Wander (1974) release, and questions answered   42 comments

(For the opening of this saga, you might want to read Anthony’s post first.)

There is a text adventure creation system that dates back to before Crowther wrote ADVENT.

I’ve been stalking a copy of Wander for months now; I made a blog post about it and some other games I’ve been tracking down. Anthony read my post and reached out to the author Peter Langston, who has been enormously helpful and managed to find a friend (Lou Katz) who had an archived copy in email, but it only contained a demo version of one of the games.

I had the vague suspicion it might be in a public place if I knew where to look. Indeed: Doug Merritt has found a copy of Wander buried in a software distribution from the Usenix 1980 conference. It includes all four games mentioned in my “lost mainframe games” post.

NEW: This is an update archive which includes all worlds (except advent) and should compile out of the box. Saving and restoring are fixed. Also now fixes a one-line typo that prevented compiling.

Here’s a binary for Windows 32-bit, made by Jayson Smith.

Here is the advent “world” as a separate file which is a Wander version of the Crowther and Woods Adventure. It seems more like a demo than the other games; Peter only made a partial conversion.

Part of the “castle” world for Wander.

These are by Peter:
castle (1974): you explore a rural area and a castle searching for a beautiful damsel.
a3 (1977-1978): you are the diplomat Retief (A sf character written by Keith Laumer) assigned to save earthmen on Aldebaran III
tut (1978): the player receives a tutorial in binary arithmetic.

One of the games is by Nat Howard:
library (somewhere between 1974-1978): You explore a library after civilization has been destroyed.

Also, Peter himself did a very incomplete port of Crowther and Woods Adventure called advent dated at 1981.

There’s one “missing” game. Lou Katz (who I mentioned earlier) wrote “a department store world, trying to make a computer game that would appeal to girls.”

Now to address some questions (note to Peter: please let me know if anything is off!) —

Was it really from 1974?

To quote Peter:

As I remember I came up with the idea for Wander and wrote an early version in HP Basic while I was still teaching at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA (that system limited names to six letters, so: WANDER, EMPIRE, CONVOY, SDRECK, GALAXY, etc.). Then I rewrote Wander in C on Harvard’s Unix V5 system shortly after our band moved to Boston in 1974. I got around to putting a copyright notice on it in 1978.

The early version in HP Basic was possibly from 1973; Peter isn’t sure. The move to Boston is a distinct event, though, so 1974 as a start date is is definite.

Note: Peter Langston’s legendary Empire was from 1971.

Did it look like its current form in 1974?

Peter says “the concept didn’t change, but implementation got better and the worlds got easier to create”. He doesn’t have a good recollection, though, so he can’t answer questions like “which features got added first” and “did anything get tweaked after the release of Adventure”.

Probably the best way to verify the early state would be to somehow track down the HP BASIC version, which was never revised post-1974.

Do we have to rewrite the history books?

Er, sort of. Wander never really had the same impact as Adventure; Peter notes that in his games distribution Empire, StarDrek and the Oracle attracted all the interest.

What else is there to do?

There’s a need for modernization and ports. (People have been mentioning Github; if someone wants to start one, feel free to do so and toss a note in the comments section.)

Finding the original BASIC version would be huge; we’d know exactly what things were like at the earliest stage of the development of the adventure game.

For my part, I’m going to play the games and blog about them in my All the Adventures project.

What about other mainframe games?

Ok, this is my question. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can refer to my lost mainframe games post and see if you can find any of the others. LORD is particularly tantalizing but I don’t know where to even start searching for an archive from Finland.

Posted April 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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42 responses to “Wander (1974) release, and questions answered

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  1. Pingback: Wander (1974) — a lost mainframe game is found! | Retroactive Fiction

  2. You wait decades for a copy of Wander, and then suddenly two come along at once.

    • Three, now (or four if you count sun versus vax)


      • Okay, this is just getting embarrassing now.

        (Also, have you heard about this bejeweled cup or chalice thingy, thought lost for centuries, quite holy…?)

      • This is one of those things where once you know where one is, it is much easier to find more.

        Still, the only fully readable source we’ve got seems to be from that email.

    • (there’s no “reply” button on your other post)

      “(Also, have you heard about this bejeweled cup or chalice thingy, thought lost for centuries, quite holy…?)”

      Oh yes, we’ve already got one; it’s very nice!

  3. Jared Miller has Githubbed the 1980 Usenix conference distro of Wander found by Doug Merritt: https://ahopeful.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/wander-1974-a-lost-mainframe-game-is-found/comment-page-1/#comment-31

  4. “For intrepid trackers, the advent “world” written for Wander would be nice to find.”

    But of course, from the 1985 Usenix conference distribution: ftp://ftp.mrynet.com/USENIX/85.1/langston/vax/WAND/advent.wrld

    There’s another copy in a parallel dir if you replace “vax” with “sun”. And note that the langston dir has lots of other stuff.

    • BTW on the subject of wander.c missing, although there *is* such a file in this 1985 stuff, it merely executes a “wander” executable from somewhere else, which to me very strongly suggests that Langston was keeping the real wander.c secret, as he did for Empire.

      I think y’all should ask him about that.

    • Nice catch.

      Probably at the moment we should toss up every distribution we can find, since it seems to be coming in bits and pieces.

    • Looks like the ftp server is asking for a password.

  5. I can’t get that FTP address for the Advent world to work, it says “550 Can’t change root” and the login fails. I’m logging in as anonymous. I’m putting together a Win32 Cygwin distribution of Wander, it compiled out of the box using the 1984 sources.

  6. Okay, here’s a Cygwin WIN32 binary of Wander, using the most recently posted sources. Also includes the four standard worlds, text files, and two DLL’s.
    I won’t upload this to the IF-archive right now, since things are still in flux, with new versions being discovered, and because hopefully we can get the Advent world since we know it exists.

    Compiling on modern Linux should be as easy as doing “make wander” and then you have a binary called Wander.

  7. I just tried to create a DOS port under DJGPP. While I got it to build, it appears that, under DOS, Wander really does care about file paths, whereas it doesn’t under Win32 or Linux, and unfortunately I don’t know enough about C or the source to fix it, especially seeing as how it could be running in any number of paths on different users’ machines. Borland C just doesn’t like it. So if anyone else wants to take a crack at making a DOS port, feel free.

  8. hum… We might need to rewrite some history. I hypothesized (following Jerz and others) that Advent’s space structure, cardinal direction movement and conversational interface were inspired by Crowther’s D&D and caving experience (http://gac.sagepub.com/content/8/3/119)…

    Looking at Wander’s Castle (said to be of 1974), I’m surprised to see how similar it is: structured in rooms, moving with cardinal directions, addressing the player as a DM… Of course two people can come up with a same design in parallel through different paths (the technology lends itself to that form), but it poses interesting questions.

    I wonder if Crowther might have seen this (any knowledge about its circulation?) or if Langston might have revised its earlier work after having seen Advent…

    very interesting stuff.

    • The version of castle we have must have undergone _some_ revision post -Adventure, because it does recognize xyzzy.

      I don’t see a revision date on castle, but library has a revision date of 4/9/80.

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  15. Hi, I appreciate your detailed write-up of Wander here, but I’ve just been going over the Wander documentation and game code in depth in preparation for writing about it on my own blog, and I was wondering… what are your reasons for dating the games as you did? In particular, why do you have Castle listed as the first Wander game, and a3 as not coming out till 1977? There’s a lot of internal evidence in the game code and in the documentation pointing to a3 as being the first game (or at least as having been started first, though it seems to have undergone considerable expansion and revision), and Castle as coming much later. I can’t point to single smoking gun that definitely proves Castle wasn’t the first game, but the accumulation of circumstantial evidence to the contrary makes it in my opinion extremely unlikely. Do you have any specific reasons for thinking it came first?

    • These are based on the dates given by the author.

      • Huh. Okay, that’s still hard to square with the internal evidence, but I guess if those dates come from the author himself…

      • All right, I’m sorry, but this was really bothering me (it just didn’t make sense to me that Castle predated a3 in light of the preponderance of internal evidence to the contrary), so I decided to try e-mailing Peter Langston himself to see if he’d be willing to clarify the matter, and to my delight he was gracious enough to respond. Apparently Castle wasn’t the first game he worked on, but was the first Wander game he’d consider to be actually complete and playable. a3 it seems he didn’t consider so much a real game as a testbed; he would continually add new features to it to try them out as the language evolved, but he didn’t really consider the work to hang together or have much of a plot. (Although he did have aspirations of getting a real Wander game based on Retief made in the future, and even hoped to talk Keith Laumer into doing it.) In any case, according to Langston, the earliest Wander games have probably been lost, and a3 may be the oldest surviving game.

        By the way, I don’t mean any of this to fault your treatment of the games in your blog; I really do think you’ve done an admirable job of writing up the known information about them, and I really do enjoy your posts. (And I’ve read through all the rest of your blog as well, and will probably be commenting further in the future… though you haven’t posted for a while; I was honestly wondering if you might be away and might not be reading comments, so I wasn’t sure you’d reply to my comment — though of course I’m glad you did.) It’s hard to be one of the first to describe something like this, but it’s easy to come later and pick at details, and even though I think you got the dates wrong I really do think you’ve otherwise done a great job here, and hope I’m not coming across as too critical. Keep up the good work.

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  17. Pingback: Wander (1974) – Comparative Creation

  18. Pingback: Game 18: Aldebaran III [aka A3, designed using Wander] (1978) – Ciathyza Reposts

  19. I’m way late to this particular party but I’m curious if there was ever any thing definitive that shows a 1974 date for any of this?

    I know that date is claimed by a lot of people. I know the author of the system “recollects” doing things in 1974 and I’m not suggesting to doubt that in a categorical sense. But historically speaking, tangible evidence would be best.

    Do we have accounts of people playing this system (or at least one of its games) in 1974? Do we have files that are dated as being created in 1974?

    So far all I’ve ever seen are things that date from 1978 (maybe 1977) up to 1980. I don’t see direct, tangible evidence that the system truly pre-dates Adventure.

    • I first picked up on Wander in a reference by Graham Nelson who called it a proto-adventure system in 1974. I asked but Nelson was not able to recall where he found his reference.

      Unfortunately, because the original BASIC code doesn’t survive, we do have to rely on the word of Peter Langston on this one. However, I am fairly believing because a.) he never came forward in a way that indicated he was trying to brag, we had to seek him out and he almost was puzzled people would care b.) he had very distinct life events surrounding it (a year “float” is not unusual with this sort of thing but here that would be in reverse, from 74 to 73, because he moved locations setting a hard limit) and c.) he had earlier work from 71 which does survive so we know he was actively developing.

      There is a lot of missing material out there from when programs were developed only on one mainframe. People fortunately cared about adventures enough to make lots of copies (although there are fair number of adventure variants missing), but if we take the larger set of software out there about 90%+ is gone, I’d say? We have catalogs with material we can only read about.

      Still of course possible the original Castle is buried on a backup tape somewhere. If nothing else even though the current extant material exists post-Adventure, it feels very much like a “different track” of development — the coding is radically different and the game design of a3 in particular does things that don’t appear elsewhere until 1982 or so.

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