You smirked, gentle readers, when I suggested that the software business resembles the pop record industry. But now I have proof, delightful proof, that I was right all along.
I thought I had hit on a beautiful insight some time ago when I compared the proprietors of software houses to the purveyors of rock 'n' roll. But many readers remonstrated, and you made some valid points.
You pointed out that the record companies, unlike software houses, trust their customers to be honest. Nobody sells a record album that includes a legal document warning of prosecution if you share the record with your brother or copy it onto a tape cassette.
You readers also noted that pop record sellers generally price their albums at about $9.95, while the implacable greed of the software publishers leads to prices in the hundreds of dollars for products that probably require less effort and equipment to produce than a good rock record.
Well, okay -- you might be right. You probably are. Yeah, darn it, you're right. But I still see similarities.
After all, both industries sell their products on flat, round disks. That's a similarity, isn't it? And now -- this is the delightful proof I mentioned -- both industries have Golden Oldies.
You might think that the microcomputer software business, still well shy of its 10th birthday, would be too young to have official old classics. I thought so, too, until I acquired a marvelous new piece of software called -- what else? -- "Golden Oldies, Volume I."
This nicely prepared package offers, on a single floppy disk, four of the best game programs from the early days of the computer industry -- in their original, unadulterated versions and also in slightly improved form to take advantage of improvements in hardware.
"Golden Oldies" includes these four classics: The original "Pong," the on-screen ping-pong match that was the world's first video game; the original version of "Adventure," the first electronic Dungeons and Dragons-type game, replete with twisty caves, evil trolls, and hidden treasure; the game called "LIFE," a mesmerizing graphic kaleidoscope first implemented on a minicomputer in 1970 and a cult fascination ever since; the artificial intelligence tour-de-force called "Eliza," in which your computer does a hilarious imitation of a psychoanalyst (it even presents a bill at the end of the session).
Conspicuously absent is Pac-Man, but I assume this will show up in Volume II.
It's not terribly surprising that "Golden Oldies" was put together by a refugee from the record business. The idea came from an ex-disc-jockey and record producer named Les Crane, who also takes the credit (blame?) for inventing the "Top 40" format on rock radio stations.
This is Crane's first venture into software. It's an auspicious start. The programs run fast and well, the packaging is clever, the manual is terrific, and the whole product is enhanced by some nice extras.
For one thing, Golden Oldies is not copy protected -- there's one good idea Crane brought with him from the record business. For another, the package has surprising bits of fun -- such as a "Panic Button" you can use if you're playing one of these games in the office and the boss unexpectedly comes strolling in.
The games are here in actual historic form, but for this collection there are also updated versions. Golden Oldies does a beautiful job of converting the "Life" game for use with color monitors, for example, with results that are splendid to see.
The brief "manual" -- really the "history book" -- that accompanies this software is inspired. Crane has provided the necessary information to play each of the four games in clear, succinct terms. The rest of the 41-page pamphlet consists of historical reports on the birth and life of each of the four games.
I found that these histories considerably enhanced the games themselves.
"Pong" is fun to play as it is -- amazingly so, since it is downright primitive compared with the electronic games available now. But after you've read the description of what happened back in 1972 when the first Pong game ever (and thus the first video game ever) was installed, without prior notice, in a Silicon Valley bar, playing it is almost like going to a museum.
Finally, Golden Oldies is priced almost fairly -- another rarity in the software game. The four-game package costs $29.95, in versions for Apple, IBM, or compatible computers. Since the games don't demand much in the way of graphics support, I bet they'll run on almost any compatible.
Golden Oldies is so new it may not be in software stores yet. You can order it by mail from Software Country, 270 N. Canon Dr., No. 1297, Beverly Hills, CA. 90210, or by calling 1-800-245-2057 (1-800-245-2056 in California).