Digging through the archives

Sometimes when I think of something and wonder where it is, I won’t be satisfied until I’ve located it. Just the other day I wasn’t sure where my bathrobe was and was convinced I had left it in some cabin in the Smoky Mountains on one of our vacations a year or two ago (it was in fact hanging on the back of my office door).

I also got to thinking about some old code for games I used to write for my old TI-83. I’m not sure if any of the younger of you are still required to buy graphing calculators, or if all that sort of thing can be done by tablets now, but I had to buy one and used it in most of my classes. These calculators supported a stripped down version of BASIC, one of the earliest computer languages, meaning you could write programs for them.

We used to pass around games that we wrote, some better than others. A popular one involved selling (or taking?) drugs and trying to avoid getting arrested by the cops or killed off by rival gangs (which one of my friends somehow adapted into a Star Wars game involving midichlorians). My focus tended to be on Star Trek or other space related games, as well as adapting some card or board games. I had a version of Set (solitaire), Mastermind and even Karma (you might know it as ‘asshole’) which involved three hidden cards, three cards face up, and three cards in your hand. I also wrote a fair bit of fractal programs, math aids and even a planner (I’d forgotten about that one actually).

But my “greatest achievement” was a year long project for a Star Trek game. It was loosely based on the structure of Star Trek 25th Anniversary and was broken up into episodes, each following the chain of a longer story, with battle sequences interspersed in between. The game became so large that I actually had to take out most of the in-game text and place it in a separate file (a trick I’d learned from playing old Interplay games like the Lord of the Rings or Wasteland). It was this I wanted to find, as the original code and the text were in long lost computer files of which I only had one printout, stored in a duct taped binder in one of the many boxes in the downstairs archive (i.e. metal shelves with boxes piled high to the ceiling, not unlike the end of Raiders of the lost Ark). My wife actually helped me on this one, locating this particular binder full of papers amongst so many others wasn’t the easiest of tasks.

What was funny about looking through it was that even though I found the writing terribly embarrassing, the code actually looked pretty good. There were projects I had started back then I didn’t even remember, the aforementioned planner as well as a stopwatch, as well as several other space projects.

I was digging some of this up because as a mental hobby I’ve been designing a natural language parsing language and basic game structure for old text based adventure games, of which my Star Trek game mostly falls in. I thought it would be fun to adapt the old code, and give it a real functional treatment beyond the one or two people who played my battle simulator. And I’ve been looking for projects to try on an Android Tablet like my board and card games. In other words, programming for fun and play. Text adventures especially fascinate me in that they combine the things I like most, writing and gaming, though some of the early ones are brutally hard, and still shoehorned the player down a single storyline (though if you have the time you really should play the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

Old code and old game styles still have a lot to teach us. Text adventures can serve as a way for a writer to explore many possible avenues of the same story, and the mental puzzles of trying to design a good card playing AI are just as fun on the tablet as they were on the calculator.

Given how busy I am, the binder is likely to sit in my bag for a while untouched (except to scan it), but it feels good having the old code around. Some people find their old work embarrassing, but for me I have always felt at my best when I got back to the things I’ve loved, just with the experience of years. This was true for the fractal book, it’s true for some of my stories like Atlantia, and maybe it’ll be true for this stuff too.

What have you dug up of yours lately that you haven’t thought about in years?

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1 Comment

Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing

One response to “Digging through the archives

  1. I’m so glad you found your ‘stuff’! But you just boggled my mind with all that technical ‘stuff’! 😕

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