Friday, August 2, 2013

INTERACTIVE Fiction Friday

So, last Fiction Friday, I interviewed the awesome mystery author, Jay Mims.  The interview was conducted in the style of an old text-based adventure game.  I realized several things after this interview. 

1) I realized that some of my readers might not have been raised on text adventures and other various forms of interactive fiction (IF). 2) I, consequently, realized that some if my readers had really sad childhoods. 3) I realized that some if my readers might not even really know what IF is. 4) I, consequently, realized that it is my duty to enlighten these poor souls. 5) I, ultimately, realized that I am a huge nerd.

I was born in 1980. I missed the age of Disco by about three months and was thrust right onto the heart of break dancing, Michael Jackson before he was lame before he was cool again, leg warmers, bad perms, trapper keepers, synthesizers, tight rolled jeans, and MTV. I really wonder how any of us made it out of the 80s alive.

My parents were both teachers, and so I think they felt the need to get all the latest technology to help educate their children (plus, all that technology was WAY COOL), so one of my earliest memories was of waiting for a long boring amount of hours while my parents talked to the guys at the computer store. These were like the ancestors of the Apple Geniuses or the Geek Squad or whatever. These were the Geek Neanderthals. One day, there will be museums with cave paintings depicting Geek Neanderthals and their primitive knowledge of large boxes that only remotely resemble the flatscreen PCs of today. 

This is a computer.
No really.
People went to the moon and back with less-advanced technology.
Is your mind boggled?  My mind is totally boggled.
Also, I want to play Boggle now....

Does anyone even still call them PCs anymore?  I don't know.

My parents bought one of those computer-like boxes and brought it into our home. It was beautiful, monochromatic, flashing brilliant shades of black, green, and even a somewhat LIGHTER GREEN. I was four, and this computer-like box was my new true love.

When the state of the art Apple IIC found itself in my home, the only game I remember it having (and by having, I mean it came with the computer in the form of a black squarish floppy piece of plastic that is called a disk) was this maze with a bunny. You would use the arrows (or the standard I, J, K, M) to maneuver the bunny through the maze to find a carrot. If you ran the bunny into a wall, he would scrunch up his little pixellated face and ears and angrily stamp his foot.

I stinkin' loved that bunny.

But honestly, I think he starved to death and/or died of multiple head injuries, because I kept running him into walls and never getting him to that carrot.  At any rate, I have no clue what ever happened to him, so I had to move on to other games.

BEHOLD!  My childhood!  In all its geeky glory!

I'm not sure how old I was, probably five or six, when my parents spent a small fortune subscribing to something called Microzine. It was put out by Scholastic as a "computer learning library on a disk."  Microzine had several boring adult programs, like "make your own stationary," but every issue also included several educational games, and usually a featured game that was some kind of an adventure.

Is that a St. Bernard in a lab coat in the upper right one? 
Why, yes!  It appears to be....
I miss you, the 80s.

This was my introduction to IF.

Now, during this time, there was a lot of IF floating around, but I only really knew about what was on Microzine. I didn't discover that Microzine had ripped off "Oregon Trail" with their own knock off version. I am probably so wrong, but for some reason, I really want to say it was called, "Wagons Ho!" 

Ok, so it was ACTUALLY called "Wagons West!"
but I'mma still call it Wagons Ho! 
Why? Cuz it makes me laugh.

Wagons Ho! All the Oregon Trail action you enjoy, now with 30% less dysentery!


Even if some games were knock offs, there were actually some really interesting and original games, too--all with little to no graphics to get in the way of IMAGINATION!

While some kids played Pac Man or pong or some nintendo 64 junk, I was playing text games or turn based rpgs with less beeping and blinking lights, more interactive adventure!

My personal favorites from Microzine? "Malice in Wonderland," "Escape from Antcatraz," "Zazzoo Come Home," and "Mission: Mix Up."  Seriously.  Those were actual games.  And they actually rocked like Cleveland.  I played these games over and over and over. I wish they were still available.  Mine was the greatest childhood eeevvvvveeerrrrrrr.

But Microzine vanished away like all good childhood dreams. Either that or it was eaten by a bear out on the trail.  WAGONS HO!

I vaguely remember from my preadolescence my parents getting something called "Up Time," which may or may not have been connected to Microzine.  It had a very similar concept--educational games, combined with boring grown up software, and all on the same disk!  You could even FLIP THE DISK OVER for more programs.  So exciting, I tell you. 

Grandma's House, Font Editor, AND Dangerous Dave!
Plus, a Blood Alcohol Calculator...
 to make sure you're just drunk enough to enjoy these programs!

I remember Up Time having a lot of games that were just text adventures, with no graphics whatsoever.  I thought it was brilliant.  My favorite game from this collection was called "School Daze," an all text adventure that took the player through a typical day of school.  That sounds boring, only it had talking frogs and such.  There was also a text adventure with a castle and a jester that spoke only in rhyme and told you to drink potions and stuff.  I don't remember anything else about it, but doesn't that just sound epic?

But all good things must come to an end, and sadly, Microzine and Up Time went the way of their technological fathers.

Then, in high school, circa 1996, suddenly everyone was like, hey...interwebz, awesome graphics, technology, whaaaaat???!!!  It took me awhile, but I eventually moved on. I realized that IF was a thing of the past.

...or was it?

In my early twenties, after I dropped out of college, I got the hankering for some old school games and started searching the wonderful World Wide Web. I expected to find some brief mention of some obscure gaming style in some dark corner of the internet that no one ever talks about.

Instead, I discovered a movement. A movement, I tell you.

Not only did I discover that people still play IF, not only did I discover that a WIDE variety of old school IF is available to play right on your PC's browser (including some of the original text adventure games like ZORK and Colossal Cave, which I had never played, and thus were totally new to me), BUT ALSO, people are still writing IF.

Oh. My. Gorgeous.

There were competitions. New games being put out all the time, from new and experienced authors, constantly experimenting with the genre, creating genres within the genre...

Many games can be found to play online at  There's also much info there that might be useful to you if you're just starting out. Believe me, I've just scratched the surface of what IF encompasses (there are whole multiplayer text-gaming virtual worlds out there, folks.  I can't allow myself to get sucked into that, but it so exists.  It's ridiculous!)--but just scratching the surface is enough to make one really quite obsessed.

So in the months that followed, I became an addict and probably needed therapy. Instead, I went back to college and forfeited all my game playing time for socialization. Uh. Studying. I mean studying.

Well, I know I'm technically not allowed to play IF, because I tend to get addicted and forget to eat and sleep and go to work and stuff, but after that text adventure/interview in my last Fiction Friday blog, I have to admit I wanted to play again, and...okay, okay.  So I got back into it.  A little.  I'm not addicted.  I can quit any time.  SHUT UP.

For the time being, I only have internet (that isn't borrowed) in the a phone, a barely smart phone that probably rode the short bus, but that didn't stop me. There are several free apps available that interpret text based games for you to play on your phone.  I highly recommend that you try, because it's a lot of retro fun.

Twisty is a popular and highly downloaded app, but it gave me problems on my phone. I downloaded ZMPP Free from Google Play. It still has some issues, but it mostly behaves itself.  AND it includes a large library of games you can download, that are accessible from the app itself without having to go searching online for them (as you do with Twisty).

If you're interested, some games I recommend are ZORK (I never made it through, and honestly prefer shorter games, but some of the ridiculously hard classics are fun even if you can't find your way out of the twisty mazes), Shade (this one is seriously weird, but it's an interesting take on IF), Pick Up The Phone Booth and Die, The Forgotten Nightmare (it's Christian IF, and unfortunately in a way that annoys me, but the actual puzzles and such are fun and not extremely difficult-I downloaded this straight from Google Play, not through ZMPP), Aisle (another weird, but fun, take on IF, Curses (another one I'll never make it all the way through), Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which was co written by Douglas Adams, himself), and Violet.

Just so you know, walkthrus are available for most games if you're stuck (just Google for them, or perhaps find something on the website I listed above), and I almost always have to cheat by using them. A lot of games also have hints included if you type "hints" or "help" into the command prompt.

Happy retro adventuring!  WAGONS HO!

I just had to say it one more time, because apparently, I'm still a four year old.

1 comment:

  1. So that's what the smart girls did while I was playing Barbies. Good to know :)