David Hayward goes North, West, Down, Get Sword…
Text adventures were once as popular as any platformer, 3D space game or arcade conversion. There was a time when computing was pretty low on resources, even 2D colour images were difficult to squeeze on to a tape or 5¼” floppy. So the game makers of the time used a different method to get their products out to the world.A text adventure could be about absolutely anything, that was the most endearing factor about them. You could be stuck in a haunted house, in an underground mine, on a space station, a different planet, or in the middle of the jungle surrounded by unfriendly natives and the occasional dinosaur. There was a very B-movie quality about them, which appealed greatly to those playing them.
Of course the quality of the adventure hinged on how well it was written, and how well the gamer could interact with the environment and the character they were portraying. It was a fine balancing act, and one that often fell foul to poor dialogue or even worse programming. However, there were times when everything came together perfectly.
According to internet legend, the first ever text adventure was Colossal Cave Adventure, also known simply as Adventure.
It was written in 1976 by Will Crowther and Don Woods for the PDP-10 mainframe, and was called an interactive fiction game. In Adventure you explored a cave system – allegedly set in Kentucky – to find wealth and magic. However, you came across traps, dragons and all manner of other such fantastical creatures.
Amazingly, the game was originally written with 700 lines of FORTRAN with a further 700 lines of data. In this Crowther and Woods managed to shoehorn 78 map locations, 193 vocabulary words and 12 navigation messages, with the final game taking up a whopping 300KB of memory.
From those early days, and especially through the early to mid-eighties home computer boom, the text adventure grew and began to incorporate 2D images to help emphasise the character’s current location.
The Hobbit was one of more popular text adventures from the 80s, and took a lot of inspiration not only from Tolkien’s tome, but also from the structure of the original Adventure.
Sadly the text adventure these days is limited to a layer of the internet that isn’t as popular as it once was. These days, huge gigabyte sized games costing millions to develop and having very little in terms of content take the precedence over the humble text adventure. It’s sad, but that’s progress for you.
With some clever dialogue the only limit was your own imagination. Even with an amateur knowledge of BASIC you could create your own text adventure. Often, some excellent mind-bending puzzles.
Some poor text adventures would leave you in limbo, with no way to progress. Others sounded great but had a poor vocabulary and programming.
We had some great times with text adventures. Staying up well past our bedtimes, secretly plugging away to find the golden key to open the door to the room that contained the treasure. Great times, indeed.
Did You Know?
• Xyzzy – An original magic word created in Adventure to help you teleport from one location to another. Or is it? Some people claim there’s a mathematical hidden message in there.
• Colossal Cave Adventure was also called Advent, due that being the name of the executable.
• AdventureLand by Scott Adams was the first commercial text adventure in 1978.
• Often ‘Feelies’ would be sold with the game, in the form of a police interview, crime scene evidence, or a strange ‘Magick Glowing Stone’.