Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 2 Tetris and the Apple IIc

My video gaming activity took a leave of absence when I got to high school as well as my first couple years of college. I played very rarely. Believe it or not I was pretty serious about maintaining a strong GPA. I'm the kind of person who has always known what they wanted. By ninth grade I knew what college I wanted to go to, what I wanted to major in, and what kind of career to have. I didn't want any road blocks to prevent me from achieving my goals so I knuckled down and really worked hard at keeping my grades up. I also got my first job at McDonald's when they came to Mandan in 1984. I could write a whole other blog on my experiences there. Of course there was concert band, jazz band, marching band, pep band, concert choir and swing choir. Not to mention all the solo and ensemble festivals I participated in. I just didn't have much time for gaming.

I had known for years I wanted to work with computers. I had visited with advisers and faculty from the Computer Science Department at North Dakota State University and came to the quite obvious conclusion that if I wanted a degree in Computer Science I needed to be prepared to spend many hours in front of a computer screen. There were several labs on campus open 24 hours a day, but I realized it would be much nicer to be able to do my work from our tiny apartment at married student housing. Deanna, my very recent and beautiful bride, also appreciated the fact that if I had to pull all nighters writing programs at least I was at home doing it.

My Dad very graciously got me my first computer as a high school graduation present. Look at this bad boy, an Apple IIc. Note the 5 1/4 inch floppy diskettes. You don't see those anymore. My unit also came with a 2nd floppy drive so I could copy disks, and an ImageWriter printer with black AND color ribbon. Printers back then needed ribbon and operated much like a typewriter. There was no hard drive but there was a whopping 128 KB of RAM. Your bargain basement computers these days Start at 1 GB of RAM and most people usually get 2-4. If KB and GB make no sense to you, 1 GB is the equivalent of about 7,812 of my puny old Apple IIc's put together. But you have to put everything into perspective. Programs back then didn't need huge amounts of memory to run. Sound and graphics were very crude compared to today and memory was extremely expensive so programs ran as efficiently as they could and used as little memory as possible. That little computer got me through college so it definitely fulfilled its purpose. Thanks Dad!

I should mention a high school friend, Clint, who operates the Bismarck-Mandan Blog referenced in the list off to your right. He was the one who convinced me to go with Apple Computers vs. the IBM PC Jr. which was also a hot item at that time. He was invaluable getting my modem to hook up to the University mainframe. Thanks Clint! I had a couple good games on it. This was my first experience with computer solitaire and a couple other card games.

I also had a Conan game for my Apple Computer that was pretty cool, you had to navigate obstacles and defeat bad guys and rescue the princess at the end. Kind of like the Mario Brothers games from Nintendo. I couldn't believe I actually found a screen shot. This is level 2, I believe, dig those purple trees? Also, after I started programming in College I wrote a couple games of my own. I had a blackjack game and very crude tank battle type game where you moved this "tank" like object around and shot at stuff. It was a horrible program but I was impressed with myself at the time.

After considerable research into NDSU's degree requirements it made a lot of sense to go my first 2 years at Bismarck State College. The tuition was about half the price and I could live at home. They offered the same classes I would have taken in Fargo if my first 2 years would have been spent there. I was also guaranteed the credits would transfer, and they did.

Fast forward to 1988. I got married and we moved to Fargo so I could finish up my Bachelor's degree. What a culture shock. The one thing BSC didn't prepare me for was the huge size of the NDSU campus. Access to the instructors was almost non-existent so it was very difficult to obtain help when you needed it. I still don't know how I made it through those last two years of college.

But as busy as I was with school there was always some down time between classes yet not enough time that it would allow me to go back to the apartment and crash. So we usually headed to the student union and it's quaint arcade. I got hooked on a game called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was a hoot! 4 people could play all at the same time each with their own turtle and it's signature moves. My favorite was the orange-banded turtle with double nunchakus, I think his name was Michelangelo. He's the turtle 2nd from the left in this picture. The colors don't display very well. My guy was orange instead of yellow and the guy in the front, Raphael, was red instead of orange.

Then Tetris literally took the USA by storm. It was unbelievable how popular this game became. I'm still amazed at the amount of my quarters that machine swallowed. It's kind of a building block game where you have to build a tower and rotate the various shaped pieces into the right spot. We justified our playing time by saying it was good brain stimulating activity and the architecture students considered it like extra credit. A real simple game to learn but very addicting. I enjoyed it so much it was one of the first games I got with my Nintendo system which will be coming up in Part 3.

I finally realized how I survived those 2 stressful years in Fargo. Tetris, and 2 for 1 chimichanga day at the cafeteria. I actually hung on to that Apple computer for another couple years after graduating college, getting a job in Bismarck and moving back to my beloved Mandan.

Alas, this post is approaching my length limitations so I'll have to continue on another day. Stay tuned if you're still awake.


Steve at Random said...

Interesting to read what gets us through college. My weakness was "Lido Shuffle" played extremely loud on an 8-track tape player and bags of salted nut rolls. By the way, I bought my first car from money I earned delivering milk one summer. The car cost $500 and I bought it at the "Lemon Orchard" in Missoula. Three years later, I sold it for $500 to a kid from Ekalaka, Montana. As for video games, I had a long dry spell between Pong when I was 12 and Pac Man when I was 22...about the time I sold the Pontiac Lemans. The president at the time a peanut farmer who should have stayed in Georgia. I think the interest rate on my Honda Accord was 18 percent. By the time we're done with P. Obama, 18 percent might look cheap as he announced today that we're looking a one trillion dollar deficits. Helluva way to run a railroad.

DVD said...

I love the TMNT game... I used to play it all the time when I was younger. Now that I am older I downloaded it on to my XBOX 360, and I still love it. Also I have the first two sonic games on my 360 as well.

There is something about the 2D gaming that really hooks a person. Oh by the way that was a sweet keyboard.

randymeiss said...

Thanks for commenting DVD! I was hoping I would find someone who was interested. I'm up to part 4 and will probably spill over to part 5 so I'd feel a lot better knowing I wasn't boring everyone to tears. I've got the impression your father is more interested in the tidbits in there that don't talk about video games. Maybe he's just pouting because he's not very good.

Thanks for complimenting my keyboard. Although that wasn't just the keyboard, that was the whole computer plus a built-in floppy drive.

AZJim said...

I am totally amazed!!! Do you still have that first Apple? I would hang onto it; it is getting close to being museum worthy. I am dating myself now but when I was in school we would play cards during breaks and between classes. Pinochle and Whist. Video games sound like more fun.

randymeiss said...

Alas, in part 3 I explain how I sold the old Apple to a school. I won't divulge any more but take comfort in that it was at least put to good use.

BismarckMandanBlog said...

My Apple //c (along with several old Mac computers) finally hit the dumpster last year or so. Along with hundreds of floppy discs, some of which got me in VERY big trouble back in the 80s when hacking was new. I remember playing that Conan game; I won it, if I remember correctly. Remember how he'd do those flips when he jumped?

When I went to college, my Apple //c shifted its primary focus to mainframe terminal. I was enthralled by the global networks (before they were opened up to the public as the Internet) and got myself in even more trouble there than I could have ever attained with the simple //c alone! I think I was responsible for some gray or pulled-out hairs at the NDSU computer center.