A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
George Lucas released the film Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, beginning a pop culture phenomenon that continues to this day. People around the world latched on to the story of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, and the menacing Darth Vader. The film’s impact went far beyond the cinema, generating toys, books, video games, and more. For some fans, the film become a way of life.
Two years after the release of Star Wars, Lance Micklus gave the world Dog Star Adventure, a text based game for the TRS-80 microcomputer and inspired by the Star Wars franchise. It immediately made history when Micklus published the source code in the May 1979 issue of SoftSide Magazine (your BASIC software magazine). The article included a brief description of the game along with a bit of history. He cited the influence of the text based adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure, developed by William Crowther, which had been written in FORTRAN for the PDP-10 computer in 1976. A year later, Don Woods of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory discovered the game and made a few enhancements.
Micklus was working at Vermont’s public television station (which used the University of Vermont’s computers) and discovered Crowther’s game. When the University computers were upgraded, Micklus lost access to Adventure and began writing his own game. He wrote Dog Star Adventure in BASIC 1 and based it on the first Star Wars movie. To avoid legal issues the names of characters were changed. Princess Leia’s name was changed to Leya, Darth Vader became General Doom, and the Death Star became…the Dog Star. Players were tasked with rescuing Leya. To complicate matters, Leya was wearing a necklace of “Shinestones”, one of which contained the strength and location of the “Freedom Forces” fighting the evil General Doom.
According to the “computer-puppet” hiding aboard Princess Leya’s ship:
“It’s possible, although very difficult, to save the day by rescuing the princess and recovering her necklace of Shinestones and the treasury of the Freedom Fighting Force. Even if we are unsuccessful, anything we can do to deter General Doom may help win a victory in the battle for peace in the galaxy.”
Players controlled the game by typing in simple instructions. For instance, to pick up an object the player typed “Get” plus whatever they wanted picked up. Players had to solve various puzzles and problems to beat the game, including one particularly memorable puzzle involving a hamburger. The player discovered a hamburger and later encountered a hungry robot. If too much time had elapsed between finding the hamburger and giving it to the robot, the burger was cold and the robot refused it. The robot attacked and the player died.
A year after the release of Dog Star Adventure, David Malmberg created a port to the Commodore PET. Malmberg worked as a business analyst, but was heavily involved in the emerging world of microcomputers. He held a firm belief in their teaching potential and had a love of text based gaming. In the PET version of the game many of the original Star Wars names returned (for instance, Doom once again became Darth Vader). The new version also added a character graphic of the Dark Lord of the Sith.
The game’s greatest legacy lay in the decision to publish its source code. While Don Woods had distributed his source code for Colossal Cave Adventure, Dog Star Adventure was the first to officially publish. As a result, the text based adventures which followed were largely built on the blocks first laid by Micklus and Dog Star.