Colossal Cave in the Hall of Fame

May 13th, 2019 9:58 AM
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For the fifth year, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, inducted new games into its Video Game Hall of Fame, part of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. Among this year's inductees were Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Kart, and Microsoft Windows Solitaire, recognized for their "icon-status, longevity, geographic reach, and influence".

Most years, I experience faux indignation when the museum snubs the Apple II by not including one of its original titles. But this year, even I can't feign umbrage when considering one of the inductees was Colossal Cave.

Colossal Cave, the invention of Will Crowther and Don Woods, was the first text adventure game, one that was eventually ported to the Apple II, which was invented just a year later. Its induction to the Hall of Fave is a timely one, and not only because of the recent release of source code for Infocom games, all of which were inspired by Colossal Cave.

This past December, in my quest to visit all fifty of the United States, I crossed off Kentucky when I visited Mammoth Cave, off which Colossal Cave was based. Although I didn't see any of the landmarks or rooms directly referenced in the game, nor was the game mentioned as part of the guided tour, I enjoyed an additional layer of meaning that was hidden from the other tourists.

I'd say more, except I wrote about my trip to Mammoth Cave in the spring 2019 issue of Juiced.GS, and there's more about the cave's history right here on this blog from nine years ago this month. Jason Scott's 90-minute interview with Don Woods is also available on YouTube:

For once, even my grumpy persona gives a nod of approval to the Strong's selection. Colossal Cave and Mammoth Cave are landmarks of a different sort, and it's wonderful to see both being recognized.

(Hat tip to Dean Takahashi)

Parsely Games comes to Kickstarter

July 24th, 2017 11:15 AM
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Text adventures are alive and well, including at KansasFest. Not only did Charles Mangin place in last week's HackFest courtesy his Inform 7 adventure, but several live-action text adventures have been played at KFest over the years. In 2010, 2014 & 2015, I emceed Parsely adventures, where a human replaces the parser and accepts two-word commands from audience members, responding with the results. Jared Sorensen created the Parsely games, sold online and at game conventions such as PAX East. Although the nearly dozen scripts appear to currently be out of print, that's about to change courtesy the Parsely Games Kickstarter.

This Kickstarter has already successfully met its crowdfunding goal of $12,000, well before its August 11 deadline. With these funds, Sorensen will publish a hardcover book of the ten existing Parsely adventures, including the three games I've brought to KansasFest: Action Castle, Jungle Adventure, and Space Station. plus two original titles. The book will also include two original games, bringing the total to 12. All these can be yours for $15 (PDF) or $30 (hardcopy), with rewards all the way up to $2,500, where Sorensen will fly anywhere in the USA or Europe to run a Parsely adventure for you and your group.

While I'm tempted to buy the ten-pack of books and redistribute them at KansasFest 2018, the product will not be ready until a month later, in August 2018 — and that's assuming it ships on time, which Kickstarters do not have a good record of doing. But Parsely adventures have already brought so much joy to KansasFest, the least I can do is support their continued existence. Count me among this campaign's backers!

Open Sorcery & the power of text

May 1st, 2017 1:00 PM
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In the course of producing my IndieSider podcast, I discover a variety of surprising, fascinating indie games. Wading through tons of clones and me-toos is worth it when I find a game that refines an old concept or executes something new — or both.

Such is the case with Open Sorcery, a Twine-based interactive fiction Steam game that replaces text adventures' traditional parser with hypertext and links. I saw Open Sorcery at two different game conventions before I finally got some one-on-one time with it at home. I ended up playing far longer than I do more visually complex games, growing attached to the characters and replaying it to get a "better" ending.

I was surprised — not that text can be so engaging, but that I'd ever forgotten it could be. I grew up on the Apple II playing text adventures and MUDs, from Eamon to British Legends, exploring worlds of fantasy and science fiction and getting lost in their puzzles and decisions. When away from the computer, I filled my time with Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest. With text leaving so many gaps for my imagination to fill, it was easy to inject myself into those adventures.

It was wonderful to rediscover the power of text, as described by Richard Bartle in this excerpt from Jason Scott's documentary, GET LAMP:

Modern-day shooters may strive for adjectives such as "gripping" and "compelling"; the best words I can use to describe Open Sorcery are "thoughtful" and "delightful". I highly recommend it.

Interviewing Wade Clarke of Leadlight Gamma

August 10th, 2015 9:47 AM
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As host of the IndieSider podcast, I'm constantly on the prowl for new indie (self-published) computer and video games. I like to help my listeners discover obscure titles that represent a variety of genres and themes whose developers are available for podcast interviews about the game development process.

Last month, I found my biweekly guest within the Apple II community with Wade Clarke, creator of Leadlight, a text adventure released in 2010 for the Apple II. The game was featured on the cover of Juiced.GS Volume 16, Issue 1, and Wade declared his intention to translate the game from Eamon to Inform in Volume 17, Issue 2. That project was completed earlier this year with the release of Leadlight Gamma, a game that runs natively on Windows and Mac and is one of the first products under Wade's new label, Heiress Software.

Since Juiced.GS has already covered interactive fiction at length — we have an entire themed PDF on the subject — associate editor Andy Molloy and I decided to give the genre some love in another outlet — namely, the IndieSider podcast. And since I'd already asked Wade about the genesis and influences of Leadlight, I focused this conversation on its transition from the Apple II to modern platforms. The result is episode #26 of IndieSider:

In addition to subscribing to the show in iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your podcatcher of choice, you can also listen to the above audio interview paired with video of the game being played on YouTube:

Text adventures may not lend themselves to a visual medium like YouTube, but that's exactly why I did it: there are far fewer examples of interactive fiction on YouTube than there are other genres of games. Wrote one of my regular viewers, "I've never seen this type of game in life."

Getting the word out about games, genres, and developers that mainstream gamers may otherwise overlook? Mission accomplished!

Parsely games at KansasFest 2015

June 22nd, 2015 9:29 AM
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At KansasFest 2010, I ran a session of a live text adventure. These Parsely games are inspired by interactive fiction but substitute a human for the computer. Think of it as a cross between IF and Dungeons & Dragons: I became the dungeon master (DM) who described rooms, solicited direction from the players, and reported results — but all input had to be provided as if I were a two-word text parser. So go ahead and tell me to "GET AXE", but if you ask me "Can I pick up the axe?", I'll respond, "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to 'Can I pick up the axe?'". It was a lot of fun to watch players with their graph papers map the connections between rooms, take notes, consult their IF cheat sheets, and try to coordinate their activities across alternating turns — it was a bit like watching Twitch Plays Pokémon. Here's a demonstration of Action Castle, the game I ran at KansasFest 2010, as moderated by its creator, Jared Sorensen:

Parsely returned to KansasFest 2014 with an all-new adventure and was a hit! We even had to adjourn to another room when the players' exploration of Jungle Adventure ran over the allotted session time.

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Comparing maps in Jungle Adventure, the live interactive fiction game I ran

Rather than wait the four years that divided KansasFest's last two rounds of Parsely, I'll be bringing another text adventure to KansasFest 2015. I have several scripts to choose from but will not begin memorizing one until en route to Kansas City. That gives you, the potential players, time to suggest the nature of the game. Should we explore a haunted house; a space station; a medieval castle; a Halloween graveyard; or a zombie-infested hospital? Choose your own adventure in the below survey!

Read the rest of this entry »

Livescribe Zork

January 27th, 2011 9:53 AM
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As people like Andrew Plotkin and Wade Clarke and games like A House in California demonstrate, text adventures and their cousins are still capable of innovative gameplay, decades after the genre's emergence. Such creativity usually takes the form of unique software features and storytelling techniques — but let's not overlook the role of hardware.

I first became aware of the Livescribe Echo pen in Major Nelson's podcast, when co-host Laura Massey demonstrated a small portion of its features. This traditional ink pen includes modern electronic features to remember what you wrote and even interact with those writings. For example, by drawing a picture of a piano keyboard, one can then use the pen to tap on the keys of the piano illustration, and the pen will emit the corresponding tones, as if it were a real piano.

Apparently the pen is also programmable, allowing the implementation of original functions. One hacker took advantage of this opening to create two games for his writing implement. The first, Tic-Tac-Toe, is not of specific interest to readers of this blog, but I'm including it in the embedded video to provide a simple demonstration of how the pen works. But the second game, Zork, seems beyond what any pen should be capable of.

Infocom games have long been ported from their original platforms, with a move to portable devices being especially popular these past few years. But the above example is an entirely new medium in which to play interactive fiction. Practical? Not especially. But it showcases the outside-the-box thinking that has made text adventures popular in the first place. Who knows where they'll go next?

If you prefer a classic interface for this classic game, try Good Old Games, which is currently selling six Zork games for six dollars.

(Hat tips to Eric Neustadter and Jason Scott)