It was the summer of 1987, and I was starting school as a sophomore. Yes, I know, that was a super long time ago, the cold war was in full swing, the US had just gotten electricity, the invention of the wheel, and we just escaped the great potato famine….okay, well only one of those is true. However, our family didn’t have a personal computer. They were expensive and mysterious. That summer, my dad worked for some people in Divide, Colorado that gave my brother, Tony, a computer that they didn’t want. Oh my, technology!
It was a Wang (pic above), and there are many reasons why it was named that. It weighed as much as a bulldozer, pulled enough power that a hydroelectric dam had to dedicate a turbine to you every time you powered it, and could heat an entire apartment complex once it got started. You couldn’t play games on it though, it was too old. However, it put a bug in my brother’s ass to learn programming, and so he learned BASIC on his own. He created an inventory program for car parts for his VW dune buggy. I am grateful for this POS, because had it not been for that “Wang”, I might be working at Loaf n Jug today.
Tony got so involved with it, that he basically pushed it to its limit (all 4K of it) and there was really not much else he could do with it. That, and its shear weight was probably making the house foundation unstable. So he went to Radio Shack, which by the way used to be a super high tech place that sold tons of cool stuff, and he bought a brand new computer. A Tandy 1000 SX (insert the sound of signing choir angels here).
Not knowing anything about computers outside of the “Wang”, he accidentally stumbled onto what was probably one of the best PC based computer platforms made. It was the first computer with 16 colors, even before EGA came out. Sure, there was the IBM PC Junior at the same time for 50 times the price, but the Tandy was still a better computer. It came with DOS and a few games. F-15 Strike Eagle, Pac-Man, and Dig-Dug (back then they only sold games with hyphens in their titles) Thankfully my brother let me use the computer, and he had to go to work every day (heh heh, sucker!). That left me the whole day to play games on it. So all summer I played the hell out of them, and if memory serves me right, we bought “Beyond Zork” (the first game ever without a hyphen) At PACE, which was K-Marts competitor to Walmart’s Sam’s club. That was my first adventure game. It was a stupid hard game, and I still don’t know of a single person that completed it without buying the hint guide. However, I loved it. Sure, I had played the original “Adventure” game on a friends VIC-20, but this was another level for sure.
Space Quest I
That fall (1987) my brother was bored with what games he had. So one Saturday we went to another Radio Shack, the only place to by Tandy software, and he bought our first Sierra game, Space Quest. Now you have to realize that at this time most computers were all monochrome or CGA (4-color) with the most horrible color palette you can imagine. However, the Tandy had 16 colors, and Sierra was making an entire series of products specifically for Tandy. So if you look on the box, they had a TANDY sticker letting you know that it was not made for a regular PC. So these were the only games at that time in 16 colors. From that day on, every time I got home from school, I went straight to playing. If you want to see SQI in action, check out The Space Quest Historian YouTube Channel. He probably knows more about SQI than the people who created it!
Then to make the experience even cooler, Tony bought a Game Blaster sound card for the computer. By Creative Labs…even before the Sound Blaster. Sierra had programmed their titles to utilize this technology too! So not only did Space Quest look great, it sounded great too! It was on the bleeding edge of tech.
That Christmas Tony got a 300bd modem and I found tons of friends that also played Sierra games. I “borrowed” lots of them from my friends. We bought King’s Quest IV after playing the first three. One and Two were stupid, but I loved three and four, IMO four is the best of the entire series.
It is because of those few years that I am a software engineer today, and a game developer as well. I knew the first time we booted up that Tandy what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and went on to create many games. Some successes, some not so much.
Games of recent, why they don’t thrill me :
So a couple years back, I decided that I wanted to live the glory days again and get back into playing adventure games. Now they have migrated a bit, from text parsing to point-n-click, but that shouldn’t matter that much. So I went out on Steam, and GOG and bought a ton of them. I paid full price, probably because I felt guilty for “borrowing” so many games as a kid. Needless to say, none of them have given me anywhere near the satisfaction I had from the good old days of Sierra. Granted, I haven’t played everything out there, and there are some that are good, but just not what I wanted. So then I got to thinking, “I wonder how many people out there feel the same way I do about the old Sierra games, and why can’t we make adventure games now that aren’t pushing the edge of what technology has to offer?” We have 16.7 Million colors, Sound cards that can produce any level of audio quality, and screens with 4K resolution. Yet I have to play something that looks like it is 256 colors with a 320 x 200 resolution and from 1987? Yeah, I wanted the nostalgia, of playing, but I literally didn’t mean I wanted to play a game that looked like it was made in 1987. (I give Thimbleweed Park a pass here, since the game was intentionally created to be nostalgic, and not because Ron Gilbert couldn’t make it look modern.) Nah, I need to fix this, and so I am going to try. That is why I decided to build Legend the point and click adventure game development system, and why we are making Absolute Zero! Not because the adventure games that are out aren’t good, but because they aren’t anywhere near what they could or should be. Now granted, I don’t know that Absolute Zero, will be pushing the tech envelope, but it will be our first adventure game, and it will be using a lot of tech that other companies don’t seem to know exists. So here we go!!
~Thus, Absolute Zero actually began in 1987, I just didn’t know it then.