Throwback Thursday – A Digital Adventure Program

I’ve worked with computers for four decades, since the very early days. My first home computer was a model called a Color Computer sold by Radio Shack from roughly 1980 through 1991. It was different from many of the early computers including other computers sold by Tandy/Radio Shack. First it had an advanced color scheme for the time when many others were strictly two-tone. It had upper and lower case letters where many computers then had only caps lock letters. The Color Computer also could use an early mouse which other computers felt was just a toy. And it had an operating system provided by an up and coming little company named Microsoft who based the BASIC language on their own MS-DOS system.

With all the advanced features it was pretty primitive compared to today. It was a simple keyboard and master board that had no display. Instead you wired it up to a color television. You could reach out through a separate modem hooked to a telephone line. Of course, there was no internet available, only local BBS’s (Bulletin Board System), sort of a stand-alone un-networked web site of the day. Rich and popular BBS’s had multiple modems and telephone lines and many charged monthly fees to access them. Yes, sent by check as there was no PayPal or Zelle. Going “online” involved lots of busy signals and screaming modem connection noises.

The mother board was so simple I used a soldering iron on it myself to fix surge damage or install upgrade system boards. The first input/save device was a cassette tape unit which was frustratingly slow and glitchy. Later a primitive floppy drive was made available which allowed better saving and accessing data. Believe it or not there was no hard drive. The BASIC language allowed users to write their own programs large and small. A national magazine sprang up to showcase the capabilities of the Color Computer called Rainbow. Many programs were typed into memory by the user, though a floppy desk was also sometimes was shipped with the magazine.

For a couple of years they sponsored a “write your own” mystery/adventure program. These were written in BASIC and were simple text adventures. You are presented with some action you must respond to in writing. A lot of IF/THEN statements. After studying the written programs in the magazine I decided to try my hand at it. But most of the published programs were dungeon quests, outer space treks, fantasy tales and historical alternate adventures. I wanted something different. And thus was born…

Yes, I know. There is a play by Christopher Durang called The Actor’s Nightmare but this is not based on that play, though I was very aware of it (funny play). Instead my hero is an actor with a great opportunity. He is selected to star in a great new script which could make his career. The night before his understudy slips him a mickey, steals his clothes and ID and locks him in his hotel room. You are required to break out of the hotel, make your way across town to the theatre, avoid the public entrance where the show has sold out, slip in the stage door, avoid the guard, get your ID from the dressing room and the extra costume from the costume shop, make your way through backstage while avoiding the evil stage manager who is in on the plot and burst onto the stage to take your place in theatre history. So much can go wrong on the way the player often must start again until the user succeeds. So if you find the Third Rainbow Book of Adventures (published January, 1987) you can find the entire program typed there for yourself. For being selected and inclusion in the book I received, you guessed it, a free copy of the book!

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