the bilestoad

GameTales: The Bilestoad

We were in Quake development. It was at the beginning when things were going smoothly, not the last seven months that turned work into a very dark place (from December 1995 on). But, I digress.

Michael Abrash, the legendary programmer, was working at id and occupying the space where Tom Hall, followed by Sandy Petersen, resided - out in the open in the black id cube building in Mesquite, Texas. One day, Michael had a visitor by the name of Ken Demarest. Ken has been in the game industry for many years, starting in 1990 at Origin Systems, and who, eight years after this story, worked at my Ion Storm Austin office.

Ken and Michael were talking about old games. Little-known to many, Michael Abrash co-programmed the PC game, Snack Attack II, with his friend Dan Illowsky, who was already a well-known Apple II programmer due to Snack Attack's popularity as a great Pac-Man clone.

Michael was talking about Snack Attack II, published in 1982, and Ken said, "Oh, we're gonna start bringing up old games, eh?" Of course, anyone talking about old games has my interest, so I came out of my office and exclaimed surprise at learning that Michael had programmed Snack Attack II with the added surprise that I had no idea there was a sequel to the Apple II version!

Ken then mentioned the old Ultimas, and I replied that I had played all of them and beaten 1 through 5 (Ultima 8 had been released the year before, in 1994). I told Ken, "Look, pulling out Ultima as an old game to impress me doesn't work because it's too big and popular. Everyone knows about Ultima. Have you ever heard of The Tarturian? Now that's a rare game!"

Ken hadn't heard of The Tarturian, so I told him a little bit about it. I said I had a metric ton of Apple II games and knew them all very well. Then, the following exchange happened:

Ken: "You know, I'd be really impressed if you had The Bilestoad."

Me: "I have it."

Ken: "I mean the original retail version."

Me: "I have the original 1982 gold label retail floppy."

Ken: "Seriously? I'd be really impressed if you had it here."

Me: "I do. In fact, I am going to blow you away. Right now, in my office, The Bilestoad is currently running on my Apple IIe."

Ken: "Seriously? Holy shit, I gotta see this!"

Ken follows me into my office, and on my original computer desk from 1985, was my Apple IIe with The Bilestoad running in demo mode - silicon knights hacking away at each other with digital axes, replete with pixelated blood spilling on the green field.

Ken: "Now that is impressive."

Food for thought: Why did I have my Apple IIe running that day, and why did I put in The Bilestoad and leave it running in demo mode? Ken is the one who brought the game up, not me.

My life is full of seemingly impossible coincidences.

History Lesson:

The Bilestoad was Marc Goodman's hack-em-up Apple II action game that became a classic because of its violence and bloodshed. The game was so controversial that Marc used a nom de plume, Mangrove Earthshoe, so he could continue publishing games under his name free of stigma due to The Bilestoad. Unfortunately, this was his last game.

It's hard to detect, but Marc was attempting to play the song "Fur Elise" while simultaneously running a game. On the Apple II, this was one of the most difficult programming tasks, and very few programmers got it working right. The absolute master of this technique was Jim Nitchals, triumphantly displayed in his 1982 game Microwave.

There's an excellent interview that James Hague did with Marc Goodman here.