lot of computer games. And to be honest, I still spend a fair […]

    Pingback by Sensor Sweep: Zork, Cloud Based Gaming, Flames of War, The Keep – castaliahouse.com - September 28, 2020 12:30 am

  2. A Wizard of Wor reference. Wow!

    I played a lot of Temple of Apshai. Those are my earliest computer RPGing.

    I think Adventure, on the Atari 2600 was the very first fantasy game.

    Comment by Bob Byrne - September 28, 2020 7:35 am

  3. I still play a lot of these, although through emulation (AppleWin is the best Apple II emulator, WinVice for Commodore 64, and Altirra for Atari 800).

    Legionnaire was one of Chris Crawford’s early games.

    There was a fourth Galactic Saga game, called Tawala’s Last Redoubt.

    Comment by andy - September 28, 2020 9:27 am

  4. > I still play a lot of these, although through emulation (AppleWin is the best Apple II emulator…)

    Andy,

    Holy cats, I didn’t even know there WAS an Apple II emulator (I probably should have).

    Are many of these games actually downloadable? Where do you find them? There a many I’d love to play!

    Comment by John ONeill - September 28, 2020 9:53 am

  5. The Internet Archive is a good source. For Apple II games, I would recommend searching for “apple II 4am” – 4am is a guy who’s been on a mission to upload clean versions of old software (he’s especially into preserving educational titles), so you can trust his work. You can also just play the games on the Archive, since they do online emulation, although I’ve found the quality sometimes lacking.

    I know some people feel weird about downloading old games, but in cases of these really old ones, many of the authors seem happy just to see their work remembered and played at all, and the ones that are interested in making money off of them have in many cases already done modern remakes that are usually targeted at mobile phone players (First Star is still doing Boulder Dash remakes all these years later…).

    Comment by andy - September 28, 2020 1:28 pm

  6. Ah, good memories! My friends and I played many of these games back in the mid to late 80s.

    Honestly, I think that SUNDOG was the best one. I will go on record to say that making a good sci-fi game is really really hard, and SUNDOG was a really good game.

    Tragically, I don’t think we ever actually finished it! We spent weeks trying to hunt pirates for the bounty money (which was very much a way to turn a small fortune into a tiny one).

    I’ve though of playing the game through an emulator or something, but I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet.

    Comment by Adrian Simmons - September 29, 2020 12:03 pm


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