In the early 1980s, when computer games were often distributed as lines of code that you had to enter yourself, Harry McCracken, a teenage TRS-80 enthusiast and future Fast Company tech editor, posted an adventure. text titled Arctic Adventure in The Captain ’80. Basic Adventure Book. As posted, the game code was broken. Forty years later, McCracken finally fixed it.
Early computer magazines were full of pages of code that PC enthusiasts eager to grab and manipulate. I remember spending hours as a preteen sitting in front of my dad’s computer, searching and pecking all over the keyboard as I entered someone else’s BASIC code. Once all of the code was entered I had either a game to play or several more hours studying the code to see what I had entered incorrectly. That was the time.
As reported on the website he created 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 required the player to return to their base before succumbing to the harsh arctic environment. He had no knowledge of the Arctic and did absolutely no research, but that’s okay. It’s not like anyone is going to check the facts on Wikipedia.
The game was released, McCracken got paid, and he went on to create a few more games before focusing on creative writing. The only comments he received about Arctic Adventure came from someone involved with the software company owned by the book’s publisher, Bob “Captain 80” Liddil, telling him that the game was not working.
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Never having 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 doing things unrelated to arctic adventure.
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 launch the game. Only it didn’t quite work.
After five or six tedious typing sessions on my iPad, I had Arctic Adventure restored digitally. It was then that I made an alarming discovery: As stated in the Captain ’80 book, the game was not only impossible to win, but also unplayable. It turned out that there was a typo from 1981 that consisted of a single missing “0” in a string. This was such a fundamental problem that it made the English language proficiency in the game unusable. You couldn’t GET THE SHOVEL, let alone complete the adventure (the goal is to get back to your base).
McCracken has no idea how the typo happened. Maybe it was something he did that book publishers didn’t understand. Maybe it was a printing error. Either way, it doesn’t matter now. Arctic Adventure is restored and playable in your web browser via a browser-based TRS-80 emulator on the McCracken website. I tested it myself and was indeed able to GET SHOVEL, GET COAT, WEAR COAT and EXIT, getting out of my starting igloo and diving headlong into the arctic wilderness.
The adventure begins again. Screenshot: Harry McCracken
Anyone else getting chills?