Scott Adams Adventures - What can be learned in 2012?

My name is Jim McGinley and I’ll be giving a presentation at GDC 2012
“Inspiration from the Trash: The TRS-80’s Lost Game Designs”


Text adventures were a PROMINENT part of the TRS-80 game scene. As most people here know, Scott Adams adventure games were famous and much loved. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for adventure games so I rarely played them. I’m now trying to determine what lessons today’s developers can learn from old adventure games. I’m not able to do a good job, and need some help. That’s where you come in. Note: If you’ve played Scott Adams on another machine or emulated, I believe you’re qualified to help since I believe it’s practically the same game as the TRS-80 version.

What has NOT been carried forward? What has been “lost in the trash”?
Is there any reason for modern interactive fiction developers to play the old adventure games (Scott Adams or otherwise)? Is there anything to learn from the oldies?
Has modern interactive fiction forgotten any important lessons from old adventure games?
Is there anything you miss from the old text adventures?
Perhaps old adventure games were more direct and easier in some ways?
Perhaps the simple text phrases of old adventure games make them more suitable for future voice control (XBOX, Siri)?

Any thoughts/opinions would be amazing. I don’t want to leave out TRS-80 adventure games - that’s just WRONG. You can e-mail me your thoughts directly ( or post them here. Even if you think most everything has been carried forward, and there is nothing to learn, that would be great to know. Also, I would like to quote some replies IN my presentation (forum name or real name).

I did ask Scott Adams his thoughts…
Me: Are there things modern interactive fiction has failed to bring forward?
Scott Adams: “Hard to tell as I haven’t been tracking modern IF. In almost everyone of my games I would do something unique that I had never done in a previous game. Its left up to the reader to find these. An example would be my last game Fantastic Four. There you had to control two different characters in different places to complete the game. Pirate Adventure was unique from Adventureland in it had a ongoing theme to the solution.”

While I don’t mean to rush you, I need the replies ASAP! The presentation is next week.

Thanks so much,
Jim McGinley

If you haven’t seen it, you might check out Jimmy Maher’s series on the history of adventure games, starting with Adventureland.

I did read that awhile ago, and have now read it again. Thanks!

2 Clarifications:

  1. Most devs (even action game developers like Big Five Software) started off porting existing games. My understanding is Scott Adam’s FIRST TRS-80 game Adventureland was a trimmed 16K cassette based microcomputer port of Colossal Cave Adventure. While an absolute technical marvel, technical limitations don’t matter much to today’s game designers (my presentation is aimed at them). Plus, Microsoft eventually released Microsoft Adventure - a 32K disk based COMPLETE version of Colossal Cave Adventure. As such, I’m concerned that Adventureland might not be considered a TRS-80 game, but rather a DEC game that got ported. However… as Scott Adams evolved and created more TRS-80 adventure games, I’m wondering what new ideas/designs/techniques/parsers he created that have been lost in the trash. Even small details that have been lost are great.

  2. If anyone has any insight on OTHER original TRS-80 adventure games, that’s also amazing. I’m avoiding Zork - while the first microcomputer port was the TRS-80, it’s not really that “lost” nor is it really considered a TRS-80 game. Maybe Lance Micklus’s Dog Star Adventure? Or hybrid adventures like Med Systems Asylum 2?

This isn’t correct (despite what it says in Wikipedia): Adventureland shows its debt to Colossal Cave in the setting and general “get the treasures” theme, but in no sense is it a port of it - it’s an original creation, made by Scott Adams on his TRS-80.

Very early in life I whiled away many frustrating hours on Madness and the Minotaur on the TRS-80 CoCo – which while not the stock TRS-80, was still somewhat related. This wasn’t really a text adventure game in the Infocom sense, but more of a puzzling strategy game that happened to use the text parser as its interface. Its lesson was the same as Rogue – of the endless novelty some in-game randomization can lend to gameplay, which can not only keep you from running through on autopilot, but in fact from ever really getting an understanding of what you’re actually supposed to be doing in the game, and how. (That’s just a child’s interpretation of its nonsense magic words however – to an adult, the randomization adds a lot.)

One might ask what the limited hardware environment gave to the designers in terms of a minimalist focus on the game’s essential design without the option of getting distracted by coming up with flashy assets like dazzling vector graphics, digitized sound, sprawling expository paragraphs and… lower-case letters. Does an environment of constraints lead to more focused and economical design?

But I’m just pulling this out of my … audiocassette data deck. Dale from the Gaming After 40 blog ( ) has specifically set out to cover dozens of TRS-80 adventures and may have some insight into the genre as it manifested on that particular platform. I know often he needs to hack into game source code in order to make the games solvable – perhaps another unheralded benefit of the platform, driving you to sharpen your programming chops in order to actually play the game you bought!

Dog Star Adventure is important for similar reasons: as the first text adventure with published source code, it became the foundation for many of altered and reskinned variants. (Though of course all BASIC adventures provided source code in one way or another… nominally this makes things much easier for anyone interested in following in the game authors’ footsteps.)

The Digital Antiquarian blog referenced in an earlier post in this thread also notes how numerous folks (I believe it was Chuck Benton in the most recent post, and also Scott Adams?) would take on text adventure creation as a recommended warm-up for designing and programming other kinds of software.

You know, that’s a good question.

I never played these games back then, I was a kid into Atari 2600 instead. I’ve had an encounter or 2 with text-adventures still in the 80’s, but nothing substantial. I was truly gripped to IF ever since I’ve discovered the games from raif community through the internet in the late 90’s.

That said, reading your plead just now, I finally unzipped the adamsinform package of Adam’s games converted to Inform to take a peek on some games. Previously, I’ve only played a bit of Adventureland and Count and felt them way too crude. I mean, a lot more crude than the original mainframe Adventure or Zork.

Anyway, I decided to give it a spin with Hulk:

I’m Bruce Banner, tied hand & foot to a chair.
Obvious exits: NONE
Visible items: None

I can’t do that yet.
WHAT SHALL I DO? break chair
I can’t do that now!
WHAT SHALL I DO? examine chair
I see Nothing special
WHAT SHALL I DO? get out
Sorry, won’t fit in my inventory
WHAT SHALL I DO? inventory
I can’t do that yet.
O.K. chair
WHAT SHALL I DO? get nervous
I don’t know what a “nervous” is.
WHAT SHALL I DO? untie hands
I can’t do that yet.
WHAT SHALL I DO? call hulk
O.K. hulk
WHAT SHALL I DO? get hulk
It’s beyond my power to do that.

that’s it for me. Fun for awhile, but mostly bland. I’d say we can learn from it in 2012 how not to design games.

But why are you asking us instead of playing for yourself? Go ahead and try, they are all out there, readily available to be played. Here’s a list of some great “modern” (post-90’s) IF games playable online I’ve assembled recently, so you can decide yourself: … eddab5918#

@namekuseijin: Surely, the obvious thing to do in that case is to get angry?

Ah, yes, but obvious to whom?

I was never, and would never, be obvious to me.

EDIT - To expand - in such a limited parser, where even simple interactions with items that should be visible fail for sometimes obscure reasons, I would be very, very hard pressed to try such an abstract concept as “getting angry”. That’s the sort of thing I’d try in Eric the Unready, a game with a stellar parser. It’s possible that Adams had the right idea here, but simply not the technology.

Also, design-wise, that’s a very cruel first input, when the player doesn’t even know what to expect. It also raises the bar for the rest of the game, which I suspect will make the game suffer.

I think the specific issue here is cultural assumptions, not abstract concepts. For most of the U.S. audience of this game, they would be familiar with the Hulk and how to turn into the Hulk, especially from a very popular TV show from the late 70s and early 80s. I don’t know if the TV show was available elsewhere, but I assume that even if it did, it wasn’t nearly as popular.


I suppose so - “Hulk gets angry” does ring a bell for me, I imagine it’d be a bit of a staple among Hulk fans.

Agreed with Kevin – the first thing I thought was “Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk when he gets angry, so I should try typing ‘get angry’ or ‘get mad’.” Especially because I figured that this was an early game with a limited parser, where the expected action might not be a simple “verb the visible noun” thing but might be outside the box. The ways of interacting with the world weren’t as set in stone then.

However, if you type “get mad” or “get angry” (or maybe just one) you get “How?” If you type “scream” I think it is, which was the first thing I tried, you get “O.K. mad,” which seems to be a default message and doesn’t do anything. Then I looked up a solution and it turns out that the command is


which, in a nice example of simulation, caused me to turn green and smash something.

Heh. Funny. We agreed that “get angry”, in this case, would be valid and fair (fairer than the infamous baseball-themed puzzle in Zork II, even)…

…and then we find out that the actual input is even more preposterous and impossible to defend, because it involves a non-standard verb, a part of the human body which is not referred to as interactable, and an immediate relationship between anger and pain. While also not recognising valid solutions like “get angry” (I mean, for this instance, it seems to be the obvious solution, even if I would have never gotten it).

Well, yes, we do benefit from years of experience in game design which Mr. Adams didn’t. That’s probably why Scot Adams have have the reputation that they have, and let’s not beat about the bush - they have a pretty bad reputation nowadays.

Yeah, I was reading namekuseijin’s transcript and I was saying to myself, “Ha ha, it’s ‘get angry’!” But no.

First off, I appreciate the replies.
If I had more time to play the old adventure games,
and time to play the new interactive fiction so I could compare the two - I absolutely would.
Unfortunately, the presentation is next week so I’m relying on the thoughtfulness of strangers.

From what I’m gathering, there is little/nothing to be learned from the likes of Scott Adams games.

BUT… what about the simplicity of those games?
Interactive fiction seems to be going in a different direction.
IF is less about direct adventuring, and more about story experiences.

Regarding the Hulk example…
I’m not interested in the limitations of the old games - even the TRS-80 action games I’m familiar with don’t hold up.
I’m wondering if old games can be modernized while keeping their essence.
Original Prince of Persia > New Prince of Persia
Robotron > Geometry Wars
Adventureland > ?

In 2012, is there any merit in creating a Scott Adams/Zork text adventure with less obtuse puzzles, straightforward adventuring, and not much else? I >think< so. But what do people here think? I’m not devaluing the new, rich interactive fiction experiences being created here - I’m just wondering if there’s any value in the old experience that’s been “lost in the trash”. Certainly, Double Fine proved their is interest in modernizing the point-and-click graphic adventure: … ture/posts

In the transcript I did try “get nervous”. One of those bad keyword-puzzles where only one word is allowed, I guess. I watched the old “David Banner” serial and it was cool to see Lou Ferrigno in a cameo in the last Hulk movie…

anyway, I sure got angry with the game…

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword?

Oh, I do think you are when you have a full week ahead and won’t even try because not.

If what you’re asking is if there’s still a place for mostly textless interface and simplistic gameplay like Scott Adams… then, yes, Scott Adams fans know where to get Scott Adams games when they need it.

BTW, please don’t compare Robotron or original Prince of Persia to today games made for retarded emos.

“In 2012, is there any merit in creating a Scott Adams/Zork text adventure with less obtuse puzzles, straightforward adventuring, and not much else? I >think< so. But what do people here think?”

You should talk to therealeasterbunny who, two years ago, wrote a Scott Adams-like game using SA’s minimalist game engine, reverse-engineered.

Well… at least I know who I won’t be quoting :open_mouth:

“Nervous” doesn’t mean the same thing as “angry.” But “angry” doesn’t work either, so.

It’s none of my business to tell you how to conduct your research. That said, I’ll be a nosy bastard and say flat out that your project would be all the richer if you didn’t outright dismiss playing some modern IF. There are short pieces you can play through on your own; with a walkthrough, there are even more pieces. 9:05, Aisle, Photopia, Galatea and Best Out of Three immediately spring to mind - you’ll finish those in no time. Varicella and Curses, less recent games (but still more “modern IF” than “classical IF”), are gargantuan - but if you play around with them for as little as 10 minutes you’ll get the gist of what you need as regards modern adventure gaming. Also, Dual Transform and Duel in the Snow and Lost Pig… there ARE modern IF games you can afford to take the time to play. It’ll make your work all the richer.

On the contrary, there’s a world to be gleaned from the Scott Adams games - mostly what NOT to do, but that’s only because someone had to make those mistaked first.

I’d love to point out all the things he did RIGHT, but sadly I wouldn’t know what they are, I haven’t played enough of his games. I WOULD point you in the direction of a modern IF game done as an hommage to Scott Adams, but a lot friendlier (though you might want to use the walkthrough if you’re pressed for time): ASCII and the Argonauts.

Says who?

Says you, from our modern viewpoint.

If you were an IF player in the 1980’s, you’d probably be saying the exact opposite.

The beauty of IF is that it’s going in whatever direction we see fit. We are striving AWAY from bad design choices we’ve seen in the past, and that’s it, and other than that it depends on the author. Emily Short is fascinated by conversation frameworks. Adam Cadre re-introduced puzzless IF in a more audacious manner than A Mind Forever Voyaging. Victor Gisjbers enjoys being meta-gamey.

If anything, we’re moving away from puzzlefests… but I can’t say that with a straight face, since there are so many puzzlefests still being released.

This isn’t a limitation, this is a bad design choice we learned from. Thought that’s what you wanted.

Augmented Fourth.

It depends on what you’d call “essence”: is it the bad design choices? The mazes? The writing? The atmosphere? In a sense, what we’re doing RIGHT NOW is a modernized version of what was done BACK THEN.

Mind, “Tomb Raider” was to my mind the first non-Prince-of-Persia Prince of Persia. Apart from the guns, it was pretty much the same concept, or that’s how I felt about it.

I think you really have to play some modern IF. There’s a bit of everything. Open-ended works like Blue Lacuna and Make it Good, and puzzleless pieces like Photopia, certainly steal all the spotlight, but there’s plenty of sheer puzzly adventuring goodness still being done. Well, ok, not PLENTY, but we still get a fair amount. It’s just that we’ve sort of traded in dungeon size for richer implementation.