Brian Thomas understood he could use a computer as a powerful communication tool,
when he first bought a Mac Plus. He just wasn’t entirely sure how, yet.
At first he made fake company memos that satirized his workplace and inspired his coworkers.
When he discovered Bill Budge’s
(“Budge was the Apple II graphics guru. By the time he wrote a library for creating
3-D wireframe games in 1981, he had already authored three other Apple II games.”
From Bill Budge in
Halcyon Days: Interviews with Classic Computer and Video Game Programmers)
Pinball Construction Set — possibly the first drag and drop interactive toolkit
Originally designed for the Apple II, The Pinball Construction set used four colours. When it was adapted for the Mac it became black and white.
Excerpt from Bill Budge in Halcyon Days: “As a follow-up to 1981’s ‘Raster Blaster,’ [Budge] wrote the ground breaking ‘Pinball Construction Set,’ a program that let the user build, customize, and embellish working pinball tables using an assortment of parts and tools. Not only was it the first true construction set, it sported the first modern user interface used in a game, complete with icons, ‘mouse cursor,’ and an intuitive ‘drag and drop’ method of working...This was in 1983, the year before the Macintosh was released!”
See also: The GameSpy PCS Hall of Fame entry is good, with pictures of the Apple II version.
The Pinball Construction Set was tremendous fun to play with, whether making a table or playing one. I should mention that I, too, am a Pinball Construction Set veteran — and fan. When I got a hand-me-down Macintosh 512ke in 1987, PCS was one of the programs I used a lot. I would tweak games for hours, then have my friends come over and play them with me. I must have made a dozen tables. PCS looked, felt, and sounded amazing — on a computer with less than 1mb ram running at 8 mhz.
— he was delighted that it could make standalone games. Thomas used PCS to create pinball games about Reaganomics and other current issues, which he uploaded to BBSes.
As engrossing as the Pinball Construction set was, inevitably Brian Thomas found it unsatisfying as a communication tool.
As an enthusiast, Brian Thomas had read an entire book about HyperCard, before he could get his hands on the actual software. When he learned that Macintosh User Groups would receive advance copies, he stalked the president of his local MUG, and showed up at his door for a copy of HyperCard.
That night he authored his first stack, ‘Passing Notes’.
Read some notes:
Above: Clipping His Wings, below: Point of View
Hold your mouse over the graphic for Nietzche on madness:
An index, made with HyperCard’s thumbnail tools, gives an overview of the entire stack:
Passing Notes © Brian Thomas
The freeware stack passed from Mac to Mac, attracting attention from HyperCard fans who wanted to contribute, and an encouraging letter from Bill Atkinson.
The ideas in ‘Passing Notes’ are thought provoking, but it is still mostly a linear essay. Brian Thomas
now imagined more ambitious explorations of interactive media. In a 1996 interview
Thomas has more insight about the early days of HyperCard to share in Knowledge Worker: a Conversation With Brian Thomas
Thomas tells how, in 1988, he teamed up with HyperCard scripter Philip A. Mohr, Jr. “to develop an elaborate package of fun and games and serious ideas that we collected in a virtual monastery library.”
‘If Monks and Macs...’
Gazing out the window of a monastery library:
“The Gregorian chant that greeted visitors to even the first version of the monastery library
belied the fact that I was largely inspired to build the library by going to LA's vibrant punk rock shows and feeling
that I was doing the same kind of thing with computers that groups like the Minutemen did to the Rock of the 70's.
I saw myself as one worker seizing the means of production and distribution of information and ideas from
corporate-sponsored ‘culture-vultures.’ I felt like having fun.”
If Monks Had Macs... © Brian Thomas
was given away as ‘Everyware’ (if you like this enough to keep if for yourself, share it with someone else), distributed on disks and uploaded to BBSes. This collection of interactive books, games and art found a home on many a hard drive, and was eventually acknowledged as a landmark of new media.
The black and white version was eventually replaced with a colour version on CD-ROM. With a collective called Rivertext, ‘If Monks had Macs...’ has been maintained, and is available for Mac & Windows.