BASIC Computer Games

written by Matthew Reed

The cover of the TRS-80 edition of BASIC Computer Games. This isn’t a black and white photo; the cover was actually grey.

BASIC Computer Games (ISBN 0-89480-052-3) was the first and most popular of a category of books containing games written in BASIC for typing into a computer. It was also the first computer book to sell more than a million copies. Many people took their first steps as programmers by typing in and modifying the programs in this book.

BASIC Computer Games and its sequel, More BASIC Computer Games (also known as BASIC Computer Games Volume II) were created by David Ahl, the founder and publisher of Creative Computing magazine. Both books were very popular and were translated into German (BASIC Computer Spiele and BASIC Computer Spiele: Band 2), French (Jeux D’Ordinateur en BASIC and Nouveaux Jeux D’Ordinateur en BASIC), and a three-volume Danish edition (BASIC Computerspil). Both BASIC Computer Games and More BASIC Computer Games had TRS-80 specific editions that were sold both by Radio Shack and Creative Computing Press.

BASIC Computer Games was a revision of an earlier book David Ahl created when he was working for Digital Equipment Corporation. It was called 101 BASIC Computer Games and had a first printing date of July 1973, predating the era of personal microcomputers. The games printed in 101 BASIC Computer Games were intended for users of Digital Equipment computers, but the book was also popular among users of other computers as well.

After Ahl left Digital Equipment Corporation in 1974, he obtained permission to revise the book and publish it under a new name. It still contained 101 games1 (although some were substituted), but it was renamed BASIC Computer Games. Unlike 101 BASIC Computer Games, which contained programs written for multiple dialects of BASIC, all the programs in BASIC Computer Games were modified to use Microsoft BASIC, which had become a standard by 1978. According to the book, the programs were “written in Microsoft 8080 BASIC (MITS Altair BASIC, Rev. 4.0) and were tested on an Altair 8800 with 16K of memory.” The program conversions were done by Steve North.

The famous TRS-80 edition of More BASIC Computer Games with the blue cover

But BASIC Computer Games also contained instructions for converting programs to other machine-specific versions of BASIC, including Radio Shack Level II, Apple II Applesoft, Sol Extended BASIC, North Star Disk BASIC, and SWTPC 6800 BASIC. In all, 14 different BASIC versions were mentioned.

BASIC Computer Games was published by both Workman Publishing and Creative Computing Press. The Creative Computing Press edition featured illustrations by Sandy Dean. The Workman Publishing edition used very distinctive robot illustrations created by George Beker. The Beker robot images became strongly associated with the book and both versions of More BASIC Computer Games used his illustrations.

Radio Shack sold a TRS-80 specific edition of BASIC Computer Games (catalog number 62-2005) for $6.95. In this edition, all the games were modified to run unchanged on the TRS-80 and mentions of other systems were omitted. Curiously, the TRS-80 cover mentions 102 games instead of 101.

Alternate cover for More BASIC Computer Games

In 1979, Creative Computing published a sequel called More BASIC Computer Games (ISBN 0-916688-19-4) with an introduction by Christopher Cerf2. More BASIC Computer Games contained another 84 type-in games, once again with illustrations by George Beker. This was the book that contained the famous Hunt the Wumpus and Wumpus 2 games.3

Like the earlier BASIC Computer Games, the games in More BASIC Computer Games were written to work with Microsoft BASIC. It took this a step further, because the games would supposedly work unchanged on most machines including “TRS-80 Level II, Commodore PET, Apple II with Applesoft BASIC, OSI Challenger, Exidy Sorceror, or CP/M disk operating system.”

Radio Shack sold a TRS-80 specific edition of More BASIC Computer Games with a distinctive blue cover. It was titled BASIC Computer Games Volume II (catalog number 62-2004) and cost $6.95. At least in TRS-80 circles, this sequel was more popular than the original.

  1. Although the table of contents appears to list only 96 games, three of the games (Football, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Even Wins) contain two unique versions and one game (LUNAR LEM Rocket) is actually three distinct games. ↩︎

  2. Among many other things, Cerf wrote music and lyrics for Sesame Street, which was only ten years old at the time. ↩︎

  3. Some sources say that the original Hunt the Wumpus appeared in BASIC Computer Games and Wumpus 2 appeared in More BASIC Computer Games. Although that would seem logical, both Hunt the Wumpus and Wumpus 2 appeared in More BASIC Computer Games↩︎

Categories: Books