While Zork is sitting on a mainframe at MIT in 1977, a systems programmer at Orlando, Florida-based telecommunications equipment company Stromberg Carlson named Scott Adams (not the Dilbert creator) is exposed to Crowther and Wood’s Adventure, running on a PDP-10 at the company. Across ten days of early mornings and late nights, Adams obsessively plays the game and completes it, reaching a top score of 350 points and title of Grand Master. He is convinced that text adventures can make the jump to the limited memories of microcomputers. To prove it, he works more nights and days on his TRS-80 Level II computer, creating a TRS-80 BASIC game interpreter that would read compressed game data and allow for a suitably long and complicated microcomputer game. After six months, Adventureland is born, published through The Software Exchange of Milford, NH and Creative Computing Software. At one point during development, his wife Alexis, pregnant with their first child, throws the disks containing the source code into the oven, hoping to catch her husband’s attention. Being so mad she forgets to turn on the oven, the game survives and in the summer of 1978, the first commercial text adventure is released for the Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. Available on tape, the packaging consists of a plastic baby-bottle liner with Adams’ business card stapled across the top. Adventureland is a success, selling around 10,000 units. In a case of “if you can’t beat em, join em”, Alexis designs several games herself, including the second Scott Adams Adventure, Pirate’s Adventure, as well as #4: Voodoo Castle.
Around six months after the release of Adventureland, Adams founds game company Adventure International, producing numerous other text-adventures, with an interpreter system that facilitates easy adaptation to other computer systems like the Apple II. Graphics and rudimentary animation are eventually integrated into the mix via Penguin’s Graphics Magician software and these games are ported to venerable home computers such as the Commodore VIC-20 and C64 computers. Branching out into the computer game publishing realm, AI starts selling programs from a stable of designers that eventually swells to sixty. One such line is the Galactic Empire series, written by Doug Carlson. He uses the royalty checks from Adams’ company to delve into the world of game publishing himself with a little enterprise called Broderbund. AI also releases Bob Schilling’s Commbat in 1981, the first online two-player war-game. By 1983, Adventure International is grossing $3 million in earnings. They further solidify success by securing a deal in early 1984 with the Marvel comics empire to make graphical text adventures based on their superhero characters, in what is called the Questprobe series. However, after producing adventure games based on The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man and one including X-Men characters, the company falls on the battleground of the cutthroat computer games industry, accruing a high amount of debt with computer magazines for advertising of its many wares. Scott Adams, Inc., parent company of Adventure International, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December of 1985.
Sources (click to view; inert links kept for historical purposes)
Byte, “Pirate’s Adventure” by Scott Adams, pgs. 192-212, Dec 1980. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Byte magazine collection
“Adventure Games.” 80 Microcomputing, Jan. 1983, p. 398. Adventureland came out in the summer of 1978, about six months before AI officially set up shop.
Adams, Roe R., III. “Exec Adventure International.” Editorial. Softalk Mar. 1983: 59-62. Softalk V3n07 Mar 1983. Internet Archive. Web. 31 Jan. 2016. The staff has grown from two to forty, and the company now publishes the programs of sixty authors. “He said that he really like my adventures and through it would be really neat if we helped him get his product out into the market. Perhaps you’ve heard of him: Doug Carlston. The product, of course, was the Galactic Empire series. We still sell that series in our catalog today. The royalties he received from us helped Doug found Broderbund.” “There is an interpreter at the base that translates the database for each adventure. So, when I write a new adventure, I only have to write a new database, not the sole system all over again.” “One day she had finally had it. I came home to find that she had put all of my disks – including my only copy of Adventureland – in the oven.” It took Adams a week to solve Adventure on the mainframe, coming in every morning at six o’clock and playing intensely.The company’s first real packaging required innovation…After a long search, he found the perfect package – a baby bottle’s plastic liner…Adams sealed the package by stapling one of his business cards across the top.Penquin’s Graphics Magician, developed by Mark Pelczarski, brings to life the Adams’s’ rich, hi-res imaginations.
Peyton, David. “Adventures With Scott Adams.” Editorial. K-Power June 1984: 32-33. K-Power Magazine Issue 5. Internet Archive. Web. 05 Feb. 2016. Image of Scott Adams and Adventureland creature.
Pearce, Sue. “Meet Mr Marvel Himself!” Commodore Computing International Jan. 1985: 50. Internet Archive. 30 May 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2020. Image of Scott Adams posing with Marvel characters, photo by Micro Adventurer. Other information: After the Las Vegas show in January ’84, Adventure International was awarded a licence agreement with Marvel to manufacture games based on the Marvel characters.
Smart, Tim. “Blue Skies Turn Black at Scott Adams Inc.” The Orlando Sentinel 27 Jan. 1986: 11. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Apr. 2021. Last month, Scot Adams Inc., the parent company, filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. “A lot of our problems date back to 1983,” said Adams, explaining that a need to advertise his products led to a plethora of debts to computer magazines and periodicals, which are his most numerous creditors.
Scott Adams’ Adventure game writer home page
Adventureland cover image from July 1980 issue of SoftSide, illustration by Elaine Cheever. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, SoftSide collection, Oct 27 2015
The Interactive Fiction Archive