Your small plane has crashed in the Sierra Nevada mountains. You are all alone in the snow and cold, but you manage to pull a topographic map from the wreckage of your plane. The map shows the location of a ranger outpost, your only hope for survival. But you could be anywhere on this map, an area "twice the size of the state of Delaware." To survive, you must determine your location and hike to the safety of the outpost.
The game provides six different information screens to aid you in your journey. The View screen shows a three-dimensional panorama of your immediate surroundings. The Topo screen is a two-dimensional map of the 90x67 mile area where you have crashed. Your first job is to figure out where you are on the map. In the View screen you can type commands (e.g., LOOK RIGHT, LOOK UP, PAN LEFT) to help orient yourself on the surrounding terrain.
The Status and Inventory screens give you reports on your physical condition and survival gear, respectively. The Help and Clue screens give you survival advice and hints, if you want them, but cost you points.
When you are ready to set out, you issue travel commands (e.g., WALK FOR 20 MINUTES) which move you in the direction you are facing (the View screen is redrawn when you reach your next location). To survive, you must also make use of your inventory and things in your environment. All interaction with the game is in the form of type-written phrases:
USE GUN/KILL BEAR/USE KNIFE/SKIN BEAR
USE MATCHES/MAKE FIRE
USE FIRE/COOK BEAR/EAT BEAR
The game recognizes 300 different nouns and verbs to allow you to navigate, travel, make camp, use gear and supplies, prepare food, care for health and first aid, and make use of wildlife, plants, and weapons.
A second scenario is also available in which you play an archeologist in search of the Lost City of Gold. Here, you begin your journey with a "long-forgotten" map and several obscure clues. The game included a form to order additional geographic areas: Bolivia, Burma, British Columbia, Chile, and New Guinea.
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Wilderness developers Wes Huntress and Charlie Kohlhase were both employees of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboraratory, and made the game in their spare time. Wes Huntress was a Senior Scientist at JPL and went on to become NASA's Director of Solar System Exploration. Charlie Kohlhase was the Voyager space probe Mission Designer.
This game was originally to be published by Edu-Ware. However, after Management Sciences America (MSA) purchased Edu-Ware, the rights to the game were purchased by Electric Transit. Electric Transit was founded by three ex-Edu-Ware employees and Wilderness' chief programmer, Wes Huntress.
Wilderness was the first game sold through Electronic Art's Affiliated Label distribution program. After a year, Electric Transit ended their relationship with Electronic Arts and distributed the game through Spectrum Holobyte.
Wilderness won Family Computing's "Best Adventure Game of the Year" award and was placed on Science '85's "Ten Best Educational Software of the Year" list.