The image below is not a screenshot. It's a playable version of ARCTIC ADVENTURE that works right in your browser, assuming you have a physical keyboard.
Go ahead, press ENTER when it tells you to, then play. I'll wait.
I wrote ARCTIC ADVENTURE when I was a high school student, circa 1980-1981. It's a Level II BASIC game for Radio Shack's TRS-80 microcomputer, and is deeply indebted to Scott Adams' wonderful adventures. I may have worked on the game partly at home and partly at my school's computer lab; I set it in the Arctic despite the fact that I knew nothing about the area. (I don't recall doing any research.)
In 1981, the game was included as a type-it-in-yourself BASIC listing in a book called THE CAPTAIN 80 BOOK OF BASIC ADVENTURES, edited by Bob "Captain 80" Liddil, a software publisher, computer magazine columnist, Radio Shack proprietor, and minor celebrity among TRS-80 users. Published by the same company responsible for 80-U.S.--my second-favorite TRS-80 magazine--the tome also included a bunch of other BASIC adventure games, including one by my friend and classmate Charles. (We'd met Bob when he attended a meeting of the TRS-80 Users' Group of Eastern Massachusetts, which met in our school's cafeteria.) There was even an adventure by Scott Adams himself, written before he abandoned BASIC for machine language!
(UPDATE: Charles has also updated his LOST SHIP ADVENTURE and made it playable on the web.)
Today, a vast amount of vintage TRS-80 software is available for downloading, but not ARCTIC ADVENTURE. I know of only a couple of contemporary mentions of it on the internet, and no evidence that anyone has played it since the first Reagan administration. It seems fair to call it a lost game. Or at least I lost it myself until recently.
Writing ARCTIC ADVENTURE marked the first time I got paid (not much, though I don't remember a specific amount) for something meant for public consumption. Bob's introduction to the BASIC listing praised my programming skills and provided some biographical details that he mostly improvised, explaining that I was fifteen years old (I was seventeen when the book was published), took computer courses at school (nope), played Dungeons & Dragons (never), and was devoted to science fiction (not particularly).
In addition to publishing the listing in his book, Bob included ARCTIC ADVENTURE in the first (and maybe last?) edition of a cassette-based "tapezine" called CAPTAIN 80'S MICRO-FANTASY, allowing TRS-80 users to play the game without having to type it in. I don't think I knew about this until a few weeks ago when I stumbled across an ad for it in a 1982 issue of 80-U.S. The ad referred to the game's appearance on the tape as fifteen-year-old Harry McCracken's "debut magnetically"--the first time a program I'd written was distributed on magnetic media, the sign of a true professional. It would also be the last time.
I enjoyed writing ARCTIC ADVENTURE and cashing my check. But I never got a copy of the book or any feedback from my audience--except for someone involved with Bob's software company tartly informing me that a bug rendered my game unwinnable. He offered no other details. I also didn't bother to preserve a copy of my own game, or any of the other TRS-80 code I wrote.
I did have visions of selling more games. Over the next couple of years, I wrote two others that were good enough to intrigue publishers. One was possibly the best knockoff of SPACE INVADERS ever done for the TRS-80, which I programmed in speedy Z-80 machine language but had the misfortune to complete after the world had stopped caring about SPACE INVADERS. (Bob paid me a token fee for it, but never got around to publishing it.) The other was a pretty clever Atari puzzle-making game that Atari itself expressed interest in--but they asked for some changes that outstripped both my programming expertise and available RAM.
By the time I was failing to get my games published, I was also trying my luck at freelance writing, beginning with a couple of pieces for CREATIVE COMPUTING, my favorite computer magazine. That went much better, and my aspirations to write software for a mass audience dwindled away. (I did do some BASIC programming as part of my college job.)
Decades later, I didn't spend much time thinking about ARCTIC ADVENTURE, but I never forgot the fact that I hadn't received a copy of the CAPTAIN 80 book. Thanks to the internet, I eventually acquired one. But typing in five and a half pages of old BASIC code seemed onerous, even if it was code I'd written. I didn't get around to it until July 2021, when I figured out how to turn my iPad into a TRS-80, using Matthew Reed's TRS-80 emulator on top of Chaoji Li's iDOS 2 on top of iPadOS. (This discovery may have played an indirect role in Apple suddenly deciding that iDOS 2 violated the App Store rules, but that's another story.)
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").
I still can't explain how that could have happened. For one thing, I played my own game continuously as I wrote it, which I couldn't have done if the bug had been there all along. (I may have been a sloppy and inattentive teenager, but I wasn't *that* unobservant.) For another, THE CAPTAIN 80 BOOK OF BASIC ADVENTURES credited a "program editor" whom you'd hope would have tried each adventure out before committing it to print. If he had, and the error was present, he would have noticed its effects immediately.
Whether I was responsible for the bug or it slipped in during the editing process, I don't know. But if you typed ARCTIC ADVENTURE into your TRS-80 back then and couldn't get it to work, I hereby apologize.
Along with swatting old bugs (and new ones I introduced when re-typing the program), I tweaked the game to run properly in Peter Phillips' amazing web-based TRS-80 emulator, allowing anyone with a browser to play it instantly. (Thanks also to Rebecca G. Bettencourt, whose excellent TRS-80 font was perfect for this website.) While I was at it, I self-indulgently decided to incorporate the BASIC code for an even earlier TRS-80 game I wrote--a rudimentary slot-machine simulator that survived because I uploaded it to a BBS circa 1979. (Now it's a slot machine inside a tiny casino in the Arctic.)
I made the game slightly harder in one or two places and a little easier in others, and expanded on some of the text. There's now a dog who follows you around and (*SPOILER*) plays a role in helping you win the game. New conveniences include support for lower-case input and the ability to move around with one-letter commands such as W instead of having to type GO WEST. Oh, and I eliminated a couple of references to Eskimos that, though well-meaning, had not aged well. (I didn't remove the violence against octopi, though this particular octopus is kind of asking for it.)
I didn't revise everything I might have done differently if I were starting over. A few elements have an absurdist feel that isn't intentional, such as the fact you can wear a warm coat and diving suit at the same time, in either order. At one point, an item falls from the sky in a manner that makes sense only because you need it to solve the game. And if you mapped out all the locations, I'm not sure if their directional relationship to each other is entirely logical. Then again, even the best adventure games aren't known for their realism.
Basically, rather than trying to either preserve ARCTIC ADVENTURE in its original form or completely reimagine it, I decided that it was my game and there was nothing wrong with continuing development on it after a four-decade break--especially since it's unclear whether anyone managed to get it running in 1981. If I have further ideas for expanding upon it, I may do so; I don't even have to obsess over cramming it into 16K of RAM. And it will be easy enough to deal with the remaining bugs that are surely there. (I do know that it's now possible to play it all the way through to its exhilarating conclusion.)
(Postscript: After I put the game up, I got some good feedback from players--some of whom weren't adventurers back when I wrote it--and tweaked gameplay further based on their input, in part to make it more comprehensible to the uninitiated. But nothing radical.)
I hadn't written any serious BASIC programs since the mid-1980s, and working on this one again reminded me of what addictive good fun it is. I felt like I was collaborating with another programmer--teenaged me--and I found myself sometimes dismayed by his programming skills but also occasionally impressed. The worst part: I hadn't bothered to document any of my code in 1981, which meant that 2021 me had to reverse-engineer it all. I may have made it willfully cryptic to discourage people from figuring out how to win the game as they typed it in--which worked in my own case. Once I'd entered it on my iPad, I had to solve all the puzzles just as if someone else had written the game.
After several decades, my knowledge of TRS-80 BASIC had gone into cold storage in a remote portion of my brain, but I was surprised how quickly most of the commands returned to the surface when I needed them. I got some debugging help and suggestions from my friend Charles, an expert programmer whose career as a TRS-80 game-developer wunderkind went much better than mine; back in 1981, he also provided me with a machine-language subroutine to scroll the bottom half of the screen while leaving the top half intact.
Is this a good game? I'm not sure if I'm in a position to judge. As with most BASIC games, it's pretty, well, basic. It's also an imitation Scott Adams adventure rather than something truly personal and original. (Another game I wrote at around the same time, TEMPLE OF BEELZEBUB, was much more inventive--it combined elements of text adventuring with arcade-style graphics--but I can't remember if I ever finished it.) But by the standards of early 1980s text adventures--most of which owed an overwhelming debt to Scott Adams--this seems like a decent effort. If nothing else, it was a better world when nearly everyone who was serious about computer games tried writing their own, regardless of the results.
As in 1981, you can get some hints on how to win ARCTIC ADVENTURE via the radio that you should stumble upon fairly quickly after starting the game. If you want even more detailed tips, check here.
I'm not claiming that ARCTIC ADVENTURE is going to keep anyone spellbound. If you weren't smitten with text adventures back then, you might not even understand what I was trying to accomplish in the first place or why I bothered to pick it up again. It's entirely possible that nobody will ever play it all the way through--the fact that the SAVE feature of this online edition only works within the current session doesn't help.
No matter. It feels good to have it out there in at least slightly less buggy, modestly upgraded form--and with no typing required.
Harry McCracken, August 2021
I was also startled at how many writers covered my ARCTIC ADVENTURE adventure. I think Rich Stanton of PC Gamer was the first. And Jason Dyer of Renga in Blue wrote a perceptive review--it's bursting with spoilers, so hold off on reading it if you'd rather play on your own.