LAND (1989) — a lost MUD recreated

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I’ll admit it: I don’t know very much about MUDs. (Nor am I familiar with the various spinoffs — the MUCKs, MOOs and MUSHes — that proliferated in the early days of the Net.) Many years ago, I would occasionally peek over the shoulder of someone who was engaged in playing one of those new-fangled online multiplayer games, only to shake my head in bewilderment at the strangeness of what was essentially a bunch of people who’d never met in real life, chattering away on the internet by laboriously typing and sending messages to each other in plain text. It seemed boring and weird and I was convinced it would never catch on.

Today, of course, MUDs are practically ancient history, if you’re reckoning in tech years. They were the precursors to a multiplayer online gaming industry which is worth billions of dollars, but which has apparently left the world of pure text far behind.

So, it’s quite possible that I would never have had any reason to even think about MUDs again — if it hadn’t been for an improbable set of circumstances that brought them crashing into my orbit and into contact with what has become the mainstay of this irregular blog of mine: text adventure games on the 8-bit BBC Micro computer.

You see, a wide-eyed dreamer called Darren Higgs recently got it into his head that it might be a good idea to recreate one of the earliest MUDs as a single-player text adventure game on the BBC Micro — and he actually did it, too. It’s called LAND, and you can play it online right now:

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The opening text of the BBC Micro port of LAND

 

History

LAND was originally a MUD that ran on the DEC mainframe computer at the University of Essex in the 1980s and 90s. The mainframe version of LAND was written by Darren Higgs (alias Toodleoo), Jonathan Cornell (Arnie), Bret(t) Giddings (Bret), and Richard Thombs (Zarf) — and it was Darren Higgs who, in 2020, ported the game to the BBC Micro.

Before LAND, the legendary Essex University mainframe had hosted the original MUD, known as MUD1, which was created by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle in 1978. Professor Bartle, now a popular writer and speaker on gaming and virtual worlds, licensed MUD1 to Compuserve in 1987, which meant that the only MUD that was left running on the Essex mainframe was MIST, a “derivative” of MUD1 with “similar gameplay”.

It was around this time that Darren Higgs enrolled at Essex and, already being a fan of text adventuring on the BBC Micro from a young age, eventually found his way to the computer lab to see if he could have a go at this much-fabled MUD thingy that even the Beeb magazines couldn’t help talking about. Darren himself takes up the story on the Stardot forum:

 

Conversion

The experience of playing MIST at Essex — and then of creating his own MUD on the same machine, using Trubshaw and Bartle’s MUDDL programming language — obviously had a lasting impact on Darren because, decades later, he decided to recreate LAND for the retro scene on what was presumably one of his favourite home computers, the venerable Beeb.

On the mainframe, LAND featured over 200 rooms, lots of puzzles, and various “mobiles” or NPCs that players could fight in order to level up in their quest for the prized status of wizardhood. Also, like any MUD, LAND was, at heart, a multiplayer game — but the multiplayer feature would clearly have to be the first thing to dump in the re-engineering of LAND if it was to run on a standalone 8-bit machine (or an emulator thereof) which boasted a whopping 32 kilobytes of user memory and a 2MHz processor.

But even if you accept that the multiplayer experience has to go, squeezing the game into the Beeb is still a lot to ask. But Darren had an answer. Working from his original maps and notes, he wrote some bespoke text-compression routines in BBC BASIC; developed a custom “adventure engine” — a hand-written program in assembly language, targeting 6502 machine-code; and made use of seven banks of Sideways RAM.

Sideways RAM (SWRAM) is an ingenious bit of vintage machine architecture — or, as Wikipedia more prosaically puts it, it was “Acorn’s bank-switching implementation” — and it allowed the humble Beeb to “page in” one of a number of different memory banks, each containing 16 kilobytes’ worth of RAM, as and when a program needed it — and to page it out again after use.

LAND requires seven banks of SWRAM to be available — expanding the memory in the Beeb to a mind-boggling 140K or thereabouts — and that’s a quantity that was never found in actual BBC Micros back in the day, but in our current era of powerful and ubiquitous computing, one thinks nothing of configuring an emulator with the requisite mnemonic heptad. Certainly, Matt Godbolt’s BBC Micro emulator in JavaScript, JSBeeb, can provide you with seven banks of SWRAM without even breaking sweat, and it allows you to play LAND in most browsers wherever and whenever you want:

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The Inform 7 website is [no longer] down

For the last few days inform7.com has been unavailable. The site is the official host of the Inform 7 IDE.

UPDATE: I’ve been informed that the outage is due to an unexpected error that affected the CMS for the Inform 7 website and that work is underway to try to bring the site back online as soon as possible.

 

I tweeted Emily Short and the IFTF Foundation to ask if they knew about the outage, and I got these replies:




I assume that the outage is due to Graham Nelson preparing the site for the upcoming changes to Inform that he announced at the recent NarraScope conference, but as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been any official warning about the outage, nor a full explanation of the reason for it, beyond the tweets I’ve quoted above.

The upshot is that if you want to download and use the current version of Inform 7 right now, you can’t. Which seems a bit of a shame.

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One Room (1983) — the first one-room game?

One Room is a text adventure game written by Jorge Mir for the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was published as a program-listing in the first Rainbow Book of Adventures in 1983.

One Room is set in a single room (duh), in which the player-character is trapped. The object of the game is to escape from the room. One Room is therefore a contender for the title of First Ever Room-Escape Game. (Or maybe not.) It might even be the first text adventure game to be set in a single room. (But possibly not.)*

Although the published program-listing contains several bugs — which are documented at the Gaming After 40 blog (for which I’m extremely thankful) — the game is nevertheless intriguing and full of quirky ideas. It’s constructed around an innovative plot device. It comes with a built-in HELP system. It includes a surprising miscellany of objects that you can manipulate. And it’s of historical interest not only because it might be the first game of its kind but also because of the way that certain objects in the game tie in to the Tandy / Radio Shack retail empire as it was in the 1980s.

• You can play One Room online in your browser at bbcmicro.co.uk: I’ve ported the original program to BBC BASIC and fixed a few bugs to boot. (More details about the port can be found at the Stardot forum.)

• One Room also has entries at CASA (solutionarchive.com) and at the Interactive Fiction Database.

• My YouTube video features a quick playthrough of the first part of the game.

• A disk-image of the original TRS-80 version of the game is also available. It can be played in JS Mocha, the online TRS-80 CoCo emulator.


* There are people who argue that One Room isn’t actually a one-room game. Those people are wrong. Nevertheless, in the manner of the BBC (clinging white-knuckled to the dogma of “balance” while giving airtime to people whose opinions would make even Sauron blanch†), I’ve decided to entertain the dissenters. Their argument seems to be that if the source code of One Room implements six distinct “locations” then it shouldn’t really be considered a one-room game at all. But what they fail to appreciate is that describing One Room as a single-room game and as a game that implements multiple locations isn’t a contradiction. A game can be both of those things at the same time. Note that in One Room you can stand in one “location” while you pick up an object in another location — which isn’t exactly normal for a game that’s not about Elastigirl. Clearly, the “locations” in One Room aren’t so much separate places as different parts of the same place, and that’s how they’re described to the player: “I am facing the north wall” or “I am looking at the floor” for example. Plus, there’s the almost too-obvious-to-mention fact that the program is referred to as a one-room game several times in the Rainbow Book of Adventures itself, including in the actual source code. What more do you need, for crying out loud? I mean, the game’s literally called One Room! If you’re going to reclassify it as No Longer A Single-Room Game, then you’ll have to check all 189 games tagged “single room” on IFDB too. And make sure you triage every entry in the L’avventura è l’avventura (One Room Game Competition) as well…

†  I was trying to exaggerate for comic effect. (Yes, the best jokes are the ones that need explanatory footnotes.)

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Maze of Madness (2018) — a torment

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Maze of Madness is a modern game for an ancient computer (namely the 8-bit BBC Micro, which this blog seems to endlessly bang on about).

Well, I say “game”, but it’s more of a demo – a demo of a rather cruel puzzle. But it is actually solvable, if you spot the trick.

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Mathbrush, the Official Unofficial Historian of IF, said that he’d never come across any other game that uses the gimmick that’s used in MoM. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is not for me to say. Because unfortunately I’m the author.

You can play the game online.

More details about the game can be found at Stardot, at CASA, and at IFDB.

 

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Xanadu Adventure (1982) — shop till you drop

Xanadu Adventure is a text adventure game that was written for the BBC Micro by Paul Shave in 1982. Typically for the time, Shave was strongly influenced by Crowther and Woods’s Colossal Cave, and Xanadu therefore featured the requisite stream, grating, and forest-maze… But there was little chance that any jaded adventurers would be bored by these all-too-familiar surroundings because before they could start exploring the game they were forced to go shopping.

The game opens with a list of miscellaneous items including weapons, torches, food, and, um, postcards. And each item is given a price. You’re then told that you have “125 shillings to spend”, and it’s up to you to decide exactly how to spend it — although initially you have no idea which of the items are going to be of any use.

The adventure shop and the player’s limited spending power were just a couple of ways in which Xanadu Adventure distinguished itself from the average ADVENT clone. Another was that it had a two-player mode. This didn’t involve the use of RS-423 cables or multiple BBC Micros as in Graham Nelson’s Escape From Solaris, which I wrote about previously. Xanadu‘s two-player mode required players to make a fixed number of moves, alternately, on the same computer. Players could ally and combine their weapon-count to fight monsters, or they could turn around and beat the hell out of each other instead. (The latter was the more popular choice with the playtesters of the game, who happened to be the author’s sons.)

But Paul Shave had more tricks up his sleeve. He decided to introduce randomness into Xanadu and, in the process, created what might well be the first CRPG on the BBC Micro. This, I now realise, is a wonderful thing. But it caused me no end of stress when I first started playing the game. Perhaps a list of some of the key features of Xanadu Adventure will help to explain why:

  • Random object-placement! Many of the objects in the game, including some of the treasures you have to collect, are placed in random locations when you start a new game. One of the most important objects is the spare cash, which in some new games doesn’t seem to be anywhere at all (though it actually is)! The problem of having to slog around the map because of random treasure-placement is compounded by…
  • Random dwarves and dragons! They pop up when you least expect it, and you have to kill them (the dragons, at least) to move forward. And sometimes when you kill a dragon, you experience…
  • Random sword-breakage! After fighting a dragon, your sword may (or may not) get broken, so you have to trek all the way back to the blacksmith to get it re-forged. And all this trekking about, finding treasures and/or repairing swords, is particularly bothersome because of…
  • Limited light! The batteries in your torch eventually run out, so you need to go back to the shop, which is right at the beginning of the game, in order to buy some more — and no, you can’t buy them at the start of a new game because there’s a…
  • Limited inventory! There’s only a certain number of objects you can carry at one time. You can buy a bag to increase the inventory limit, but then you run into the problem of there being…
  • Limited cash! You get 125 shillings at the start of the game, most of which you have to spend straight away on weaponry and light. There is some extra cash you might come across later, but you can never be sure where or when that will be because of…
  • Random object-placement! (REPEAT UNTIL FALSE…)

If for some reason you want a deeper understanding of how Xanadu Adventure can not only amaze and impress but also drive a player to the brink of despair, then see my walkthrough video, above.

I have to admit that it might be slightly unfair of me to harp on about the relentless, exhausting unpredictability of Xanadu — because the randomness did actually lead to some interesting emergent behaviour, which I was able to exploit to make my adventuring a little easier: see the “To Catch A Dragon” section of the video, for example, which surprised even the original author.

See also the entry for Xanadu at CASA (solutionarchive.com), which links to my written walkthrough (which I now know to be flawed — because Xanadu).

There are further details about the game at Stardot.

And you can play Xanadu Adventure online at bbcmicro.co.uk.

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Escape From Solaris (1984) by Graham Nelson

Previously I wrote about The Discovery, which is the first of two works of interactive fiction (known together as Galaxy’s Edge) that were written for the 8-bit BBC Micro in 1984 by Graham Nelson.

The Discovery is, more or less, a conventional single-player text adventure game. But the second game, Escape From Solaris, is for two players. It can be played either in split-screen mode on a single BBC Micro, with players taking alternate turns at the keyboard, or, unusually, on two BBC Micros connected together with a serial communications cable (RS-423).

This early form of “networked gaming” was an innovation. In fact, Escape From Solaris is the only Beeb game I know of that works in quite this way. (I did manage to find a BBC Micro version of Battleships that also used RS-423 comms between two Beebs, but Solaris is probably the only text adventure to do so.)

I’d been wanting to try to get the game running on two machines for quite a while, and last year I finally got around to it (after taking ages to realise that the way the comms lead had to be wired up was actually rather obvious). See the YouTube video above. Thanks to Lee for letting me borrow his setup and for helping me demo the game.

If you want to try Escape From Solaris yourself, you can play the game in an emulator in your browser, but only in split-screen mode in a single window (because networked Beebs are not included):

Play Escape From Solaris online

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Skill, Stamina and Luck

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In February 2016, the BBC broadcast a radio documentary about interactive fiction called Skill, Stamina and Luck. It focused largely on gamebooks like Fighting Fantasy, Choose Your Own Adventure, and some interesting historical examples — but it also took in parser fiction (text adventure games) and Twine.

To accompany the programme, the BBC created an interesting “interactive audio history of interactive fiction” in the form of a Twine web app, which included a simulation of a play-by-telephone adaptation of a Fighting Fantasy book and many audio clips of interviews, some new and some from the archive, with people like Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone, Andrea Phillips and Emily Short.

(The Twine also included the audio from this episode of Micro Live, in which the BBC visited the offices of Infocom.)

The Twine app had been taken down from the BBC website, but it’s now been made available again by Steve Alderton, Content Producer for the BBC Taster pilots.

Try it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/taster/projects/skill-stamina-and-luck

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Galaxy’s Edge (1984) by Graham Nelson

[UPDATE: You can now play Galaxy’s Edge online.]

Galaxy’s Edge is a two-part text adventure game created in 1984 for the 8-bit BBC Micro computer by Graham Nelson. I believe it was this Graham Nelson, the creator of the interactive-fiction programming language Inform – at least, people seem to think it was him. [UPDATE: It definitely was.]

Loading screen

Loading screen for Galaxy’s Edge, part 1

Part 1 of Galaxy’s Edge is a conventional but well constructed adventure in which you roam the stars in the Scout Ship Orion and unravel an intergalactic mystery.

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Screenshot of the beginning of The Discovery, the first part of Galaxy’s Edge

The second part, Escape From Solaris, is an ingenious two-player game which was designed to be run either on a single machine, in split-screen mode, or on two separate BBC Micros connected together by a special cable (the wiring diagram for which now seems to be lost, together with all other original documentation).

GE duo

Screenshot of Escape From Solaris, the second part of Galaxy’s Edge

I don’t think Galaxy’s Edge was available to play or download anywhere till now. I recently grabbed a rare copy of the cassette tape that came up on eBay, and I converted the contents so that the game could be played in a BBC Micro emulator like BeebEm.

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My copy of the Galaxy’s Edge cassette tape

Here’s a link to a BBC Micro disk image containing a transfer of my copy of the game.

I don’t know enough about the author’s oeuvre to be able to draw out any clever thematic connections between this early work and his subsequent legendary output. (Assuming I’ve got the right Graham Nelson, that is – I’m still not absolutely sure that I have. If you can confirm or deny the attribution, then please let me know. [UPDATE: Confirmed.])

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A 1984 magazine review of Galaxy’s Edge

I’ve played the first part of Galaxy’s Edge – the single-player game The Discovery – and I’ve managed to get promoted, but I know that’s not the best possible result. Can you do better..?

Screenshot of The Discovery, the first part of Galaxy's Edge,

Screenshot of The Discovery, the first part of Galaxy’s Edge


Here’s the entry for Galaxy’s Edge at CASA, the Classic Adventure Solutions Archive: http://solutionarchive.com/game/id%2C6142/Discovery.html

And here’s another game for the BBC Micro that might possibly have been written by the same Graham Nelson: http://www.tnelson.demon.co.uk/cc/

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The Secret of Arendarvon Castle (1985) — bytecode avant la lettre

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[Play Arendarvon Castle online] [backup]

In previous posts, I wrote about Wander (1974), the interactive fiction creation tool for mainframe Unix systems. But my speciality (I use the word laughably) is text adventure games for the BBC Micro, the legendary 8-bit microcomputer that helped kickstart the 1980s home-computing revolution in the UK. (The story of its creation has been immortalised on film.)

The Secret of Arendarvon Castle by Arend Rensink is a text adventure game that was written not just for the BBC Micro but also for the Sinclair Spectrum, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the IBM PC. The game was notable for several reasons.

Bytecode

Firstly, the fact that there were versions for so many different systems can be explained in part by the way that the game was implemented — as a sort of bytecode. The bytecode ran on a small virtual machine, and there was a different version of the virtual machine for each of the home computers that the game was released for.

If you know about Infocom’s virtual Z-machine then you’ll find the concept familiar, but, as the author Arend Rensink told me after I asked him about the similarity, his own bytecode, ALADIN, was an independent invention:

It was independent; in fact, this is the first time I’ve heard of the Z-machine at all. Yes, I agree that it looks like essentially the same idea, and clearly they [Infocom] were there before. Well, in my defense I can claim that literature research was somewhat more cumbersome back then…

The idea of portable bytecode was a good one, but, in practice, it seems not to have worked out exactly as intended:

… the encrypted [data, much of which] is … a kind of bytecode avant la lettre … is … different from one computer to the next. That’s really a pity, for it means that your work will not be reusable [on machines other than the BBC Micro]. I suspect it might have something to do with memory layout differences, but I do not remember …

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A program listing from The Secret of Arendarvon Castle

Type-ins

The “work” that Arend mentions is my cue to talk about the form in which Arendarvon Castle was distributed. As wasn’t uncommon in the 1980s, the game was published in the form of a BASIC program listing in a book, which you were supposed to type in by hand.

Yes, that’s right. You were meant to spend hours painstakingly typing and checking and re-checking and cursing and crying your way through the listing till every single line — sometimes hundreds of them — and every single command, string, and colon had been entered into your computer in exactly the same way that it had been printed in the book. And even then, when you were absolutely sure you had corrected your every last typo, the program often wouldn’t work because there had been a printing or typesetting error that hadn’t been caught before the book went to press.

Checksums

Although there was no way to guarantee that a listing would be free of printing errors, Arend Rensink came up with one innovation for Arendarvon Castle that at least made it easier to spot when you yourself had made a mistake: checksums. The book included a program that would detect whether the bytecode that you’d typed in, which appears in the listing as long sequences of unintelligible numbers and letters, had an error in it. This was a godsend, which saved you a lot of time and bug-hunting eye-strain, and I can personally attest to that because I used the checksum program when I and another willing scapegoat recently sat down to input the listing into a BBC Micro emulator.

Thankfully, we weren’t typing everything in by hand. Arend had already put scans of his whole book online, including the listings, and it was those scans that we initially tried to go by. But they soon proved to be of too low a resolution to be useable. So I contacted Arend and told him of our plight, and he very kindly supplied higher-quality scans of the listings, and even OCRed them for us. The OCRing wasn’t perfect, but it was a start, and, with the help of the checksumming system, the game was soon up and running in BeebEm.

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The game we typed in can now be played online [backup]. As far as I know, this is the first time The Secret of Arendarvon Castle has been put online in English. (The game and the book were also published in German and Dutch.)

Where am I?

The game is unusual for a text adventure because the player doesn’t use compass directions to navigate her way through the locations in the game, but instead uses the commands LEFT, RIGHT, AHEAD and BACK. So you have to keep reorienting yourself whenever you enter a room.

In a conventional text adventure in which you move by going NORTH, SOUTH, EAST and WEST, you can usually go from, say, the South Chamber to the North Chamber by walking north, and then return to the South Chamber by going south. In Arendarvon Castle, you’d make the same round-trip by going AHEAD and then BACK but, on your return, all the exits from the South Chamber would effectively be “reversed”, so that whatever was RIGHT before you left the South Chamber will now be LEFT, and vice versa.

This makes for tricky gameplay, although you’d probably get used to it in time. I haven’t had the chance to find out, though, because I always seem to be on the hunt for new old games, and forever distracted from actually sitting down to play any of the ones I’ve already found!

Artwork

But perhaps Jason will add this one to his list of All The Adventures that he’s been playing his way through. If so, he’d be well advised to download the scans of the book that Arend Rensink intended the player to consult frequently while playing the game, because they contain a lot of supplementary — and in fact essential — material that you’ll need if you want to discover all the castle’s secrets.

The stories, journal entries, mock newspaper clippings and other documents in the book are the last — but not the least important — reason that The Secret of Arendarvon Castle is a noteworthy entry into the canon of classic text adventure games. The book is lavishly illustrated, by Bert Vanderveen, and the pictures, together with the detail in the accompanying text, conjure up an atmosphere full of occult intrigue that would surely have enticed many[1] a home micro user in the 1980s to take the plunge and start typing in those lines and lines of source code, one character at a time.

More details about The Secret of Arendarvon Castle, particularly its authorship, can be found here at CASA, the Classic Adventure Solutions Archive.

A disc image of the game suitable for loading into BeebEm, the BBC Micro emulator, is available here [backup].

UPDATE, January 2020: Some time ago (in 2015!), Bert Venderveen, who designed and illustrated the book, emailed me with some interesting background info:

Thirty years ago, sigh. I did not only (partly) illustrate that book, but also designed it, made the clippings etcetera. Was great fun, but I don’t remember much about that time. Just that Arend was a brilliant young man (18, I think at the time), whose father happened to be the toughest (and best) teacher I ever had in middle school (coincidence!).

The so called lead authors (Alex and Kasper) were also clients of mine in other fields. Alex had a software firm (Omikron) — I did a corporate identity for them and brochures and stuff like that — and Kasper became involved with the Dutch Open University and had me illustrate a few books there. He also bought a sporting goods store in Eindhoven, if I remember correctly — mostly as something to keep his son(s) on the straight and narrow. I think I did a logo for that.

I had a look at the scans of the book and was amazed about the amount of work that went into it. Mind you: the Mac was not a tool for designers then, everything was done by hand. I remember I had a load of basic layout-grids printed in non-repro blue on special coated paper stock, which make paste up a lot easier and faster. The code in the back was supplied to me in the form of matrix print out, which I divided into page lengths and slightly reduced on a photocopier before pasting them into the layouts.

The publisher (Addison-Wesley) did the conversions into German, I believe. They mashed up my cover design and used terrible lettering, really eighties’ style ; )

I had help from some friend/illustrators: Betty van Spijker (who is my neighbor now) and Wieger Slothouber, a great guy (in all respects, he was over 2 meters tall), who sadly passed away about fifteen years ago. Betty’s work is the more dreamy and soft, while Wieger was a master of dramatic shading and penwork. I did a lot of the semi-realistic stuff in airbrush and the cartoony/comic illustrations. And all the handwriting. I still own the fountain pen that is in the photo’s used in the character openings. I did the photography as well.

Well, thank you […] for sending me back to memory lane!
Feel free to add my info to your blog. I think it is amazing that folks play that game thirty years after it was published!

Many thanks for your insight into the making of Arendarvon, Bert!


[1] I say “many”, but in fact it’s not clear exactly how many copies of Arendarvon were sold. In Arend’s own words, “It’s certainly never been a rainmaker ;-)”

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Wander follow-up

Previously I wrote about Wander, the 1974 mainframe text adventure game-creation system by Peter Langston, which was recently rediscovered.

1You can now play Wander online.

This em-dosbox repackaging of a DOS port of Wander was created by me, using blunt instruments. (I broke the SAVE and RESTORE commands, for example.) Please contact me if you know how to improve my rather crude hack.

Which came first? Wander or ADVENT?

Some of the Wander “worlds” that were recently recovered are 1980s versions, and include features that were added in response to ADVENT. (Peter Langston was apparently a member of the “UNIX Adventure Tastefulness Committee”, which was convened to sort out “Various design questions” surrounding the conversion of ADVENT to UNIX.)

But the very first versions of Wander – which are still lost – date from 1974 or earlier, so you can’t help asking yourself (or at least I can’t) if Wander might have been an influence on the development of ADVENT, which was always thought to be the first work of interactive fiction on a computer.

Was Wander distributed widely enough for Will Crowther and/or Don Woods to have had the opportunity to see it before they wrote ADVENT?

If the answer is no, then that does that mean there’s something fishy going on? Surely two people couldn’t independently have come up with the idea of a textual game of exploration where you navigate using compass directions?

Um, why not? What else would you use, if not NORTH, SOUTH, EAST and WEST? Well, actually, you might use LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD and BACK – and there is at least one game that does: The Secret of Arendarvon Castle (of which more later).

Okay, so it is possible to make a text adventure game with a different set of navigational commands, but compass directions are probably easier for the player to use and for the programmer to implement. Also, for Will Crowther, compass directions might have been the natural choice when he was writing ADVENT because he was a caver who used a compass to map out underground cave systems in real life.

Non-deterministic non-linear story experiments

But what about Peter Langston? If he started working on Wander in or before 1974, did he implement compass directions from the beginning? We may never know – unless the earliest source code is found, which seems unlikely. (But perhaps Jason Dyer’s forthcoming blogposts will dig up some interesting artefacts from the code we already have.)

So, do we know anything else at all about the origins of Wander? Well, I did ask Peter that very question (before finally realising that I ought to leave him in peace now). His reply:

As to Wander’s inspiration, as I was writing other games, I got to thinking about the non-deterministic non-linear story experiments I had heard of the French doing in the 1920s, where the reader made choices that determined how the story went. I figured that fairytales like Rapunzel or science fiction like the Retief stories would be a good basis for such stories and computers would be the perfect way to present them, but it would require a great deal of programming skills along with the storytelling skills. So Wander was an experiment to see if the programming part could be made easier by pre-coding the common kinds of actions and consequences. I had the vague idea that I could make it easy to use and then coax some real authors like Robert Sheckley into writing some wanders. I never got that far, of course.

It’s a crying shame that we never got to see the words “A wander by Robert Sheckley” flash up on a computer screen!

I’m not sure exactly who the French writers that Peter refers to are. Raymond Queneau has been suggested for Un Conte À Votre Façon (1967), but that arrived several decades after the period indicated by Peter. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know.

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