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Hunt the Wumpus (Ti99/4a)

Posted: February 9th, 2016, 11:21 am
by scotland
Hunt the Wumpus on the Ti99/4a

Released for holiday season 1980 from Texas Instruments.
Programmed by Kevin Kenney.
Original Retail Price: $25 ($75 dollars today adjusted for inflation)
Today's Value: $10 for a loose cartridge
Brings to mind: Adventure on the Atari 2600 (for flavor elements)
Battleship and Minesweeper (for gameplay elements)

Few games go back further than Hunt the Wumpus, a BASIC game written back in the mid 1970s. That BASIC game is a logical question and answer version of hide and go seek with a monster. You can type in a version of that game to run on the TI99 too, and I might some rainy day, but this is about the commercial ROM cartridge (called "Solid State Software" on the Ti99). It a graphical reinterpretation, with both the gameplay and game map being simplified. However, having graphics (and rather cute ones too) really help make this game shine more than the original.

Image Image

The premise is that you are a Wumpus hunter. The Wumpus (presumably evil) is slumbering in a cavern maze. The map of the cavern maze is a 6 x 8 grid, where each grid square has a room or a tunnel section. Its all very 2 dimensional, where tunnels do not go over or under other tunnels or rooms. The top and bottom of the maze wraps around, as do left and right.

Most rooms are blue. Blue is safe. There are hazards to beware, such as 2 bottomless pits and 2 bats in every maze. If you are one room away from a pit (not one grid square, one room), that room is green (possibly an echo or a draft or slime). If you ignore the warning and enter the room with a pit, you die with graphic of you falling to your death. The bats must be related to the bats in Adventure, as they enjoy picking you up to relocate you in randomly in the maze. The first time you encounter a bat, it just wakes up. The second time you could end up being dropped off in a blue room, or a pit, or even on top of the Wumpus. Stupid bats.

Most dangerous of all is the Wumpus. Unlike the text adventure, this Wumpus does not move about the cavern. If you walk into the room with the Wumpus, you are dead (with a graphic of being eaten). Before you stumble into him, the two connected rooms are marked with a red spot (his smell, blood, something). The Wumpus can be in a room with a pit. He does not fall in, and this is why the game needs red spots instead of making the warning rooms red. The bats are often in red spot rooms, but not pit rooms or the Wumpus room.

The game is turn based, like Battleship. You always start off in a safe blue room in this game. You move and figure out by the pattern of red spots where the Wumpus is. Once you do you have one crazy arrow that can fly down a curved passage into the next room where you suspect the Wumpus is (in the text game, this is far more complicated). If you guessed right, your arrow will slay the beast, otherwise, you have awakened the beast and will become the next tasty meat snack.

Look at the screenshot above. Can you spot the Wumpus room?

The game is simple and fun for people of all ages. There are options for difficulty with mazes and memory. The more difficult mazes have fewer rooms with lots more twisty passages - when almost every room has red spots and they are connected wily nily, its harder. The memory options will only show you the room you are currently in, so you have to remember everything you've learned already, and you can mix that with only showing you rooms, and never showing the passages between them.

Bonuses are a rather cute muppet like monster, the player looking like he is the same actor as in Berzerk, and both opening and death music (what is that opening music?) You can also see the full maze at the end of the game, and it keeps a running score of you, the Wumpus and the Pits. The big minuses are that mazes should be more complicated, that the gameplay has been simplified a bit too much, and it lacks gold which is a reason to explore and measure success.

Since it only needs a joystick, it is surprising the game has no other ports to systems of the time. There are currently mobile game versions of the original text Hunt the Wumpus as well as graphical versions, but you have to look carefully if you want the Ti99 version. There is also "Wumpus World", which is an extension of the game used in teaching logic in partially observable environments.

So, if you find yourself with a TI99 one day, or lost in a strange maze of caverns, think about hunting up a Wumpus, and watch your step. Those pits are the pits.

Re: Hunt the Wumpus (Ti99/4a)

Posted: February 9th, 2016, 2:56 pm
by Sut
Brilliant! Enjoyed that review. I vaguely remember playing something similar at school on a BBC Micro computer.

Re: Hunt the Wumpus (Ti99/4a)

Posted: February 9th, 2016, 11:02 pm
by VideoGameCritic
Thanks for taking the time to write this. Fascinating stuff.

The TI99 was the first computer I ever used (at a friend's house) and I immediately fell in love with programming after writing code to print my name to the screen over and over.

Hunt the Wumpus is one of those legendary titles you hear people talk about when they discuss the history of games, but I never really knew what it was all about until now!

Re: Hunt the Wumpus (Ti99/4a)

Posted: February 10th, 2016, 4:52 am
by Retro STrife
Very interesting read. The TI99/4A is the first vintage computer I ever bought for my collection, as I found one for cheap at a flea market about 15 years ago. Funny thing is.... I've never hooked it up! I don't even know if it works. And I have 20 or 30 games for it, but, funny thing is, I can only ever remember the name of one of them: Hunt the Wumpus. Why only that game? Because it's one of the best and most interesting video game titles of all time. IMO, it might just be the best title ever. How could you not want to try out that game after reading the title? Sadly I never have tried it out, but it was nice to finally learn what it is all about here. Thanks for the review.

Re: Hunt the Wumpus (Ti99/4a)

Posted: February 10th, 2016, 2:16 pm
by scotland
Minesweeper is another game like Hunt the Wumpus, with turn based discovery within a partially observable and hostile environment. Somehow hunting a Wumpus sounds far more fun...

Retro STrife wrote: Funny thing is.... I've never hooked it up! I don't even know if it works. And I have 20 or 30 games for it, but, funny thing is, I can only ever remember the name of one of them: Hunt the Wumpus.

I suspect you never hooked it up because the default connector is a huge RF modulator with spade connectors for an old rabbit ear UHF VHF television. You can get an adapter to use an RF signal, but the Ti99/4a also has a circular 5 pin DIN connector for the clearer AV out. I can use the same connector as I do for my Commodore 8 bit computers, and I think its the same for the Atari 8 bit computers too, or buy one for about $10.

The library for the Ti99 was mostly first party titles, and Texas Instruments intended it to be a truly family computer. This means that there are lots of educational and business titles. Sometimes its hard to know what a cartridge even is. For instance, "Dragon Mix" sounds either like a great fantasy title or a really good mix tape of 80s music, but its really a pretty static game about multiplication and division practice where you play as a cute dragon destroying slowly encroaching space ships (like a Godzilla movie, with math!).