Retronauts Episode 98: Mac Gaming in the ’80s

The very first episode of Retronauts East explored the PC gaming side of things with a look at the platform that kicked off computer games in earnest: The Apple II. This week, Ben and Benj and I have reconvened for a follow-up. That’s right, we’re talking about the next major Apple gaming platform, the Mac.

Although most people think of Mac gaming as a contradiction in terms, there were enough unique games — and enough games that introduced revolutionary play concepts — that we had to break this study of the Mac platform into two halves! This time around, we spend nearly two hours examining Mac games of the ’80s; at some point in the future, we’ll hit the ’90s. And there really is a critical and meaning distinction between the two. Up until the launch of System 7 in 1991, almost all Mac games were designed to be compatible with the basic Mac platform: High-resolution (for the time) black-and-white screens. Color was a nicety, and usually not even an option, throughout the ’80s. The arrival of universal color systems and CD-ROM systems would bring massive change to the Mac in its second decade of existence. This episode, however, centers entirely on the unique gaming ecosystem that existed on Mac from 1984-1990.

Episode description: Retronauts East’s journey through the history of Apple-based gaming continues with an in-depth look at the unique world of monochrome Mac gaming. Ben Elgin, Benj Edwards, and Jeremy Parish discuss the miracle of the mouse and the hotness of HyperCard.

MP3, 53.7 MB | 1:51:24
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Notes on music: There wasn’t really any music to speak of in the Mac games we covered this time around, so I jumped ahead to the ’90s and pulled some incidental tunes from one of the future works we mentioned a couple of times in passing: Myst. And for the cover art, I decided to eschew my usual watercolors because, well, Mac was monochrome — and not just monochrome, but one-bit black-and-white. I managed to hit most of the big games we discussed this episode: Alice Through the Looking Glass, Scarab of Ra, Stunt Copter, Shadowgate, Shufflepuck Cafe, Shanghai, and even Dark Castle.

Supplemental links: I want to throw out links to two works worth checking out for further reading. First is The Digital Antiquarian’s retrospective on Cliff Johnson’s The Fool’s Errand, which covers the game with depth we couldn’t even begin to approach in podcast first. Second, I highly recommend Revolution in the Valley by Andy Herzfield, a fascinating first-person account of the creation of the Macintosh. I’d really hoped to re-read the book to refresh my memory on some of the finer points of the system’s birth before the show, but I ended up sinking all my time into exploring the games themselves… which are the more important consideration for this particular podcast, yeah?

Finally, big thanks to Benj for his wonderfully ridiculous mailbag theme. I thought he was joking, but nope…


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17 Responses to Retronauts Episode 98: Mac Gaming in the ’80s

  1. John Learned

    Did the ICOM stuff like Shadowgate and Deja Vu share the same music with their NES versions? Not that the Myst music is bad, but I’m a little surprised you didn’t use those tunes instead

  2. aett

    Really loved this one – it totally brought me back. I’m looking forward to more ’80s and ’90s Mac gaming episodes.

  3. Red Hedgehog

    Jeremy is correct. The Mac ICOM games had no music. They did have some nice sampled sound effects though.

  4. Vic Vega

    Sorry for the (partial) hijack, but are there any current plans for Retronauts to take a look at Thimbleweed Park, the latest point-and-click release from the Maniac Mansion guys? I’m barely into it myself, but it seems really good in a *very* retro- kinda way.

    And IIRC, Jeremy’s a pretty big early-era Lucasarts fan…no?

  5. One game not mentioned was Moebius: Secrets of the Celestial Scrolls, which was…interesting.

    It was one of my first RPGs, but it was a hybrid fighting game, RPG, adventure that was completely unique to anything I played at the time. I don’t think it was exclusive to MAC, but I didn’t see it on other platforms at the time.

    Still, with the MAC’s limited amount of games, you just has to play, grin, and bear it.

  6. HelloMrKearns

    The best way to play these games for most people today would be They are currently adding several disc images to the archive that are emulated in the browser.

  7. dc12

    I played a lot of Wheel of Fortune on those B&W mini-computers.

  8. Super Boy Alan

    Love that mailbag theme! Totally made my morning.

  9. Jose

    Every time Jeremy makes a snide left-wing remark, I get so annoyed that I realize 3 minutes have passed on the show while I was boiling.

    Serious suggestion: if you think your politics are so valid that they belong on a podcast, why don’t you just make a separate show for people who actually want to hear it? Henry and Bob to co-host.

    Please, either that or stop alienating your listeners.

  10. econmara

    Retronauts East is my new favourite thing!

    Thank you!

  11. muteKi

    Ah, the black and white mac! I used one a few times, but was more familiar with the color models that came after it due to my age. I think we had one year of elementary school with black and white models and then they got upgraded. I’d already used color macs before then because my mom’s family ran a hardware repair store and had a few of them set up in back as well as some Apple II units (ah, the good ol’ days of boot disks) and so was rather surprised to find a monitor that was in fact ONLY black and white — actually by that point I think the power macs were out and my grandparents had probably upgraded one or two units to that sort. I kinda remember seeing units with the CD-ROM drives, at least…

    I don’t really remember much in the way of B&W mac software as a result. We had some sort of publisher-style program even on the later macs; it was an only B&W program even on the color units, which was fine because (as y’all note) the printers weren’t in color and you could do some very nice WYSIWYGing on a monochrome monitor of that resolution. That’s about it. Maybe Number Munchers?

  12. Pingback: Enhance your Retronauts East experience with Kirin’s Retro Closet | Retronauts

  13. muteKi

    I’ve never really followed the MacVenture games too closely, but when you put it the way you do, they really were ahead of their time. By the 90s, Sierra would definitely be doing their damndest to try to mimic that interface, with Torin’s Passage and (the imo underrated) King’s Quest VII probably being the closest to that style.

  14. Jon H.

    Thanks for a great episode!

    My college-professor dad had a Mac SE throughout the early 90s, and I still remember the day I discovered some games his students had put on there. But of course, they were mostly cheap shareware creations: a Donkey Kong derivative named Donkey Doo, an Asteroids rip-off called StarRoids, versions of Monopoly and Wheel of Fortune… And GunShy, the only game you guys mentioned that rang a bell with me–and even that was a clone of another game!
    Perhaps the only quality original game was a shooting-galary game called Cairo ShootOut, that made great use of the mouse. So I’ll definitely check out the shownotes links you guys provided.

    It’s funny that you mentioned using HyperCard for school projects. As it happens I made a presentation for my high-school chemistry teacher too! It was about Robert Andrews Millikan and his discovery that atoms were largely empty space. I made a bunch of other stacks in my computer class and I still have them preserved on a Mini-vMac virtual-machine.