Life with an 8-Bit Computer

As I said in my previous article, I didn’t just use my Apple clone to learn programming. There were games to play and work to do. Most of this software was copied, which was the style at the time (to quote Grandpa Simpson) but not all of it was illegal. Honestly, the games we enjoyed the most were the ones we bought so at least the developers of those great games were properly reimbursed.

Among those games which we bought and spent hours playing were the Ultima series. Specifically Ultima III, Ultima IV and Ultima V. To me, Ultima III was the one which I enjoyed the most. It was a simple role playing game where the goal was, in general, kill everything you see. If you need a bit more gold, we would often raid a city, kill the inhabitants and take all the gold. And, if you leave the city and come right back, you could do it all again. It was a quick way to get the gold you need for buying a new ship or whatever you thought you might need next. But with Ultima IV, that all changed. In Ultima IV, your actions and choices affected your ability to progress in the game. Your character needed to develop different virtues like honesty and honour. So, killing the inhabitants of a city and stealing their gold didn’t help anymore. I finished Ultima III (a couple of times I think) but I never got to the end of Ultima IV. I was pretty far along but didn’t get there. I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours playing Ultima V. My brother, Steve spent a bunch of time playing that one. But it came on a crazy number of disks and I really didn’t enjoy all of the disk swapping which was required.

We also played Summer Games alot. I remember that we would often play a single player game and take turns on the events. My brother was best at some events, I was best at others, our friends best at other ones. Our goal was to try to get the best score possible. But, no one was good at the gymnastics event and it seemed to go on and on forever. So, if someone screwed up their event, they had to do the gymnastics event.

That wasn’t the only olympics style game we had. We “acquired” a copy of Microsoft Decathalon and am I thankful we didn’t pay for it. Firstly, because the game sucked. Secondly, because it allows me to say that I am one of the few people who haven’t ever purchased a Microsoft product (and this is the only one I ever pirated). I remember the shot put event the most. You had to use the joystick to control your players arm. One axis controlled the rotation of your shoulder and the other axis controlled the rotation of your elbow. Try as you might to throw the shotput, inevitably you would end up with your arm in a completely unnatural position and the shotput would go anyway. Truly an awful game but not a bad piece of software for Microsoft. I honestly don’t recall it ever crashing which is something.

It wasn’t just games on our Apple though. I had a copy of Apple Writer which I was using to write essays and other things for school. We bought an Epson RX-80 dot matrix printer and a Grappler parallel interface card to hook it up. So, I could print out whatever I was working on in Apple Writer. But, an Apple ][+ only had 40 columns of text and no lower case (unless you bought an 80 column card or modded it to get lower case, neither of which I did). In Apple Writer, it showed everything as upper case but if you printed it, it was all lower case. If you pressed “escape” and then a letter, that letter would be shown in inverse text and indicated it was actually upper case. Sure enough, it would be upper case when you printed. So, that is how you got upper case and lower case in your documents on a computer which only supported upper case. The printer had 80 columns of text (I think you could get 132 with the right control sequence also) but the screen only had 40. Between the different columns of text and the lack of lower case, it definitely wasn’t WYSIWIG but it was good enough for me.

We also bought The Print Shop from Broderbund. Suddenly, we were printing banner, signs and lots of other crazy things. It was a great little program though and it made it really easy to create a nice simple, reasonably good looking documents. Or, you could use lots of pieces of clip art, turn on all of the different text modes and really create a god awful looking poster. We did that quite often too.

The other neat thing about the Grappler interface card was that it could print directly from the Apple ][‘s graphics screen. Using the right commands, you could print the text screen, the low res screen or the high res screen. So, all of the little programs I wrote to create strange patterns in hi res I could print now. Pretty soon the walls around the computer was covered in paper of different images I had printed.

We had that computer from 1982 until 1987 and it served us very well. In 1982, I didn’t know anyone else with a computer but within a couple of years, it seemed almost everyone had one.

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