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Source: ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast
Interviewer: Kevin Savetz
Scott Adams is probably best known for his line of text adventures for early personal computers, including, "Adventureland," "Pirate Adventure," "Mystery Fun House," and many others. He's also the founder of Adventure International, the company that brought Atari users myriad programs, including "Preppie!," "Rally Speedway," "Whomper Stomper," and lots of others. The company also released countless programs for TRS-80, Commodore, Apple II, and other platforms. This interview took place March 16, 2015.
Kevin: Of course, you're best known for the text adventure games. How did you get started with computers? Can you just give us the back story? Scott Adams: Actually, I got started with computers long before that. I was fortunate enough, when I was in high school back in 1968, I think it was, '69 in that realm, our high school was a test bed for the state of Florida. They decided they were going to put a computer terminal in a high school somewhere and see what would happen. It just happened to be the high school I was at. It was in the math and science department I was at.
I discovered it in 11th grade, or 12th grade, 11th or 12th grade, in that time frame. It was 12th grade. I remember falling in love with it. I remember my very first major program I wrote was doing "Tic Tac Toe." I was always interested in games and computers.
From there, I moved on to college. Just before I finished college actually I went for a couple of years and I was working in the Computer Science department of the college, which was an amazing story in itself, but we're not going there today.
What is interesting to the gaming world, I went down range and I was working for RCA as a contractor. That contract was at Space Defense Command in Colorado. I was working in the radar bases down range in Ascension Island and then later on Antigua Island.
I remember on Antigua Island, it wasn't a 24-hour satellite tracking. They only had one shift, which means in the evening as one of the programmers, actually the programmer on the base, I was able to get a hold of the machine and use it for whatever I wanted. This was a Xerox Sigma Seven, big old main frame. These things were really large and we had a radar scope that they were using for tracking radar.
I got a Star Trek game that I'd come across that was written for Telekite. It was for a PDP 11 or something and I got it running on the Sigma machine on the Telekite and I thought, "Hmm, there's a CRT over there. I wonder if I can do something with this." I actually got the video game using the tracking console to play on there. It was probably the world's biggest video game at the time.
Kevin: A lot of fun. Scott: Then went on from there. The adventure games came later, this was in '78 and I was working for Stromberg Carlson telephone company and I was doing programming for what was going to be the digital central office. This was the change over when phones were starting to go from all analog mechanical switches into the digital world. I was doing embedded software for that equipment. We had a central computer big DEC main frame and we all had terminals and stuff that we were working off of. I found out from the IT Department they'd gotten a neat game in - they knew I liked games and computers - and it was called Colossal Caves. I would come in everyday an hour or so before work and stay for a couple of hours after work and just play Colossal Caves and have a blast with it.
Actually there were another couple of computers in between that, that I forgot. If I could back up just a slight bit, in the early '70s before I was working at Stromberg my brother built a bitslice homebrew computer from parts. There's actually a video on my website and I actually developed a game for that. It was using a TV and keyboard that was totally a homebrew hacker job as it were.
The game that I wrote, I wrote literally in machine language. It wasn't even in Assembler because there was no Assembler. I had to handle and assemble it and I had to figure out how to link all the modules, come up with a linking scheme, and I got it to run. My brother took a video of it and I actually have it running on my web page, if anybody is interested in that.
Kevin: What was the game? Scott: It was sort of a side scrolling space game where you're trying to blast enemies. It was just a space war game. I followed that by my first...What were they? Kit computers. They were two very early computers. The MITS Altair and the Sphere as in large globe sphere. They came out about the same time. I ordered the Sphere and it was a kit computer that actually had a keyboard and screen. I remember it down on the TV at the time when I was building it, so it came in down there. When I got the machine and finally got it running, I had a lot of fun with it. One of the first things I did -- after I got it working and understood it -- was I wrote, this time in Assembler, a tank war game. I don't know if you remember the arcade game Tank War...
Kevin: Sure. Scott: ...where you'd have two players playing against each other looking to a screen and then they have dual controllers where a tank gets to push them forward with each hand. You either push forward or either pull back. Push forward means that tread was moving forward, pull back means the tread was going backwards and the middle it was stationary. I actually built sets of controllers. I had two boxes with them and then with a fire button on each one, on the screen you'd see the two tanks on a top down view and you could have a tank war game. Sphere then came out with the first contest saying, "What do you use your Sphere for?" I sent in a video of that and a description and I actually won the contest for the first game.
Sadly that company went under and it's long since gone but it was quite memorable at the time. Fast forward, working at Stromberg, playing adventure and at this time I had gotten my first what I called an appliance computer. It was actually all assembled, I didn't have to build anything, it was ready. It was a TRS Model 80-1 from RadioShack.
I played the Colossal Caves adventure. That's when I said, "Wow, this is so much fun." I'd been wanting to do something in Basic because I'd never used Basic before because to me it was a high level language compared to Assembler and machine language. I thought, "I wonder if I could write a game like Adventure on the TRS-80?"
I mentioned it to friends at work and they laughed at me, said, "That is totally impossible. We've got a big main frame this is running on. That's a little 16K toy. It's not going to be able to do anything." I thought about it and then I came up with a way to do it. What I did was I first, in effect, invented my own language for writing adventure games and then wrote a compiler that compiled the language.
Then I wrote an emulator or an engine that could then read the language or think about it as a database. I developed language and my first venture all simultaneously. That was what Adventure Land was. I got down with that and thought, "This is pretty cool. I wonder if everybody else would like to play it."
I think I placed an ad is Softside magazine, I think that was the name of it at the time. I put that on the market and got lots of responses. People were buying it and doing pretty well selling copies here and there and then suddenly my wife got a call from a fellow in Chicago. I was down in Florida. I even remember the name, Manny Garcia, and he had a RadioShack up there and he wanted to buy 50 copies because he had a TRS-80 there and he knew he could sell a bunch of them.
"Sure, I'll sell you 50 copies and here's the the price. "I think they were $15 and you literally had to explain to me what wholesale meant, and why you give a discount to someone buying them.
Scott: I spent all weekend making 50 copies of tapes, one by one... [crosstalk]
Scott: [laughs] and sent them to him. He got them and we got a call back. He said, "This is great. Where is the packaging?" [laughter]
Kevin: I didn't hear you. Where's the what? Scott: Packaging, and it's like, "Oh, you want packaging?" He says, "Yeah, I sold all those. They're all gone. I can move a lot more of these, but they've got to have packaging. I want to put them in the store." I went, "Oh great. What am I gonna do? I'll be making like...sell another 50 or 100 of these. How am I gonna do packaging? What can I do?" Looked at different packaging companies and, "Oh sure, we can do packaging. How many 50,000 lots you want?" I was like, "No, this is not gonna work. I need something small." I had an infant daughter at that time and she was on formula. I remember there were plastic shell baby bottles and then you put a plastic liner inside the baby bottle, put the formula in and put the lid on.
I took one of those baby bottle liners and said, "Huh, the size is kind of interesting. My cassette tape fit right inside it. I thought, "You know, if I get a foldable business card on the top, staple it, and drill a hole, I'd have packaging." Indeed, that's exactly what I did.
I sold a bunch for a long time with that packaging.
Kevin: You pretty much invented software in baggies, right? Scott: Indeed. You've got to realize, nobody was selling software at this point because there was nothing to sell software for Kevin: Absolutely. I remember early software stores. You'd go in there and it would just be sometimes, software in baggies. Scott: That was the beginning of the Adventure International line. I called the company Adventure International. I did a number of games, text adventures for the TRS-80 because the US-80 was not a graphics orientated machine. I couldn't do much there. Kevin: Why did you choose the name Adventure International? Because you doing... [crosstalk]
Scott: ...I was doing adventure games and I thought it sounded big. Kevin: OK. Scott: Later, during its lifetime, Adventure International really did go international. We had publishing both in Japan and in the UK. Kevin: Your Adventureland game, was that more or less Colossal Cave, right? Scott: No, not at all. It was similar to Colossal Cave in that you went and had to discover treasures and you had to get all of the treasures to a certain place. The game itself is totally different than Colossal Cave. Kevin: It's time for me to play it again. Scott: Yes. I won't give it away, there's some good stuff in there. Colossal Caves gave me the idea of what I could do. I did not try to copy it because I knew I couldn't. I didn't want to, I wanted to do my own game, so that's what I did. I remember when the Atari came out. That was really a big deal that they are announcing their computer. Besides the software publishing house, we branched out besides the adventure games. We had a pretty deep catalog, maybe 20, 30 pages of stuff in there. We also published from other game authors, too, during the time. My adventure games, I kept rewriting the basic engine and putting it on other machines because it was a fairly easy transfer.
That helped go multi-platform and exposed us to a lot of platforms. We got over to the Atari. At the time, we also had a store that we were selling software supplies from in Longwood. I remember thinking, "Wow, people really like these. We have a lot of traffic in here. I wonder if we could sell the Atari computers."
For quite a while we were doing that. We tried to sell Radio Shack computers and we actually sold those for while because we found some dealers that would sell them to us out the back door because they just wanted to get their numbers up. Radio Shack did not want anyone selling it but them, but we actually sold quite a few until they really started tightening the screws.
That's when we switched over to selling Atari computers. I got the Atari, started using it, and thought, "This is a really good machine. I like a lot of things about it." I remember Star Raiders vividly. That was an incredible cartridge. Anybody who's had an Atari and played Star Raiders knows what I'm talking about.
That was really ground breaking. That was one of the cartridges that helped move the machine into a lot of homes. I got my games transferred over and they were just text at that point. About this time, Sierra came out with their first graphic adventure game, which later became Sierra On-line. That was started by Williams.
Kevin: Ken and Roberta. Scott: Ken and Roberta. Ken was originally a salesman for me on the east coast, which is kind of interesting. Broderbund, Doug Carlson, was an author for me originally. If you drew a history of computer gaming, AI is up at the pinnacle of it, where things came from. I thought it would be good to get graphics into this. I worked with my graphic artist. By this time, I had an artist who was doing packaging for us, an outside firm. His name was Pepi. We developed a graphic version of the game. Everything I developed was because we had the store, and later we had more stores, we needed a cash register system.
At that time you could buy, I think it was NEC cash registers. They were pretty pricey, $10,000 range for a cash register is kind of ridiculous. I thought, "This is a really good computer, I wonder if I can write a cash register program." Indeed, I did. We called CRIS. It was called Cash Register Inventory System. We got it working for our stores.
It allowed our salesmen -- we had a number of them -- to get commissions on sales and keep track of inventory. We also sold that in our old catalogs, you'll find that in there too. That was all based on the Atari system. I have very fond memories of that machine.
Kevin: It sounds like your Adventure Engine thing was almost like a virtual machine, so maybe you could use the same code across different machines? Scott: Yes. I used a binary database. Once I had the engine running, I could move the database over and use it exactly as it was. Kevin: That's awesome. That's what Infocom started doing with their Z machine later. That's the same sort of deal. I didn't know at all about the cash register system. That's awesome that you've developed a product yourself and decided to sell it as well. Scott: We had a number of utility programs too. If you ever get a chance to look through a catalog, there are probably some online, there was quite a few different utilities and programs available. The Atari was a very popular machine for us. We supported it very heavily. Kevin: I was looking through the list. Atari Maniac has a list by publisher and [indecipherable 18:11] text adventures. You guys did early release of Preppy and Sea Dragon. Scott: Preppy was the only game we ever produced that won awards. We won Game of the Year for that. I remember that year. It was literally a Frogger rip off, with enough of a twist that we didn't get sued. The people that were doing Frogger didn't target the Atari market at all. It became a runaway best seller. People just loved it. Sea Dragon was also a lot of fun too.
Kevin: On a personal note, my dad and I pirated a lot of software, but Lunar Lander was one of like four programs we actually owned. [laughs] Scott: Very good, I'm glad to hear that. Recently, I saw on eBay, somebody sent me a link, of a pristine Lunar Lander copy went for some outrageous amount of money. We're talking 10, 20, 30 thousand dollars. I mean that's crazy. Absolutely crazy. I don't know if you still have your original copy. Kevin: I think I do. I'm pretty sure I do. Scott: You should check on eBay and see if it has any value. I don't know if there are collectors out there or what's going on, but I thought, "Wow that is really fascinating." Kevin: That's weird. I'll look into that. I see people on eBay asking that amount of money for things occasionally, but people actually paying that amount is [laughs] a whole other deal. Scott: Then you wonder, "Did it really sell for that, or did somebody pay somebody else to sell so that they could jack up the price and then try to do a con on somebody else and sell it to them?" I don't know. Kevin: Such weirdness. Do you want to keep going with your story? Scott: Prime the pump. I'm not sure... Kevin: OK... Scott: ...it sounded interesting. Kevin: [laughs] It's all interesting. You've gone from just you to hiring a few people, how big... Scott: We grew to about 20, 30 people at our max and our gross revenue was probably around three million, which was a decent amount for the early 80s. The industry collapsed. I don't know if you remember when TI went under. When TI came out with their 99/4, which became the 99/4a, which then they decided is not selling and the $1,000 machine was being sold for $50.
There was a big fallout in the industry then. A lot of companies closed. A lot of software went under. A lot hardware went under. We didn't have deep pockets. We were totally self-financed. No backers. We just didn't weather it. That was the end of AI.
Kevin: That was about 1985 or so, right? Scott: Yeah. Sounds about right. Kevin: Were you doing coding at that point, all along, or did you move to more of a...? Scott: Yep. Even with running the company, I was still doing software coding. Plus, we had inside programmers working on projects and we also had outside programmers that we were publishing their work on a royalty basis. Another interesting side note. Do you remember on the Atari, a company called Happy Computing?
Kevin: Yes, I do. Scott: There was a little interesting story behind that. We had to start putting copy protection on our games because we found that people were pirating. You just said yourself that you pirated a lot of stuff but some things you actually bought. In general when people could pirate things, they seemed to do so. What we ended up doing was coming up with copy protection schemes on the different machines to try to slow that down. On the Atari, we came up with a pretty good scheme.
It worked fairly well until this fellow brought out a different drive, the Happy Computing drive, and not only was it extremely faster than the audio bus that the Atari was running on, it could also break the copy protection on our games.
The Atari bus, because they over built it, because of what they thought they were going to get in trouble with the FCC, they went ahead and made the bus at an audio speed so that it wouldn't interfere with television or radio.
Because of that the disk drives were inordinately slow. Literally, it was like the disk drive was picking up the phone, dialing over a modem over to the computer, and then sending its messages over.
Happy Computing came out with a high speed drive that connected up to a different port. I think you used the cartridge slot. I'm pretty sure, so it'd be right on the bus. It broke our copyright completely. It had a method to break the copyright.
The interesting story behind that is the fellow that came out with that company, I was in Florida at the time, this guy's living over in California, and he's producing these things and selling them. The guy who did it, his name was Richard Adams and he's my brother.
Kevin: He's your brother? Scott: Yes. Kevin: Wow. [laughter]
Scott: We had no animosity over it. That was his business plan and I was perfectly OK with it. He was just meeting a market need. I still sent him all my software for free whenever it came out. Then, he spent the time making sure he could break the copy protection on it and get it working on his drives. Kevin: That's crazy. I have a little story related to that. I did not know that, but I emailed him on January 20 asking him for an interview. He emailed back saying he can't get approval right now from his current employer. [laughter]
Kevin: I don't know who is current employer is or what that means, but I was, "Ah, I really wanted that interview." Scott: Go ahead and email him back and tell him that we've chatted, as a matter-of-fact, I'll talk to him on Facebook let him know too, maybe he'll be interested. I don't know. I do know he's got something very interesting going on and I can't discuss it. Kevin: OK. Honestly, I don't care what he's got going interesting now, I only care about what happened 30 years ago. Scott: What was then. Sure. Maybe if you can explain that to him, that's all you want to talk to him about, not anything in the present, then he might be willing. Kevin: Maybe you could tell him I'm a good guy and that'll help him. Scott: OK. Kevin: You seem to have a soft spot in your heart for the Atari over the other machines, although you guys released stuff for the TI, Commodore, and everything. Scott: Exidy Sorcerer, TRS-80 Model 3, TRS-80 Model 2, CP/M, just about any machine that might be used during that time period, we probably had something out there. We had games for some of the Japanese, the NEC computer. We had a Japanese publishing side. We had games over on the UK side for the Sinclair and the Armstrong. I'm trying to remember what the other one was. We supported a very large range of machines. Of them all, what was running for the cash register was the TI. I still did all my games on the TRS-80 because I still did them, originally, as text games, as far as the adventures go. My compiler was also on the TRS-80, so then, I would just port over the databases to the other machines.
I did greatly enjoy the Atari. I used that for the basis for the ones with graphics at least that were using 6502s.
Kevin: Aside from dirty pirates like me, were the Atari people a good percentage of your business? Scott: I honestly don't remember. We did a big market on Commodore too, but that came later when the Vic 20 came out and the Commodore 64. That's a totally different story, what went on with Commodore. We had an interesting history with them. Atari, we were working as a third-party publisher. With Commodore, when they first were coming out with their Vic 20, they actually contacted me and said, "We're bringing out this new computer called the Vic 20."
I said. "Yeah, that's one of the few machines I figure I'll never get my games on because you guys have put all of 5K of memory in it and I need a minimum of 16K. This thing's not going to work, so it's a dead end."
They said, "Well, tell you what. We really want to have your games as launch games and can we talk about it. Maybe we can use something in a cartridge." I said, "Oh, OK. Yeah, I'd be interested to do that." I actually worked with them.
They sent an engineer down who knew the machine and I worked with him very closely to get my games to run off of a cartridge. They wanted the first five adventure games that were in the series at the time.
I did get them running. We had a big problem getting the games to work. Even with the cartridge, there was still barely enough memory.
I literally got to the point where I'm getting things working, and I said, "I need 128 bytes more. I mean, this is so crazy, I can't cut anything out. I'm down to the bone."
The engineer said, "Well, I've got an idea. You know these cartridges have a built in auto-loader, so if you put them in, they start running. If we take the auto-loader out and give directions on how to enter a SYS command into Basic, they could start the cartridge."
I said, "Let's do it." That's what we did. That's why on the Vic 20, the cartridges have a SYS command on them, S-Y-S with a weird number on it. That was, basically, to start the cartridge running because I had to pull the loader out. It worked. We got it going. That was amazing.
That was an incredible sell-through, obviously, because it was a launch title. People, when they bought the machine, didn't have a lot of choices. They moved a lot of those cartridges. That was very good.
TI, I had contract with them to do a cartridge. We did two cartridges for them. They were really hot and heavy. One cartridge was just a cartridge and you had to load the game off of tape. It was just the engine in the cartridge and you could buy any of the 12 games. The cartridge came with one game and you could buy the other 11 and load them.
Then, we came out with the 13th. I was writing specifically for them, because I had a special contract, they were making it worth my while. It was a full game, full text adventure game on cartridge and for the first time ever, it had graphics. It was a full text adventure game on cartridge with graphics. That was Return to Pirates Island.
I had to come up with a scheme to get the graphics into the cartridge with the game. Instead of doing compression algorithms, this was a very manual oriented process. We came up with a set of pieces of pictures that the graphic artist could use to put together, and he could color them in, so to speak, sort of like making a stained glass window from pieces.
He had all these pieces he could use to make his pictures. He literally spent a month doing this and working through the issues. It worked. It went out.
I was so amazed, so happy with it, and yet the month after this was finally on the market, that's when TI pulled the plug on the machine.
That thing would have done very well. It started off with very strong sales. But, bye-bye TI. There was obviously no more behind that.
Another thing that I ended up doing was working with Marvel Comics. I don't know if you're aware of that.
Kevin: No. Tell me. Scott: Marvel approached me. The fellow was Joe Calamari. He was the Vice-President of Marvel at the time. He said they wanted to get Marvel characters on to home computers and he was told I was the person that he should contact. I thought, "Wow, pretty cool." I went up to Marvel. I met him and met a lot of the staff there. Jim Shooter was the editor at the time. Oh, I can't remember who the artist was. I met a very, very big artist. You could find it on the Web if you look.
Anyway I decided that, yes, I definitely wanted to have a relationship with them, so I came out. I had full rights to the whole catalog. I could use anything I want and do anything I wanted with it.
My first game was "The Hulk." They said, "Well, why don't you do 'Spider-Man'?" I said, "I want to save that because I want to do Spider-Man right, and I want to wring out what I'm doing with the Hulk. It's a big enough name that it's good enough, but I'm going to do things and I'm sure I'm going to figure out a better way to do them later."
He said, "OK. Whatever you want to do." I came up with a concept. It was called Questprobe. I came up with the name. They also had me outline comic books to go with each game. I wrote the comic books for the game. They then gave it to their staff. In other words I was doing the creative design of the overall comic book.
They then actually pen-and-inked it and then put the dialog in. Once again, if you look at who was doing it -- John Romita. That was who it was. Romita was doing it, the first one, and went ahead and did the graphics. Then I had a major villain in the whole series. There's a whole tie-in as you go through it.
He's called the Chief Examiner. I got a call from them saying, "Well, we're getting to the point where we need to do Chief Examiner. I just want to know if you have any visual concept of what you'd like to do for him." I said, "Yeah, I do. Why don't you use me?" They said, "Really?" I said, "Yeah."
He said, "Well, OK. Tell you what. Put a picture in the mail. Let me get with the artists." I get a call back a couple days later. He says, "Yeah, the artists says you look evil enough. They can do this."
Scott: If you read the Questprobe series, you'll see the Chief Examiner in there. That was based on me. There's also some pictures on the Web where you can see pictures of me next to the pictures [laughs] of the Chief Examiner. You'll get the drift of how they tie together. It was a lot of fun working with Marvel. They're really great people. I was supposed to do a series of 12. I ended up doing three. I was working on the fourth one when AI went under. The three I did were "Hulk," "Spider-Man," and "Fantastic Four," and I was working on "X-Men" at the time. X-Men got semi-finished. I think there are some bootleg copies of the early adventure, how far I'd gotten, from people running on emulators, but it was fun.
Marvel's a great, great bunch of people. Another company that I worked with, got approached by, was...it wasn't Paramount. I can't remember which movie company it is. Anyway, they were coming out with a new movie. They decided they were going to make it a cult classic before it even came out.
They were going to have fan clubs. They wanted to have video games come out at the same time. Once again they said we were the people they were supposed to talk to. I said, "Yes, that's fine by me." The name of the movie was "Buckaroo Banzai: Adventures in the 5th Dimension." If you look it up today, it really is a cult classic.
Kevin: Absolutely. Scott: When it came out, it was a cult bomb. It literally bombed. It was like one of those movies that nobody liked and then later everybody loves. You can think of other instances. "It's a Wonderful Life" is another good example of that type of movie. It's a Wonderful Life really basically bombed. People don't realize that today. Everybody thinks it was always received wonderful. Anyway, the same thing with Buckaroo. That was another project we did for outside licensing. Again, a lot of fun. I enjoyed the times and the memories.
Kevin: What are you most proud of? Scott: Probably my last game that I did, which I wrote just a couple of years ago. In 2000 I decided, "Let me see if I could still write adventure games." I wrote a game. This time instead of using two-word adventure games it uses a full sentence English. It was based on my "Return to Pirate's Island." I'd call it "Return to Pirate's Island 2." It's just a re-look at it, totally redone, new puzzles and new ways of doing things just to see if I could do it. I enjoyed doing that. Then two, three years ago I finished up another game that actually took me 10 years. I had worked on it for 10 years on and off. I finally got it out. It's called "The Inheritance."
It's currently the only game that I actually still sell. It's on my website. If people are interested, they're welcome to download a demo. The demo's for free. If they don't use the hint system, there's probably a good couple of weeks of play time just in the demo alone. The hint system that I put into it is kind of unique.
It's a five-tier hint system where it basically starts off giving you very gentle nudges in the right direction all the way up to the final solution to a puzzle if you really, really are desperate. Out of everything, like you asked what am I most proud of, it would probably be that one.
Kevin: Nice. My question about that is I was looking at the website. It says The Inheritance, Scott Adams, Bible Adventure number one. Is it only for people who are into that? Scott: Nope. No, not at all. Kevin: If you're not a godly person... Scott: Anyone should enjoy it. It doesn't push religion on people. What it does require you to do is read parts of the Bible and be able to logically think things through. It'll point you in the right direction. You don't even need a Bible because there's one built into the game. It is a gentle nudge to at least point people to the Bible to read, but it doesn't proselytize or knock people over the head. It's definitely like all my games. It's family-friendly, and it's a lot more fun when played in a group.
Most adventure games can be if you can get people together playing it where one person's typing and everybody's making suggestions, thinking, and talking. My beta testers just have been blown away. They had a blast playing it.
Kevin: Have you heard of Parsley Adventures? Scott: I didn't understand that. Say again? Kevin: Parsley like the food. Parsley Adventures. Scott: Nope, I have not. Kevin: [laughs] You reminded me when you said playing in a group. It is exactly like an old-school text adventure except there's no computer. There is a person who is the parser. Scott: OK. Kevin: If there's 30 people playing, every person takes one command at a time. You have to work together in order to solve a puzzle or whatever it is. Scott: That works well. I've actually played my games that way where people were interested in what my game was. Since at the time I knew my databases backwards and forwards I said, "Well, let's play an adventure game. You tell me what you're going to type in, and I'll tell you exactly what the game is going to say." Kevin: [laughs] Scott: That in effect is very similar to a Parsley I would say. Kevin: Definitely. How did you feel about InfoComm? Scott: They were really neat. They came out with some really good stuff. They were doing things for machines that at first required a higher investment from the users because they had to have disk drives and all the other stuff. I was still targeting the lower-end machines. They were also using a DEC actually to do their work. Instead of working on a TRS-80 or an Apple they were doing all their work on a mainframe to develop their databases. They spent a lot of money, and they came up with some really good-quality products. It was pretty amazing. Unfortunately I think there was just too much coming out that there wasn't enough of a market.
People started to drift away from the text games and getting more and more into wanting a full multimedia experience. That hurt them as much as it hurt us. I had graphics in mind, but I did not have the depths to the games that they have. I get fan mail today, I still get a lot of fan mail, and by the way, anybody that wants to write me is welcome to. The address is on my web page, which is msadams.com, M-S-A-D-A-M-S.com.
My email is the same email@example.com I try to answer all of my fan mail. One of the big threats that I get is people telling me, I go back, and I play this game. It's amazing because I remember it as being such a rich environment. I'm looking at this thing, and it's so sparse what I'm reading. You connected with me, you made me see this place, and it's just amazing.
Then I saw a graphic version of it, and that's not how I pictured it at all. It was much better in my mind.
Kevin: Based on your feedback that you get, what do you think is your most enduring adventure game? Scott: Probably Pirate Adventure, a lot of people remember that and connected with it. That, I get a lot of response from. Voodoo Castle, which I didn't do as much of the writing as my wife back then, tried to write an adventure and I had to clean it up with her. It has more of a woman's touch to it, and that seemed to resound with a number of people. Another one that was popular has an interesting story behind it. That's Pyramid of Doom. That was adventure number eight. That's set in the sands of Egypt, a lot of people remember that and the Purple Worm. They know a lot about it. The interesting thing is I didn't write that one at all.
I got a submission in the mail from somebody saying, I wrote this adventure game, take a look at it. It runs on your engine. I'm going what, wait a minute I never released an engine, I never told anyone how my engine works, it's totally proprietary you couldn't have.
I took it and started playing it and sure enough, he did it on my engine. It was a decent game. I contacted him, his name is Alvin Files, he's still around, he's in Oklahoma now, retired. He's a lawyer and he was just interested in it.
He took my machine language, disassembled it, figured out what it was doing, and figured out my language, which is awesome. He's not the only one that did that. Another fellow did it which is, I think it's number 12 in my series, Golden Voyage, by William Demoss. He did the same exact thing. In both cases neither one knew each other and neither had contacted each other.
I worked with them and I thought this is so amazing if they're able to do it, I want to get their stuff published. I'll give them publishing rights, I'll give them royalties, and I'll edit it with them because they were still rough gems, and I'd learned a lot of things about how an adventure should flow and so forth. I worked with them from that point of view. It's amazing what they did.
Anyway, back to your question, probably Pirate Adventure. That's where the line is, "Say, Yo ho, everything spins around and suddenly I'm elsewhere." A lot of people remember the Mongoose, and if you don't remember the Mongoose, I won't tell you about it, because you've got to play the game and you'll see why they remember the Mongoose.
Kevin: I don't remember the Mongoose, so I'll have to go back. I'm not sure I ever played that one. I know you had contracts with TI and Commodore. Did you ever attempt a contract with Atari? Scott: Nope, did not. I remember when Tremiel got kicked out of Commodore, then went over and bought Atari, Jack Tremiel, and then brought out the ST, which it supposedly didn't stand for anything, but everyone knew it stood for Sam Tremiel. I had dealings with Tremiel at Commodore and none of them were good. I wasn't about to approach him. I still supported the machine as a third party. Keep in mind that all these companies that I got the contracts with, they all approached me. I never reached out and chased any of the other companies. I didn't approach Atari and they didn't approach me.
Kevin: It was probably for the best. I've heard stories about other companies having to go out of business when the Tremiels didn't pay them. Scott: Oh, right. I believe that. Still in all, the machines that I liked. Other than its audio bus, the Atari was a great system. Kevin: Do you have anything that's like Atari source or any source code or anything from back in the day that has never seen the light of day, has never been released? Scott: I don't know I've got boxes of stuff in the back. Matter of fact the Strong Museum out in Rochester, recently contacted me. They wanted to talk to me today but I already had something scheduled. I'll be talking to them tomorrow. They're interested in picking up donations for their museum wing. Kevin: I've heard a lot of good things about them. Scott: I have too. I honestly don't know what I've got. Kevin: Find all of the Atari stuff that you don't think is public, that you don't mind sharing, I can archive it and send it back to you. Then you can move it on. Scott: There was one other program I wish I did keep and I know that I don't have it. I did a video arcade game for the Atari. A new language came out for the Atari and it was called Forgh, F-O-R-G-H. I'm not sure if you're aware of it, but it was a new programming language and it was strange. It was page orientated and written backwards. It caught my fancy and I thought I'd like to try writing something with this. It's an interesting language, I want to see what I could possibly do with it. I had wanted to do a video game on the Atari, because I was fascinated with Sprites. I wrote a game called Safire, where it's a burning building and it has Sapphires spread around inside.
You can play a top down view, looking at fireman going in and he would be pulling the hose behind them going through the building, trying to put out fires, break down doors to get to the treasures. You'd come across medical kits, fire could cut across and burn his hose, so you no longer have water. You could pick up fire extinguishers that he could use for short term.
You'd go back and fix his hose. You'd go through levels and levels. It wasn't Sapphire spelt like the jewel. It was S-A Fire for Scott Adams Fire. I got it going, I got it going into Beta, but this was about the time that AI went under. Sadly, all the disks and everything, I have no idea what happened to them. They required the FORGH compiler to run.
That's just a bit of trivia.
Kevin: If you could send a message to the Atari computer users that still exist and you can right now, what would you tell them. Scott: Enjoy your computers it's a great piece of hardware and it's got a tremendous back history to it, and there are probably utilities, games, and other things that you don't even know exist available for it. It was big in its time. There were a lot of projects going on. Kevin: Good answer. I think that's about all that I have for you. Scott: OK, great talking to you Kevin, and great talking to everybody out there in Atari Land and enjoy your hardware. Kevin: Great. Thanks so much. Scott: OK. Bye, bye.