What is ChipWits anyway?

Once, long ago, I owned a Mac.

(Okay, so there’s a whole story connected there, but it’s not got anything to do with this entry 8^).

Anyway, back in ’85, a friend of mine gave me a present called ChipWits. It ran on my FatMac (all of 512K RAM!), and was, oh, how can I describe this? A game, edutainment, a programming challenge, … all of the above?

ChipWits was a program that let you program a robot to navigate a maze. The maze consisted of rooms of 8×8 tiles, and each tile could have a wall, a floor, a door (which lead to other rooms), a good thing (an oil can, a cup of coffee, a disk, or a piece of pie), or a bad thing (a "bouncer", an electro crab, or a bomb). In ChipWits you had to write a program that would let your robot navigate any of the 8 mazes ("environments"), picking up good things and avoiding (or killing) bad things, while trying not to run out of energy or time.

The ChipWit robots were programmed in IBOL (Icon Based Operating Language), which consisted of chips that were laid out like cards on the right side of the screen. Each chip had a function ("turn left", "do you see a wall", "go forward", "flip a coin", "fire laser", "save what you feel on the stack", etc.), and would be connected to one or two other chips via "wires" (arrows).

The robots looked a lot like original Macs sitting on a pair or roller skates, and the simple animation of the day made the single stepping of the IBOL programs easy to understand and fun to watch.

It was an amazingly addictive game. I spent days upon days trying to perfect a given program, dealing with the limited programming "space" (one of 8 panels of 10×6 chips). Rumor had it that there were competitions out there of ChipWit programmers, trying to achieve high score or fastest execution, although I never saw any of these myself. Back then, there was no web to drive such things …

According to the package (which I still have!), ChipWits was written by a pair of guys, and was available at one point or another on for Mac, Apple II, C64, and Exidy Sorcerer. There’s been a website up for about 6 years now (http://www.chipwits.com) that has a single page stating "coming soon", and an EMail link that seems to be one of the authors. Some years ago I tracked down the other author, but he’s been medically disabled and unable to write software …Anyway, about three years ago I started, for the fun of it, writing my own version of ChipWits in VB6. It took a lot of time, mostly because I was working from 15+ year old memories, but it started coming along s-l-o-w-l-y. A year ago or so, I found a C64 ROM image, and together with a C64 emulator, I actually had it running on my laptop, which propelled me to "finishing" ChipWits for the PC.

Which brings us to today: I figure this summer, with my copious spare time, I might try to upgrade ChipWits to ChipWits.NET. Doing so would greatly increase the potential audience, as well as open the door to a possible PocketPC version.

Of course, only time will tell. It’s been, after all, 20 years …

 

COMMENTS FROM theSpoke:

@ Tuesday, May 31, 2005 11:26 PM

Oooh… sounds interesting. Let us know if you finish the .NET version. 🙂

punzki

@ Monday, June 06, 2005 8:23 PM

have you seen Baltie? http://www.baltie.net/newcom/w1/aboutus.asp

gitwitguy

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About Mr. I

After 17 years as a PC Software Engineer I gave it all up in 2000 to become a High School Computer Teacher
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