Microsoft, a venture into new markets

In the late 70’s Microsoft was a heavy player in the microcomputer industry, having built a strong business upon the initial MITS Altair BASIC, Micro-Soft’s (as it was spelled back then) first-ever product.
Microsoft would end up being the go-to company for microcomputer BASIC implementation and Altair BASIC was the very start of the Microsoft BASIC product range.
Microsoft provided the TRS-80 Level 2 BASIC, the BASIC in the Commodore PET, and the Apple II Plus. Microsoft had also expanded into other high-level programming languages, producing the first implementations of FORTRAN and COBOL to appear on microcomputers.
Microsoft wasn’t exactly known as a brand for the average home computer user but that would change in 1979 when they decided to launch the Microsoft Consumer Products Division to expand into more mainstream areas of the home computer. Their first product was a game called Microsoft Adventure an implementation of the mainframe game Colossal Cave.

Colossal Cave Adventure
Originally written in Fortran for the DEC PDP-10 Mainframe computer in 1976 by Will Crowther, a programmer at Bolt, Beranek & Newman in Boston. Colossal Cave is considered to be the first-ever computer text adventure game. With text commands, you would control the player around a mysterious cave rumored to be filled with treasures and wealth. The game quickly became a success on BBN Technologies PDP-10 timesharing mainframe.
Later in 1977, It was vastly expanded by programmer Don Woods. Woods who discovered the game on the ARPANET while working at the Stanford AI Lab contacted Crowther who gave his permission for Woods to expand the game to encompass more than double the number of rooms and puzzles. It was transformed into a loose fantasy world featuring elements from role-playing games. Woods can thus, in a sense, be considered one of the progenitors of the entire genre of computer adventure games and interactive fiction.

Colossal Cave directly inspired the creation of the adventure game genre. Games such as Adventureland by Scott Adams, Zork by Infocom, and Mystery House by Roberta and Ken Williams were all directly influenced by Colossal Cave and as the story would tell these companies would go on to become key innovators for the early adventure game genre.

Colossal Cave Adventure is considered one of video gaming’s most influential titles.

Above my copy of the original TRS-80 release, I recently acquired this from the original owner, an Australian gentleman whom I got in contact with on Twitter, not only did he take his time to tell me a bit about the item and its story but also shared his passion for old text adventures. Over its 40 year lifetime, it has seen a move from Australia to Canada, 4 house moves, and a world in computer gaming that has changed significantly.

If you’re into, want to get into, or just want to learn a bit of history you probably will enjoy Jason Scott’s documentary Get Lamp from 2010, a documentary I myself enjoyed quite a bit when released.

Microsoft Adventure is (to my research) the second computer game to be released in a box. The Apple II version was released at the same time but developed a bit later than the TRS-80 version.

Microsoft was one of the few software companies back in 1979 with the resources to really give its products a professional packaging – Games from that era were typically released as a sheet of paper with instructions and simple artwork and a cassette or a 5.25″ disk, all enclosed in a ziplock bag.
As the games industry grew more and more professional and profitable up thru the ’80s, the packaging would become a huge part of the whole experience, with boxes including manuals, maps, multiple disks, and feelies.

IBM later included Microsoft Adventure, which can be seen above, as the only game in the initial software release for the original IBM/PC in 1981, it’s considered to be the very first commercial game available for the new personal computer.
In typically IBM fashion the packaging was neutral and corporate-like. Usually, the packaging would speak into the imagination of the potential buyer/user. It seems every IBM-published game/entertainment software was packaged like this in the early ’80s.
I’m not sure why one cover says “Microsoft Adventure” and the other “Adventure by Microsoft”, both look to be the same exact version (1.00).

Olympic Decathlon
Microsoft’s second published game was written by Timothy W. Smith for the TRS-80 in 1980. It was ported to the Apple II in 1981, an IBM PC version was released in 1982 and renamed to Microsoft Decathlon.
In the game, the player competes in ten track and field events. The ten events are 100m run, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m run, 100m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m run. The running events involve alternately pressing the 1 and 2 keys. Other events have more complex controls, with the pole vault using five different keys – A control scheme (and physical exercise) we would all get used to up thru the 80’s sports games.

Below, a small gallery of the early Microsoft games in my collection.

7 thoughts on “Microsoft, a venture into new markets

      1. Hi Ernst. It’s an IBM brochure. Similar to the ones for the 5150 and other early ’80s products. I own several games/software in the folders and it’s the only one with a brochure. I’m guessing it did not come in the package.

      2. Hi again
        Yeah, I don’t think that came with the software. Microsoft included its own brochure (and a pretty nice one) with most of its published titles.

  1. I’ve manged to track down these brochures and even though they are in a number of the IBM packages in my collection it looks as if they were added by the original owners after purchase.

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