Thursday, September 20, 2007

Scott Adams paints a picture in my head...

In my last blog, I wrote about the Vic-20 and mentioned how I owned a bunch of text adventures for it as a kid. The most memorable ones were created by a programmer named Scott Adams. Not to be confused with the cartoonist that writes Dilbert, this Scott Adams wrote some of the first and most basic [no pun intended] text adventures. Even though Zork is the most popular text adventure from the early days of the genre, Scott Adams' company Adventure International is recognized as the first company to market these games for home use on microcomputers.Commodore Vic-20 games came in cartridge form (pictured below). In my household we had at least 4 different Scott Adams text adventure games: Adventureland, The Count, Pirates' Cove, and Voodoo Castle. Among those 4, it was The Count that got the most attention at home. Since I was about 5 years old at the time, much of the game's vocabulary was consisted of words that I didn't know. If I asked my brother or sister, they would inevitably get sucked into the lure of the game's narrative and end up commandeering the keyboard from me. It would be worse if they had friends over, because then they would gather around the computer and form a fucking committee and start brainstorming on how to progress through the game. One of my brother's friends even spent the whole night trying to finish the game. If memory serves me correctly, he never did.

The plot of The Count was some generic take on the Dracula story. You had 3 days to find and kill the vampire. If you tried to exit the castle, an angry mob kills you and you are forced to start over. There are several incidences in the game where you are attacked and wake up the next day with two small holes on the side of your neck. If that happened 3 times, then the game would end.
Due to the fact that the limited technology only allowed for very specific input commands, the game is fairly hard. If you constructed the input command in a way the program wasn't familiar with, you would have to keep rephrasing the command until you typed it in exactly as the programmer gad intended. This issue persisted for many years in all games that used text input commands, including the Sierra adventure games (King's Quest 1-4, Space Quest 1-3, etc).

If you don't believe me, then you can follow this link to play The Count on the web. The game starts you off in a large brass bed. It should be obvious, but I remember spending a ridiculous amount of time just trying to find the right commands to get out bed. These days, I can't picture myself spending as much time trying to figure out what the game designer had intended for me to do to progress through the game.

Despite the inherent flaws that came with text adventures, their text-only format really painted a picture in my over-imaginative 5-year-old brain. It goes back to the old argument of book vs. film adaptation. A novel will let you make your own interpretations and allow you to mentally visualize the story, while a movie does the interpreting for you. More often than not, you lose something in the process when you view someone else's interpretation.

Here are some links to classic text adventures that you can play straight from your browser window:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These text adventures are epic. I just played The Count for about 1 and a half minutes. Got out of bed and jumped out the window. Fell to my death. Spent 5 minutes laughing. Great post!