The Early Years 1977-1979


After the High School rush and a brief stint in the armed services, I found myself in beauty college learning to be a hairdresser. Computers were in the background. Well, until a friend brought over a HP-25 handheld calculator. I had seen fancy calculators before, but this one was different.

He flipped a small switch at the top to PRGM and began to enter one of the programs in his handbook. Lunar Lander. I sat back and watched him enter the 49 steps and then he flipped the switch back to RUN. The display flashed and showed the altitude, velocity and fuel left. He said, “Here’s where we select how much fuel to burn.” We must have played that game for over 2 hours, experimenting with terminal velocity and such. I was hooked. I went out and bought one the next day.

I started making my own games. Golf, Surfing, Improved Lunar Lander, with a Moon that orbits the Earth, Bowling, and many others. All in those same 49 steps. I looked at the 8 or 9 step Random Number Generators that they were using in games. I designed a very usable Random Number Generator using only 3 steps! Clip to just the fraction, take the Arcsin of that fraction and clip to just the fractional part again. You seed it with a non-zero fraction. Random output from greater than zero to .9999999. I needed those extra steps to make my games shine. My first code optimization.


In 1977, the world for me changed. I got a job at Computer Components near my house. Books, magazines, mainframes Imsai, Altair, Vector, I was in heaven. Needless to say I had plenty of reading material for those slow times during the workday. I learned about all the current hardware and software and was intrigued by this small 6502 system called KIM-1. Chess on a computer? In 1K RAM? You gotta be kidding me! I thought this may be my next computing machine.

I was attending El Camino College, at the time, studying Electronics, Microprocessors and Computer Science. My 1st year I developed a new method of solving Bridge Circuit problems that cut the calculations in half. The professor started teaching it as “Baker’s Theorem“. I also created the lesson plans for the Electronics Math course including tests, quizzes and during the 2nd semster, I was at the chalkboard, teaching the class, showing them step-by-step how to solve various problems.

My 2nd year I decided to build a perfect amplifier for my final exam. I made many trips back to the parts bin to find the “perfect” part. If I needed a 1K resistor, I took 15, 1K resistors back to my desk and measured each one until I found one that was dead on. I did this with all of the parts, including the transistors. When I was done, I had made a perfect amplifier. All of the “test points” were whole volts or milliamps. Exact on, flat response from 10-200khz. The professor looked at my exam sheet and noted the readings. He then began to fiddle with the power supply and the dual-trace scope. Muttering under his breath, “No way, can’t be“. He said I’ll give you a “B” for a final grade. What!?! He turned his head and laughed, “Excellent work“. Excellent heck, it was perfect.

Time passes and I am learning everything I can about microprocessors and these new systems like the TRS-80 and Commodore Pet. Another 6502 offshoot, but its small screen made it very difficult to use along with its micro sized keyboard. Good idea, bad execution. Apple Computer announces its Apple-II Personal Computer. 6502 processor, 1mhz clock speed. Color graphics, one bit sound channel. I had to have one.

They sold complete systems at around $1600 (less monitor or RF TV adapter) with 16K of RAM. That was a bit out of my price range, but they also sold motherboards for $600. Now we are talking. I built up a case and hardwired a TTL keyboard to work with the Apple-II and built my RF modulator. I found a surplus switching power supply that could handle the 4 voltages needed for the motherboard. I was in business. Now I could make more complex games with sound effects. SAB marches on!


When the Apple-II 1st came out it only had a cassette tape interface for saving or loading programs into the computer. I tried my hand at making a few integer BASIC games. One of the 1st games was Fighter Pilot. Based on Battlestar Galatica, you launched down the tube and out into space. You used the keyboard to control your craft trying to align the enemy craft into your sites. Fire and watch their ship explode into a dozen pixels. I wanted more action, but was limited to the lo-res graphics, since I did not have enough RAM to support Apple’s Hi-res screen at the time.

I started looking into 6502 assembly language. Apple had a ROM built-in assembler that was barely useable. But trying to compute the forward and backwards branches was a real bear. A friend of mine created a simple cassette based 6502 assembler, but it was full of bugs. My nickname is RAID, and I fixed the bugs and expanded it into a full blown macro assembler. It was one of 1st macro assemblers available for the 6502.

I developed a 4K ROMable 6502 version of PILOT, with powerful word parsing and matching commands to control the program flow. Journey, my contribution to the text based Adventure games, was written in PILOT.

I was working part-time for Softape, creating more games, releasing about a dozen on cassettes or floppy disks. Quick simple Hi-res games using my macro assembler. They released a Baker’s Trilogy game pack. BurnOut, Planetoids and Bubbles. NightCrawler aka Photar and Starmines were among the most popular ones.

Frenzy was probably my best game, that never got released. This game created many addicts at Apple Computer. It had elements that one would think crazy, yet cool. A twitch game with a switch. Usually when you touch an enemy, you die. In Frenzy, collisions take on a whole new life, you still may die, but not from your own hand. I don’t want to spoil the fun because I am planning on porting it from the Apple-II to HTML5 Canvas.

I was ready for more thought provoking games. I was playing backgammon with a co-worker at Mattel Electronics during our lunch break. I was at Mattel to design Intellivision diagnostic testing programs. He played backgammon for money and taught me the game with its various offensive and defensive strategies. I learned whatever I could and I had a simple text interface that showed the dice rolled and its moves. He would point out which moves were best and I continued to improve the move logic. It got to a point where my program would win quite a few games and would change its strategy based on the board layout. My friend was very impressed. I released Microgammon 2.0 through Artsci, a Softape offshoot.

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