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Basilisk II & TaskMaker

I've started emulating Mac games all of a sudden (a while back - as usual I'm late posting this)! Unexpectedly. Spontaneously. As seems to be the case with most pastimes that peak my interest...

I've played TaskMaker before, in the old days.

I have it on an old Performa 630, which you can read about here. Unfortunately it no longer boots. I suppose I'll update that page eventually if I can't fix it, but there is hope. I reached out to a service shop in Stockholm a while back and they said they'd have a look if I bring it in. They have plenty of spare parts.

Though they're focused on new computers it seems like the legacy with Apple in particular is similarly uncompromising for all. You just don't abandon the classics. Even their official company support's dedicated to serving customers with older models. There's no end-of-service, it seems.

You wonder if it's a sustainable business model when companies like Microsoft keep forcing you to upgrade, and leaving perfectly good things behind for the sake of profit, but then again Apple stocks are going pretty well these days... turns out there may be a benefit to being genuine, and believing in your products! And caring for your customers!!!

It's a long way to Stockholm City though, and old computers are HEAVY - the old monitor won't start either - it smells like burnt plastic if you turn it on - hope it's just capacitators that need replacing. So, when my nephew came over a week or so ago we dug out this other Mac I have lying around. This one. A slightly newer and more readily maintained model. It's not one I have a personal history with, it doesn't have the OS I grew up on, but it plays the same games, and it works, and we managed to delve into the realms of not just Factory (as we usually do), but also MacSki, MacPipes, Farm Patrol aaand even a little TaskMaker!

He tried the game real quick, walked into a few walls, and abandoned it. But it woke within me fond memories, of days long gone when I first discovered these games, and spent an abundant amount of time
playing them.

We played some of the other games after that, and then he left, and I stashed away that computer again, yet I couldn't stash away those good memories...

I first decided to create .iso image files of all old CDs I have for my old computer - all the ones with those games I remember fondly, if like my oldest computer they unexpectedly wear down with time and stop working. A lot (maybe all) of these games are probably available online too, in various formats and versions, but I haven't made an effort to make sure, and it wouldn't be quite the same thing without those old CDs after all, so I made those copies.

I burned one of the .iso files I'd created to a blank CD and tried booting it on that old computer before I stashed it away... and it worked! Seems the format's cross-platform compatible. I processed 'em all via CDBurnerXP on Windows 10. Something like twenty discs - mostly ones that came with The MAC magazine back in 1996, chockful of shareware games and other odd utilities, some of which I've just been starting to delve into the histories of...

For example Exile (and Exile 2) - other RPGs I have fond memories of - but have never completed, were made by Spiderweb Software, who are actually still around, and remade said game under a new title years later, which I'm pretty sure I actually have a copy of on GOG! Or have seen there, at least. Avernum, and Avernum 2: Crystal Souls.

There's also a third Exile game available from back in the day that I'd never heard of - just like there's a third Avernum game now. May play eventually. Those games are HARD - as I experienced again when I tried getting back into the first one just recently - but maybe not as hard as I remember them if I just fine-tune my strategies a bit.

Back in the day these games weren't as instantly gratifying as they are now. You had to explore a bit to figure things out. You had to talk to people, and find items, and walk around, and apparently the world of Exile is HUGE, with something like a hundred towns, and desolate caverns filled with monsters and fairy tail figures of varied sort. Even dragons! I never got that far back in the day.

All of this in a game less than a thousand KB big!

The game-making capabilities they had in the old days - making gems as grand as this with such limited resources, still blow me away. Looking at the hundred GB blockbusters of today I'm impressed so much more with these old ones than with the new.

I'm impressed with what they managed not just with the restrictions they had back then, but without templates and earlier examples of successful titles to guide them as well.

The mechanics between titles varied greatly, and yet so many of them seemed to get things just right. When developers now speak about how many months it'd take to build an engine from scratch - and often use existing engines instead, and you know developers in the old day always did build from scratch, and did so with much more limited teams - sometimes just the one hobbyist working his passion project - you feel like something's gone missing with newer titles.

Cinematic though they may be, they're rarely as quirky or charming as the olden; golden ones. I feel, looking back now...

Let's cut the nostalgia though and get into the technical! Or practical. My gaming adventures with old Apple games on Windows 10.

I could talk about good old games forever.

My first thought was to get into Exile again.

I tried it for a while on the old computer before I stashed it away, but I died - more than once, and lost interest, remembering how difficult it was.

So I stashed away that computer, soon regretted it, and wondered how easy it'd be to emulate some other old games on my newer computer, which is always available, which stands readily on my desk and should have (in terms of hardware and performance) no issues running games of this age, even if they're emulated...

I settled on Basilisk II, which seems to be the goto emulator if you're looking to run games from the Performa 7xx generation (I forgot my old computer's the 6xx generation - think the OS might've been upgraded to 7xx though). Apparently it's a part of the 68k generation, whatever that means.

To get started you need a system image of the OS you're looking to run, a ROM file for the computer itself (think of this as the hardware - the actual device), and of course whatever files you wish to run on said system!

It started out difficultly. I didn't get it. I toggled options and tried different images and couldn't get it to work - even with the tutorial they provide on their own Wiki - but then I found this video and it all fell into place!

Protip: Don't tweak your system too much!!!

I installed my OS, installed my games, went through old menu items and had some fun with it - even managed to transfer files from Windows via the emulator itself - there's an option to allow access to the external OS environment via a 'My Computer' link within the emulated environment - and it worked perfectly! It's an easy way to move files in and out if you don't have Internet access via the emulator itself - which even if possible seems like a potential security issue with an OS this old (I did try - it at least didn't work out of the box).

And I played for a few hours - TaskMaker this time - caught up in the game just as I was in the old days - and then decided to tweak my OS a little further... and it crashed. And couldn't be booted.

Corrupt HDD? I tried toggling the Basilisk boot options but to no effect.

Fortunately I had saved a copy of my savefile at least an hour or so earlier, as well as a complete copy of the emulator environment. I replaced the HDD file in the Basilisk folder with the one from my earlier copy - this is basically the entire installation of the emulated system - and booted, and it worked again! Copied in my savefile duplicate too, and though I'd lost an hour or two of good progress it at least wasn't that severe a loss, so...

Protip 2: Backup the HDD file if you do tweak your system!!! Or if you don't. Just make backups.

With a system this ancient (it's actually thirty years old next year - pretty crazy crazy) the installation file does not need to be that big either. I'm pretty sure I set the HDD size to something like 50MB, though maybe Basilisk has it's own default, or files, since the created one is 500 MB.

If you have a decent-sized drive though that's not too much to make a copy of every once in a while.

Best practice would be to make the copy before you boot the system, when it's not in active use, and if you don't want more than one copy at a time you can replace that backup the time after that. Simple safing process to prevent further catastrophic corruption or system failure...

Emulators usually aren't without their quirks, and this is no exception.

For example (apart from the corruption example above - all I was trying to do was adjust name and time and all for the installed OS via the built-in guide) it seems that sound cuts out in the game after a certain game time. This time differs. Seems to be a thing just with this one game too.

I haven't been able to discern the pattern here yet. Going by official bug reports it seems to be an issue with any game that has constant background sound - though this one doesn't.

It has sound effects, it has no music.

The sound effects do come into play with each step you take, however, so maybe if you're good enough it does come across a continual stream, and maybe that's an issue.

The sound started cutting off pretty far into my game. At that point maybe I was moving continually. Maybe that's it.

I haven't tried troubleshooting this yet, but so far it seems sound for the emulated OS cuts out entirely when this happens. I don't think it'll make a difference - going by forum posts regarding the same issue - but I shall try tweaking my sound settings a bit.

It's also possible to mute the game itself, so maybe I can try that every once in a while, as to not have sound play too continuously in the background, if continuum is an issue. Or - as I did yesterday - I can simply keep on playing and have a podcast in the background if and whenever the sound does cut out. The game sounds do contribute to the atmosphere, but it's fun either way. It's no central component. It's a slight amplifier. Hopefully it'll work fine like this.

Also notable shout-out to this site, that lets you actually emulate both this and any other old Apple system immediately, online! You can transfer files in and out of your emulated system there too, and even save files between sessions - though I'd backup anything important just in case.

For something like TaskMaker, that'd work perfectly too, though it seems the hardware use is a little higher with emulation via browser. Local seems to be the most efficient (and lag-free) way, but this is by far the easiest alternative if you just want to get into it right away.

Instructions for how to transfer files are available as soon as you boot.

Now back to TaskMaker. *in booming voice*

Time to pick off where I left off, a couple hours before that savefile corrupted...

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