The History of Computer Gaming Part 4 - The Text Is Mightier Than The Sword - by Marty "Retro Rogue" Goldberg

Hunt The Wumpus

In 1972, while Mike Mayfield was plugging away on Star Trek, Gregory Yob began work on what was to become another legendary game.

While on a trip out to California, Gregory happened by the PCC offices and was able to take a look at several of the maze games they had available. Using a 10 x 10 Cartesian coordinate grid, games like Hurkle, Snark, and Mudwump were all very similar.

As Gregory put it - "There has to be a hide and seek computer game without that !@&%# grid!!"

He thought about creating a maze using a dodecahedron (his favorite shape), with the vertices being the tunnels that connected the caves. While meditating (this was the early 1970's after all) he came up with the name Hunt the Wumpus. Thinking about the came that entire afternoon, he came up with the basic concepts. In a letter to the PCC newsletter in 1974 he wrote:

My basic idea at this time was for the player to approach the Wumpus, back off, and come up to him by going around the dodecahedron. To my knowledge, this has never happened ... most players adopt other strategies rather than this cold-blooded approach.

Anyway . . . how to get the Wumpus! How about an arrow which could turn corners as it goes from room to room. Let the hunter tell the arrow where to go and let it fly. The shortest round trip without reversals is 5 caves - and thus the Crooked Arrow.

Hmmm ... How does one sense the Wumpus? It's dark in yonder cave, and light would wake him up. If one got one cave away, the wumpus's distinct smell would serve as a warning. So far, so good ... but Wumpus is still too easy, so let's find some appropriate hazards for the caves.

Bottomless pits were easy. Any imaginary cave would have a few of those around the place. Superbats were harder to come by. It took me a day or two to get that idea. The Superbats are a sort of rapid transit system gone a little batty (sorry about that one). They take you a random distance to a random cave and leave you there. If that's a pit or a Wumpus, well, you are in Fate's hands.

Wumpus was nearly done in my mind ... (hint to a games-writer: Have a clear notion of your game before you start coding it. This saves MUCH confusion.) yet I felt it was a bit dull. Once you found the Wumpus all you had to do was shoot it. To fix this, the Wumpus was given a little life. If you shot an arrow or moved into his cave, he woke up and chose to move to a neighboring room or to the same room (one of 4 choices). If you and the Wumpus were in the same room after he moved, he ATE YOU UP!!

I wrote Wumpus and dropped it off at PCC. Then I went home and dreamed up Wumpus 2.

Gregory had written the game in BASIC on a timesharing system in only 50 lines of code. Bob Albrect and the rest of the people that ran PCC were significantly impressed enough that they decided to use Wumpus for demonstrations.

Around a month later, I went to the Synergy conference at Stanford, where many of the far-out folk were gathered to share their visions of improving the world. PCC had a few terminals running in a conference room and I dropped by. To my vast surprise, all of the terminals were running Wumpus and scraps of paper on the floor with scrawled numbers and lines testified that much dedicated Wumpus-hunting was in progress. I had spawned a hit computer game!!!

PCC published it in their newsletter, and the game soon started appearing on mainframes across the country. David Ahl also contributed to it's success and eventual legend status in 1975. At the time, his magazine Creative Computing was consisted of content that was mostly reprints of articles from various newsletters and journals. Frequently tapping PCC's newsletters as a source, he decided to print the Wumpus code in his magazine, and eventually in the Basic Computer Games book. David even regularly published drawings sent in by readers that attempted to draw what they thought the mysterious Wumpus looked like.

While already a mainstay on mainframes everywhere, this helped to solidify the game in the coming personal computer scene as well. Ported to many different personal computers in many different programming languages, the game even found it's way to the commercial market in the 1980's when Texas Instruments released a popular cartridge version of it for the TI99-4A home computer.

NEXT:Cave explorations lead to the first interactive text game....

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