Adventureland nearly has the distinction of being the first text adventure available for home computers. It is slightly edged out by a port for the Heathkit H8 of Adventure which debuted in August by Gordon Letwin (who later went on to make the port Microsoft Adventure) and started being sold in Issue 4 of the magazine REMark (fourth quarter of 1978).
However, Adventureland is the first one made specifically for home computers; specifically, the TRS-80. It started being sold January 1979 through an ad in Softside magazine. Scott Adams himself says it was the first venue in a video interview. He mentions testers which presumably tried the game in 1978, but with commerical products it is standard practice to date them by when they first are commercially available.
Every other source out there says 1978 including the thoroughly well-researched Digital Antiquarian.
However, even the title page of the game itself says 1979
although it should be noted that this is a later revision of the game and it is possible an early title screen said “1978” since that is undoubtedly when the coding of the game occurred.
[ADD: Jimmy Maher makes a pretty good argument in the comments that due to the lag time of the magazine publishing that 1978 is sound, still. Note that would still make the port of Adventure the first available text adventure for PC. I am hence changing the title back to 1978.]
Scott Adams’s adventures all used a particular data format which can be run with the interpreter ScottFree. For at least Adventureland I’m going for the classic experience with a TRS-80 emulator, although there are plenty of more modern options available.
I’ve been having more fun than The Digital Antiquarian did (I’ve avoided reading his article too closely because it looks like it has spoilers, but I caught the quote “Which is not to say that Adventureland is exactly playable, at least by modern standards.”) I’ll get into gameplay details next time.
This is going to sound like a bizarre statement to anyone who has played a Scott Adams game, but Adventureland is the first game in my chronological series that has felt modern.
To anyone scratching their head, some clarification is needed. While yes, the game is simply an excuse to collect Treasures and put them in the right location and get a high score, and yes, the text is absurdly minimalist, everything is also compact.
The adventures I’ve played so far have a certain expansiveness to them (see Zork: Open spaces, painful geography) with a giant map and a lot of confusion. While I’ve appreciated this style with space lending to world-immersion, I’ve also missed the feeling of small set-pieces that come from, say, a tightly structured IFComp game.
Using the TRS-80 as opposed to a mainframe with spacious memory forced Adams to think small. The swamp at the beginning (see map) gives a good idea of what I mean by “set-pieces”:
I am in a dismal swamp. Visible items:
Cypress tree. Evil smelling mud. Swamp gas. Patches of “OILY” slime. Chiggers.
Some obvious exits are: NORTH EAST WEST
The evil smelling mud can be used to cure bites from the chiggers (which are themselves useful in a different puzzle). The mud also will wake up a sleeping dragon (found just to the north) if you bring next to him. The swamp gas has a property useful in a puzzle, and the “OILY” slime I have not actually figured out yet.
The tree can be used in two ways:
> CLIMB TREE
I am in a top of a tall cypress tree. Visible items:
Spider web with writing on it. Ring of skeleton keys.
Some obvious exits are: DOWN
> GET KEYS
> READ WEB
Chop ‘er down!
> CHOP TREE
(Room description changes to: -HOLLOW- stump and remains of felled tree.)
> ENTER STUMP
I am in a damp hollow stump in the swamp. Visible items:
Old fashioned brass lamp. Water in bottle. Sign “Leaves *TREASURES* here, then say: SCORE”.
Some obvious exits are: UP DOWN
While the text might only be appreciated now as a sort of anti-poetry, the tight implementation gives the locations in my mind a stronger imaginative force than the hundreds of rooms of Acheton.
I’m about 3 hours in — I supposedly have 70% of the treasure — and having reasonable fun. Likely the last 30% will get me stuck. Perhaps the last lingering puzzles will be hideous; it’s hard to know.
When people talk about being “stuck” in an adventure game, usually they mean there is some specific puzzle they can’t get by.
I’ve got exactly one puzzle I know I am stuck on.
I’m on a narrow ledge by a Throne-room
Across the chasm is another ledge. Visible items:
Very thin black bear. *MAGIC MIRROR*
> GET MIRROR
Bear won’t let me
I’ve some *ROYAL HONEY* that will make the bear happy and cause him/her to fall asleep, but since the royal honey is a treasure itself that causes me to lose points.
The extra problem is, I’ve got more points missing than just one treasure worth. I don’t know where else the other treasures might be. So I am clearly “stuck” somewhere but I have no idea what I should even be doing.
The map I have so far, excluding the maze. Click the image for a PDF version.
Let me summarize what I’ve seen:
* It turns out there is a HELP command dynamic based on what room you’re in and it can actually be helpful sometimes; solving the puzzle would have taken me longer otherwise. For instance, there’s a sunny meadow with a sleeping dragon where HELP gives you this message:
A voice BOOOOOMS out:
There are only 3 ways to wake the Dragon!
One puzzle involving an explosion I may not have worked out without the HELP command.
* A sequence later I needed to drive away the dragon to steal its eggs. I feel somewhat bad about that. I guess the dragon is evil so that makes it ok?
* There’s a tiny maze. Scott Adams must have felt obliged to provide a maze. It took all of five minutes to map.
* There’s a room I assume is a joke
I am in the memory chip of a COMPUTER!
I must have took a wrong turn!
but at this point I suppose I need to question everything.
* If you go down from the ledge near the swamp you end up in Hell. Whoops.
* With some deaths there’s an interesting afterlife scene:
I don’t think there’s a treasure here, but given the Acheton trick I’m not going to rule it out.
I had three treasures left to go. Their method of extraction is spoiled below.
Adventureland’s structure has some tight redundancy; items serve more than one purpose. For example the
Rusty axe (Magic word “BUNYON” on it)
not only serves as a tree-chopper, but as a magic item.
The humble lamp used throughout as a mere light source has a second use as well. There’s a bit of scrawl in the maze that says “ALADIN WAS HERE”.
Knowing I was still missing treasures, I tried on a whim:
> RUB LAMP
A glowing Genie appears, drops somehting, then vanishes.
I got a *DIAMOND RING* this way. (The typo is in the original text.)
I then worked on the bear from my last post some more. Getting frustrated, I asked David Welbourn for a hint, who said “You can defeat the bear without any tools but yourself.”
The most direct route isn’t too helpful.
> KILL BEAR
Bear won’t let me
Maybe if I threw something?…
In fact, it’s downright deceptive, which is counter to the usual policy interactive fiction has about hinting from the text. Throwing the axe (the only thing you are allowed to throw) breaks the mirror and is the wrong approach. Instead:
Bear is so startled that he FELL off the ledge!
Poor bear. I guess he was evil too?
The last treasure required the ultimate gesture of defeat, the walkthrough. I did not feel bad about spoiling this time.
So yes, RUB LAMP works to get one treasure, but a second RUB LAMP gets another treasure.
This is what I have called Bad Frustration. I could see someone trying a second RUB LAMP if they’re in the process of lamp-rubbing, but after there is no plausible way to think through the answer. If I ever codify Advice for Puzzle Makers at some point, one of the rules would be this: Think about if your player is unable to solve a puzzle. Is there a clear route to get on the right track, or will it require enough luck that the player will feel like they have wasted their time? You want a response of “oh!” to a puzzle solve (even if it had to be looked up) not “oh…” with a head-shake of frustration.
Doing RUB LAMP a third time is at least amusing:
A glowing Genie appears, says “Boy you’re selfish”, takes something and then makes “ME” vanish!
I can’t in good conscience recommend Adventureland to modern audiences. Not because it’s impossible to have fun — I did — but because Scott Adams himself got better as he went along; not every game was a treasure-hunt. The actual minimalist style does have a soothing meditative quality to it, although if you’re just wanting to experience that you might try J. Robinson Wheeler’s ASCII and the Argonauts; it has the same modern-feel-with-retro-style that many indie-games shoot for these days. Since text adventures are inherently retro, that’s possibly the only way to achieve the effect.