Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

A Game Dev’s Story, Part III: Grand Designs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 15, 2012

In our previous installment, our hero (er, me) was learning how to program on a tiny, super-cheap computer with 1K of memory. Er, the computer, that is. Our hero has slightly more memory, we’d hope.

While I was playing on a toy computer, the arcade / video game boom was hitting full swing — the boom before the bust, as a matter of fact. I lamented being unable to create anything even approaching the arcade experience. I had the chance to experiment with the Apple II, Atari 400, TRS-80 Color Computer, Atari 800, and even a VIC-20 that friends owned. All of these systems had color graphics (with expansions on the Apple II), sound (ditto), better versions of BASIC, far more memory to work with, and best of all – the programs could run without blanking out the screen. And of course, they cost several times more than our tiny little Sinclair.

My favorite of them all was the Atari 800. It seemed to have everything. The dang thing was BUILT for gaming, from graphics and sound co-processors to cartridge slots. And it was by Atari! Duh! Atari was the king of game machines, and was clearly going to remain the undisputed champion for decades to come. A couple of my friends were into programming as well, and were making very simple little games with awesome-sounding explosions using the Atari sound chip.

So I bugged my parents for a new computer. A lot. I devoured computer magazines, and quoted articles to them. I even bought a couple of books about popular games on other computers that I couldn’t play. This is how I was introduced to Wizardry. Wizardry existed in my mind years before I got to play the real thing. The real thing wasn’t quite as good as the game I’d imagined when I’d read so much about it, but it was still cool. In the meantime, I visited my friend Kevin’s house every other weekend and played on his Atari VCS (or “2600”), and we blew most of our money at the arcades.

Oh, yeah. The arcades. Let me tell you – 1982 was an incredible year for the arcades. It was they heyday. Video game machines were as common as gumball machines, and there were arcades full of them in nearly every shopping center or strip-mall. The graphics were far superior to what you’d get on the consoles of the time.  Any time I found myself in a commercial district – shopping with my family, or whatever – I’d set out on an adventure to hunt down whatever video games or arcades were in the area. Inevitably, I would discover a game I’d never played before, and I’d spend a few coins figuring it out. I was definitely a game “grazer” – I would rarely focus on a single game. I’d put a few extra quarters in my favorites, but even then I was all about exploring the variety of games.

Geekiest of all (which I am also somewhat proud of): I was designing text adventure games. I created maps on paper – huge maps – with circles for each room or “node” and notes for the names of the various exits. I had plans, dang it. My methodology was based partly on those books containing hints and partial walk-throughs of adventure games, partly on my experience designing Dungeons & Dragons adventures for friends, and partly on my own limited experience playing adventure games on other people’s computers.

I wasn’t very sure how I was going to implement these adventure game designs, but I understood programming enough by now that I could figure part of it out. I’d written something along the lines of an adventure game on the Sinclair. I think it had a grand total of three rooms. There was nothing you could do besides move between those three locations, as that consumed every bit of memory I had. Each room did its own parsing of input – which was pretty easy, as they only had two or three commands each (“L” for Look, “N” for North, and “S” for South.). I imagined that making a larger adventure game was a lot like making that tiny one, only bigger (with more rooms). At the time, I hadn’t really considered the importance of things like moving objects around from room to room, inventory, consistent parsing, etc.

None of those adventure game design plans were ever implemented, by the way.

One day, my dad announced he’d ordered a new “home computer” for “the family.” This was the good news. The bad news was that it didn’t exist yet. He’d ordered the Commodore 64, a recently-announced computer expected to ship early that summer. It didn’t. I expected to spend the summer going wild with sixty-four friggin’ kilobytes of RAM (oh what could I ever do with so much memory!). Instead, I made my paper adventure game maps. Our pre-ordered computer – which cost a mere $600 – didn’t arrive until early September. School had been back in session for over a week.  My summer vacation had been lost, forcing me to do (GAH!) Summer Vaction-y things instead of programming.

But I would make up for it. Boy would I make up for it.

Filed Under: A Game Dev's Story, Game Development, Retro - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • JeffSullins said,

    Wizardry — right at the heart of what I love about RPGs. So sad that we never got Wiz9 after Wiz8.

  • JeffSullins said,

    And, I’m really liking this series of posts — triggering some of my own memories.

  • Reed Byers said,

    My entire life in high school revolved around the Commodore 64. Learning BASIC. Learning ML. Compute!’s Gazette. Compute! proramming books. (“Mapping the 64” — what does each and every byte *DO*, and what does THAT mean for writing cool programs?).

    500+ floppy disks (notched so you could use both sides, naturally) of pirated games. Ultima. Archon. Telengard (which I hacked — since it was in BASIC — to SHOW ME WHAT BLOODY LEVEL NUMBER I WAS ON, since it never told you otherwise). The Sword of Fargoal (which I always pronounced “fargo all”).

    *SIGH* Geeky paradise.

    (And then I went off to college, and my parents bought me a Commodore 128 — the TRUE programmer’s dream machine. With a BASIC that made the 64 look like a Model T, a built-in ML monitor and sprite editor, and 80 columns for writing up those term papers…)

    Commodore Business Machines gave me my favorite hobby, college major, and career. They single-handedly made me the nerd I am today… 🙂

  • delve said,

    Ditto. Ah bittersweet nostalgia.

  • delve said,

    Ooh. ninja’d. My above was in reply to JeffSullins

  • Automata said,


    Granted the circumstances are different, but entry 9 into the other two long-running RPG series Might and Magic and Ultima, did not go that well, so be careful what you wish for.

  • slenkar said,

    I made those paper maps for text adventures too!

    I had 48k to mess around with on the zx sinclair spectrum, I didnt understand how to program in basic though, maybe I was too young.