Penguin Software / Polarware – Unpublished Archives

At KansasFest in 2019, Mark Pelczarski (Penguin Software president) gave me a few boxes of disks for which he no longer had the equipment to read, but said that according to the labels, “There might be some interesting stuff on these,” wondering if the disks were still even readable and if anything could be extracted. There was indeed “interesting stuff” on the disks and here’s a small preview:  draft images from an unreleased adventure game, and a fan’s German translation of the original Transylvania adventure.

Spy’s Adventures in Asia – Development Pictures

Penguin/Polarware, often known for its action and adventure games for Apple II computers, also produced a series of wonderful educational games aimed at geography and solving clues to find thieves:  The Spy’s Adventures in North America (1986), The Spy’s Adventures in Europe (1986), and The Spy’s Adventures in South America (1987).  What isn’t generally known is that other titles were planned in the series: AsiaAfricaAustralia and the Pacific Islands, with the Asia title being the next planned release.

One 5.25″ disk, dated 3-15-1987, represents the only surviving elements of the unreleased Spy’s Adventures in Asia game, with draft pictures that were created by Raimund and Elizabeth Redlich. 

According to Mark, “It would be cool if you could resurrect them, even though we never used them.  They were the first set of images for that next edition.  SPC is what I tagged as ‘Sequential PiCture,’ or what became known in general lexicon as vector graphics, and yes, it’s indeed the Graphics Magician picture format.  Those images were just the first pass concepts from the artists, not necessarily what would have been used in the release of the game.  At this point we gave Elizabeth and Ray a list of countries and some ideas of landmarks or places we thought we should feature.  But we did leave them a lot of artistic license to find inspiration from whatever source material they could find.

I preserved the disk with Applesauce.  Of 13 pictures in Graphics Magician “SPC” format, four were damaged, and “Mt Everest” was hiding as a deleted file.  Enlisting guru Antoine Vignau, he was able to fix the four damaged pictures to display completely and found the deleted one: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Dragon.Gate, Iran, Israel, Junk, Lhasa, Mt Everest, Oman, Rice.Field, S.Arabia, Yangtze.Riv, and Yurt. The “Spy’s Adventures in Asia” SPC files contain both PICDRAW and DPICDRAW.  So, I have saved both the Hi-Res and Double Hi-Res pictures in a modern PNG format – 26 pictures in total. They’re viewable in this slide show and also bundled with the fixed 5.25″ disk image.  

Transylvania – German translation

Also among the 5.25″ disks was one labeled “Transsylvanien” that caught my eye.  Back in 1985, Transylvania was a popular adventure game written by Antonio Antiochia and published by Penguin Software.  Henning Stams, a fan of the game, wanted a version in his native German language and created one!   He dubbed the conversion “Transsylvanien:  Ein Spannendes High-Resolution-Spiel”  (A fascinating high-resolution game).

According to Mark, this was a translation of the original 2-word parser version of Transylvania. At the time it was received, the newer, full-sentence parser Comprehend version was in development and planned for release.  Since no one at Penguin spoke German, there wasn’t much that Penguin could do with the submission other than applaud and be pleased with the effort.

Discovering this disk made me curious about official foreign language versions of Transylvania, so rather than calling Ghostbusters, I asked Mark.  He said, “There were licensed versions in Japanese through Starcraft.  Those translations were for the Japanese Fujitsu and NEC computers.”

I’ve been unsuccessful connecting with Henning, which is unfortunate as I’d like to know what inspired his efforts.  Please enjoy the Transsylvanien disk images, which I also preserved with Applesauce.

Still to Come…

Among Mark’s disks in those archive boxes were a set of 3.5” ProDOS disks containing the entire Comprehend Adventure Development System, an unpublished ProDOS/Double hi-res version of Graphics Magician that Penguin was using for cross-platform development, and most of the Comprehend source code and graphics for four of the Comprehend adventures published by Penguin Software/Polarware.

I am working with Mark to release soon the entire Comprehend Development System and the unpublished ProDOS Graphics Magician, which he’s agreed make available under a Creative Commons CC BY-SA license.

Also among those archive disks were the complete source code, data files, and pictures for the three Spy’s Adventures that were released (North America, South America, Europe), and I’m working with Mark to make all those available in the future as well.  A big thank you to Mark Pelczarski for sharing these and other forthcoming treasures!

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About the Author

Brian Wiser

Brian is an A.P.P.L.E. Board member and Managing Editor of Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine. He is a long-time Apple consultant, historian and archivist. Brian designed, edited, and co-produced several books including: "Cyber Jack: The Adventures of Robert Clardy and Synergistic Software", "Synergistic Software: The Early Games", "Nibble Viewpoints: Business Insights From The Computing Revolution", "What's Where in the Apple: Enhanced Edition", and "The WOZPAK: Special Edition" – an important Apple II historical book with Steve Wozniak's restored original, technical handwritten notes as well as a forward from Steve Wozniak and other Apple legends. Brian also co-produced the retro iOS game "Structris." Brian was an extra in Joss Whedon’s movie “Serenity,” leading him to being a producer/director for the documentary film “Done The Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of Firefly & Serenity.” He brought some of the Firefly cast aboard his Browncoat Cruise and recruited several of the Firefly cast to appear in a film for charity. Brian speaks about his adventures at conventions around the country.