Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Early PC Game Miscellaneous Notablility

IBM's First PC Game Releases

IBM released games for the PC and PCjr. from 1981 to 1985.  However, IBM did not always develop the games.  These games came in a gray plastic over cardboard folder or folio without artwork on the covers.  The game and manual would fit into plastic sleeves on the inside of the folder. The disk label was originally gray, but turned to red for Casino Games.

These were the among the first commercially sold games released for the PC.

Adventure in Serenia - Sierra
Casino Games - IBM
Microsoft Adventure - Microsoft
Microsoft Decathalon - Microsoft
Arithemitic Games Set 1 - Science Research Associates, Inc.
Arithemitic Games Set 2 - Science Research Associates, Inc.
One Hundred and One Monochrome Mazes - IBM
Strategy Games - IBM

Microsoft Adventure was the first commercial PC game ever released, it was available at the PC's launch, August 12, 1981.  The first actual PC game was the Donkey game included with PC-DOS 1.0 and run in BASIC.

One Hundred and One Monochrome Mazes is the first non-text game released exclusively for the Monochrome and Printer Display Adapter, and only works with that display hardware or compatible hardware.  It does not work with the PCjr.  It also uses a black folio instead of a gray folio.

Microsoft Decathalon does not work with the PCjr.  Adventure in Serenia relies on CGA Composite Color and will show incorrect colors with the PCjr.  You can run Microsoft Adventure on the PCjr. but cannot set the foreground and background colors.  Adventure in Serenia will not show correct composite colors with a PCjr.

PCjr. Software Cartridges

IBM released seven cartridges, all of which were developed mainly by third parties.  Imagic and Activision contributed two cartridges each.  Spinnaker Software was also responsible for three edutainment-style games.  Lotus 1-2-3 came on two cartridges, one for each slot as did Electric Desk by Alpha.  I am not including compatibility cartridges on this list.

Andrew Tobias' Managing Your Money - IBM/MECA
Cartridge BASIC - IBM/Microsoft
Crossfire - IBM/Sierra
Demon Attack - Imagic
Electric Desk - Alpha
FaceMaker - Spinnaker
Fraction Fever - Spinnaker
Kindercomp - Spinnaker
Lotus 1-2-3 - Lotus Development Corp.
Microsurgeon - Activision
MineShaft - IBM/Sierra
Mouser - IBM/Gebelli
Pitfall 2 - Activision
River Raid - Activision
Scubaventure - IBM/Gebelli

ScubaVenture and Mouser show errors or graphical anomalies with the Tandy mod.  Demon Attack will not work without a joystick and River Raid won't even boot without one! Sierra's games do not really support more than 4-color 320x200 graphics and PC speaker sound, although the color choices are not limited to the CGA palettes.  The Spinnaker games are limited to CGA palettes but do have some 3-voice music.

King's Quest PCjr.

By 1983 IBM changed their box style to a cassette tape style box.  This box would be plastic and open like a cassette tape.  Cover art would be on the front and the legal terms governing the software would be printed on the back.  IBM used this box style for PC and PCjr. games, cartridge and disk games alike.

IBM released this historically significant game twice in the cassette tape box.  The first time, in early 1984, it came with a full keyboard overlay for the "chiclet" keyboard. This keyboard had spaces in between the keys which would allow a keyboard overlay to fit.  The cardboard in between the keys would tell the player what each key's function was, if any.

IBM released the game again later in 1984.  It replaced the full keyboard overlay with a strip that you placed over the number key row of the new non-chiclet keyboard.  The software on the disk remained the same.

This release of the game is notable for the unique artwork, manual and name of the title character.  The artwork on the cover shows a generic armored knight swinging a sword and holding a shield.  Your character never wears armor or wields a sword or a shield.  The manual includes goofy illustrations and the story is very basic.  Finally the character is called Sir Grahame.  He would be later renamed to Sir Graham by the time the game was released for the IBM PC some months later.

Sierra's Obscure PCjr.-Only Disk Game Releases

Sierra's Crossfire and Mine Shaft were released by IBM as cartridges, but some of Sierra's other games specifically supported the PCjr.  These games, however, only supported the PCjr. and are very hard to find. In fact, up until a year or two ago, they were not even confirmed to exist.

Crossfire (Disk Version)
Wizard and the Princess
Ultima II : Revenge of the Enchantress

Crossfire Disk supports 16 color 320x200 graphics whereas Crossfire Car only supported 4 colors.  It also supports 3-voice music.  Sierra also released a PC CGA disk version.
Wizard and the Princess is the same game as Adventure in Serenia, but using the original title.  It supports 16 color 160x200 (really 320x200 because of the text) graphics.
Ultima II : Revenge of the Enchantress supports 320x200 composite PCjr. graphics and is speed adjusted for the PCjr.

Early Sound Expansion Support

The Bouncy Bee games (Bouncy Bee Learns Letters and Bouncy Bee Learns Words) are significant because they are the first games on the PC platform to support audio expansion hardware.  In this case they support the PCjr. Speech Attachment add on.  The Speech Attachment was sold separately and can be emulated with the PS/2 Speech Adapter (an ISA card) and some other devices.

In addition, while earlier versions of Electronic Arts Music Construction Set (MCS) supported the PC Speaker and the Tandy/PCjr. 3-voice sound chip, MCS may have been the first game-like product to support a sound card, namely the IBM Music Feature Card.  This was a special version of the software released in 1987 and soon forgotten about for over twenty years.

The Mindscape Bank Street Music Writer was optionally sold with a PC Mockingboard, which contained two AY-3-8913 chips for six voices on an ISA board and some glue logic.  (No 6522 VIAs are present as they are on the Apple II Mockingboard).  The software also supported the Tandy/PCjr. sound chip.  Unlike the Mockingboard M which came with the Apple version of the software, no other software for the PC supported the PC Mockingboard.

IBM Cassette Box Games

In addition to King's Quest and Touchdown Football for the PCjr., IBM released several other commercial games on disk from 1983-1984.  In addition, it released lots and lots of children's edutainment and scholastic educational software.  I am not sure that a complete list of all its child-oriented software released during the PC family's lifespan The adult, non-edutainment games that come in the cassette boxes are

3-K Trivia - IBM (unconfirmed)
Jumpman - Epyx
PC Pool Challenges - HesWare
Shamus - SynSoft
Trivia 101: The Introductory Course - Digital Learning Systems, Inc.
TV and Cinema 101: Trivia from Talkies to Trekkies - Digital Learning Systems, Inc.
Zyll - IBM

Jumpman is a good port of the Atari 8-bit game, and on the PCjr. it supports 16-color graphics and 3-voice sound.  Shamus is another good Atari 8-bit port without PCjr. enhancements.  Zyll is a game developed by IBM employees that was a really unique and innovative interactive fiction game.  By this time, all games are PCjr. compatible.

You might not think that IBM, that boring business company with its shirt-and-tie employees, swarms of lawyers and a hierarchy that would make Stalin proud would know anything about games.  However, even if they did not often program games, they knew all about quality games.  Adults would rarely go wrong by buying IBM when it came to entertainment software.

IBM Mail Order Folio Games

This was IBM's final style of game packaging, and only available in 1985 and 1986.  The packaging consisted of a generic cardboard folder or folio with the game and manual inserted into a sleeve.  They were available via mail order and IBM dealerships, but generally not at computer stores.  The disk label was always red.

Three games are known to be released in this style :

Alley Cat - SynSoft
M.U.L.E. - Electronic Arts
The World's Greatest Baseball Game - Epyx

Alley Cat supports 3-voice PCjr. music and more color choices for the 320x200 graphics on a PCjr.  M.U.L.E. supports PC CGA and PCjr. composite color graphics and uses different key for control on a PC and PCjr.  The World's Greatest Baseball Game supports 16 color 160x200 graphics and 3-voice sound effects, music and even speech!  It was the only game on this list known to be released outside of the IBM label on the PC.

PC Flippy Disks

IBM PCs were originally equipped with single sided drives for the first year they were sold.  Disks for the IBM PC in these early days were typically written to on one side.  Soon, however, IBM sold IBM PCs with double sided drives and DOS 1.1 supported double sided disks.  More and more software began using double sided disks seamlessly.  Many games of this period only used one side of the disk.  However, there were a few games that came with a disk where each side of the disk was formatted as a single sided disk.  These disks would use two index holes on opposite sides of the media.  These were the rare (for the PC) disks that you had to flip to the bottom at times to load a program or data.

Demon's Forge - Mastertronic
Congo Bongo - Sega
Tapper - Sega
Ultima III - Origin

For Congo Bongo and Tapper, the top side of the disk contained the RGB CGA version of the game and the bottom side contained the composite color version of the game.  Ultima III contained the Player Disk on the bottom side of the disk which had to be freely copyable.  Ultima II did not do this, it always used three disks on the IBM PC.  When re-released in the Ultima Trilogy, Ultima III used a 360KB formatted disk and Ultima II combined two of the three disks.  Demon's Forge has the PC version on the top side and the Apple II version on the bottom side for the Mastertronic release.  Whether it does for the Boone Software release is unknown.


  1. Very interesting about the flippy disks. Do you know what happens if you try to read one with a double-sided drive? Do they work at all?

  2. They work just fine as two single sided disks, except for games like Demon's Forge for obvious reasons. PC floppy disks use a single index hole to position the head over sector one of each track. Above the index hole is an optical sensor. However, if you flip a disk over, the index hole is no longer over the optical sensor and the PC will throw out error messages like "sector not found".

    So with PC flippy disks where both sides are intended to be used in a PC, there is a second mirrored index hole punched through the black mylar sleeve on the opposite side of the big hole. Note that the hole must only be punched through the black mylar sleeve, there is no second hole punched through the recording media. The disk drive does not care where the hole is as long as it can "see" the index hole, but if it sees two index holes, the drive will fail to read the disk.

  3. Nerdly Pleasures, that "101 Monochrome Mazes" is interesting, lol. It appears to be a text mode, extended ASCII game, like ZZT or ANSI Dude. :)

    But, you say it would only work with the monochrome and printer adapter? Wouldn't it work with a CGA card and above? It looks like the game just goes into BIOS display mode 2 (02H). :)






  4. neutrino78x, 101 Mono Mazes refuses to work unless a MDA card (or something that can emulate it like an EGA, VGA or Hercules card) is installed. MDA only works with BIOS Mode 7, setting the mode to anything else would be a bad idea for your monitor. The reason why this limitation was programmed into the game is given here :


  5. Hello Great Hierophant,

    You helped me with the issue I had with my PCjr version of "The Black Cauldron." Thank you! I am on the look out for physical copies of specific "IBM" compatible versions of the following games to buy: "Troll's Tale," "Dragon's Keep," "Mickey's Space Adventure," and "Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood." Do you happen to know if anyone is selling IBM versions of these titles? If not, could I ask you to let me know if you come across them in some way?

  6. Troll's Tale, Mickey's Space Adventure, and Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood are very rare to find physical copies for the IBM PC/PCjr./Tandy 1000 platform. For Mickey's Space Adventure, I see on eBay that there is a boxed copy for the Tandy CoCo (with a misleading PC/DOS in the title), a boxed copy for the C64 and loose disks for either the Apple II or the C64. For Winnie the Pooh, I see on eBay that there is a boxed copy for the Tandy CoCo (with a misleading Atari ST in the title). For Troll's Tale, there is a boxed Apple II copy being sold directly by Al Lowe himself! As for Dragon's Keep, there are no copies known to be in existence : http://www.mobygames.com/game/dragons-keep/forums/dga,2/dgm,230259/#230259