Broken TRS-80 Text Adventure Game Fixed After 40 Years

A photo of footprints in the arctic snow with two figures walking in the distance.

Back in the early ’80s, when computer games were often distributed as lines of code you had to type in yourself, teenage TRS-80 hobbyist and future Fast Company tech editor Harry McCracken had a text adventure called Arctic Adventure published in The Captain ‘80 Book of Basic Adventures. As published, the game’s code was broken. Forty years later, McCracken finally fixed it.

Early computer magazines were packed with pages of code for eager PC enthusiasts to type in and fiddle with. I remember spending hours as a preteen sitting in front of my father’s computer, hunting and pecking all over the keyboard as I entered someone else’s BASIC code. Once all of the code was entered, I’d either have a game to play or several more hours of poring over code to see what I entered wrong. Those were the days.

As chronicled on the website he made about his Arctic Adventure saga, young McCracken was in high school when he wrote his arctic-themed adventure game, PC Gamer reported. Inspired by the work of legendary adventure game developer Scott Adams, McCracken created a survival game that tasked the player with getting back to their base before succumbing to the harsh arctic environment. He had no knowledge of the arctic and did absolutely zero research, but that’s fine. It’s not like anyone was going to fact-check it on Wikipedia.

Pages from The Captain '80 Book of Basic Adventures showing code for Arctic Adventure.

The game was published, McCracken got paid, and he went on to create a couple more games before shifting his focus to creative writing. The only feedback he received about Arctic Adventure was from someone involved with the software company that belonged to the book’s editor, Bob “Captain 80″ Liddil, telling him the game didn’t work.

Having never received a copy of the book his code was published in and not having kept a copy of the code for himself, McCracken spent the next four decades or so doing non-Arctic Adventure related things.

Thanks to internet archivists, however, he recently acquired a copy of The Captain ‘80 Book of Basic Adventures, and with the help of a TRS-80 emulator for his iPad, managed to type in his code and get the game up and running. Only it wasn’t quite running.

After five or six tedious typing sessions on my iPad, I had Arctic Adventure restored to digital form. That was when I made an alarming discovery: As printed in the Captain ‘80 book, the game wasn’t just unwinnable but unplayable. It turned out that it had a 1981 typo that consisted of a single missing “0″ in a character string. It was so fundamental a glitch that it rendered the game’s command of the English language inoperable. You couldn’t GET SHOVEL, let alone complete the adventure (The object is to get back to your base).

McCracken has no idea how the typo occurred. Maybe it was something he did that the book editors didn’t catch. Maybe it was a printing error. Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter now. Arctic Adventure is restored and playable in your web browser via a browser-based TRS-80 emulator on McCracken’s website. I have tested it myself, and I could indeed GET SHOVEL, GET COAT, WEAR COAT, and GO OUT, exiting my starter igloo and plunging headlong into the arctic wilderness.

A screenshot of restored TRS-80 text adventure Arctic Adventures.

The adventure begins anew.
Screenshot: Harry McCracken

Anyone else getting chills?


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