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Scott Adams: A Life In Text

2 Jun 2010

His name may not have the star power of Shigeru Miyamoto or Nolan Bushnell, but for fans of text adventures, the name Scott Adams is equally important. As the man who introduced interactive fiction to the home computer market, Adams lay the groundwork for a lineage of story games that’s still alive and kicking today.

In the days before Sierra and LucasArts held court over the adventure genre, when home computers were scarce and Zork could only be played on a mainframe, Scott Adams was one of the pioneers of a fledgling videogame industry. He’s best known for founding Adventure International in 1978 – the first company to sell adventure games – and going on to author nearly 20 interactive fiction titles over the next seven years. But his introduction to development came a decade earlier, when his Florida high school acquired a computer terminal in the late Sixties.

Scott Adams: A Life In Text“I was instantly hooked,” Adams recalls. “I got special permission to come to school before it opened and the janitor would let me in. I would stay after school until nine or ten in the evening and all my free time went to teaching myself programming.” Adams had never taken a programming class and had only the guidance of the University of Miami’s manual for the APL-360 computer language. “My first major program was a tic-tac-toe program that never lost. It took me at least a month or more to perfect.”

“I always thought of myself as a programmer that loved to play games and make them if there weren’t any to be played,” Adams describes himself. That was the situation in 1975, while Adams was attending the Florida Institute of Technology with his two younger brothers. At the time, playing a videogame meant heading to the pub with a pocketful of change or tapping into a corporate mainframe after hours. Home computers were unheard of, so Adams’ brothers built their own.

“My brother Richard was always fascinated with hardware,” Adams explains. “He purchased the chipsets for the computer and designed his own circuit boards. My brother Eric wrote a simple loader to allow hex codes to be entered into the system via TV typewriter.” The result may well have been the first 16-bit home computer, and the simple space shooter Scott created for it the first home computer game.

“I wrote the game in assembler, then hand-assembled it into machine language and painstakingly entered it into the machine.” Dubbed Scott’s Space Wars, the game used letters, asterisks, and other characters to depict ships and planets on screen. After college, Adams worked as a space object identification analyst at an Air Force radar station on Antigua. The radar was taken down at night, giving Adams an opportunity to tinker with the mainframe.

“In my spare time, I adapted a Fortran Star Trek game to run on the mainframes,” he recalls. “The game was designed to be played on a teletype machine, but I changed it to run on the video monitors that the radar systems used.” Adams believes this may have been the first game with graphics to run on a mainframe. He then moved into the private sector with a programming job at telecommunications company Stromberg-Carlson, where he encountered a little game called Colossal Cave Adventure.

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  • GamesTM Scott Adams profile is now online – the den of slack said:

    [...] website, and they have been putting some of their magazine content online. Yesterday they posted the profile article I wrote about Scott Adams for Issue 88. GamesTM is a British magazine and not readily available in the States, so this is the [...]

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