Why would intelligent people, with access to massive amounts of computer power which could be doing something useful, want to bring their brainpower to bear on the problems of creating and exploring mythical landscapes? Why, when your computer could be earning its keep balancing your checking account, are you forcing it to control a game in which you battle fierce monsters in labyrinthine caverns, envoke magic spells, and uncover vast hordes of Elven gold?
The answer is obvious. Using your computer for serious things all the time is just plain boring. Trekking across alien landscapes, chopping up people with broadswords and axes, haggling with quasihumanoid creatures in off-world taverns, seems to many people a much better way to spend their time and their computer power.
If you want to add this kind of excitement to your computer, this book is for you.
Adventure games-with or without a computer-have not been with us for long. It was just over a decade ago, in 1974, when the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons was released. D " D (as it quickly became known) triggered an explosion of interest in role-playing games.
Fantasy games grew out of war games, which began life in the final years of the 18th Century as training exercises for real-life army commanders. After the First World War, many people took to playing war games as a hobby, reenacting famous battles and rewriting history as they played.
People all over the States were playing war games, forming into clubs which came together only to do battle. In Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a war gaming club made a slight departure from the norm, and started an explosion which is still reverberating around the world.
A team from this club, under Gary Gygax, devised a set of war game rules which set the clashes in a mythological, medieval setting where magic worked, dragons flew, and treasure in abundance lay around waiting to be claimed. The rules were published as Chainmail.
This was the first part of the mixture which brought fantasy gaming to critical mass. The second part was provided by Dave Arneson in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, who decided to set his battles in an underground dungeon. He used the Chainmail rules to manage the clashes his players had with wizards, warlocks and the rest. Dave and Gary, it appears, then got together to create a dungeon/gameplaying scenario called Greyhawk. They codified the rules, and put them together in a little book, and tried to have it published.
None of the established game companies were interested, so in 1974 Gygax formed a company-Tactical Studies Rules (TSR)-to publish the rules himself, under the name Dungeons and Dragons. The first printing sold out in less than 12 months.
Dungeons and Dragons fed a widespread hunger which had been primed by the success, in the previous decade, of such books as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. D " D succeeded beyond the developers' wildest expectations, with over a million sets of the rules-which gradually became more coherent and more complex as feedback from players was incorporated into new editions-sold in the next six years. But this was just the start.
It seemed inevitable that computers would get in on the act at some stage. Computer memory is the ideal tool for keeping track of the complicated rules, situations, and inventories that are part of fantasy games.
Back in the dim, dark days of the immediate past-before the era of microcomputers-access to computers was restricted and expensive. The only way you could use a computer was via a time-sharing system. You communicated with a vast, remote computer, via a noisy teletype keyboard. The computer was dealing-apparently simultaneously with scores, perhaps hundreds, of other users. It talked back to you by printing on the teletype. It was slow, inconvenient, and unless you were lucky to be able to access such a computer from work or college. very expensive. Access charges around $80 to $100 an hour were not unusual. Pretty obviously, this meant that game-playing and game-writing on computers was a pastime very few had the opportunity to pursue.
Two programmers (Will Crowther and Don Woods) got around the expense problem simply by appropriating computer time-which should have been used for such mundane tasks as aiding with the statistical analysis of the results of physics experiments-and using it for their own entertainment.
Working in the language Fortran (a forerunner of the BASIC language on your microcomputer), Crowther and Woods entered into history by writing the program Adventure. It was a mammoth work, plunging the player into a vast underground labyrinth which could take months to solve. Hundreds of thousands of man-hours were lost across the country as computer personnel neglected their work in obsessive drives to work their way through the underground labyrinth.
The original Adventure, and similar programs which followed it, demanded big, big computer memories. Memory was expensive in those days, and the first microcomputers had amounts which seem niggardly to us now. Scott Adams, an Adventure admirer, decided he would make the program fit into a TRS-80. Predictably, scornful laughter greeted his announcement of this grandiose aim.
Fortunately, Scott succeeded, and on that base has built what is probably the world's leading computer adventure software company (Adventure International). The Adams material is available for most popular computers, and its usefulness is enhanced by a "difficulty rating" which is printed on each pack. Pirate Adventure is the easiest. The difficulty ratings go from beginner to medium difficulty and end up with the daunting "Advanced Adventurers Only Need Apply."
Once Adams had shown it was possible to squeeze an adventure into the mini-memory of a microcomputer, many others followed. Groups of users formed clubs to share ideas on solving problems.
Some of the most fanatical of these groups are those involved in the adventure program Zork (and, more recently, Zork II and Zork III), produced originally by a computer group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Most adventure games (including those in this book) invite the player to either enter a single letter (such as "N" meaning the player wishes to move north) or a two-word verb/noun phrase (such as SLAY DRAGON) to tell the computer what to do next. Zork and many other recent adventures accept multiple-statement inputs such as GET THE AXE AND DROP THE LAMP THEN GO NORTH. The Zork group publishes hint sheets and maps, and even bumper stickers (HONK IF YOU LOVE ZORK?).
There are several "classic" concepts which lie behind the development of adventure programs. I've tried to incorporate all of them into this book, so the ideas you pick up here can easily be applied to adventures from other sources.
First, a computer adventure is, in essence, a puzzle or series of puzzles. The puzzles are invented by the programmer, and must be solved by the player. The original Adventure and the Adams products are good examples of this.
When playing a computer adventure you must first discover the vocabulary the program will accept and understand, and then use this to explore your environment. Early adventures made much of battling monsters, gathering treasure and solving odd puzzles, such as trying to guess the code word which the "troll guarding the twisty bridge" would accept to let you pass.
The puzzles in my programs are far simpler than those you'll meet in commercial adventures, but serve as good training ground for your later explorations.
Computer adventurers soon learned that stable environments produced far more satisfactory adventures than did those in which the relationship between rooms, and the scenery, changed at the whim of the computer's random number generator. By stable, I mean an environment which has an inner consistency, and which-most importantly-can be mapped.
There is an immense amount of satisfaction to be gained from deducing the layout of the land in which you find yourself, and then in "wandering around it," checking out your map. All the environments in this book can be mapped.
The techniques discussed in this book for adventure development will not only help you create your own adventures, but should give you a number of ideas to help you solve adventures written by others.
Many educators bemoan the fact that little computer software of a truly educational nature has been developed. I believe that there is much educational value in the development and solving of adventure programs. Writing in the magazine Popular Computing (December 1983, pp. 147-150), Dr. Peter Owens, an English professor at South-eastern Massachusetts University, says that he has found that adventure games "satisfy a couple of requirements that give them validity as educational exercises." He then cites the engagement of thinking skills and the fact that the challenge of using imaginative approaches to problems can teach techniques which can be applied to real-life experiences.
So, there is an added bonus to adventure gaming. I think now it is time we buckled on our armor, conjured up a few soul-protection spells, and went down into the dungeons.
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