Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Get Lamp - early 80s Text Adventures

Maybe it's just me, but I often experience a brief moment of hesitation when a friend throws me a YouTube link these days. A brief moment where I wonder, OK, is this going to be worth clicking right now, and sacrificing minutes of my life to? It's partly due to the prolific number and variety of videos on YouTube, there's just so much there, you never know what you're going to get, or if teh funnay will be strong with this one.

My friend Sean recently sent me such a link. Now Sean is a good source for cool; when he's not taking clever perspective pictures with his action figure collection for storyboard comics, writing toy reviews for scifi.com, or creating art for The Lord of the Rings Online (his "day job"), he's writing Infocom-style text adventures. So naturally, I checked out the link with confidence, and so should you:

The long and short of it is, there's a documentary in development about text adventures called Get Lamp (which I'm constantly almost mis-reading as "Got Lamp?") and MC Frontalot was inspired to do a song on the subject. I hadn't heard of him before (OMG, have I been missing OUT!), and it's been a decade or more since I've played a text adventure, but the song is really catchy, and any gamer can pretty much get the gist.

Now, the last few years have been amazing for geeky documentaries: Wordplay, Word Wars, Darkon, The King of Kong, and the upcoming Chasing Ghosts to name a few. In this gluttonous era of plenty, a documentary about text adventures is maybe taken a bit for granted, but is just as welcome as another birthday present would be. One of the biggest and most fertile subject matters yet to be documented, as far as I know, is Magic: the Gathering. That should be good - trust me, there's easily as much drama and intrigue there as was portrayed in The King of Kong.

But I digress. For those of you who aren't familiar with Infocom, they were the primary producer of text adventure games for the PC back when PCs were new. Games like Zork and Planetfall may ring a bell. I didn't play them extensively, but I do remember them, and the heartbreaking moment in Planetfall where Floyd...well, it was one of the first times I remember a game making me feel emotion. The Get Lamp site summarizes this genre very well:
...adventure games would describe a place, and then ask what to do next. They presented puzzles, tricks and traps to be overcome. They were filled with suspense, humor and sadness. And they offered a unique type of joy as players discovered how to negotiate the obstacles and think their way to victory.
The reason these games were so engaging was the fact that you were not picking your next move from a handful of 5 or so stated choices; you were coming up with commands (such as get lamp, open hatch, go north, climb ladder) on your own. It took the concept of Choose Your Own Adventure books to the next level, and the focus was on the story, because there were no graphics. You had to plot dungeons and environments on a piece of paper as you explored them, and really read the text, which honestly, you don't have to do in most RPGs these days. Overall, this labor intensity meant one had a lot more time and work invested in a text adventure, which is what made them special.

The nice thing is, people are still creating text adventures, and there's even software available to do it with. If you are inspired to check out the old Infocom titles, you will have some luck on the amazon.com resellers scene, or Ebay, and can also find JAVA versions online to play free.

UPDATE: On creating text adventures, Sean had the following to note:
The de-facto standard language for writing text adventures at the moment is INFORM. There are two currently-used versions. Inform 6, which is very code-like, and a new and very hot Inform 7 which uses almost English commands, allowing people who don't know coding to write their own games fairly easily. The IF community hangs out in a newsgroup, and I7 has more-or-less supplanted I6, though I'm currently using I6 because I like code more than I like pseudo-english for coding.
He also mentioned another popular text adventure coding language known as TADS. Hope that helps any of you interested in taking a stab at it!

Get Lamp was originally due to be released this past June, but seems to have been delayed. I'm really looking forward to it, and will keep you posted!

UPDATE - Nov. 25, 2008. A new weblog has been created for Get Lamp. Check out Taking Inventory for the latest news on the film's progress!

1 comment:

Kanadani said...

Infocom adventures have always been the highlight of my gaming childhood. Challenging, and yet entertaining and immersive, these games sparked my imagination in a way that many other games have not. There really is something to a game that challenges you to visualize something in your head rather than just scan the screen for clues. I'm looking forward to Get Lamp and hope that my rusty interactive fiction brain cells will start working again!