Have you ever played Magic: the Gathering? M:tG is what we call a “Collectable Card Game,” like Pokemon or YuGiOh! M:tG just happenned to be the first of its kind, and is still going strong. I bought the cards and played the game obsessively until all my possessions were stolen at a Magic tournament. That kind of thing can really sour an experience for a young boy.

Around the same time that I was obsessed with Magic: the Gathering, I discovered the Internet. I found a great chat channel on IRC dedicated to the game, where some of the regulars were developing a simple program that would allow them to play games online. This program is none other than Apprentice32. The 32 appended to the name is something of a historical stamp, indicating that the program was best run on a 32-bit operating system like Windows 95, as opposed to Windows 3.11, which was still popular at the time. Apprentice32’s card databases are still kept current, and though the program may take a while to start up due to its archiac programming, she still runs.

I’d nearly forgotten this, but I created the game’s original set of button graphics, as well as the five pointed star that the program still uses as its logo. These elements have now been incorporated into the program’s “Chocolate” theme. I’m still listed as a beta tester in the program’s credits. I couldn’t have been older than fifteen, quite possibly younger.

I created the graphics using a remarkable suite of programs called Visual Reality 2.0. Well, at least it was remarkable in 1996. Check out those system requirements! Visual Reality came packaged on five floppy disks, and was comprised of several different programs: Visual Font, Visual Model, Renderize Live, Visual Catalogue, and Visual Image. Nowadays, it is of course unthinkable to split the components of a 3D imaging package in this way, but back in 1996, a 486 computer just couldn’t handle it all put together. Of all the separate programs, Visual Catalogue was the most useless, as you’d never create a scene complex enough to warrant its use. Visual Image was by far the most useful, as it was a light weight image editor that offered such advanced functions as layers, image masks, and some basic blending modes. Visual Image was way ahead of its time, and in retrospect I’m amazed at the things I was able to do with it.

The Apprentice32 buttons bring back memories. I remember opening up Visual Model to create their wireframes, outputting the images in Renderize Live, and polishing them up in Visual Image. I probably used Visual Font to make most of the “stage” buttons (with the big white letters). Looking at the buttons today, they don’t seem very 3D, but I swear they are. I remember making them. I remember the oppressively cold basement that housed my family’s computer, and that my hands were practically numb by the time I was finished with my latest project. Most of all, I remember how excited I was to be contributing to something so cool. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people would use this program. That’s a lot of people to a fifteen year-old, and the thought of so many people seeing something that I had helped to create was utterly thrilling.

Strange how I could have forgotten that.