1980s British programming books released free by publisher

Usborne has released 15 of its old 1980s computing educational books, free to download as PDFs from the Usborne website.

These include three adventure games books and a fantasy games book, as well as other related books about writing weird and other computer games.

Much of the books’ contents are BASIC listings to type in, for all the main home computer systems at the time. But there are also more general sections about designing and writing your own games.

A nostalgia fest if nothing else!

Reading those BASIC listings, knowing that people actually typed them into their computers to play them, feels very strange indeed!

Yes and typically with long BASIC listings like this - whether in magazines or published books - they wouldn’t work once typed in! Often it was due to a typo introduced as you typed, but in many cases there were errors in the printed listings. So home users had to get good at debugging BASIC programs they hadn’t written to get them working again!

A new version could include in addition to the programs written in the book, also the QR code that encodes the program (perhaps compressed).

How well I remember these. Spent hours typing in Island of Secrets (translating to my version of BASIC - Exidy ROMPAk BASIC) and then debugging to get them to run. I did manage it somehow and enjoyed playing them then. When I discovered Inform6 some years ago, I rewrote/translated it again although I left off the scoring as I couldn’t get that to work in Inform then. Maybe its worth revisiting for an I7 version sometime.
I also discovered that Silver Mountain was rewritten using QUEST here.
I still have 6 of these Usborne books in my collection as well as others by Ahl & Liddel’s ‘Captain 80 Book of BASIC Adventures’ plus a few photocopied pages from magazines of games I have been translating for my own education as I am more of a coder than a writer.

Anyway, I think I’ll download a few of these PDFs for reference and study in the future.

I read an interesting mapping technique in Write your own adventure programs (page 9). Use graph paper, or draw lines lightly on a page in a large grid say 10x10. Starting in the centre, write the name of each room in a square listing the exits inside each edge - N (north) inside the top edge, E (east) inside the right edge, and so forth. By listing exits inside the edge you can depict one-way passages.

I found the insight that a text adventure is like a database accessed by parser queries interesting. There is sound advice for commercial authors to beware of violating copyright. It’s quaint to number locations and objects - WYOAP discusses writing your own adventure from scratch but today it’s uncommon to program at an engine level, and unnecessary to use opaque labels.

Wonderful news! I have most of these for real, but have had only dubious PDFs of them to tide me over digital-wise.

These books form a big chunk of how I learned to program, and definitely how I learned to make adventure games from a tech standpoint. I’d have typed in 90% of the games in the books - only ‘Fantasy Games’ didn’t run on the Apple II, but once I was older I ended up making my own equivalent.

I have 5 games I made with the Usborne engine, including scans of the graphed maps and numbered object notes in some cases, on my 8-bit program site Wade-Memoire. In reverse chrono order:


Yeah. The most painful outcome was when you typed in a major, book-length game (like Island of Secrets) and then it didn’t work, which is what happened to me. I didn’t get my hands on a working version until well into the internet age.


I’ve got a page with downloads of Haunted House in various forms here – including a port to Inform 6 (taking advantage of the Inform library for things like the doors and the boat).

Since the books were released I’ve been looking at doing something similar with Island of Secrets, which is a tougher proposition because it’s not just BASIC, but obfuscated BASIC (so you can type it in without learning the solution) and uses more of the BASIC interpreter’s functionality. It also has a lot of randomly-driven events, and invisible objects which aren’t mentioned in location descriptions, but appear in the book illustrations.

As for the difficulty of typing in listings, PCW Plus magazine printed checksums against each line, and would from time to time provide a (shorter) listing for a utility to calculate the checksums. It’s one of those things you wish had been built into every microcomputer BASIC interpreter from the word go; on the PCW I did write a BASIC extension to do this, which saved me no end of time.