Monday, October 25, 2010

You have been eaten by a grue.

I'm afraid I don't understand the phrase 'WRITE BLOG POST'
You are carrying:
No tea
An idea for a blog post

Way back through the mists of time - meteorologists have found that the mists were mainly caused by despair, toxic sepia poisoning and poor ventilation - the text adventure was king.  Before the days of ultra-realistic graphics, budgets that would shame Don Simpson and motion sensitive controls causing you to spack around your room like an epileptic to fire your rocket launcher, the first generation of home computer users were doing one of two things:

1) Carrying out epic quests through the medium of text alone.
2) Writing epic quests through the medium of text alone.

For those of you young enough not to remember these days, allow me to enlighten you.


With the advent of the first affordable computers, namely the ZX80, ZX81 and later the Spectrum, Vic-20 and Commodore 64, a huge swathe of what history now knows as the first Computer related sun-fearing shut-ins were learning to program.  Some of these bedroom programmers were also becoming minor celebrities; Jeff Minter, Kevin Toms and Matthew Smith to name but three.  These were the glory days when swapping copied games on Boots C-15 cassettes in the playground was commonplace, and a computer game could go through the entire development cycle without the need for Electronic Arts to get involved.

A hugely popular form of game in the early eighties was the Text Adventure.  For those of you completely unfamiliar with this genre (which from my attempts to explain the concept to Tara several years ago may include quite a few of you), it's a form of interactive fiction.

You'll be presented with a chunk of descriptive text, explaining where you are; For instance:

You are in a small dark dungeon.  Moss lines the walls, and you can hear the distant sound of screaming.  Presumably from some poor soul being tortured in this hateful place.  A wooden door is the only exit.

Now on occasion (in Melbourne Houses The Hobbit, for example) you may even have a picture showing you your current location.  Admittedly the picture probably bore little resemblance to the picture you'd had in your head, but it's an illustration nonetheless.  And probably made the game easier to sell because it allowed them to have a pretty screenshot on the inlay.

You would play the game by typing in your instructions - I.e. GO WEST, EAT HEAD or EXTINGUISH LLAMA. Via this crude (albeit effective) interaction, you'd continue on with the story and eventually go on to defeat the Evil Overlord K'zaaar'oth and save some cliched fantasy world from utter destruction.

Now parsing wasn't quite as sophisticated back then.  Any text adventure seemed to be a battle on two fronts; Firstly,a struggle to complete the adventure itself, and secondly, to get the computer to understand what you were trying to tell your character to do.

I'm afraid I don't understand 'DOOR'.
I'm afraid I don't understand the phrase 'KICK'
The door is locked
You are carrying:
A Key
A Pointy Stick
You can't do that.
You unlock the door.

Now some of you may recognise the basic mechanics of the above interaction through the spiritual descendants of the humble text adventure in games such as the Monkey Island series by Lucasarts.  They're still the same basic concept; stick a verb and noun together to try and beat the developers sick sense of logic.

Some of the puzzles in these games could be downright evil, involving arcane verbs you'd never used before.  On the other hand it could be argued that they promoted literacy - I blame text adventures for teaching me the difference between North, East, South and West and for educating me as to what the word 'Inventory' meant.

And I loved 'em.  Lapped them up.


Back in 1988, when I was 17 and should have been out discovering girls and alcohol, I too was one of those bedroom programmers.  If memory serves it took me most of the summer (thus ensuring I safely avoided a great deal of sunshine) and wrote was to be my masterpiece.  A huge two part epic called The Challenge Of Iythus.  It got an impressive 73% score from a Spectrum magazine around at the time called Crash.

I'd all about forgotten about it until a few years back when I was doing a vanity search against 'Iythus' and found an actual emulator snapshot of it on the above linked website.  Now how did a game that only sold six copies end up in a playable format of the internet?  Christ alone knows.

Interesting that when you bung this thing through a spectrum emulator that I can't remember how to solve any of it.  It's overly verbose, ridiculously complicated and bugged to fuck - I've only been programming for some 23 years, so it's good to know that some things never change.

Thanks to Tyronne Mann and his google vigilance, here's an executable link for the first part - no spectrum emulator needed.


The inspiration for this little blog piece comes after being reminded about the existence of my game after reading Robin Johnsons excellent piece about it.  Interactive fiction isn't dead, it would appear - as Robins two excellent text adventures are testament to.

Your blog is saved.
I'm afraid I don't understand 'PROOFREAD BLOG'
Your blog is published.


  1. Really makes me feel old all this :)

  2. I did like those and now feel quite old but in a good way.


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