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Text Adventuring

(Sun Sep 4 10:42:48 2011)

Games where the imagination actually still plays a part

Text games are awesome. Unlike most of todays games, they don't require some super graphics card. They don't need a huge screen. They don't even force you to spend hours at a time just trying to jump over a box while turning just so, only to realize that you ran out of bullets two bad guys ago. Well, ok, they might do that - but they do it so artistically!

Text games are limited only by the skill of the writer and the breadth of the imagination. Unlike most action games, there is time to think about your actions... if a text adventure bad guy is menacing you with a sword, you can sit there for an hour before you make any move, and you'll not be killed outright. Oh, you may make a wrong move, and be forced to restore (or undo), but you don't need to watch a lengthy death scene first.

And what do I, personally, enjoy about text games? That's easy - I can write them! I love writing little descriptions of things:

>x bookcase
The dusty wooden bookcase covers an entire wall, and reaches almost to the ceiling; books litter the shelves, leaned against each other or stacked on their sides. Other items are scattered amongst the books as well: a miniature Grandfather Clock, a dead potted plant, and what appears to be a very lifelike stuffed rabbit. One book in particular stands out - probably because its cover seems to be made of steel plates.

That description of a mere bookcase tell the reader about all sorts of interesting things - a few items, like a rabbit (that undoubtedly IS alive) and a book with a steel cover. Unlike a video game, which expects the player to notice details on their own, a text adventure tells players in detail about the things they see. If you look at the book, you could get another two or three sentences about it (and probably a hint that you should read it). You'd get a few more sentences about the rabbit, the clock, and everything else, too! Imagine that in a book; there would be a hundred pages of nothing but descriptions, and that's just the first few rooms! But that's the beauty - if you don't want to look at something, you don't have to. Unlike, say, Moby Dick, where you are forced to read the two page description of the tavern, you can skip staring at the door frame and go straight to what's interesting.

I love text adventures because a few words paint a picture that a video game never could: The dust in the main street hangs in the hot, still air; the faint buzz of flies near the watering trough is the only sound. The Saloon is north, and the door to Jeb's Livery and General Store is south. East leads father into town. At the west end of the street, Black Bart waits, his arms crossed.

See? You already have a picture of the scene in your mind - a typical Western town, with the antagonist waiting at one end of a street. If, in your imagination, you look closer at an object, it doesn't get grainy, or suddenly poke through your face, or get weird angles on it. In fact, while you look at that image in your mind, nothing leaps out at you, distracting you from whatever you're looking at!

But that's not the only reason I love text games, of course. Text adventures cover as many topics as books, with one addition - second person. In books, the narrator may use first person ("I looked out across the desert...") or third person ("She climbed through the fence into a brand new world!"), but never second person ("Pulling the lever, you activate the sliding door."). Text games, however, use all three of those. You can direct the actions of a single person, who describes scenes for you in the first person; the game may treat your actions as commands that you yourself are doing, and describe it in the second person); or, you can direct the actions of several people, and the game describes things in the third person.

Unlike video games, mysteries or art games are completely possible. Games range from action-based games with knights, warriors, and flying arrows, or space-age science fiction, to simple romances or perplexing mysteries. There are games where you have to escape the creeping terror, and there are games where you tour an art gallery.

This is perfect for me. I love books; all sorts of books - mysteries, westerns, sci-fi, fantasy, even those cheap action books with flat characters and a copy-paste storyline. Adding the ability to be part of the action is just icing on the cake! But even better than that is the ability to write these adventures. If I were to write for 10 hours straight, I could probably write a short story - you could read it in a few minutes. In the same amount of time, I could probably write a basic adventure with two or three rooms, and probably even a complete storyline - and it would take you half an hour or so to complete, if I work it right. Why could I do more with the text adventure - especially when I'm technically writing code as well as text? It's simple, really; the story is user-driven, rather than author-driven. At least in part, anyway. If I start a book, I read the first sentence, the second sentence, and on and on until I read the very last sentence and put down the book. When I play a text adventure, though, I may read the description of the room, first, but after that, who knows? I may read some descriptions a few times, and other descriptions may never be read. And then there are all the parts I'll never write, but a user will do - picking things up, putting them down, moving from room to room, opening doors, locking windows, and so on. If all I described were two rooms - one with a safe, one with a key on a table - and a generic hallway (of six segments), each of which has a single picture. That's three room descriptions (since the halls are all the same), six pictures, a table, a key, and a safe. But someone going through this adventure would look at each picture, at the description of each room, and so on - it would take them longer to go through the adventure than it would for me to write it, assuming they stopped and looked at most of the stuff.

Which leads me to the final paragraph of this rather lengthy blag. I'm currently working on two adventures - one of which I started way back in 2003, and the other I started less than a month ago. They're in beta testing now, but I'll be uploading them to a competition before the end of the month (September, as it is). I'll let you know how that goes, eh?



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This blag is tagged: Programming, Textgames, All