Rocky’s Boots: The Most Brilliant Computer Game Ever Made

rockys-bootsAttention parents: if you want your kid to grow up smart, go find this game.  Just do it.  Strap the little brat down in front of it with his eyes propped open Clockwork Orange-style if need be.  This is for his own good (and perhaps a little bit of a nostalgic victory lap for you).  There are very few things that I’m positive contributed directly to me reaching at least average intelligence, but Rocky’s Boots is one of them.

(A funny series of events even led to this post even being written: I was Googling one of my favorite childhood computer games, and one of the search results looked familiar…, hey I know that site.  Why I co-founded it.  Splendid.  Turns out our Videogame Reviewer had actually answered a question about the game. Which inspired me to take a trip down memory lane, and write the following ode to what I consider to be one of the smartest educational computer games ever made.)

I still marvel at the game’s simplicity and brilliance.  It’s an Apple IIe classic from 1982, but eons ahead of its time: in fact, I haven’t seen anything in the last 30 years that can rival Rocky’s Boots as a teacher of conditional logic and rule-based learning.

Apple IIe Joystick
Brought to you by the same man who brought you the iPhone.

The goal of the game is simple: you have to build logic circuits that identify objects that meet certain conditions.  8 objects of various shapes and colors pass along a conveyor belt and activate an electric current in 3 “Signal Boxes” if the object meets the Signal Box’s condition.  If the current reaches a Boot, it kicks the shape off the conveyor belt.  The objective is to build a logic circuit that only activates the Boot to kick objects with positive points (i.e. that meet the level’s “rules”.)  An easy level, for example, might require you to kick any shape that’s green. But things get progressively more difficult; the next level might require two conditions to be met: e.g. kicking only Purple Circles.

Building the logic circuit to beat each level is where things get interesting: in the game arena, you have access to all sorts of different logic gates: electrical “switches” that conduct an electrical current in different ways.  An “Or-Gate“, for example, has 2 input nodes and will allow the current through if either of the nodes is activated. An “And-Gate“, conversely, will only conduct the current if both of its input nodes are activated at once.

This animation should make pretty clear how it all works: the goal here is to build a circuit that kicks Green Crosses, but no other objects. The wishbone-looking thing is an “And-Gate“, which only allows the electric current (represented by the flowing red color) to pass through and activate the Boot if both of its input nodes are activated – here, the input nodes are (i) the color Green and (ii) the shape of a Cross.

Rocky's Boots
A circuit built to kick Green Crosses (but nothing else.)

When the Green Circle enters the conveyor belt, only the Green Signal Box activates; however the current can’t get through to the Boot, because only one of the And-Gate’s inputs is activated.  When the Purple Triangle enters the conveyor belt, it activates only the top Signal Box (because it’s purple), but nothing happens because we haven’t hooked anything up to it.  But watch what happens when the Green Cross appears: it activates both the Cross AND the Green Signal Boxes, allowing the And-Gate to pass the current through to the Boot, which kicks the object.

The rules for more advanced levels get pretty tricky: you might be required to kick Blue Crosses except when they’re preceded on the conveyor belt by a Triangle.  Or you might have to build a circuit that kicks only every other Purple Diamond.  The hardest levels are downright devilish…I don’t think I ever solved them, nor am I sure I could today.  You have to make use of all kinds of esoteric logic gates, like “Not-Gates“, which are always set to “on” (i.e. generating an electric current) except when their input is activated, which turns them off; “Flip Flops” that let the current through only every other time a condition is met; “Delays” that let the current through but only a few seconds after their input is activated, and so on. You even have to account for “glitches” (aka time delays) in your circuits because the electric current takes time to flow through whatever you build.  It’s all pretty genius.  I forget what the recommended ages were, but I think I remember playing it when I was 7 or 8.

Because I said so
Because-I-Said-So logic gates not included.

Where to get Rocky’s Boots: Yeah…well the thing is that they stopped making the Apple IIe about 25 odd years ago.  On the plus side, you can probably fit every single computer game ever made before 1997 on an 8 MB zip drive, so there are a handful of sites that let you download the game and/or play on your computer via emulator (disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried any of these; use at your own risk):

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