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Scott Adams

By Erik Reckase


I was recently given the pleasure of interviewing Scott Adams (the adventure game writer, not the comic strip writer) following the release of his first interactive fiction game in fifteen years, Return to Pirate Island 2. For those of you unfamiliar with Scott's work, his Adventureland game has the noble distinction of being the first interactive fiction game on a personal computer--a 16K Radio Shack TRS-80 model 1. After Adventureland was written in 1978, Scott went on to release numerous text and graphics adventure games throughout the early 1980s. Scott, now married with five children, currently lives in Wisconsin.

Return to Pirate Island 2 is unique in that it combines a "homebrew" feeling with a bit of adventure gaming history, with great sound effects to boot! There's a great in-game hint system to get you through the tough parts (I wouldn't expect anything less, given the elaborate hint systems in his previous releases.) Solving the game requires careful attention to detail--examine everything closely, and you'll eventually get through it. Return to Pirate Island 2 is great for kids, but really has something for everyone, especially adults who were exposed to Scott Adams adventure games early in their gaming careers.

You have had the unique experience of personally witnessing the development of personal computer games from ground zero. Do you approve of the direction that computer games are heading?

I always loved game playing. In 1969 (my junior year), my high school, North Miami Senior High, was picked by the state of Florida for an experiment. The math department got a computer terminal connected to an IBM 360 mainframe. The terminal was a dialup (110 baud?). It was open to the math students to use. Anyway, to make a long story short, I first learned to program on this setup. My first really big program I wrote was a tic tac toe against the computer. I have been writing games ever since.

I have always preferred to write games that anyone could play. In effect, G-rated. I also am a fan of happy endings.

Many of today's games have taken some things to extremes--Soldier of Fortune, with its realistic wounds, for example. I have also seen games that have totally delighted me. A really good classic was Sam and Max Hit the Road. That was great fun. If you look at today's really big sellers, many are nonviolent--The Sims, Sim City, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (still not sure why people are buying this one!). Don't get me wrong--I do play first-person shooters myself. Thief, Unreal, Half-Life, Deus Ex, Descent, etc. The really good ones, though, are the ones that provide immersion without providing disgust!

I know you have five children--do you have any opinion on the supposed association between violence in computer games and violent crimes committed by children?

Children are mentally and emotional immature. In the same way we protect them from severe violence in films, we should protect them from violent games. The human male is naturally aggressive, whether in sports or business. The problem with children, though, is that some lose the distinction between reality and fantasy.

So, did you exercise restraints on computer games while raising your children? Do you think that the current rating system is sufficient to guide parents when choosing games for their children, or is there something else that parents can do?

Yes, I did, and do, control the games my kids play. My teens got to play Soldier of Fortune, but only after I locked down the ratings in it. I also use filtering tools to monitor and control my kids' Internet usage.

No, I do not think the current rating systems is sufficient for parents until there is a system in place that prevents children from purchasing items their parents do not approve of. Many theaters now will not let someone under 17 into a an R-rated film. They are getting firm about this. There needs to be something similar on computer games. I hate to see the government involved in people's lives--this, though, is one area where the industry is not properly policing itself.

What do you think the future holds? I know that in a 1985 interview with Graeme Kidd, you accurately predicted the multiplayer game craze that started in the mid 1990s, so I expect some reliable soothsaying ...

You have been doing your homework, I see!

Certainly, as systems become more sophisticated, gaming will be taking on the a true virtual reality aspect. I expect within 10 years that computer gaming will be allowing almost full immersion into the game environment. 3-D goggles and multi-directional headsets and devices (without connecting to the person) will allow the game to know exactly how the person is moving. Also, computer gaming will be used more in the education process. Having fun while learning always increases the amount of the lesson absorbed!

Today's generation of kids are growing up taking computer gaming for granted. Tomorrow's generation will do the same with immersive virtual reality.

A side effect of this hardware revolution will be the ability to buy a black box with the entire output of the human race's music. Using your voice, you will be able to interact with the box and play back any music ever recorded.

It will be very interesting to see how artificial intelligence develops, too. I have always said that computer programming is the safest career. Once the programmer is no longer needed, since you have machines smart enough to program themselves, then no other field is needed either. The machines will take over. Hopefully benignly ...

Since you mentioned the "black box" of music, how do you think that the MP3 controversy (with Napster, etc.) will be resolved--how will musicians be paid for their music?

I certainly feel for the musicians! I do see Napster as a problem but do not have an instant solution. The same person who would not swipe a candy bar without paying will steal artists' property. There is a serious lack of good moral judgment in the people using Napster. One downside may be less artist works being produced. I do not know.

One concern my family and testers have expressed is that my game would be pirated by end users. I am hoping the majority of my fans will realize the time and effort this game took me over the last four years and not resort to stealing. An interesting example of this was the Stephen King novel recently released on the web and the honesty of the people downloading it.

I know that you've enjoyed games like Deus Ex, the Thiefs, Majesty, and The Sims. Are there any other games that you would recommend to other adventure or adventure hybrid gamers?

Deus Ex is certainly at the top of my list, and the Thiefs are right behind. They allow a wonderful level of immersion and great fun. Also, the ability to solve the games without killing is neat. In fact, in Thief, in Expert mode, you are not allowed to kill. I do enjoy RPGs, too, such as Baldur's Gate.

There are also many good older games that are still worth playing for those who have never tried them. Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Road Rash, and The Neverhood, to name a few.

While playing Adventureland recently, I noticed a number of similarities with Zork I--the stump, for example, bears a striking symbolic resemblance to the trophy case in the white house. Was this method of scoring points developed independently, or was there some collaboration between you and Marc Blank/Dave Lebling?

Actually, I had completed Adventureland long before I saw Zork, so my inspirations did not come from them. I had played the Crowther and Woods Adventure game, and that did give me the initial idea to write Adventureland. I have never met or corresponded with Marc and Dave, so I have no idea where they got their inspirations. When I did get to play Zork, I loved it and played it all the way through. Incredible game.

Do you have any other favorites in the Infocom arsenal?

That was the only one I played entirely through! Once I started writing games for sale, I mostly stopped playing adventure games, as I did not want any accidental influence from other games to creep in. I wanted my games to be original.

Tell me about your new effort, Return to Pirate Island 2.

It is based on my older two-word game that was only released on the TI 994/a as a graphic adventure. The new game loses the cheesy graphics but adds sound effects. It now has a full sentence input parser and also many, many new locations and puzzles. I was really worried that after fifteen years I had lost the touch and that the game would be poorly received. I have gotten many nice comments on the game from players and have posted them on my site. I feel much better now! I was really, really worried!

I've noticed that the sound effects and voices in Return to Pirate Island 2 sound like they could have been from members of your family--did they have fun with the sound effects, and was the rest of the game's development also directly influenced by family members?

I was wondering when this would get asked! Yes, indeed, a large amount of the voice acting was done by my family. Also, my youngest two kids play-tested quite a bit, which helped with the development. I wanted to the sounds to be novel and unexpected and to add an air of whimsy to the game.

Assuming that your current effort, Return to Pirate Island 2, is your favorite game that you've written, what's your second favorite, and why?

It is always hard to pick. I've been asked this one before, and I tended to answer differently at different times. Right now I would say The Fantastic Four (in the Questprobe series), as it required you to control both the Torch and Strecho to finish the game--another first in adventure games.

Do you think that purely interactive fiction games have a future? There are some diehards, like you and me, that will play and love IF forever, but the genre will not survive unless the next generation of game players gets involved.

I have no idea, but I am currently working with a firm to bring some of my old games to WAP-enabled phones. This may help increase awareness of adventure games.

How about some advice for adventure game designers looking to break into the market?

Here I draw a blank. I am not really in the market anymore, since I do not have a retail presence on any store shelf. The best advice is to write what you would enjoy playing, and remember that the players are your friends--you do not need to disgust or otherwise hurt them.

Thanks for your time. Any final thoughts that you'd like to pass along to the readers?

Oh goody, you left the easiest for last. Actually, this is not too difficult at all.

I guess I would have to say, as a believing Christian, that I urge my fans and readers of this column to know that God loves them very, very much. If you are not in a relationship where you know this, then you should be! If you seek Him sincerely, desiring that relationship, God will answer you!

May God bless and happy adventuring.

For more information on Scott Adams and his new game, Return to Pirate Island 2, visit his home page. Many of his older adventures are also available at his website as shareware, so for those of you old enough to remember them, you can experience them all over again.