On April 30, 1975, the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army, NVA, effectively ending the Vietnam War. In the days before, U.S. forces had evacuated thousands of Americans and South Vietnamese. The United States had withdrawn its military forces from Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 but some 5,000 Americans remained, including diplomats still working in the U.S. embassy in Saigon. While President Nixon threatened a forceful response to a violation of the treaty, many factors, including lack of domestic support and the distraction of the Watergate scandal, provided an opportunity for the NVA to launch an offensive. Throughout March and April 1975, the North Vietnamese managed to capture more and more Southern cities ultimately resulting in the American diplomats organizing what would become the most ambitious helicopter evacuation in history.
From April 29th to April 30th, helicopters landed at 10-minute intervals at the embassy. With some pilots flying for 19 hours straight, over 7,000 people were evacuated, including 5,500 Vietnamese, in less than 24 hours.
By the early ’80s, the controversial chapter in American history was still a hot topic and while it had been a handful of years since Saigon had fallen, the war would come to heavily influence American Pop-culture throughout the decade. The mainstream got hypermasculine movies, television shows, and let’s not forget toys. For the few who had joined the personal computer revolution, could as early as 1981 get a taste of the war in Jyym Pearson‘s text-adventure Saigon: The Final Days.
Pearson’s first game Zossed in Space, a space simulation game, from 1980 didn’t showcase his imaginative, engaging, and to some extent, obscure writings but the titles that followed did and would slowly establish him as one of the more interesting, creative, and perhaps also unusual adventure game writers. Between Pearson’s more bizarre and obscure writings, his latest text-adventure, Earthquake San Francisco 1906, released in 1981, had been based on well-researched historical facts and now he turned to the Vietnam War.
During the Vietnamese conflict from 1964 to 1973, thousands of Americans ended up as prisoners of war in North Vietnamese prison camps. While all were released with the withdrawal of American soldiers in early 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming, the result of diplomatic negotiations concluding the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, Pearson together with his wife Robin built on the story with one American still being held captive during those last fateful days of April 1975.
Pearson developed the game on the TRS-80 in an adapted version of Scott Adams‘ adventure interpreter, the same he had used with his three earlier adventure titles. Adam’s engine was originally developed for his Adventureland, a title that would become the first adventure game for microcomputers when released in 1978. With the source code for Adventureland being published in SoftSide magazine in 1980, it enabled others to discover how the engine worked, and the database format was subsequently used in other interpreters including Pearsons. The interpreter only supported text and came with a simple and quite finicky verb-and-noun text parser.
The goal of the game was to escape imprisonment, reach Saigon, and get evacuated before the city falls to the North Vietnamese.
Saigon: The Final Days was initially published for the TRS-80 in 1981 and was text-only. The following year it was ported to cassette for the Atari 400/800 and in 1983 a TRS-80 Color Computer version was released alongside an Atari 400/800 32kb floppy version with added graphics by Norman Sailer. An Apple II version was advertised in catalogs of the time but evidently never was released.
Saigon: The Final Days was originally released for the TRS-80 in 1981, later it was ported to the Atari 400/800 and TRS-80 CoCo.
Above, the text-only Atari 16kb and CoCo version
The Atari 32kb floppy version was released in 1983, now with added graphics by programmer and artist Norman Sailer
When Pearson’s forthcoming title, The Insitute, with a more questionable and dark subject matter, didn’t fit the Adventure International catalog of games he was directed to Med Systems Software where he had a handful of interesting adventure games released, one more bizarre than the other.
Sources: The Adventurers Guild, Renga in Blue, National Museum of American Diplomacy, Wikipedia