Classic Computer Games

These are my recollections of a number of computer games, where "computer" means "runs on a computer but is not a video game nor a text adventure". In practice, this means roughly "strategy or puzzle game", whether real-time or turn-based.

You may have heard of many of these games.


Flip is a very simple computer game by John S. James which first appeared in the March/April 1977 edition of Creative Computing. In the game, the computer flips a virtual coin 50 times, and the object is for you to guess whether the coin will come up heads or tails each time. What makes it interesting is that the coin is not fair. The computer tries to find patterns in your guesses, and exploit them by biasing the coin toss away from what it thinks you are likely to guess next.

Hunt the Wumpus

Hunt the Wumpus is a classic topological mythical-beast-hunting game from the era of teletypes. Gregory Yob was disappointed by the number of games based on "find an objective hidden on a 2-dimensional grid", and decided to design one that was based on a world less orthogonal.

Lemonade Stand

Play it online

This was going to be on the "Apple II Games of Note" list, but I realized it's not a video game, it's a computer game. And it's probably a classic. So here it is.

And it wasn't just for the Apple II, although that might be the most classic version.

There was a version for the Commodore 64.

But in the Apple II version, summer is endless, unlike in the Commodore 64 version.


Animals is a classic "expert system" game. The computer asks you to think of an animal, and then asks you a series of yes/no questions in an attempt to discover what animal you chose. If it comes to the wrong conclusion, it asks you for a question that would distinguish the animal that you chose, and adds it to its database. In this way it "learns" about more animals as more games are played.

According to this page a LISP version of this program appears in Chapter 6 of "LISP" by Patrick Henry Winston and Berthold Horn (1982) (ISBN 0201083299 9780201083293).

I'm sure I played a Applesoft BASIC version of the game as well, on an Apple II, probably around 1982 as well.

It is mentioned in Transactor Magazine Volume 7, Issue 02 (September 1986) (PDF) in which there is an article on it, listing "What to do after you press RETURN" by People's Computing and "101 BASIC Games" by David Ahl as sources, speculating also that "it may have been around on mainframes long before that".


Sokoban is the classic Japanese game about lean manufacturing (well, sort of).

King's Quest V

Alexander takes a mint.

This game is fairly well written, which is in stark contrast to the other games in the King's Quest series, which are simply painful.

If, however, you like things that are so bad that they are absurdly bad (and considering what website you're visiting, that's not unlikely,) King's Quest IV has moments of morbidity that may make it worthwhile: Graham's scream as he falls off the icy cliffs, and the narrator's jesting about "dying for a drink." But don't even try playing the endgame without a walkthrough.


I like that it's not just a war game; you feel like you're a steward of the civilization you've fostered. It's a bit like a sim game in that respect. Educational, too; it encourages you build a mental model of how history works, based on technological and social advances. An oversimplified model, to be sure, but something is better than nothing. I mean, did I ever really think about how sewer systems and refrigeration changed life as we know it before playing this game? Probably not.

It is an entire series. The only one I played extensively was Civilization II.

The Incredible Machine

A classic. I like how it manages to unify, to an extent, using the "construction set" to build your own levels, and playing the level (since playing a level essentially means to complete its construction satisfactorily.) I also like how it naturally accomodates multiple solutions.

It is an entire series. I think the only one I played extensively was The Incredible Machine 2.

People sometimes tell me how RUBE reminds them of this game.

Every so often, in a television commercial or similar, I hear the exact same squeaking sound that the trapdoor made in this game, and I have a flashback to it. (That sound sample must be in the public domain or something.)

Ultima VII Part 2: The Serpent Isle

Classic, and would be on a list of classic RPGs, but I don't have one yet.

I wasn't fortunate enough to play this until 2003. This was, of course, long after the hardware that it made so many demands on was obsolete, and could only be emulated awkwardly — either by Exult, which (when I tried it) was kind of hard to set up, or by switching between real mode and protected mode thousands of times a second, which is just about as happy as it sounds.

Dungeon Keeper II

It deserves mention if for no other reason than you get to carve your own dungeon out of the rock as part of the game.