Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Porpentine on Greenlight (and Hadean Lands update)   3 comments


A new collection by Porpentine is on Greenlight and awaiting your vote.

Eczema Angel Orifice is a compilation of award-winning interactive fiction by me, Porpentine Charity Heartscape! They’ve been exhibited in museums, profiled in the NYTimes, taught in college classes nationwide, and now I’m trying to get them on Steam, truly the ultimate goal of any artform!

Just to prove trying to put interactive fiction on Steam is not a futile effort, Hadean Lands (posted back in January) has been Greenlit!

Still needing votes are:

Tin Star

Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter

The Shadow in the Cathedral


Posted May 25, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Mainland, the first parser game on Steam   Leave a comment

Mainland had been approved on Steam Greenlight (I think due to longevity — it had been on there a while) and has just appeared on the service.


Click here to go to the Steam main page

Note that the “parser” is somewhat hybridized. You type a verb you want to use and the initial letters you type are used to generate suggestions that you can click (essentially like texting).


However, to finalize picking a verb you have to click, you can’t just type. The space bar does nothing.


After clicking a noun, there’s an option to continue using “with” or to simply enter the command.

Despite the oddities, this is good news for followers of commercial interactive fiction. Steam opens a vast new audience for text adventures. The game is free-to-play and should gather curious people that might normally not buy it.

At the time of this writing there’s a weird bug that makes the game hard to install. If you have the Steam service installed, clicking here should do the trick. (NOTE: The game is Windows-only.)

Posted May 9, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tin Star is on Steam Greenlight   Leave a comment

Not long ago three text adventures appeared on Steam Greenlight. They still need your votes, but there’s a new *ahem* sheriff in town:


Tin Star is one of the very best choice-based interactive fiction games I have played. If you have a Steam account and care about the future of commercial interactive fiction, go vote for it!

Link to play a demo of Tin Star online

Link to vote for Tin Star on Steam Greenlight


Posted May 1, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Wander (1974) release, and questions answered   33 comments

(For the opening of this saga, you might want to read Anthony’s post first.)

There is a text adventure creation system that dates back to before Crowther wrote ADVENT.

I’ve been stalking a copy of Wander for months now; I made a blog post about it and some other games I’ve been tracking down. Anthony read my post and reached out to the author Peter Langston, who has been enormously helpful and managed to find a friend (Lou Katz) who had an archived copy in email, but it only contained a demo version of one of the games.

I had the vague suspicion it might be in a public place if I knew where to look. Indeed: Doug Merritt has found a copy of Wander buried in a software distribution from the Usenix 1980 conference. It includes all four games mentioned in my “lost mainframe games” post.

NEW: This is an update archive which includes all worlds (except advent) and should compile out of the box. Saving and restoring are fixed. Also now fixes a one-line typo that prevented compiling.

Here’s a binary for Windows 32-bit, made by Jayson Smith.

Here is the advent “world” as a separate file which is a Wander version of the Crowther and Woods Adventure. It seems more like a demo than the other games; Peter only made a partial conversion.

Part of the “castle” world for Wander.

These are by Peter:
castle (1974): you explore a rural area and a castle searching for a beautiful damsel.
a3 (1977-1978): you are the diplomat Retief (A sf character written by Keith Laumer) assigned to save earthmen on Aldebaran III
tut (1978): the player receives a tutorial in binary arithmetic.

One of the games is by Nat Howard:
library (somewhere between 1974-1978): You explore a library after civilization has been destroyed.

Also, Peter himself did a very incomplete port of Crowther and Woods Adventure called advent dated at 1981.

There’s one “missing” game. Lou Katz (who I mentioned earlier) wrote “a department store world, trying to make a computer game that would appeal to girls.”

Now to address some questions (note to Peter: please let me know if anything is off!) —

Was it really from 1974?

To quote Peter:

As I remember I came up with the idea for Wander and wrote an early version in HP Basic while I was still teaching at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA (that system limited names to six letters, so: WANDER, EMPIRE, CONVOY, SDRECK, GALAXY, etc.). Then I rewrote Wander in C on Harvard’s Unix V5 system shortly after our band moved to Boston in 1974. I got around to putting a copyright notice on it in 1978.

The early version in HP Basic was possibly from 1973; Peter isn’t sure. The move to Boston is a distinct event, though, so 1974 as a start date is is definite.

Note: Peter Langston’s legendary Empire was from 1971.

Did it look like its current form in 1974?

Peter says “the concept didn’t change, but implementation got better and the worlds got easier to create”. He doesn’t have a good recollection, though, so he can’t answer questions like “which features got added first” and “did anything get tweaked after the release of Adventure”.

Probably the best way to verify the early state would be to somehow track down the HP BASIC version, which was never revised post-1974.

Do we have to rewrite the history books?

Er, sort of. Wander never really had the same impact as Adventure; Peter notes that in his games distribution Empire, StarDrek and the Oracle attracted all the interest.

What else is there to do?

There’s a need for modernization and ports. (People have been mentioning Github; if someone wants to start one, feel free to do so and toss a note in the comments section.)

Finding the original BASIC version would be huge; we’d know exactly what things were like at the earliest stage of the development of the adventure game.

For my part, I’m going to play the games and blog about them in my All the Adventures project.

What about other mainframe games?

Ok, this is my question. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can refer to my lost mainframe games post and see if you can find any of the others. LORD is particularly tantalizing but I don’t know where to even start searching for an archive from Finland.

Posted April 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Places related to the All the Adventures project   Leave a comment

All the Adventures has been continuing apace, but I thought I’d take a moment to mention other places that are useful to visit because they have similar goals.


Gaming After 40

This blog is probably the closest in terms of games played to what I’m doing now — the author has plowed through nearly every TRS-80 game out there. Walkthroughs are included. Oddly, it means I haven’t read it much because I’ve been avoiding spoilers, but I did find their How To Emulate the TRS-80 Model I/III post helpful.

The Adventure Gamer

This isn’t “ALL the adventures” because it’s skipping text adventures. It has a fairly thorough treatment of graphical adventure games that’s sort of a blog version of a Let’s Play. There’s also a rating system, so if you dislike my allergy to applying numerical scores to things you can get your fix over there.

The Stack

This blog is probably the closest cousin to mine in my attempted writing style (small, trenchant observations rather than replication of everything that happened in a particular game) and also covers some very old adventures, like Time Zone.

The Digital Antiquarian

No computer gaming blog anywhere matches Jimmy Maher’s depth of historical research; he’s also surveyed quite a few adventure games through his blog’s history.


The Classic Adventures Solution Archive

The folks over here seem to be determined to play (and write walkthroughs for) every classic adventure game, no matter how obscure.

Interactive Fiction Database

This is a mindboggling comprehensive and well-organized catalog of interactive fiction, with plenty of helpful links. Some of the commercial work from the 1980s seems to be missing, but combined with The Classic Adventures Solution Archive nearly everything is covered.

Museum of Computer Adventure Game History

This site has a plethora of original cover art and documentation (both useful in my own quest).

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive seems to have everything about everything, but I’ve found it most useful for finding old books and computer magazines of the time (including type-in adventures).


Any sites I’m missing?

In a related question, often my writing leans towards short posts like The Stack but occasionally I go a bit longer, like The Adventure Gamer. What do people prefer?

Posted April 15, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Treasure Hunt (1978)   3 comments

I. A more perfect model to copy = less experiments

One of the things I’ve found jaunting through adventure games that’s … not exactly “disappointing”, but I can’t think of a better word … is that unlike CRPG history, there doesn’t seem to be that many early unique experiments. CRPGs sprang from pencil-and-paper where the computer equivalent was unclear, but most everyone in early adventure games seemed determined to copy Woods and Crowther.

There is one exception, and the game is so obscure it is quite possible I’m the first one who has played it since the 1980s.

SoftSide Magazine, October 1978.

SoftSide Magazine, October 1978.

Lance Micklus later on went to publish Dog Star Adventure in 1979, which appears to be the first published type-in text adventure. Treasure Hunt I’d call marginally an adventure, but in a form generally unrecognizable because rather than branching off Adventure, it has roots in Hunt the Wumpus.

II. A brief analysis of Wumpus

Hunt the Wumpus is a 1972 offering by Gregory Yob. Jimmy Maher has a two-part series on the full history here and here.

To get into Treasure Hunt — which has some of the same concepts in the gameplay — I thought a transcript of Wumpus with analysis might help. (I used the Z-code version.)

You are in room 5
Tunnels lead to 1 4 6
Shoot, Move or Quit (S-M-Q)? m
Where to? 6

I’m playing on the classic “squashed dodecahedron” from the original game.


It helps to have pre-mapped what room numbers correspond to what places on the map, although the dodecahedron structure makes it possible to “feel out” the geography off the cuff.

You are in room 6
Tunnels lead to 5 7 15
Shoot, Move or Quit (S-M-Q)? m
Where to? 15

I feel a draft!
You are in room 15
Tunnels lead to 6 14 16
Shoot, Move or Quit (S-M-Q)? m
Where to? 14

The “draft” indicates a room nearby has a bottomless pit. Since I came from room 6, the draft has to be either rooms 14 or 16.

A careful strategy would be to note that as a sort of logic puzzle condition, go back to 6, and save the knowledge for later. For instance, if a later room has no draft but room 14 adjacent, that means room 14 is safe.

In order to keep this transcript short, I foolishly plunge ahead to 14:

You are in room 14
Tunnels lead to 4 13 15
Shoot, Move or Quit (S-M-Q)? m
Where to? 13

Risky! But now I know the pit has to be in 16.

You are in room 13
Tunnels lead to 12 14 20
Shoot, Move or Quit (S-M-Q)? m
Where to? 29
Not possible – Where to? 20

I feel a draft!
I smell a wumpus!
You are in room 20
Tunnels lead to 13 16 19

Since 16 is the “draft” and we came from 13, 19 has to be the wumpus. Time to fire a shot:

Shoot, Move or Quit (S-M-Q)? s
No. of rooms (0-5)? 1
Room #? 19
Aha! You got the wumpus!

Hee hee hee – the wumpus’ll get you the next time!

There’s more to the game — the wumpus can wake up, you can fire the arrow through multiple rooms, and there are “bats” that can carry you around — but this is enough of an introduction because things are about to get much more complicated.

III. The Lumus Caves

Imagine Wumpus having treasures you have to find.


If you bought the game it came with a map, but I had to resort to making my own. I have no idea if it is something sensible like “a dodecahedron only larger” or “a moebius strip with an extra twist” so my version is a bit of a mess.

The full map I made -- click to enlarge.

The full map I made — click to enlarge.

This definitely reflects one of the downfalls of non-compass mapping — it’s hard to get relative positioning right on a complicated map. Should this particular branch go right or left on the map? I didn’t know until I got farther and had to erase and redraw.

IV. How items work



I should emphasize that even though the map is fixed, everything inside the rooms is randomly placed. In a different game the gold coins might be in room 63.





Important points to note:
a.) There’s at most one object to a room. When entering a room with a portable object, you can either take it with you or leave it be.
b.) Leaving it be is more interesting than you might think, because there’s a three-object inventory limit. If you go back to the entrance of the cave (room 0) you will deposit all your treasures, but won’t be able to take any back. This is important because …
c.) …some treasures double as puzzle solutions. For example, the gold coins can be used on a vending machine to get new lantern batteries (yes, Lance must have been familiar with Adventure) but since this is done automatically upon entering the appropriate room, it is better to note the gold coins on the map and get them when the lantern starts to run low.

V. Dangers

Just like Wumpus, there are obstacles that will kill you if you wander in the wrong room.






There are also potential cave collapses, a pirate that can steal your treasure, and a dragon.

VI. A puzzle example

There’s a room that has a barking noise. There’s also an invisible man looking for his dog, and he needs you to type the room number his dog is in and he’ll give you a $1000 bill. However, if you type the room the barking was heard in, you will fail.


It turns out — using Wumpus logic — the barking means the dog is in an _adjacent_ room. So to solve the puzzle you need to find three rooms the barking is coming from and triangulate.


(The “B” means “barking”. The red means a room with a danger notice, so there’s some adjacent room that is deadly or at least has an enemy that needs to be defeated by the right item.)

In any case, I’m not quite up to a successful run with 20 treasures, so I’ll save what will hopefully be a winning post (and the true secret to slaying a dragon) for next time.

Posted April 7, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Favorite recent games of Tlön   2 comments

Unlike The Interdependent Ludic Institute of Tlön, I don’t feel I have authority to decide the best of anything. But I can still pick stuff I like:

8. Blank Slate (Norfunder)
I don’t know if you caught the wave of AI-games about a decade ago, which invariably presented a raw intelligence to interact with and sold it as a game. The best examples — I’m thinking Grognard 0 and Lean Sykon here — spawned entire subnets and mod-scenes. Not long after the developers seemed to hit a creative wall, just because as stories the games seemed empty.

I don’t know how perfect a departure Blank Slate is, but boy, was it memorable.

Look — first scene — rather than the usual text communication, you enter individual characters and random gibberish splays across the screen. Many players thought their game was broken and inquired about a refund. Those who persisted five minutes in started to get text of a sort, but it was clear whatever creature inhabited the neural-net spoke no known language.

A bit more deciphering leads to its first words, in English. The weirdness doesn’t end there, because whatever is inside Blank Slate — everyone picks their own name for it, mine was Buddy — is from some linked universe where things are ever so slightly off, and then — I think this has been spoiled sufficiently to mention — the relevation that in that universe, the AIs are formed by “processing” living beings, killing them in the process.

The whole process leads to a moral/philosophical debate where you find by training Buddy’s intelligence he is capable of going back and destroying those who made him in the first place.

That’s just the first act.

7. Board Hero (Skizz)
Now that RFID+ is embedded in most athletic equipment, there’s been a boom of alter-sports games, but Board Hero keeps it simple.

Remember Tony Hawk Gaiden? Think that, but real life. Using some astounding algorithmic prowess, Board Hero detects the actual tricks being used on a skateboard and chains them together for combo points. The five minute leaderboard is fierce, but I’m more partial to the half-hour run which limits chaining allowing for a more leisurely ride.

Supposedly there’s some haywire bug involving the McTwist, but I’m never been able to do one, and I’m sure there will be a patch for it soon.

6. Ultimate Mod (-unknown-)
Some people argue if this is a game at all.

A mysterious file called Ultmod began getting passed around IRC and the fuzznets. People — I don’t know, I guess people with really good backups of their files — installed it on a whim but reported nothing. Then one of those brave experimentalists was playing Dark Wraith III (that RPG from five years ago) and noticed an entirely new area attached to the main quest. There was a series of cryptic numbers and pictures.

Other reports streamed in, from all variety of genres. Most memorable were the ghosts: a ghost train in SimCity 3, a ghost child in Couture, a ghost … tentacle alien thing in Super Pony Magical Stars.

Apparently Ultmod was designed to modify very specific games and add cryptic clues which fit together in a sort of meta-puzzle. Nobody has solved it yet, but rumors — perhaps started by the developers — hint at a genuine buried treasure somewhere in Iceland.

5. Triple Paradox (Interaxis)
The rash of time travel games is almost as bad as the zombie-boom we went through 10 years ago, but this one is something special because while most of game time travel is in a stable pre-designed framework (with enough mucking resulting in PARADOX GAME OVER), this one works in what I’d call butterfly effect mechanics. You attempt to stop some sort of tragedy (different each game) by leaping back and forth within a 24 hour window. HOWEVER, even the smallest change to reality changes the entire plot, all the way down, such that while the tragedy is stopped some other tragedy happens, so to stop that one you have to go back again, and of course killing your past selves is a viable option, and somehow the procedural-plot machinery under the hood is complex enough to handle it.

4. Mineral Survivor (Hologram Games)
I’m always been a fan of even the corniest of the games in the disaster-survival genre, but I’m confident this one will win over even non-genre fans.

You’re a miner-savant who has the ability to “see” from the perspective of minerals in the ground. It’s not see as in visual exactly, or even sonic; there’s this overlapping blend which really screams YOU ARE SOMETHING ELSE as you’re experiencing it. In any case, as is usual there’s a collapse disaster and there’s a lot of scenes where you have to navigate collapsed geology with precision timing but it’s a lot more forgiving than other such games because of the aforementioned mineral-sensing mechanic.

What really leaps this game to the next level are the memory-strands. Diamonds in particular have the ability to sense ramifications of causality, that is, observe scenes from the past and the future at the same time that are happening on the surface world. In the case of this tragedy — grieving families, lost opportunities — you get a kaleidoscope that would be overwhelming were it not for the developers adding a “blur” mechanic which allows you to see stories in less detail, only the salient points.

3. Ancestor (Glow)
This is the first time I’ve got to choose the method of my character’s demise in the startup screen.

After that, you play an ancestor ghost who follows multiple generations trying to nurture your family name to grand goals. The interface isn’t anything novel — it’s pretty much ripped off of Times of Leviathan — but the stories that emerge really are breathtaking.

For instance: Tolas-a-Yokikan was the first in a line that led expeditions to the fishing isle of Takkyiku, where she had her first encounter — nudged by my ghost, of course — with The Divine Tree, who tells her how to save the world. But on arriving at the third jewel, the coatylaptus finally caught up to her, but fortunately her progenitor egg had already been planted in the soil. So went the next three generations, all getting a little farther on the Holy Mountain, but each time being distracted by the Three Evils. The last generation — infertile, so I knew the stakes were high — managed to reach the Rock of All Murmurs and to scrawl the three words to restore the balance.

I know! I know! Certainly not for everyone. Still, the music, the visuals, and the sheer harmony of it all made me feel like something deeply profound had happened.

2. Greek Philosopher Simulator (Torchal)
I felt like the same developer’s Roman Senator Simulator was a disappointment because it focused solely on mechanics; pretty soon I was running the story like a spreadsheet.

Greek Philosopher Simulator ups the ante by not only including the politics and wars swarming the country, but requiring actual philosophical debate. While it seems odd to predicate a long speech on how the world is actually composed of fire (scandalizing the Pythagoreans, later leading to an all-out war) the game mechanics cleverly straddle the line between rationality and rhetoric.

My crowning moment was creating a logical argument — using the now famous predicate interface — that convinced a group of Peripatetics that nothing at all existed, including the philosophers themselves (somehow sidestepping the existence of the argument itself through a clever use of litotes). My screenshots somehow found their way to the devs who commented they didn’t realize such a thing was even possible.

1. Dragon Hall (22925)
I have never been a fan of the no-genre movement (that is, labeling games by story genre rather than gameplay genre) simply because it seems like everything I’ve tried has been a weak action-adventure made weaker by the lack of commitment.

In any case “just like the holodeck on Star Trek!” never seems to have happened.

Dragon Hall … well, didn’t change my mind, but for two hours or so, wow. First off, it’s a third-person corporate thriller (already being different there) where the interaction you’d think is primarily social, but really there’s so many options at any moment it feels like … ok, obviously I’m having trouble here. Look, in an adventure game, I feel like I’m constantly looking for locks to fit keys; in a strategy game, I’m always optimizing; in an action game, I’m priming my reflexes. Here, all I was thinking what would my character do? and somehow I could do every option I thought of, and for a while I was inhabiting a world rather than playing a game.

Then the sheen wore off and I was finding the optimum thing to say to the Twile Sisters so they would turn against the Syndicate and give me the password. But it was great while it lasted.

Posted March 23, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Video Games