Front Cover of The Secret History of Mac Gaming


Richard Moss

This edition first published in 2018

London W1S 2GF

Case and chapter opener illustrations by JJ Signal

ISBN 978-1-78352-487-7 (ebook)

ISBN 978-1-78352-485-3 (limited edition)

RICHARD MOSS is an award-winning writer and journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. He has written extensively about video games and technology for more than two dozen publications, including Ars Technica, Gamasutra, Mac|Life, and Rock Paper Shotgun.

Richard also produces the podcasts Ludiphilia, which shares stories related to how and why people play, and The Life and Times of Video Games, which chronicles the history and culture of video games through short documentary-style episodes.


The book you are holding came about in a rather different way to most others. It was funded directly by readers through a new website: Unbound. Unbound is the creation of three writers. We started the company because we believed there had to be a better deal for both writers and readers. On the Unbound website, authors share the ideas for the books they want to write directly with readers. If enough of you support the book by pledging for it in advance, we produce a beautifully bound special subscribers’ edition and distribute a regular edition and ebook wherever books are sold, in shops and online.

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INTRODUCTION by Richard Moss










10 GAME WORLD, PARTY ON! by Craig Fryar


















AFTERWORD by Craig Fryar





The original Macintosh mouse, Apple Computer, 1984


by Richard Moss

I set out on this journey in July 2014 with a simple goal: I wanted to show that the Mac was important to the annals of video game history, and to share the stories behind the wonderfully creative and →

imaginative ‘Classic’ Mac era – from the Mac’s mid-1980s introduction to the early 2000s. I hoped to shine a spotlight on people and ideas that have never received the attention they deserved. I believed that ‘Think Different’ was more than a marketing tagline, and that Apple’s famous 1984 ad – shown in the prime Super Bowl advertising slot ahead of the Mac’s January 1984 introduction – was not just creative marketing spin. I felt that the Mac really did change everything, that its users really did think differently and produced software and art that was revolutionary.

In the process of pursuing that goal, I’ve discovered a community more vibrant, diverse, creative, and intelligent than I had ever imagined.

Mac game fans were no angels – portions of them abused and derided their heroes for petty reasons such as delays, cancellations, or working with a perceived enemy (Microsoft), just like game fans elsewhere – but taken on the whole they were remarkably generous and accepting. They embraced weird ideas and supported originality. The community was small enough that even in the late 1990s, when PC and console gaming were growing huge, they could talk directly to their game development heroes.

In a world where Apple is now a major lifestyle brand and its products are mainstream accessories and appliances, it’s also useful to remember a time when the Cupertino company was the underdog – when its only followers were the true believers of the Macintosh way, of this idea that computers should ‘just work’ and that even serious software should be pleasant to use. It’s valuable, too, to see what people achieved when they were absorbed in that aesthetic.

When the rest of the personal computing world had low-resolution, blocky graphics with just a handful of garish colours and a bewildering keyboard-driven text-based interface – which required a considerable cognitive load just to learn to a point of basic functional understanding – Macintosh took its own path.

It adopted a powerful processor that none of the competition was (yet) using and a relatively high-resolution screen of 512 by 342 pixels, which made the standard 300 by 200 display format seem hopelessly primitive. It eschewed crappy colours in favour of crisp black and white, and introduced a graphical interface consisting of windows and icons that resembled actual files and folders. It took the focus away from the keyboard and instead put it on the pointer – a proxy for a hand or finger that was operated by a device called a mouse, which a user held in their hand and slid around the table. Whereas prior personal computers rendered all text in a single font, the Mac had different fonts and formatting styles, and documents actually appeared on the screen exactly as they would when printed on paper. And it made pull-down menus standard across the system so that basic operations could always be accomplished with ease even if a user forgot the keyboard command.

These features inspired people. As did the software that Apple’s engineers wrote to highlight them. Art and word processing applications MacPaint and MacWrite and the desktop-like Finder, together with the control panels and desk accessories that aided with smaller tasks – defined not only a visual aesthetic but a whole design language. A new way of thinking.

Many of those who embraced this new paradigm accomplished incredible things. Just in the games space, they built the world’s first multimedia authoring tool, designed almost tangible interactive places in which the interface – the barrier between player and world – disappeared, and made adventures that captivated millions. They made games that looked like interactive cartoons or played like interactive movies. They crafted innovative first-person exploration and shooting games that broke boundaries in both technological and storytelling realms. They made games that presented such intuitive simulations of real-world or fantastical systems that they changed people’s lives.

Most of all, the Mac game development community produced games that were different. Games about corporate executives fighting off the robot apocalypse while scooting around on a swivel chair, and about paper airplanes in magical houses filled with hundreds of rooms and ordinary objects that bounce all of their own accord. They knew their fans, and their fans knew them. They were independent, and even the successful ones were poor, but they were loved.

This book is about those game developers who chose to swim in the little Macintosh pond rather than the big sea of Windows PCs – developers who poured their hearts and souls into the products they created, often innovating along the way. And, to a lesser extent, it’s about the fans who supported and adored them – who made their own e-zines and news websites in lieu of wider media coverage, and who eagerly joined in on the creative process by adding their own sounds, graphics, and levels to games or by extending, modifying, interpreting, or playing the games in other ways that their original developers never could have imagined.

This is the story of the people who believed the Mac was neither the serious machine that Apple’s marketing decreed nor the toy that the computer snobs so disparagingly labelled it, but rather as a dream machine that could cross between worlds. A machine that had the capacity to teach, inform, inspire, and delight any user, whatever their background and occupation, and a machine that had changed the world.

Well into the 2000s – and to an extent still as I write this in early 2017 – the broader games scene had a running joke that the Mac didn’t have games. The truth, however, was that most people who weren’t part of the club didn’t know where to look. Mac gaming’s vibrancy and creativity was the Mac’s best-kept secret. This book is about letting that secret out.

A special thank you to the superfriends who supported this book.

Joe Accurso

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The Queen of Hearts, Through the Looking Glass , 1984


Apple’s roots run deep in gaming. In 1976, Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs got an assignment at his day job as a technician at Atari to design a circuit board prototype for a game called →

Breakout, from a description of its gameplay. The concept, devised by Atari bosses Steve Bristow and Nolan Bushnell, was in effect a single-player version of Pong. Breakout was to be a simple arcade game in which the player would break virtual bricks (rectangles, really) with a ball. The bricks sat in eight rows atop the screen, with two rows each coloured yellow, green, orange, and red. The player manipulated a paddle at the bottom that could guide the ball back up towards the bricks when it bounced down. If the ball went off the bottom of the screen, the player lost. If they managed to break every brick, they advanced to the second level, where the ball moved faster and the paddle was smaller. This continued, ad infinitum, until they missed a ball.

Jobs lacked the electrical engineering talents to develop the prototype himself, so he turned to his friend and Apple co-founder Steve ‘Woz’ Wozniak for assistance. Woz made calculators for Hewlett-Packard and loved to design his own circuit boards – a skill he also put to use in the pair’s side business building and selling Apple computers. With his help the task was done in just four days. Wozniak was so invigorated by the experience that he wanted to design a personal computer fit to run Breakout.

To pull off the feat, he needed to develop support for a colour display, sound, and greater expandability than Apple’s first personal computer, the Apple I. He also wanted to include a version of BASIC, a programming language that was slow but relatively easy to learn and use, so that others could make games with little difficulty. It was a preposterous idea. Home computers were still a new concept – Commodore would not announce the first mass market personal computer, the PET, for another five months – and yet here he was trying to make an affordable computer that could run an arcade game. But Wozniak did it. He successfully demonstrated Little Brick Out, as he named his Apple II version of Breakout, to the Homebrew Computer Club in August 1976, and several months later Apple released the Apple II computer.

The Apple II catapulted Apple into the upper echelons of the computing industry, carving out a new market that targeted ordinary home and business users. It became a favoured productivity tool of this new breed of computer user thanks to the VisiCalc spreadsheet program, and it was embraced by the fledgling games industry. Apple had grander ambitions, however. They hoped to unseat the leading computer company, IBM. IBM didn’t yet have a personal computer of its own (that wouldn’t come until 1981), but its minicomputers and mainframes effectively owned the commercial and scientific environment. Apple saw a chance to take a bite out of Big Blue’s market as it prepared to transition into the microcomputer era. The Apple II wouldn’t cut it, though.

Apple released the Apple III in May 1980, hoping to court business users with a more sophisticated underlying software and hardware architecture and a raft of new features such as a numeric keypad. It was a disaster. Amidst criticisms that its design was uninspired, thousands of launch units had to be recalled as defective. Fewer than 100,000 Apple IIIs were sold in the machine’s four-year lifespan.

Down but not out, and still thriving off Apple II sales, in January 1983 Apple introduced a revolutionary computer called the Lisa. It was a huge step up from the Apple II and III in its software and design, with heavy influence drawn from Xerox PARC’s groundbreaking Alto and Star personal computers. The Alto had been created in 1972 and 1973 – based on concepts invented by engineer Doug Engelbart in the 1960s – as the first computer to feature the desktop metaphor and mouse-driven interface that would go on to dominate computing until Apple’s iPhone and iPad triggered a new paradigm shift in the late 2000s.

Like Xerox’s machines, the Lisa offered a graphical user interface. It had hierarchical directories – files and folders within other folders – that were represented by icons and could be navigated through with a mouse. It was highly advanced, but it was slow. Worse, it cost $9,995 (over $24,000 in today’s money) – far more than the new IBM PCs that were rapidly conquering the market, and too much to convince business users it was worth the investment against the safer option. ‘Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM,’ they’d remind themselves.

This was the world into which Apple’s next machine, the Macintosh, entered. Apple was determined to make a dent in the universe by transforming computing for business users, but IBM remained dominant.

That said, Macintosh was different. Radical. It was designed out of what its creator Jef Raskin, Apple employee number 31, called a ‘humanitarian impulse’ rather than a marketing study or set of hardware specifications. The Macintosh was conceived from the beginning as an appliance – just another object in the home or office that could be used to get things done or to entertain. Raskin wanted to build a computer that would cost $1,000 and be a complete, closed system, with all its peripherals built right in. Macintosh would be small and portable and light enough to carry home in a bag. It would have limited capabilities but its software could be learnt quickly and easily by computer novices. It would be a truly personal computer that would reach millions of people. It would be nothing like anything else that existed.

The Macintosh project had begun life in 1979, sequestered from the rest of Apple in a different building. Jobs initially thought it was crazy and tried to shoot it down. He thought the Lisa, named for his first daughter, was the future of Apple and of computing, and that Macintosh wouldn’t work. But he was overruled by CEO Michael Scott and chairman Mike Markkula, who both backed Raskin’s concept.

Raskin’s project trundled along quietly, gradually turning Jobs and other naysayers around to the idea that a computer should ‘just work’ in much the same way as a toaster or some other household appliance. You turn it on and away you go. No need to insert a specific disk or type a command like ‘Load TOASTED.CODE’. Everything you needed would be there, ready to go, all built into the one application.



Amazing, Steve Capps, 1984

The Mac morphed somewhat over time as Raskin and his team thought deeply on their design goals and experimented with different implementations, and as Jobs exerted more influence. Jobs was losing control over the Lisa. In early 1981 he muscled his way into leadership of the Mac team, after seeing the forward-thinking design specifications of a revised Mac prototype by Bud Tribble and Burrell Smith. Raskin got pushed off the hardware design, then also the software. He soon left the company out of frustration, alienated from his own project – which was already far removed from his original designs, if not his overarching vision.

By the end, the Macintosh had a one-button mouse and a graphical user interface similar to the Lisa’s. It had the faster Motorola 68000 processor, the first in a family of chips commonly known by the moniker ‘68k’, rather than the slower but cheaper 6809. It lost its one-program concept in favour of having many applications that could share certain universal data such as the contents of a virtual clipboard. The Mac’s case also changed from initial plans for a lunch box shape to upright and vertically oriented, with a detachable keyboard and a disk drive below the screen rather than next to it.

One key idea remained untouched. Computers before the Mac were big, scary machines that took considerable effort to learn. They had text-based interfaces, with blinking cursors taunting their user to enter a command. To communicate with the machine, to bend it to your will, you had to learn its language. Even tasks as simple as opening a file or application required memorising a character string that had to be typed in. Computers were alien, obtuse. To master their use was a rite of passage. Serious work is hard, many computer enthusiasts reasoned, so of course computers appeared impenetrable to an outsider. Otherwise how could they be important, powerful tools?

True to Raskin’s vision on this point, if nothing else, Macintosh defied that logic. The Mac was friendly, inviting. Happy. It even smiled at its user when they turned it on. ‘Welcome to Macintosh’, it said on the screen as it booted. Here was a computer that went out of its way to appeal to computer novices. Its graphical user interface featured a virtual desktop that looked enough like a real one to be familiar. Files and folders didn’t require any arcane arts to find; they were right there on the screen, represented by icons. The user didn’t need to memorise any special commands to open these and move them around. Everything could be interacted with via a pointing device called a mouse. All the commands were just a click and a drag away, nestled up at the top of the screen in pull-down menus.

The Mac almost felt fun to use, even for work. So much so, in fact, that Apple marketing would later go out of its way to tell the world that it was indeed a serious machine for serious work. Inside the Macintosh team such distinctions were of little concern.

‘The Mac team itself was extremely playful from the start, mainly due to the proclivities of Jef Raskin,’ says Andy Hertzfeld, who joined the team in February 1981 – assigned by Jobs to the very same desk that Raskin had vacated when Jobs took over. Hertzfeld came to work on the Mac after a shakeup in the Apple II engineering division left him feeling alienated. Putting him on the Mac team was a concession to get him excited about working for Apple again.

He recalls the Mac team had beanbag chairs, Nerf balls, and other playthings that lent the office a vibe more befitting a day-care centre than an engineering lab. Sometimes the entire team and any visitors on the premises would drop everything to play their own variant of dodgeball and tag. To tag someone, you had to hit them with a Nerf ball. ‘This inspired everyone to surround their work area with barricades made out of cardboard,’ Hertzfeld explains, ‘to provide cover during the game, making part of the office look like a cardboard maze.’

Computer games were big with Apple employees, too. ‘The early Apple staff, starting with Woz, loved playing and creating games,’ Hertzfeld recalls. ‘Many of the Apple engineers spent a fair percentage of their time playing the latest hot game [on the Apple II computer].’

Games were also a fun and effective way to test the Mac’s work-in-progress graphical user interface and mouse input.

‘One of the earliest Mac demo programs I wrote was a version of Breakout,’ says Hertzfeld. He wrote his homage in April 1981 on an early Mac prototype. ‘We hardly had any software running on the Mac and thought that it would be nice to have a mouse-based game,’ he explains. It seemed a fitting gesture, given the game’s history, to have it help in some small way to shape the future of computing (again):

It only took a day or two to write initially. After I had it going, [Apple Mac team colleague] Bud Tribble suggested that I spice it up by having the bricks fall when they were hit by the ball instead of disappearing, and you’d have to dodge them as they fell since you’d lose your ball if they hit your paddle. I also made a nice explosion when a falling brick hit the paddle. It was fun to play but was written in a low-level, stand-alone fashion and not maintained as the system software evolved.

Other Mac team members also made games to test hardware and software features. In 1984, after the first Mac came out, programmer Gene Tyacke developed a version of primitive first-person shooter Maze War – originally developed for the IMLAC minicomputer – to test the in-development AppleTalk networking feature. This feature would allow multiple Macs to share files and send messages to each other across a cable connected to the printer port. ‘Bus’d Out’ was later leaked out unfinished, but not before Burt Sloane, a programmer in a different Mac department, independently created a version of his own that eventually became Maze Wars+, one of the first commercially available network games.

Games were more than a fun testing ground for Mac software development. An early business plan called for a minimum of two ‘Macintosh-quality’ games that would be ‘unlike the world has ever seen’ because ‘it further endears the office user to his Mac, titillates the college user, and provides a reason for office types to carry their Macs home to their family.’

One of those ‘Macintosh-quality’ games was being developed by Bill Budge, who had found huge success on the Apple II with Pinball Construction Set – a game in which players could craft their own virtual pinball tables and then play them. Budge was given an early Macintosh, well before its official release. He recalls that the original Mac ‘had a pretty fast CPU combined with a small screen. That made it possible to paint the screen fast enough to do good 3D animation.’ To that end, Budge was making a flight simulator. ‘I actually got a demo working that approached a runway for landing and had an impressive frame rate for the time.’

It never came to anything. ‘I abandoned the project because the display was only black and white, so greyscales had to be simulated by dithering or patterning, which didn’t look that great,’ he says. ‘And because it would have been a lot of work to import the geographical database, and I lost interest.’

The creator of the other Macintosh-quality game followed through, however, and that game came from within the company. Everybody at Apple played Steve Capps’s computer game. Alice combined the careful strategy of the ancient game of kings with the speed and immediacy of quarter-guzzling modern arcades. It was an Alice in Wonderland-themed reimagining of chess wherein Alice herself stood in for the white pieces. She faced down the Red Queen’s army on the other side of the board, and the player could click on the board to tell her where to go. If the square clicked on was a legal chess move for the type of piece Alice was acting as, she’d hop there. If an enemy piece occupied that space, it would disappear. The end goal was to clear the board of all enemy pieces.

Unlike chess, Alice moved at breakneck speed. Enemy pieces hopped about without waiting even a second for the player to complete her move. The pieces themselves, rendered on a faux-3D floating chessboard, combined the basic appearance of traditional chess pieces with the illustrative style of Sir John Tenniel, who had illustrated the original Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass books.


Alice aka Through the Looking Glass, Apple Computer, 1984

One person in particular took to Alice like a duck to water. Joanna Hoffman, the Mac’s first marketing person, was indisputably the best player. She found the game too easy and pressured Capps to make it tougher. He tweaked parameters and added features, including a special mode where the board became invisible. Anything to keep his friends from getting bored of his game.

‘The problem was that I was designing it for people who were expert Alice users,’ he explains, ‘so for the person that first picked it up it was actually frustratingly, shittily hard. To the point that I blew it.’ More than anything, Alice was brutally difficult because it assumed its player had already mastered the art of pointing and clicking.

Most people who bought a Macintosh had never used a mouse before, nor had many even tried to operate a computer. They had to learn from scratch even things that are as fundamental as moving a mouse cursor and clicking to select a file or reposition a text prompt, or double-clicking to open something, or any number of other actions computer users take for granted today.

Apple had conducted user tests prior to the release of the Macintosh to see how people fared in setting it up and learning to operate the system without any guidance. Capps recalls one tester who got his running without a hitch but held the mouse such that the cord ran out the bottom instead of the top and his palm rested over the button:

The guy had never touched a mouse before. He’s sitting there and he moves it to the right and the cursor moves to the left. And he moves the mouse up and the cursor moves down. So it’s essentially backwards. Thinking of Alice in Wonderland, he’s fallen through the looking glass, and he teaches himself to use it in the half an hour there.

Asked afterwards what he thought of the Mac, the man said, ‘You know, I didn’t understand why it was backwards like that. But I got used to it, so I think you guys got a great product there.’

Alice never got this kind of testing. It started life as an idea in Capps’s head and some rough designs on paper in the late 1970s, when he worked at Xerox PARC on the Alto computer. Capps had developed a few games and game-like toys on the Alto, two of which he later recreated on the Mac: a digital clock inspired by the art of Salvador Dalí that had its digits melt and morph into each other, and a maze generator (known as Amazing! on Macintosh).

Those required use of the lowest-level programming language, microcode. Not all computer code is created equal. Low-level code, which more closely resembles the inner workings of the machine, runs considerably faster and more efficiently than high-level code, which undergoes multiple levels of abstraction and is written in a form more akin to natural language. High-level programming languages are much simpler and more comfortable to work with, but they come with a performance cost that is magnified on computers with limited processing power.

To make his games work on the Alto, Capps had had to give instructions directly to the CPU. He could not even resort to assembly language, which uses mnemonics to present instructions that are converted to machine code. While he had made the smaller games just fine, Capps lacked the programming skills to bend the Alto to his will on a larger project like Alice.

Things changed after Capps joined Apple in September 1981. He was assigned to the Lisa printing team, which was responsible for making text and graphics output by a dot-matrix printer look identical to what the user saw on the Lisa’s screen.

One day Capps realised that the Lisa was fast enough that he could program Alice for it in the Motorola 68k dialect of Assembly language. ‘I spent the weekend and got the thing going,’ he recalls. ‘So I had the melting clock. I had the maze generator. And Alice.’

All three were impressive technical and creative feats, but it was Alice that turned heads. Bruce Daniels, manager of the Lisa software team, showed it to the Mac team, who were so impressed they gave Capps a Mac prototype that afternoon. Two days later he had Alice working on the Macintosh.

That got the attention of Steve Jobs, who didn’t know or particularly care for games but could nonetheless recognise the technical achievement. ‘He said, “We’re gonna have to bring you over to the Mac group,”‘ Capps recalls. In January 1983, right after the first Lisa hit store shelves, Jobs got his wish: Capps became a Macintosh programmer. ‘So that was essentially my interview for the Mac group – just this one game. It was a good way to get in.’

Part of the deal was that Alice would be shipped in the box with every Macintosh. There were rumblings that the newly minted Electronic Arts, founded by former Apple Lisa marketing manager Trip Hawkins, might publish the game, though nothing serious ever came of it. Hawkins wanted to focus his publishing efforts more on the established Commodore 64 and Apple II markets. Jobs was quick to squash any such possibility of an external publisher anyway, with an offer Capps couldn’t refuse. ‘I pretty well documented that I had the idea earlier,’ Capps says, ‘[so] he was being nice to me.

‘It was just one of those things; I mean, come on, if you were offered the chance to put your game with every single Macintosh, wouldn’t you take it?’

Fate conspired against Alice. Rumblings began in the business and technology spheres that Apple’s upcoming personal computer was a ‘toy’. It was too gentle for the corporate buyers of the Fortune 1000 companies that were crucial to the Mac’s initial sales strategy, this diminutive, seemingly happy appliance. It wasn’t suited to serious work on account of it being fun.


Alice aka Through the Looking Glass, Apple Computer, 1984

Focus groups echoed the sentiment. An April 1983 presentation by Lou Weiss of American Marketing Services raised concerns about the size and colour capabilities of the screen (small and black and white), the absence of a numerical keypad on the keyboard, the lack of programming capabilities (you needed a Lisa to develop software for it), and the same ‘computers should be difficult’ mentality. Participants noted that, as magical as it was to use, the Mac looked like a toy. They worried that it was in fact a toy, and the games included in the demonstration didn’t help.

Weiss recommended Apple emphasise the Mac’s ease of use and power in comparison to its competitors while also taking care to ‘not allow any orientation towards home use to damage its introductory positioning as a business machine.’ If the Mac were to sell to its target market, something had to change, and it wasn’t going to be the box or the interface – those, after all, were essential to the revolution.

Apple marketing flip-flopped, rapidly distancing the Macintosh brand from any possibility that it be seen to be intended as a toy. The Mac was still presented as fun, but not too fun. Its joy would be in how effortless serious, previously difficult work became. Alice got caught in the firing line.

‘Steve [Jobs] cornered me in the men’s room,’ Capps recalls, ‘and said, “I hate to tell you this, but we’re not gonna ship it with every product.” I said, “That’s OK. Fine by me.” But he said, “Oh, we’ll make it up to you!’’’

Capps truly wasn’t bothered. He’d had his fun and Apple had already paid him a modest sum for Alice, and games were never that big a deal to him anyway. But Jobs was adamant.

To make up for Alice being left out of the white plastic box of disks included in the Macintosh welcoming kit, they’d get him ‘a really nice box’ for retailing the game. Jobs told the director of the design team to put something special together. Alice’s box looked like a book. Its hard cover was inscribed with a stylised drawing of a chess player overlooking a chessboard on a table atop a chessboard-like floor. Inside, the disk sat within a recess cut into the ‘pages’. A note on the inside cover, which explained the basics of the game, looked like the first page of an old book.

Capps did the artwork himself. ‘I got to hide all these Easter eggs [secrets] in the box,’ he says.

Nobody questioned it or anything. I mean, there’s a Dead Kennedys logo in there because I was really into the Dead Kennedys at that point. My girlfriend at the time, now ex-wife – there’s something in there for her. There’s something in there for my first boss at Xerox. I don’t think anybody knows they’re in there, but it’s just so cool that Apple was free enough to let me design the artwork on the box, and they slapped it in a nice piece of cardboard and nobody ever asked any questions.

Capps was also able to include the two fonts used in the game, his Dalí clock, and Amazing! on the disk, though the Alice name had to be changed to Through the Looking Glass because it was already trademarked for a database program.

Alice, aka Through the Looking Glass, bombed at retail. Lacklustre Macintosh sales didn’t help, but the issues were more that the game was barely marketed and that Apple remained focused on courting business users. ‘Towards May or so they actually ended up giving it away with every machine,’ Capps says. ‘But it was just to get rid of the stock.’

Alice’s failure was hardly a deterrent to would-be Mac game developers. Many established commercial outfits kept their distance out of concern about Apple’s preoccupation with the business market and the concept of a serious machine. But smaller operations started up immediately, all drawn to the warm glow of this ‘computer for the rest of us’. Mac gaming was born, and Alice was proof that it could be not only great but also creative and unique. Many of the earliest Mac game developers took this to heart.


Steve Wozniak is chief scientist at data virtualisation company Primary Data. He also tours the world giving speeches about innovation. Both of the Mac’s key visionaries have shuffled off this mortal coil: Jef Raskin died from pancreatic cancer in 2005, while Steve Jobs succumbed to respiratory arrest related to a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour in 2011. Andy Hertzfeld is now retired; he finished his career at Google. Steve Capps later worked alongside Bill Gates at Microsoft; he’s now also retired. Bill Budge works for Google as a software engineer.


Tricorder, Cap’n Magneto, 1985


Nobody knew, in 1984, quite what to do with the Mac. It was such a different beast to all that had come before that they had no clear reference point to guide them. As such, ideas varied widely and the →

earliest Mac games shared little in common beyond a desire to test the waters of this brave new world.

There were text-driven adventures, some with and others without black-and-white illustrations, and some (like Zork developer Infocom’s extensive catalogue) adapted from existing titles on other platforms. A special few, like Challenger Software’s Legacy – a game created by the teenage members of a defunct rock band and some younger friends from their high school – were completely original works. Legacy didn’t sell well, but it was one of the few commercial games to come out in 1984 and the detailed graphics produced by its artist, Ed Ouano, were perhaps the most detailed yet seen in a video game outside of the arcades – full of texture and depth that enhanced rather than detracted from the text-narrated scenes and typed commands that drove play forward.

A few early adventures pulled further away from text-based input and output. Silicon Beach Software and ICOM Simulations helped formulate a new genre, the graphic adventure, with Enchanted Scepters and Déjà Vu respectively, while solo developer Al Evans rewrote and expanded his Apple III game Cap’n Magneto to give the Mac its first free-roaming direct-control adventure game.

Viewing the action from a bird’s-eye perspective, the player had to guide the titular hero Captain Lance Magneto, who had crash-landed on the planet Rigel IV, in his quest to find the Crown of Control mind-control device and prevent its use in piracy. In the process he needed to find various items, including a tricorder that could translate alien speech – their ungarbled words spoken aloud by the Mac’s built-in speech synthesiser as well as written in speech bubbles. Its cheeky sense of humour, large world, fun puzzles, and straightforward mouse-driven interface struck a chord with early Mac users. Cap’n Magneto thus became the first successful ‘shareware’ game on the platform.

Shareware was at the time the most common method of distributing self-published software. Creators would hand their game out at computer events or at their school or university. Or they’d get it posted to a bulletin board system (BBS) – local, text-based services run out of people’s homes that could be accessed directly via dial-up modem – or to Usenet – literally a ‘users network’ in which messages were distributed across a large number of servers around the world and organised into newsgroups – or to some other forerunner to the World Wide Web. If someone liked the game, they could send a cheque to the author for an amount nominated in the shareware notice.

Ken Winograd made one of the most popular early shareware offerings on the Mac, in 1985, to help himself learn more about programming. Over the following thirty years Winograd would regularly update Brickles, which was based on Breakout, and release new versions with extra features like sound, score multipliers, and new game modes with additional paddles on the top and/or sides of the screen. He did the same with his other Mac game, HangMan, which was an adaptation of the classic paper-and-pencil guessing game. He asked only that players who liked the games send him $10 as a thank you. One young fan, unable to gather the funds, mailed a picture he’d drawn of a $10 bill. ‘Anytime I got a letter from a fan of either game,’ he recalls, ‘I always felt I should spend more time on that game just to make that little boy or girl happy.’

Another early shareware game, Phraze Craze Plus, replicated the Wheel of Fortune TV game show. It notably included an option to play with custom puzzle files, and had an undocumented bug in the code that prevented even-numbered wheel positions from getting hit. The game’s creator, Brad Pettit, never caught the bug because the Bankrupt tile was on an odd-numbered position. Phraze Craze was also one of the first computer games to use digitised sound. He sampled his wife’s voice for the hostess and pulled sound effects from an album at work – he was in television – using a digitiser made by a company called MacNifty.

There was lots of ‘freeware’ (free software) in the early Mac days, too. Michael Ouye’s MacBugs!, a single-screen arcade-style game in which the goal is simply to shoot everything and not get hit (by the computer ‘bugs’ that keep appearing), was initially bundled with a C programming package in 1985. It fittingly took on a life of its own and spread like a virus around the Mac community, when Ouye released it into the public domain. Johan Strandberg’s 1984 game Daleks and Bob Arning’s 1985 version The New Daleks – both Doctor Who-themed variants of an older turn-based game with many names – also had a viral popularity.

Another puzzle title, Letterforms & Illusion, which wouldn’t see a commercial release until 1989, made a game out of the Mac’s built-in drawing and painting program MacPaint. Co-creator Scott Kim had published a popular book called Inversions in 1981 that was all about ambigrams – words that appear the same upside down as they do right-side up, like a kind of graphical palindrome. When the Macintosh came out in 1984, Kim saw the Mac team’s graphic designer Susan Kare demonstrate MacPaint. He fell in love with the software right then and there.

When Robin Fe Samelson came to him with a suggestion that they write software together based on Inversions, he had an idea. A disk of designs from the book would be too boring, and automatically generated ambigrams would be too hard. Their best bet would be to create a collection of puzzles. Kim had become entranced by the idea that he could create a game within MacPaint to be played using the MacPaint tools, so these puzzles took the form of MacPaint files. The sixty-two MacPaint files were broken down into around a dozen categories: tutorial, flips, illu sion, close-up, boxes, blend, Escher, tessellation, and so on. Letterforms & Illusion was much more than a game; in solving its puzzles the player would be able to master both MacPaint and the creation of their own ambigrams and letterform puzzles.

Doug Sharp and Mike Johnston’s ChipWits accomplished a similar layering of real-world skills and in-game mastery. It tasked players with programming a roller-skating robot to negotiate various tightly packed environments and collect as many oil cans and floppy disks as possible. It straddled the line between educational and entertainment software – both useful for learning programming and logic concepts and enjoyable as a game in its own right.

Development began before anybody outside of Apple knew about the Macintosh. Ph.D. candidate Johnston and instructional systems master’s student Sharp met through a course that Johnston taught on creating instructional software. Sharp had spent two years as a teacher’s aide and a further two as a fifth-grade teacher, while Johnston had previously been developing computer-assisted instructional lessons and driving a bus part-time in Texas.

By the summer of 1983 they had the beginnings of a concept they gave the working title ‘That Robot Thing’. They thought it’d be an adventure about a robot that needs to retrieve pieces of information to solve a puzzle, but the release of Bill Budge’s seminal work, Apple II title Pinball Construction Set – one of the most popular entertainment software programs of the 1980s – showed them a better way.

‘That Robot Thing’ morphed into a kind of robot construction set with a graphical, icon-based interface. In ChipWits, the player would be able to use a visual programming language to create different rule sets that dictated how the robot would function within an environment. The game would evolve further after they saw the Mac at a local unveiling. ‘We immediately recognised the potential of this machine,’ Johnston later wrote. ‘Clearly it was designed specifically for ChipWits.’

Sharp also thought there was an opportunity to make a tidy profit by jumping in early and getting a game out while the Mac still suffered from the customary new platform software shortage. With no access to a Lisa – the computer needed to program for Mac using Apple’s official development tools – they turned to MacFORTH, a Mac implementation of the Forth high-level programming language, which was slower than Pascal or Assembly but faster than BASIC and more than fast and flexible enough for the task at hand.

After a few months of development, they hired a software agent to help shop the game around to publishers. That got them deals with BrainPower for Macintosh and Apple II versions and with Epyx for a Commodore 64 release, along with a deadline in just four weeks to finish Mac development – which was due for release in late 1984.


ChipWits, BrainPower, 1984



Sky Shadow, Casady & Greene, 1990

MacUser gave ChipWits an editor’s choice award, while MACazine writer Bob Jacob praised it as a program that could remind Mac owners ‘why they bought this special computer in the first place’.

Darrell Myers needed no reminding. Earlier in 1984, he contributed to General Computer’s Ground Zero, which was possibly the first commercial Mac game not published by Apple. It was based on the Super Missile Command arcade game, itself an update of Missile Command – a simple game about fending off a nuclear invasion by manning a ground defence system to destroy incoming rockets.

It was thrilling just to draw things in MacPaint with the mouse. ‘I didn’t know at that point that a computer was capable of doing what the Macintosh did,’ Myers says. But it was also a huge challenge. In order to make the graphics convincing with only black pixels on a small white screen, Myers used a technique called dithering. This involved painting alternating dots of black and white on the screen such that when viewed from a normal distance they blurred into various shades of grey. The denser the concentration of black dots, the blacker the object.

Myers graduated high school in 1973, at a time when punch cards were still standard in computer usage. Before 1984, he saw computers as alien, vexing machines for which he had no use. But the Mac changed all that for him. Suddenly computers seemed both accessible and useful.

Even for many seasoned technology and gadget buffs, the Mac was a stunning revelation. Bill Atkinson’s MacPaint was the vessel by which they’d discover its magnificent potential. ‘It was such a high bar that you wanted to build something special for the Mac,’ says David Alan Smith, who a few years later would finish creating his first-person action game The Colony (which we’ll look at in Chapter 14).

The Mac was an entirely new way of thinking. A new paradigm. MacPaint illustrated how. Purely through experimentation, its user would learn to efficiently operate a mouse and a graphical user interface. It provided immediate, modeless, multidimensional interaction.

ChipWits co-creator Doug Sharp wrote in 1985 that MacPaint was ‘tremendously inspiring’ to him. ‘It’s fun, intuitively easy to use, and sets a standard for all software to follow,’ he continued. For ChipWits, The Colony, and many other Mac games, MacPaint was the standard. If it wasn’t as intuitive and fun to play with the game’s systems as it was with MacPaint, that meant the game wasn’t yet good enough. At least one programmer took direct inspiration from this revelation.

Patrick Buckland often had friends come back to his house to hang out after an evening at the pub. They delighted in trying out his Macintosh and his Apple IIe with a mouse-interface board. ‘I quickly noticed that people loved “playing” MacPaint,’ he recalls. ‘They were enjoying the act of moving the mouse and using it to manipulate things on screen. It didn’t really matter what – just drawing a line and then erasing it was fun.’