Friday, March 31, 2017

You Have Died of Dysentery

Back in prehistory when I attended high school, the computer room was filled with Tandy TRS-80 Model III computers.* Given that most families did not have computers at home, the computer room was frequently open an extra 1.5 hours after school so students could work on programming in BASIC (or, in the advanced classes, FORTRAN and COBOL).**

But for me, that meant goofing around on the few game programs that the school had.

Far and away, my favorite game was Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio. It was a predecessor to Sid Meier's Civilization, and it gave the players a chance to rule an Italian city-state with a few basic options. You can even play it now for free on the Internet Archive.

I was fascinated with the game, and as it was programmed in BASIC I asked for and received a printout of the source code.*** I had this grand idea that I'd convert the program to TI-BASIC so I could play it at home, but I never got around to finishing up the conversion. Still, the concept of having a printout of a complete computer game never failed to fascinate me.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I came across this article a few weeks ago about the history of the classic computer game Oregon Trail and how, for a few years, there was exactly one printout of the source code in existence.

I've never played Oregon Trail, as it was released a bit too late in the 80s for me to play it with the same zest I developed for the Ultima series, but I knew of people who were almost religious in their devotion for the game.

And here, in classic 70s/80s computer fashion, there was a period when the original incarnation of The Oregon Trail could have easily been lost forever.

*My high school was the first in our area to require a computer programming class for graduation. Given that it was an unlikely case a family did have a home computer (it was likely a Commodore 64, TI-99 4/A, or an Atari 400 or 800), this was a big deal.

**My hatred of the COBOL programming language dates from my experiences with it in high school. Why anybody thought COBOL was a good idea is beyond me.

***I believe I still have that code somewhere in the basement, along with the TI-99 4/A computer that I used growing up.

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