In the new book, Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution, the author, David L. Craddock, covers about two dozen influential Apple II computer games along with the companies and people who created them. For the book, Craddock states that he narrowed his focus to games in which the programmers were available for interviews. While this undoubtedly leaves out some important Apple II software, for the titles that he does cover, he was able to obtain both new and more complete information than what had been available previously. This new content is where this book really shines.
While some of the games covered in this book had earlier roots on mainframe computing hardware, such as Oregon Trail and Zork, the author does a fair job laying out his premise that the Apple II launch the personal computer gaming industry in that many of the early influential programmers got their “personal computer” start on the Apple II. The games, game genres, conventions and other elements that were originally created (or recreated from earlier mainframe computing platforms) on the Apple II had either influenced later games or were directly ported to other computing platforms, including the IBM PC and compatibles.
The chapters on Wizardry, Ultima, The Bard’s Tale and Wasteland were excellent. These were some of my favorite computer game series in the 1980s. The chapters covering Jordan Mechner‘s work are a great complement to my previous readings of Mechner’s own The Making of Karateka and The Making of The Prince of Persia journals. The book does contain some spoilers, the chapter on Wasteland quickly comes to mind. So if you are at all tempted to play any of the covered games now or in the near future, you might want to hold off on reading the related chapters.
The book falls a little short in a few areas. The author tries too hard at times to convince the reader that games designed and developed on earlier computing platforms were groundbreaking because of the the Apple II version rather than just being ported to the first widely available appliance computers that came along. The book also contains a few obvious factual errors in places. For example, on page 21, “…ROM came with a drawback: program code stuck around only while the computer received power…”, and on page 86, “…Entering a castle triggers first-person perspective, utilizing the same code Garriott wrote for Akalabeth…”. It is likely that the target audience will already know these facts and it shouldn’t take way from the enjoyment of reading a rare book on retro computing.
Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution is a beautiful, 256 page, hardcover book. It is both informative and entertaining. There is a wealth of great information contained within. If you can enjoy the interviews and insights from the earliest days of the personal computer gaming industry, as told by the programmers and personalities who helped create it, without letting the occasional mistake get in the way, I can highly recommend this book. For those of you who might get quickly annoyed at the factual errors that the book contains, you might want to wait for the second edition or just let this otherwise excellent book die of dysentery out on the the Oregon Trail without you.