Wade Clarke's memoir of growing up writing games for the Apple II


This was the year I turned fifteen, and a year I recall loving. On the computer front, my parents decided we could move up to an Apple IIGS after running with the Apple II+ since 1981. The new computer was basically my huge birthday present. It arrived at our house on August 24. I set it up after I came home from school that day and tried out Warlock, my first IIGS game. When my friend Michael, who had an Apple IIc, came to stay that evening, he walked into the room and declared to his mum, "We have to get one of these." Though he never actually did.

I also remember 1990 as a year when the quality of PC gaming was improving at a rate of knots. Just a year or two earlier, I'd gone into the cold, dark study of the house of my friend Mark, where his dad's PC was, and played the pretty unimpressive PC version of Shinobi in CGA while listening to the machine’s soporific fan. By way of contrast, in 1990, I went to a sleepover birthday party at the house of another friend (Eugene) where four of us played the PC version of Gauntlet II at length. I found the computer's tortured rendition of the coin-op's theme song hilarious, but the PC version's gameplay and graphics, and the fact that four people could play off one keyboard, were all amazing.

Other cool stuff happened in 1990. David Lynch made Wild At Heart, still my favourite film from my favourite director, though I didn't see it until 1991. Twin Peaks didn't air on Australian TV until early 1991, either, but was equally life-changing for me. There was the excitement of seeing the film of The Hunt For Red October with Michael in Newcastle, then coming back to his house to play the rather infuriating game of it on his Apple IIc. ("Take this in your gut, sir!" said the mutineering crewmember at the end of each game as he shot us in the stomach, due to our complete failure to hide the fact that we were defecting to the USA.)

Like a lot of people, I do feel romantic about various aspects of my teenage years, though it's important those feelings don't come at the expense of the present.

In my Apple II game-making, 1990 was also a big year, maybe my biggest. I was really getting on top of a certain combination of techniques which I used to make multiple action games, the price being that the projects were starting to become so ambitious that they were running slowly in BASIC. The elements of these games were as follows:

  • Core programs written in BASIC, usually one for the intro and then one or more for the in-game routines
  • In-game graphics created with the font editor from Beagle Bros Apple Mechanic
  • In-game tone sounds made by POKE and CALL techniques shown in Apple Mechanic
  • A title screen drawn with either or both of E-Z Draw 3.3 (by the now legendary Nasir Gebelli) and Blazing Paddles
  • A routine I got off a public domain demonstration disk to decompress my compressed title image
  • Two-voice title screen music made with the Electric Duet

I was still doing all of this in DOS 3.3. It wasn’t until I got my Apple IIGS late in the year that I started to look into ProDOS at all.