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Original GCS logo

 

 

HISTORY

Everyone coded in BASIC (or other languages) back in the 80's when personal computing was in its infancy. In 1985 I had written an inventory program and was paid $150 by the appreciative store. I was amazed. That was a lot of money back then and I didn't think it had been much work. Well, except for the fact that I had LOST my entire code due to a power failure and had to rewrite it all from memory! I had no intention of writing anything serious again until a friend challenged me to a game writing contest in 1986. He wrote a 'Hangman' variation and I decided to try a simple text adventure. I had always enjoyed text adventures and had every Infocom game released (often on several platforms.). I was intrigued by the use of a parser - how the program would interpret the user's inputs. This first game was crude and short, but I learned a lot through trial and error and kept my source.

Experimenting with code and languages, as well as setting up a BBS, was one way of passing cold New York winters in the '80's.

It was "Spring Break '88" in Daytona Beach. I liked it so much I moved onto Fort Lauderdale where I stayed nearly all summer! After my return to New York, I decided to pull out the old text adventure and see if I could expand it into a game I could actually release into the BBS world. I had a NY winter ahead of me.

(A side note on locations ...Although the Gold Coast logos refer to Ft Lauderdale and Newburgh, NY locations, in reality I was located in Orange Lake, NY, which used the Newburgh zip code despite it being located 5 miles into the town of Newburgh. Lauderdale, I had intended to eventually move to but never did. As for the old physical Lakeside Rd address - that too has changed over the years - 911 reassigned addresses. I had moved anyway at the end of 1991.)

Having been a writer I approached the game as if I were writing a short story, with puzzles thrown in. I would 'story board' the plot and sketch a map of the rooms I intended to include - all before tackling the code. I wanted to create a frame where I could simply change plot lines and maps easily without having to rewrite code. I did not wish to use the available 'text kits' that you could use. I avoided them for two reasons. The first was that the kit would have to be included in the 'package' which would add size to the file. Remember, back then, size mattered. The smaller, the better because it meant faster downloading and no storage problems. But the second reason was that, for me, it wouldn't seem my own creation if I was using someone else's coding. A ground up creation would take time but it'd be mine.

I toyed with the idea of using Prolog as the language, but fell back to BASIC since I could write and 'think' faster in BASIC. By far, I spent the most time with the parser. The game would be useless, no matter how creative it might be, if the parser wouldn't understand what someone was typing - or worse - causing the game to crash.

After a month Spectre Towers was ready... January 1989.

Spectre Towers

I decided to release my freeware programs under the name Gold Coast Software (a name and logo inspired by my Florida stay.) I registered a DBA certificate of business in my county and designed a logo that I used on my letterhead and envelopes printed on sand colored paper. I loved my logo! I also included it in my games.
I did this to present a more 'professional' appearance. The copyrights however are held in my personal name. Despite the appearance that I was all gung ho to be some hot shot game designer with his own studio - in fact - I was doing it for fun. Part of the fun was pretending to be a hot shot game studio! I asked for donations because everyone did.

Spectre Towers (named after my BBS handle Spectre13) was released as a raw BASIC program - not compiled. I had a few nice comments about it. But that parser ...something had to be done. It seems I underestimated the wild variations a player would type in. Everything from a misspelled word, to a profanity, to just some random word - if the parser wasn't prepared for it the game would crash or go off into unknown directions. The parser had to be able not only to react to every possible word, but should also 'understand' sentences in case the player decided to be verbose!
 

GCS

 

A new logo, adding color, sound and QuickBasic 4.5...

Time to tinker with the code. First things first. Let's get rid of basic BASIC and graduate to QB 4.5. Now I could really get to work, plus have a finished compiled game! Towers was a simple game, let's also make the next a bit more challenging.

DRED Attack!

The next month I released the second game D.R.E.D. Attack! - a tie in to Spectre Towers with an improved parser. I also decided to add "Gold Coast Interactive Pulp Fiction" - inserting 'pulp' between the typical IAF genre. (BTW, the movie Pulp Fiction wasn't released until 1994, so no, I didn't borrow the name. Pulp fiction wasn't new - the term had been around a long time.) I still wasn't satisfied with the parser. This time I took 2 more months.

Madness

City of Madness was released in May 1989. This completed the trilogy. I boosted the challenge level. I had rewritten the parser code so now it recognized sentences. I added extra game save slots. It was about as far as I could go and I was satisfied. I went back and revised, rewrote, and compiled Spectre Towers so that it was now v2.0 and now conformed to the others. It was also summer...

To distribute the games I'd upload them to local BBS sites. To add even more exposure I'd upload to Compuserve and GEnie - two pay systems, which back in the 80's, were all powerful. Then I forgot about them. A month later I began receiving requests from freeware software catalogs for permission to include the games in their catalog. Some didn't ask, but mailed me the catalog the game was included in. Some had mini-reviews. I was pleased because at least I knew the games were out there. A short while after that I began getting a few letters from players - thanking me for the game. Some added a few bucks. One, I'll never forget, shocked me by including $20. I was flattered and touched by the effort these people actually took to let me know they enjoyed my games and appreciated them. This was what freeware was all about.

WUZ?

WUZ opening

October 1989. The 4th and final GCS text adventure. This was written as a total lark. I made a remark to a friend that a game with 'sex' in it, no matter how badly written or coded, would always end up being a top download. So, as a goof, I decided to write sex farce text adventure to prove my point. The requirements had to be the smallest file size possible (to encourage quick downloading) and a short and very simple story line that could be played in about 1/2 hour. So I, of course, used the skeleton code and parser from my DRED games. I removed all the graphic screens to slim down the size. As I began writing the story I realized something interesting. Unless I wanted to force a player into a certain role I'd have to account for all types of players - male, female, gay, straight. This meant I would have to write different story lines - each dependant on the player's choice when the game began. I didn't realize at the time, but this was the FIRST for ANY system that allowed a player to choose their sex AND their sexual preference and that these choices would affect the game responses. (Even today - only rare games venture into this sexual identity option - Fable 2 for the Xbox 360 is the most recent.)

I have researched this the best I can. Remember this was 1989. Yes, there were many sexual games but most all were exclusively male and heterosexual. Perhaps one or two exists with a female option, but I have never found any prior to WUZ that incorporated gay male and female options - let alone being able to play all the combinations.

I added a walk through to be included in the archive to make things easier for confused players, but the game was as simple as could be. I distributed WUZ as usual via the BBS circuit and CIS and GEnie - both immediately banned it. I had to smile. Nothing better than having a banned game. My friends were quite impressed. I shrugged and didn't bother going beyond a few major BBS super sites (long distance calls cost money.) And then I forgot about it.

 

Epilog - WUZ survives into the internet - DRED vanishes... then returns!

I had plans for other games. I wanted to get into some graphic adventures. This never happened. And the years marched on...

In 2005 I Googled my name (yea, we all do it - admit it!) and what pops up but a reference to WUZ. Not just a reference - a review? For a 17 year old DOS game? One line stood out - "The varied nature of the game does show the initiative that pioneered modern AIF games." So, I was a pioneer. Looks like my efforts didn't go completely in vain. But where was DRED?

It seemed odd to me that the tiny game of WUZ which was only trickled out to BBS sites ends up - 17 years later - on the internet and still being reviewed and available for download - in it's original form. But the DRED games - three in all - all distributed by GE and CIS and those popular software/freeware catalogs - were no where to be found. I spent about a week on WUZ. Spent months on DRED. WUZ survives...and the reason is obvious. I told my friend in 1989 that a sex game , no matter how tame, would always be the one downloaded - seems I was proved right!

I didn't even have any copies of DRED! The originals were stored on 5 1/4 floppies. When that format faded I never bothered to transfer to newer media. Moving, clutter, house cleaning - eventually they disappeared. (Actually, I was more upset with all the lost ANSI screens I spent hours creating.)

I created this web site a few years back to include some history of Gold Coast and WUZ - just in case someone was curious. To my amazement in the new year of 2009 - the 20th anniversary of Gold Coast - I get an email from Bob Newell of New Mexico. He's not even sure I'll get the email, but he read where I had written that I doubted my DRED games existed anymore and he tells me he has all the DRED games - untouched originals - and he'd gladly zip them to me if I wanted. If it wasn't for Bob's kindness the DRED games would likely have been lost forever.

 

The Machine:

I purchased a 1000 SX in 1987. Added a 20 meg hard card at an additional - GULP! - $700.

1000SX

This reliable and tough computer lasted well into the mid-90's (I used it for my BBS) until the mobo fried.


 
The Programming:

These programs ran only in DOS. (Windows 3.1 wasn't released until 1991.)
The first program was written in Basic. Then I moved on to QuickBasic 4.5 (which cost me some big money in 89! Now it's 'free' - though no longer supported by Microsoft.)
Once I had the parser and basic template down - which took me about 2 weeks - each program would typically take a week to complete. Prior to actual coding I would 'story board' the game's storyline and the maps.
I was most proud of my 'parser' which I felt - at the time was very advanced and quite an achievement for a relative novice programmer. The parser is an AI subroutine that the program uses to recognize the user's input. Player's inputs could be quite strange so the parser had to have some flexibility to respond to illogical commands.
Infocom's (the acknowledged master of text adventures and whose software is now generally available free...) parser was supposedly secret and protected. I felt my parser was on an equal level considering....

 
The Response:
 
 These programs were released 'freeware' - fully operational. I did include 'nag' screens which you bypassed with any key touch. I asked for 'donations' to continue developing new programs. This was more or less to determine how popular the programs might be. Every creator asked for donations, never really expecting any beyond a kind dollar or two. My DRED adventures did result in some great fan mail and even some donations - the most being a $20 donation - which was quite hefty in the late 80's.
 I got no responses about WUZ (which I find amusing since today it's still floating around!)

 
The End:
 
The last game was WUZ - October 1989. I did begin to code some graphic adventures but commercial games were coming fast and furious - far better than anything I could create on my own. At the same time DOS and Basic programming were quickly becoming outmoded. So I quietly retired...

 

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Copyright ©2015 by Wayne McWilliams