The First Game We Ever Owned: The Text-Based B-1 Nuclear Bomber

I was out for a run yesterday and listening to an episode of CBC Spark in which they were discussing text-based games. And I suddenly had a flashback moment to my childhood.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You log onto your Commodore 64 or Vic 20 or Apple II and load up B-1 Nuclear Bomber.

Unlike today's realistic graphics, this is what you saw once the game finished loading: (all images from MobyGames)

B-1 Nuclear Bomber load screen
 Yes, that's a text load screen. Nothing out of the ordinary there for an 8-bit game, right? Only...

Game Intro screen
 Words. All words.

Game control codes
See the command prompt at the bottom? By inputting those 2-letter codes, you would trigger actions in the game. The system would run the process and then respond with an updated status and another command prompt.

That was the entire source of interaction. The entire game was text-based. Not a single image. The keyboard was your joystick.

The best part? Our computer was so slow, that sometimes it would take hours to update the status. Hours. Like, we'd sit down to dinner and when we were done, the game was still processing the last action.

But B-1 Nuclear Bomber was my brother's favourite (only?) computer game. I was only 8 or 9 when he got it and I used to hang out with him when he played it.

Let me repeat that: I used to watch my brother type in commands into a command prompt and wait minutes, sometimes hours for feedback from the computer. Obviously, I watched him play with a book in my hand :)

I never did try playing the game myself. I do however remember it vividly, as if I was sitting next to the computer in the dining room of our home. (My parents got the whole "computers should be in a common area so we can monitor usage" thing very early.) Something about it seemed a little too complicated, a little beyond me. Just a little too out of reach for my 8-year-old brain. The strategy, the story lines, the typing... it was all a little much to grasp for a kid whose entire gaming experience up to that point had been playing Pong on my neighbour's old Atari a couple of times.

But it was my first game spectating experience. And it's an indelible part of my personal tech history. One I haven't revisited in a very long time but which truly made me smile when I thought of it today. And it got me thinking about just how much gaming has changed since back then. I showed the Dude these screen shots and explained the game to him; he called it "Epic!" I wonder which of his games might prompt him with the same nostalgia when he's older? Minecraft? Portal? Time will tell.

[Aside: When this memory popped into my head, I could not at all remember the name of the game. And I had very little to go on to find it other than: C-64, text game, bomber, MIG plane. When I found it on the MobyGames site, I texted my brother the link and teased him for the number of hours he spent waiting to find out if his bombs hit their targets. His response: "#TooManyHours X_X". LOL]