50 Years of Text Games: From Oregon Trail to A.I. Dungeon

Created by Aaron A. Reed

A definitive book about the first half-century of interactive fiction.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

March update
29 days ago – Thu, Mar 02, 2023 at 04:02:26 PM

The big news this month is that the book has officially entered production!

I approved the second set of proofs after receiving them earlier this week. The tweaks we made to the printing and paper stock were both improvements, and I'm glad we took the time to get these last little details right.

The author holding up a large proof sheet showing 8 book pages.
Proud papa with his proof sheet.
Close-up of a single page from the proof sheet.
Proof of the cover for the softcover edition, corners weighed down because it shipped rolled very tight...

Printing will take a few weeks due to the size and complexity of the order, and it might be a week or two before my job makes it to the front of the queue, but very soon there will be thousands of books printed, assembled, and getting ready for the first stage of their multi-part journey to you. I couldn't be more excited!!

In other news: this week the Great Assembly happened of non-book backer rewards.  With the help of some truly dear and dedicated friends, we loaded up the majority of the 700 Ultimate Collector's Edition boxes with hint books, reproduction cassette tapes, floppy disks, and other feelies from gaming history. Between inventory management, barcoding, tallying, keeping an eye out for damaged boxes or items, and other tasks, this felt like a near-herculean accomplishment: a thousand thank-yous to the friends who helped out with this.

Boxes of materials for the Ultimate Collector's Edition, including hint books, floppy disks, and cassette tapes.
Ultimate Collector boxes staged to be filled with goodies.
Stacks of dozens of black Ultimate Collector's Edition boxes filled with goodies, wrapped and barcoded.
About 15% of the total number of boxes run through the pipeline!

These and the other bonus items (posters etc) will be shipped off soon to my fulfillment centers, who will await the delivery of the books themselves before prepping and sending everyone's final orders. Things are still looking good for the schedule I posted in my previous update:

  • Final proof approved: late Feb
  • Printing finished: late March
  • Books arrive at fulfillment centers: late May to early June
  • Shipping addresses locked: late May to early June (with notification of final date in advance)
  • Books delivered to backers and ebooks/downloads go live: mid June

If you've moved or will move and need to update your shipping address, you can do this by logging into your BackerKit page for the project. (The link will let you retrieve your survey details again if you need to re-log in.) Once you've logged in, click 'Settings' at the top of the page, and then click 'Update Address' - this will update your shipping details for all of your unlocked BackerKit surveys. I will send out advance warning to everyone before addresses get locked down, currently estimated for sometime in May.

One last note: in the months ahead as we gear up for release, keep an eye on these updates and the 50 Years of Text Games blog (which has been largely inactive since the Kickstarter as I've focused on getting the book delivered). I'll be debuting some new text game histories there throughout the spring and summer, including material from the bonus book and some of the articles being created for the Commission tier of the crowdfunding campaign. It will be great to share some writing other than project updates again!

Take care, and will continue to keep you posted,


February Update
about 2 months ago – Tue, Feb 07, 2023 at 09:35:32 AM

Hello backers! Aaron here with a few quick updates on the "50 Years" project.

I received in the mail a box of 700 floppy disks (not a thing you can say every day!), the final item for the 50 Years Ultimate Collector's Edition. Each of these contains the book's text in ASCII plus a secret bonus text adventure written for the project. (Ultimate Collector backers will also be able to access a disk image as a digital download, and the text-only version of the book will be available to all backers as a digital download option, along with more traditional PDF and EPUB formats.) The next phase will be a giant assembly party where I get the Collector's Edition contents assembled and then sent off to my fulfillment centers. This should generate some fun pictures and possibly one or two paper cuts (or whatever kind of injury you can get from mass quantities of floppy disks).

Image of a "50 Years" floppy with a retro label.

The book itself is unfortunately still in the proofing process this week. There were a couple issues with the physical proofs I got back in January, both for the interior pages and the paperback cover, which has led to a lot of slow back-and-forth with the production and print managers as we try to work out the best solutions. Changes at this point are a tricky balance because any alterations (such as adjusting the paper weight) affects half a dozen other things (spine width and thus cover art, first-mile shipping costs, etc) and different combinations of paper, coating, process, and shipping all interact in complex ways with other moving parts of the project. There have also been some Covid-related delays at the printer and other logistics slowdowns this past month. I would have loved for the book to have hit the presses by now, but I would also hate if it doesn't look the best it can possibly can, so thanks for your patience as I work to get the last of the nitty-gritty ironed out.  

Due to these delays, here are my most recent estimates for upcoming milestones and when you'll have the book in your hands.

  • Final proof approved: Feb 22
  • Printing finished: Mar 21
  • Books arrive at fulfillment centers: late May to early June
  • Shipping addresses locked: late May to early June (with notification of final date in advance)
  • Books delivered to backers and ebooks/downloads go live: mid June

If you've moved or will move and need to update your shipping address, you can do this by logging into your BackerKit page for the project. (The link will let you retrieve your survey details again if you need to re-log in.) Once you've logged in, click 'Settings' at the top of the page, and then click 'Update Address' - this will update your shipping details for all of your unlocked BackerKit surveys. I will send out advance warning to everyone before addresses get locked down when orders are preparing to ship.

That's all the update for February. I wanted to leave you with another cool crowdfunding project you might be interested in that just launched today: historian Marcin Wichary's book Shift Happens is a gorgeous two-volume pictorial history of the keyboard, filled with incredible photos and the surprisingly convoluted history of a device we all use every day. I've been in touch with Marcin on and off for the past couple years as we've each been working on our own deeply researched detailed and niche computer history projects, so I can attest how much effort and thought has gone into this book, and can't wait to get my own copy.

Images of and from the "Shift Happens" book.

Take care and more soon,


January Update
3 months ago – Thu, Jan 05, 2023 at 02:35:15 AM

Happy New Year, backers!

While the 50 Years of Text Games book moves its way into the production cycle, I've been focused on finishing up the last of the backer rewards, in particular for the Ultimate Collector's Edition. Last week I received a shipment of 700 exacting replicas of a vintage game release on cassette tape:

Boxes piled on a table, one open showing rows of cassette tapes.
A replica cassette tape and box for the 1978 double release of "Adventureland" and "Pirate Adventure."
Thanks again to Scott Adams for kindly granting permission for me to make the replicas, and David Ahl of Creative Computing for releasing all of their projects into the public domain.

For comparison, below is a reference image I'd made from vintage photographs of the real release. I'm pretty pleased with how close I was able to come to recreating it with materials available 45 years later! (There are some subtle intentional differences designed to thwart these being resold as actual collector's items, which I'll be documenting in a later blog post...) 

Photographs of original tape and liner notes for Adventureland/Pirate Adventure release.

A few weeks earlier, I received a shipment of 700 custom-made boxes to hold this and the other Ultimate Collector goodies: 

Stack of shipping boxes in my living room.
Two of the UCE gift boxes, showing spot UV text on a black background and the message "OPEN BOX" stylized like a text adventure prompt.

...and I've also got a stack of Hint Books (and 700 red-lens decoder wands) ready to go. I'm very pleased with how all these items turned out: I'm still waiting on one or two more pieces, but before long there should be a big assembly party where I'll put together the Ultimate Collector editions in advance of getting them shipped to fulfillment centers and, eventually, to the backers who pledged for them and made these awesome feelies possible.

Other project updates:

  • The book proofing process has been going slowly due to back-to-back American and Chinese holiday months. I'm still waiting on proofs of interior pages and the cover, but I'm expecting to have those in hand later this week. Once they're approved, production of the books can finally begin.
  • A lot of folks have asked me how to update your shipping address. You can do this by logging into your BackerKit page for the project. (The link will let you retrieve your survey details again if you need to re-log in.) Once you've logged in, click 'Settings' at the top of the page, and then click 'Update Address' - this will update your shipping details for all of your unlocked BackerKit surveys. I will send out advance warning to everyone before addresses get locked down when orders are preparing to ship-- it'll be a few months yet, so it's definitely not too late to update your address if you've moved since the campaign ended.
  • I'm finally getting ready to charge credit cards for add-ons and shipping next week. I'd originally planned to do this in November, but for various reasons this was delayed into the new year. You'll get an email next week from BackerKit with a two-day warning that the charge is about to happen, and another notification once the charge goes through. If you need to update your credit card info, now would be a good time to do so!

That's all for this month-- I'll keep you posted as the book moves into and through production! I'm awaiting the result as eagerly as all of you, I can assure you.

Happy New Year and take care,


December update
4 months ago – Fri, Dec 02, 2022 at 01:21:18 AM

Greetings, backers! Hard to believe it's already the last month of 2022, but here we are.

This month, I'm happy to report that 50 Years of Text Games officially entered the pre-press stage of production! 🤯🤯🤯🎉🎉🎉

Prepress is where the book printer reviews interior and cover files for any issues that might crop up in printing. My final manifest of materials to submit included a somewhat incredible 17 individual files:

  • Main book interior pages
  • Softcover Cover art (front/back/spine)
  • Softcover cover spot UV printing
  • Softcover cover art printer reference
  • Softcover inside cover art
  • Hardcover foil stamp 
  • Hardcover deboss 
  • Hardcover cover printer reference
  • Hardcover endsheet art
  • Collector's Edition sequential stamp location reference
  • Further Explorations Cover art (front/back/spine)
  • Further Explorations cover art printer reference
  • Further Explorations inside cover art
  • Further Explorations interior pages
  • Collector's Slipcase art (front/back/spine/top/bottom)
  • Collector's Slipcase printer reference img
  • Barcode sticker art (standalone hardcovers)

Whew! (And this also doesn't include any other backer rewards like the posters or Ultimate Collector's Edition items, which are being printed separately...)

The first half of my November was getting all these files prepped and ready to go: designing cover art, finalizing and triple-checking the book export, going over each page one last time to look for final errors. (I discovered at close to the last minute that the games for 2015 and 2016 both had a header year of 2015, oops!) 

Once everything was submitted, we entered prepress, and the last two weeks have been a lot of back and forth fixing small issues to make sure the print run will be as perfect as possible. This has included everything from finding better originals for some lower-resolution images, to the exact placement of the sequential numbering stamp on the Collector's Editions, to tweaking the dimensions of the barcode sticker on the back of the shrinkwrapped hardcovers. It's all very nitty-gritty stuff, but I'm pleased the printer cares as much as I do about getting these books as close to perfect as we can make them.

The next phase will be a physical proof of some of the interior book pages, a chance to verify that the paper, ink, size etc is all as expected. I should have pics of that to share next month! The physical proof stage will take another few weeks, but hopefully we'll see actual book printing starting to happen later this month. Exciting!

Other progress in November:

  • I've done a lot of onboarding with my two fulfillment centers to get them up to speed to receive my items in the new year (and me up to speed on how to appropriately send them).
  • I've firmed up plans with a firm that will be handling the ebook of 50 Years. This has involved a lot of discussion about how to make the digital version maximally compatible with screen readers and accessible to people with impaired or no vision. They delivered me a 17-page document describing their plan for adhering to best practices on this front, a good sign!
  • I've been working on the remaining feelies for the Ultimate Collector's Edition, including:
  • The Hint Book, now finished and sent off to production (at a different printer, since it needs to get finished sooner so it can get put in the Ultimate Collector's boxes and arrive at fulfillment centers at the same time as the main book... yay, logistics)
  • The bonus text adventure on the floppy disk
  • And I just submitted files for the replica cassette tape-- more details and hopefully pictures in my next update!

I think that's everything for now! Schedule-wise, we are running a few weeks behind the last estimate: I had hoped printing would have begun by Nov 15, but it's taken time to get all the ducks in a row, and I think it's well spent. My best guess at this point is that orders will arrive late April, although strikes and supply chain issues could of course throw a wrench in the works at any time. The Ultimate Collector's boxes were supposed to have gotten to me by now, but they were selected for a random customs check inspection at the port, so it will be another few days... weeks... months? Anyway I'll keep you all posted with the latest estimates.

Take care, happy holidays, and see you in the new year,


(P.S.: Like many people, I've recently shuttered my Twitter account: it no longer feels like a safe place to be, either personally or professionally. I'm on Mastodon at @aaronareed@mastodon.gamedev.place, and you can always keep tabs on me at my website, aaronareed.net.)

November update
5 months ago – Mon, Nov 07, 2022 at 05:31:23 PM

Hi, backers! It's been a heck of a busy October on this project. No big news per se, but lots of vital behind-the-scenes progress:

  • The manuscript has now gone through three complete rounds of editing, two by my wonderful copyeditor Emily Morganti and one by me (via printout and red pen in a coffee shop, no less). Literally thousands of individual changes have been made, from commas that should have been semicolons to rewriting and restructuring paragraphs to better make a point or ensure ideas flow in the best possible order. I was already pretty proud of the versions of these stories released on the Substack, but it's not an exaggeration to say literally every sentence has improved in one way or another for the final versions. Can't wait for you to read them!
3 ring binder with 50 Years of Text Games manuscript and red pen edits.
  •  The 60-page "Further Explorations" bonus book has now also been completely written and typeset, and is going through a final round of editing this week.
  • The book has also been indexed, ISBN'd, SKU'd, LCCN'd, and had various other logistical hoops jumped through this month to prepare for the eventual release. So much logistics! But logistics are boring, so we'll leave it at that...
  • Maps (for the Ultimate Collector's Edition and add-ons) have been printed and arrived from the printer. I was able to get a much better deal on printing than I'd originally budgeted for, so if you ordered an 11x17 poster as an add-on in BackerKit, I've retroactively lowered the price from $19 to $12. If you added a poster to your order, you should see the change in price reflected on your BackerKit page.
  • I've signed a final deal with both a North American and European fulfillment partner, who'll be handling packing, shipping, returns, and other related logistics of getting your books to you early next year.

As of this writing I'm about a week out from sending the book printer final production files for:

  • The 640-page "50 Years of Text Games" manuscript
  • The 60-page "Further Explorations" manuscript
  • Front/back/spine art for softcover, hardcover, and slipcase editions, plus for "Further Explorations"

Once the order is in, that will free up my time to focus on the remaining bonus items (mainly the contents of the Ultimate Collector's Edition). As mentioned in the last update, there will be a long wait (4-6 months) while the books are printed, bound, shipped around the world to fulfillment centers, wait around at the port in customs, and finally get shipped to you. This is annoying, but it's actually helpful for me in this case since I can get the rest of rewards ready to go while waiting on the books.

There's another piece of the book that I haven't talked about much, mainly because until recently I wasn't sure there would be room for it in the main volume or if it would have to be part of "Further Explorations." As layout got more and more final, it turned out I would have room for it in the main book after all. What am I talking about? Each of the five "intro" chapters for a new decade (from the 1970s through the 2010s) will feature several pages of capsule summaries of other noteworthy or interesting text games from each year in this history. If anyone remembers those old Leonard Maltin movie guides, the format is similar: some quick bibliographic details and a one-sentence capsule summary. Draft of one of these blocks below:

Sample entry for 1997.

I was ably assisted in the herculean task of assembling these entries by Duncan Bowsman, a long-time member of the interactive fiction community (and a dear friend). Duncan has an incredible knowledge of IF history, an acute eye for detail, and is a writer himself, so he was a great person to bring aboard to help me out with this part of the book, once I realized I'd bit off a bit more than I could chew through myself. Between the two of us we researched and wrote over 500 of these capsule summaries (!!) which doesn't sound particularly believable now that I've written it all out, but somehow, it happened. I'm really glad the book will offer this still selective but slightly broader peek into the fascinating variety of interactive fiction written over the past half-century, and hope skimming through these lists will inspire you to look up a few more fascinating text games.

That's all for this month! By December's update, fingers crossed, presses should be busily printing thousands of books with over six million individual pages (!!!) and I should have a revised timeline for delivery (as of now, still hoping for late March or early April). Happy Halloween, and hope your November is a good one!