Revisiting the 80s: Apple II Games

And now for something completely different.

I grew up on an Apple IIgs. I must have been six or seven years old when my father bought it for our family. I remember spending my computer time learning how to use a mouse with some pretty addictive games — and then there was Bolo.

The Apple IIgs days were pretty exciting, but they didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. For about 18 years, I completely forgot about what I did on the Apple II (and my favorite game Bolo, including the title of the game) until the game screen flashed into my head this past weekend. I was determined to find that game to relive my childhood.

My efforts asking peers were fruitless. Not many people were using computers at all in the 80s. The revolution began in the 90s when computers were deemed to be useful tools for every home.

I searched and searched, and thanks to Webomatica, I found out the name of the game and took it from there. I can’t believe there are emulators for this — but I guess there’s nothing to do now that the Apple II has been replaced by bigger, better, and more powerful machines.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been successful in getting AppleWin and the old version of Bolo on my computer and still subconsciously knew how to play the game. Man, that was addictive.

Bolo for Apple II

I’m curious to know how many others among us, if any, may have had one of those games that you couldn’t pass up when you moved to bigger and better equipment. I’m not a gamer, but this was one of those puzzles that somehow made its way back into my consciousness, which must mean that it did make an impression that was just waiting to be awakened. I’m happy I found it.

Tamar Weinberg is a hustler and juggler. She is the VP of Marketing at Ruxly Creative, a creative marketing agency. She's the Director of Sales at Internet Marketing Ninjas, a 100+ employee search engine marketing agency located in upstate New York. She also rocks global sales at financial media publication Wall St. Cheat Sheet. Finally, she is the Chief Strategy Officer of Small Business Trends. Oh wait, and she's also the community manager at Namecheap. Yeah, like a boss.

49 Comments

  • December 19, 2006

    chris

    hmm ,looks interesting ill have to take a look at that. my fav old school game was pong

  • December 19, 2006

    Tamar Weinberg

    Pong… ah yes, that classic. But it was so widely available that nobody can forget such a name. This one, however, was an incredible challenge that I spent days trying to go at!

    Thanks again to Jason at Webomatica for his help.

  • May 21, 2007

    Julian

    Wow, and I thought I was the only one! I used to spend hours trying to crack the top levels of Bolo! I ended up motoring backwards at top speed firing as best I could at the drones. Mis-spent youth, or what?

  • May 21, 2007

    Tamar Weinberg

    I did the same thing, Julian. You’re not the only one. I think it’s impossible. :)

  • May 22, 2007

    Julian

    Don’t suppose you could send me the game file(s) so I can try and make it work with AppleWin too? Might impress the kids! ([email protected])

  • May 22, 2007

    Tamar Weinberg

    Sent you email. :) I don’t have it on this computer but you can search for it!

  • June 5, 2007

    James

    I liked a game on the Apple II called Rescue Raiders. You dispatched tanks and troops and commanded everything with a helicopter.

  • August 27, 2007

    Jeffrey Rankin

    I loved Bolo. At the top levels you travel full speed with gun pointed backwards or sideways to destroy the enemy fighters. You learn where the enemy fort is, and then you head straight toward it, at full speed with gun pointed forward, firing a couple shots at specific intervals followed by crashing your tank into the fort kamikaze style. Sometimes, this was the only way to destroy the enemy fort since the enemy fighters were so fast. Wish I had that game.

  • October 21, 2007

    John

    I used to play this game in junior high around 1983. We had a really cool math teacher that would sell us 5 1/4 inch double-sided floopies and let us play games during ‘off times’. I used to hang out and play games with my old buddy Sidney Vannoy.

    I had looked for the name of this game in the past and was unable to find it. Thanks. Brings back old memories.

  • December 19, 2007

    EHO

    I *loved* this game. I dug up the ROM but found the game hard to play in the AppleWin emulator. I actually bought an Apple ][ so I could play the game for real. Of course, I don’t have the original game disk nor a working joystick, so alas, I still haven’t recreated that early 80′s experienced. This is one of my favorite games of all time. :-)

  • January 3, 2008

    Kilroy

    Bolo Came in COLOUR ????
    i spent many many Many houres looking at the green screen. and Now you tell me. Time to unearth the ][e and the Five and a quarter disc.

    Cheers,
    Kilroy

  • January 4, 2008

    Philippe

    Nostalgia – I’ve been looking all over the web to locate Bolo program for the Apple IIe but no succes. My floppies have been trashed long ago – a shame. Can someone point me in the right direction?

  • January 4, 2008

    Tamar Weinberg

    Philippe – use AppleWin and search online for bolo.dsk.gz. Then run AppleWin, open the disk image, and type BRUN. That should do it for you.

  • February 10, 2008

    David Tee

    Hi Tamar,

    Would you be able to send me the emulator to play rescue raiders on my pc (Win Vista)? I love this game so much as it is my childhood game. Please help me to fulfill my dreams

    Luv,
    David

  • February 10, 2008

    Tamar Weinberg

    David, all the information I know is in this post. Google is at your disposal. :)

  • April 10, 2008

    Ryan

    I cant believe that I’ve finally found a group of people who understand what bolo for the Apple II was all about. Every once in a while I would do a google search but keep ending up with references to the newer multi-player version, such a bummer! I thought knowledge of this was gone forever. Now I just need somebody to reprogram for PCs.

  • April 10, 2008

    Tamar Weinberg

    Ryan, I totally agree! This game rocked and it was almost impossible to find.

  • April 28, 2008

    Zoyous

    Hi, another Bolo fan here! I tried looking it up on Wikipedia but it directs to a different game by the same name. I agree with Jeffery Rankin — that’s exactly the way I eventually ended up playing. Very fast and fun, with the enemies at top speed, the turret turned ’round and the maze at a low level of density. It was great how adjustable it was. Does anyone know the names of the programmers?

  • May 3, 2008

    Luke

  • July 29, 2008

    Sean

    Hey Bolo !!
    Alltime high !
    im form germany and i did play the game till i passed out :)
    it was one of my the best games ever .. at level 5 you could still drive full speed and destroy anything moving ..
    i agree with the other persons here .. on the highest level
    you didnt had any other choice then hit the bunker 2 times and drive the tank into it to destroy it … :)

    hmm.. i maybe have to look up my old GS and hardrive .. if its still running :) The 5″ disks dont work for sure anymore ..
    but i have still both .. my first computer , Apple II+
    the IIGs , a IIe and a IIc :)
    ahwell
    when i was young .. and my life was a open *g*
    cheers
    SEan

  • July 29, 2008

    Sean

    uh
    by the way .. the quadrat is a radar ..
    it looks into the nearest bunker ..
    and you have to drive vertical and when both quadrants of the quadrat are full you are having it locked vertical ..
    then you only have to get horisontal to find it
    and vice versa :)
    Cheers
    Sean

  • August 11, 2008

    sir_flexalot

    montezuma’s revenge, floppy, bolo, alice in wonderland, super pitfall (the weird nes version)

  • January 14, 2009

    Ryan ER B

    Hey– I’m not that computer savy but I loved this game as a kid— How do I get in on my Mac? In the words of Michael Scott, explain it to me like I’m 5. :) Thanks!

  • January 14, 2009

    Tamar Weinberg

    Ryan, sorry, I am not volunteering any additional information than what I provided in this post. Plus, I don’t have a Mac so I have nothing to offer you.

    I already explained how to get Bolo for the PC here. (And Alexander Reid, maybe you should’ve read that instead of spamming me and my friends.)

  • February 10, 2009

    James Lane

    As far as I know, it is possible to win at the highest level of the game. It’s hard to do, though – deliberately so. Most computer games of the time were easy enough that players would get tired of them fairly quickly. Bolo was designed to be challenging even for very practiced players.

    There was a minor extra built in to the game. If you did manage to win at the highest level, something happened on the screen. It wasn’t major; just enough that knowing about would prove that you actually had won, at least until word got out.

    James Lane
    Author of the Apple ][ game, “Bolo”

  • February 10, 2009

    Tamar Weinberg

    James, that’s awesome – thanks for contributing to the comments here. And that’s so cool! I guess I’ll be compelled to try to beat the game now!

  • April 28, 2009

    Gerald Moneypenny

    I remember taking one sided floppy discs and cutting a notch so to make it a two sided floppy which could hold the BOLO game.I think maybe this was before Apple II(1984 -85)If anyone knows where to get the old original BOLO please post.BOLO was the best.Thanks

  • May 2, 2009

    John

    Finally I found what I was looking for! bolo! But i’m having problems. I downloaded applewin. I downloaded bolo.dsk.gz on my desktop. I opened ‘disk image for drive 1′. I typed BRUN in the pop up where file name goes and nothing happens. I tried selecting BRUN.DSK thats in my folder and nothing happens. All help is greatly appreciated!

  • May 28, 2009

    James Lane

    Gerald: Yup, I remember cutting notches in floppies, too. But the first time I did that, they were 8″ floppies, not 5 1/4″ :-)

    Re playing/winning at the highest difficulty levels: IIRC, there were 9 levels. I don’t think I ever won a game above level 6, and even that was rare. I figured that there would be players much more skilled than I was, and I hoped that the extra 3 levels might be enough to challenge even them.

    If you have the original game, and particularly if you have access to at least a picture of an Apple ][ keyboard, take a look at the game controls. There were three sets: the joystick, a set of keys on the left side of the keyboard, and a set on the right side of the keyboard.

    It was built that way to allow two simultaneous players; one as driver and another as gunner. Of course, it also supports three players, but I didn't have any idea how they could split up the workload.

    Some Bolo trivia:

    As far as I know, Bolo was the first published, commercial game that had a tie-in to a novel (or novels, in this case). Unfortunately, Keith Laumer refused to write a scenario description. My (now-ex) wife and I came up with it. To the relief of readers everywhere, I haven't had anything to do with any short-short story (or any other length story) since.

    Bolo was inspired by a game I saw running as a demo on some now long-forgotten small computer. I think the demo was supposed to show off the machine's monochrome-only graphics. A friend and I started Bolo together, but he dropped out for various reasons (incl. moving out of state) early on.

    Bolo had to be done in time for a holiday season deadline, but it still had a serious bug in the linked list code that handled the smartest tanks. It happens when a smartest-type tank crosses a cell boundary; probably only when that tank is at the end of the linked list. I was too tired (full time day job + part time game author) to fix it before the deadline. Finding it, fixing it, and publishing the fix would be a nice service someone could do for the handful of people who still remember the game.

    Fame doesn't last :-). IIRC, Bolo tied ChopLifter for SoftTalk Magazine's #1 game of the year (1982?)

    There are never more than 32 enemy tanks in the game. When the player gets close enough to a base (but still out of sight of the base), tanks that the player can't see are deleted so they can be generated to protect the base.

    At one point a few years ago, I was thinking of doing some software development on PDA platforms, and a friend of mine suggested writing a PDA version of Bolo to learn the platform. I ended up putting my Copious Free Time(tm) into a different game (a 4X PC game called Stars! Supernova) instead.

    James Lane
    Author of the Apple ][ game, “Bolo”

    • July 24, 2012

      Scott Herrman

      Another huge Bolo fan who would like to thank James for his transcendent creation. I still remember mastering the multi-tap to u-turn at ridiculous speed. One of, if not THE fastest actions games ever designed. The only game I’ve ever known to capture the kinetic energy, speed, thrill and challenge displayed in the cinematic light cycle sequences of TRON – before TRON even came out. New mazes generated every game so you couldn’t simply memorize Pac Man style patterns. Are you kidding me? So far ahead of it’s time. This game pleasantly and persistently haunts those who played it. Thanks to this blog for sparking the coalescence of all these players’ fond memories. This tiny program belongs on Voyager 3 as an example of software economy, hardware mastery and game-play design melding into pure digital sublime. To paraphrase the pugilists, line for line, Bolo may well be the greatest game ever coded.

  • July 2, 2009

    Robert Shurtz

    Bolo is great! There are a lot of great old Apple II games out there.
    I used powerarchiver to unzip the .gz file then you load it into applewin and type brun bolo

  • August 12, 2009

    Orlando Martinez

    I was in seventh grade back in the 80′s when I touched my first Apple ][. Bolo was the first video game I played on a PC. There just wasn’t enough time to play the entire game during class and when the bell rang I’d be so angry because the save option wasn’t invented then!!!. If only the new generation kids knew how convenient they have it now a days.

    Thumbs up to you James Lane. Bolo is a game that always pops up in my head from time to time.

  • September 6, 2009

    Jeremy

    Me and my brother Curtis spent hours in the best multi-player game ever invented… bolo – so many good times coorporating as we fought for keyboard space on our apple II (the joystick didn’t work) and tried to not lock up the commands for the other player by holding down buttons… so many sore fingers and such an intense adrenaline rush experience. So fast paced! This was genius – thanks James … these were the good old days… games were simple, addictive and extremely challenging but you built your skills at them like a sport through so much practice
    Jeremy

  • October 12, 2009

    pavel

    Hi Guys!

    I have one question about BOLO:
    I wanna know if the level(difficulty) must increase after destroying 6 bases (completing the maze)?
    I have impression I stay at the same level – the enemy tanks stay “stupid” even I managed to pass 3 mazes (respectively destroy 3×6 bases)

    Best regards,
    Pavel

  • October 12, 2009

    James Lane

    IIRC, the game does not change the level of difficultly on its own. I figured that the players could decide what level they wanted to play at for themselves.

  • October 13, 2009

    Dan B

    Hello Bolo fans! I played Bolo for hours and hours on my Apple //e with extended 80-column card (128k)! Whoo! Anyway, it’s great to hear from James Lane who authored the game. I really enjoyed it, and it had great gameplay. I used the keyboard for turning the turrent… sometimes I would play with a friend: one person driving, and one person shooting. The independent turret control was key to that!

    I have also played the Bolo game for the Macintosh, which was one of the very first network games on TCP/IP networks. It is vastly different, but still based on the same sci-fi novel as the Apple ][ game. The Mac game is good, but the fondest memories are reserved for the original version! Thanks again for the memories.

  • December 13, 2009

    Matt Cassle

    Holy cow, can’t believe I stumbled on this site … I too was one of the kids that spent many many hours playing games on the Apple ][e ‘back in the day’, and Bolo was my all-time favorite.

    The schools I went to all had Apples, and my friends & I blew more than one lunch period playing Bolo. Never did get good enough to reach the end-game that James Lane mentioned, but I must admit I was pretty decent at it (practice makes perfect!), at least that’s the way I remember it lol

    I tried the links/google-searches to emulate the game, but alas they are not working for me. I’ll keep at it.

    James, kudos to you dude for posting up here. You brought a LOT of joy to a bunch of kids back in the early 80′s. I’ll be first in line should you develop another version of this simple, but most excellent shooter :)

  • April 25, 2010

    Ben

    This is an awesome blog article, specially with the author of Bolo itself dropping by to comment!!! I’m a big fan of Bolo and played it for hours as a kid. I think it beats even modern games hands down in terms of level of play and engagement of complex motor skills. I’m even teaching my 10-year-old kid how to play it!

    I was thinking of putting up a fan site on Facebook for Bolo but wasn’t quite sure if there were any copyright issues (more so considering people are now downloading Apple II emulators and lifting Bolo disk images off hundreds of FTP sites that make the game available). Hmmm, am I incriminating myself?

  • April 25, 2010

    Ben

    Well, I went on to create the Facebook page anyway. Here it is:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Apple-II-BOLO/118045504881368

    Hope to see you guys there! :)

    • April 25, 2010

      Tamar Weinberg

      I’m a fan… but I’m all by myself. Go “Like” the page too!

    • April 26, 2010

      Ben

      Oops, sorry about that. Done! Thanks, and spread the word! :)

  • June 6, 2010

    Brian

    Oh, the memories. I first saw this game at Mounds View North computer academy. Summer camp with computers.

    Just found out about the Laumer books yesterday, courtesy of a used book sale and I saw a book titled “Bolo!” and said basically, could it be? It appears to be, and I played that Apple II game for hours and days and weeks and it’s still good, worth playing. I don’t remember ever getting a joystick to work, but maybe I never tried. I remember how much more fun the game got when you could turn the turret. And when I started using both hands.

    My childhood best friend and I never did figure out the radar thing–no documentation. I had theories and they seemed to work sometimes, and they still do. But not always. Bolo you can still play fine on an emulator.

    Rescue Raiders no. Too joystick dependent.

    And I finally (last year) became president playing Wavy Navy. If you don’t play that game at high difficulty, you hit a glass ceiling at one of the Admiral ranks and never advance from there. I must have finished that board ten times in one game and said “What? Still no promotion? What gives!?”

  • October 3, 2010

    Ivo Manolov

    @James:
    Thank you for creating this gem! Loved the game!
    Back in the 80s we in Bulgaria played it on “Pravetz 82″ – an Apple II clone. Practically nobody had a computer at home – we played at state-owned “computer clubs”. It was great!

    Not to spoil it for the rest of the folks, but IF I remember correctly, the final scene involved a large rendition of the tank/ship, right? :) To get there you needed two people, one moving the tank and one moving the gun and shooting.

    What a great game!

  • October 29, 2010

    Todd

    I just stumbled on this and played my first round of Bolo in years. Thanks for the tips!

    Not a big deal, but I’m wondering if there’s a way to exit the game without rebooting the simulator.

  • September 8, 2011

    Ilya V. Sverdlov

    Thanks for this! It’s been 20+ year that I haven’t seen the game, and I didn’t even know its name! But today I found it again. Thanks an awful lot, what joy!

  • October 15, 2011

    Konstantin

    I was playing bolo on a computer Agat (Apple clone) in university in 1989 in Soviet Union and I spent weeks enjoying it (I know, I supposed to study instead…)

  • February 8, 2012

    Antony

    i gaminga in bolo my school on PRAVEC computers. Super game – nostalgy.

  • August 22, 2012

    Sebastien

    I LOVED BOLO!!!

    It was an awesome game and the only way to win at level 9 was to go backward as fast as you could and survive waves of trigger happy bots!!!

  • September 11, 2012

    Alexander