Early Mac game developers on the original Macintosh

Richard Moss
Jan 24 · 33 min read

For the 35th anniversary of the Mac’s original release, I thought it’d be fun to dig out some excerpts from the interviews I conducted for my book The Secret History of Mac Gaming.

One of the reasons I wrote the book is that I believe the Mac — through its ideas, innovations, and user-friendliness—changed videogames, and these comments from developers certainly paint a picture in support of that notion.

They speak of a machine so revolutionary, so effortlessly-brilliant, that they were compelled to make something truly great (insanely great, even, to borrow a phrase). And most of them did—if not right away, then later on thanks to the lessons they learnt early in the Mac’s life.

To name just a few of them: Robyn and Rand Miller went on to create Myst, the adventure game that sold CD-ROM drives, dominated sales charts, and showed the public that videogames really could be artful and clever and entrancing to a mass audience. Brian Thomas made If Monks Had Macs, a thoughtful collection of interactive HyperCard stacks that earned the admiration of some of the greatest minds in science and technology. (I told its story in podcast form for my show Ludiphilia.) Charlie Jackson helmed one of the best software houses of the late 1980s (Silicon Beach Software) and then helped Jonathan Gay bring Flash to market. Tony Goodman went on to co-create hit strategy game franchise Age of Empires.

So here, without further ado, is what a dozen or so of the 80 people I interviewed said when I asked them about the original Macintosh.

Gordon Walton

A games industry professional for about as long as the Mac’s been around, Gordon Walton co-founded simulation game specialists Digital Illusions in early 1985 and then later work at the likes of Origin, Sony, Bioware, Maxis, Konami, and Kesmai Corporation, with his latest venture being the MMO Crowfall.

Gordon Walton: I was building games on a Lisa before there was a Mac, because that was the only way you can do it then. Saw the Lisa and said, ‘hey, this is gonna be cool.’ It’s a whole different way of thinking about user interfaces and how we’re going to build stuff. And I actually bought Pascal and started writing a game on the Lisa before they even announced the Mac. Then they announced the Mac and I was like ‘okay, this could really be good.’ *laughs* ‘This could really be interesting.’

Richard Moss: What was it about the interface that so captured you?

Gordon Walton: Just thinking about where the world was. So I’d done games early on the Commodore PET. I’d done a little bit of work on the TRS-80. I started — I’d done a little tiny bit of work on the Apple II. And what I’d found is my ability to compete in the Apple II world meant you had to be an awesome Assembly language programmer. There were some really great people doing some really awesome games, and I had a degree in computer science, and when I first saw the Lisa in particular and started playing with it, I went ‘wow, this is an opportunity for a computer scientist who’s not a bit wizard.’ I wrote plenty of Assembly code in my time, but to be really really good at it is a different thing than just kind of knowing how to do it. I thought, oh wow, I can probably write real games in a higher-level language on top of this kind of operating system that are going to be more sophisticated, more interesting than what we can do in the tiny amount of memory and graphics that we were able to do with, at that time, the 64K 8-bit processor computers that were out there.

So for me, I had actually kind of stopped making games at some point, and it reinvigorated me to actually come back and make games again because the power was there. The power of the processor. I had actually built a 68000 computer while I was in school, so I knew the processor. And I knew the assembly language for the processor. But the amount of power that was there versus the 6502 [processor] was night and day. I mean, literally night and day. So for me it was just an opportunity to go, ‘wow, we can do some games we couldn’t have even thought about doing on a regular computer.’ And to me that opportunity space is what got me super enthused about building something. So I thought about the level and size of games I could build. [It] went up by a factor of 10, easily. And so that’s what enthused me. That’s what made me jump in with both feet and go ‘wow, it’s a new platform. It’s a place where somebody with a real computer science background has a little bit of an unfair advantage over maybe a hacker, and it got me excited.

Next thing you know I’m in deep trouble and making games for a living.

[…]

What was interesting about the Macintosh platform was the UI. There was a whole bunch of degrees of freedom in the UI that we didn’t have before. I’d done games, and did games after, where you had to say ‘where’s my keyboard overlay?’ because I got a key for every function and I have to remember which key goes with which function. And with the Macintosh the interface was on the screen, so suddenly you were in a visual world where you could make the interfaces contextual to what you happened to be doing at the time, and you could also make them blend in.

PT-109 torpedo boat simulator

So in the idea of a simulator, particularly a vehicle simulator, you would say oh, well, I need to go left or right, I need to go up or down, or shoot something — there’s a button for shooting something. Awesome. I don’t have to remember a key, and if you look at the games that were built for the non-GUI systems at the time, they literally would come with a keyboard overlay — a printed-out thing that folded out and then you laid it over your keyboard and it had stuff around the edge to show you what key did what thing for games. And every game had a different one, too, of course. A different set of keys doing a different set of things.

So the GUIs in the Macintosh and later in the Amiga and the Atari ST changed everything around that, and even after that Windows. I mean one of the things that we built—because we were quite often doing games work for hire for one of the big publishers — is we actually built ourselves a set of Mac libraries and published DOS games that ran a Mac GUI before Windows came out. Because, remember, the Macintosh ROM was like a 64K thing. It wasn’t that big. And a buddy of mine, Rob Brannon, was a hot-shot PC programmer who also worked on Mac. I said, ‘can’t you give us a menu system and the rest of the stuff that we use all the time for our games?’ And he said, ‘sure.’ And we whipped it up together and we shipped a couple of games that way where the Macintosh interface was on a DOS machine. And it didn’t have the differences that Windows later had from the Macintosh. You know, it was a one-button system and a hold system rather than a click system — like in Windows. You’d have to hold to keep the menus down on a Mac but on Windows you’d click it once and the menu stays down. So it wasn’t using Windows conventions because they didn’t exist yet. We were just emulating a Mac. It was fun.

The Digital Illusions team during development of the space shuttle simulator Orbiter, shortly before the Challenger disaster (image courtesy Gordon Walton)

Darrell Myers

Darrell joined General Computer Corporation (GCC) in 1982 as an artist for the company’s home console conversions of Atari games, as well as their own original arcade titles. After Atari blew up, GCC started to explore other options. One of those was Apple’s new computer, the Macintosh. They asked Darrell, a computer novice, to work on a missile command clone called Ground Zero. While Darrell would go on to focus his career more on graphic design outside the games industry, he later served as designer and artist on the excellent Mac puzzle game Spin Doctor (later re-released as Clockwerx).

It was definitely a step up [from what I was used to]. The graphics were done in MacPaint. That was pretty much what came with the Mac, and that’s all there was at the time. And it was a blast to work on. And a thrill. Up to that point, a computer — as far as I knew — was something you typed in lines of type. You know, obscure lines of type. I didn’t know at that point that a computer was capable of doing what the Macintosh did. Being able to draw things. I just didn’t think that was doable. I didn’t know anything about it, but yeah, it was a thrill at the time. It’s only laughable in retrospect. It was an amazing breakthrough at the time.

[…]

Ground Zero

When I was in high school I didn’t take any computer classes. I graduated high school in ‘73. Back then I believe they were even using punch cards. I don’t even know how it worked, but you’d set up the IBM punch cards and it’d take a week to get back the compiled program or whatever it was. So I didn’t know that a computer could do what it [the Mac] did. And I don’t believe I’d ever heard of a mouse or anything, so the idea you could just hold down a button and drag the mouse to draw a line or hold the shift key and draw a straight line, and you could zoom in on it and click here and there — compared to anything else I’d ever seen it was such a straightforward, intuitive process. It was just — I mean it made a computer accessible to me where I could do something on it.

Previously I hadn’t really been able to use computers for anything. I literally didn’t know how you would use a computer. And I think the other thing that struck me was the clarity of the pixels. If you look at PCs at that time or even for quite a few years after, there’s always — you’ve got phosphors on the screen, so you get little blurry edges and stuff. And the pixels just — to my memory at least — they were there and they just ended. They were squares, a dot, and where it was it was and where it wasn’t it wasn’t. It was as crisp as you could imagine, and that struck me. You know, just how precise the visual aspect of it was.

Rand Miller

Rand and his younger brother Robyn were world famous in the 90s—the genius pair behind mega-hit, mega-influential games Myst and Riven. But before they could make either of those, the brothers first needed to explore interactive entertainment in a few smaller projects. The arrival of HyperCard in 1987 was their ticket to do that, and it allowed them to create three wonderful, whimsical children’s games, beginning with The Manhole, that shaped the future of computer game design far more than they get credit for. But that’s another story (part of which I told here, in podcast form, as well as in my book and in a livestream I did with Robyn that you can replay on Twitch or YouTube.)

I was very into computer games from a pretty early age. And I would love to tell you that I thought I could make a living out of it. I never knew that, but I knew I wanted to be a programmer and got into it. As many classes as I could take, I took.

Richard Moss: Were you jumping onto the Macintosh right away when it came out?

Rand Miller: Yeah, that’s an interesting story. I continued to mess around with computers. I had some pretty obscure ones. I got married, had kids. But had a relative who was working in a computer store in 1983. Toward the end of the year he brought home this brochure and said Apple’s coming out with this new machine. I’d never had an Apple computer — couldn’t afford it. But I got a job working in a bank and it was making okay money. But when I saw the brochure for the Macintosh it was like well I’m getting this one. I want this.

So I ended up getting probably the first Mac that they delivered to that store. The original. And some of it was — I loved the graphics and the fonts and the WYSIWYG. Without knowing that those things were important to me, when I saw the Mac I realised just exactly how important they were to me. Probably like a lot of people did. So it really kind of got my attention. I mean, I plopped a lot of money down on the Mac when it first came out.

The Manhole

Robyn Miller

While Rand was the technically-minded brother, Robyn leaned more towards music and art — skills that they would combine to brilliant effect in each of Cyan’s games up until he left the company, after the release of Riven, to pursue other forms of storytelling. The Mac would prove to be a fantastic enabler for his talents, too, both in the early days when he would hand draw black-and-white graphics with a mouse and later on when he had more sophisticated 3D graphics tools.

When the Mac first came out, I was sort of head over heels about the Mac. Before then, I didn’t have much interest in computers. But when the Mac came out i kind of realised, ‘oh, computers can allow me to achieve things.’ And so I started using — like for example the year that Photoshop came out I started using Photoshop and the year that Illustrator came out I started using Illustrator. HyperCard was a tool we started using immediately when it came out. I started using that. And I delved into those programs as deeply as I could. But I was not a programmer. So as far as what computers could allow me to do in terms of my art, I loved them. I still do. *laughs*

I’m kind of a geek in that way, but I’ve never been a programmer. So I think the combination of me and Rand and our particular interests and skills coming together — we were a good match for one another. Rand has more of the programming interests and talents, and I have more of the art talents. But we both had a real passion about technology and computers and what computers could do with or for art. And for our own interests in storytelling and art. And we really believed that — especially when the Macintosh came along, because it was the one platform that really was clear to us was going to heighten our abilities to do stuff in the arts. We really believed that we could do something different.

Spelunx and the Caves of Mr Seudo

There were a few products we did before Myst, and those were mostly children’s worlds. And we were empowered by our computers. And we made things — we recognised it at the time, that we made these things that we could have never ever done any other way. And it was such an exciting moment for our own personal histories to be able to achieve that. And then Myst was sort of an evolution creating those same types of worlds but for an older audience. So that was all like — yeah, we were totally into the technology aspect of it. And also something else about all that is the interface aspect.

We wanted to tell a story when it came to Myst — I’m kind of jumping all over the place. That was a main goal of ours. To tell a story interactively, non-linearly. We didn’t really know if we could achieve that. It was to a large part an experiment. It was a technological experiment, it was an artistic experiment, and we thought we would just jump in and try it and see what would happen. *laughs* But one of the biggest parts of that technologically speaking — and I guess artistically speaking — was the interface. Because what would that interface exactly be? Before we’d made Myst we just had no clear conception of what it would be. We had to kind of create it as we were making it. It’s easy in hindsight to look at Myst and say, ‘oh, that’s a very easy interface,’ but we wanted it to be an invisible interface and to feel like it wasn’t there. *laughs* And so that was another part of our creation of the world that came out of our love for technology and our love for the computers we were using at the time.

Those computers were so — they featured the ease of use. And we really admired that so much, which is a funny thing. We loved that in our computers we were using at the time, and then we really wanted to create a world that was not just cinematic and felt kind of film-like and movie-like, you know, and just brought that aspect into the world. But also was invisible feeling because it was just perfectly easy to use. So we were kind of picking things from a lot of different areas that we liked. And a lot of that came from the computers we were using.

Myst

David Alan Smith

One of the programming geniuses at artificial intelligence pioneer Richard Greenblatt’s MIT spinoff company Lisp Machines, Inc, David was inspired by the Mac to make his dream game project, The Colony—a three-dimensional adventure game set on another world wherein you could actually visit the distant mountains you see in the background. Colony was remarkable for its worldbuilding and many technical innovations, but its sadistic design limited its appeal. Still, it was responsible for author Tom Clancy’s entry into videogames and it served as a key inspiration for recent critically-acclaimed indie hit Return of the Obra Dinn. David’s current work has him exploring the future of VR and AR.

We had no support from Apple at all, although I’ll tell you the Mac was an inspiration. It set a really fantastic bar for us. I still think to this day MacPaint is probably the best application ever written. It’s perfect in so many ways. I think it sort of set me to create what I created. Because it was such a high bar that you wanted to build something special for the Mac. Where for the PC the stuff out there was really interesting but it wasn’t that same bar you had in terms of user experience and thinking about what it meant to create something that was *incomprehensible* [sounds like “art”] — it was a lot more than that. It was user centric, and I think that was a key element of the whole thing. I really love that. And I got my Mac literally the first day you could get one as a peon. As a common person. But as I got to understand it and dive deep into it that aesthetic became really a centrepiece of what it was we did. And that was — invariably Rand and Robyn Miller embraced that as much as anybody. I think of them as the quintessential early Mac game developers. They got it more than anyone. I think I did a pretty good job too, but I think they really — and honestly it wasn’t Myst that really mattered to me. It was earlier stuff like Cosmic Osmo and the one before that.

Richard Moss: The Manhole.

David Alan Smith: I still think of it as the best — maybe the best game on the Mac, because it was so quintessentially Mac-ish. It was absolutely brilliant and beautiful. Surreal. As the Mac was. It was such a different world. It was literally like being introduced to a new reality.

I just totally, totally loved that. It’s funny, by the way, you probably don’t know much about my company, but I ended up working with Alan Kay for about 20 years. And Alan was the guy who created that interface at Xerox Parc. The Alto. So he and I were partners. We still work together. But it was sort of — my first introduction to Alan’s work was the Macintosh. Which is really quite cool. *laughs* I had a good time with that.

Richard Moss: How did he feel about the Mac?

David Alan Smith: The quote he gave when it came out was he said it was the first computer worthy of criticism. Which is very high praise. It wasn’t perfect, but it was on the right track. He’s a person that’s very difficult to satisfy, by the way. I mean, he and his team had created the Alto. And there’s a story — this is true — that he said ‘you know, the Alto is really great and all, but let’s just throw it away and start over.’ The term was burn the disk packs. Everything was in these big disks, about two feet wide, and they called them disk packs. You could come up and drop them into the disk reader and stuff. He said let’s burn ’em. Let’s start from scratch. And the team who were creating the Alto said you’re crazy. You’re out of your mind because this stuff is so good. And that meeting actually occurred at an off-site, and he left the meeting in tears and resigned from Xerox because he thought that the Alto, which is the real — the thing that Steve Jobs saw was the Alto — he felt that it was nowhere near good enough. So Jobs saw it and didn’t see the fact that it was an object-oriented programming system. He didn’t see the ethernet, which was also invented there. He didn’t see that. What he saw was a beautiful interface.

[…]

So I saw MacPaint and I thought that’s the way you need to think about what anything should be. A game, an application. So I built Colony around that paradigm. And that was a good paradigm. I think a lot of games could do that. The idea of using a mouse to control where you are, what you’re looking at. Colony didn’t have quite the mouselook interface that Carmack [John, id Software co-founder] came up with later, but it was pretty close.

The Colony

It came out of Alan’s work, and [Bill] Atkinson’s work. Atkinson I think was so critically important. He created QuickDraw, which allowed us to build these really great apps and games. But he created MacPaint, and MacPaint I still look at — like I said — as the most perfect application ever written. It’s stunning. You look at it and you know immediately how to use it. And the power of that. It allows any idiot to be a great artist. *laughs* Which is something magical.

*incomprehensible* [I think he says something about MacPaint ads and how they showed its simplicity] It was absolutely brilliant. And you have to look at those first apps as the thing that informed us as game designers what this platform was really about. It wasn’t just like, oh, well it’s a new computer. It was a completely new way of thinking what computing meant. To have that interaction. To explore that new world.

And so when I wrote Colony—you look at MacPaint and you look at Colony and how they’re laid out, they’re pretty damn similar. I had a little control panel to the left that was almost identical to the location of MacPaint. And I had this virtual world — it happened to be a 3D world, but Bill Atkinson had a virtual paper world. Which is just as realistic and I think just as deep as what I did with Colony. So I thought all I was doing was extending their paradigm slightly. They already had the idea of virtual systems. Virtual paper was there, so when you go into a virtual world it’s kind of the obvious next step.

I was extraordinarily influenced by the Mac itself, but in particularly the applications that were created to launch the Mac. You can’t separate them. The games that were created — this idea of dragging and dropping was a central paragon of what the Mac was about. I didn’t do drag and drop, but a lot of other games did. But this idea of immediate control, immediate access, modeless interaction, was crucial. And I think your thesis is correct. These are the things that really defined the next generation of games.

Brian Thomas

The man behind one of the most fascinating, but also oddball, works of multimedia, Brian took the radical ideas of the Macintosh and its software and he ran with them. His work, made collaboratively with a diverse cast of other creators, was compiled in If Monks Had Macs—a HyperCard compendium that defied description and earned immeasurable praise. I profiled Brian and told the story behind Monks in a two-part podcast series.

The way I first heard about the Macintosh was when I was in this printing company. We were printing Newsweek and Time magazine. We had a big offset printer. Lots of magazine printing. Lithographs. And one time at Newsweek, to kick off the Macintosh, they bought every ad in Newsweek. And we’d be printing it in the shop, and it was common for printers to hold up an ad that really fascinated them. Usually some bodacious babe. And you would hold it up and go, ‘wow! She’s hot. She’s not hot.’ I just remember seeing that first Macintosh ad, where here I was just licking and sticking — this is in the early days before digital printing. We would just tape down the negatives in registration. And when we got the ads from Newsweek it had already been laid out. It was pretty simple work we were doing.

A page from the Passing Notes stack in If Monks Had Macs

The first Macintosh ad, where it said, ‘You too can be a knowledge worker.’ Or at least that’s what I remember it as saying, and here I was just kind of a drone working on these magazines. And I held that up and everyone just kind of stared at it. Where’s the woman? And it just kind of hit me. And I saved my money until I could buy a Macintosh.

Ben Haller

These days he’s an evolutionary biologist, but for many years Ben worked in the tech industry with the likes of Berkeley Systems and Apple. He also created the first colour shareware Mac game, Solarian II, and the first screensaver game, Lunatic Fringe.

Ben Haller: But then in 1984 the first Mac came out. I went over to a friend’s house and I saw the Mac for the first time. It was the original 128K black and white, and it was just so different from the IBM PC and from DOS and all of that. It just blew me away with how visual it was. How interactive it was. I had never imagined that a computer could be anything like that. And I’m a visual person. I’m a very aesthetically-based person, so it was just kind of a life-changing moment for me, I would say. I immediately set to work convincing my parents that I needed to have a Mac. *laughs*

Solarian II

Charlie Jackson

I anchored a whole chapter of my book on Charlie and his dream to represent the United States in an international sporting competition of one kind or another, but that’s just a small part of his story. Some other notable achievements: He founded Silicon Beach Software, makers of Dark Castle and SuperPaint (among other programs), helped Jonathan Gay on the business side with what would become Flash, and was an early investor in Wired Magazine.

I saw the Macintosh, and I’d been looking to try to do something in software even before the Macintosh came out. But I hadn’t found a good opportunity, and I didn’t really have any major financing available to me. The Mac came out and I had a little computer training business. I was teaching people how to use Apple IIs and IBM-PCs at that point, and doing instructional courses. Businesses would hire me and I’d go in and teach their people.

Then I saw the Mac and I said okay this is an opportunity, because I’d seen what had happened with both the Apple II and IBM-PC. When they first came out there was very little software. People just want software. Almost anything. It’s something to buy for their computer. I remember somebody walking into a store here locally and they had a new IBM PC. They said, ‘wow, any new software? I want to buy something.’

The Macs looked like a really interesting new opportunity, so I planned to do something. I thought okay I gotta start finding people. So I founded the San Diego Macintosh User Group, and the first couple of meetings were in my house. The very first meeting Jonathan’s father came to it, and so did Eric Zocher.

I was talking to Jonathan’s father afterwards and he told me ‘my son won a school science fair award in the state of California for programming in Pascal.’ I said ‘oh, really, you think he’d be interested in programming on a Macintosh?’ He said, ‘Are you kidding?’ Around then we discovered — you probably know this at this point — you couldn’t program on a Macintosh for the Macintosh. The tools weren’t there, the compilers etcetera. And so to program a piece of software for the Macintosh you had to buy the Lisa computer.

I took most of my life savings and bought a Lisa. It was $10,000 in 1984. That’d be like $20,000 now or something. It was quite expensive. And I met with Jonathan and he agreed. We had an arrangement there where he wouldn’t get any money up front. He would get royalties after the fact, which was fairly normal back then. Even to somebody who is doing exactly what you want. He was not an employee. He had two assets that I needed. One: he had time, and two: he didn’t need money up front, because I didn’t have any other than buying the Lisa.

Airborne, Silicon Beach Software’s first program

So, bought the Lisa computer and handed it to him. He had it in his bedroom. He was the envy of his classmates at school. *laughs* That’s how we got together. I just took a chance on him. I didn’t do any due diligence. I didn’t say ‘prove to me you can program for this.’ I just — that’s what you do when you’re a new, brash entrepreneur. Very naive and not afraid of things. You just do it. And it turned out he’s an incredible programmer.

Eric Zocher

He’s had long stints in senior roles at Microsoft and Adobe, but before that Eric was just a college kid excited about computers. Like he did with Jonathan Gay, Charlie Jackson took Eric under his wing and allowed him to do wonderful things (most relevant to my book, he developed a sound driver for Silicon Beach’s games that could play digitised samples—a first, as far as I know, for home computing platforms).

I was paying attention to personal computers, and a friend of mine was a Lisa developer. So Lisa came out before the Mac and there was one Apple training class for outside Lisa developers. This particular colleague of mine who had been at the computer centre was one of like 30 students that went to the only time Apple had this Lisa developers camp. He came back and showed me and some other friends what it was like to program the Lisa. It was really way ahead of its time, because it was basically a little bit heavierweight version of the Mac user experience but a lot of the concepts were the same. Well, Bill Atkinson worked LisaDraw before he worked on MacPaint and QuickDraw. So I was really familiar with the Lisa. And the Lisa was really expensive and physically imposing and everything. It was more like a workstation, but at the time CRTs weren’t very big. And it was black and white like the Mac. I can’t remember but it was like $8000, which is like $30,000 today. So super expensive.

It was really cool and it was obvious the GUI was going to be a big deal. So I was a fan of the Mac before the Mac got announced. The rumours were happening that they were going to build a cheaper one. That was really exciting so I was waiting to see. I had never owned my own personal computer. I had access to all these big computers, which was really fun, but I was waiting for the Mac to come out.

Then Charlie said on some Unix newsgroup said, ‘hey, we’re having the first San Diego Mac User Group meeting.’ I think there were about 35 of us in Charlie’s office in his house. I stayed around because he had a Mac and I hadn’t played with one yet. We met each other and he said he wanted to start a software company and I said ‘I’m a programmer!’ *laughs* ‘I want to work with you!’ In the summer of 84, Charlie applied to be a Mac developer. Got one of the development systems, which at the time was a Lisa, which of course I was familiar with, and programming back then in Pascal — I took my very first programming class in UCSD Pascal because I was at UCSD. And I knew Motorola 68000 Assembly language because that’s what we used in our Assembly language classes. So I knew a lot of languages by then. But I just like graphics and I liked programming computers.

Roy Harvey

Roy was a founding member of Ann Arbor Softworks, best known for creating the program FullPaint (but actually founded, he told me, with the intention of making games—an idea they gave up on after just one game, Grid Wars). He just recently ended a long stint in production and management on EA Sports’ Madden franchise and is now general manager of EA’s Search for Extraordinary Experiences Division (part of their R&D wing).

I was a big fan of Steve Jobs. I met him early in my career as well, but just being an Apple II guy and seeing that 1984 ad. I knew the future was not gonna be DOS. It was the first windows[-based] UI. I still have my original Mac in the garage at home. I don’t know if it would still boot. Just a very very cool computer. It was so far beyond what folks were using at that point. And it was a really really fun time to be in computers. It was just starting, kind of mid-80s, early-80s, it was just starting to transition out of the hobbyist area. The IBM PC had kind of taken over in the business world and the Mac was kind of — much like it is now — the counter-culture machine. It’s still like that in business. They have pronounced the Macintosh dead three or four times over its life.

I think if you asked some Mac aficionados now they’d say it’s dead again because they don’t really build anything — they haven’t refreshed their laptops in a while [and] they don’t care much about desktop machines. It’s really about the iPad and iPhone and Watch these days. But I was always a big fan of what they did and why they did it.

Bill Appleton

He created HyperCard competitor SuperCard and game authoring tool World Builder, and led programming efforts on numerous other games and productivity apps—including graphic adventure Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, which was one of the most popular computer games of its era. He now builds cloud backend services, using the latest version of technology that he originally developed for games.

When I was in graduate school in economics and the Mac came out, I pretty much dropped everything and spent all the money I had to buy one of the original 128K Macs. I started reading the technical documentation. I don’t know if you remember Inside Macintosh. It was kind of the bible. A gigantic book.

Richard Moss: Yeah, you can even still find it on the Internet.

Bill Appleton: Oh man. *laughs* But there was really no way to write software on the machine. You needed a Lisa at that time. But I met Alain Rossmann, who was the founder of *incomprehensible* [Klip and Vudu] and he was an evangelist for Apple. He gave me a copy of the assembler on floppy disk, and at the same time I got a hold of a copy of a dump of the ROMs — the 68000 source code. I read the ROMs to learn how to program on the Mac. I had some basic programming information, but really I had never studied it. I mean, I was in graduate economics at the time.

Enchanted Scepters, the first and only commercial World Builder game (there were many shareware and freeware titles, several of which were excellent)

And I just started writing software. I wanted to write a really great adventure game but I felt like in order to do that I needed to write a great authoring tool to build adventure games, and that’s when I built World Builder. This is circa 1984. World Builder was the first rich-media authoring tool, as far as I know.

Glenda Adams

Glenda was, for a long time, synonymous with Mac gaming. After years of bouncing around the industry, mostly doing porting projects big and small, she co-founded Westlake Interactive—which for its few years on the scene was the best porting company in the business—and then spent about a decade in management at Aspyr. She works on mobile games now.

Glenda Adams: I was kind of a gamer from early on, when I first got an Apple II. It was my first computer, and before I learnt to program we were playing whatever we had — Lemonade Stand, even, and Oregon Trail. Stuff like that. Just collecting different games and playing all the different ones. Eventually I also taught myself programming, early on. That was kind of what I always wanted to do. I was an Apple person forever.

When the Mac came out I instantly wanted one. So I had one of the first 128K Macs in 1984. I stood in line at the university and got one for some exorbitant amount of money. *laughs*

[…]

Glenda Adams: I guess I had seen the Lisa at some user groups a couple of years before. At that point, having used nothing but command line with Apple II stuff, it just blew my mind to see windows and graphics like that. The graphical user interface and that level of detail and fidelity — the fonts and all of that direct control point and click. So everybody knew the rumour mill and heard the Mac was going to come out, that Apple was going to do a consumer Lisa. My first Mac, even though it was tiny and the screen was so small and the little floppy disks, and all that, it still was just kind of mindblowing to see that leap in interface. I was always kind of interested in the interface design part of things, too. So that whole paradigm shift was a really interesting treat to me. And I could tell this was obviously going to be the future. This was where computer stuff was going.

So that’s why even with that first Mac that you could do nothing with but MacPaint and MacWrite, I wanted to be able to do that. I wanted to be able to sit there and play with MacPaint for hours. Just being able to interact with the screen and interact with the tools and that stuff directly was really just something totally new at the time.

Richard Moss: You can probably tell, I’m a lot younger than you. So I was not yet born when the first Mac came out.

Glenda Adams: Oh goodness! You’re very young. *laughs*

Richard Moss: My dad bought a Mac Plus when that came out, and that was basically the first computer that I got to use. So whenever I was big enough to first use a computer, that was what I used. I adored that computer so much.

Glenda Adams: They had so much personality, too. Everything else was just these boxy cubes. And that smiling Mac, when it booted up, it just had a whole different feeling, I think. I think that was part of what attracted me to the Mac. And also because I’d been a longtime Apple fan, I always kind of liked their idea of software-hardware integration and just ease of use and focusing on the user experience rather than how fast the processor is or how much RAM or whatever.

Scott Kim

After more than three decades plying his trade, with lots of work published both in digital and physical forms, Scott is now a world-renowned puzzle designer. He’s also an expert on ambigrams, which are words that read the same upside down as they do right-side up (thanks to some graphic design/typography magic).

My impulse is always to share what I know. I’m a teacher at heart, so I wanted to make a game that would teach other people how to make ambigrams, which means thinking about symmetry and thinking about understanding how letters are constructed. Basically it’s teaching some of the skills of a typeface designer. When I saw — in 1984, I saw Susan Kare, one of the original Macintosh team [members]. She was the artist on the team. Did all the original icons. She demoed MacPaint. It was probably the most memorable demo I’ve ever seen. The original MacPaint was a very fine piece of work, even though it had to work within severe limits. And that demo — at the end of the demo, you knew how to use the program. That’s credit both to her and to Bill Atkinson, who designed it.

So I fell in love with MacPaint, enjoyed using it, and decided I would try to build a game within MacPaint — to be played using the MacPaint tools. It’s an unconventional idea. I got pretty entranced by it, by that challenge. I haven’t seen a whole lot of other attempts to do that, but I’ve seen a few tutorials, like for drawing programs or word processors, where the tutorial _is_ using a file. You know, you could do a word processor tutorial using a document that tells you how to edit itself. It’s kind of fun. I got entranced by the idea of making software without programming. These days it’s called Web pages, but that was way earlier. So I ended up doing that.

So it was a game where it was a series of MacPaint files. It included the instructions. Each page file included some written instructions and a puzzle to solve, like ‘select this area and then figure out how to flip it around in order to make some other shape’. It worked pretty well. It’d being my first game, however, I certainly wouldn’t have done it that way then. [Note: It seems he got his words jumbled here — likely meant he wouldn’t have done it that way had he known more & had he had more experience in game design.] I learned a ton, but it wasn’t a very practical product. But it did get some attention, and it got Michael Feinberg’s attention. I was getting interested in the game world, and he saw what I could do and really wanted me to work on his next game, Heaven and Earth. So that’s what led to that.

Patrick Buckland

Patrick was co-creator of the controversial (but very popular) vehicular combat game series Carmageddon, and before that he made hit game Crystal Quest—one of the most successful, and most pirated, Mac games of all time. (He’s also made or contributed to a bunch of other games, and for several years was a contract programmer on business and productivity software.)

The ‘mouse’ was something very new. I had a Lisa, which you needed to develop for the Mac back then, and Apple had also ported ‘Paint to the Apple //e, with a mouse-interface board. I was only 22 at the time, and had a lot of people coming back to our house after the pub most days, which often involved playing around with what was at the time the absolute cutting-edge hardware (whilst intoxicated in various ways, some legal, others less so). I quickly noticed that people loved ‘playing’ MacPaint and the Apple // equivalent. They were enjoying the actual 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. I also noticed that they tended to stick their tongues out whilst doing so, which is always a good sign of concentration levels!

At the same time, I needed a prototype project to learn the Lisa-based Mac development system, and to learn the various Mac OS calls and architecture. I wanted to knock something up to get to grips with this new machine.

So I decided to design a game around the observations about Paint and to write it to learn the hardware. The game itself was completely abstract really — it was the control method that drove the design. That as well as your classic “entropy-reversal” game design. You take clutter, and you clean it up. It’s a classic theme in old-style 2D games, from PacMan’s dots, to Asteroids’ rocks and appears in many other games. The human brain seems to like cleaning things up (especially if you don’t have to get up to do so…). So that was the other design pillar.

Crystal Quest

Joe Williams

Joe co-founded Delta Tao Software, one of the longest-running Mac developers—best known for Eric’s Ultimate Solitaire, Color MacCheese (a paint program), and the Spaceward Ho! series. There’s nothing particularly insightful about his comments here, but I thought fans of his work might enjoy this.

My roommate bought a Macintosh the day it came out, and we used it obsessively. We wrote garish papers (fonts! dingbats!) and played Wizardry all through the nights. We wrote a poker game (Poker MacDitch) with incredible sound and an AI that defeated the underclassmen. Our bridge AI defeated nobody, but it did follow the rules. That’s something.

Tony Goodman

The one person I’ve included here who didn’t contribute to any Mac games (except indirectly, as his games were ported to the Mac), Tony’s still very much notable here as he founded Age of Empires creator Ensemble Studios—initially as a side project for consulting company Ensemble Corporation—and had an instrumental role in the game’s creation (as I explored in this Ars Technica article last year).

Age of Empires

My roommate in college who started the Ensemble Corporation with me — so in 1984, our first year college, he got his parents to buy him one of their… it was one of the first years the Mac was out. Maybe Apple was doing this thing with universities, at the University of Texas, but having a Macintosh you know in our dorm room was just the most amazing thing for me — for a computer nerd debt to be able to have a toy like that. It was fantastic. I loved those early Apple days.

I had known the PC up till then and it really had — there wasn’t much to be excited about. But that first time you — the first time I saw a Mac and the graphical user interface, *laughs* that’s a pretty amazing thing to go from a DOS prompt to a mouse-driven user interface and just see how everything worked that way. Had the Mac Word. I think it was called Mac Word.

Richard Moss: MacWrite.

Tony Goodman: MacWrite. That’s it. Yeah. And paint — MacPaint.

You’d draw a squiggly line and flood fill it with a pattern. It was pretty — it was magic.

Richard Moss

Written by

Freelance writer/journalist. Author: Secret History of Mac Gaming, Shareware Heroes (upcoming); Producer: Ludiphilia, The Life & Times of Video Games.

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