Tunnels of Doom: An Interview with Hank Mishkoff

Hank Mishkoff is a musician and programmer. He attributes his entry into the world of TI programming to his being a musician. Toucan, a member of the TI community, gave me Hank's email address and I contacted him.

Ed Burns: I'm a big fan of the game Tunnels of Doom for the TI-99/4A. I'm told you composed the music in that game.

Hank Mishkoff: I might have, it sounds eerily familiar. My recollection is that I may have written that music for The Attack, but it was rejected. [Sob!] I also recall that it was subsequently "recycled" for use in a different game, but I wouldn't swear that it was "Tunnels of Doom" -- but as I said, the music does sound familiar (and it does sound like my style -- and it does sound like something I would have written for The Attack).

Reading Kevin's comments, it all fits, I did work for TI in Dallas 1980-1982 (which, I suspect, is the time period we're discussing). I have no recollection of fighting Kenney about one note in the theme -- but as I listen to it, there is a note that sounds a little discordant to me, maybe Kevin was right all along...

Published with permission from Dan Eicher.

Part I: Interview by Dan Eicher, April 2002

Q: How did you get started with the 99/4a or /4?

A: In early 1978, I stumbled across an ad in a magazine (Personal
Computing?) that said that TI was hiring programmers for some vaguely
identified project that seemed to have something to do with personal
computers. I applied, and they flew me out to Lubbock for an
interview. It was a strange interview -- I didn't seem to have a strong
enough programming and educational background, and they couldn't tell me
anything about the product, which was top-secret. By dumb luck, the last
interviewer of the day asked me about a two-year hole in my resume, and
I told him that I had been a musician, playing with a rock band. (I
hadn't included it on my resume because it didn't seem to have anything
to do with the position for which I was applying.) He got very excited
and asked if I could read music, which I could. I got the job, and was
delighted to discover that the TI Home Computer could produce music --
and in fact, I'm relatively certain that that's the only reason they
hired me.

Q: What did you program in GPL, Assembler, Basic, Pascal, Forth?

A: I programmed almost entirely in GPL while I worked for TI in
Lubbock. I left there in 1979, but later worked for TI in Dallas from
1980-1982, where I wrote some BASIC programs (and some GPL code as
well). At some point, I did a little Assembly Language programming, but
not much.

Q: What was your favorite program for the 4a that you didn't write?

A: I can't remember the name -- it was an unpretentious little game in
which two players chased each other around the screen with little
"arrows" with long tails, trying to make the other player crash into
you. I'd probably remember the name if you mentioned it, but I'm drawing
a blank right now.

Q: What do you think of the 4a as an educational/productivity computer
(given the constraints) of the time?

A: I suspect that its constraints made it of limited use in terms of
productivity -- especially at first, when it had those "chiclet" keys
and only an audiotape output for storage. For example, it seemed to me
that Household Budget Management (which I wrote) was more trouble than
it was worth, I couldn't understand why anyone would use it. Although
I'm not an educator, I suspect that the educational software (such as
the Scott Foresman series) was probably more useful.

Q: What was your favorite hardware for the TI?

A: Certainly the most *welcomed* hardware was the diskette drive. You
have no idea how hard it is to be a productive programmer -- and to
write useful programs -- when your only storage device is an audiotape.

Q: What was the hardest technical challenge you ever overcame?  A: I
can't really think of any -- the hardware and systems software folks had
the real challenges, I was a mere applications programmer. I did create
a set of equates for musical note frequencies based on "A 440" and
extended by the twelfth root of two -- prior to that time, the
programmers were using some inaccurate frequencies that someone had
thrown together, and the musical results sounded awful.

Q: What was your favorite thing about programming the TI?

A: I'd have to say it was the music. I programmed most of the music for
the early TI programs, and some of it (like the music for the Demo
module) was original. The music seems incredibly primitive by today's
standards, but it was amazing to me at the time.

Q: What was your least favorite thing?

A: I don't remember anything that I didn't like about it. I hated living
I Lubbock, but I had a fantastic time working on the Home Computer
during the year I lived there.

Q: What did you use as a development system (a 990 or a real TI)?

A: As I recall (and it's been a while), we had a 990-based Home Computer
simulator, it was a battle to get simulator time to test our programs.

Q: On average, how long did it take to crank out a program?

A: I only did one GROM (module) from start to finish (Household Budget
Management), and that probably took half a year. It took so long because
we had no library of code to reuse -- I remember, for example, having to
write a keyboard input routine, including deciding how many milliseconds
the cursor would blink on and off, what keys would perform what
functions, etc., real low-level stuff.

Q: How did you find out the 4a had been canceled, and what was the mood?

A: I wasn't working for TI when that happened, I was a contractor -- but
all of my work was from TI, so I was pretty upset. I was writing a book
about the Home Computer, and I was developing a program (ET's Adventures
on Land, I think, for Looking Glass Software) as well. I knew a guy who
worked at the TI store at Northpark Mall, he called me and told me to
turn on the news -- and they were announcing that TI was getting out of
the home computer business. It was quite a shock.

Q: Did you create any software to aid in your development.

A: Not really. I did create a graphics program for Looking Glass (in
BASIC), as I recall it let you paint the screen via joystick, and it let
you expand an area so you could fine-tune your creation. It seems
laughable by today's standards, but the artists at Looking Glass loved

Q: You seem multitalented, programming, music and documentation! Which
did you enjoy the most?

A: Music is definitely first, but I still love to program. Documentation
is not fun to do, a long documentation project is dreadfully boring --
the *results* can be very satisfying, but the *process* can be brutal.

Q: You had mentioned the 99/7 - do you know if any prototypes of these
were ever released - or the names or the people that designed it?

A: Sorry, I'm drawing a blank. I know that it was being developed
alongside the 99/4 in Lubbock, but I was never involved with it in any
way. And then, as I'm sure you know, the project got transferred to
Austin, where it died.

Q: Who was your favorite TI "personality"?

A: I got along well with all of the TI folks who were associated with
the Home Computer, but none of them really stand out from the rest. But
to stretch your question a little...

Probably the most interesting person I met through TI was David Levy, an
International Chess Master from Scotland whom TI had hired as a
consultant for the Chess module. David flew in to Lubbock every once in
a while to "consult" with the programmers who were working on the
program (which did not include me). Many of the programmers were chess
players (we used to play at lunch), so we all wanted to play a game
against David. He was very agreeable, the only condition being that we
couldn't take too long to move. (He moved *instantly* against us, and he
didn't want to get too bored.) I played him once; I felt that I was on
the defensive immediately and I lost before I could really get started.

But what was most interesting about knowing David in 1978 was that he
had made a very famous bet in 1968 that he would be able to beat the
best chess-playing computer in 10 years. So shortly after the last time
I saw David in Lubbock, he went off to play a chess match with "CHESS
4.7." He won the match 3-1-1 -- and some of the news reports suggested
that he might have intentionally lost a game to heighten interest in the
match. I ran into David at a Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago
(probably in 1979), and I asked him about that charge. He hotly denied
it, saying that he had never thrown a chess match in his life.

Q: How was the call made as to if or not speech was built in to a game?

A: I never worked on any games, so I don't know. I think I only worked
with speech once, I think it was a "Speak and Math" program (based on
the TI product) that was written in BASIC by a programmer I supervised
when I was working for TI in Dallas. Since this was her first experience
as a programmer, I was deeply involved in the project, and I remember
that working with speech was fun. But I'm pretty sure that's the only
time I ever did it.

Q: Did you ever do any program that had multiple languages?

A: No.

Q: Given unlimited time and money, is there any thing you would have
liked to create for the TI?

A: When I was in Lubbock, I developed a proposal for a hardware/software
project that involved an "electrode" (?) peripheral that would allow you
to send alpha waves into the computer (we informally called the module
the "OM GROM"). I initially saw it as a meditation/relaxation aide, and
I also thought it would be fun to create "brain art." The proposal
didn't go anywhere. I proposed it again when I worked for TI in Dallas,
but it went nowhere once again. (I've seen similar products on the
market recently, but none of them seem to sell very well.)

Q: How do you feel about the fact, people are still using TI's and
software you wrote?

A: Astounded. In fact, I have a hard time believing that it could be

Q: Did you ever attended any users group meetings or fairs?

A: No.

Q: Did you work on site at Lubbock?

A: Yes, from spring 1978 to spring 1979.

Q: How do you think a full blown TI stacked up to other computers in say

A: Technically, it was probably equal to or better than the other units
that were available at the time. But because of TI's short-sighted
policies, there was so little software available that the TI was
practically useless. It was very frustrating.

Q: Did you ever see TI using 4a's for "internal" use, such as terminals
or production controls?

A: Nope.

Q: Do you remember how speech was created?

A: I was never involved in that.

Q: How did you create music?

A: I never had any tools, I just typed the frequencies into the
programs. As I mentioned earlier, I simplified the process in GPL by
creating a set of equates. And although I haven't looked at TI BASIC in
many years, my recollection is that it included some commands for
entering frequencies and durations. I can hear music in my head, it's
just a matter of entering the notes and playing them back to make sure
that they sound right.

Q: Since you wrote the docs for the 99/8, how much did you get to play
with one?

A: I don't think I ever saw one, I'm pretty sure that I was working from
a product specification.

Q: What projects did you work on while you were in Dallas working for

In no particular order:

* I wrote a manual for a module called "Mind Challengers."

* I contributed to something called the "Computer Awareness Program: TI
* Home Computer Activity Book."

* I worked on the documentation for "Editor/Assembler," but I seem to
* recall that it was taken over and completed by Bob Whitsitt, one of
* the writers in Lubbock.

* I programmed some Christmas Carols in BASIC. I seem to recall that TI
* distributed them, but I'm not sure how.

* I programmed "Love Will Keep Us Together" in BASIC for my boss'
* appearance on a talk show with Toni Tennille (of "The Captain and
* Tennille," who had recorded the song). He started playing it as the
* show went to a commercial, and Toni started singing along with it,
* which was cool. (You have to remember how unusual it was for a
* computer to play music back then.) I've seen reports that said that
* the computer sang the lyrics, but that's not what happened.

* I programmed "Addition and Subtraction 1" for Scott Foresman.

* I wrote some original music for some module that involved aliens
* slowly chasing you around the screen (I think), but they ended up not
* using it. I've heard that they used the music somewhere else, but I
* don't remember where. (Sorry, it's been a long time.)

* I wrote a few calculator manuals, I have no idea which ones.

* I wrote a book on artificial intelligence for TI's "Understanding"
* series.

I'm sure I did other stuff, that's all I can remember off the top of my

Q: On the ending of the 99/4a - was it expected, or where people "in

A: I sure was. People were afraid that it was going to happen, but I
don't think many people expected it. Management did not tip their hand
-- as I recall, the stock predictably shot up after the announcement
(the Home Computer had caused TI to lose money for the first time in
their long history), and it would have created problems if the news had

Q: Did you get a chance to play with a ForTI music board?

A: Never heard of it.

Q: What do you remember about the 99/4a (990) simulator?

A: I have a mental image of a large metal device, maybe three feet tall,
with lots of switches. Pretty vague, huh? Hey, it's been a while. As I
recall, it was built and maintained by a group managed by a guy named CB

Q: Do you know who wrote the code that created the simulator?

A: No idea.

Q: What where the days like, when you worked at Lubbock?

A: Long. Lubbock was the most dismal place I've ever lived, there was
nothing to do. I worked very long hours -- not only because there was
nothing else to do, but because I was excited about the project. We all
thought we were creating something historic, so spirits were usually

Management, fun, Friday afternoon beer bashes? =)

I remember very few of those, I can only think of one after-hours party
the whole year I was there. The programmers would go out for lunch
together every couple of weeks, usually to Mama's Pizza (as I recall).

Q: Did you ever play with the wireless controllers for the 99/4?

A: No.

Q: Do you remember who was involved in making the 4a?

A: I'm not sure of what you mean -- it was manufactured in Lubbock,
where TI made most (and perhaps all) of their consumer products.

Q: Did you ever work with Lee Kitchens (he was the 99/4a production
manager) in Lubbock?

A: I remember him, but I never worked with him.

Q: How did you get hooked up with Disney to do ET?

A: That was Speilberg, not Disney.

When I started freelancing in early 1983, my first two major projects
were the 99/8 manual (which we've discussed) and "ET's Adventures on
Land." The ET games resulted from a contract between TI and Looking
Glass Software, a company started and run by Mary and Gary Schenck. (I
knew Mary because she had created most of the graphics for the early
99/4 modules; she was Dallas-based, but she had made frequent trips to
Lubbock while I was working there.) I believe that Speilberg had
licensed ET to TI for the programs, TI had contracted them out to
Looking Glass, and Looking Glass subcontracted one of them out to me. At
that distance, I never met any of the Speilberg folks, sorry.

Q: Scotts Foresman... How did you do this, do you work out of Chicago?

A: I was working in Dallas, but I made frequent trips to Glenview. The
Scott Foresman software effort was managed by Bob O'Dell, an ex-TI'er
with whom I had worked in Lubbock.

Q: Do you remember what TI's wordprocessor was called?

A: Not TI-writer that ran on the 4a, but the 990 one that was used to
create all the manuals and did what did you use to create the docs you

When I was in the documentation group, we created all of our
documentation on a Wang word-processing system.

Q: If the piece of music for the Demo module was original, what was it's
title? I'd really like to know.

A: It was called "MJ," after a girl I liked.

I've attached a MIDI version I created some years ago -- but I just
played it, and it doesn't sound quite right. It's supposed to have three
parts, but I hear only two. (Perhaps I have something configured
incorrectly on my PC, I don't play MIDI files very often.)

I've also attached the sheet music that I scanned into a few PDF files
for you, I'm amazed that I was able to find it.

Q: Is there any more information about using the 990 simulator that can
be provided. Ex: what OS, what kind of terminal, how much memory was
required to do the simulation, was it single or multi-user.

A: This is way beyond me, sorry. I seem to recall that it was
single-user, but I could be wrong.

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Last modified: Sun Jul 31 10:13:09 Eastern Daylight Time 2005