Wander among fields once lost
April 24, 2015 2:23 AM   Subscribe

You're at a crossroads in a shallow valley with fields of wild flowers on all sides. A large road goes north-south and a smaller road goes east-west. Although the gently rolling hills that surround you make it hard to see very far in any direction you can see a small, round hatch in the ground standing open nearby.
Before Adventure, before Colossal Cave, there was Peter Langston's Wander, a lost mainframe text adventure, lost no longer. More games may still await discovery locked inside mouldering computer tapes.
posted by MartinWisse (17 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
What is it with computer nerds' obsession with rolling hills and small, round hatches?
posted by fairmettle at 3:39 AM on April 24, 2015

If the hatches were square, the hatchcover could fall through.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:43 AM on April 24, 2015 [16 favorites]

What it is with everyone's obsession with trying to jam every single computer user into one box, labelled 'nerd'?
posted by nfalkner at 4:47 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Surely Adventure is Colossal Cave?

(550 point adventure on cp/m 80 FTW)
posted by deadwax at 5:00 AM on April 24, 2015

>> get dwarf

There is no dwarf here.

posted by thelonius at 5:21 AM on April 24, 2015

One thing which tickles me about this is that the game was known but presumed lost to the mists of time until someone thought to actually, oh I dunno, ask the person who wrote it, who promptly emailed them a working copy.

Sterling work, digital historians.
posted by Dext at 5:51 AM on April 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Based on the opening lines of the game, it sounds like it was based on Keith Laumer's sci-fi novels about extraterrestrial diplomacy, featuring Jame Retief.

(Edit: I see this is mentioned in the mouldering mainframe tapes link.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:06 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't read it as "promptly emailed them a working copy". Jason Dyer puts out a call for games he's looking for. Other people start digging. One person contacts Peter Langston, the original author of the Wander system, who shows up and says he'll check with his friends to see if any of them have the original source, since he doesn't.

Eventually Peter finds a friend who in turn had later versions of the game squirrelled away. Meanwhile, more digging turned up source code to four missing games made using the Wander system.

So, yeah, with no irony: sterling work, digital historians. With zero funding and in your spare time, you worked together to unearth a forgotten piece of early computer game history and start identifying and dating its evolution.
posted by sgranade at 6:11 AM on April 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

Surely Adventure is Colossal Cave?

Adventure/Colossal Cave became "Adventure 350", which became "Adventure 550", etc.
posted by effbot at 6:12 AM on April 24, 2015

Having been kicking around the interactive fiction community since the early 1990s, I'm excited to see us learning a lot more about those early games. This is of a piece with Dennis Jerz's work on ADVENT/Colossal Cave Adventure, which gave us a much better timeline of how Colossal Cave Adventure developed, as well as helping untangle the separate contributions of Will Crowther and Don Woods. It's great that we've got facts and scholarship to replace what we thought we knew from the equivalent of a decades-long game of telephone.
posted by sgranade at 6:24 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've written a short guide on getting ADVENT.FOR compiled and running on your PDP-11, in case you want to revisit the all-caps era of RT-11 on real or emulated hardware. On startup this version prints:
This program was originally developed by Willie Crowther.  Most of the
features of the current program were added by Don Woods (DON @ SU-AI).
The current version was done by Kent Blackett and Bob Supnik. 
                        - - -
Bug reports and other correspondence should be sent to: 
        Digital Equipment Computer Users Society 
        One Iron Way, MR2-3/E55
        Marlboro, Mass. 01752
        Attn:  Adventure Maintenance 
It seems doubtful that DECUS is still accepting bugs fixes or patches to the FORTRAN source via (physical) mail.
posted by autopilot at 7:17 AM on April 24, 2015

I worked in the same department as Peter Langston at Bell Communications research. He is a very clever man with a very child like sense of wonder.
The Internet Oracle was based on his work (I went to college with Lars and described it to him).
He wrote programs that could generate Mozart and Bluegrass banjo.
He organized computer Go tournaments and created one of the first non brain dead algorithms.
He built an dial-up computer music demo where when you called in a DECTalk would answer, "Bell Communications Research... ... ...Yes operator, I will accept the charges!" Before going into the demo.
He wrote Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer for Lucasfilm games.
posted by plinth at 7:33 AM on April 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

That is awesome.

The CRPG Addict has been reviewing early mainframe games via playthroughs on Cyber1.

He mentions a game from the same year:
m119h (1974): The lost "first CRPG," created in the same year that Dungeons and Dragons was released. Its existence is attested by an article on the Cyber1 server by Dirk Pellett. No one seems to remember what it looked like. It was deleted shortly after creation by an administrator on the system. Man, screw that guy.
I get the impression all of these early games were each developed in their own little mainframe pools, unaware of each other.
posted by ignignokt at 8:02 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The current version was done by Kent Blackett and Bob Supnik.

posted by The Bellman at 8:16 AM on April 24, 2015

Man, I clicked that third link and for a moment got disoriented and thought "Am I on new metafilter subsite... dedicated to retro computing/interactive fiction?!"
posted by jjwiseman at 10:10 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I get the impression all of these early games were each developed in their own little mainframe pools, unaware of each other.
You are in a pool of twenty little mainframes, all different.
posted by Fruny at 11:51 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

You are in a pool of twenty little mainframes, all different.

That made me imagine a game. One which starts off in the grassy field, rolling hills, mailbox in front of you, white house off to the side. Goes in the traditional early text adventure way, but somehow the other users' activities start to bleed in. And the endgame involves the player trying to stymie the sysadmin from killing her processes and deleting the game, while simultaneously solving the in-game puzzles so she can reach the ending before it's all wiped. A race against time because root can only be slowed but never stopped.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:08 PM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

« Older Sherlock's One Weird Trick   |   Pink Flamingos, Palm Trees, and Class Warfare Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments