Chapter 14 

Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution

The Wizard and the Princess:

Ken and Roberta Williams were the founders of Sierra On-Line, one of the first computer gaming companies, and among a new generation of hackers. Ken learned programming on his own while doing work for different companies on mainframes. Ken got Roberta hooked to computers when he showed her the Adventure game written by Don Woods. Ken was not as interested in the game as Roberta who immersed herself in it even though she was the mother of two small children at the time.

Ken's younger brother had bought an Apple II, and soon afterwards Ken bought one as well. He decided to write a FORTRAN compiler and hired five other programmers to help him with it. Meanwhile Roberta devised a game of her own based on Adventure which they called Mystery House.

Ken scrapped the compiler project and instead wrote the code for the game. They talked to Programma, the biggest distributor of Apple software, and they were offered 25% in royalty, which could have netted them more than $9,000. Instead they decided they wanted all the profits and sold the game independently. They started making tens of thousands of dollars each month just from their games, while Ken was still working for a company and making $42,000 a year.

Ken quit his job and they moved to the woods in Oakhurst, California to live out their dream life. Their second game, Wizard and the Princess made them even more money and that was only the beginning of a new genre of commercial software, games.