I’ve heard rumor this will be the biggest IFComp ever. The previous record holder was 2000, with 53 entries.
I am almost certainly not reviewing all of them. This is not just because of the sheer volume but also because I have professional writing obligations at this time (a totally different kind of writing, but it does use some of my precious brain fluids).
In my previous review sets (2007 and 2014) I just started dropping words down without preamble, but I figure it might help to form some thoughts beforehand this time.
Q: You don’t use numbers?
A: There’s a couple reasons for this, the primary being I tend not to have any numbers until I’m at least halfway through comp-play. I rate based solely on a should-X-be-rated-higher-than-Y system where after I gather enough games I start to get a general idea of positioning, but where I will sometimes shift entire tiers just to fit something in.
Also, I just happen to like the simplicity of Dan Shiovitz’s three-tier system (Highly Recommended / Recommended / Not Recommended) but even placing in that system requires I stew for a while.
Q: What’s with the quotes? I notice you like to start your review with a quote from the work.
A: When I’m talking about prose specifically, I think it’s only fair to lay out some of the prose in question.
Additionally, excerpts can sometimes convey the plot in a sort of shorthand that doesn’t require me to just paraphrase the game’s blurb.
Occasionally in a bad game there might nevertheless be a slice I want to preserve. Everything eventually drops out of my memory except for the part I saved.
Q: Why are some of these so short?
A: I am cursed/blessed with a compact writing style where after writing 3 sentences I automatically want to rewrite them into 1. Plus, to reference Dan Shiovitz again, some of his best reviews are only a few sentences long.
There’s also the nasty syndrome of “not knowing what to say” which I might weave around this year by not worrying about reviewing every entry.
Q: So what do you judge based on?
A: I hate being tied down on this, but I give weight to both traditional story metrics like “are the characters and plot well-made” but also “does the interactivity make sense”?
Q: How does interactivity “make sense”?
A: It’s hard to describe because different works set up different expectations. I enjoyed Venus Meets Venus from last year but I caught fairly early on it was going to be a “kinetic story” and I shouldn’t expect to to have any agency. In a story where the player is the protagonist, I’d expect more freedom and less railroading.
Given I enjoyed Deadline Enchanter which was a parser game where literally the only commands that worked were the ones from the in-game walkthrough, there is room for latitude. (It was designed as an “artifact from the world universe” so the weird restriction made sense, but it was the sort of trick that only works once.)
Q: I’m an author! Could I ask you more about a review you wrote?
A: You can find my contact info on the About tab.
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:
Jack Toresal and The Secret Letter
The Shadow in the Cathedral
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.)
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
(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.
I assumed, mainly, that Adventure II would add extra rooms and treasures. That part, certainly, is true.
Click on the map to enlarge; rooms marked in blue are new to this version. Please note it is likely incomplete. The new rooms (perhaps inspired by greater storage capacity on whatever computer they were using) include longer descriptions than most of 350-point Adventure.
YOU ARE IN A MAGNIFICENTLY ORNATE ROOM THAT LOOKS LIKE A PLACE OF WORSHIP FOR SOME OLD AND MYSTERIOUS RELIGION. THERE ARE EXITS TO THE NORTH, WEST AND EAST AND A SPIRAL STAIRCASE LEADING BOTH UP AND DOWN. THE CEILING OF THIS CHAPEL SEEMS TO BE MADE OF LARGE WOODEN BEAMS. HANGING FROM ONE OF THESE BEAMS IS A THICK ROPE.
YOU ARE IN A ROOM THAT APPEARS TO BE A STABLE FOR A FEARSOME ANIMAL. AGAINST ONE WALL IS A BATTERED AND DIRTY TROUGH THAT IS QUITE EMPTY AND ON THE OTHER WALL IS A HUGE HARNESS. BESIDE THE HARNESS IS A SMALL WINDOW THAT OVERLOOKS A COURTYARD. THE COURTYARD IS DESERTED AND SHOWS NO SIGNS OF ANY RECENT ACTIVITY. AT THE FAR END OF THE STABLE IS A WOODEN PARTITION THAT HAS NUMEROUS DENTS AND HOLES IN IT AND YOU CAN SEE THAT IT IS SECURELY FIXED TO THE MASSIVE STONE WALLS SO THAT WHATEVER IS BEHIND IT CANNOT GET OUT. IF YOU LISTEN CAREFULLY YOU CAN HEAR THE MUTED SOUNDS OF GROWLING AND THE SCRATCHING OF CLAWS AGAINST WOOD. THE ONLY EXIT IS THE WAY YOU CAME IN.
I’m not sure if the longer descriptions are a feature, really. Nothing mentioned in either of the rooms above can be interacted with. The rule that “interesting scenery objects will at least let you refer to them” was not established yet.
The map also includes some instant-death which seems more along the lines of Acheton than Adventure.
YOU ARE IN A VERY LOW SLOPING ROOM WHOSE ROOF IS BARELY 3′ FROM THE FLOOR. AT THE LOWER END A TRICKLE OF WATER ENTERS FROM A TUNNEL IN THE WEST AND RUNS DOWN A SHAFT IN THE FLOOR. AT THE UPPER END THE ROOF NEARLY MEETS THE FLOOR TO GIVE A NARROW EXIT. WATER DRIPS FROM THE ROOF MAKING EVERYTHING DAMP AND THE FLOOR SLIPPERY. THERE ARE NO SIGNS THAT ANYONE HAS BEEN THIS WAY BEFORE.
YOU ARE IN AN INCLINED SHAFT WHICH STEEPENS AT THIS POINT. THE WALLS ARE COVERED IN A THIN LAYER OF SLIME MAKING IT VERY SLIPPERY. BELOW YOU THE SHAFT IS FILLED WITH DARK WATER WHICH SURGES RHYTHMICALLY. THE SMELL OF THE SEA IS MINGLED WITH AN ALTOGETHER MORE UNPLEASANT ODOUR.
YOU HAVE DROWNED HORRIBLY IN A MIXTURE OF SEA-WATER AND SEWAGE!
There’s more new features than just extra rooms.
EXPLORING IS THIRSTY WORK, YOU MUST SOON TAKE A DRINK OR LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD.
Yes, it appears Adventure II has the honor of including the first “hunger puzzle” — thirst puzzle, mind, but functionally equivalent. After enough time without water the player dies. There are a few water sources but it is important to keep the bottle on hand and filled at all times. The message seems to indicate the thirst timer can be slowed down by dropping inventory, but I haven’t experimented enough to know exactly what’s going on.
In a way, the reuse of an object from original Adventure for a totally different type of puzzle is what intrigues me most about playing this mod. I just wish it wasn’t a reuse that added a logistical nightmare.
The enemies are also somewhat enhanced. The dwarf, for instance, is capable of dropping a “little horn” after death. Blowing the horn doesn’t end well.
THE LITTLE HORN EMITS A SURPRISINGLY LOUD SONOROUS NOTE.
AS THE NOTE DIES AWAY THE SOUND OF MANY HURRYING FOOTSTEPS BECOME APPARENT.
THERE ARE 4 THREATENING LITTLE DWARVES IN THE ROOM WITH YOU. 4 OF THEM THROW KNIVES AT YOU!
There’s also someone who mentions a chalice that I haven’t seen
OUT FROM THE GLOOM JUMPS A LITTLE FIGURE. HE LOOKS AT YOU AND SAYS IN A SURPRISINGLY DEEP VOICE “CHALICE, CHALICE? NOW WHERE DID I PUT THAT CHALICE? IF YOU SHOULD PERCHANCE FIND IT, BE CAREFUL, FOR IT IS SAID TO HAVE STRANGE POWERS”. WITH THAT HE SCURRIES OFF BACK INTO THE GLOOM.
an owl which is scared by light
THE LIGHT FROM YOUR LAMP DISTURBS AN ENORMOUS OWL WHICH FLIES OFF WITH A FLURRY OF WINGBEATS (AND A LOUD “HOOT”).
and a possible extra character only indicated by a shadow. I suspect a thief. (Also possible: random atmosphere message.) The reason why I suspect a thief is the existence of a “Thieves Den” room.
By the time I report back I expect I’ll have solved one of the new puzzles. I hope?
There are so many variants of the 350-point Crowther and Woods Adventure that it might be consider the first heavily “modded” game.
I even have to preface by saying the 350-point version; Don Woods himself made a 430-point version in the mid-90s. The number of points possible in a particular port is the “identifying marker” for an entire family tree.
I’m not trying every version — especially since some really are just straight ports — but I think it’s worthwhile to dive into Peter Luckett and Jack Pike’s version, because the original source code is dated 31 Dec 1978. Other sources indicate it was worked on until 1981. However, the 1978 source seems complete, and the availability date makes it the earliest mod of the 350-point version of Adventure.
I’m using this port from the original source although there is a z-code version. Some comparison indicates the versions are identical except for normalizing the old-school ALL CAPS style.
Replaying when I have truly detailed notes in the form of my old posts about 350-point Adventure feels like I’m playing a find-the-difference puzzle. I’ve taken my original maps as a reference and will poke carefully at each nook and cranny for extra rooms.
Outside. This map goes all the way back to Crowther’s version of Adventure, before Woods came along.
The time to a map break seems to be one step…
YOU’RE AT THE END OF THE ROAD AGAIN.
YOU HAVE WALKED UP A HILL, STILL IN THE FOREST. THE ROAD SLOPES BACK DOWN THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL. THERE IS A BUILDING IN THE DISTANCE. TO THE NORTH LIES A SNOW-CAPPED MOUNTAIN RANGE WITH PEAKS THAT RISE INTO THE SKY. TO THE SOUTH, PARTLY OBSCURED BY A THIN HAZE, LIES A WHITE FORTRESS WITH SEVEN TOWERS. BEYOND THE FORTRESS, SHIMMERING IN THE SUN, THERE SPARKLES A GREAT EXPANSE OF WATER.
…but other than that description being elongated, I haven’t found any changes yet.