Player 4 Stage 1: The Productivity Eaters

Due to the limitations of the early mainframe and microcomputers, silent text will be the domain for the first computer games. This turns out to be really no limitation at all.

Hunt the Wumpus - Gregory Yob 1972

You hear bats. You feel a draft. You smell a Wumpus.

Along with a mainframe Star Trek adventure game, the next widely popular computer game after Spacewar is Hunt the Wumpus aka Wump, developed by Gregory Yob on a Time-Sharing System at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth in 1972. A text based game, you move around a system of connected caves, armed with only five arrows, searching out the elusive Wumpus creature which is also roaming about. In each room you are given clues to happenings in the surrounding may feel a draught from one of the lethal bottomless pits scattered around, hear a pack of bats that will carry you away to a random cave, or even smell the mighty beast itself. The object is to fire an arrow into the room which contains the Wumpus.

The code is eventually published in the magazine Creative Computing in 1975, after the game becomes a huge hit over the ARPAnet. You can't throw a brick at the Web without hitting six online Wumpus games nowadays. Probably the most complex, with graphics and a multi-player element, is Web Wumpus from Glenn Bresnahan at Boston University.


Hunt the Wumpus Medley

External Links: - Web Wumpus

Adventure - Willie Crowther/Don Woods 1972, 1973

You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.

Adventure aka ADVENT aka Colossal Caves is the next logical evolution of computer games, a complete text-based adventure game by Willie Crowther. It is written in FORTRAN on the venerable PDP-1 in 1972 while Crowther is working for Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc. (BBN), the Boston company made up mostly of MIT students, which is awarded the contract to develop the ARPAnet for the U.S. government. Crowther is also part of the software team for BBN's IMP, or Interface Message Processor, the original nodes used to connect the ARPAnet. Crowther is inspired by the new fantasy themed paper-and-dice game Dungeons and Dragons which is extremely popular with the university crowd. More inspiration comes from his adventures as an avid spelunker. In Adventure, you must explore the vast Colossal Caves and return to the starting point with as many treasures as you can. The locations are based on his and his ex-wife's exploration of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky, and their divorce is further impetus for Crowther to fill his time programming the game. Some fanciful D&D; type magic is added into the mix for good measure. The following year, at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab at Stanford University, the game is discovered and expanded on by Don Woods, with Crowther's permission. The original parser in the game is a rudimentary "verb-noun" structure, but the descriptions are very compelling. Again, access to the mainframe running the program through the ARPAnet allows the program to become very popular among university students across the country.


Adventure - Crowther/Woods 1972

External Links: - Don Woods' Web Page
Web-based version of Adventure, with a slight graphical component

Acknowledgements - Some images and information came from the following sources, in no particular order:

Don Wood's Home Page
The Colossal Cave Adventure page

Zork (1980) and Infocom

You were eaten by a Grue.

Two such students are Dave Lebling and Marc Blank, at MIT. Lebling has already created his own take on the venerable Spacewar! by Steve Russell, as well as coding Maze, a graphical game where two players move around a maze shooting each other. In order to assist with his obsession with Dungeons and Dragons, he writes a D&D assistance program to automate bookkeeping for the game. He also collaborates with Blank and another programmer, Tim Anderson, to create a trivia game that users can contribute to and holds a database of over 1000 questions. After solving Adventure, Lebling programs a parser system comparable to it in MDL (muddle) code and Blank and Anderson write a 4 room game around it. This first preliminary experiment is discarded, but Lebling, Anderson and fellow student Bruce Daniels soon begin work on a more serious attempt. They devise maps and more intricate problems to be solved. The project is labeled Zork, a nonsense word they use to describe all coding works-in-progress. When they finish their first pass at the program in 1977, they have a working game about half the size of what eventually becomes Zork I, but in place are most of the trappings of the soon-to-become-legend Great Underground Empire, including the dreaded Grue, a dark-dwelling creature borrowed by Lebling from the fantasy works of Jack Vance.

Sitting on MIT's PDP-10, Zork (briefly re-named Dungeon before possible trademark infringement questions arise) undergoes the obligatory mass dissemination across the ARPAnet. Hundreds of users become fixated on the game, and the developers use the many suggestions that pour in for improvements and puzzle additions to the game. Trying to prevent their exposure to the outside world for as long as possible, the Zork group incorporates a new company, Infocom. The final puzzle is added to Zork in 1979, and as the game hits the one megabyte size wall the final mainframe update is made in 1981.

There is a market here.

Meanwhile, the microcomputer is born. As systems like Tandy's TRS-80 and the Apple II begin to catch on with the public, the Zork team sees a way that their new company could actually start selling something. Blank and friend Joel Berez start work on an ingenious system to move Zork from mainframe to home computer by creating a special language that would run on an emulator, able to operate in any computer environment. The Z-Machine is invented as a non-existent processor that will run the new, compressed Zork Implementation Language (ZIL). Each PC will run it's own Z-Machine Interpreter Program (ZIP) to interpret the Z-Machine instructions and run the games. But Zork is still way too large to fit into the minuscule memory limitations of home computers, so a large section is taken from the overall program to become Zork I.

You see a Zork.

In 1979, after extensive refinements and bug testing, Infocom starts to shop Zork I around for a distributor. They find one in Personal Software Inc., aka Visicorp (makers of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for PCs), and Infocom cashes their first royalty cheque as Zork I for the TRS-80 hits the streets in time for Christmas. In 1980, working for Apple, Bruce Daniels creates a ZIP for the Apple II. 6000 copies of Zork I sell for the machine in eight months. In all, one million copies of Zork I sell world-wide for a wide variety of computer platforms. While working on the sequel, the Infocom group becomes unhappy about PS's lackluster support for Zork I, and decide to publish the games themselves. Bringing on marketing manager Mort Rosenthal, they set up offices and make their debuts as software publishers with Zork II. There are ten Zork games produced in total, and Infocom goes on to become one of the biggest computer game companies in the industry, making over 35 games for every mentionable personal computer platform.

This passage leads to a dead end.

But heading into the late 80's, faster processors and more RAM usher in improved graphics and sound, supplanting text as the canvas of game creation. Infocom is purchased by Atari VCS pioneers Activision in 1986 for 7.5 million, paid mostly in company stock options. In 1987, Infocom releases Beyond Zork, created by Brian Moriatry. It is the company's first game with a graphical user interface, along with an onscreen map that changes as the players move from room to room. It also explores the realm of the role playing game by assigning percentage statistics to such attributions as strength and dexterity. The player also has a choice of choosing between a male and female character, who is referred to personally throughout the game. It is followed up the next year by Zork Zero, designed by Steve Meretzky and continuing the march to integrated graphics. In 1993 Activision gives the GUE the full graphical treatment in the rather shaky Return to Zork, featuring all of the multimedia bells and whistles now available through the emerging CD-ROM market. 1996 sees the release of Zork: Nemesis, with the 360 degree "Z-Vision" graphics engine and an improved user interface. The game does, however, eschew the humour that made the original Zorks great for a more darker tone. Activision gets back on track with Zork: Grand Inquisitor in 1997, where the Zorky humour is back in full force. ZGI is the first in a planned new Zork trilogy to extend into the next millennium.

External Links:

Activision -



Acknowledgements - Some images and information came from the following sources, in no particular order:

XYZZYnews Home Page
Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe
The Interactive Fiction Archive
Box shot Return to Zork (Box shot - Front) | Abandonia -
Faye's Shrine of Zork
Electronic Games article

Adventureland - Adventure International 1978

Enter Adventureland

While Zork is sitting on a mainframe at MIT in 1977, systems programmer Scott Adams (not the Dilbert creator) is an avid fan of mainframe interactive fiction such as Crowther and Wood's Adventure, and is convinced that text adventures can make the jump to the limited memories of microcomputers. To prove it, he works night and day writing Adventureland in TRS-80 BASIC. At one point, his neglected wife Alexis throws the disks containing the source code into the oven, hoping to catch her husband's attention. But the game survives the broiling, and in 1978 the first commercial text adventure is released by the newly Adams-founded company Adventure International. Available on tape, the game is a success, selling around 10,000 units. In a case of "if you can't beat em, join em", Alexis designs Scott Adams Adventure #4: Voodoo Castle.

Acknowledgements - Some images and information came from the following sources, in no particular order:

Scott Adams' Adventure game writer home page
The Interactive Fiction Archive


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