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I found this gem in the great newsletters that the Recipe du Jour Trio put out, written by Simply Tim, and printed by permission.  Tim's photo at right; click to enlarge.  I can relate to Tim's story...  

simply_tim.jpg (10210 bytes)STICK SWORD IN EAR
By Tim Lee -
Recipe du Jour  

Needless to say, the holiday season brings all of the toy manufacturers out of the woodwork and onto the television screen.  And whenever I see an advertisement for computer games, I can't help but slip back to the early 1980's when I bought my first computer.  It was a Radio Shack Tandy Model 4. In those days there were no hard drives; a lot of memory was considered to be 64-K (bytes). [1,000 K = 1-KB (kilobyte); 1,000 KB = 1-MB (megabyte)]

Relax.   To put all of this gobbledygook in perspective - - if my math is correct - - it would take nearly 16 MILLION Radio Shack Model 4 computers to equal the mnemonic power of a single modern computer's standard 1-GIGABYTE (one BILLION bytes!) of memory, and you can bet modern computer games use every bit of it.

But 64-K of memory was enough the night I slipped my first computer-game diskette into the Model 4's floppy drive.  The game was called ZORK.  There were no graphics, no colors, no such thing as a mouse.  Not even Windows.   There was only a keyboard and a black and white screen.  The game was a TEXT-only fantasy game, meaning you were presented with a descriptive paragraph to which you would type in an appropriate response.  The response directed you to another paragraph of text.  For instance:

"You are standing in a mountain field.  To the East is a stone farmhouse.  To the South is a meandering brook.  To the West you can barely make out a pathway that leads to a dark forest.  To the North is a. . ."

You type: "GO EAST" and hit the <Enter> key.

"A rusty gate bars your way to a two-story farmhouse.  Just inside the gate on a cobblestone walkway you notice a paper bag.  The walkway disappears on the West side of the house, where a rope swing is tied to an old and gnarled oak tree."

You type: "Pick up paper bag."
"You can't do that.  A rusty gate bars your way."
You type: "Open gate."
"The gate is now open."
You type: "Enter."
"A nasty Troll leaps from behind an unnoticed bush and cuts off your head with a very dull sword.  You are dead.  Would you like to restart?"

As a serious player I eventually learned to draw maps and save my game location frequently, so I could return to the moment of safety just prior to being destroyed by a host of critters far nastier than a meager troll.  I played right through that first night until - - all of a sudden - - the sun was peeking through my kitchen window.  How did that happen?  Undaunted, I put on a pot of coffee, called work, slathered a few choice, flu-like symptoms into the phone, took a day of sick leave, and played ZORK non-stop for another eighteen hours.

"You are standing in a cold, dank cave.  You are holding a lantern whose yellow light barely illuminates the cavern.  You own a sword, a magic amulet, a section of rope, a clove of garlic, a rubber raft, and a bicycle pump.  From the East you feel a chilly breeze.  To the South you hear the faint fluttering of wings.  Large stones block your way to the West and to the North."

You type: "Raise lantern."

"Vampire Bats descend.  You drop the lantern  In the sudden darkness you feel teeth tearing at your face.  Tiny bat-paws are clinging to your lips."

You frantically type: "THROW CLOVE OF GARLIC!"

"It is dark.  You can't find the garlic.  Stinky bat-tails are wriggling up your nostrils.  A bat has grabbed hold of your tongue.   You are on the verge of blacking out." 

  ...More >>>  Copyright Tim Lee 2003

More about early computers:  The Commodore and the Kaleidoscope.

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