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.