Saturday, July 10, 2010

Teletype gaming and LOVE

Short text based interactive game programs, at the dawn of gaming as an industry, were in a sense simple and trivial. But their influence on the narrow group of people who encountered them was profound. What was behind the curtain? Is this high tech timesharing system a toy, or just being used as a toy? The answer surprised everyone.

For retro-programmers the full content of the book "Basic Computer Games" is available online.
The classic book BASIC Computer Games, published by Creative Computing, inspired a generation of programmers. The games were written by many people, and compiled by David H. Ahl. The fabulous illustrations accompanying each game were done by George Beker.

I've included all the games here for your tinkering pleasure. I've tested and tweaked each one of them to make sure they'll run with Vintage BASIC, though you may see a few oddities. That's part of the fun of playing with BASIC: it never works quite the same on two machines. The games will play better if you keep CAPS LOCK on, as they were designed to be used with capital-letter input.
These text games were designed for teletypewriters or line printers, in an era when memory was valued, succinctness was necessary, and GOTO was considered useful. (Currently "Go To Statement Considered Harmful".)

I've only browsed the contents of more than 100 games. The style is short and sweet: a description of the game, an illustration of a session, and the BASIC code itself.

One of my favorites, although I didn't encounter it back in the days of teletype terminals, is LOVE, an instance of ASCII art programmed by David Ahl, the author of the book. The program generates a facsimile of the iconic pop-art piece LOVE, by Robert Indiana, with a dose of recursion.

Here is Artsy's gallery of Indiana's corpus of work, which gives a good sense of his range.
"I think of my peace paintings as one long poem, with each painting being a single stanza."
-Robert Indiana

A younger generation might more easily recognize Indiana's HOPE graphic, created for and used in Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.


  1. We had the Basic Computer Games book, and also More Basic Computer Games. That was before floppies, and it took a lot of typing to get those programs into the TRS 80.

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