What is a dungeon?
February 9, 2016 5:19 AM   Subscribe

WRITE YOUR OWN FANTASY GAME FOR YOUR MICROCOMPUTER (PDF) is a beautifully illustrated guide to programming (what else) fantasy roleplaying games on early personal computer hardware, along with its companion WRITE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE PROGRAMS (also PDF), covering text adventures. Hat tip to the game design Tumblr Put Games Here for the original link.

If you're interested in other computer game fan material from the same era, the site wos.meulie.net has a wide range of scans: hand drawn and screenshot composited game maps, game advertisements, hardware pics, tape inlays for games, and magazines among other things.
posted by codacorolla (28 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent. I've got the Write Your Own Adventure Program book but not the fantasy game one. Usborne books from around that time were bloody wonderful, weren't they?
posted by dng at 5:39 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Those Usborne computing books basically taught me how to program, as I'm sure they did for plenty of UK folk of a certain age.

Coincidentally, they've recently released the whole series for free on their site.
posted by pinacotheca at 5:44 AM on February 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

My nine year old experience with this book:


Oh I wish I had that tape!

Thanks dad, it at least taught me to type before I knew cursive.

My cursive really sucks
posted by adept256 at 5:50 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is so wonderful, and sent me down the rabbit hole last night looking for this book, Creating Arcade Games on the Commodore 64, which I spent weeks poring over. The power to create sprites and to see them move across the screen was like being a preteen god! (including the need for godlike patience to wait for the tape drive to load and save.)
posted by mittens at 5:55 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

How many people did set out to build their own adventure game? Thinking back to my peers of those heady early days, it was quite a high percentage - and I'm talking about those who committed some time and effort to the endeavour. It seemed to be a pastime particularly appealing to those who'd bought more obscure hardware - one pal wrote his on a Tatung Einstein, another on a Memotech - although Spectrums were also common. I don't remember anyone doing one on a BBC Micro; they seemed to be fonder of arcade games.

One chap went the full hog and built his own language/dev system as part of the process. That had too high a tinker factor; he was constantly improving the game, then changing the language to better support the additions in the game, then rewriting the game to make better use of the language, and so on. Both got surprisingly good, both remained at best 75 percent finished from shippable (he did have every intention to do multiple games once he'd got to v 1.0 of the language.). I knew him for about three years in the mid-80s, and he was still at it when we lost touch; knowing him, he may well have ported it on and continued the work, but a mutual friend told me recently that he'd died last year and now I'll never know.

I had a couple of goes myself, but have far too short an attention span; I'd get bored not with creating the game but with whatever subgenre it was in. And then I got sucked into Essex MUD, and found any adventure where it was just you in there very dull indeed... before discovering PMC-MOO, with its in-game programming, which sparked one final flurry of world-building.

(A couple of weeks ago, I did have a look at The Witness, which confirmed absolutely that this particular fire was long, long since out.)
posted by Devonian at 6:18 AM on February 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

We didn't have Usborne books here, but David Ahl's Basic Computer Games was my jam. I still love George Beker's amazingly cluttered robot illustrations.
posted by phooky at 6:29 AM on February 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Coincidentally, they've recently released the whole series for free on their site.

That's awesome, thanks for linking it! The original link I followed on the Tumblog was to an Usborne hosted PDF, but I couldn't find where it was actually linked on the site, so I went with an alternate source (wos.meulie). I'll have to look through the other guides later today during a break.
posted by codacorolla at 6:36 AM on February 9, 2016

Oh my god I wish had I something like this when I was a kid. My 10 year old self's attempts at adventure games on the Atari 800XL effectively boiled down to lists of "if then" statements for every possible entry I could think of, grouped by line numbers (room 1 was lines 100-200, etc.)

The pro wresting league simulator I wrote years later was a freakin' masterpiece of GBASIC programming, though. Wish I still had a copy.
posted by charred husk at 6:37 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's lovely.

Now tempted to try and implement the thing and see how it holds up.
posted by Artw at 6:49 AM on February 9, 2016

This reminds me of being a kid and building a whole little world in a Redwall MUCK. It wasn't quite programming a game, but you got to create whole little virtual text worlds with stuff in them and hang out with your friends there. I remember my father's mix of delight at my interest in computers and horror at my interest in talking with internet strangers, haha. It's crazy to think, but I'm friends on facebook with a guy I've never seen in person, who I first met at probably 12 years old in that MUCK.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:12 AM on February 9, 2016

David Ahl's Basic Computer Games was my jam

Yes! I was also kind of in love with Basic Computer Adventures (Appalachian Trail, there's ur walking simulator), Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer and Golden Flutes and Great Escapes. I also wound up with a book of Pascal games I can't recall or google up. I remember being amazed by the (* comments *) and just how clear and powerful the language was. Alas I had no Pascal compiler. Still, I could never look Applesoft BASIC in the eye again after that.
posted by nom de poop at 7:17 AM on February 9, 2016

Is this a great time to be alive and emulating, or what?
posted by scruss at 7:19 AM on February 9, 2016

David Ahl's Basic Computer Games

Thanks for bringing this up. I have fond memories of my father bringing home an Atari 400 from the Junior League and a copy of this book. I was around four years old, copying from the book and saving on cassette tape. Whenever anyone asks how I got into software development, I tell them that it was this book.
posted by synthetik at 7:20 AM on February 9, 2016

I have the sudden urge to go on eBay and find a Commodore 64 with all the trimmings.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:35 AM on February 9, 2016

Probably would only go as far as seeing how some of the flow charts work out done on JS, but it's tempting.
posted by Artw at 7:38 AM on February 9, 2016

Aw yeah, this is really great! I too was an early writer of adventure games. My dad got me Frank DaCosta's Writing BASIC Adventure Programs for the TRS-80 and I wore that sucker out. Just looking at the cover in the PDF I linked to is like my digital madeleine, making me remember endless hours of sketching out maps on graph paper and creating puzzle dependency charts.

Eventually I discovered the Adventure Game Toolkit, which led me to create my own adventure game language. Then my corner of Arkansas finally got the internet and I stumbled across TADS, which was way better than what I was designing at the time.

These kinds of books have led me to twenty years of writing interactive fiction. In fact, I'm working on an interactive story now, even if these days I've gravitated towards tools for choice-based fiction.
posted by sgranade at 8:55 AM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like the suggestion of "Hey, while you're carefully typing this program in line-by-line, make sure to convert it to your computer's BASIC dialect using the one-page cheat sheet we've provided. Yolo."
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:04 AM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

More flashbacks for C64: The Adventure Construction Set, where I tried to create a lovecraftian adventure set on Venus (once I finally had a disk drive, woo!), and looking for that one, I stumbled across Game Maker, which I don't believe I ever got working.
posted by mittens at 9:28 AM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh man - I wish I had this sort of thing back when I typed in programs on my CoCo. The book had a lot of data, but I really didn't understand DIM (maybe it was just too abstract a concept for me at the time, but I think it's more just a lack of good explanation). I think my biggest failure was not attempting to understand, but just wanting results so "type and see results" but not study. But yeah. This looks way more in depth in explanation of how this worked than I remember my book explaining.
posted by symbioid at 10:02 AM on February 9, 2016

Let UNIX not be left out: Dungeon Definition Language

Today we'd probably consider this some form of XML.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:34 AM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is another of those threads where I have a lot to add, but I have to go do something else right now, and hopefully I get back to it to contribute before it cools off and no one reads anything I write.
posted by JHarris at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The National Museum of Computing in England has a wonderful collection of books like these, which you can browse through at your leisure. And a computer lab full of BBC Micros! It's amazing.

I'm remembering installing the Smaug MUD and trying to build a world in it. That was fun. I probably would have been a lot better at it if I'd had those Usborne books.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:06 PM on February 9, 2016

I actually came here to post the usborne link which someone emailed to me! Imagine finding this just down the front page! *shakes fist at codacorrola*
posted by marienbad at 2:33 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

My daughter is loving Scratch right now. This might be a perfect segue into Python or Javascript.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:43 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had both these books. The adventure one was my favorite even though the cat pissed on it almost immediately - I kept that stinky, stained book for years and eventually produced a couple of elaborate text adventures for my friends to ignore on the Apple ][

For a while I despaired that today's generation were not learning programming the way we did in the 80's, but frankly the amount of game modding and web hacking that teenagers have access to these days is better than we could dream of back then.
posted by AndrewStephens at 5:21 PM on February 9, 2016

I have the adventure one and I wrote a few things from it. Then, one day, I logged onto TinyTIM and, next thing you know, I was in Delaware, wearing a sheriff's badge and one of those white jackets from the Love Boat. Then a guy from the mid-west saw the sea for the first time and walked down the beach towards it. He didn't stop when he hit the water and he kept on walking, further and further, into the largest expanse of water he'd ever seen. Then we went go-karting and I learned the true way to pronounce 'Snuh'.

I'm a little too scared to read it again.
posted by nfalkner at 8:39 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

codacorolla: I'm sure a mod/admin/Grand High Arbiter will edit your original post for you if you message them, although you may have to perform such sacred rituals as The Paddling of the Swollen Ass (With Paddles).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Metafilter charged for the ability to edit front page posts, it'd become richer than Google.
posted by BiggerJ at 10:40 PM on February 9, 2016

To people who don't want to type: most of the games from Usborne's books are listed in italics at the top of the list here. Use an emulator like Klive to run them. The command to load the first program the computer finds is inputted like so: type J, then Shift-P twice (type F2 in Klive to see the wonder that is the Spectrum keyboard). Press enter, then use the menu bar to play the virtual 'tape'. Klive, at least, has speed controls that'll let you skip the classic experience of waiting for a tape to load.

Some notes: if the main World of Spectrum site's games disappear, they'll still be on the WoS Meulie archive, of which there is also a Gopher version accessible by modern rowsers via proxy. (Latter link discovered via user protorp) We're just all up in ancient technology today, aren't we?
posted by BiggerJ at 4:38 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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