April 30, 2011

Z is for…

I remember going up to a computer store on Dundurn street in Hamilton, possibly the strip mall at the corner of Dundurn and Main, to buy a computer game for the family IBM-XT clone, and coming back with ZORK I on a 5 and a quarter inch floppy.

It wasn’t the first text adventure game that I’d ever played – there had been similar games for Commodore 64 computers at school, and even a few for the TRS-80 that we had before the new PC, but Zork really captured my imagination – the Troll waiting near the dungeon stairs with his grim axe, waiting to do you battle, the suave thief running circles around you and swiping your best loot, the annoying echo room that wouldn’t let you pick up a treasure that was sitting right in front of you, the maze with the body of a dead adventurer and his gear lying in the middle of it, the coal mine full of deadly hazards at every turn, the mystifying Frobozz dam and the magical rainbow bridge over the Aragain falls… (and figuring out what Aragain spelled when you turned it back to front.)

I didn’t have the self discipline to solve the game without spoilers, unfortunately. That version came with its own invisiclues system built into a HELP command, so I started peeking at the clues for anything that had me a little bit stumped, and even peeked ahead for ideas about a few things that I hadn’t gotten to yet, so that I wouldn’t kill myself by doing the wrong thing… again.

But I did get to the end, and played around with a few of the fun ‘did you ever’ ideas, and then gradually lost interest.

Much later, I ran into Zork games again, this time downloading them off an internet site, along with the plethora of Inform interpreters that you can now get to play them on all kinds of machines that the original designers never imagines – from Windows, Mac, and Unix to palm-pilots, alphasmarts, pocket PCs, and iPhones. I don’t know first-hand if anybody has ported the frotz interpreter (or any of the others) to blackberry and Droid, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

And that’s what led me to try writing text adventure games myself. I’m really proud of completing my ‘Star Hunter’ game, though it didn’t place too well in Ifcomp, because I didn’t really think of it from a player’s point of view. And I want to get back to text game design sometime this year, if I can squeeze it in.

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