Scott Adams Speaks

Listen along in .mp3 (2.4 MB)


  1. Scott Plays "Adventureland" with the audience.
  2. Hardware restrictions shaped early games.
  3. Beta-testing: why it's important.
"Later I put pictures in my games and made graphic versions of my games, and you know -- I got fan mail saying, 'I liked the text better. My pictures look better than yours.' " -- Scott Adams
Adams: Do you guys know what 16k means? You all have computers right? And they have a couple of hundred megs of memory right now. What's a meg?
Audience: Somewhere around 1024k
Adams: Approximately a thousand k of memory. Shrink that down to 16k -- that's what these early computers had. There was not a great deal of waste in the early programs. All my early games were two-word sentences -- verb, noun oriented. The locations, descriptions were sparse, but I always tried to use a location that people can relate to.
Lets play a game here. We're going to play a real fast game of Adventureland. I'll be the computer and I want you to tell me what to do in a verb, noun situation. Here's your opening:

I'm in a forest; I see here trees. Obvious exits: N, S, E, W. Tell me what to do.

Scott plays "Adventureland" with the audience
MP3 audio (1.4 MB)

Audience: Go north.
Adams: Go north. Ok. 

I'm in a forest. I see trees. Obvious exits are N, S, E, and W.

Audience: Go north.
Adams: Go north.

I'm in a forest. I see trees. Obvious exits are N, S, E, and W.

Audience: Go south.
Adams: Excellent. 

I'm in a forest. I see trees...

Audience: Examine tree.
Adams: I see a tree. It looks climbable. Obvious exits: N, S, E, and W.
Audience: Climb the tree.
Adams: Two words! Two words! We don't let you get away with anything here. Ok, climb tree. 

I'm in the top of the tree. To the east I see a meadow. Obvious exits: Down.

Audience: Go down.
Adams: I'm in a forest. I see trees...
Audience: Go east.
Adams: I am in a large sunny meadow. Sleeping here, a large sleeping dragon. I see a sign. Obvious exits: E, W and S.
Audience: Eat dragon!
Adams: Doesn't look very tasty! 

Tell me what to do.

Audience: Read sign.
Adams: Sign says: "In many cases mud is good in others..."

I think you're getting the idea here. 

This is the actual way the game plays and the idea is you go through the game; you have an adventure. You have a puzzle-solving situation. You'll meet a lot of things you've got to deal with.  That's what these early games were. Keep in mind, when these games were written and the the first games I released were on the TRS 80. Anybody here know what that is?
Audience: (Laughing)
Adams: Ok, we've got a couple. This is a very early pioneer computer put out by RadioShack. "TRS" stood for Tandy RadioShack. It was 16k of memory, a Z80 processor (which was an old 8-bit processor), and a cassette drive, as he was saying, that you loaded your software in from. And a monitor. Well, the monitor came with the machine, which was very nice; the thing was was that it wasn't a TV. It didn't even have the resolution of a TV because it couldn't even draw pictures. It had text, period. You couldn't do the pictures if you wanted to, unless you wanted to have little black and white dots. I mean, big black and white dots. So this was where the industry started and that's what the games were like. They have grown since. 

The amazing thing about these adventure games is, I still get fan mail from people that are playing them today, which just boggles my mind. But the game is still basically the same. I'm in a forest. I see trees. Everyone relates to that. You can relate to the picture. Later I put pictures in my games and made graphic versions of my games, and you know I got fan mail saying, "I liked the text better. My pictures look better than yours." Your mind gives a much better picture than the finest artist.

There is tremendous capability in the human mind. Now if I said I was in a bluh-bluh-bluh, that doesn't do anything. But we all know what a forest is and we all have certain expectations. The interesting thing is, your expectation of a forest and her expectation of a forest could be totally different. So the game's got to be aware of that. 

Hardware restrictions shaped early computer games

The other thing was, I had to be aware of what the users might and might not say. Which was a very important part of getting a game ready was beta testing. Normally I would sit down, I would come up with a theme I wanted for a game. Old West, space, Count Dracula, whatever. I'd set my theme. I'd set my locations. And I'd start putting items in, and putting in puzzles. I'd get the game about two-thirds done and then I would stop. 

The next one-third of the game literally came from the people I gave to to play the game. I'd watch how they played the game. I'd watch what they'd try to do with the items that I never thought they might try to do. [I said,] "Wow, what a good idea! I think I'll put that in the game." I literally did. So the games were written by the users. 

If you guys ever get out into the world and you are doing something creative like this, making entertainment for people, don't design the whole thing yourself. Let the people you plan to use it do some of the design. You'll get a for better product out of it. Because they are going to do things you didn't think of. Two heads are better than one. A hundred heads are far better than one. You keep control of the direction it's taking, and let there be creative input coming in. 

Give me another segue. You guys jump in.

Beta-testing: why it's important

(See: "Prototypes in Technical Writing: What Are They?")

03 May 2001 -- panel took place
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