Source:Huw Williams correspondence
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2012 – present
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18 January 2014:
Interesting to get your email after all these years.
In 1981 or 1982, I was around 13-14 years old and was a budding entrepreneur. I was looking around for a way to make a bit of extra spending money. I found the Eamon adventure games and thought they were kind of fun to play, but there was no real organization to them. (Reading Wikipedia today it says something different but I am giving you my perspective.) So I started collecting them and assigning numbers to them. If I recall, I ended up with over 120 that I would sell via mail order. I printed up a 8.5 x 11 and then an 8.5 x 14 inch sheet that listed everything and I would mail them out. Checks would arrive and I would copy the games on my Apple IIe. The price was a couple of dollars each but I would put together larger bundles that were a better value.
Then I created a subscription offer called AdventureDisk where I would make a monthly disk containing an Eamon game, and some other adventure game content. I probably made around 10-15 issues in all. I was working with a very talented programmer who was probably 14-16 years old at that time. He designed the interface (menu) and helped create some of the content. I can't remember his name, but I wouldn't be surprised if he went on to great things. I never met him in person.
Now it is 30+ years later and I don't think I have any of the old disks.
I don't remember how or where I advertised the games, but A+ Magazine sounds about right.
I do remember that in 1986, I placed a $30 classified ad in the back of Softalk Magazine advertising something I created called the Print Shop Users Club (public domain clip art for Broderbund's Print Shop program). I probably received back around $250 in orders and I thought I was on to something. Eventually I had 30,000+ "members" of the Print Shop Users Club and I sold related products via Mail Order.
Along the way things evolved from public domain clipart for Print Shop into my selling original and licensed clip art for a competitive product called Instant Artist (renamed Print Artist) that was first sold by Autodesk, then Maxis and then by Sierra Online. That put me in contact with Ken Williams in the early Leisure Suit Larry days.
I spent a lot of time in the mail order clip art business. We also started developing our own software products that helped people organize and use their clipart. (I know this is outside of your area of interest). Eventually the company (since renamed GraphicCorp) created clipart using 100+ artists around the world (India, Ukraine, Canada, US) and licensed it to various software publishers (Microsoft, Sierra, Broderbund, Corel, etc.) for use in their products.
My long ride in the clip art business ended in 1999 with my selling GraphicCorp to Corel.
8 November 2013:
I received your letter today about Eamon. Hadn't thought about Eamon in a long time. My Apple II+ died and the used IIc that I picked up as a replacement had the world's worst keyboard. So Eamon went by the wayside. I moved on to Macs and then PCs. But I still had a library binder of stuff from the old Eamon days gathering dust on my bookshelf. Right in front was a printed copy of the gazetteer.
Now before you get too excited, let me point out that it was printed on a dot matrix printer. Personal question — are you old enough to have used one? In any event it's not pretty. I should also say that Tom Zuchowski, although a really nice guy, tended to exaggerate a tad. It's a two-page list of stuff in my adventures, just fleshes out some of the background. It also promises more info as more adventures are added. But I didn't add more adventures so there isn't more to the gazetteer.
14 November 2013:
I had another adventure in the works when I lost my II+. It was set in the same area and tentatively titled Molgrest's Tower. It was my tribute to Monty Python, but never saw the light of day since it was never finished.
27 April 2020:
I don't remember much about it. I began with computers in 1981 and in 1987 went from teaching music in public schools to being the Technology Coordinator for a school district in Kansas. I did a little programming in the early years and recall having fun putting together The Plain of Srevi, adventure. The word Srevi is my name in reverse. I'm still in computers at 67 years of age. I'm retiring in June, and look forward to doing more with computers and my motorcycle. I'm a worship leader for a Methodist church and have spent more than 10 hours a week producing a worship video for online worship each week, since the quarantine began.
21 May 2020:
I became interested in computers while I was in high school (mid-1970's). A math teacher of mine had an early programmable calculator (it wasn't a hand-held, but a desktop) and I programmed a simple moon-landing program, and also a program to tell a blackjack player the best play given his/her hand, and the dealer's up card.
I also attended a workshop for aspiring engineers during my junior year of high school. It was at the University of Iowa, and one night we found our way into the computer lab, and a graduate student showed us how to call up and play games on the mainframe. I believe I did not attend another session at the workshop and spent all my waking time at the lab.
In 1977 I stumbled in to a store called Video Midwest in Des Moines. A guy named James "Red" Varnum was working there; they sold primarily video tape machines (they had Betamax as well as VHS machines) and Advent projection big-screen TV's, but in a corner of the store they had an Apple II computer. I spent several afternoons in the store toying with the computer and its BASIC programming language. I eventually bought one. An Apple II came standard with 4k of memory, but I spent extra and got 16k because there was a Star Trek game (similar to the one I played at U of Iowa) that would only work with the extra memory. Note that in 1977 an Apple II with 16k of memory cost $5,000 (in 1977 money!) The initial Apple II could only store/load programs from audio cassette tapes.
At the time many computer enthusiasts like me got computer programs from magazines…we had to type them in. There was very little software that was commercially available, and what was out there was generally garbage. There were a few other people with Apple II computers (and eventually Radio Shack TRS-80 computers and Commodore PETs) and we shared BASIC programs and ideas on a loose basis.
I brought several of my programs to Video Midwest, and eventually they hired me as a salesperson for computers. My brush with greatness came while I was working at Video Midwest; in 1978 there was a severe shortage of Apple II's (we had a large waiting list) and I was on the phone with Apple in Cupertino, waiting on hold, when behold, a person came on the line and said, "This is Steve Jobs." He assured me that our order was on the way.
Sometime during 1978-79 Apple released the floppy drive, which was a paradigm shift. You could store 138k on a floppy, and it could be accessed dynamically. It got rid of the cassette tape storage (which was an incredible nightmare) and shareware erupted for the Apple II.
At some point in 1979 Video Midwest fired most of its staff and tried to make me manager. I quit in protest, and ended up taking a job with a company in Ames, IA (home of Iowa State University) following Red Varnum there. The company sold Apple II's but was really focused on the Commodore PET computer. While there, I wrote a program for the PET to help a company that sold hog confinement buildings do estimates for hog farmers (exciting stuff.) Around 1978-79 Computer Emporium opened in Des Moines. They started an Apple II club, and we met on a regular basis to share programs and ideas. I met Donald Brown and John Nelson (John was a programmer for the state of Iowa) at Computer Emporium.
The company in Ames let me go (shortly before folding) and Computer Emporium hired me almost immediately (1979-80?) I believe Donald Brown was not an employee but just a "groupie" of the store. He was an actuarial student at Drake University in Des Moines and was by far the best programmer I had ever met. He could program in both BASIC and 6502 assembler and was an incredibly smart and witty person. I believe he hailed from Colorado but he came to Drake for actuarial science.
Sometime during 1980 Donald came in to the Computer Emporium with his new game, Eamon. All of us were floored. It was text-based (very few graphical games back then, and certainly none in the FRP genre) and was similar to the Colossal Cave adventure, but you had a (somewhat) unique character that could progress from adventure to adventure, carry weapons/artifacts with you, and grow/develop. When Donald first introduced Eamon, it had the Beginner's Cave and the Lair of the Minotaur.
Donald had a "developer's disk" that let you create a map and game, but the developer had to add some unique code to enable some capabilities in the adventure. I had had conversations in the past with Red Varnum about an adventure that happened in the adventurer's mind, rather than in a physical world. I created "Cave of the Mind" with that idea in mind, and I gave him co-credit for the adventure (even though I no longer worked for him.) I really consider that adventure pretty clumsy, but it was my first creative venture. I was very surprised at the excitement within the Apple user's group when I brought it in (even from Donald himself).
Computer Emporium of the time was a hotbed of Apple II development. Dick Skeie owned the company, and was somewhat of a "hippie." I believe he now serves as a holistic healer of some kind.
A couple of my major memories from my time at Computer Emporium were when Ronald Reagan was shot (we saw it live on TV) and when we received (via snail-mail) a cassette tape with a program for the Apple II called VisiCalc. It was the first spreadsheet program. I remember looking at it and thinking, "What is anyone going to use this for?" It's a good thing that I am not an advisor for what to invest in.
One "dud" that we saw was a microcomputer by Texas Instruments. It was horrible. The keyboard was buttons rather than keys; TI claimed that surveys said that people wanted their personal computer to be like a calculator. This was a classic example of people not knowing what they really wanted, and TI believed them. I have always credited Steve Jobs with having a feel for what people will want, but maybe they don't understand it yet.
31 July 2020:
I really do not remember a lot about my Eamon games. I pretty much left "gaming" in mid-1980' because I went into corporate computing.
I do remember one of my adventures was inspired by a Rockford Files episode (James Garner) where he was fighting people who ended up being his own government. (Donald Brown was completely perplexed by this adventure.) But generally I don't remember much about the adventures I created, other than the one with Red Varnum.
CE software was the creation of John Kirk, an accountant to rich people in Central Iowa and an entrepreneur. Richard (Dick) Skeie sold Computer Emporium/CE Software to him. Skeie was kind of a hippy and I think is now a holistic healer. Donald Brown stayed on and invented QuicKeys (?) for the early Mac, basically a macro program. I last saw Donald in early 2000 at a forum in Des Moines for technology.
Mission Escape was inspired by a game on (I believe) a Commodore PET. Remember, back then most computer programs were spread around in magazines and everyone had to type them in.
The only way I made it work was that a compiler for Applesoft BASIC came out in the early 80's. it converted the interpreted BASIC into machine code that ran much faster. It was a very fun game and I thought I added many fun variations (I especially liked the robots that purposely got close to you so they could get shot and explode.). I also had the final exit (if the player could get there) be the number for the starship Enterprise (we actually had a player get there, and awarded a prize).
Sorry I cannot be more specific on my Eamon adventures, but I just pretty much left that stuff behind in my life.
22 February 2012:
I bought my first Apple ][ in 1977 and explored its graphics capabilities in detail. In fact, I wrote (in 6502 assembly language) a simulator for the Tektronix graphics terminal. I burned that code into a ROM and installed it in the Apple ][ open slot. The program was called TekSim and I used it in a graphics lab with 10 Apple ][s to teach a course in computer graphics. The Apples were in turn connected to the University's Amdahl main-frame via dedicated 1200 baud lines.
Unfortunately, I have no recollection of the Eamon figure or game. I'm probably the R.L. Phillips in the REM statement but I can't verify that. I hope what I could remember is of some interest.
Best, Dick Phillips
15 July 2019
Q1: Could you share a little about your background and how you first got into playing Eamon?
A1: My father was an aerospace engineer throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and was, for a brief time, the world's Greatest Living Expert on inertial guidance systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles. His work required extensive computation, so he would bring decks of punched cards to the computer priesthood and wait for the results, sometimes for days. When he first saw a home computer, he was over the moon. He could use it whenever he wanted. He could run it all night. So we had a home computer in the house right from their first year — 1977 (the same year that Star Wars came out, you'll notice; a very future-aware year). First a Tandy TRS-80 (80 ounces of Total Reeking Shit; the cassette tape drives were hopeless) then an Apple ][ later that same year. My mother was (and still is, at 89) seriously nerdy. She bought a Polaroid SX-70 camera when it first came out in 1972, and one of the first modern microwave ovens in approximately the same year. We were all, including my two older brothers, hard-core science fiction fans. Ours was very nerdy family.
The computer was set up in the living room of our double-wide mobile home in Crescent City, California, just south of the Oregon border, on the Pacific Coast. I was 17; my older brothers Robert (18) and Peter (20) were already attending Oregon State University in Corvallis (home of the fighting Beavers, which had a damn good basketball team at the time, due to the legendary Coach Ralph Miller). The Northwest Coast's entire economy had recently collapsed. The OPEC Oil Embargo of 1973 killed "road trip" tourism; the Dungeness crab life-cycle hit a natural low-point, exacerbated by overharvesting; salmon, reduced by dams, were overfished almost to extinction; the timber industry had logged out nearly everything, and what little was left, got protected by those damn hippies (who turned out to be right). The 1970s were the decade of "stagflation" — economic stagnation with high inflation. It hit rural communities hard. The biggest employer in our county was welfare (which still existed, then). It was clear to everyone I went to high school with that our parents' generation's life strategy — get a job with a big company and stay there for 30 years — wasn't going to work. To my brothers and myself, it was clear that computers were going to be big, big, big. Many of my hippier classmates found a different, but highly profitable path: growing weed (ganja, Mary Jane, Cannabis sativa L., reefer) in the logged-over hills.
That Apple ][ was my ticket out. I practiced Microsoft BASIC like Lew Alcindor — renamed Kareem Abdul Jabbar just six years previously — practiced his skyhook. Yet, if you look at the code in my games, it's crap. It's the worst kind of "spaghetti code." In my defense, the whole notion of "structured programming" was still hotly debated into the early 1980s, with no less a luminary than Knuth (a man so singular that he needs only one name) siding with the GOTO-lovers. So, I figured, f*** those "structured programming" weenies. (Like the hippies, they turned out to be right.)
Q2: When exactly did you write Senator's Chambers and Temple of Ngurct, and how long did they take to create? What do you remember most about the experience?
A2: The name "Ngurct" was the option that my brothers, friends, and parents found to be the least pronounceable, so I chose it. ("Temple of Sally" just didn't sound ominous enough.) Wikipedia notes Ngurct's latest date of modification as being 15 February 1993, but this article by my brother Robert was published in January 1983, and it lists both The Temple of Ngurct and The Senator's Chambers as finished works. Robert is much too lazy to write about something unless he worked on it very recently, so my money is on both adventures having been written in the summer of 1982, just after I graduated from Oregon State with my BS in Geology. Ngurct might have been started over the previous Christmas and/or Spring Breaks, however.
What I remember most is lists of entities on pads of yellow quadrille paper, which my father, the engineer, bought by the ream. Creatures, rooms, test strings, choices, everything had to have a unique ID number, and it was a pain in the ass to suddenly think, "Hey, it would be cool if I could just..." and then have to renumber everything. If I recall correctly, the items had to be numbered sequentially because they were array elements (but it was a long time ago, so I am probably wrong about that).
The main thing was that I did not want the player to have to "learn by dying," because I hated playing "learn by dying" games, myself. The player should be able to make it through the game on her first try, unless she did something that was obviously stupid.
The second thing as that I wanted the characters to have character. Having a character arc was too much to ask of the medium (and arguably still is: "War never changes"). I cheated by using names and dialogue to convey character in a way that leveraged cultural stereotypes. That is not is politically correct today, but in 1982, political correctness was not yet a thing. In 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment was going down in flames. Ronald Reagan was President. I was 22. Gimme a break.
Q3: What inspired you to write the adventures? I noticed enemies like bugbears and kobolds; was Dungeons & Dragons a source of inspiration?
A3: Wow, writing up these responses is taking forever. Let's see how much I can speed up: "Yes, my brothers and I were hard-core D&D nerds, attending games weekly throughout college. I lost my virginity to a girl I met playing D&D there. One cannot get a whole lot nerdier than that." Writing that was fast! Almost as fast as my first sexual experience.
Q4: What was it like collaborating with your brother on Ngurct? Did you each work on different pieces of the adventure?
A4: If I recall correctly, I wrote the adventure, and Robert tweaked the code. Actually, I don't recall it that way at all, but Robert got his version of the story into print in January of 1983. What documentation of my memories do I have? Bupkis, nada, zilch. Sneaky bastard! Stole a march on me by 36 years! Why I oughta... be a little bit more careful!
Q5: Were there any Eamon stories or other Apple projects you started that never got finished or released? (I noticed in Robert's article that he listed an unknown Eamon adventure called Nobbin's Hell Hole — an intriguing title!)
A5: No. (A paragon of brevity! I amuse myself! Metaphorically, that's what Nobbin the Onanist did, too. It would be inappropriate to say that Nobbin was not released. His was simply not a shared release [obviously]. I just made up this entire parenthetical comment. I don't remember anything about Nobbin or his eponymous hole. All Eamonists are liars. You can see why I left high school a virgin.)
Q6: What are your main interests these days?
A6: Improving your world with every hit™ of smooth, delicious, potent cannabis from the Thai Cannabis Corporation. Turns out, the hippies were right about weed, too. Those hippies: their track record is impressive. It's almost enough to make me consider acquiring an entire wardrobe in tie-dye. Almost.
Q7: What question should I have asked, but didn't? What impact did writing these Eamon adventures have on your later life?
A7: Hard to separate cause an effect. I wrote the adventures to practice coding in a way that was shareable and inherently fun. I had an interest in computer games since at least the first time I played Computer Space at a pool hall, probably around 1974. In my 1988 Computer Science degree, I focused on artificial intelligence specifically for writing computer opponents in games... an emphasis for which there was absolutely zero market demand at the time (oops). The main thing I learned from Eamon in 1983 was the power of platforms, which has been a through-line in my career. Don could have written one game. Instead, he wrote a platform for writing games — a platform on which other authors could innovate and add value.
Sadly, Don didn't profit from it. Or, at least, I never paid him anything.
Oh, crap... Eamon wasn't donationware, was it? Jesus H. Christ, the late fees alone would bankrupt me.
10 September 2012:
Your email asking about Super Eamon is quite a blast from the past.
Yes, I designed and developed Super Eamon. I'll be glad to answer any questions you have, although I no longer have an Apple II, and have not kept most of my records from way back when.
Super Eamon and then The Haunted House were projects I played with between college graduation and becoming a full-time consultant. I thought it would be fun to combine the Eamon system, which was already pushing the limits of the Apple II hardware and Applesoft Basic, with some 6502 machine code and graphic elements.
I also retrofitted some regular Eamon adventures with a map capability, but beyond that I didn't get involved in software products.
I'd be interested in hearing what you've compiled about Eamon's history. In those dark, pre-Internet days, it was a lot harder to learn the background on things like Eamon adventures.
- Based in Los Alamos, New Mexico