Introducing Vintage BASIC Software

I love old BASIC programs, especially the games. Not only were these the first of their kind, paving the way for the games we play today, but they are part of my early history as a computer scientist.
In 9th grade I played my first computer games – Star Trek, Lunar Lander and L.E.M, and a space war game on a teletype terminal of a DEC PDP-8E microcomputer. I also learned to program and even made changes to these games that became part of the lore of what we call today “Vintage BASIC.”
In 1973 when I first sat down in front of a computer, these games ran in only in 4K of memory, and were the largest programs I had ever seen. Yes, they were larger than life to a then 9th grader who until then never saw or heard about computers. These were complex and expertly crafted so that all of the game’s functions fit easily in memory. Such beautiful code (and even algorithms) is lost in the games of today that run in 4, 8 or more gigabytes.

Yes, today’s games support such realistic graphics that with the proper hardware (such as Virtual Reality) your senses are bombarded and as such you believe it’s real. It’s no wonder why one can’t understand the “oldies but goodies” have such an appeal.
For me, it is not the graphics of yesterday’s games that hold my interest. It is the playability of the games themselves. I still have a vivid imagination, and a text-based game can take me back 3,000 years, say to the time of Hammurabi, and face the issues of his day in keeping his people alive.
So it’s fitting that my first few columns are about Vintage BASIC and the game Hamurabi. 
This game (code provided) was the original that today’s games, such as Civilization and Sim City, are based upon. Hamurabi was the first computer game that simulated an empire where your job was to keep your people alive and grow with the influx of new people to your kingdom. You had to feed, provide enough land (population control), and store enough food for the lean years.
While it may seem easy to you, most of the variables to your success, such as bushels per acre harvested, cost of land, and influx of new people (including natural disasters) are randomized. There is no way to know or predict that land prices will increase or decrease based on historical references (just because land went for 17 bushels this year, does not mean that it will go up next year). That level of randomness makes planning for perfect play impossible. And that is the charm of this game.
Those who play this game realize that they are playing a game that is part of computing history. And while the vintage BASIC games and programs do not have the “flash” that current applications do, they are just as much challenging or addictive to play. That’s because the details of the games were more important than the presentation. Or, since the presentation was limited back then to teletype terminals or text-based terminals (like the IBM 3270), programmers were left with coding as many features of the game that would fit in either 4K or 8K (of the Altair 8800 or various micro computers, like the PDP-8 and 8E).
In the future I will present, in more detail, each of the games, its history, importance to today’s games or applications, and of course, source code listings!


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