Before Adventure, Part 1: Hide and Seek (1972)   10 comments

I’ve always liked seeing the starts of things.

The earliest known fossils. The earliest known poet. The earliest known trees. The earliest existing piece of film. The earliest known melody.

Note the word “known” repeated above; for each category, even film, there’s a vast amount of unknown. We can surmise and hypothesize about predecessors and successors that may exist etherially, but each snapshot is necessarily incomplete.

Part of the fun of the All the Adventures project is, with a few exceptions, we have access to everything. It’s possible to see all the evolutionary steps, all the false starts, all the connections, all the broken ideas.

This is the first in a series I might call pre-steps. I wouldn’t necessarily consider anything I’m going to talk about an adventure game, but there’s clear evidence some early works had direct influence. I do have to draw the line somewhere, so I’m not just including “all narratives”, because once you start tracing that back you’d need to study every book that was ever written (less exaggeratedly: every choose-your-own-adventure and gamebook, which sounds like a good project but isn’t mine). [1] [2]

Project SOLO was started in 1970 by Thomas A. Dwyer as an experimental program in “exploring the potential of computers in the hands of high school teachers and students.” The name was meant to reference the transition of a pilot learning to fly, from “dual” flying with an instructor to “solo” flying alone.

The program included many “modules” written in BASIC, mostly on mathematics, but with a little of every subject. For our story, the relevant bit of material is the June 1972 Project SOLO newsletter. It includes

  • “A module on computer graphing with an x-y plotter”
  • “Several student-written programs in elementary and advanced mathematics, French, and U.S. history to show how peer teaching can be accomplished with a computer”
  • “Four simulations–lunar landing module, crazy eights, rectangular billiards, and elliptical billiards.”

and most importantly

  • “four computer games: hide-and-seek, NIM, MODULO, and space war.”

Hide and Seek, also known as “Project Solo module #0201” was written by “the students of mathematics teacher, Bud Valenti.”

The goal is to “FIND THE FOUR PLAYERS WHO ARE HIDDEN ON A 10 BY 10 GRID.” You are given 10 guesses; each guess you pick a point on the grid, and are told the distances to each of the hidden players. (If your guess is right where a player is located, then you get credit for finding that person.)

The grid is the first quadrant of the Cartesian coordinate system, with (0,0) in the lower left of the grid. More sample points are below:

Image made using Desmos.

As far as I am aware the source code hasn’t seen sunlight since the early 1970s, so I typed the source from the newsletter by hand.

Link to original source code

Link to the modified source code that works well in QBASIC for DOS

As the second link implies, rather than trying to recreate an old mainframe environment, I made a version of the game that could run under DOSBox. (More modern versions of BASIC diverge quite a bit from the original, whereas QBASIC is pretty forgiving of 1972 code.) And since I am here to play games, I then proceeded to play:

ARE YOU READY TO BEGIN? YES

? YES

TURN NUMBER 1 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 4, 3
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 6.4 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 6.4 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 2.8 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 4 IS 1 UNIT(S).

TURN NUMBER 2 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 5, 3
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 7 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 5.8 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 3.6 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 4 IS 2 UNIT(S).

TURN NUMBER 3 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 3, 9
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 3.1 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 5 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 4.1 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 4 IS 6 UNIT(S).

TURN NUMBER 4 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 3, 3
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 5.8 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 7 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 2.2 UNIT(S).
YOU HAVE FOUND PLAYER 4

My first runs just had me picking points by instinct. I noticed, generally, that when the distance didn’t have a decimal point involved, the hidden player was on the same row or column as my guess. I say “generally” because there is a little wrinkle: the system rounds to the tenth, but always rounds down. For instance, the points (0,0) and (5,1) are approximately 5.099 units apart (just using the Pythagorean Theorem) if you are 5-and-1 away from a target the game will say you’re a distance of 5.

What’s a good strategy for winning in the fewest turns? The Project SOLO newsletter suggests the method of triangulation. If you pick a point at, say, (7,3), and find out a hidden is a radius of 2.1 away, draw a circle of radius 2.1 with a center at (7,3). Repeat for two more points. The place where the three circles intersect must be where that player is hidden.

This turns out to be overkill, because when two circles intersect, they can intersect at most two points. If the points you test (that is, the centers of the circles) are both at the “0 row”, then one of those two circle intersections must fall outside the play zone.

One intersection is at (2, 1). The other would be at (2, -1) but it is “off-grid” so doesn’t count.

Since each guess gives us information about all four players, winning is simply a matter of

1.) testing the point at (0,0)
2.) testing the point at (9,0)
3.) drawing arcs from (0,0) with four different distances that were given
4.) drawing arcs from (9,0) with the four different distances that were given
5.) using four more turns to locate all the hidden players.

Step 1, 2, and 5 cumulatively mean the win can generally happen in 6 moves. (Of course, it’s possible to get lucky, but I’m talking a general strategy here.)

A complete playthrough is below, with my notes; given high school students in 1972 probably wouldn’t have calculator access, I tried to play “authentically” with pencil and paper.

TURN NUMBER 1 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 0, 0
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 2 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 8.2 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 7.8 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 4 IS 8 UNIT(S).

TURN NUMBER 2 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 9, 0
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 9.2 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 2.2 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 5.8 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 4 IS 1 UNIT(S).

TURN NUMBER 3 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 8, 0
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 8.2 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 2 IS 2 UNIT(S).
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 5.3 UNIT(S).
YOU HAVE FOUND PLAYER 4

TURN NUMBER 4 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 8, 2
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 1 IS 8 UNIT(S).
YOU HAVE FOUND PLAYER 2
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 3.6 UNIT(S).

TURN NUMBER 5 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 0, 2
YOU HAVE FOUND PLAYER 1
YOUR DISTANCE FROM PLAYER 3 IS 6.7 UNIT(S).6, 5

TURN NUMBER 6 , WHAT IS YOUR GUESS?
? 6, 5
YOU HAVE FOUND PLAYER 3

YOU HAVE FOUND ALL THE PLAYERS IN 6 TURNS!

DO YOU WANT TO PLAY AGAIN?

If the above summation started to make you pine for the days of unsolvable mazes at this blog, I want to reassure you we’ll be back to things resembling adventures before long. But first, notice a strange detail: the game has a narrative. Mind you, a very crude one, but the program could have just said “find four points hidden on the grid” — instead, it said there were “four players”; that is, there are characters who are actively playing with you as part of the game. Also, the instructions to the game suggest carrying on the “playing a game with others” conceit on if you “lose”:

IF AFTER 10 TRIES YOU ARE UNABLE TO CARRY OUT THIS TASK YOU MAY CONTINUE TO BE ‘IT’, BUT THE PLAYERS WILL BE PERMITTED TO MOVE TO NEW LOCATIONS.

This glimpse of narrative is just a spark, but it will get much bigger.

[1] Demian’s Gamebook Web Page currently lists over 11,000 titles dating back to 1927 all the way up through the present day. 2018 saw the release of Therapy Quest: An Interactive Quest through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a combination self-help book and fantasy story which involves fairies somehow.

[2] You might naturally ask “what is an adventure game?” at which point I will pretend I just received a phone call, throw my phone at the wall, and slip out the back door while you’re confused and distracted. [3]

[3] Fine, there is some purpose to thinking about the question. For an all-encompassing review like All the Adventures it sets limits on what to collect, and while the interlocking web of influences in creating game ideas doesn’t technically know any bounds, it’s much easier to see the threads of ideas when sticking with one genre.

There are also clusters of elements that “mesh” with particular genres, and visible clashes when two gameplay genres are used at the same time. (Quarterstaff is a strong example of this.) [4]

[4] I guess I still didn’t answer the question, huh. I’m going to punt this one to the end of the Before Adventure series, for Reasons.

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Posted March 14, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with ,

10 responses to “Before Adventure, Part 1: Hide and Seek (1972)

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  1. At first I was like, elliptical billiards? But it would seem that this has existed as a mathematical/geometrical exercise for some time, so makes sense for a 1972 magazine, I guess. (From skimming the Google results it would seem that building physical elliptical billiard tables is more recent.)

    • There was a Games Magazine contest for designing implausible miniature golf holes, where among a bunch of absurdly difficult holes one of the winners was an elliptical hole with the tee at one focus and the hole at the other, so there was no way not to bank the ball from the tee to the hole. (Alas, real life physics doesn’t work like that.)

      This would’ve been a few years after 1972. Somebody on metafilter also remembers it.

      • I have an extensive back catalog of GAMES magazine; it didn’t start until the late 70s, and the miniature golf contest I remember being from the early 80s. I’ll have to dig around and see if I can find it.

      • We first subscribed because Pizzazz magazine got canceled in the middle of our subscription and we had to pick a substitute, so it can’t have been before the last issue of Pizzazz which seems to have been January 1979.

        Also I’m not sure why we had a subscription to Pizzazz in the first place? I didn’t have any preexisting interest in Meat Loaf/Leif Ericson. Games Magazine was much more up my alley.

      • Leif *Garrett, you can see the cover of that issue here (the Sgt. Pepper movie one, I did see the Sgt. Pepper movie because I was into the Beatles, the movie theater caught fire and we had to evacuate and come back another day, apparently we could not take a hint). The fact that I just said Leif Ericson instead of Garrett illustrates the point, really. My wife is laughing at me about this right now.

      • Man, and I was all trying to think of the connection between Meat Loaf and Leif Ericson. That would make a better magazine.

    • The elliptical billiards thing really caught my eye too. The math is pretty hardcore for high school, here’s a picture of one spot:

  2. What would be an interesting and quite challenging variant of “Hide and Seek” would be if instead of getting distances to each player by identity, you just got a list (in random or perhaps ascending order) of your distances to the four players, so that you can’t triangulate two guesses unless you have a good sense of how the distances pair up (you could test each possible pairing, of course, but that might not be tremendously efficient).

  3. Pingback: Lazy Reading for 2019/03/24 – DragonFly BSD Digest

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