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Text adventure games suck

Jason Scott recently released GET LAMP, a documentary film on the history of text adventure computer games. The pretentious name for text adventure games is "interactive fiction".

I'm sure the film, said very sincerely, is awesome. Jason is really good at digging up (sometimes literally through piles of documents) information on computer history. He leaves no stone unturned. He emails, texts and places what has to be several hundreds of phone calls every year tracking down people to get answers to questions. Questions such as, "How did X come to be? Who's idea was it to do X originally? Who worked on X? What was X inspired from?" X in this instance is the text adventure genre.

What I'm getting at is that even if you're not into text adventure computer games at all but like computer history, you'll like the film. Heck, even if you're not into computer history but just like a good well-done documentary, you'll like the film because the way Jason starts a documentary is: "This film is about X. Here's what X is, where it came from and its impact on the world." Spoon-fed, to be sure, but a documentary is supposed to be that way. This isn't 2001: A Space Odyssey we're talking about here.

Leaving the film aside, a universal truth about text adventure computer games is that they just plain suck. To this day I cannot understand why anybody had any interest in these things to begin with. It is beyond me how someone could just sit at a computer, play a single-player text-based game and actually get any enjoyment out of it.

I think I may have tried playing text adventure games only a handful of times, and each time I was left unbelievably frustrated, so much so that I pretty much said "SCREW THIS" and never bothered with them again.

Playing a TA requires patience, and I'm not a patient man. Or to be more accurate, there are some things I'm willing to wait for, but the unfolding of a TA story is not one of them.

As an example, here's the first screen of The Legend of Zelda on the NES:

zelda

Written out in TA style, it would go something like this:

YOU ARE STANDING IN A FIELD.

>_

Now what?

If you know TAs at all, the first command you enter is usually "look".

LOOK

YOU ARE STANDING IN A FIELD. OBVIOUS EXITS ARE NORTH, EAST AND WEST. THERE IS A CAVE TO THE NORTHWEST.

>_

At this point you type NORTHWEST or NW to enter the cave.

If for example the cave had a door that was locked, on attempt to enter the cave, most TAs would simply say:

YOU CAN'T DO THAT.

>_

That's it. No explanation as to why you can't do that. No explanation as to what you would need to do that. You just can't do that.

You have to know to examine every single little frickin' thing in the environment just to get anything done, such as:

LOOK AT CAVE

YOU APPROACH THE CAVE. IT HAS A DOOR. THE DOOR IS LOCKED.

>_

Okay, now we're getting somewhere. You know at this point the cave has a door and that it's locked, therefore you need a key. You don't have the key yet - or do you?

Check the inventory.

INVENTORY

THERE IS A KEY IN YOUR POCKET.

>_

Eureka! A key!

USE KEY ON DOOR

THE KEY DOES NOT FIT THE LOCK.

>_

FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUU--!!!!

That's the experience of a TA in a nutshell. It's nothing but frustration after frustration after frustration. Frustration so maddening that it would make you seriously consider literally tossing your computer out the window.

I suppose the writers of TA games wanted to produce something challenging that would keep the player at the computer a good long time. However I think they went way overboard with this and caused more people to simply give up rather than try to figure out what the hell was going on.

It's very common that TA players that played the games back when they were new said, "I never finished it." The reason why they didn't finish was pretty damned obvious. These players weren't stupid people. TAs just have a ridiculously wonky environment and require way too much effort on the player just to finish the thing.

Pretentious folk may say that TAs are only for those that know how to think deductively because they are "thinker's games". Um, yeah, whatever. I hated MYST because it was a thinker's game as well, but I consider that far and above better than any TA that ever existed.

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