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CASA - 20 years down the adventure line

As of today, February 20th, 2019, CASA has been online for exactly 20 years. If you feel like listening to me reminiscing about cave and game exploration (and website creation) of days gone by, feel free to read on!
Beware! Might contain animated GIFs!

Old site logo offered by one of our users.
Quite appropriately, the hopeless site name
is borderline unreadable!
Back in the mid-80s I came across adventure games by pure chance. Even with a very poor grasp of English, I enjoyed the genre a lot (Eureka!), but it was an interest I had to myself (well, being a somewhat lonely almost-teen at the time I had pretty much everything to myself). So when I came across a Danish fanzine, called Adventure Posten, dedicated to these wonderful games I was a happy camper indeed. There's nothing quite like wallowing in a somewhat obscure interest and then suddenly realizing that others out there share you enthusiasm. The internet has definitely made things easier in that respect.

The groundwork for what became CASA was laid when I started as a volunteer on said fanzine's phone helpline twice a week. People could ask for help on just about anyting, and indeed they did, very soon testing the boundaries of my rather confused, puberty-infected mind with questions on how to carefully carry that jug of water down that staircase without tripping over that wire. Yikes! If I had played that particular game, and if you'd called me half a year ago, then maybe I could remember, but as it stands...

To avoid further cases of stalling for time and sounding like a dimwit on the phone, I started typing down the solutions and hand drawing the maps for all the games I solved. Granted, this ate up a great deal of time, but somehow it felt like building a library, each carefully created document filling out its own niche on the shelf and saved for posterity.

But alas, my beloved C64 was falling out of favour, my Amiga had never really taken off as an adventuring computer, and studies plus other interests (and a girlfriend) meant that all the Zorks and Kentillas out there had to take the back seat for a while.

Yes, I'm getting there.
In 1993 I made it onto the fabulous thing that was the internet, and sooner or later discovered, where I think I might have posted some of my solutions. At least they made it into the IF Archive, buggy as hell (as it turned out), but still.
Then in late 1998 we got a new ISP provider, which offered a - by then current standards - generous amount of free web space. I thought, 'Now, I have all these solutions either collecting dust or residing in a rather inaccessible way in the IF Archive. I'm studying computer science anyway, so why not take this neat invention called HTML for a test drive?'.
And after much typing, formatting, coding - via an early homepage tool called Hot Dog - the Classic Adventures Solution Archive was born and went online, on February 20th, 1999.
That's hand coded HTML for you kids out there.
Note the background, carefully handcrafted in glorious play dough by yours truly.
Bonus info: the current logo is based on a WinAmp-plugin.
(I'm obviously no graphics artist either)

Indeed it is. But please bear in mind that this was at a time when dial-up modems, HTML frames, animated GIFs and "Coming soon" pages were all the rage. Websites came and went all the time. So I never had any longterm ambitions for the site, which meant that I just chose the first name that made a bit of sense. Indeed, the first version - which survived for several years - was this migraine-inducing amalgam of colours, fonts and animated GIFs cobbled together from all corners of the web. It looked terrible... but it worked, Anyway, and I had no idea if it would generate any kind of interest, much less that it would survive for twenty years!

All editing was done by hand and uploaded via dial-up, which led to endless issues with broken links, browser problems, missing files and what have you (somehow, though, those bloody GIFs never failed!). And don't get me started on trying to credit people properly... but the idea slowly caught on, and I started traversing the web, contacting people and asking them if they'd consider submitting something. Some of them are still active users today.

Hence the site grew slowly, but surely, from a couple hundred solutions at the beginning. I remember the first time I received an email from a visitor. A real, actual person! It was a thrill to know that setting up the site hasn't been in vain. Then contributions started to trickle in, and it really felt like a small, but enthusiastic community was emerging. Personally I've always gotten the largest kicks out of getting in touch with people. Receiving a response from some of my childhood heroes - Scott Adams, Brian Howarth, Keith Campell - has always been the most thrilling part of the "job", and it's certainly something I would love to do more.
Still, the site remained a pain in the behind to maintain, and besides, I wanted to widen the site's scope. Hans Persson's grand adventure catalogue, Adventureland, was online, but only intermittently updated. Being a historian, I thought that the internet could do with an almost all-encompassing database of adventure games. But being a pretty lousy programmer, I also knew that any attempts to build a new site on my own part would probably end up like that scene in Cronenberg's The Fly with the ape being teleported inside out (for those who haven't seen it: it's not a pretty sight).

I started pestering people for assistance, left and right, but none of these attempts gained any traction - until my esteemed co-editors and highly skilled coders Hannes and Dave stepped up to the plate and began transforming my abomination of a coding misfire into a greatly enhanced website with all sorts of neat features.

And that's ten years ago. Technically the site hasn't changed much, but content-wise we've gone from covering less than a thousand games to around eight times that number. And looking out across the web landscape, I am sorry to see how few of those late-nineties sites are still around. So surviving for this long is a feat in and of itself.

Retina damage imminent!
The old help page whose colours probably couldn't
match the background (seen above)
any worse, even if I tried.
I'd still love to expand and enhance. Tech-wise, I've come to the conclusion that I don't have the time or skills to become a great programmer, so although I have an long wishlist of things that could and should be improved, the site largely is what it is. As for content, I think we covered all the major bases years ago, so whatever is added today is either of the somewhat obscure kind (which I absolutely love, it just doesn't generate much interest or traffic), or it's something that's already on IFDb.
We've had a lot of debate recently, some of it more heated than other (note: adventure gamers generally seem like leved-headed folks, so in the grand sceme of internet and SoMe things "heated" should be taken with a pinch of salt). It seems that our users are often divided into the "8 bit" camp and the "Inform" camp. I'm largely agnostic; as long as it has a pulse and a parser, I'm happy. I try to keep everybody happy by walking a middle ground (which of course runs the risk of pleasing nobody). There has been a lot of development with mobile games, hyper text games etc. since 1999, and it's highly pleasing to see how something as old fashioned as a text game is thriving.

Yeah, that dopey site name keeps coming back to haunt me. Nobody can remember Classic Adventures Solution Archive (indeed, it took me years to remember whether Adventure or Solution were the plural one), so CASA is a nice, if meaningless moniker. But a lot of people still think of it only as a repository for walkthroughs and maps - which it is, but it is at least striving to be more. In my next life, I'll pick a better site name and address from the get-go!

These days, CASA maintenance chugs along quietly (probably too quietly if I were to ask some of my users - so I don't!) Life is chock full of obligations, and any hobbies really have to justify themselves and fight for their right to party. My major interests are movies, board games and adventure games, and usually the first two will win out any struggle for attention, both because they're something I can share with my family and friends, and because, well, many days eight hours of screen time at work will suffice just nicely.
I don't play a great deal of games these days, let alone solve them - but I still have a blast with the archeology aspect of the hobby: uncovering games that were thought to be lost and, if possible, the game authors that might have been lost along with them. And basically just roaming around various titles just to experience the glorious atmosphere of two word parsers and evocative "You are in a dark cave. West." descriptions. Those are the days where I remember why I set up the site in the first place.

To wrap things up, let me say that I'm endlessly grateful for all the support and interest the site have gotten over the years. I just put down the foundation, the rest was done by my most excellent co-editors and you, our amazing users, who have poured endless time and love into playing, maintaining and generally nursing a genre which by all accounts ought to have gone the way of the dodo many moons ago. I'll happily admit that the competition from Facebook is rather stiff at times, but hopefully SoMe, CASA and the plethora of adventure game sites that have emerged recently can complement each other. Here's hoping for a bright, adventurous future.

- Jacob Gunness, Copenhagen, February 2019