Retronauts episode 87 heads east for a look at the legendary Apple II

One of our goals with taking Retronauts weekly was to add a “Retronauts East” series to the lineup… which is basically a fancy way of saying that it would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for me to travel out to San Francisco frequently enough to record a sufficient number of full weekly episodes with Bob to run one every single week. So rather than make that impossible effort, I’ll be recording one episode each month right here in the comfort of my own home in North Carolina. Conveniently, a lot of people with extensive knowledge of and roots in video games happen to live right here in Raleigh, thanks in large part to the presence of several major tech-centric universities, as well as fixtures like a headquarters for IBM, and even some major game studios like Epic.

With this week’s episode, you can enjoy the first fruits of these labors. Retronauts episode 87 doubles as Retronauts East episode 1… and while it has a few rough edges we’ll be endeavoring to sand down in subsequent entries, I feel it makes for a pretty solid start. A big component of the Retronauts East mission statement is to tap into the potential of bringing in new contributors to the show. Bob and I have many areas of specialization about which we can speak with ease (or else this whole podcast endeavor would be moribund by now), but we also have many areas of game history in which we need to rely on our guests. Retronauts East’s fresh new contributors will allow us to expand the show’s horizons beyond the areas to which Bob, our regular San Francisco-based contributors, and I can speak.

You’ll see that in action right here as we tackle a topic that, to my recollection, has never before been covered in any Retronauts format over the past decade. The Apple II computer is essentially the foundation of PC gaming — it’s not only the original mainstream home computer, the hardware was built in part for the express purpose of being able to play games. We’ve gone far too long without tackling such a critical point of video game history, and thankfully this week’s guests — Benj Edwards of Vintage Computing and Ben Elgin of academia — have plenty of experience with and knowledge of the platform to share. It’s a fairly general overview of the system, but I feel pretty confident that we’ll be circling back to cover some of the topics we touch on here in far greater depth in due time…

Episode description: It’s the debut of Retronauts East as East Coast gaming experts Benj Edwards and Ben Elgin join Jeremy to discuss the Apple II computer platform: Its origins, its games, and its legacy.

Libsyn (1:26:12, 62 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

As I mentioned, there are some rough edges to this episode. Besides the mild awkwardness of forming a new podcast Voltron (it’s kind of like going on a first date, except without the nervous flirtation or expectations of a goodnight kiss), this new recording setup has a few quirks that need refinement. Fortunately, the most egregious audio issues — that annoying, disruptive static burst that keeps appearing, and the low fidelity of my mic — have already been attended to. Next time should go far more smoothly, so please bear with us for this pilot effort, and look forward to a second Retronauts East effort in about a month. Thanks! And thanks especially to Ben and Benj for making this show possible. You can follow Ben on Twitter at kirinn, while Benj is at benjedwards, if you’d care to see more of their thoughts on video games, and also not-video games.

And finally, this week’s musical interludes come from Wizardry Suite: We Love Wizardry, a 1987 tribute album to the Wizardry games composed by Kentaro Haneda. Seems a fitting choice for a show on the platform that served as host for the RPG franchise that helped inspire not only the dungeon-crawler genre basically the entirety of all Japanese RPGs…


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21 Responses to Retronauts episode 87 heads east for a look at the legendary Apple II

  1. Pingback: Join me and Simon Belmont this afternoon for a Gintendo stream | Retronauts

  2. Caleb

    I loved this episode. I really feel video game console retro stuff has been talked to death but the pc, dos, and apple games are not as known. Very interested in the apple II games book discussed

  3. I think the first Retronauts East episode game out great. It’s nice to get some fresh perspectives and new topics covered. I really didn’t find the audio problematic at all aside from the bursts of static that you mentioned, so any improvements there are just icing. Looking forward to #2.

  4. Nathan Daniels

    Congrats on the maiden voyage of Retronauts East! Does this make Jeremy the Constantine to Bob’s Licinius? In all seriousness, the information in the episode far outweighed any roughness in the recording. I mean yeah, there was distortion and that damned phantom static, but like you said, it’s a work in progress. I can’t wait for more!

    My memories with the Apple IIe(and in middle school, with the Apple IIgs) mirror those of the guests, although I do tend to get the games mixed up because we owned a Commodore 64 at some point.

    I remember a friend had a IIe, and we waited 45 minutes one day for Print Shop to print me out a 25×45 pixel dog on a dot matrix printer. I also remember a lot of games such as Montezuma’s Revenge, which I believe was similar in nature to Pitfall 2. There were also a few Brøderbund edugames that I can only recall in bits and pieces. I also played a heck of a lot of the Carmen Sandiego games; I don’t remember you guys mentioning them, although they certainly weren’t exclusive to Apple.

    My chief memory of Apple gaming will always be Oregon Trail(major props to everyone on this episode for pronouncing Oregon properly). Growing up, I figured the game was a local phenomenon; it wasn’t until the last decade or so that I realized it was nearly ubiquitous in public elementary schools.

  5. Ryan Gavigan

    Actually for pure metric ****-tons of info in book form, there’s the amazing Sophistication & Simplicity: Life and Times of Apple II by Stephen Weyrich . It definitely would have helped where knowledge was a little thin and gintendo was a hanging in the air a bit :). Jimmy Maher’s blog articles in the apple ii landscapes (especially the multitude of articles on text adventures and the wizardry/ultima/rpg area) are good and entertaining resources.

    Burgertime on Apple II was actually not too bad. On the plus side it had unique levels not found anywhere else in addition to many based on the arcade original. I know my Burgertime 🙂

    Jordan Mechner’s published versions of his journals from the development of Karateka and Prince of Persia are amazing as well.

  6. boxofficepoison

    My older brother had an Apple 2 and it was my first gaming experience and where I learned to read when I was very young. You guys did a good job hitting on the biggest games, two of my favorites and some of the more innovative games to come out on Apple 2 were Taipan and Laws of the West. Laws of the West was as far I can tell the first game to ever have branching dialogue trees. Taipan was a really interesting trade sim sit in the far east circa 19th century. Burger Time was a pretty competent port but as far as best arcade port on Apple 2 Robotron was pretty much a perfect port.

  7. Greg Falkingham

    I wonder if there was some quirk in distribution that made Apple computers virtually invisible during that time up in Canada (or at least southern Ontario). I remember walking into computer stores and seeing the Atari 400 and 800, my friends all had the Vic-20 or Commodore 64, and a local department store featured a TI-99 running an off-brand version of PacMan. The first computer I ever bought and owned was the Timex Sinclair. I don’t remember seeing an Apple computer of any description until at least the late 80s.

  8. Steve

    Loved this episode Jeremy…our first PC was an Apple IIGS; I remember being blown away by the example games running in Software etc/Babbages and begging the parents for one (“It’ll be great for schoolwork” lol).

  9. Steve

    Love Retronauts East! Makes me think of the West Coast Avengers, but not lame. I love this show, and I look forward to more East Cost Retronauts!

  10. Ken

    This episode distills a lot of what I like about Retronauts. The Apple II is not something I have any knowledge of (or nostalgia for, as the podcast may be accused of) so I only went in on the steam of liking retronauts. I had a lot of fun with this episode and learned a lot and am now more interested in the Apple II than I ever was before (though in the end I probably won’t do much with that interest!). Great episode.

  11. I’m very glad this episode got made. Here’s to many more Retronauts East episodes!

    I had an Apple IIe computer lab at my elementary school, and the software was all edutainment. I remember a Frogger clone where you had to do multiplication and division to advance across the platforms, and a F-1 racing game where you had to do addition to drive faster. I always looked forward to the days we got to go to the computer lab.

    Looking forward to the next East coast edition.

  12. I definitely find myself far more drawn to retrocomputing than gaming these days, so I loved this.

    While the only Apple computers I’ve ever owned have been Macs, the Apple II was probably my first introduction to a personal/home computer.

    I’m fairly certain I had messed around with the local community college’s PDP mainframe thanks to my dad, but I distinctly remember being shuffled into the elementary school library with the rest of my class to see the two Apple II+ computers they had mounted on rolling carts with monochrome green screen monitor and floppy drives. They had something installed that could do speech synthesis, which was truly amazing at the time.

    I recall playing an earlier version of Oregon Trail (or something similar) on it – during the hunting sequences, you hit the spacebar to shoot the buckshot up the screen. There was no free roaming around the screen as in the 1985 version.

    Me and another nerd-in-training buddy tried to convince the principal to give us extra time so we could use our newly-gained BASIC skills to write a program for the younger classes, but they were not convinced.

    Anyway, great show!

  13. Jon H.

    Great episode!

    Like a lot of people here, we had an Apple IIGS at home (as well IIGSs/IIEs in the classroom) in elementary school in the early ’90s. Even into middle school in the mid-90s, we used them in science labs! But my parents were strictly anti-game, so most of the stuff you talked about I didn’t even know existed until much later.

    It’s funny that you bring up Warren Robinett and his work on “Adventure,” and later with The Learning Company. Because one of my favorite educational games on the Apple II was TLC’s “Gertrude’s Secret” which–I would discover later in life–bore a striking resemblance to “Adventure!”

  14. Jon H.

    Also: You forgot the first version of EA’s John Madden Football came out for the Apple II in 1988!