IFDB Spelunking - Report

I would dispute elements of this, having been part of the scene back in the day. :slight_smile: There wasn’t an Internet, as such (although that did come along later and we did have “online” services and even online downloads) but the community was formed through the pages of fanzines like Adventure Probe, Red Herring, From Beyond, and Syntax… We also had yearly text adventure conventions, and other regular in-person meet ups, so we did know and meet each other. We would playtest and review each others games and you would often build up strong relationships with your players/customers.

Spain had a similar community of authors, reviewers and players through CAAD magazine.

I would agree, though, that thinking of Quill game as a singular “body of work” isn’t appropriate… especially those early games from the first half of the 1980s. It wasn’t until the number of players shrunk, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that communities, such as the Adventure Probe one, were formed.


I stand corrected.

How did I miss out on all this? Of course, I didn’t have a Spectrum. BBC Micro user here!


Right. Same here!

A number of Quilled games were released for the BBC Micro, but I get the impression that the authors weren’t necessarily part of the amazing community that @8bitAG evokes:


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Well, there were plenty of ex-BBC and Electron people in the community… such as Larry Horsfield, Barbara Gibb, and Geoff Lynas,… but the main platforms of choice tended to be the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC; as that’s where most of the players were playing, thanks to years of support by the likes of Zenobi Software, FSF, WoW, Atlas etc. Even when people moved on to 16-bits & PCs, the Spectrum remained a popular platform because it was easily emulated and had great (and familiar) game development tools. There are over 2,300 ZX Spectrum text adventure listed on CASA… over 500 of them were written during the 1990s.

The Internet is great… but we weren’t isolated back then without it. The fanzines were full of letters from the readers (the letters pages of Adventure Probe resembled an active Internet forum… complete with regular controversy!), people offered support on games by post, and there were even kind souls who openly published their telephone numbers so you could get instant help on any of the adventures they’d solved. Adventure Probe must’ve been one of the longest running montly fanzines dedicated to any subject; the related annual convention ran for many years too.


And all this happening in parallel with the Inform / TADS community that was developing at the same time…

I’ve changed the wording of the review. :wink:


Some of the community did use TADS, although AGT tended to be more popular for those moving on from the 8-bit tools.

But, yes, it very much seems like it was a parallel community, We were aware of “interactive fiction”… here are some extracts from an article in Adventure Probe from '97 that was looking at the third annual IF competition… You can tell that the author very much regarded “interactive fiction” as something that was becoming quite different to the “text adventures” that would appear in Probe. :slight_smile:

But we’re in danger of completely derailing Victor’s excellent thread. I’m just very happy to see people like Victor approaching the old games in such a positive manner.

[Edit: To credit John Ferris as the author of the article the extracts were taken from]


Everybody’s right, and you’re all pretty.

Just like we see a lot of style-chasing in (pick your favorite five years of the past 25 year period), there were obvious commonalities in the segments of the market which were stuck together by some overlap of tools, platform, storage limitations, and audience. Just like we saw in the US where you can definitely see the bits where certain outfits are trying to out-Infocom Infocom (There was a system literally called “Better Than Zork”!) and you can see where Interplay decides to take inspiration from Sierra’s text/graphics style and lack of commitment to narrative cohesion and make games that are slightly better but also recognizably cut from similar cloth, etc.

(Editorially, I’ve spent enough time with “hmm, what’s this random Spectrum-originated single-load adventure?” to say that a good/bad rate of 2:1 is a minor miracle, but that’s a matter of taste!)

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Thanks! I’m trying to walk a specific line between seeing games in their historical context and judging them from my current position. On the one hand, I’m not going to blame a ZX Spectrum game for ‘not having a nice serif font’, or ‘not allowing undo’. On the other hand, I am judging the game based on whether it does anything for me now. And some of these games definitely did!


Oh, I definitely agree, having played a large chunk of the Spectrum titles available, that there are more “bad” games than “good” ones. It just makes a pleasant change when someone highlights some of the more interesting or positive aspects of an older game. Too often reviews of old games consist of the same tired old interminable complaints about “hunting the verb”.


I played this back in the day! It was some random file called SOVIET.BAS on a disc of DOS shareware games I got from somebody circa 1987. Certainly not high-quality, but I was intrigued by the idea that a text adventure could be written in BASIC. Also, it taught me the word analgesic.