Dead unicorn tropes in Interactive fiction

A Unicorn Trope is a trope that people say has been beaten to death…but in fact, it never really was in general use anyways (like the butler being the murderer in a mystery).

I’ve noticed a lot of dead unicorn tropes in interactive fiction. For instance, someone recently classified Text Adventures as games where you collect treasures and put them in a case for points, with no story, while Interactive Fiction is more story based. However, I literally can’t think of any game that has treasures put in a case or room except for Adventure and Zork; all of the other Infocom titles, for instance, have quite different scoring methods.

There’s also some idea about early games being primitive in story telling, but Adventure has an extremely modernistic endgame concept, more like something you’d expect someone to have now as a commentary on game structure. And the feelies for Infocom games provide very detailed backstories.

What other Dead Unicorn tropes have you found in interactive fiction?

There were others, some Indie, and some Scott Adams. And depending on your perspective, possibly a few Phoenix games - Sangraal had an orphanage where you gave the treasures to the friar. A cute twist, but not that different from the trope (but different enough, I would gladly agree).

If you follow along with Gaming After 40 and his voyages through the long-forgotten text adventures of the eg. TRS-80, they are often derivative of that platform’s patron saint Scott Adams and particularly in this way: a big part of winning the game is figuring out which objects are treasures (well, *HERE is how it’s often revealed), how many of them there are (well, after I picked that up, it told me that I have x points out of y, and y/x = z… so I have z-1 left to go!), and in which room they need to be accumulated.

It’s not really a current gameplay trope, but like Pac-Man clones, in its time it was ubiquitous.

A lot of CYOA and general gamebook tropes are regularly assumed to be true for parser IF and IF in general.

Also, deliberately cruel puzzles are somewhat rare now but oh my how did Hitchhiker’s Guide love them.

The hard-to-map maze idea was subverted as early as Enchanter, if not earlier.

Was there ever a point when hunger daemons were legitimately common and not just a running joke?

@sequitur Planetfall had a really annoying hunger daemon, as did Enchanter. They dropped them in the sequels.

I didn’t actually find the hunger puzzle in “Enchanter” that annoying. It was easy enough to solve.

I do remember numerous old DOS-based RPGs, with graphics, that did feature hunger which quickly got annoying. It’s pretty prevalent in Roguelikes (ADOM, Nethack, etc.) as well. But yeah, in strictly text games not so much.

There are definitely games that feature eating without a hunger counter, too.

ummm … other dead unicorns … well, darkness being fatal was common in early games, but I don’t know if that’s a “true” trope or a “unicorn.”

Supernova had a hunger puzzle.

The rationing was what annoyed me, I kept running out of bread near the end with no way to get more.

Ooooooh yeah. Daemons in general, cruel and short time limits, and unreasonable expectations on the player. Numerous old games, Spectrum and Commodore. Most of them Quilled, I believe. Numerous.

Those cruelties were even passed on to the first generations of point & click adventure games (most of Sierra’s output, for instance).

More under the theme of ‘common misconception’ than a unicorn trope per se, but some people have an impression that hypertext games are newfangled but people have been making hypertext games almost as long as parser.

Did Oregon Trail precede the Infocom games?

Yes, Oregon Trail dates back to 1971.

Oregon Trail, as I recall from Digital Antiquarian (which has become a de facto source by now), and if I recall correctly… precedes pretty much almost everything.


I think LOOK UNDER is an actual trope, as is MOVE FOO and SEARCH FOO (as opposed to EXAMINE FOO). Not that I particularly appreciate them, but they’re a real thing.

MOVE FOO was actually a required move in at least one IFComp game this year. sigh.

MOVE FOO I have no qualms against. What I hate is for MOVE not be synonimous with (depending on context) push, pull, look under, lift or look behind. Argh.