"50 Years of Text Games" blog series

Hi, friends, and Happy New Year! Thought many of you here might be interested in a new blog series I’m launching this year called “50 Years of Text Games.” Each week I’ll be posting an in-depth analysis of one text game from each year starting in 1971 (when the original Oregon Trail was released) up to the present day. My aim is to trace a kind of grand tour through all kinds of interactive text games that have been invented over the past fifty years: BBS games, play-by-mail adventures, hypertext, MUDs, audio games, parser and Twine games, and more. There will definitely be a lot of parser IF classics in the mix (as well as games you may never have heard of). You can read more about the project at my introduction post:

https://if50.substack.com/p/introduction

Hope some of you will join me on this incredible journey through a half century of computer games made with words!

–Aaron A Reed

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Hi Aaron,

I enjoy your work. Please post updates here as a reminder when you a new entry in your series.

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Great! I enjoy learning about the history and theory of text games a lot. Seems like I’m in for a year-long treat. Thanks.

(here I deleted a page long list of requests for articles about my favorite games :wink: )

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Really looking forward to this!

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Hi all-- may not be super-consistent in revisiting this thread to post updates, but the first three posts in the series are up:

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1974: Super Star Trek

“When a high school sophomore’s favorite TV show is cancelled, he sets out on a determined quest to recreate it on a computer—even though he has no way to access one.”

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1975: dnd

“How a rowdy band of dungeon crawlers took over a groundbreaking computer network that was supposed to be used purely for education.”

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1976: Adventure

“After a caver halfway across the country discovers D&D, he makes his own digital adaptation—inventing an almost entirely different kind of gaming experience.”

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The author omits mention of his own update of Adventure with a hinting system!

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1977: Zork

“Four MIT hackers decide they can improve on Adventure, and start work on a program that will still be topping bestseller charts eight years later.”

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1978: Pirate Adventure

“A husband and wife team found the first successful computer game studio—a year before Ken and Roberta Williams founded theirs.”

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1979: The Cave of Time

“A middle-aged lawyer lets his kids choose how their bedtime story ends, and plants the seeds for a new kind of book that would become ‘as contagious as chicken pox.’”

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1980: MUD

“How dozens of British college students stayed up all night to adventure together, in the game that would spawn a thousand sequels: the original MUD.”

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1981: His Majesty’s Ship “Impetuous”

“In the early days of text games wild experiments flourished, like the obscure series that pioneered the term ‘interactive fiction’ where instead of typing commands, you wrote your own florid dialogue.”

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Very interesting article. I’m quite surprised that nobody else pursued this particular style of interactive storytelling.

Well, from reading Aaron’s description (and Jason Dyer’s), it seems like pursuing this style would lead you straight to the Choice of Games model.

Remove the 8-bit memory limitations. Keep the chain-of-scenes-with-variations model but fill it out with a lot more content. Drop the pseudo-parser (which would really wear out its illusion after a couple of games) and instead let players find surprising endings by combinations of simple-but-meaningful choices. Add smoochies. You’ve invented Choice of Broadsides, which was COG #2, if I recall.

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Jimmy Maher also tried reimplementing the game as a Choicescript adventure. Although to my mind this loses some of the (illusory) magic. It’s a card trick that doesn’t always (or even often) work, but I think explicitly listing the choices robs this particular model of some of its uniqueness.

Ironically, since the technical back-ends couldn’t be more different, the “type whatever you want and the story will respond” interface makes me think of A.I. Dungeon more than anything. Which is also a magic trick that doesn’t always work, but is cool when it does.

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I guess, but with the hiding of the choices within the black box being the significant difference. This pseudo-parser (or just parser? I suppose it is still parsing, after a fashion) stuff might even have appealed to those of today’s players who are allergic to undisguised choice-based games. I know a few of those.

Whatever the case, there is definitely something a little bit magical about it and magic, illusory or not, is always real.

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I daresay something like this could be made with a modern IF language, and without the memory limitations of the TRS80, so that the illusory magic could be made that bit more magical.

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I daresay it could. It would be amusing if this suddenly blossomed into a popular variant of IF, after a rather long incubation period of 40 years.

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