Microzine, Questing for Apple II Software

Many long years ago, in the days of yore, in a time when the world wide web hadn’t even been conceived and Apple was at the core of home computing (“apple”, “core”, Hah! I kill me! [/ALF] *cough* Ok… Carrying on….) there were these large buildings known as “libraries”. In these “libraries” were vast numbers of these things which were called “books”, but sometimes there were other things as well, including computers.

Back in the early 80s I lived just a block from the public library and would spend large amounts of time there, in the mid-80s they installed an Apple II for public use. You would sign up for an available time slot and then get to use the computer for 30 minutes at a time (though this was a rather fluid time limit. If there was no one else signing up that day they would often sign you up for an hour at a time, and if no one else had signed up for the slot following yours
they would usually let you stay on until someone did). Having no other access to a computer, I signed up for computer time at the library very frequently. The computer only had a monochrome green screen, with two disk drives stacked next to it, very much like this:


When it was your turn to use the computer, the librarian would ask you what software you wanted to use. There was a shelf full of software behind her desk but each one was a volume of multiple programs tossed together and you couldn’t tell from the binding what programs were in which volume, as such you usually had to ask to see some random one, read the back, then ask for a different random one, etc until you found one you liked. There were a couple of games that I was fond of and played many times, though I unfortunately didn’t pay much attention to the names at the time. For the next couple decades I often thought back and tried to recall what those programs were, or even what the name of the set of software was. I was fairly certain that it was from Microsoft, but as I discovered a few years ago (and you’ve probably guessed already), it was MicroZINE, which was apparently produced by Scholastic (which explains why there was always so much educational content).

This software was self-booting, so you had to insert the disk while the computer was off, then reach around to the power switch and turn it on, then turn it back off before removing the disk when you were done. Due to the anthology type nature of this software, you would have to insert side 1 of disk 1 (each volume typically contained 2-4 disks) to start, then after you selected a game from the menu it would prompt you to flip the disk over or insert disk #3, etc, only to have to switch back to disk 1 side 1 when the game was over. Discovering the name of the software library was a watershed which quickly led me to the names of the two programs I had been trying to remember; “Mission: Mix-Up” and “The Myths of Olympus”. Recently I decided to install an Apple II emulator and some of my favorite old software (including Oregon Trail and the Carmen Sandiego games), central of which were volumes #13 and #29 of Microzine, the volumes which contained my two long-sought games.


This was my favorite of the games. In it you are stranded and need to mix various imaginary chemicals to create solutions to get through the world. Mixing “coldice” and “airium” for example would create a fire extinguisher, while airium and rubberol would make a toy balloon. The names of the imaginary chemicals were plain enough that you could make educated guesses as to what you would get, but there was still a large element of trial and error. This trial and error was a pain though, because your supplies of each chemical were limited. If you couldn’t make what you needed to escape a situation because you had already
used up all of one of the chemicals, you were screwed. The game did include areas where you could refill some of your chemicals, the problem was trying to find these areas and trying to reach them without using up all your other chemicals in the process.


The game did include a notebook feature so that you could look back on prior attempts, but this was only useful during a single game. The notebook only tracked what slots made a given item, and the slots were randomized between games. On top of that, some of the chemicals would be swapped out with completely different ones between different games. When I played this back in the day, I took to keeping physical notes so that I could retain results from previous games. Another interesting aspect was that some puzzles could be resolved with one of multiple options. The desert for example (which was difficult to pass because anything you did would only get you halfway through, making you burn through twice as many chemicals) could be passed either by making rain or by making a watermelon to eat.


This game is more of a standard interactive fiction type game, where you type “take fleece”, etc. It was slightly different though, as it included graphics and movement was achieved by using the arrow keys or HJKL to move your figure in the onscreen map, with the verb/noun commands only being used for non-movement actions. The story of the game is that you didn’t do your mythology homework, and get whisked away to mythological Greece for both punishment and education. You wander through the maze seeking the gods and avoiding the Minotaur. When you encounter one of the gods you listen to their piece of mythology, then take some object they offer you (which will help you in some other part of the maze). There is no warning other than memorization as to what lies in wait where however, and you can’t back away from an encounter once it has begun. While this makes no difference with the deities, its instant doom with the Minotaur. The Minotaur can be passed if you have the right items, but if you stumble onto the Minotaur before getting them, it’s game over.


Team Retroist Chief Nostalgia Psychic...

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