At the end of writing all these stories about running a bulletin-board system, I thought to go through some old boxes and I turned up some very curiously labeled 5.25” disks.
About a month ago, after getting the kids to bed and cleaning up the kitchen, I drove down to a Redwood City parking lot where I traded a guy I’d met on Craigslist $120 for an Apple IIe. I drove back to the city and hauled the old equipment into my office and began to poke at it.
I was up playing with it until nearly 3 AM that first morning. Then I figured out what it’d take to get it to talk with a modern computer, which saw me order up a special cable and a special adapter and then, about a week after that when the cable arrived, any disk that I had in the old Apple’s disk drive would get read and fed over some wires to my literally shiny modern computer.
A lot of the disks weren’t readable after all this time, of course. Even on the readable disks, I found a lot of files that I really wish I could open but couldn’t. However, among other things I found a partial backup of my old system.
Over the course of a week, I looked through a lot of it. One file was a partial copy of the system’s users, including their real names and addresses. I was surprised to find this, because I’d forgotten that I’d gone to some pretty lengthy measures to verify everyone who wanted an account on the board. I’m not entirely sure why. I think at the time I thought I was being paranoid, though now I think it was just a ham-handed attempt to try to make friends.
I looked up a bunch of the old users. Most of them have LinkedIn profiles, doing things like mid-level IT management at some tech company I’ve never heard of in a decent Dallas suburb. I recognized but couldn’t summon up a face or a voice for a lot of the names there, so I don’t feel like I need to reach out to any of them.
In most cases so far, in writing this story, I’ve been choosing to change the names of people I haven’t gotten permission from, for whatever reason. I mixed up some of the pseudonyms and true names of the various kids who showed up in that story, and it doesn’t look like this partial backup has any of their contact information, so I’m going to call it a draw.
I thought I had one more set of disks, but they haven’t turned up yet. I hold out hope for something else interesting there, if I ever find them.
What I did find was a bunch of text that I’d written, probably when I was sixteen, for the game that I’d been running. Not just a bunch, actually. There’s a lot of it, along with a bunch of other files, including enough code that I might be able to get the game up and running again. That could be a good year-end holiday project.
To the extent that you care to read any bits of it, below are some unedited* excerpts of text that I recovered from the old disks. As near as I can tell, I wrote them when I was sixteen. Because part of the game had you walking around a fantasy-world city, I needed text descriptions for its nooks and crannies. As players moved from room to room — more like scene to scene, in some cases — the system would feed them a different description file. Each room connected to other rooms in different directions, so the text had to give you a sense of where you were as well as what you could do there. There wasn’t much fancy in what I wrote, but there’s a great lot more than I remembered. I’m embarrassed to find that some of the street names were lifted from a classic-but-obscure adventure called “The City-State of the Invincible Overlord,” a copy of which arrived at my home today in the mail and which I used to verify my teenage proper-noun theft.
But I like that even though a terrifyingly large number of years separate me and the kid who wrote this, it sounds to me an awful lot like me. And I think I’m okay with that. It’s not all that interesting, though I remember the text delivering a nice effect as you moved from room to room. Also, there were monsters.
In no particular order:
This farmer’s road is quite empty. Everyone must be in the City today. You can see an open window on a barn to the south, but you can’t get to it from here. The road continues east and west.
This is the end of the chain link fence. Here, the brush gets too thick to pass any farther north. Your only exit is south.
Lying on your stomach gives you a whole new perspective on the world. Either go west and explore the unknown beyond this fence, or be a coward and go back up to outside the fence.
The north and south walls of this room are lined with bunks, three high and seven long, and an extra one at the end. There is a door to the west that leads into another room, and from the east door blows a cool breeze. Over the west door is that symbol of the eye in the pyramid again . . .
Yes, this part of the ox-cart road IS quite new, the dirt on the side not even packed down completely yet. An alley runs northwest of here, one of the many in this City, and the wooden fence blocks off any route east.
You stand on solid cement, the first paved road you’ve seen in this town. It is overgrown with weeds and grass, this artifact from another age. The old south road now serves as a path between Harvest Road the farmer’s market. It stretches northerly.
This is the east side of the Bazaar of the Bizzare, and a little calmer than the west, though the tension and excitement still linger in the air. High above you looks a window, just out of reach. A bit of the bazaar continues farther east. To the south is the great Wall, immovable.
Brazier Street ends here, all former glory lost. To the west, around a two-story apartment/blacksmith shoppe, is Scud Street, and a small alleyway runs northwest of here. On the bright side, you can get away from all this by going back south.
The people here are crammed in like sardines, all smelly and slimy. The only apparant way out is up a ladder to a better view of what everyone’s shouting about, or east and away from this madhouse.
You’re standing in front of a millitia blockade. “Move along”, says one Guard.
This is the largest of all the houses here. The grass lawn is well trimmed, and the shiny, solid oak door is well polished. A large plaque on the door reads “Uncle Stevie is OUT”.
The laughter follows you down the hall to this room, like will-o-wisps from conversations gone by. This room is full of ale kegs, all of which prove to be too heavy to carry. Street sounds rise up from a window ledge on the south side of the room, just size enough for a person to sit on. The giggling of a young person beckons from the west.
If you don’t know where you are by now, there’s no use in telling you.
* Okay, among all the typos and abuses of style, I made one tiny edit. I’m not sorry.