The Making of Karateka
The Making of Prince of Persia
I recommend reading them in order.
Once again it seems that releasing on the right platform at the right time is super important for success.
What does everyone think is the right platform right now (or emerging within the next couple of years), especially for an Indie title? People don't seem to play web games much anymore, Steam is flooded with junk, Mobile seems to be totally saturated, Nintendo Switch seems promising right now but it's starting to go down the same road as Steam. VR seems to be slow to get moving (and looks like it might remain a niche for several more years, at least). Are there any good options to get in at the right time like he did?
I read Mechner's journals a few years ago, and they were illuminating in how basically as an Indie developer at the time you needed not only the willpower and creativeness to make a game, but also have the connections/luck of getting it published (no Steam, no Apple Store... no Internet!) and you also had to dominate the technical aspect and know the underlying hardware, with very little information around (again, no Internet).
If you could manage all this (!) your game was going to be noticed, since there were not so many "good" games being released in general, much less masterpieces like PoP.
Nowadays, the barriers of entry are minimal, there are multi-platform engines with highly refined tools, with plenty of tutorials about pretty much everything, publishing is pretty much an automated process, that gives millions of people instant access to your game.
There was little chance a few years ago of a "good" indie title going unnoticed, nowadays it must be truly excellent to get the spotlight, and even then... it's easy to spot junk, much less to spot a great game in the middle of a sea of perfecty good ones.
That or the guts to take the risk and invest one's own (or, even worse, lent) money.
I was 12-13 back then. It was fun.
Still, I assumed a cartridge to be a simple ROM with a plain addressing scheme, which it wasn't. Only a year after that I've read an EE book with occasional NES architecture details which all made sense in the context of my experiments.
That's why I've taught my son to program with a simple self-designed embedded system first. You can almost physically see its parts moving, no black magic involved.
We used it to drive our Christmas lights the last time, then to make some simple platform games. I was trying to make MicroPython run on this board without much success, so we'll probably have to drop it in favor of full-featured Python.
There was a lot of bugs in this thing, which made it even more fun to use.
(After a little googling, it seems like the Apple II joystick was analog and kinda shitty in the way that early analog joysticks always were for some reason, so that may explain it as well. The C64's Atari-type sticks were not nearly as sturdy as one would wish, but they performed very well while they lasted.)