The latest cluster of titles comes from a somewhat unlikely source though, with a library of games that originally appeared on the Apple II. First launched in 1977, the home computer — primarily designed by Steve Wozniak — was Apple’s first consumer product sold by the future iPhone maker.
There are currently 637 Apple II games available on the Internet Archive, in a collection uploaded by archivist “4am”. While there are some of the likeliest suspects — Frogger, two distinct versions of Pac-Man, and a version of Donkey Kong that curiously has the great ape on the right-hand side of the screen — the collection specialises in rarities and curiosities.
As such, you’ll find obscure titles such as The Ancient Art of War, Sun Tzu’s military tactics immortalised as a strategy game; Stargate, actually nothing to do with the movie or TV franchise; and G.I. Joe, one of the earliest examples of a cross-media tie-in video game. There are even examples of educational software such as Mystery of the Witch’s Shoes and Speed Reader II to be found in the archive.
To bring these lost treasures to the wider web, 4am — it’s unknown if that’s a single person or a collective working towards a shared cause — is having to dodge copyright. As announced on the Internet Archive blog, the uploader is not just tracking down these outdated and, in many cases, abandoned programs — “especially ones that have never been duplicated or widely distributed” — but also stripping them of copy protection that prevents their digitisation.
This is because the original, physical floppy disks containing the games that were sold at retail went to some fairly extreme lengths to prevent copying. Protection routines included modifying the performance of the floppy drive, or forcing the OS to rewrite itself. Good ideas at the time, perhaps, but decades later a real headache when it comes to preserving vintage software. All the uploaded games in the 4am collection are provided with “extensive documentation” detailing what was done to “crack” the title and make it bootable.
Somewhat ironically, Internet Archive notes that the technology allowing you to play these retro games in-browser “works best on modern machines running newest versions of browsers, especially Firefox, Chrome and Brave”. Apple’s own browser Safari isn’t explicitly recommended.
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