Wander (1974) release, and questions answered   33 comments

(For the opening of this saga, you might want to read Anthony’s post first.)

There is a text adventure creation system that dates back to before Crowther wrote ADVENT.

I’ve been stalking a copy of Wander for months now; I made a blog post about it and some other games I’ve been tracking down. Anthony read my post and reached out to the author Peter Langston, who has been enormously helpful and managed to find a friend (Lou Katz) who had an archived copy in email, but it only contained a demo version of one of the games.

I had the vague suspicion it might be in a public place if I knew where to look. Indeed: Doug Merritt has found a copy of Wander buried in a software distribution from the Usenix 1980 conference. It includes all four games mentioned in my “lost mainframe games” post.

NEW: This is an update archive which includes all worlds (except advent) and should compile out of the box. Saving and restoring are fixed. Also now fixes a one-line typo that prevented compiling.

Here’s a binary for Windows 32-bit, made by Jayson Smith.

Here is the advent “world” as a separate file which is a Wander version of the Crowther and Woods Adventure. It seems more like a demo than the other games; Peter only made a partial conversion.

Part of the “castle” world for Wander.

These are by Peter:
castle (1974): you explore a rural area and a castle searching for a beautiful damsel.
a3 (1977-1978): you are the diplomat Retief (A sf character written by Keith Laumer) assigned to save earthmen on Aldebaran III
tut (1978): the player receives a tutorial in binary arithmetic.

One of the games is by Nat Howard:
library (somewhere between 1974-1978): You explore a library after civilization has been destroyed.

Also, Peter himself did a very incomplete port of Crowther and Woods Adventure called advent dated at 1981.

There’s one “missing” game. Lou Katz (who I mentioned earlier) wrote “a department store world, trying to make a computer game that would appeal to girls.”

Now to address some questions (note to Peter: please let me know if anything is off!) —

Was it really from 1974?

To quote Peter:

As I remember I came up with the idea for Wander and wrote an early version in HP Basic while I was still teaching at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA (that system limited names to six letters, so: WANDER, EMPIRE, CONVOY, SDRECK, GALAXY, etc.). Then I rewrote Wander in C on Harvard’s Unix V5 system shortly after our band moved to Boston in 1974. I got around to putting a copyright notice on it in 1978.

The early version in HP Basic was possibly from 1973; Peter isn’t sure. The move to Boston is a distinct event, though, so 1974 as a start date is is definite.

Note: Peter Langston’s legendary Empire was from 1971.

Did it look like its current form in 1974?

Peter says “the concept didn’t change, but implementation got better and the worlds got easier to create”. He doesn’t have a good recollection, though, so he can’t answer questions like “which features got added first” and “did anything get tweaked after the release of Adventure”.

Probably the best way to verify the early state would be to somehow track down the HP BASIC version, which was never revised post-1974.

Do we have to rewrite the history books?

Er, sort of. Wander never really had the same impact as Adventure; Peter notes that in his games distribution Empire, StarDrek and the Oracle attracted all the interest.

What else is there to do?

There’s a need for modernization and ports. (People have been mentioning Github; if someone wants to start one, feel free to do so and toss a note in the comments section.)

Finding the original BASIC version would be huge; we’d know exactly what things were like at the earliest stage of the development of the adventure game.

For my part, I’m going to play the games and blog about them in my All the Adventures project.

What about other mainframe games?

Ok, this is my question. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can refer to my lost mainframe games post and see if you can find any of the others. LORD is particularly tantalizing but I don’t know where to even start searching for an archive from Finland.


Posted April 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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33 responses to “Wander (1974) release, and questions answered

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  1. Pingback: Wander (1974) — a lost mainframe game is found! | Retroactive Fiction

  2. You wait decades for a copy of Wander, and then suddenly two come along at once.

    • Three, now (or four if you count sun versus vax)


      • Okay, this is just getting embarrassing now.

        (Also, have you heard about this bejeweled cup or chalice thingy, thought lost for centuries, quite holy…?)

      • This is one of those things where once you know where one is, it is much easier to find more.

        Still, the only fully readable source we’ve got seems to be from that email.

    • (there’s no “reply” button on your other post)

      “(Also, have you heard about this bejeweled cup or chalice thingy, thought lost for centuries, quite holy…?)”

      Oh yes, we’ve already got one; it’s very nice!

  3. Jared Miller has Githubbed the 1980 Usenix conference distro of Wander found by Doug Merritt: https://ahopeful.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/wander-1974-a-lost-mainframe-game-is-found/comment-page-1/#comment-31

  4. “For intrepid trackers, the advent “world” written for Wander would be nice to find.”

    But of course, from the 1985 Usenix conference distribution: ftp://ftp.mrynet.com/USENIX/85.1/langston/vax/WAND/advent.wrld

    There’s another copy in a parallel dir if you replace “vax” with “sun”. And note that the langston dir has lots of other stuff.

    • BTW on the subject of wander.c missing, although there *is* such a file in this 1985 stuff, it merely executes a “wander” executable from somewhere else, which to me very strongly suggests that Langston was keeping the real wander.c secret, as he did for Empire.

      I think y’all should ask him about that.

    • Nice catch.

      Probably at the moment we should toss up every distribution we can find, since it seems to be coming in bits and pieces.

    • Looks like the ftp server is asking for a password.

  5. I can’t get that FTP address for the Advent world to work, it says “550 Can’t change root” and the login fails. I’m logging in as anonymous. I’m putting together a Win32 Cygwin distribution of Wander, it compiled out of the box using the 1984 sources.

  6. Okay, here’s a Cygwin WIN32 binary of Wander, using the most recently posted sources. Also includes the four standard worlds, text files, and two DLL’s.
    I won’t upload this to the IF-archive right now, since things are still in flux, with new versions being discovered, and because hopefully we can get the Advent world since we know it exists.

    Compiling on modern Linux should be as easy as doing “make wander” and then you have a binary called Wander.

  7. I just tried to create a DOS port under DJGPP. While I got it to build, it appears that, under DOS, Wander really does care about file paths, whereas it doesn’t under Win32 or Linux, and unfortunately I don’t know enough about C or the source to fix it, especially seeing as how it could be running in any number of paths on different users’ machines. Borland C just doesn’t like it. So if anyone else wants to take a crack at making a DOS port, feel free.

  8. hum… We might need to rewrite some history. I hypothesized (following Jerz and others) that Advent’s space structure, cardinal direction movement and conversational interface were inspired by Crowther’s D&D and caving experience (http://gac.sagepub.com/content/8/3/119)…

    Looking at Wander’s Castle (said to be of 1974), I’m surprised to see how similar it is: structured in rooms, moving with cardinal directions, addressing the player as a DM… Of course two people can come up with a same design in parallel through different paths (the technology lends itself to that form), but it poses interesting questions.

    I wonder if Crowther might have seen this (any knowledge about its circulation?) or if Langston might have revised its earlier work after having seen Advent…

    very interesting stuff.

    • The version of castle we have must have undergone _some_ revision post -Adventure, because it does recognize xyzzy.

      I don’t see a revision date on castle, but library has a revision date of 4/9/80.

  9. Pingback: Earliest text adventure rediscovered, available to public | NAG Online

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