Bits from my personal collection – Enchanted Scepters, point-n-click coming to town

During the third quarter of the 1984 Superbowl, Apple would reveal its new Macintosh computer to the world. The $1.5 million expensive Ridley Scott directed TV Commercial would go over in history as nothing short of a masterpiece and become one of the most iconic commercials ever. Two days later, on the 24th of January, the $2000 expensive small form factor computer would go on sale. The Macintosh featured a built-in hi-res monochrome display and came with a radically new graphical user interface, which could be interacted with by the included mouse. Bundled with the computer came two applications, MacWrite and MacPaint, designed to show off the innovative interface. The computer garnered an immediate and enthusiastic following and by April 1984 Apple had sold 50,000 units.

One of the early adopters was William Appleton, a 23-year-old hobbyist programmer, and graduate economics student. Appleton had, shortly after the January launch, acquired a Macintosh, and with help from the technical manual, Inside Macintosh and the copy of Macintosh Assembler he had received from Apple software evangelist Alain Rossmann, quickly learned to write code. Appleton wanted to create an adventure game utilizing the Macintosh’s mouse-driven and innovative point-n-click interface. Adventure games at the time were all text-parser-driven which often led to frustrating guesswork, by employing the use of the mouse and a menu-driven interface he could create a more streamlined experience, catering not only to seasoned players but probably more importantly to newcomers of the genre.

Appleton sat out to create a framework that could encompass all aspects of an adventure game, with rooms, dialogue trees, object interaction, etc. The authoring tool became World Builder and to put it to the test he started work on his first game, Enchanted Scepters, a rather elaborate adventure game with roleplaying elements added. During development, Appleton started looking for a potential publisher, and while the Macintosh world was still in its infancy with only a few publishers embracing the machine, he found his luck with Charlie Jackson‘s newly established Silicon Beach Software.

Jackson, another early adopter of the Macintosh computer, had in 1984, beside starting the San Diego Macintosh User Group, founded Silicon Beach Software, a company to be solely focused on the development of software for the new computer. Jackson had earlier been running a computer training business for people with Apple II’s and IBM PC’s. Through his business, he had noticed how little software was available whenever a new computer was launched and how early adopters were desperately looking to spend their money making their new machine usable. Jackson foresaw this would happen with the Macintosh as well and contracted with a few visionary developers to establish the company as an important part of the computers early ecosystem. His efforts resulted in pioneering products like the 1986 title SuperPaint, an advanced graphics editor, combining features of Apple’s own MacDraw and MacPaint with several key innovations added.

While the company would devote fully to productivity software in the latter part of the ’80s, it was the games that helped establish the business. The first being Jonathan Gay‘s extended Paratrooper clone, Airborne! The title was developed in 1984-85 and went on sale to the public at the inaugural Macworld Expo in San Francisco in February of 1985. Airborne! was the first Macintosh game to use digitized sound effects and its opening screen, featuring a rendition of Wagner‘s Ride Of The Valkyries, quickly became applauded in the Macintosh community. The game reached Appleton, who amazed by the state-of-the-art sound and music got in touch with Jackson. The two came to a publishing agreement and Appleton’s Enchanted Scepters was completed with help from Jackson and Eric Zocker, the guy behind the impressive sound work on Airborne!

Enchanted Scepters was released for the Macintosh, most likely in 1985.
There seems to be a bit of discrepancy regarding the actual release date since all copyrights mention 1984 but Airborne! was released in early 1985 and was the game that got Appleton’s attention. There was a demo of Airborne! called Banzai! circulating earlier on and while it could have been the demo that caught the eyes, or ears I should say, of Appleton, all sources credit Airborne! as Silicon Beach Software’s first published title.

William Appleton’s Enchanted Scepters was published for the Macintosh by San Diego-based Silicon Beach Software. There’s some discrepancy on the actual release date but most evidence suggests it was published in 1985

Enchanted Scepters bear evidence of being a product sandwiched in between the text-parser-driven games of the time and the fully point-n-click games to come. Appleton was working in pioneer territory, nothing like this had ever been done before, resulting in a few pitfalls. Mixing the ability to point and click on items, doors, characters, and the key-verbs placed in a pull-down menu and yet still requiring text input at specific places was somewhat confusing, nonetheless, it was a small window into what was to come. By using the innovative technology the Macintosh offered, Appleton was able to plant a small seed for a whole new subgenre and when the golden age of adventure games arrived in the early ’90s, with some of the best and most celebrated titles, they all would be fully point-n-click.

Enchanted Scepters had no title screen and the player was thrown directly into the game. The intuitive user interface was a result of the innovative Macintosh operating system. Most of the game could be controlled by using shortcuts, The mouse could be used to interact with objects and characters and the text window featured a simple text parser, required for some actions. The game featured over 200 screens and many actual recorded ambient sounds.

The Expensive Macintosh never solidified itself as a viable gaming platform and the competition for players’ attention was fierce. Infocom was responsible for some of the best-written and designed text-only games and Sierra On-Line had just released its first title in its King’s Quest graphic adventure game series. King’s Quest, while still relying fully on text input, would fundamentally change how players experienced adventure games. Enchanted Scepters was in the eyes of the mainstream market, nothing more than a novelty. Its success was absent and it quickly faded into obscurity. Three other planned titles were scrapped but the framework Appleton had written to help develop the game would be released by Silicon Beach Software in 1986 as the stand-alone game authoring software, World Builder, surpassing Apple’s own authoring tool HyperCard, which the Miller brothers of Cyan used to create The Manhole and later the hugely successful Myst.

Following the release of Enchanted Scepters, other developers started taking advantage of the Macintosh mouse and menu-driven interface. ICOM Simulations, over a three-year period, created four successful titles in its MacVenture line of multi-window point-n-click adventure games.

Silicon Beach was acquired by Aldus Corporation in 1990. A few years later Jackson, together with programmer Jonathan Gay, would co-found FutureWave Software, the company that would produce the first version of what is now known as Adobe Flash.

Sources: The Secret History of Mac Gaming by Richard Moss, Wikipedia, Macintosh Garden, Game Developer…

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