Will Bueché

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Original Adventure

Posted in Personal by Will on Monday, August 13th, 2007 ~ 8pm

via BoingBoing.net, this article is about the “original adventure” that started it all. The precursor to graphical worlds like MYST, Original Adventure was a purely text-based game.

My father introduced me to this game when I was a child. I played it via dial-up on a computer terminal my father lugged home most days that was the size of a small suitcase, which connected to the main computer by squishing the telephone receiver into a pair of circular depressions on the side of the case. That’s right, the computer terminal listened and spoke to the phone in the same way people did — via the speaker and mic.

(It should be noted, as one puzzles over how a phone could squish in well enough to transmit a signal, that pretty much all telephones in the late 1970s were shaped the same way, because phones were originally produced for the phone company, not for retail stores, and the phone company had decided on one particular shape which they gave their customers.* So everyone had a few phones that were shaped just right for squishing into the side of the computer terminal). (*The Western Electric 500 and similar, subsequent models).

A computer “terminal”, by the way, is like a computer without a hard drive. It is an input/output device only. The actual computer was probably filling a room, and the room was located in the appropriately named Braintree, Massachusetts, at a computer company my father worked for. There was no internet then. There were no consumer dial-up services. Only companies and campuses had such computers… and the game could only be played for brief periods during work hours; after-hours it could be played for hours.

The computer terminal also did not have a screen. It printed text on a seemingly endless roll of thermal paper. The text was printed like a dot-matrix printer, rushing across the paper, burning the words into the paper one line at a time. And then hovering at a “>” mark, awaiting your input. These rolls of paper, once all filled, could be thrown away — or saved, like ancient scrolls of parchment. Though they’d eventually disintegrate. I went through a lot of rolls, and I could make maps of the caves based on this record.

I learned from the article that Original Adventure, or Colossal Cave as it was also known, was written in “Fortran” — which 1980s-born people (and I am a fan of 1980s-born people, believe me) may only recognize as the brand of liquor that the robot Bender drinks on Futurama (“Old Fortran Malt Liquor”). I also learned it was written by someone also named Will, also age 38. Nice.

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