Colossal Cave Adventure (1976) is widely regarded as one of the earliest text adventure games, begetting the noble Zork lineage and a host of other classics. Now, a lucky series of events has helped uncover an even earlier game, Wander.
A blogger going simply by Ant of the website Retroactive Fiction contacted Peter Langston – the original creator and programmer of Wander – after a slightly melancholic blogpost by Jason Dyer on “lost” text adventures. Wander was a mainframe text adventure that used multiple databases as “worlds” to be explored; worlds such as “a library after civilisation has long been destroyed,” and, “a department store world, trying to make a computer game that would appeal to girls”.
As it turns out, Langston’s colleagues had an archive of a mail that had a demo of the original game, but interest in the post led to Doug Merrit posting to a link of the original source files, which have since been uploaded to Github. Unfortunately, the department store world created by Lou Katz is still missing, but the find represents a huge win for video game preservationists and historians.
Wander is notable not only in that it predates Colossal Cave Adventure, being created sometime around 1974, but in that it was one of the first text adventure development systems – along the lines of say, Twine — that allowed users to create their own worlds that plugged into Wander. The discovery is massive, in part because — as Killscreen explains — games for mainframes were often done on the sly and therefore not as well documented or preserved. Mainframe computers at the time were extensive and expensive systems, maintained primarily by large companies, the military and universities.
If you’re interested in revisiting one of the earliest instances of narrative fiction, you can download a compiled Windows binary here (the page is in French, but you want the “Binaire Windows (32 bit) et Linux (64 bit)” link).