Eyeing the burgeoning software market, Don Worth talks to publishers about adapting selling Beneath Apple Manor in stores.
The BAM-like: Exploring Beneath Apple Manor
Chapter 2: Shared DNA
Author’s Note: This story has been adapted from chapters of Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games, written by the author. It can be purchased in paperback and electronically from Amazon.
All of Worth’s solutions were born of improvisation. The door-bash sound came from him thumping his fist on the table near his recorder.2 For the sound of a successful hit with a sword, he clinked a fork against a glass. Without a printer to generate backup listings of the game’s code, he hand-wrote the program in pencil on a yellow legal pad, erasing lines when he needed to make modifications and squeezing in new lines when ideas came to him.
His design-as-you-go approach gave rise to stratagems in BAM that continue to prevail in contemporary roguelike games. A few times a week, his friends would come over and put BAM through its paces. When they exposed unintended tactics, such as charging through a level to grab the treasure without engaging any monsters, Worth weighed the pros and cons of leaving the strategy intact. More often than not, he decided in favor of the player. “Generally speaking, the constraints in the game, such as the arrays dictating how many monsters I can have on the screen simultaneously, are going to exist. As a player, if you know what the limits are, you can create strategies based on [those constraints].”
Worth loved the idea of skirting around monsters to stock up on magical objects. “I remember writing in the manual that one of the tricks that could be done was to try and get as many of the magic items as possible first, so you would have an advantage over the monsters. There’s one magic item on each level located in a random treasure chest. I even revealed in the manual that it was, generally speaking, a treasure chest in the most upper-left part of the screen.”
Stockpiling items early came with another advantage. Each game session generated only one of each magical item. Players were rewarded for finding key items early, such as the boots of silence that muted their footsteps, and the potion of clairvoyance that revealed the map for every level as soon as players set foot in it.
Invariably, players would meet their demise at the hands of one of BAM‘s denizens. Dying in BAM shaved a few points from each attribute, but let players continue their quest. Worth wanted another option, a method of resurrection that players could factor into their strategy for winning the game. His solution was the brain scan. For a price, players could scan their characters, a process that saved their stats, gold, and inventory. Upon resurrection, characters reverted to the state of their last scan.
Worth and his friends had invented the brain scan spell while playing D&D, which featured no default method of raising fallen avatars. They hated the fact that when their characters died, they were gone for good. Hours spent working together, leveling up their skills, and stuffing packs full of wealth and baubles—all stolen by an unlucky roll of the dice. In D&D and in BAM, brain scan kept the fun going as long as possible, but at a cost. Each subsequent scan cost more gold, forcing players to think hard over when to save their progress and when to risk pushing deeper into uncharted territory.
Worth and his friends deemed BAM a good game. Good enough, they thought, to sell it in stores. Partnering with the buddy who had gone fifty-fifty with him on the Apple II, and bringing in another friend, Worth formed The Software Factory in 1978, the same year he wrote Beneath Apple Manor. While Worth finished up BAM, his other friends wrote more software including tic-tac-toe games and AppleAstro, an astrology application. Family pitched in when needed. “I had my mother-in-law putting packages together. She’d assemble and bind the manuals and stuff the Ziploc baggies for me, and then I’d go out with a boxful of them and visit every computer store in the L.A. area where I lived. I’d say, ‘Hey, here’s a free computer game. Try it out. If you want to stock it, let me know.'”
Worth did not peddle Beneath Apple Manor arbitrarily. Paging through issues of magazines, he and his friends made a list of the stores that advertised in the pages of BYTE!, Creative Computing, and other popular periodicals. “Then we shipped them a three-ring binder with all the manuals for all our software, and a set of disks, and just said, ‘If you like this, here’s how you can order it.’ That worked really well. We were getting orders from all over the place. Downer’s Grove in Illinois was a really big customer for us, I remember. There must be more copies of Beneath Apple Manor in Illinois than any other place.”
In 1978, the Apple II’s library of games was pitifully low. The dearth of entertainment software paid off for Worth. He caught wind of kids wandering into software stores and getting hooked on copies of BAM running on store computers. Despite its relative popularity, the game didn’t take off. Sales initially flooded in, then dwindled to a trickle. Worth and his business partners kept their day jobs and spent their nights packaging and shipping software, but the long hours wore thin.
Worth eventually turned to another interest. A friend was writing a comprehensive manual for the Exidy Sorcerer computer to be published by Quality Software. Worth’s friend advised him to pay the publisher a visit. On his friend’s advice, he went to Quality Software and received a generous offer. Quality Software took charge of marketing Beneath Apple Manor, while Worth programmed high-resolution versions of the game for Apple II and PC over 1982 and ’83. Gray squares were replaced by tiles that resembled cobblestone. The blue square that had represented the player-character was swapped out in favor of a tiny warrior carrying a sword and shield. Monsters were likewise given a graphical makeover. Boasting other technical advantages, Beneath Apple Manor: Special Edition shipped on a diskette, whereas the original had come on a cassette tape.
Both the original and special edition versions of Beneath Apple Manor strived to cater to as many users as possible. In the original version, players could choose between “lo-res” graphics, where the player, monsters, and other elements were represented by colored blocks; or a text-only mode that represented elements using letters and symbols. The special edition retained the text-only mode for users without color monitors, and replaced lo-res options with the “hi-res” images.
After putting the finishing touches on Beneath Apple Manor for PC, Worth let his first love, exploring computers, subsume his interest in writing games. The same friend who had published a book through Quality Software got together with Worth and dissected an Apple II disk drive. Placing the drive on Worth’s kitchen table, they removed the chassis, slipped in a disk, and watched, mesmerized, as the drive’s arm waved back and forth, summoning data from different sectors on the disk like a magician performing a trick with a flourish.
Worth continued probing and eventually reverse engineered Apple DOS, the operating system (OS) that managed the computer’s hardware functions. Studying the OS’s inner workings, he came across all sorts of subroutines that let users perform operations—none of which had been documented. He spelled them out in Beneath Apple DOS.
“I wanted to write and publish Beneath Apple DOS so other people could take advantage of the capability that was hidden in the operating system,” Worth said. “I guess I decided I would rather write the book than continue developing games. As it turned out, we sold way more copies of Beneath Apple DOS than Beneath Apple Manor.”
Several years passed. Worth entertained the notion of writing a new BAM set in a vast wilderness instead of musty dungeons, but the idea fell by the wayside. BAM withered and eventually disappeared from Worth’s archives. When roguelike communities sprang up on the Internet, BAM experienced a surge of renewed interest. “Somebody contacted me and said, ‘Do you have a working copy of the game?’ I said, ‘No. Actually, I only have a copy-protected, commercial copy of the game.’ He said, ‘Is it okay if I crack it?’ And I said, ‘Sure. But please put it in the public domain.'”
While few gamers remember Beneath Apple Manor, its influence should not go overlooked. Worth published the first edition of his game in 1978, years before Rogue spread across college computer labs. The proliferation of Rogue was directly responsible for the genre adopting its namesake rather than that of BAM, a game released on a home computer that most users never took online.
Still other species of what are popularly known as roguelikes independently developed features similar to BAM, but ahead of Worth’s creation. Dungeon, written sometime in 1975 or ’76 by Don Daglow, was conceived as a digital version of Dungeons & Dragons, then a new game. Its levels were rendered using text characters, and players controlled a party of adventurers instead of a single hero. Around the same time, Ray Wood and Gary Whisenhunt created DND, another Dungeons & Dragons-like where players ventured through a series of mazes in search of treasure. Another programmer, Daniel Lawrence, wrote a dungeon-maze game called Telengard in 1978.
Nevertheless, Beneath Apple Manor holds the honor of being the first CRPG released commercially.3 “At some point, it was years since I had made any money on the game, and so I really don’t care about that anymore,” Worth said. “It’s just fun to know that people still have fun with it. I hear from players every once in a while, and it always makes me feel good to hear, ‘When I was growing up, this was the game I played on my grandpa’s Apple II.'”
Conversely, Rogue started out as a free game, a decision that would both help and hurt its status as the community-appointed grandfather of the genre.
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- All of Worth’s solutions were born of improvisation: “Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.” CGW Museum. http://gue.cgwmuseum.org/galleries/index.php?pub=0&item=14&id=2&key=0.
- the first CRPG released commercially: “Game 79: Beneath Apple Manor (1978).” The CRPG Addict. http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2012/12/game-79-beneath-apple-manor-1978.html.
- according to a comment made by Synergistic founder Robert Clardy: “Game 83: Dungeon Campaign: 1978.” The CRPG Addict. http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2013/01/game-83-dungeon-campaign-1979.html.