Old games have cool names

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Old games have cool names — names like Pong, Rogue, Hack, Adventure, Spacewar!, Defender, etc. The names are short, simple, and accurately describe what the game is about. Modern games, unfortunately, aren’t named in such a fashion. The advent of marketing departments has pretty much killed off any name that can’t marketed and defended as a trademark, resulting in such game titles as Age of Wonders 2: The Wizard’s Throne and Cabela’s Big Game Hunter 2006 Trophy Season. Another problem is that whereas Shooter used to be a perfectly good name for a game, now it describes multiple genres of games: first person shooters, third person shooters, space shooters, schmups, etc. All of the good simple names are either taken, shot down by pointy-hairs, or too ambiguous.

I miss the game names of old. They harken back to a bygone era when videogames were first being made. The creators didn’t have the “benefit” of decades of videogaming naming conventions. The names they chose are charming for their simplicity. Homemade non-commercial games such as Rogue, Hack, Adventure, Spacewar!, and others don’t suffer from marketing hype. They have an easygoing air about them. There’s a modern roguelike named Dwarf Fortress; the name perfectly describes what the game is about. I can’t imagine how badly it’d have turned out if a marketing “guru” was allowed to choose the name.

As for why I’m bringing this up, it’s because of the excellent article, Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther’s Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky, which was just published in Digital Humanities Quarterly by Dennis G. Jerz. Jerz managed to track down the original source code to Adventure, the first text-based adventure game that invented such now-commonplace concepts in videogames as items and inventories, as well as the adventure genre itself. Not only that, but Adventure was based on the real world Colossal Cave in Kentucky, and Jerz traced back through the cave verifying the accuracy of the text descriptions in Adventure. This is definitely the best scholarly paper on historical videogames that I’ve read recently.

And by the way, the original Fortran sources have been modified slightly by Matthew T. Russotto so that they compile with the modern GNU G77. I downloaded them and they compiled just fine on the first try, and I was up and playing original Adventure, now three decades old, in seconds flat. Talk about a great archaeogaming find.