The Apple II computer ceased production in 1993, but that hasn’t stopped fans like Mark Lemmert from continuing to create new programs for it. Lemmert’s game Nox Archaist, released last month, is a role-playing game modeled on the classic Ultima series.
“I always wondered if there could have been another iteration to a game like Ultima on the Apple II that pushed it further,” Lemmert says in Episode 450 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Maybe not something on the level of Ultima 6—because that was obviously their first title that was not on the Apple—but something somewhere between Ultima 5 and Ultima 6. I wanted to find out if that was possible.”
Most of the video games that are popular today were influenced by Apple II games such as Ultima, Castle Wolfenstein, Prince of Persia, and Wasteland. Games journalist David L. Craddock explores the history of Apple II games in his 2017 book Break Out, which is packed with photos and screenshots.
“The cool thing about all the pictures—concept art, illustrations, and so forth—that I included is that all of those came from [developers like] Richard Garriott, Brian Fargo, and Jordan Mechner,” Craddock says. “Everyone I talked to thought it was a really cool idea and sent me a ton of stuff.”
Many of those developers also appear as characters in Nox Archaist. Lemmert was particularly excited to be able to include a cameo from Steve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple II. “Steve Wozniak was gracious enough to take the time, not only to agree to do it, but then when Nox Archaist launched in December, he tweeted out that he’s an NPC in Nox Archaist,” Lemmert says. “For a lifelong Apple II fan, that’s like getting a blessing from the Pope.”
Apple II games may seem primitive by today’s standards, but Craddock thinks that many of them are just as much fun to play as anything on the market. “For me a hallmark of developing a retro or a retro-style game is working within those limitations,” he says. “It does force you to make some sacrifices, but also it brings out a lot of creativity that maybe isn’t as much in evidence today, because we just have this spoil of riches in terms of resources and hardware.”
Listen to the complete interview with Mark Lemmert and David L. Craddock in Episode 450 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
David L. Craddock on Oregon Trail:
“Oregon Trail was [originally] a text-only game programmed on a mainframe, and students at the school where the teachers made it played Oregon Trail by using dumb terminals connected to the mainframe. Since there were no graphics, and you couldn’t just press keys to hunt the bison as they lumbered across the screen, you had to type in ‘bang’ or ‘pow.’ So students became faster typists. They also worked on their spelling. … I think the main lesson overall with games like Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego is that they didn’t feel [educational]. I don’t think a lot of edutainment games that were made on later generations of hardware necessarily captured that.”
Mark Lemmert on feelies:
“It’s a quintissential part of a role-playing game to me. I bought Ultima 5 as a kid, waited like five weeks for UPS to deliver it—you know, ordering it out of a magazine or something. Not the way it works anymore, of course. And the box arriving in the mail, and opening it up, and reading through the manual. I was the kind of person who would read the manual before playing the game, and the cloth maps. It was so immersive. That was my experience with it as a kid, and so when I set out to make Nox Archaist, that was always in the back of my mind—’If I’m going to do this, I should really, really do it all the way and get the box and the feelies.’ And obviously that eventually worked out.”
David L. Craddock on game developers:
“A lot of these developers are passing away, since all this happened so long ago, and that’s actually why I was glad to get to talk to people like Doug and Gary Carlston, the co-founders of Broderbund, when I could. … The cool thing about talking with folks like John Romero, John Carmack, Richard Garriott, and Burger Becky, these people just love that they were involved in this scene, and are still active in it, and will talk to you and walk you through anything you want to hear about. So if anyone were ever to play an Apple II game and have a question for any of them, you can tweet at them, and nine times out of 10 they’ll get back to you within 12 hours or so, and just talk your ear off about those days.”
Mark Lemmert on quick combat:
“I thought that a great way of pushing the boundaries on the tile RPG would be to have the full-screen tactical combat system that everyone expects, but also have a quick combat option. It wouldn’t be a substitute for tactical combat—you’re not as likely to win battles in quick combat as you are in tactical—but if you’re in a situation where you know you’re way more powerful than the monster that just attacked you, with quick combat you can be done with that battle in seconds and moving on to the next thing. Even hardcore RPG players have said that it was really a wonderful quality-of-life enhancement.”