History of Adventure 1: Text-based Interactive Fiction (1977?)

Written by TAG reviewer team

Notable Titles: Adventure, Zork, Adventureland, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Trinity, Curses, Photopia, Anchorhead, Spider and Web, Varicella, Galatea
Notable Creators and Companies: William Crowther and Don Woods, Infocom (Dave Lebling, Steve Meretzky, Brian Moriarty and many others), Adventure International (Scott Adams), Graham Nelson, Andrew Plotkin, Adam Cadre, Emily Short

Very literally, were it not for the games in this industry we would not be talking about these things today. When Crowther and Woods let Adventure out of the bag in 1977, the gaming world was irrevocably changed for every man, woman and wildebeest who have ever read the words "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.” (Well, it might be possible that it all began a couple of years earlier with a mainframe text adventure creation system called Wander, but since it's unclear whether at least later versions of Wander were heavily influenced by Adventure, we'll just stick to the old story.) Adventure gaming in and of itself has always been one of the easiest things to do – you need a story, which more or less everyone can at least come up with, a reason to go on an adventure (treasure, damsel in distress, need to get your frog into a frog contest with frog steroids while winning a video gaming championship) and a way in which to influence what you're dealing with.

The notion of a simple parser was the real joy that came out of all of this. By giving gamers a way to influence what was on the screen with simple words (PICK UP TORCH, LIGHT TORCH, LOOK, RUN FROM GRUE) there was suddenly a market to be had. The main problem with this genre was, as more or less anyone who has played even some of it knows, that a parser can never be perfect. It's all well and good to know that you need to have the four pieces of pocket lint from all around the galaxy, but not realising that you have to LOOK in your POCKET to get it? It's going to leave some extremely aggravated people! Of course, this is largely down to the quality of the company who creates the game.

A good, descriptive block of text can make all the difference

IF is undoubtedly the grandfather of this genre, and it thrives still today. It has evolved, of course. The original Adventure used a crude parser that understood only commands made out of a verb and a noun, and it was left for Infocom to create a truly versatile parser that understood such complex commands like “UNLOCK BRONZE DOOR WITH A BRASS KEY”, converse with NPCs etc. And while the first adventure games were simple treasure hunts, the stories also became more involved and complex, like Infocom’s Trinity that told an allegorical story of atom bombs.

Apart from a few curiosities, purely text-based interactive fiction as a commercial product has not been seen since Infocom died at the end of 1980s. The genre has still not completely vanished, because since the late 1990s, a non-commercial IF scene has been quite lively. First signs of the rise of non-commercial IF was the publication of TADS (first version in 1988) and Inform (1993), two programming languages designed precisely for interactive fiction. Graham Nelson, the creator of Inform, was also responsible for Curses (1993), one of the first works of modern IF. Significant events were the beginning of annual IF competitions in 1995 and the first XYZZY awards given in 1996.

While the first few non-commercial works of IF just continued in the footsteps of earlier text adventures, a general trend in modern IF has been an attempt to raise the literary qualities of the works - a good early example is Andrew Plotkin’s So Far (1996). Often modern IF emphasizes the story over the puzzles, like in Adam Cadre’s mostly puzzleless classic Photopia (1998). Another milestone in modern IF is Emily Short’s Galatea (2000), which concentrates on interaction with a single NPC.

Photopia summarising perfectly the charm of IF

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