The games of IBM’s QBASIC

QBASIC Gorillas

I’m always amazed by my mind’s ability to lose memories completely, only to have them return vividly back to life when confronted with something from my past. Such as my memories of QBASIC, a programming language released by IBM and provided free in the early 90’s as part of MS-DOS 5.

I hadn’t forgotten about QBASIC, thanks in part to a game that I would eventually remake, called Nibbles. This snake game, supplied as an example game with the language, had me hooked for hours at school. Once I had completed the game, I would go on to spend many more hours playing with the code and introducing news maps and features. This was my introduction to coding and, since that is now my career, I owe it a great debt!

The memory that I had forgotten was of a second example game called Gorillas, a title which had you and another player throwing exploding bananas at each other across a city scape. Whilst this game didn’t occupy as much of my time as Nibbles, it certainly had an impact on my future gaming choices – I consider Amiga classics Scorched Tanks and Worms: The Directors Cut, both of a very similar nature to Gorillas, to be amongst my favourite ever games!

Move through time 20 years and you would find me writing my first and only game – Snake Club – a game that shares the same genes as QBASIC Nibbles, but this time written in a Delphi-like language called GML. Below is a quick video for basic training in my game, showing the similarities and proving how those wasted hours at school did at least bear some fruit!

Oil’s Well (Sierra, 1983)

Oil's Well

In 1983’s Oil’s Well by Sierra (before they were Sierra Online), players control a drill bit and must “devour” pellets of oil. Your drill bit can be broken by hitting land mines and various critters roaming the tunnels beneath the earth. The game is almost identical to another popular game released for home computers in 1983, Datamost’s Ardy the Aardvark, which apparently was based on the 1982 arcade game Anteater.

The dinosaur seen above is Slater the Petrosaur, as seen in the 1990 PC version of the manual. Slater has essentially nothing to do with the game. I guess they just needed a cute mascot to put in the manual for marketing purposes.

Oil’s Well was released for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, MSX, and the IBM PC. I spent some time playing the Apple II version this week and it’s really addictive. Your drill bit is controlled by the joystick, while the button retracts it quickly. If a critter touches any part of your drill bit it breaks, so getting all the oil located on the bottom levels is quite challenging.

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My current “retrocomputing desk” consists of two Raspberry Pi computers, a Commodore 64, an Apple IIe, and a MiST (Amiga and Atari ST) machine. I had hoped to try out a few more games last night but all I did was play Oil’s Well for a couple of hours.

Here’s some footage of the Commodore 64 version of Oil’s Well…

…and here’s some footage from the 1990 MS-DOS version. Keep an eye out for Slater!