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Right now is a pretty exciting time for anybody who happens, like me, to be excited about the modern legacy of text adventures.

Earlier this year, a previously lost piece of interactive fiction from 1974 called Wander was uncovered, claiming the popularly recognised "earliest surviving text adventure" crown from 1976's Colossal Cave Adventure. Not only is that an awesome piece of gaming history to have accessible to the world, but it also builds for Linux! Woah!

The Interactive Fiction Competition is celebrating its 22nd year of bringing together and celebrating contemporary text oriented works. This year's 58 entires were made public at the beginning of October and will remain open for voting until November the 15th.

Bridging the gap between the past and the present is The Year Of Adventure, a year long game jam that celebrates Colossal Cave Adventure's 40th anniversary (I'm looking forward to sharing the submission I've been working on soon!).

But these things are not what I'm writing about today - I mention them to highlight that the text adventure/interactive fiction space is active and vibrant. There are probably more people making games that fit within the traditional text/hypertext adventure genre right now than there were in the 70s. This is a wonderful thing.

image

Beyond Inform and Twine, past TADS and Inkle, there are some developers who are exploring how text oriented games might make use of more modern input devices and design sensibilities. The keyboard is a fantastic tool, but can we incorporate analogue axes into the experience? Traditional text parsers are great, but are there ways they can be enhanced to be more efficient and intuitive? Text on its own is capable of creating imagined spaces that are beyond practical for a graphical game, but are there ways that text experiences can be enhanced by audio/visual elements?

Two games attempting to answer some of these questions are Trackless and Code 7, both of which have current crowdfunding campaigns that would welcome your support.

Disclaimer: Bwarp! Bwarp! I consider Trackless' developer Aubrey to be a friend, and am looking forward to building a friendship with Code 7's developers Goodwolf, who seem like super nice people!


German based studio Goodwolf frames Code 7 as a "next gen text adventure", which uses music, voice acting, character portraits and some neat glitch effects to enhance the game's atmosphere. Players take on the role of Alex, a member of a two-person team tasked with investigating the unexpected radio silence of humanity's first intergalactic space station.



Working through a computer interface, Alex guides and instructs other characters as they move around and explore the mysteriously abandoned station, creating a sense of teamwork and cooperation that helps characterisation and relationships carry weight. In addition to typing sequences for interacting with a computer terminal (which has tab completion!), Code 7 features the type of dialogue system one would normally find in a point and click adventure and a "hacking" interface that exposes increasingly complex puzzles.

Code 7 feels like it takes some of the presentation that text adventures are known for and streamlines interaction by replacing a text parser that needs to be able to interpret varying sentence structures with simple command lists. By using numeric options to allow players to select dialogue options, "talk woman" becomes "Please help me... something is here!," and the player is better able to interpret and express Alex as a character.


At the time of writing, Code 7 has a mere 4 days left on its Kickstarter campaign, but at 87%, it seems that it will scrape through. There's a playable prologue episode available for download on Itch.io - download it, give it a try and leave some thoughts in the comments!



Trackless is being developed by 12 East Games, a small US studio founded by Aubrey Serr (whose work on Overgrowth and Receiver may be familiar to Linux users). Players play as a "seeker", a person who has taken on a commitment to fulfill a set of demanding trials that will ultimately lead to a mysterious monolith known as The Object.



As the Seeker, the player must explore a diverse set of locations and interact with a range of characters who may want to help or hinder your progress. An in-game phone provides a range of unlockable special abilities and clues to assist with solving the puzzles and challenges between you and The Object.

While the trailer above doesn't entirely represent the game's final graphics, it does illustrate an interesting set of visual design choices that Aubrey is pursuing. By having objects of interest be higher fidelity and background/ambient elements lower fidelity, Trackless appears to echo the kind of content density that can be found in more traditional text adventures, where typically the more important an object, the more present and detailed it is.

Trackless brings takes traditional first person style controls and exposes varying interaction through a text prompt. Unlike the characteristic "Press E to use" found in most first person games, text entry presents a more freeform way of thinking about and expressing actions. The meaningful actions that can be performed are by nature limited to mostly fall within the actions that the game requires for the narrative to progress, but the implication of unbound possibility space can be powerful and give a sense of exploration that isn't otherwise attainable.


At the time of writing, Trackless has just recently passed 60% of its crowdfunding target on Fig.


The thing that makes me happiest to see between these two projects is that they manage to offer very different interpretations of what a modern text adventure could be, and are as far from each other as they are from my own. There's a huge amount of space to explore around text/imagination oriented experience, and it's lovely to see developers enthusiastically diving in.
0 Likes
Eike 24 October 2016 at 1:08 pm UTC
I loved Infocom's work once upon a time and played around with Inform a bit. I'd be happy to learn when (if) these games are out.
Mountain Man 24 October 2016 at 3:32 pm UTC
So what I'm seeing is that these aren't text adventures as much as they're fairly standard video games with an unconventional interface (at least by today's standards). The beauty of text adventures like the Infocom classics is that everything took place in the player's imagination, which is what made the experience so magical. These games seem to miss that aspect of it, but I suppose they don't have a choice in today's market. Trying to mass-market a pure text adventure today is, I think, a fool's errand.
tuubi 24 October 2016 at 5:21 pm UTC
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Mountain ManSo what I'm seeing is that these aren't text adventures as much as they're fairly standard video games with an unconventional interface (at least by today's standards).
"Fairly standard video games"? Does that even mean anything?

Anyway, both games seem interesting and I'll most definitely be keeping my eye on them. Thanks for the heads up, Cheeseness.
Cheeseness 24 October 2016 at 8:37 pm UTC
EikeI loved Infocom's work once upon a time and played around with Inform a bit. I'd be happy to learn when (if) these games are out.

There's a playable build of Code 7's "Episode 0" up itch.io. It works as a standalone short story IMO and is worth checking out to get a feel for what they've got in mind.


Mountain ManSo what I'm seeing is that these aren't text adventures as much as they're fairly standard video games with an unconventional interface (at least by today's standards). The beauty of text adventures like the Infocom classics is that everything took place in the player's imagination, which is what made the experience so magical. These games seem to miss that aspect of it, but I suppose they don't have a choice in today's market. Trying to mass-market a pure text adventure today is, I think, a fool's errand.

While I agree that by having visual elements and voice work, these two games leave less to the imagination than traditional text adventures (this is one reason why I'm resistant to suggestions that I should put voiced narration in Winter's Wake), their different minimalist approaches do more to push the experience into players' imaginations than most games today.

FWIW, I don't think either of these games are trying to be "mass-market".


tuubiAnyway, both games seem interesting and I'll most definitely be keeping my eye on them. Thanks for the heads up, Cheeseness.

No probs!
Mountain Man 24 October 2016 at 11:16 pm UTC
tuubi
Mountain ManSo what I'm seeing is that these aren't text adventures as much as they're fairly standard video games with an unconventional interface (at least by today's standards).
"Fairly standard video games"? Does that even mean anything?
I mean "standard" in the sense that the games present information visually rather than a pure text description.
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