> write blog entry

West of House

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

There is a small mailbox here.


See, yeah. Even now, in these days of multi-pass shaders and 5,000-polygon character models, there’s something there.

Admit it. You want to open the mailbox. I know, so do I.

> open mailbox

Opening the mailbox reveals a leaflet.


Yeah, and this is where the slippery slope begins.

Admittedly, a large part of the appeal of the text adventure back in the day was the simple fact that it was immersive and interactive. That portion of the appeal has now been claimed by the Half Life 2s of the world. Resoundingly. I mean, look at it.

So complete was the takeover that many fans of interactive entertanment (“gamers”, for those of you keeping score at home) convinced themselves that there was, in fact, nothing left behind. That the world of text adventures was nothing more than a cored out husk, dry and brittle. A kind of technological mummy: interesting when observed in a museum, but only to provide historical edjumacation.

To these folk, I say, bah.

The best argument I’ve found to demonstrate why I still am interested in this ancient word-based form of entertainment is Andrew Plotkin’s Spider and Web. There is, quite simply, no better way to convey this kind of experience than through interactive text.

[ A technical aside: in order to actually play the .z5 file that you’ll find at the end of that link, you’ll need Frotz for Windows. The way this works is you download the game file, and then run it with a “player”, which is what Frotz is. In Frotz, do File->Open on the .z5 file. I know, I know. They’re working on it. ]

(I am making the unreasonable assumption that if you aren’t using Windows, you are likely capable of figuring out what steps to take to find a player for your system. Believe me when I say that there are players for Every Goddamn Platform Known To Mankind.)

There are others out there of that quality as well. And, the thing that makes me go “hmmm,” is that these people are all unpaid fans. Imagine what would happen if there were actual companies out there who were making these kinds of games full time.

There’s hundreds of dollars to be made out there. Maybe even thousands.

That, however, is the really interesting thing. Games as a whole are large enough now that even a 2% slice of a niche genre is enough to live on. I like it.

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I design.

5 thoughts on “> write blog entry”

  1. Yeah, but the hard = fun mantra has infected way more than text games. In fact, pretty much every game (except some Nintendo games) smacks pretty hard of it.

    I think it happened about the same time we started measuring the goodness of games in hours instead of enjoyment. Sure, 100 hours of genuine enjoyment is better than 10, but 10 hours of enjoyment is way better than 100 hours of frustration, isn’t it???

    Well, maybe it’s an argument for going and doing more text games, where you don’t have to worry about facial animations or bump mapping, or maybe it just means we’re all masochists and we’re addicted to the pain games inflict on us.

  2. It’s true; you describe the main mistake of the adventure game designers. They decided that hard = fun and lost their whole audience.

    However, it doesn’t *have* to be that way. Game design has come a long way since then, and the principles of good game design apply to text adventures as much as they do to 3D action games.

    Warning: this is not to say that Spider and Web isn’t hard. It is, in fact, impossibly difficult in some places. Download the walkthrough, and cheat. However, the good parts far outweigh the bad, and that’s really all one can ask.

    Particularly when it’s free. 😉

  3. Still banging the “interactive text” drum, eh? OK, you’ve convinced me – I’ll give Spider and Web a shot. Maybe, *just* maybe, there’s life in that ancient art form. But I’m really dubious.

    Why? I mean, I used to be a huge adventure fan. I waved the rod at the bird. I navigated the twisty little passages, both alike and different. I sought both the Wizard *and* the Princess, looked for scorpions behind rocks, fought the Dread Pirate LeChuck, etc etc etc.

    But at some point, adventure games just went horribly awry. They became less about experiencing a new world, and more about overcoming tediously, insanely, illogically difficult puzzles. And screw that – life’s too short to spend measuring the size of my genitalia against that of some sadistic puzzle creator, when all I want is to be entertained.

    If you say it’s safe to go back into the water, I’ll give it another shot. But I have to warn you, the Half-Life 2’s of the world have raised the bar pretty damn high.

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