theNEWMEDIAREADER · 1970s · Basic Programs, 1973-91
The Wumpus lives in a cave of 20 rooms. Each room has 3 tunnels leading to other rooms. (Look at a dodecahedron to see how this works—if you don't know what a dodecahedron is, ask someone.)
—Hunt the Wumpus
Basic (Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was developed at Dartmouth by John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, beginning in 1963. It was designed to be easy to learn; Basic was also easy to implement on even underpowered computers. The combination spelled success for this language during the home computer era. A generation of hobbyists and computer-oriented children (the editors of this volume included) undertook their first programming projects in Basic. Some praised Basic's empowering potential; others felt it represented a wrong turn in the development of digital literacy. Seymour Papert, in a section of Mindstorms included in the NMR book (<>28), argued that a close look "at Basic provides a window on how a conservative social system appropriates and tries to neutralize a potentially revolutionary instrument." Basic nevertheless provided the lattice for a creative flowering among new programmers. Before the Web and even before HyperCard, Basic programs provided the first broad evidence that programming work in new media could be done by non-experts. At a time when the distribution of digital objects was prohibitively difficult, Basic programs were printed in magazines such as Creative Computing and Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia so that readers could type them in on their own machines. (The Creative Computing guidelines for game submissions reveal that even getting works to press was a difficult undertaking: "If possible, submit a paper tape of the program. Be sure to wrap oiled paper tape [from Teletypes] in kitchen plastic wrap when you mail it. Otherwise the oil seeps out and smears the output.") The first program here, Hunt the Wumpus, was initially published as listing in Creative Computing in 1975 after being distributed by other means. Its virtual environment was laid out in a complex way, a change from earlier gridlike worlds. It was one of several early programs with an underground network of caves, recalling the environment of non-digital role-playing games (RPGs) and anticipating Adventure, which would become the first example of interactive fiction a few years later. (RPGs were beginning to emerge out of the war gaming tradition at this time, and the most famous of these—Dungeons & Dragons—made a 20-sided die of the same shape as HtW's cave network central to its game mechanics.) The other program included, You!, is from much later in the era of Basic creativity. It is a program for the production of a collaborative text that, as the author puts it, "simulates an intimate relationship between two people." It also implements an extremely limited art(ificial) intelligence that the artist refers to as "a Jesse Helms filter" for removing potentially offensive language. (This makes a pseudo-surrealist joke out of the fact that the computer program does actually function as an automated censor.) You! anticipates collaborative authoring projects that sprouted early in the Web's development (some involving less complex programming) and is only one of several interesting programs by Malloy, who also created the "narrabase" Uncle Roger. One of the more "standard" dialects of Basic in the 1980s was Microsoft Basic; Hunt the Wumpus was converted to that dialect for publication in a popular programming book by David H. Ahl. The language lives on today in the form of Microsoft Visual Basic. This language is used to quickly create graphical Windows programs and, thanks to the affordances of Microsoft's built-in Visual Basic Script (VBScript), has also been used to create widespread computer viruses such as I Love You and Melissa.
—NWF & NM
|Hunt the Wumpus. [In "Programs" folder.] Open the CD's "Programs" folder on either a Mac or a PC and look in the folder "Basic" to run Hunt the Wumpus on the appropriate version of Chipmunk Basic.|
|You! [In "Programs" folder.] Open the CD's "Programs" folder on either a Mac or a PC and look in the folder "Basic" to run You! on the appropriate version of Chipmunk Basic.|
|Readme with detailed instructions. [~1 page.]|
|The Hunt the Wumpus code [~4 pages.] This version is from the PC-BLUE collection on the Simtel archive, posted to Usenet by Magnus Olsson; it is not Yob's original program but is a very similar implementation.|
|The You! code [~6 pages.] This code has been slightly modified to run in the Basic interpreters included, with all changes noted. Other data files are used by this program; they are included in the Basic directory and can be examined there.|
Two programmers working in Fortran brought about the form interactive fiction, while at Atari, different sorts of games—graphical, fast-paced ones—were being coded in assembly. At MIT, the Architecture Machine Group developed systems like Put-That-There and the Aspen Movie Map. Lynn Hershman was creating the first interactive videodisc artwork, Lorna. Jim Rosenberg was writing poems for computer printout.