Firebones: The Blog

Code. Money. Writing.

Looking for Tuesday Night Football

The first non-trivial source code I ever read was a Basic listing of an Apple II game called Tuesday Night Football. TNF pitted you against a computer coach in a strategic, text-based duel of American football play calling. We huddled around the green Apple II CRT, trying to outwit the wily computer coach. We became convinced it cheated. We set out to rectify the situation, and the source code was the key.

A Brief History of Being Cheated at Football and Other Games of Chance

The first football game I ever owned was Mattel’s Talking Football. Not the later “Monday Night Talking Football”. Just plain old Talking Football. You got a big box, a cardboard field, a little record player that looked like a red cassette player, and the gramophonic intonations of Dick Enberg calling the plays. The box became the stadium no detail was spared. The game even came with a plastic yellow coin for the opening coin toss.

The Talking Football Box

The offensive coach picked the play, for example “Short Pass”, or my personal favorite, the high-risk, high-reward “Gadget” play, inserted the disk into the red “sportscaster”, and the defensive player looked at the back of the disk and rotated it until the specific defensive alignment was chosen, for example, “Prevent Defense”. Then you’d flip the switch to start the record player and listen the result: “Pass over the middle…intercepted!…he’s going to go all the way…TOUCHDOWN!” Or one I can still remember today with its pregnant pause and sudden reversal “Prevent defense, three man rush, trap up the middle for ten…uh oh…penalty.”

The Talking Football Sportscaster

There were about 70 combinations of plays and defenses, and one Christmas my older brother, then in grad school as a T.A. for stats courses, calculated the expected value of each defensive and offensive play selection and routinely beat me. This was typical of the competitive torment I endured at the hands of someone with an understanding of probability and statistics which dwarfed my second grade math skills. Once he crushed me in Milton Bradley’s Game of Life by carefully observing the tendency of the spinning wheel’s non-random distribution. As he rolled up on the Day of Reckoning, he opted for the rarely used attempt at becoming a MILLIONAIRE TYCOON. From the instructions (warning: PDF).PDF):

Try to become a MILLIONAIRE TYCOON. If you have little or no money, place all that you have (your car if you’re broke) on ONE number on the number strip. Spin again. If you’re sic number comes up, you have become a MILLIONAIRE TYCOON, the WINNER and the game is over. If you lose, the bank takes your money, and you sit out the rest of the game at BANKRUPT.

So he lays it all down on #3, spins and bam, 3 comes up and the frustrating hour of spinning and trying to stuff little pink and blue pegs into those cars goes down the drain. The one in ten chance might as well have been a one in a million chance. That’s still as close to a lottery winner as I’ve ever been.

Subprime crisis, Milton Bradley style. One minute you’ve got a car, six kids stacked up in the back and not a dime to your name, and the next minute you’re a winner.

Fixing What Ailed Us

Fast forward about eight or nine years and I come across the listing for Tuesday Night Football from a copy that a friend apparently cracked. Our relationship with the game was love/hate all the way: because while it made for an entertaining and addictive game, some bug in the code caused way too many fumbles to occur for our tastes. If I recall correctly, each play had about a 5% probability of a fumble; and either a logic bug or a problem with the pseudorandom number generator caused every fumble to be lost by the human coach, while the computer only occasionally lost a fumble. This was an easy fix to make, but what was notable was that in just a few pages of code, a plausible football game could be created. I remember seeing the listing on green and white fanfold paper and thinking, I could do that. When I later got my own Apple IIc, I modified the code to create a more balanced game. And by more balanced, I mean one that probably tilted more in my favor.

Searching for Tuesday Night Football

I set out last night to see if I could find the source code for Tuesday Night Football to confirm whether my recollections were accurate. Were we just complainers who couldn’t handle getting beat fair and square? Or were we right, that the fumble issue was a bug and not a feature? Although I found a disk image that I believe contains the program, and a host of Apple II emulators that might actually run it, I haven’t been able to locate the actual TNF source or even get the original game to run successfully in an emulator.

So Dear Lazyweb, if you’re out there, and you’re an Apple II fanatic who has the Basic source code for Tuesday Night Football, I would love to get a look at it again for research purposes.

update… More digging led me to the author of the original Tuesday Night Football, Charlie Anderson, and some artifacts related to the original version. It appears that after a brief life being sold through Apple dealers with mimeographed manuals and a disk stuffed in a plastic bag, Mr. Anderson was offered the sum of $1000 against 10% net royalties to assign the copyright of the game to Automated Simulations, Inc., which rechristened it as Tuesday Morning Quarterback. What are the chances that the source survives?