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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Text Adventuring

Mark Wallace’s piece (The History Of My Adventure) over at the ever excellent reminded me of my own first few years of computer gaming. Whilst I’d played a fair bit on my friend’s aged Atari 2600, it all began with the Commodore 64 my mum’s father got me & my brother for Christmas 1991. It was rather a late time to be getting into such a machine but there were still plenty of years left in the old beast. Initially games of Dizzy (a classic), Colony (I still have a hatred for bugs that eat solar panels to this day!) and freeware shooter Moonsweeper were amongst my first proper gaming experiences.

It was not long after that grand Christmas holiday that I got my first issue of the legendary Zzap! 64. It was issue 81, the issue to contain a review of Creatures 2 (a game that became something of a holy grail for me – sadly never obtained until I discovered emulators). As well as devouring the contents I was practically exploding with joy at this tape attached to the front full of free games and demos. Free. Games. And there, beneath Gribbly’s Day Out (controlling a floating, inertia filled frog in one of Andy Braybook’s classic games – great stuff!) was the text adventure Nythyhel.

I’d never imagined that computer games could take the form of text adventures before that magazine. I was used to playing Fighting Fantasy books to my heart’s delight but the concept of interacting with fiction on a computer screen was to me at the time, very much a “wow, I didn’t know they did THIS kind of thing!” moment. Through the Zzap! covertapes of that and subsequent months I enjoyed my first brushes with the field of text adventures, most of which usually resulted in death. Death or getting lost. Much like some of my experiences with Fighting Fantasy books at that time, actually…

It took another few years for me to truly appreciate the games, aided in part by picking up back issue after back issue of 1980s Zzap! magazines (some excellent stuff there) and reading what was then a much more extensive look at text adventures. The selection of adventures from the newer covertapes was fair enough but it was my purchases of various collections of text adventures from Level 9 and a few Infocom titles that really gave me enjoyment. I even found myself attempting to write my own text adventures, first in BASIC (a task that quickly became too involved to be worthwhile) and then in G.A.C. – the Graphical Adventure Creator (free on the front of an issue of Commodore Format – the less accomplished rival to Zzap! and later Commodore Force, I felt). G.A.C. made adventure creation quite easy and fun to do, even allowing (as the name suggests) the creation of large images to sit above the text when you enter certain locations. In G.A.C. I created my own, quite large and quite fun to play text adventure. I still never finished it, but it was great to create nonetheless.

I feel a gamer misses out on something if they’ve never been able to sit down and enjoy a well crafted and fun to play text adventure. I’m not sure what that is, though. Perhaps they’re more likely to lack an appreciation of a well crafted environment and a good narrative, but I couldn’t say for certain. I just feel it’s one of those things that was great to be able to enjoy as something current, without feeling like your playing a backwards and outdated form of video game. Because these days the average gamer can get that kind of experience complete with passable voice acting and beautiful scenery. Sure, they’re not usually entering text into a parser to interact with their world, but the spirit of the games has moved on to these shinier and more advanced shells. Me, I’m feeling a very slight tinge of nostalgia for some N, N, LOOK, EXAMINE ROCK action.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:32 PM


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All original content is copyright Alex Hopkinson 2005. Other content is copyright the respective owners. To contact the author email: alex [at]

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