Mystery Master Felony BASIC game from 1984

BASIC is 60 years old: 5 classic games to try

Last Updated on May 6, 2024

BASIC was first released in 1964, making the programming language an incredible 60 years old. For me, that is pretty mind-blowing, as it means BASIC was already 20 years old before I tried my first type-in program.

To celebrate BASIC’s anniversary, here’s a look at the language’s origins, along with 5 classic BASIC games you can try.

What is BASIC?

Created by John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, BASIC was released on May 1st 1964. The first major implementation of a project that had begun life the previous year, the Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code was created to help students use computers.

Personal Computer - IBM, Model 5100, circa 1977
Personal Computer – IBM, Model 5100, circa 1977 by Photographer: David Demant is licensed under CC-BY 4.0

At that time, only mathematicians, scientists, and students of those disciplines were able to use computers on campus. BASIC opened the doors to popular computing.

5 BASIC games you will love

Hundreds of BASIC games were released in the early days of computing. They were distrubuted either on cassette/disk, as type-ins, or via bulletin boards (BBS).

1. Star Trek/Super Star Trek

Arguably the most influential BASIC game of them all. Mike Mayfieldd’s Star Trek was first released in 1971 (!). However, the more common version is Super Star Trek, an expansion of the game by Bob Leedom, which appeared in David H. Ahl’s BASIC Computer Games (now known simply as BASIC Computer Games).

The set up of the game is text-based, with a simple aim: destroy a fleet of Klingon warships within a random time limit. I played the C64 port as a kid, and I can report that it is tough and frustrating at times, but Super Star Trek has replayability.

2. The Mystery of Silver Mountain

BASIC games programming book The Mystery of Silver Mountain

A Hobbit-lite adventure published as a 32 page volume with 12 pages of code to enter, The Mystery of Silver Mountain was published by Usbourne. This game has a small cult following of people who recall typing it into their 8-bit computer.

The game was for BASIC on the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, VIC-20, TRS80, Apple, and ZX Spectrum. Note that each system had a slightly different BASIC language. You can download the PDF of this book from Usbourne’s archive.

3. Donkey

Driving games are perennial favourites among retro gamers, and perhaps this is why. Donkey (also known as its filename, DONKEY.BAS) was developed by Bill Gates and Neil Kronzen and shipped with early versions of IBM PC DOS.

It’s a top down racer, with a simple aim: avoid the donkeys!

You can play DONKEY.BAS in your browser at the Internet Archive, where you will also find the BASIC code.

4. Hamurabi

A precursor to games like Civilization and Mega-lo-Mania!, Hamurabli is a basic resource management game. Developed by Doug Dyment, the BASIC version came along in 1973, following the 1968 FOCAL version.

Hammurabi BASIC game
Image credit: ArsTechnica, Fair Use

It is, of course, completely text-based, and challenges you to manage the resources of your kingdom in 10 turns. People, land, and grain must be managed, trading with neighbours is possible, and plague can end a game.

5. Mystery Master: Felony!

While it might look like SimCity or GhostBusters, Mystery Master: Felony! is a 1984 detective strategy game with film noir elements.

12 cases are available to solve, with the opportunity to interview witnesses and suspects. Clues are provided, and the game gives the you the change to offer a solution.

The game was issued for DOS, Commodore 64, and Apple 2. Check out this gameplay video:

You can learn more about this game at AbandonwareDOS.

This collection of five BASIC games not enough to keep you entertained? A book called BASIC Computer Games by David H. Ahl, and published in 1973, is available online at

Interestingly, games from that book are being adapted into modern languages.

BASIC is the beginning of gaming

Without BASIC programming, there probably wouldn’t be any video games. BASIC opened the door to those of us who had no chance of coding at machine level, or with more complex languages. So many of the BASIC games had a strong impact on those who played them, and some of those people became game developers.

Here’s one last point to underline the importance of BASIC. The Register reports that three BASIC flavours have been updated to celebrate the 60th anniversary.

If you’re interested to learn more, you should check those out.

Looking for more classic BASIC games? Check out the contents of the amazing It’s full of resources including archive books on programming in BASIC.

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