HyperCard, released in 1987, was a free, easy to use, hypermedia authoring tool. (I am tempted to use the present tense since there are still (!) people using HyperCard today. Is such a beast as an ‘easy to use hypermedia authoring tool’ in common use today?) The metaphor of a ‘stack’ of cards, and its english-like scripting language HyperTalk, (for example: ‘on mouseup go to first card’) were immediately easy to understand. Most HyperTalk scripts could be viewed, copied and modified.
HyperCard was easy to create with.
Graphics tools from the popular MacPaint
at Susan Kare |
(an earlier creation of HyperCard author Bill Atkinson
This man’s contributions cannot be overstated, so I won’t even try. Read about Bill Atkinson at the Wikipedia and Stories about Bill Atkinson and the original Mac at Folklore.org. Today he is a fulltime nature photographer.
) were built right into the program. Editable, searchable text fields, and scriptable buttons were created just like graphics. HyperCard even included unique audio capabilities (HyperTalk included script level control of the pitch with which embedded sound samples were played back. This provided authors a simplified midi-like toolset, allowing tiny audio samples to be used to create scripted music and sound activities.) unseen in modern tools. Perhaps most importantly, Apple distributed the software free with every Mac, encouraging the sharing of stacks.
HyperCard delivered significant computing power to creative people who had few preconceptions about what it should be used for. Artists, writers and other non-programmers dived in. Stacks were shared via BBSes, floppy disks and books. Many experienced programmers embraced HyperCard as well, and extended its functionality. There was an explosion of interactivity as amateurs, artists and creative professionals created interactive games, stories and other experiences.
This all happened in one-bit, black or white, on a 512 by 342 pixel nine
Above is a typical early Mac screen, shown actual pixels. Every screen image in this article is shown actual pixels. This is actual size on displays set for 72 pixels per inch. If your display is set at a much higher resolution, these screens will appear even tinier than they were. Today’s displays typically are twice as dense with millions of colours. We believe the graphic constraints of the early Macintosh — with a tiny black and white canvas there are only so many options — helped creative people focus energies on other things like interactivity. We discuss this further in the next chapter. It should be stressed that HyperCard provided ample tools to satisfy creative people aesthetically.
This article will recall a number of works — influential HyperCard stacks plus a few other seminal wares — from a time when a whole new group of people were discovering, investigating and expanding a young medium. From there, we’ll share some of our experiences at Mackerel, as we stumbled onto multimedia, gathered our wits, and became vitalized by the constant opportunity for exploration and invention.