GEnieLamp Profile: Tom Zuchowski
This month we will profile the man who probably knows more about the Eamon adventures and the world of Eamonauts than anyone else.
GEnieLamp> You seem to be the resident Eamon guru on GEnie. Why don't you begin by telling us what the Eamon adventures are, and how you came to be so involved with them?
Tom> Eamon adventures are text-based games of exploration and combat. Eamon is similar to, though usually much simpler than, the old Infocom series of games. Basically, the computer tells you what you see, and you type in simple commands such as GET POTION, GIVE POTION TO FRODO, DRINK POTION, etc. Eamon is a public-domain gaming system that began as nothing more than a small set of tools for writing Eamon adventures. Over the years, the tools have become much more sophisticated, and many dozens of people have written some 230 different Eamons. By the way, nobody knows why Donald Brown named it "Eamon", so don't ask. <grin>
I first discovered Eamon back around 1982 or '83 by ordering some from a mail-order public-domain software house. I become enamored with the concept of a system that enabled anyone to design and write text adventures, and best of all, they were comparatively cheap to buy. When John Nelson began the first national Eamon club, I became an active contributor, especially in the bug-fix department. For some reason, I used to get a lot of entertainment from fixing other people's bugs.
But it was when I actually wrote my first Eamon that I discovered just how much FUN Eamon can be. Writing an Eamon adventure is perhaps the most engrossing thing I've ever done with a computer. Of course, different people like doing different things and everyone won't share my enthusiasm, but I know people who were forced to quit writing Eamons because they became obsessed with them to the point of neglecting their real lives. I know that feeling well!
In 1986, John Nelson bought a PC, and he soon let his Eamon club slide into total neglect. After many months of nagging him, he transferred the tattered remains of his club to me. I began the "Eamon Adventurer's Guild" newsletter, and got most of the public-domain vendors on board with me so that we would have a common Eamon numbering system.
Then Dean Esmay called me in 1989 and got me online with GEnie as A2's "Eamon guy". I eventually became the "8-bit" guy for the library crew, but Eamon remains my true love in Apple II gaming.
GEnieLamp> What are your duties as the "8 bit" guy for the library crew?
Tom> It might be more accurate to call me A2's "8-bit advocate". Most of the A2 staff are, or course, hard-core GS enthusiasts. I sort of appointed myself as the staff voice for 8-bit users, to keep everyone mindful of the needs and limits of the 8-bit platforms.
As far as the library goes, my area got expanded from just Eamon to include the 8-bit games and utilities libraries back when Dean asked me to handle those areas during the big clean-up project four or five years ago. We went through every file in the library, converting everything to BXY, eliminating redundant files, and removing stuff that just didn't work. In the course of this, I became familiar with everything we had. Since then, I made up a few "Best of A2" 8-bit uploads and still try to make sure that we don't release new uploads of things we already have. I sometimes do things like verify compatibility, or may be called upon to help II+ users with their special problems.
My main library work these days isn't so much as an 8-bit specialist, but is simply to help A2.TONY out with whatever he asks me to do: fix descriptions, move files, do research, fill in when he takes off for a few days, and so on. This takes some of the load off of him and makes it easier to stay ahead of library developments at all times. I also do the monthly Library Indexes.
I've always liked using my IIe more than a GS. This is undoubtedly at least partly because my IIe has a lot of enhancements and my GS does not, but I've never been a huge fan of rodents.
GEnieLamp> Tell us about your present project of uploading all of the old Eamon adventures to the GEnie library.
Tom> Well, there are only two or three public-domain vendors left that carry the entire Eamon set, and I recently realized that some Eamons could possibly become lost forever if something wasn't done to preserve them.
I am uploading everything I have to A2's library. This way, it will always be available to the public, no matter what happens to me or the Apple II public-domain mail-order business. A2 will not only have ALL of the DOS 3.3 and ProDOS Eamons, but also a lot of other utilities and stuff that has never been available anywhere. Sam Ruby's custom Eamon editors for many of his landmark Eamons are one example. I'll be uploading more reviews and tutorials, too.
Note that there are DOS 3.3 Eamons, and also ProDOS Eamons in 40-column and 80-column format. People who are looking for specific Eamon stuff should not despair of finding it among the hundreds of files that will eventually reside in the library. I am using specific file naming conventions so that a search on the keyword EAMON will result in sorted lists that are not only sorted by number but also by operating system and display, too.
GEnieLamp> [We asked Tom to list his Top 20 all-time favorite Eamon adventures. They are listed and described in the Treasure Hunt column this month.]
How did you first get interested in the Apple II computer?
Tom> My first exposure to computers was a job assembling and reconciling computer runs for a big mainframe in a bank. This got me interested in them, and I learned to work on them in the Air Force back in the late 70s. Getting my own computer was very high on my list of things to do when I became a civilian in 1979, and I bought my first II+ in 1980. It had 64K and one Disk II floppy drive, and cost me something like $2,500 or so.
I had originally intended to buy an Ohio Scientific computer, which I judged to be the most interesting and capable computer on the market. But it happened that one of my co-workers in my new job had an Apple II, and he convinced me that we could have a lot more fun together if we used the same computer. As it turned out, Visi-Calc killed off all of the Apple II's competitors, so I got lucky.
GEnieLamp> What would you consider to be the top five programs ever written for the 8 bit Apple II series of computers?
Tom> These choices are based on my personal experience. I don't doubt that there are some candidates for this list that I've simply never used, and I may have let some worthies slip my mind, but here goes:
1) ProTERM 3: The best telecom program I've ever used. I'm still looking for a program for my 486 that is more than half this good.
2) AppleWorks: No list would be complete without this program. AppleWorks is the best program I've ever used for "quick and dirty" databases and word processing. Perhaps I should specifically single out AppleWorks 3.0, the version that (in my opinion) made AW into a serious program. Having said that, I should perhaps also mention that the later versions are even better!
3) Diversi-DOS: Bill Basham's DOS 3.3 replacement is MUCH superior to ProDOS for 5.25-only systems. It's just as fast as ProDOS, makes fewer demands on system resources, and is easier to use. But it's only good for DOS 3.3 disks, which limits its utility these days.
4) ShrinkIt 3.4: Where would we be today without Andy Nicholas? This is the program I always use to show PC-snobs what a lowly 13-year-old Apple II is STILL capable of. (If only all of our programs were this good!)
5) Copy II+ 8.4: Not the best disk utility that was ever on the market, but it's the one that I use the most often. I think it's the easiest to use, and it gives me some features I need that I don't see anywhere else.
GEnieLamp> Do you have any anecdotes you can share with us about your first experiences with the Apple II?
Tom> Gosh, I don't know. I was totally consumed by programming and gaming. My job had me working out of my home on an "on call" basis, and I had a lot of free time. I'll bet I spent upwards of 70-80 hours per week programming and playing games in 1980-81. No social life at all.
Back then a low-end printer cost about $800, and I didn't get a printer or an assembler until '81 or '82, and so I used to spend absolutely absurd amounts of time working with pen and paper and typing things in by hand. This is a very time-consuming way to write and debug machine-code programs! Fortunately, I had the foresight to get that Disk II at the beginning.
I had an inventory of about 400 small parts that I carried for my job, and it was a tedious task to reconcile it four times a year. So I built a speech synthesizer and wrote a program that read my inventory to me while I checked my stuff. It was a wonderfully productive program and quite successful. Of course, I spent much more time constantly making it "better" than I ever saved by merely using it. It was great fun!
The early days were great. I wrote several small articles that I sold to the many Apple II magazines of the day. Anybody could do it back then, when they published entire articles about how to save a single byte in a routine. Ah, the days of 16K computers!
I was late to come to ProDOS, still using my II+ and DOS 3.3 up until 1989. ProDOS just didn't have anything to offer to me that I thought I needed, and cost more resources than DOS 3.3 did. (There are still legions of such Apple II users out in the World; you'd be amazed.) It took coming online to GEnie to expand my needs beyond what I could do with the ol' II+. These days I use a souped-up IIe, a stock GS, a 486, and the II+, pretty much in that order.
GEnieLamp> Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tom> I was born and grew up in northwest Missouri, near Kansas City. Since I was 8 years old, all I ever wanted to do was design rocket hardware, and the year I graduated from high school was the year they pulled the plug on Apollo. I drifted for two years in college and then joined the Air Force in search of an interesting career. I learned to repair computers in the Air Force, and got my AA Electronics degree. The Air Force stint included two years in Japan, where I would have gladly lived the rest of my life, if they would have let me stay there. I wound up in North Carolina, which is a pretty nice place, so I can't complain. I live in a small rural housing development a few miles out from a medium-sized city, and really like the peace and quiet. I listen to a lot of music of the hard-rock variety, and watch far too much TV. I'm 43 years old.
GEnieLamp> What do you consider your proudest accomplishment?
Tom> I never really thought about it before. Probably my proudest accomplishment is the fact that my father is proud of how I turned out and what I have become. That means a lot to me. It rather dazzles me that my wife thinks I'm good enough for her, because she is quite an exceptional woman, very wise and smart.
Computer-wise, I take great pride in the esteem that my own Eamon adventures are given by many Eamon gamers. The best Eamon authors are darned good, and it's a real honor to be included in that select group by people whose opinions I value. There's an awful lot that goes into a top Eamon adventure that no one but another Eamon author would ever notice. Like many things, when it's done right, the user doesn't even know it's there.
Online, I'm darned proud of the job the library staff does in A2. A2's library was a real mess at one time, and Dean put together a great crew that cleaned it all up. We put a lot of work into keeping things that way that the users never see. Tony does a great job and it's a real pleasure to work with him.
GEnieLamp> Who do you look up to as your mentors?
Tom> I really never thought of it before. My dad, of course. He taught me to be honest and do the best work I know how; I always have, and it's stood me well over the years. I took much inspiration in my youth from the honorable heroes in Robert Heinlein's teenager stories. I learned a lot about how to live an honorable life from many people I knew when I was younger.
I guess I'm old enough now that I don't look to anyone for inspiration or direction. Possibly this is a consequence of becoming the de facto head of my extended family, as my parents get old.
I don't really have any aspirations to become a better programmer than I am now, so I don't look to anyone in that regard. Don't misunderstand me, I have no doubt that my programming ability could use a lot of help, but I have to be inspired by a project to get motivated, and nothing new looms on the horizon.
GEnieLamp> What sorts of things do you like to do for fun (i.e. non-computer hobbies)?
Tom> Heh. I do spend too much time playing with computers. I am a member of the local astronomy club and own a small astronomical reflecting telescope that I'd like to use more than I do. I have a motorcycle and a '61 Austin-Healy Sprite sports car that I haven't even driven in a couple of years, but I keep telling myself that someday I will get tired of the computer....
My main hobby these days is High Power Rocketry. HPR is the adult version of the little Estes rockets that many of us flew as kids, but uses much larger airframes and motors that are only available to certified adult fliers. The old saying, "the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys" very much applies to rocketry, I'm afraid. My crowning achievement in HPR to date is a 1/12th-scale V-2 that was very well received at last year's National meet in Kansas.
GEnieLamp> Tell us a bit about your family.
Tom> I'm married to a wonderful woman named Tina; we just got married last August and I am the luckiest guy on earth. We have no children, but we do share the house with ten cats, two of which were actually intentionally acquired. The rest just sort of showed up and moved in, as we seem to live in a popular pet dumping ground area. Actually, ten cats aren't as bad as you might think, once you get used to the idea that you can't have anything nice in the house. I imagine that it's much like having small children, in terms of dirt and destructiveness. Though I doubt that children shed so much in the spring.
GEnieLamp> Are computers a part of your daytime job? Please tell us a little about what you do between 9 and 5.
Tom> I have worked for the past 15 years servicing CAT scanners, a job that once required considerable technical ability above all else but now requires a great deal of customer-handling skill as the technology has matured. I work for a national independent service provider and work on a variety of types and brands of scanners. As you might expect, CAT scanner repair isn't a huge field, and though I work for the largest independent outfit in the business, my immediate supervisor lives in Atlanta, and his supervisor is in California. I work out of a bedroom office in my house, as do most people in my line. This means that I have a lot of free time in which I sit around waiting for a customer to call in a problem. This fact of my life had a lot of bearing in my taking up Eamon as a hobby, as it is something I can do and enjoy, yet quit on an instant's notice without needing to clean up when I get called to work.
GEnieLamp> What new services do you think GEnie should provide its subscribers?
Tom> I'd like to see better Internet coverage and more competitive rates for high speed and daytime use. And of course we need more and faster high-speed nodes! It would be great if GEnie could get involved with some of the magazines and such that presently restrict themselves to CIS or AOL. I sincerely hope that they never rework their software to require a proprietary front end. I'd like to see a really easy way to do email across the services.
GEnieLamp> Where do you see the future of telecommunications moving in the next five to ten years?
Tom> Well, we'll be seeing 9600 quickly become the default "slow" speed, especially as the commercial online services continue to try to outdo each other. I see just about everyone who moves about in their job telecommunicating many times on a daily basis. Cell phone modem and fax links will become very commonplace for business travelers. More and more correspondence will travel direct through the wire rather then via the mail or Fed Ex.
I don't share the general enthusiasm for the Internet as the upcoming "Information Highway"; I just don't think that it has the underlying infrastructure to handle the need. This probably means that the Federal government will get involved in the "highway" construction, which will result in poor performance, massive bureaucratic overhead, and endless Federal meddling in our lives and business. I think we'll wind up with a Federal system that is about as intrusive and friendly as the IRS. (Cheerful guy, ain't I?) If we don't want this, then it is up to all of us to keep up with what Congress and the Clinton Administration is up to and LET THEM KNOW when we disagree. Our telecommunications rights are NOT defined in the Constitution, and it's up to each of us to make sure that the Feds don't ruin everything.
GEnieLamp> What one piece of advice would you pass along to a new Apple II telecommunications enthusiast?
Tom> Gosh. ONE piece? Spend the bucks and buy a decent telecom program. If you're using some old piece of telecom trash, you'll find that this is the single best investment you can make. If you already have one, then find and learn the tools and methods that you need to interact with the PC and Mac worlds, and accept the fact that they will seldom meet you halfway. Enjoy the fact that you can actually get to know the movers and shakers in our cozy Apple II world and that they may actually get to know you.
GEnieLamp> Tom, this has been an enjoyable interview. Thank you for sharing with us.
Tom> It's been my pleasure. I hope that your readers will check out some of the Eamon Adventures featured in the Treasure Hunt column. They really are my favorites.
A note to our readers: If you want to know more about a particular person and want him/her to be interviewed for the GEnieLamp A2 profile column, send E-mail to A2.CHARLIE or EDITOR.A2 and we'll see what we can do. In your E-mail message, tell why you think this person is a good candidate for the profile.
Welcome back to the Treasure Hunt! This month we will take a look at the best 20 Eamon adventures available in the Apple II library on GEnie. As explained in this month's Profile column, Eamon adventures are text-based games of exploration and combat that allow you to type simple commands such as GET RING and DRINK POTION and see how the game responds. There are hundreds of Eamon games. Each module is loosely referred to as a "dungeon", despite the fact that it might take place entirely in the outdoors, or in outer space... or even in a dungeon!
This month I have asked Tom Zuchowski, our resident Eamon expert, to tell us about these files. The rest of this column is written by him.
>>> THE BEST 20 EAMON ADVENTURES <<<
Like anyone else, I am very fond of my own Eamons and can't be objective when deciding where to place them in a list of "Top 20" Eamons. So here is the top 20 as determined by the Eamon Adventurer's Guild's Ratings Poll.
Sorry for the low number of raters, but for some strange reason many people are very reluctant to rate the Eamons they've played, even when they write to bawl me out because they strongly disagree with a given rating! Go figure.
Everyone has his own special likes and dislikes when adventuring. Everyone's tastes may not specifically agree with this list, but it is probably a fair guideline for a few adventures that most will enjoy.
The scale is 1-10 with 10 the best, and no Adventure has been rated by its author:
|124||Assault on Dolni Keep||9.2||6|
|78||The Prince's Tavern||9.0||3|
|194||Attack of the Kretons||9.0||2|
|120||Orb of My Life||9.0||1|
|150||Walled City of Darkness||8.8||2|
|147||The Dark Brotherhood||8.7||3|
|129||Return to Moria||8.6||4|
|148||Journey to Jotunheim||8.4||5|
|108||The Mines of Moria||8.2||4|
|121||Wrenhold's Secret Vigil||8.2||2|
|169||The Black Phoenix||8.1||5|
|117||Dungeon of Doom||8.0||3|
|225||Adventure in Interzone||8.0||1|
124 Assault on Dolni Keep: Set in J.R.R. Tolkein's Middle Earth, you and two
hardy companions are tasked to rescue a wise High-Elf from an Orc stronghold.
This Eamon is nearly unique in that each of your two companions has knowledge
and skills that you yourself lack. They are capable of some independent action,
will offer advice, and won't hesitate to argue with you if they think you are
making an unwise choice. It's a smallish dungeon, because all the special
programming for the companions used up a LOT of memory.
[Note: Tom is too modest to tell you that he is the author of this top-rated Eamon Adventure.--CH]
114 Thror's Ring: Also set in Middle Earth, this time you and your two companions are tasked to recover the last Dwarven Ring of Power from the depths of Moria. I did a fair amount of research on the setting and style, and lots of people have told me that they enjoyed the richness of the descriptions. This Eamon broke some new ground program-wise and was an early forerunner of what eventually became the Eamon 7.0 MAIN.PROGRAM. Still, it was my first Eamon, and there's a lot I would do different now that would have made it even better.
78 The Prince's Tavern: Here, in this adventure by Bob Davis, you are tasked to recover a 600-year-old bottle of scotch from the depths of a rather silly tavern. Lots of laughs; just when you think it finally turned serious, something silly happens.
194 Attack of the Kretons: This is absolutely the funniest Eamon ever written, as well as being one of the finest-crafted titles in the list. I REALLY enjoyed it. Basically, your quest is to rescue a besieged city from the Kreton horde and the god of cheese dip. If I had to pick just one Eamon to show people, this one might well be it. It was written by Nathan Segerlind.
120 Orb of My Life: John Nelson had a real gift for using the basic Eamon programming tools to turn out really decent Eamons in just a day or two; I could never figure out how he did it. This is his best. This Eamon is one of a gaggle of Eamons that were entered in a long-forgotten Eamon club contest involving a quest for the recovery of a wizard's Life Orb.
204 Sanctuary: Sam Ruby is absolutely the finest Eamon author who ever lived. This Eamon broke new ground with an all-new combat system that takes distance into account. But this is not one for "hack'n'slash" fans! Everything you do requires careful reading and forethought, with dozens and dozens of obstructions and difficulties to solve. Even the combat requires a careful selection of the best weapon for the job. I highly recommend this one!
161 Operation Endgame: Your special-ops team has been tasked to infiltrate an enemy stronghold and take out their sole nuclear-tipped missile. Sam Ruby was inspired by the movie "Predator" for this, and your team is very reminiscent of Dutch's. Sam's specialty is combat, and this one fully incorporates modern weapons and adds many, many realistic touches to the play. I've played it a half-dozen times, and this one of a very few that gets better with each play.
150 Walled City of Darkness: My goal here was to design a comparatively difficult, puzzle-oriented Eamon that could not be completed in a single session. It has several multi-part interlocking puzzles. My inspiration was Roger Zelazny's "Creatures of Light and Darkness", and the play has a similar style, I think. You must find means to defeat a number of supernatural foes in your quest to attain godhood, so that you will have sufficient power to defeat a god of great Evil.
147 The Dark Brotherhood: Pat Hurst did some pretty sophisticated stuff here. This Eamon plays on several subtle levels that help determine your eventual success, and is my favorite among his work.
129 Return to Moria: Sam Ruby went through a period where he was trying to turn ALL of the Middle Earth story into Eamon adventures. This one is his best of the lot, as you quest in the depths of Moria for several things that Minas Tirith must have to survive. Very well-written.
166 Storm Breaker: This fantasy pits you against an evil god who has just awakened from a thousand-year sleep and is feeling his oats, so to speak. An awesomely good play for puzzle fanciers. Sam manages to cram an incredible number of locales, creatures, peoples, and events in this Eamon, and does it in a most entertaining and believable style.
148 Journey to Jotunheim: This Eamon is mostly "true", being based on several Norse legends. Here you accompany Thor into a land of Giants on a desperate bid to recover his stolen war-hammer. I did quite a bit of research for this one, but I confess that I got the original idea from "The Last Trump", a great novella by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp. This Eamon has a unique feature: it has a very large vocabulary and will respond meaningfully to commands involving pretty much everything you see.
145 Buccaneer!: By far, the best seagoing Eamon ever written. A two-parter: in part one you must buy, crew, and provision a ship to put to sea in part two. Both parts are excellent. This was also written by Pat Hurst.
108 The Mines of Moria: This Eamon is very reminiscent of the "Moria" portion of the "Fellowship of the Ring". Like the book, the passes are blocked and you and your companions must cross Moria to deliver vital information to Gondor. Good stuff! Another Sam Ruby classic.
121 Wrenhold's Secret Vigil: This Bob Davis creation is another of the entries in that old "Life-Orb" contest. This is a very well-written, serious fantasy Eamon. It has just about the wickedest maze in the entire series; by the time you realize what you've stumbled into, you're in trouble!
169 The Black Phoenix: Pure, unabashed space opera. No doubt strongly inspired by Heinlein's "Starship Troopers", you are a soldier in one of the toughest outfits in the galaxy. Roger Pender writes great "pulp" science fiction dialogue, not letting facts get too much in the way of a good story. You have six missions to fulfill, starting with a simple reconnoiter and progressing to a very tough "hold until relieved" firefight. With LOTS of special features, this one is not to be missed by military SF fans.
91 FutureQuest II: This a is "classic" 50s-type SF offering. You must steal into the Krell Empire, where you must kill the evil scientist Mordor Kang and destroy his doomsday device, the Zontar Ray Machine. Really keeps you on your toes surviving. Roger Pender does the best SF in Eamon.
117 Dungeon of Doom: This was the very first "pure" 80-column Eamon adventure, with true 80-column lower-case text and some pretty sophisticated programming. A very nicely executed Eamon by Dan Knezek.
118 Pittfall: This is a basic "kill'n'loot" Eamon scenario. What elevates it to the Top 20 is clean writing and lots of well-done special stuff. Even so, it is not particularly difficult and is a good choice for beginners. A very relaxing play by Scott Starkey.
225 Adventure in Interzone: This adventure by Frank Kenze is a landmark Eamon from the player's point of view, with the cleanest player interface ever done in Eamon. The actual plot and play is probably more like a "7" rating, but interface is such a pleasure to use that the overall effect is much enhanced.
Note: To play any of the above adventures you will need to download the ProDOS Eamon Master and Main Hall by Don Brown & John Nelson (file #16219). This Eamon Master contains the Main Hall, where your character buys spells and armaments and where he stays between outings; the Beginner's Cave, a VERY simple adventure for first-timers; an extensive player manual; and various character editing programs.
I want to thank Tom for sharing his knowledge of Eamon Adventures with us. I encourage folks to try out some of these adventures.
That's it for this month. I hope you have found something here to whet your interest. Drop me a line and let me know what you think of this column and offer any suggestions you might have about what should be in it.
Until next time, happy downloading!
-- Charlie Hartley
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