Jun 28, 2006

Text is King!

What? What about Elvis? And if text is King, then what in God's name was Freddie Mercury supposed to be?

Astonishingly, I care not. And being such an uncaring gnome, I've recently finished my review of Infocom's The Lurking Horror (it will appear in the next issue of my beloved Adventure Lantern magazine), stopped playing the brilliant and adequately creepy lovecraftian Anchorhead (experience the horror by clicking here), and promptly decided to blog on text. The king (no, not Elvis, really). Or to be more exact -as we gnomes tend to be- on text based games, and mostly on text adventures (a.k.a. interactive fiction).

But, before I go on, let me get a little, pesky something out of the way. I won't be referring to ASCII/ANSI games, such as Rogue, NetHack, Kroz or ZZT. They may be excellent, but they aren't actually based on text. They simply use characters to create rudimentary, but quite interesting graphics -not words.

For the two of you who need more elaborate explanations, I'll help you in the only way you could possibly understand. The visual way:

This ^ is a typical ASCII game.

This ^ is a typical text based game.

Now, that everything is crystal clear and ASCII games out of the way, let's move on to my (my own, my precious etc) favorite genre. The text adventure.

It all started in 1972 with Hunt the Wumpus, the first game to utilize the text-parser (a command line actually) in typical adventure fashion, and a game that ran on a ridiculously huge mainframe computer located in the deepest dungeons of MIT. Three years later the grandaddy of all adventure games was born. ADVENT, also known in a variety of seedy places as Adventure or Colossal Cave, was created in FORTRAN for the PDP-10. Limited though it was, it did fascinate those weird commies from the '70s. Mind you, that quite a lot of contemporary communists still enjoy these games, but only in Russian.

Anyway, as any communist would tell you, things matter only when they reach the masses. That's why Infocom and Zork were so important. It (Zork, silly) was the first piece of interactive fiction that was playable on computers normal -albeit not exactly poor- people could own. Apple II, Atari 800, C64 the first PCs and Amigas were all capable of running this little gem, that first appeared -as was customary- on another huge MIT supercomputer in 1977. The rest, as they (Who? They! Ahh, I see...) say is history. Infocom popularized the genre, published more than 30, mostly successful, text adventures, relentlessly strived to evolve its technology and parser, and then filed for bankruptcy.

Along the way, it also created a market that sustained at least a dozen of Interactive Fiction companies for more than 10 years. Companies like the British Level 9 of Knight Orc fame or the -also British- Magnetic Scrolls; the people who included beautiful and at times animated graphics in their games. Wonderland (if I remember correctly, it came on more than 10 low density "floppy" disks) was a prime example... Have a look right above this paragraph.

But, that's quite enough! The history or the current state of Interactive Fiction (hint: have a look here) is not the point of this feature-article-thingy. Everything I have written is just an introduction to one of the best, most valuable and adorable sites ever: the Play Infocom Adventures Online site, where you can lose yourself in Zork, Sorcerer, Planetfall, The Lurking Horror and other strange text-based beasts.

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Related Gnome's Lair articles: Thy Dungeonman 3 & walkthrough, Lucasarts' secret FTP stash, Head over Heels, Sensible Soccer 2006

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  1. you do know how to build up to a climax, infocom text adventures online is an ace link, so is anchorhead and having just used the sky to unlock the sky, it's all coming back to me now.

    hours of frustration brain storming to find the right word, or drawing maps on copy books, you know it was gaming nirvana..... damn i just remembered a lord of the rings text adventure and having gandalf follow me around....

    excellent mr. gnome, excellent!

    (east... you see gnome
    talk...you see gnome
    hug gnome....you hug gnome
    look....gnomes face is red
    talk...gnome says i can't breath
    stop hug....gnome face turns blue
    quit hug.....game over
    try again y/n

  2. I knew you'd appreciate it Mr. Elderly. Thank you.

    Oh, and please, do try again. Dont choke that poor gnome. Every time a gnome dies a game is irreversibly erased.

  3. I'll never hug a gnome again.... I'm so sorry...that gnome would still be ali....

    (sobs uncontrollable, types y)

    this time i'll try a baby hug!

  4. Great... Now you are picking on defensless babies!

    (Now, I'll laugh myself to sleep, or as Manuel had it spleep)

  5. babies..noisy varmints (tiptoes out of gnomes blog, to the cacophony of snoring gnomes)

  6. Excellent article! Thanks for the oldschool goodness! Greets from dataleak (http://dataleak.corewatch.net/)

  7. Great post Mr. Gnome (Can I call you that?) I learned a lot new game genres today (And the difference between ASCII and Text.)

  8. Why, of course dear Gamer C... Glad you enjoyed the ride. Oops. Read.

    Thank you anonymous... Greets to dataleak...

    And, Mr. Elderly... No, not the kids...

  9. where was the multitudiness (wrong spelling) snoring coming from then?

    Its' amazing humans would never bring a incontinent human being, who can't talk, feed, wash or dress themselves into their home, but yet they have babies....

  10. I must admit I never fully understood the baby bit... Some people actually want them too!

  11. Nah, nothing to ponder about...

  12. ah no wonder i was reaching no conclusion......id have been up, pondering all night only for you.

  13. Misunderstood Grue7/17/06, 12:38 AM

    I have found that the command "take all" is very helpful. Even if your pack is full, or cannot carry anything else, it will list all the items in a room that are available to pick up. Probably nothing new to a veteran, but may help if any nebies to IF out there are looking at this blog. By the way: Please leave my milk alone, and don't throw any more old jail cell blankets on me. They are really itchy.


    The Grue

  14. Misunderstood Grue7/17/06, 12:52 AM


    Might not be a good idea to use this command in rooms with things that should not be picked up...Like Grues.

    The Grue

    it is pitch black in here. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

  15. A brilliant comment you poor little (or not-so-little) GRUE... But why are you smiling this way? And it's pitch blach in here too...


    Oh, dear...

    (restores from previous save)

    Hello there, Misunderstood Grue. Nice of you to drop by!