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On this page I present a tentative timeline presenting some important dates in the history of adventure games. This is still very much a work in progress, so any feedback is appreciated.

I'd like the dates for the first instances of computer-based games of any kind and the choose-your-path books on paper.

Significant points in adventure game history
  • Hunt the Wumpus is developed by Gregory Yob on a Time-Sharing System at the University of Massachusettes in Dartmouth. This is not an adventure game (it's a text-only maze game), but a precursor.
  • Will Crowther creates the first version of ADVENT in FORTRAN on a PDP-1 while working for Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) in Boston.
  • Don Woods, then at Stanford University's Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) finds Crowther's ADVENT and starts to expand it (with Crowther's blessing).
  • Don Woods creates yet another version of Adventure.
  • MIT students Dave Lebling and Marc Blank are inspired by Adventure and start to create a similar game by themselves. They name the project Zork (the same name they use for any work in progress).
  • Scott Adams releases Adventureland.
  • Jon Thackray, David Seal, and Jonathan Partington at Cambridge University create Acheton on an IBM 370 mainframe. It will be followed by a number of other games, subsequently marketed (to this day!) by Topologika Ltd.
  • The final puzzle is added to the mainframe version of Zork.
  • An article titled "Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game" by P. David Lebling, Marc S. Blank, and Timothy A. Anderson is published in the April issue of IEEE Computer (vol. 12, issue 4; pages 51-59). In the article, the authors say that all adventures they are aware of at that time are Adventure, Zork, and Haunt. That they fail to list Acheton is understandable since it's from Britain, and I suppose Adventureland (which was advertised) might have been published during the editing process of the article.
  • Scott Adams founds Adventure International.
  • Dog Star Adventure is published in the May issue of the TRS-80 magazine Softside. It was written in Basic, and immediately people started reverse-engineering the code and writing their own adventures based on the same design.
  • On July 22, Infocom is founded by ten members of the MIT Dynamic Modeling Group (Tim Anderson, Joel Berez, Marc Blank, Mike Broos, Scott Cutler, Stu Galley, Dave Lebling, J. C. R. Licklider, Chris Reeve, Al Vezza). They start looking for a distributor for Zork and finally find one in Personal Software (also known as Visicorp, the makers of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for PCs). The TRS-80 version comes out in time for Christmas.
  • On-Line Systems later Sierra On-Line) is founded by Ken and Roberta Williams and release Roberta's Mystery House, the first adventure game to feature graphics. The graphics are actually black-and-white stick men and other line drawings, but that doesn't stop the game from being an instant success.
  • Bruce Daniels creates a ZIP for the Apple II, making it possible to run Zork on it.
  • Sierra releases The Wizard and the Princess, the first adventure to feature graphics in color.
  • An article titled "How to Fit a Large Program Into a Small Machine" by Marc S. Blank and S. W. Galley is published in the July issue of Creative Computing (pages 80-87). In the article, the authors describe how the virtual machine that drives the Infocom games works.
  • Scott Adams publishes an article in the December issue of Byte containing the Basic source code and data file for Pirate's Adventure. Just like when Dog Star Adventure was published, people start reverse-engineering the code to figure out how it works and then create their own adventures based on the same design.
  • Brian Howarth publishes the first three parts of the Mysterious Adventures series, using the same data file format as the Scott Adams games.
  • The final update is made to the mainframe version of Zork.
  • In October, Infocom ends the sales agreement with Personal Software to do their own distribution. Mike Dornbrook founds "Zork Users Group" to handle requests for hints and merchandise.
  • Level 9 Computing is founded by the brothers Pete, Nick, and Nick Austin. Mike was a fan of Adventure and was disappointed that there was no port of it for the British microcomputers, so he simply wrote his own (long before founding Level 9).
  • Infocom begins development of the database product called Cornerstone that will eventually become their downfall.
  • The Scott Adams games are rereleased with graphics.
  • The Zork Users Group is shut down in July, having 20000 members. From now on, Infocom will handle hints and such themselves.
  • Level 9 Computing release their first four games for various British microcomputers.
  • The Australian company Melbourne House relase The Hobbit based on J. R. R. Tolkien's novel. It had a very good command parser and non-player characters for its time.
  • On March 12, Matthias Pfaller posts the source code to zmachine to comp.os.minix. This is the first publicly available release of an interpreter for Infocom datafiles. Today, there are a number of different interpreters to choose from for just about any concievable platform. Perhaps I should list a first date for other free adventure interpreters as well (ScottFree, Level9, Magnetic, Sarien, Quill -- any others?), but I don't know the relevant dates right now.
  • Legend Entertainment Company release their first game, Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls.
  • Cascade Mountain Publishing publishes Once and Future (previously announced as Avalon). This is the first text adventure released commercially for a number of years (even longer if you consider that it lacks graphics). It has been eagerly awaited in the interactive fiction community since G. Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson made the monumentally premature first announcement of it in 1993.

To do
  • First game with bitmapped graphics
  • LucasArts
  • TADS / Inform

Adventureland was created by Hans Persson and is now maintained by Stefan Meier.

If you find any errors or have information that is missing, please let me know