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Text Adventure Games

Posted by Big Boo on February 4th, 2011

Text Adventure GameNow here is a style of video game that has really gone out of fashion. Though new examples of the genre do exist, they are generally now relegated to the darkest corners of the Internet rather than being available to buy from shops or online retailers. I am of course talking about the humble text adventure.

Text Adventures (also often referred to as Adventure Games in the past, or as the rather grandiose sounding Interactive Fiction nowadays) were one of the first forms of video games to be created, which is hardly surprising given that they only required to be able to display text which was all a lot of early computers could do.

Despite having no graphics, many text adventures would actually be surprisingly absorbing, sucking you into their depicted world by having your imagination fill in what the locations actually looked like. The text was often written in the second person, which is probably best illustrated by a typical example.

You are stood in a dark room. You can see a table with food and drink set upon it. On the wall there is a heavy shield and a sword. There are exits to the north and east.

What do you want to do?

That last part was a prompt for you to enter some sort of command into the game, which was normally in the form of a verb followed by a noun, although later adventure games let you enter complete sentences to describe the things you wanted to do.

So, faced with the above description, what would you enter? Well, you might be inclined to “Eat Food” for example, but it didn’t take long to realise that you were probably better of entering “Examine Food” first, which might reveal that the food is mouldy and covered in maggots. “Take Sword” or “Take Shield” would probably be good bets, and then once you’d got bored with the room perhaps “Go North“. Get the idea?

Other commands which became standard text adventure parlance were “Look” which would redescribe your current location, “Inventory“, which would display the items you current had, and “Help“, which at its least useful would offer a list of commands you could enter, or if you were lucky might offer a tidbit of advice about what you should do next.

The first text adventure game is credited as being called simply Adventure (or Advent, given that the computer system it was written on only allowed filenames of six characters!) and was created in 1975 by Will Crowther, who created the game for his kids to play. It later became known as Colossal Cave.

There soon emerged software companies that concentrated on making nothing but adventure games. Adventure International was one, founded by Scott Adams, and another was Infocom, famous for the Zork series and the adventure game version of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Later games appeared which whilst they were still purely text based in terms of the actual game itself, also featured graphics to depict some of the locations you had visited. One of the most memorable examples of this was the ZX Spectrum game based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Eventually graphics took hold completely though, and with the advent of the mouse as an input device the text adventure evolved into the point ‘n’ click adventure, with some of the most successful examples being those created by Lucasfilm Games (later to become LucasArts). Probably the most famous of these are the Monkey Island games.