Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 4 / JULY 1983



Adventuring with the ATARI


Science fiction and fantasy buffs who enjoy adventuring by armchair or theater seat can now experience vicarious pleasure more actively at their computers. The computer adventure game offers stimulation for the mind and imagination and its authors are being recognized as creative artists in league with novelists and screenwriters. Scott Adams, president of Adventure International and the author of 13 popular computer adventures, is the most well-known and prolific writer of these adventure games.

Adams began writing adventure games about five years ago, using his TRS-80 Model in the evenings and on weekends while employed full-time as a computer programmer. It was while he was working for Stromberg-Carlson that he first became familiar with the standard game called "Adventure". One evening after work he watched a co-worker playing the game on the companys mainframe computer. After that he was hooked.

Adams' interest in computers started at a very early age. He remembers a field trip with his third-grade class to the University of Miami. A glass-partitioned computer room that was off-limits to all but the chosen catalyzed Scott's desire to someday be involved with computers.

His first real experience with computers, however, began much later. Adams was in high school when he first started programming. After he graduated in 1970, he attended the local junior college and worked on its computer system between attending classes. Two years later he Ieft school to work as a shipping clerk at the Florida Instituteof Technology (FIT). He soon became chief programmer in charge of the school's accounting system. After three years at FIT he got a job as a Space Object Information Analyst at RCA.

RCA transferred Adams to Ascension Island, a communications base off the coast of Africa, where he worked downrange at a remote tracking station. The 35-square-mile island seldom received visitors and he lived in barracks nestled between two heaps of volcanic ash. He applied his programming expertise there by designing a program that drove the radar system.

Adams took a leave of absence from RCA and returned to FIT to complete a B.S. degree in Computer Science. After graduating with honors, RCA sent him back to Ascension Island and later he was transferred to the Cape Kennedy division. Soon he became weary from commuting 60 miles round-trip and found a job closer to home at a small systems programming company in Melbourne, Florida.

While working in Melbourne, Adams met his wife Alexis, who is now the Vice President and General Manager at Adventure International. It was a computer that brought him and his wife together. A psychology major at Miami/Dade Community College, Alexis was involved with a dating service that match personality types through a computer. Alexis came across the dating data Adams had submitted and three months later they were engaged. After their wedding they moved to central Florida where Adams began to work for Stromberg-Carlson. There he was introduced to adventure games by fellow employees, and soon after began piecing these games together in his spare room.

In 1979 the company moved out of the back room into a retail store called the Adventure International Computer Center, which also sold a complete line of microcomputers and software as well as Adams' games. AI has now expanded to 40 employees and houses its operations in a custom-built geodesic dome in Longwood, Florida. Their annual computer show in February drew a crowd of over 10,000 this year.

ANTIC: When did you invent your first game -- Adventureland?

ADAMS: I was working for Stromberg-Carlson as a programmer during the day and on my own time I began writing my first adventure game. My wife, Alexis, was pregnant with our first child then, and I worked on my own home computer in our spare room.

ANTIC: We understand you first became interested in adventure when you saw it played on a mainframe at Stromberg-Carlson. It was called Colossal Caves wasn't it? What piqued your interest?

ADAMS: It was the basic concept underlying adventure games -- finding yourself in a situation with only your wits to solve it, not like an arcade game where you have to depend on your reactions. For about a solid week I went to work early and stayed late. I told Alexis that I had a heavy project I was working on, but I was really playing Anventure. I solved the game in about a week and thought it was the greatest game I'd ever played.

ANTIC: When did you decide to start your own company and begin working on games full time?

ADAMS: I was still working for Stromberg-Carlson and I found I couldn't split my time between my employer and my own business. So, I quit my job to devote time to Adventure International. It wasn't an easy decision. We had a new mortgage, the baby had just been born, and we had a lot of expenses.

ANTIC: We understand your company is a family business? How did this come about?

ADAMS: I was spending a lot of time on the computer when I got home from work and Alexis felt she was becoming a computer widow. One afternoon when I returned from work she announced that my entire disk collection had been put into the oven. Fortunately, she hadn't turned it on. Those were the only copies of Adventureland in existence at the time.

Now she is as active in the company as I am, and we both look back on those times and chuckle.

ANTIC: Many of our readers are new to computers and are not familiar with adventure games. What is Scott Adams' definition of adventure games?

ADAMS: An adventure game is where you, as the player, are put into a situation that you know nothing about and from that point you react as you would if it were the real world. You follow commonsense logic and learn the rules of the world that your're in. Using those rules you try to solve problems or accomplish goals.

ANTIC: Would you give us an idea how you develop an adventure game?

ADAMS: First you decide on a basic theme. For example, you decide, "Well, I'd like to do a ghost town adventure." So you sit down and write all the ideas that would go along with the ghost town.

The next step is to decide whether your adventure is to goal-oriented, mission-oriented, or treasure-oriented. Okay, our ghost town will be treasure-oriented. We'll hide treasure throughout.

Then I start drawing in the landscape. Well, our adventure is a ghost town, and the ghost town has this long narrow street with a bunch of stores on either side. Okay, what type of stores. That's the landscape part.

As I build the landscape up, I'm thinking of the things that would be found in a ghost town -- lamps, guns, shovels, telegraph, safe, stuff like that.

ANTIC: One critic of adventure games says that once it has been solved, the game is no longer any fun. How would you answer that criticism!

ADAMS: Some people enjoy playing the games to find out how many different ways they can win. In mission-type adventure games the challenge would be in finding how many different ways they can go through. In a goal-oriented adventure, there might be easier or quicker ways of accomplishing the goal.

All in all, an adventure game is like a book. Some books can be read quickly. An adventure game can take anywhere from a month to a year.

ANTIC: So after your first game, you developed Adventure #2 -- Pirates Adventure -- with your wife.

ADAMS: Yes, this was the first game that was marketed nationally. We placed a small ad in a computer magazine and orders began to trickle in.

ANTIC: Adventure #3 -- Mission Impossible -- introduced a "crypto" feature, in which the player has to solve a cypher in order to accomplish something like opening a door. What other adventure game enhancements have you made?

ADAMS: There are different things that I have added to the adventure. One is the idea of a two-part adventure. When the player finishes one adventure the game's not over. The player gets a password in order to start the second part.

Another new aspect is to use a time element so that things have to occur within a certain time. The Count, which is a Dracula adventure, literaly counts one day. In real time you actually have to play it for a couple of days to solve the adventure.

ANTIC: Your own company, as well as others, is introducing graphic adventures. In fact, one company has a game with animation. Are these developments gimmicks, or can we expect to see more of these types of adventures?

ADAMS: Graphics... I am definitly in favor of graphics. All of our new games use graphics wherever possible.

The ones I have seen using animation so far are not using heavy animation. Actually, my graphic games (S.A.G.A.) have some pretty good animation as well as pictures.

Today's machines are becoming more powerful and more capable of good graphic adventure games.

ANTIC: What is your opinion lazerdisc adventures being explored by David Ahl?

ADAMS: It's a clever idea but hardware-dependent and limited by the cost of the hardware.

ANTIC: What do you see in the future for adventure and adventure-style games?

ADAMS: The future is limited only by the imagination of those writing them and those playing them.

ANTIC: The biographical material we received from your office stated that you began programming while at North Miami Senior High. What first interested you in computer programming?

ADAMS: I don't know. I enjoy computers and the idea of programming a computer and making it run. It's a joy. I find programming very satisfying.

ANTIC: On what machine did you start programming?

ADAMS: It was an IBM terminal on an IBM 360 using APL, a programming language. APL is heavily math-oriented.

ANTIC: What types of programs were you writing then?

ADAMS: Games. The first program I wrote was a standard Tic-Tac-Toe program. Then I did a checkers game.

ANTIC: What was your first micro?

ADAMS: My first micro was a Sphere that I built from a kit. I had the very first order when it first came out. I turned around and developed a graphics board for the computer and sold it back to the company. Later I got the TRS-80 and began writing adventures on it.

ANTIC: What is you opinion of the ATARI home computer?

ADAMS: The ATARI is my personal favorite. In my opinion, it is the finest micro available.


ADAMS: I like the capabilities of the machine. It is well-engineered. The graphics and sound capabilities are excellent. The machine is fairly well thought out. It's well built. The ATARI is the one I use at home.

ANTIC: It's the machine, then, that you use to do your work on!

ADAMS: We have others in our lab, but the ATARI is the one I enjoy most.