Productivity software has been around a long time, and two of the most prominent examples are Visicalc and Wordstar. Visicalc brought the wonder of the electronic spreadsheet to the world, changing the business world forever. WordStar was one of the leading Word Processing software programs before fading away in the late 1980s. As a bonus WordStar is presented on the now-long-gone Osborne-1, one of the first "Luggable" computers to come out (it promised to fit under an airplane seat!). Check them out in monochrome glory (but don't put any major work in it).
Adventure games are a staple of early home computer software and these examples let you play some of the most famous of these virtual worlds. Akalabeth was the first major computer game by a young Richard Garriott, alias Lord British. Created when he was a teenager and inspired by many games of D&D, it was his first work in a lifetime of RPG gamemaking, including the Ultima series. The Hobbit, a legendary adventure game for the ZX Spectrum, had a level of complication and subtlety beneath the surface that was years ahead of its time - characters lived their own lives, with you sometimes stumbling on the results of their battles or suffering the consequences of their meddling. Mystery House by Sierra On-line was the first graphical adventure for the Apple II, and this version is the public domain anniversary re-issue by the company to celebrate their anniversary.
The adventure continues: The first of Scott Adams' adventure programs, Adventureland, was an attempt to bring a version of the Colossal Cave Adventure experience (previously only on mainframes) over to home computers. (It's not the same game, but a different point of view on the same approach, and one that Scott Adams was told was impossible to replicate on a tiny home computer.) Check out the incredible script for the text, making it really difficult to read! Meanwhile, the Microsoft Adventure is absolutely a full-on port of Colossal Cave Adventure, one the original authors were not paid for. However, it introduced the program to an entire new generation of computer users.
These three programs have only one thing in common: interesting demo screens, which will loop by themselves after you start the emulators. The first, the Atari Dealer Demo, was meant to be displayed on a brand new Atari 400 or 800 and sit in the window of a store, meant to attract potential customers to how amazing these computers were, and to take one home. Choplifter was a hall of fame software game based around using a helicopter to rescue hostages across a border - the attract screen shows the game in full, with its pseudo-3d landscape and groundbreaking graphics. Finally, the beloved and adored (especially in Europe) Elite shows off a futuristic status screen while waiting for your keypress.
The game PAC-MAN by Namco has had a long and storied history, but these three versions lived in the realm of the home console. The first is the 1982 Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, which sold extremely well but was heavily knocked for lack of faithfulness to the original, and the poor gameplay. The second is a 2007 "remake" for the Atari 2600, which uses the same hardware and cartridge size as the original 1982 Atari cartridge, but is leagues ahead in terms of capturing the arcade experience. Finally, there is K.C. Munchkin, a game for the Odyssey2 home console system which was the very first defendant in a "software look and feel" copyright case. Atari sued the makers of K.C. Munchkin, claiming it was too much like Pac-Man, and the case was decided in their favor, resulting in the game's banning and withdrawl. Play it for yourself and decide.
No fooling - computer chess has been around nearly as long as home computers themselves. One of the first commercial entertainment software programs anywhere, Chess by Peter Jennings was ported to many platforms, including this edition for the Radio Shack Color Computer. The graphical interface is a notable amount easier to use than the Sargon Chess program for the late, lamented Exidy Sorcerer. Sargon required you to enter your moves in standard chess notation!
We'll start to wind down this tour with a grab-bag of classic programs: Karateka, Jordan Mechner's martial-arts masterpiece, is one of the first and most cinematic fighting games, with a sense of style and flourish few could match at the time. Chuckie Egg, a beloved platformer for the ZX Spectrum and other 8-bit systems, was an unstoppable hit wherever it was ported. And Lemonade Stand, included with thousands of Apple IIs, was THE economic resource game that many young users cut their teeth on, trying to ensure they had enough lemonade to sell while not overspending their savings.
The classic platformer for the Atari 2600, Pitfall! by David Crane was a masterpiece of coding, allowing 255 unique screens of gameplay with an intense amount of action and variety within them - not bad for 4k of game code. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is unfairly credited with the great Video Game crash of 1983. It's not a bad game, although the hype-cycle guaranteed a lot of disappointment which history has tried to pin all ills on. And finally, Rocky's Boots is a best-selling and award winning logic educational game for children, teaching basic programming and logic skills in a fun manner.
Still hungry for more? The Internet Archive's Historical Software collection is continually being filled with more fine examples of older materials - these items just scratch the surface. From utilities and operating systems through to applications and games, older programs are coming back to life to excite, to teach and to enjoy.
Launched at the Internet Archive October 24, 2013.
Internet Archive Software Curator