Bits from my personal collection – 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 for 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 tell me a bit about the item and its story but also shared his passion for old text adventures. Over its 40 years of lifetime, it has seen a move from Australia to Canada, 4 house moves and a world in computer gaming that has changed significantly.

Microsoft Adventure
Microsoft originally published Microsoft Adventure in 1979 for the TRS-80 and the Apple II home computers, it was an implementation of the PDP-10 mainframe game.
Microsoft Adventure wasn’t developed by Microsoft but by programmer Gordon Letwin. Letwin managed to convince Bill Gates and Paul Allen to sign Microsoft on only as the publisher – Letwin’s one-man company Softwin Associates was listed as the developer. Will Crowther and Don Woods, who actually wrote and developed the game, wasn’t mentioned at all.
Plenty of other companies had attempted to port the game before Microsoft, but no one had been able to get the full game running in all of its 300kB glory.
To make the game run on Radio Shack’s TRS-80, Letwin decided to make use of Radio Shack’s $500 expansion drive, which allowed the computer to read floppies instead of cassettes. Microsoft managed to pack the entire game onto one disc.
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 tell me a bit about the item and its story but also shared his passion for old text adventures. Over its 40 years of 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 originally 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.
Above three different versions of Decathlon. I’m not quite sure why the two Apple II version differs so much in terms of packaging.
Below a small gallery of the early Microsoft games in my collection.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.