The start of the affair: Apple IIe

[Editor’s note: NihonTiger90 takes a look at a couple of classic games for the Apple IIe for his Monthly Musing piece. — CTZ]

When I started out thinking about this month’s Monthly Musings, I had only intended to write one, maybe two. But the more thought about it, the more I came to realize that a lot of games had an impact on me and that one or two games couldn’t highlight all of them. On top of that, I’ve begun to realize I was a gamer long, long before the snowy Christmas morning when I tore open the big box under the tree and found a Super Nintendo waiting for me.

This story is one example of just that. It’s sometimes easy to forget when you’ve been around videogames as long as I have just when the whole thing started, but I’ve now rediscovered a part of my past I had once forgotten about because I was so young at the time. It was this little part of the past that gave me my first taste of gaming and set the path for what was to come almost 20 years later, thanks in no small part to two games: Lode Runner and Choplifter. More after the jump.

In the mid-1980s, Apple rolled out a brand new computer, the successor to the Apple II — the Apple IIe. More powerful than the original, the Apple IIe rocked a mind-blowing 1.023 MHz processor, 64 KB of RAM, dual floppy-disk drives and a keyboard and joystick. It ended up being sold for almost 10 years from 1983 to 1993.

Many people bought them, including my dad, who used to use it partially for work, and partially to play some of the games that came along with it. Karateka, Castle Wolfenstein, Miner 2049er, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Ghostbusters, Wavy Navy, the Apple IIe had it all back in the day. And one day during my youth, I happened to be around my dad when he was playing these games.

I was only about three at the time of this amazing discovery. What were these things that had caught my attention at such a young age? What was this little box with a screen that beeped when I started it up? All I know was it caught my attention.

Soon, it was my turn to stop watching and start playing. Sure, I played plenty of games on that old Apple, but Lode Runner and Choplifter still stick out as games I played the most.

Back in the 1980s, Broderbund was a growing company, known for their programs like Print Shop Deluxe that let you make fancy cards and banners on your dot-matrix printers. And yes, most of my happy birthday banners when I was younger were like that. But they also had a few popular games under their publishing belts, and perhaps no two were more famous than Choplifter and Lode Runner.

Lode Runner’s premise was pretty simple: you had to run around mazes, climbing ladders to collect gold, all while avoiding robots that were out to stop you. It might have started off easy, but that was just a trap to lure you in. The mazes got more complex, the timing more precise, the robots more sinister. This game kicked my ass more times than I really wish to remember, but it also had another interesting feature that caught my eye: a level designer. A very open level designer actually. And I took advantage of it, often creating levels that were either really easy or really weird.

Choplifter, you could say, was the prototype for Desert Strike and similar games that came after it. In it, you played a helicopter pilot with a nose-mounted gun and a mission: rescue the POWs from their prison camps and bring them back safely. Of course, it could never be easy. You had to go up against an army of tanks, jet fighters and soldiers all determined to shoot you down and end your rescue attempt.

You also had to be careful with the rescuing and landing. Land too fast and you crash your chopper. Land too close to the POWs and you smoosh them. Not good, considering each level had a quota that needed to be rescued to move on to the next level. It took skill to be able to navigate a battlefield full of enemy combatants to save your friends, but it was a challenge I was up for, even as I crashed and burned again, and again, and again.

I sunk hours into these games and others on the Apple IIe’s green-shaded screen, even long after I got my Super Nintendo. The challenge and the fun I felt while playing these kept me coming back for more and helped to firmly establish a love and respect for what videogames were. The times may have changed, the graphics may have gotten better and the controls more complex, but the core of what Choplifter and Lode Runner taught me – that gaming was fun, no matter how hard it might be – still lives on today.

The Apple IIe, Lode Runner and Choplifter are still around today. The computer no longer works, sadly, as the motherboard died on it somewhere around 1995, but it is repairable. My mom has been itching to toss it into the trash, but each time, I’ve thwarted her, promising that one day, I’d take it off their hands. I still plan on doing just that, to save that part of my past so that maybe one day, if I ever have kids (who knows, stranger things have happened), they will be able to grow up playing some of those same games, too.

Brian Szabelski