A hodgepodge of posts that are all about old computers and technology like Apple ][ and Atari and vintage gaming platforms.

Super Metroid on SNES (9/10)

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We never owned a Super Nintendo so I never got around to playing the 16-bit incarnation of Metroid. Well, thanks to the Wii Virtual Console I have finally crossed this one off my list. These days I am much more familiar with the 3-D versions of the game and, even though I played it back in the day, I don’t really have too much nostalgia for the NES version. There were some really frustrating moments of platforming incompetence on display as I made my way around the planet, but I eventually got the hang of the floaty physics and stuck it through all the way to the final boss battle.

The formula is well established: explore the world searching for upgrades and the more you discover the more areas will open up to you. There are monsters all around but killing them is usually a waste of time. You are rewarded for exploration not your extermination skills. That is until you meat one of the half a dozen or so bosses. The bosses are pretty rough but, in all honesty, the hardest part of the game is jumping out of sand pits. I hated that section the game. My final score was 64%, so I guess I missed a lot. However, I am not an OCD gamer so I doubt I will be going back to try for 100% completion… especially if that means more sand pits. Gawldamned SAND PITS!

Shadow Warrior Classic on MS-DOS (6/10)

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This is a classic FPS from the same people who brought us Duke Nukem 3D. In this outing, the politically incorrect humor is based around the protagonist’s ridiculous Asian accent and culturally insensitive one-liners. It can be quite cringe-worthy at times, but inevitably it’s harmless. Especially when compared to the over-the-top gore and violence. Ah, the 90’s. If you can find your safe space, what remains is an exciting game that sticks to the usual run and gun formula of this era. There are a lot of crazy weapons, tough enemies and unique level designs (for the time). Modern gamers may scoff at the lack of narrative and primitive presentation, but I thought it was fast, offensive, silly fun.

Teenagent on MS-DOS (3/10)

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You can download and play Teenagent for free from, and, because of my obsessive-compulsive nature when it comes to completing games I own, I felt obliged to give it a whirl. It took about 45 minutes of frustration for me to realize that this point-and-click adventure really wasn’t worth the logic-defying effort. This game commits all the puzzle design sins of 90’s adventure games. It’s the type of game design that pretty much killed the genre. The puzzles make absolutely no sense and I can’t believe anyone got very far with this without a walk-through. On the plus side the dialogue and humor isn’t bad for a game created by a bunch of non-English speakers. Also, even though the art design is crap, there is a ton of clever animation and sight gags to ogle, just don’t waste brain cells trying to figure the puzzles out.

Apple ][ Assembly Language Programming

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The past few weeks I have been diving into the world of assembly language programming on the Apple ][ computer. My interest in the topic stems from the recent book release of a compilation of articles on assembly language programming called Assembly Lines: The Complete Book. The articles were written by Roger Wagner and originally published in Softalk magazine back in the early eighties. This edition was edited by Chris Torrence and is available for download and purchase from a number of locations.

Now, I am pretty familiar with Applesoft Basic programming, but I was always in awe of commercially released software on the Apple ][ that ran so fast, had fancy hi-res graphics and used sounds other than the system beep. What was the secret of these mythical programs that required you to type “BRUN” in order to get them to load? The secret was machine language.

This image shows you just how intuitive and user-friendly machine code is. It’s almost like it was written by the Terminator himself (just after he finished cutting out his eyeball with an Xacto knife). Despite the seeming impenetrability of machine code, in the past I made a few attempts to learn it. I would get a few chapters into Apple Machine Language and then the endless diversions into binary math would addle my art-school trained brain. It never really clicked for me.

What I didn’t know is that there was this thing called “assembly language” which is a human-readable method of creating machine code. It still is pretty brutal compared with Basic or JavaScript, but for the first time I think I am starting to understand machine language and, more generally, just how the Apple ][ works. Cryptic hex numbers and even the aforementioned binary math are still a part of assembly, but it uses three letter abbreviations for various functions and allows for comments and labels. The assembler will translate the letters into their numeric machine language equivalents and assemble the source code into a BRUN-able program. Woo-hoo!

The first hundred pages or so of Assembly Lines has been very informative and I have dutifully typed in many of the example programs. At one point I had a pretty nice “ah ha!” moment when I was messing around with creating tones. I created a small program that generated an annoying high pitch noise and decided I would further enhance the interactivity by outputting a stream of numbers to the screen showing the paddle positions. Before I got very far beyond just reading the paddles I noticed that I could use the joystick to change the pitch of the sound. I had no idea why this would change the pitch so I decided to look at the machine code in the built-in paddle routine. To my surprise, I was able to see that it got the paddle value by using a count down loop. The longer the count down, the lower the tone. I couldn’t really say why this was the case, but at least I was starting to be able to decipher that wall of hex values.

Now, back in the late eighties I got my hands on an issue of Compute! magazine. Kids nowadays with their fancy iWatches and download services may not believe this, but in the olden days there would be program listings in computer magazines. Readers could carefully type in the program and, “Voila!”, you had new software to use. This issue contained a listing for a game called Space Dodger, with a separate listing for just about every machine available at the time. Most were written in basic, but the one for Apple ][ was pure machine code. I had no idea what any of it meant, but I dutifully typed every line into my Apple’s monitor. The result was a pretty slick little arcade game:

You moved your ship to avoid the space junk which flew by from right to left at varying speeds. However, playing the game in emulation, I noticed a slight problem: the ship movement was mapped to the wrong joystick axis.

And now we get to my second assembly language “Ah ha!” moment. I now know the memory address where the paddles are read. I just needed to search the code listing for 00 1E FB and it would just be a matter of changing the 00 to 01. I found the values at $706B, made my edit and, magically, the joystick now worked correctly!

I still have no clue as to what the other 99% of the code does, but this was a breakthrough. Assembly language… I think I can do this. In the meantime, download Space Dodger and play it in your favorite emulator.

King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow on MS-DOS (6/10)

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While this game was a pretty big improvement over KQV, it still was just too mired in Sierra adventure game brutality for me to really enjoy. There has been some attempt to make the puzzles a bit more forgiving here, including allowing for the player to take multiple paths to victory. I did alright through about the first third of the game then it just gets nasty. The worst offenses being several “walking dead” moments when I got to a puzzle and was unable to pass because of an item or interaction I missed hours beforehand. I gave up and just relied mostly on a walk-through for the rest of the game.

Although I long for the blocky graphics of the AGI games, the pixel graphics and animations in King’s Quest VI are pretty amazing, especially the background art. They also hired actual voice actors to add some life to the story. For a King’s Quest game, this had a pretty solid story despite several of the usual fairy tale tangents.

Rambo: First Blood Part II on Apple ][ (5/10)

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This is another game, like Dream Zone, that I owned for years (decades actually) and was never able to finish. Now, thanks to the Internet and instant walk-through availability, I finally was able to continue past the point where I was stuck nearly twenty years ago. I had originally bought this game thinking I was in for some intense, four-color, commie-killing run-and-gun action on my Apple ][+. Imagine my disappointment when I got home, popped in the disk, and discovered that this was the text adventure adaptation of the film. Having bought this game at a B. Dalton’s book store in the mall, I should have known better.

Although I am terrible at these games, I have since come to appreciate the interactive fiction genre much more. Rambo has some well written and very atmospheric room descriptions. You really get a feel for the jungle environments. However, the game itself is not that great. It suffers from the text equivalent of a problem with many modern games: great graphics and uninspired game-play. There are simply way too many “guess the verb” moments. For example, there is a fight near the end of the game where the correct response is to “flip” your opponent, then “kick” and finally “trip” him. There are no cues telling you this is how you should attack him. You are just supposed to know this. “Punch” or “hit” don’t work. The worst offense is an interrogation scene were you are reminded that you are never to co-operate with the enemy. As the torturers ramp up the pain you are only supposed to type, “Say my name is Lone Wolf.” You have to say that specific phrase otherwise you will die. No where in the manual or game preamble is this hinted. Again, you are just supposed to know it (or was it in the movie? I can’t remember).

The game is relatively short with a time limit that effects the final win condition if you are not fast enough. I think I needed hints for about forty percent of the game, but I’m just glad I finally made it through. Now I can take down my POW-MIA flag that has been hanging over my Imagewriter for all these years.

IIGS Memory Fail

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Apparently there is something wrong with my IIgs. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Briel Computers (a small company dedicated to making retro computer kits) put their 4 meg Apple IIgs RAM card on sale on eBay. My IIgs runs pretty well, but I that extra 2.8 megs of RAM would make things run a lot better (it would be nice to have more than 5 windows open in Finder without getting memory warnings). I clicked the “Buy it now” button and waited patiently for my card to arrive so I could supercharge my nerditude. Well, when the card came I carefully installed it and powered up the Apple II. At first everything seemed cool. The control panel indicated I was brimming with RAM and the CFFA3000 was not showing any problems. But when I attempted to boot into System 6, everything just froze.

Fortunately, Briel was about as helpful as could be and offered to send me a new card. Something must have broken in transit, right? Well, the second card came and I had the same problems. We were never able to figure out what was going on. We thought it may be that my motherboard is the issue. I wouldn’t doubt that, but, personally, I think my power supply is very suspect. That thing emits buzzing noises that only my daughter can hear. She refuses to come into my room when the GS is fired up.

In any event, I am back down to a whopping 1.2 meg ram and am now keeping my eye open for another GS. In the end I got my money back and, but if I ever get a new Apple IIgs, I will contact Briel again about buying RAM. So, if you live in the Chicago area and have an old Apple IIgs you want to unload for cheap, drop me a line.

Imaging My IIgs Personal Data Disks

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This evening I took the time to archive all my old Apple IIgs floppies. This is something I have been meaning to do since I got my CFFA3000 card. I have been pretty lucky in that, having been told since the early nineties that floppy discs will just disintegrate over time, all of my disks are in good shape and I have never had one fail on me. But I know it will eventually happen, and probably soon. Ripping floppies to disc images on the CFFA is a piece of cake. Each of these discs took about 3 minutes to pull down onto a thumb drive as a .PO disk image. The most difficult part of the process was scanning the actual disks into photoshop so that I could have a nice digital record of my horrible teenage handwriting (seen above). The best labels are the ones where I crossed out the name of some old pirated game and reused the disk for my files. You’d think there would be a nice application on the IIgs for printing disk labels?

For as much as I loved my old Apple IIgs (and the Apple ][+ before that), I didn’t really have that much personal data to save. I guess I wasn’t using the raw computing power of the Apple II for productivity and content creation and was more focused on gaming. What I do have is a bunch of college term papers and essays that are filled with the grammatical atrocities you’ve come to expect on this Web site. There is also a fair share of musical compositions that my brother and I churned out in Music Studio. Classics like “Robert is Coll” (sic) and “Ultra Coolness.” Yeah, I was really concerned about my cool factor in those days (but too lazy to fix my coll typo). Finally, there are a few discs of drawings and images that we created in Deluxepaint and PaintWorks Gold. I may post some of those in the near future. They are quite.. ahem… cool.

Dream Zone on Apple IIgs (8/10)

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Dream Zone is a graphical adventure for the Apple IIgs that I was never able to complete when it was originally released in 1988. I managed to get about a quarter of the way through the game before I was stumped by one of the game’s unfair puzzles. Now, twenty years later and with a little help from the Internet, I have managed to beat the game. These pre-Craft of Adventure era games can be pretty brutal and a walk through will come in very handy. Now, this is about to get fairly spoiler-y so if you want give the game a try before I go on, you can play Dream Zone in your browser right now. It’s worth trying out.

As much as I love these text/graphic hybrid adventures, they all seem to suffer from the usual “guess the verb” problems. Dream Zone does a fairly good job of avoiding this most of the time with its click interface. But the click interface is deceptive because on at least three occasions you are required to come up with the specific actions yourself when a simple “use” action would have sufficed. The worst puzzle, and the one that stumped me back in ’88, is dispersing a crowd from in front of a bar. No game object works. No clickable action works. The solution is that you are supposed to say “free beer” to make the people scatter. How anyone was able to figure this out on their own is beyond me. The other horrible puzzle is one in which you are required to cuss in order to be sent to a room of punishment. Eventually you will find the room, but the solution to the puzzle requires you to visit the room twice (and again involves that pesky crowd outside the bar).

If you can manage to survive these cruel puzzles without throwing your monitor out the window, the rest of the game is rather enjoyable. The idea that this is all dream allows for some rather fun and creative moments like the giant bureaucracy staffed entirely by pigs. The art is cheesy and somewhat amateurish but it really fits the surreal theme of the game. The music is also wonky but appropriate. The whole production has a very homebrew quality to it and it’s obvious they are using off-the-shelf software like Paintworks Gold and The Music Studio to create their game assets. But’and this may just be nostolgia’I really liked this game and wish there were more 16-bit era graphic adventures like this. I mean, check out this insanity:

Haunted House Text Adventure

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Back in the late 80s, I learned much about computer programming from this book: Write Your Own Adventure Programs For Your Microcomputer. This is the same book that I used as a guide when creating Malfunction for my Apple IIgs back in 1988.

The book takes you step-by-step through the process of creating a simple text adventure game using Applesoft Basic. The final product is an adventure called “Haunted House.” It’s about as crude and bare bones as a work of interactive fiction can be, but it does what it needs to: there are objects, rooms and key puzzles.

Well, in a recent flurry of Apple retro computing I got side tracked into porting this game into JavaScript. The result is here. Click the screenshot to launch the game in a new browser window (requires JavaScript, duh – View the actual page if you are viewing this in an RSS feed reader). It’s a fully working port of the original, with all its flaws and quirks. The only additions I made were to make the EXITS display more cleanly and added the verb “drop” to the vocabulary.