Myke Olson
September 10, 2002
LCC 4400
Text-based Adventure Games (Week 4)

All Different?

My experience with games like 'Adventure' is limited. I've tried to play them in the past, but as hard as I tried, it could not contain my interest for longer than 60 seconds. Below is a sample transcript of a session with 'Adventure.'

At End of Road
You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building.  Around
you is a forest.  A small stream flows out of the buidling and down a gully.
>enter building
That's not something you can enter.
In Forest
You are in open forest, with a deep valley to one side.
In Forest
In Forest
In Forest
In a Valley
In Forest
Are you sure you want to quit?  YES!!!!!!!!

Perhaps my dis-interest in games like Adventure has to do with my early experience with computers and my expectations of what they can do. My very first computer experience was in 1st and 2nd grade, where I played with "Logo" on the computers in the school library. Logo was a simple programming language where you controlled a turtle on the screen. You would issue commands like "north 20", "turn right", "pen up", etc. Instead of seeing text saying that you're in a forest, the turtle (a small triangle) would move up on the screen and draw a line from where he was to the current location. As you learned more commands, you could change the background color, the pen color, and make the turtle do even more movements. "Logo" was the beginning of a painting program for the computer. You could make fairly complex drawings or just scribbles around the screen, even better than an Etch-A-Sketch. When you were done, you had something that you had created, that you could print out. With a game like Adventure, all you have is text. There's no pretty colors or fancy designs, just text. When you've spent days trying to find your way to the cave and then through the passages, you quit and that's it....nothing to bring home to hang on the fridge.

Some people may not even classify "Logo" as a game; it could also be called a programming language or a drawing program. To me, though, the abstraction of having a turtle that you could move around made it a game. The other games I played on the computer in my younger days were the Stickybear series. We had Stickybear Math, Reading Comprehension, and so on. The Math game consisted of brightly-colored graphics of bears in a factory. Numbers would scroll across the screen on a train and you would have to do the calculation represented by the different blocks before the train went by (i.e. 1 + 4 is 5).

Computers became interesting to me because of what you could do with them. In my younger days, I was amazed at the cool graphics and amount of entertainment provide by Stickybear and his friends. Today, one of the reasons that I have chosen a Mac is because of what I can do with it. For example, for my Mother's 50th birthday, I created a tribute film, showing baby pictures and vacation pictures and Christmas pictures from the past 50 years, using iMovie and then burned that to a DVD that she can play on the DVD player at home. That's impressive stuff that you would only expect someone in Hollywood to be capable of, but I could do it with my Mac at home. You also get a finished product that you can view for years to come (even if it won't stick to the fridge).

Adventure is not the first text-based game that I've seen, either. Back in high school, some of my friends would play NetHack. You have the same kind of text-based movements, but you would also see a text-based map on the screen of the dungeon you were in. You could only see obstacles and enemies as far as your torch would display, but you could see the walls of the room. You were represented by an @, some things were .'s or *'s or % or whatever... One of the things that made NetHack unique is that it approached the level of a MUD where you would play with other characters over a network. It was too difficult for me to memorize the key of what symbol represents what type of character or object and (just as with MUD's) I could not even get to the point where I would find other people to talk to, so it wound up having the same boring effect as Adventure for me.

My interest in programming also came from this desire to create something. I can create a program that solves a particular problem, like displaying an inventory of computer parts. Even if it's only text-based, I created it. Most games typically destroy something -- you kill people, animals, burn down buildings -- and that's what make them interesting to some people. Adventure doesn't have either of're not creating anything and you're not destroying anything either. You're wandering around a forest. That may be fun to do In Real Life, because you can find brightly-colored frogs or poisonous snakes or trees that have existed for hundreds of years that tower above you. With Adventure, the most exciting part is the alternating between bold and plain white text.

I can recognize the historical significance of games like Adventure, but having grown up in a time where computers already had floppy disks, whole KILOBYTES worth of memory, and multiple color displays, I was spoiled with technology and not able to see the more simple, text-based games as fun. When I see the text "You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different," I can't help but think that's not true. It's just text, how different can it be? I wonder what it would have been like to grow up in that world, but alas, I will never know.