Thursday, March 1, 2012

Choosing your Own Adventure & Interactive Fiction

Note:  I apologize in advance for any sloppy editing.  This is a hasty compilation made from multiple old handouts.  I may edit it later, if it seems like a good idea to do so.

Play Zork

Choose Your Own Adventure / Gamebook Information

Most of the “Choose Your Own Adventure Series,” the most famous and best-selling series of its kind, was written by R.A. Montgomery and Edward Packard.  R.A. Montgomery is behind the current incarnation of the series, hence his books are the ones in print.  Packard, however, seems to have been the innovator; (
states that he wrote the first title in 1969, although it was not published until 1976.  The concept became more mainstream and commercially successful with Packard’s first title in the CYOA series, Cave of Time, published in 1979.

Many later series took up the concept; many of them added more substantial kinds of gameplay, modeled directly or indirectly on Dungeons and Dragons.  Examples include the Lone Wolf series and the Super Endless Quest series.  The entire lone wolf series is available on the web at ; it will give you a taste of some of the hybrid possibilities which exist between games and interactive narratives.

Some relevant dates:

1969 - Edward Packard writes Sugarcane Island.
1974 - first publication of Dungeons and Dragons (it was in development for some time beforehand).
1976 - appearance of a fairly advanced version of The Colossal Cave Adventure.
1976 - publication of Sugarcane Island.
1977-9 - development of Zork
1979 - publication of Cave of Time; Choose Your Own Adventure series begins.
1980 - publication of first commercial computer roleplaying game I know of, Akalabeth.
1980 - commercial publication of Zork I.

Note: I highly recommend as a resource, although the site strongly advocates the idea of “gamebook” rather than “interactive narratives.”

Interactive Fiction:

Everybody who is interested in doing a final project on video games must play one or more games for at least 2-3 hours (more, of course, is better); some semester, I require that everybody in the class do so.  I usually recommend Zork; if you really want to play something else (some other work of interactive fiction, that is), though (perhaps something more modern, less fantasy-oriented or more strongly plotted), you are welcome to.

You shouldn’t cheat (that is, look up solutions on the internet).  If you feel the urge to cheat, why not try posting questions on the blog instead?  I can’t stop you, of course, but I want you to have the full experience of playing the game(s).
Everybody who is a gamer at all, or knows anything about current games (this will be almost all of you) should think about the relationship between interactive fiction and mainstream gaming as we know it.

Playing the games:

Playing Zork on the second site below is the easiest way to start playing; you may also choose to download an interpreter and one or more games.

You will always find yourself in a “room,” although sometimes the rooms are outdoor locations.  You move around to different rooms with compass directions, which can be abbreviated.  “Go North,” “North,” and “N” should all be equivalent.

Most commands will be subject-verb, but can be more complicated; you can, for instance (and sometimes must) use conjunctions or prepositions.  “Attack thief” might work, but you might prefer “attack thief with sword” or “attack thief with axe.”  Other examples are “eat sandwich,” “open door,” “unlock door with red key,” and so forth.  Adverbs and adjectives are pointless and probably will cause a command not to work; subjects, verbs and prepositions are what count.  Prepositions may not work in all games (i.e., the Scott Adams adventures mentioned below).  Conjunctions can be worthwhile, and may work: “take everything but hammer,” “drop everything but saw.”

You can “quit,” “save,” or “restart” a game.  You should experiment with “verbose” to always turn on long descriptions, “inventory” to see what you are carrying, and “look” or “examine” to examine objects more closely: “examine egg,” for instance.
You will quickly learn that one of the difficulties of interactive fiction is choosing the right word and phrasing commands correctly (of course, representing events the way we wish to is a problem in all narratives).  This may not be entirely unlike the difficulties involved in writing well.

Creating a game:  

Creating a small piece of interactive fiction would be an interesting and doable final project for this class.  It helps to be a programmer, of course, but shouldn’t be absolutely necessary.  I have received outstandingly good and also very bad projects in this form; you should only do it if you really want to, and want to put in the necessary effort.    You can inform yourself on what’s involved on the interactive fiction archive, the address of which is below.

Some relevant websites:

Here’s a site where you can play “The Colossal Cave Adventure,” the first work of interactive fiction, online.  It also provides some hints and tips which apply both to this game and to others.

Here’s a site where you can play a broad selection of Infocom’s interactive fiction online, including “Zork.”   “Enchanter,” “Sorceror” and “Spellbreaker” are in a fantasy setting, where you play a wizard.  “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is based on the SF novel, and created by the same author.  “Deadline” and “The Witness” are mysteries, which you have to solve in the allotted time.  Infocom was the premier commercial maker of interactive fiction in the 1980s.

Here’s the interactive fiction archive, which not only has a plethora of non-commercial games, but also various other resources.  Note that there are several beginner’s guides on the main page.

Within this archive, note especially the following:

This is where most of the games are; note especially the annual competition directories.  This is where you should go to find more current games.

Scott Adams was another major producer of interactive fiction in the early 1980's; these games are characterized by their ability to run on very limited computer hardware (8k of memory).

Here you will find the “frotz” interpreter for Windows systems, which will enable you to run almost all text adventures on your own system (you can also choose to run many of them on the internet, as detailed above).

Note:  If you encounter any bad urls above, let me know - there is always a chance that one of them is out of date!

Three "Decision Trees" To be Discussed in Class:

Danger at Anchor Mine

Cup of Death

Lair of the Lich

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