On August 12, 1981, IBM introduced the PC. As an IBM partner, Microsoft offered a whole range of software from the start. In addition to the DOS operating system and all kinds of programming languages, it also includes a learning program and a game: “Microsoft Adventure”. The first PC game.
The origins of a genre
In fact, “Adventure” is older – the implementation of the text set of the same name, which at the same time gives its name to the genre. It was created in Fortran in the mid-1970s on a PDP-10, a DEC mainframe. At first, it is more of a cave simulation; developer William Crowther uses it to map Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. You walk from room to room with a text command and read a description. No graphics, all text. To make it more exciting for his two daughters, he widened the frame with some fantastic elements. 22-year-old student Don Woods expands the game considerably, adds texts and puzzles, and introduces a points system: 350 points must be obtained.
The famous first sentence: “You stand at the end of a road in front of a small brick building. You stand at the end of a street in front of a small brick house. Enter with ENTER BUILDING and get a description of what’s in the house. Keys, a lamp, food and a bottle of water. With commands like GET KEYS, you collect everything. It can keep you busy for weeks. Especially since there is no map and you have to make drawings and notes.
“Adventure” has a huge impact. For many who had access to computers in the 1970s, this was their fascinating first contact with a computer game. Imitators are emerging. First “Zork”, also for the PDP-10, which is considered the second adventure and leads to the founding of Infocom. “Adventureland” by Scott Adams, who in 1978 for the first time implemented textual adventures on microcomputers. And “Mystery House” by Roberta and Ken Williams, who first added graphics to an adventure game in 1980. It becomes the Sierra games company with classics like “King’s Quest” and “Larry”. Do not forget: “Adventure” for the Atari 2600 as the first action adventure.
How Gordon Letwin came to Microsoft
Gordon Letwin also enjoys games. In 1978 he implemented it as a personal computer assembler – in his spare time, as he is currently employed as a developer at Heath. The company has been producing construction kits for hobby electronics and amateur radio operators for decades. When the first computer kits appeared in the mid-1970s, the Heathkit H8 was one of them. Later, there are finished computers, which have had some success with the takeover by Zenith in 1979. Letwin writes the HDOS operating system including an assembler for Heath computers.
And a BASIC interpreter. Bill Gates would have preferred to deliver it, but when he introduced his programming language to managers at Heath, there was a small uproar: Letwin loudly announced that his BASIC was better than Microsoft’s. It doesn’t help. Heath decides to use Microsoft BASIC in the future. Letwin makes the most of it and switches to Microsoft. There, he works first on a BASIC compiler, then on Pascal.
He is one of the first employees to appear in the famous Microsoft photo from 1979, which shows eleven of the thirteen employees of the young company. And as one of the first employees, he receives stock options, a small stake in the company, which will later make him rich. He became the chief architect of the OS / 2 operating system, initially developed by IBM and Microsoft, until he left the company in 1993.
Microsoft Consumer Products
During its early years, Microsoft only worked with large customers: Programming languages like BASIC are not sold to end customers, but are licensed to hardware manufacturers. No worries about pirated copies, no worries about requests for assistance. But Bill Gates is convinced that selling to end customers would accelerate the growth of the company. Thus was born the subsidiary Microsoft Consumer Products, which itself publishes and sells software (and later also hardware). At the end of 1979 the first products appeared for the TRS-80 and the Apple II. Among them “Typing Tutor”, a learning program for better typing on the keyboard, which Microsoft did not develop itself, but under license and sold on cassette. And Gordon Letwin’s “Adventure”.
According to legend, the idea of releasing the game, originally developed as a hobby, came from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. When Letwin teases him about his new car, Allen replies that Letwin should sell “Adventure” in order to earn some extra money. Although Microsoft frequently buys or licenses programs to other companies for release, Gates hesitates at first. There remains an exception that Microsoft publishes a program that was created in an employee’s spare time (and is rewarded for it).
In December 1979, “Adventure” appeared as Microsoft’s first game, for Apple II and TRS-80, for $ 30 each. It is announced that the scope is comparable to the PDP version. This is actually a special feature because the original game requires 300 kilobytes of RAM, whereas personal computers usually have a tenth or less. Letwin manages to house the game on 32 kilobytes by programming it in assembler and reloading the data from the floppy disk. For 1979, these are still relatively high requirements, which the two computers can only meet through memory upgrades. The floppy disk is equipped with copy protection, a novelty at the time, and allows the game to be saved.
Softwin Associates, behind which Letwin is located, is named as developer. We forget to mention the developers of the template, William Growther and Don Woods. The game is quite successful; in Softalk magazine, it is featured regularly in “The Top Thirty”, a software ranking for the Apple II.
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