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:

September update
30 days ago – Fri, Sep 02, 2022 at 12:16:30 AM

Hi, backers!

Aaron here from "50 Years of Text Games" with a monthly status report.

Progress Update

The first pass at layout for the main book is finished! This is an important stage to reach, because I now have a much more accurate estimate on page count, which helps for getting accurate quotes on printing and shipping. There are still a few things left to go in, including the index, and I may still go back to add one more map or two, but it's great to be getting to the final few percentage points. Copyediting also continues apace, and I've sent draft chapters out to folks who indicated on their surveys they were involved with a game featured in the book. Lots of tweaking and refining still to come, but the bones of the full book are at last in place!

In September my main focus will be on writing and laying out the content for the bonus Further Explorations book. Last week I was knee-deep in the history of hacking simulators, and this week have been replaying some of the great parser IF wordplay classics: games that use the delightful ambiguity of language to create uniquely literary interactive stories (Emily Short's Counterfeit Monkey is one wonderful example). I've also been working on some other content and logistics for the Ultimate Collector's Edition; I should have some interesting prototypes and snapshots to share by next month's update. 

Laying out the "Hacking Sims" article from Further Explorations in InDesign

Other News

  • Ebook consultant: I'm looking for someone to help me prepare the digital version of the 50 Years book later this year. If you have experience working with prepping complex ebooks via InDesign export, ebook stylesheets, and in particular if you're familiar with accessibility issues for making screen-reader compatible ebooks, and are potentially interested in a paying gig (or know someone who is), please reach out to aareed at gmail.
  • BackerKit surveys are now closed, which means you can no longer upgrade your pledge or add extra items to your order. You can still update your address or credit card details if necessary over the next few months, and I'll give plenty of advance notice before these fields are locked.
  • I've had more discussions with shipping and order fulfillment companies than I care to admit, and am getting close to having final shipping prices for all regions ready to announce, hopefully sometime this month.
  • I'm hearing reports from other book projects that due to everything from pandemic aftereffects to paper shortages to port delays, getting large book orders fulfilled is sometimes taking months longer than originally anticipated. I budgeted time for some delays when I originally estimated a delivery date of January 2023, but it's looking now like books might not make it to your doorstep until later in 2023. I'll keep folks posted with the best estimates I have as the project moves forward.

That's all for this month, but I'll leave you with something fun. As part of getting the Ultimate Collector's Edition prepped, I did something I haven't done in a hot minute: bought a box of floppies. Yes, you can still get them new, believe it or not. Now I just need to put some important data on one, forget to label it, and shove it in the back of a desk drawer to fully transport myself back to 1991...

Take care and keep in touch,


BackerKit Surveys sent!
about 2 months ago – Thu, Aug 11, 2022 at 03:58:17 PM

A brief but important update: all backers should now have been sent a BackerKit survey link via email. Please fill out your survey as soon as possible! 

  • Surveys will remain open until August 24th. I'm setting the deadline early because I need to lock down things like exact order counts, credits in the book (the master file of which needs to be 100% finalized and delivered to the printer about six months before you're going to receive it), and especially backer addresses (so I know how many backers are in which countries and can finalize fulfillment quotes for international shipping).
  • You can only adjust your add-ons or pledge tier until August 24th, so if you have any changes you'd like to make to your order, now's the time!
  • After the 24th, you'll still be able to update your shipping address via the same BackerKit link until books are ready to ship later in the year. I'll notify you in advance of when addresses need to be locked down.
  • If you missed or can't find the survey email, check your spam folder, and make sure you're checking the email inbox associated with your Kickstarter account. If you still can't find it, try using the page here to have it re-sent

A few folks have expressed concern about the shipping charge not yet being finalized. I am working on getting this number locked down for you all. Just to be clear, everyone will be notified once the shipping charge is finalized, and you'll have a chance to review the total charge for shipping and any add-ons or upgrades via BackerKit well before cards are charged. If at that time you feel the shipping fee is unreasonable, you'll be able to cancel your order and I'll issue a full refund for your Kickstarter pledge. 

Thanks for getting those surveys filled out, and I'll be back in early September with a project progress update.


BackerKit Surveys are coming!
about 2 months ago – Thu, Aug 04, 2022 at 11:32:05 PM

Hi, 50 Years backers-- one very important update and some other news following.

BackerKit Surveys

First, I'm almost ready to send you links to your BackerKit surveys. Please review this important info from BackerKit below, especially if you haven't filled out one of these before:

  • Soon (within the next week), you’ll receive an email from us with a special link to your BackerKit survey. It’s essential to respond to your survey as quickly as possible since we need this information to fulfill your rewards.
  • You do not need to create a BackerKit account to fill out your survey. When you receive the email with the survey, click the survey link to respond. Answer the questions about your reward preferences, provide shipping information, and purchase add-on items if you like. You don’t have access to this survey link yet, but it will be available soon via email!
  •  If you want to upgrade your pledge to a higher tier, or add on additional items to your order, this will be the last chance to do so! In particular, the next few weeks will be the last chance to order an Ultimate Collector's Edition if you might still want one.
  • After you respond to your survey, you can go back later and change your responses at any time before we close the surveys and get our final counts. Surveys will remain open until August 24th. 
  •  Due to the volatility of shipping prices globally right now, shipping fees for this project will be calculated at a later date once we have the best estimates for everyone. We plan to enter & charge backers for shipping a month or two before fulfillment when we have better estimates of what it will cost to ship backers rewards. We will alert backers when shipping costs are finalized & before we charge your cards in your BackerKit survey. The shipping fee you will see on your survey now will not be the final amount, and will be updated at a later date. We will keep you informed all along the way!
  • If you need to review your information or pledge status, you can return to your survey by clicking the link in your survey email or requesting your survey link under “Lost your survey?” on our BackerKit project page at https://50-years-of-text-games.backerkit.com.
  • If you used your Facebook credentials to log in to your Kickstarter account, the BackerKit survey is sent to the email address you use for your Facebook account. If you have another email address that you prefer to use, please contact support at https://50-years-of-text-games.backerkit.com/faq.
  • After surveys are sent, if you did not receive the email, and you Signed in with Apple through Kickstarter, your email address might be a private relay email address. We can help locate your survey and update your email address: please message us through Kickstarter with your Backer ID # found on your Kickstarter confirmation. You can learn more about your email hiding for your Apple ID here. 


If you pledged for an Ultimate Collector's Edition, one of the rewards was an 11" x 17" map of a game from the book. I'm pleased to unveil the final designs for the three available maps!

 Map #1 is a node map of all the choice pages in the very first Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Cave of Time. Deaths are noted with captions like "Fell off cliff riding woolly mammoth." The famous opening instructions on the first page of the book are faintly visible behind the node map.

Map #2 shows the city of Rockvil from Infocom's A Mind Forever Voyaging. This was one of Infocom's largest maps. The opening text from the short story that came with the game about Perry Simm's simulated childhood is faintly visible in the background.

Finally, Map #3 shows an ASCII continent map generated by the original public release of Dwarf Fortress.

Also, some good news: many people asked me during the campaign if it would be possible to add a map to an existing order. I'm happy to announce the maps will be available individually as add-ons on your BackerKit pledge management page! This is a great way to get an Extremely Ultimate Collector's Edition if you want to collect all three, or to add a single map to a lower-level pledge tier. Please note that the maps will be shipped in the same package as your book order and will be folded in quarters to ship flat.

Progress Update

Since the campaign ended I've been hard at work finishing the layout for the book: I've been working through it chronologically and coincidentally just finished Dwarf Fortress (2006). It's been so great to revisit each piece (some of which were first written more than two years ago) for some revisions, editing, and extensions: there's so much great material I collected for each game, so fitting little bits of it in in sidebars and footnotes is a ton of fun!

Speaking of editing, I also hired a professional copyeditor to turn an experienced eye on the entire 250,000 word text of the book. Emily Morganti has a long background in the games industry, and previously edited the 2020 book The Sierra Adventure among other projects. I'm thrilled to have her onboard, and her work has already proved invaluable in making the text the best it can be.

In the next month, I'll be continuing layout while also working on the content for the Further Explorations bonus book.

Other News

 Thanks all for now-- keep an eye open for those BackerKit survey links, and hope your August is off to a great start!


2 months ago – Wed, Jul 20, 2022 at 08:50:19 PM

Hi backers!

I took a much-needed week off in the wake of Kickstarter wrap-up, backpacking in California's High Sierras. It was gorgeous and provided some much-needed rejuvenation!

But that's enough pretty pictures, we're here to talk about text. This week I'm back at my laptop, diving into finishing up the last of the book's content and layout, and tackling the exciting logistical challenges of arranging to get it printed and distributed to all you lovely folks. I wanted to deliver a quick update answering some common questions and letting you know the latest timeline for various steps in the process.

Where do I enter my address and pledge details? In a few weeks (hopefully first week of August), you'll get an email from BackerKit with a link to fill out your backer survey. This will let you specify your shipping address, and set any particulars related to your pledge tier (including your acknowledgements credit if you pledged at a level that supports one). Stay tuned for more news on that soon. 

Can I update my shipping address later? Yes; after surveys go out you'll be able to log back in and update details until two "lock" dates:

  • Pledge level, add-ons, and pledge tier questions: locked mid-August
  • Final shipping address: locked December

I'll give plenty of notice in advance of the exact dates as they're approaching.

Can I still upgrade my pledge tier or buy additional books? When your BackerKit survey goes out, you'll be able to do these things also via the BackerKit portal.

Can I back late or can a friend still pre-order? Yes: new backers can put in pre-orders here

Will any pledge tiers sell out before BackerKit surveys go live? It's looking like the pace of pre-orders means this will not be a problem, though the Ultimate Collector's Edition tier will likely sell out within a few weeks of BackerKit surveys being sent.

What's the timeline for the various rewards?

Bookstore tier: you should have received an email from me with more information.

Physical books: early 2023

Digital books: early 2023

Online portal (Hardcover tier and up): early 2023

Feelies box (Ultimate Collector's tier and up): early 2023 (will ship in same package as physical book order)

Video consultation (Patron tier and up): you'll be contacted in early August to schedule this.

Acknowledgment in book: you'll be able to specify how you want this credit to appear when you get your BackerKit survey link in early August.

Commission tier: you should have received an email from me with more information.

What's the timeline for the rest of the project? Current best estimates, though note these are subject to change as supply chain and pandemic issues continue to ripple across the world:

Early August: Backer surveys sent out

Mid August: Backer surveys locked and order quantities finalized

September: Book content and layout finalized

early October: Master files sent to book printer

December: Backers pay final shipping charges. Backer shipping addresses locked down.

January: Books arrive at fulfillment center and shipped to backers.

February: Book officially released; online portal goes live; books remain for sale until initial print run sells out.

A couple other quick links:

I'll be back with another update in early August with more details about your backer surveys, and will keep you posted with project updates at regular intervals going forward. Now, back to the InDesign mines to finish getting this tome laid out...


3 months ago – Sun, Jul 10, 2022 at 03:02:34 AM

When I launched this project, I was pretty sure I could hit my goal of $29,000, and thought maybe if all went well I could get as high as $75K. After I hit that in less than 24 hours, I assumed it was all thanks to fans of my Substack series who came out to show their support on day one. “Maybe I can get to $125K,” I thought. When I hit $200K I thought there was no way I could make it to $300K. At 300 it seemed like there simply wasn’t enough time to make it any higher than maybe 350. On Tuesday I somehow hit $400K; someone predicted I’d reach 500 but I thought there was no possible way.

The campaign has now ended at $523,813 pledged and 5,975 backers. The number of times you folks have exceeded my expectations has gone beyond counting. Thanks for your support of this beautiful genre of literary games I love so much, and my project of sharing their stories. I can’t wait for you to hold this book in your hands!

The pace of updates will slow down a bit now that the campaign’s over, but I’ll keep steady updates coming as I move through the process of finishing layout and bonus content, assembling extras, finalizing orders, printing, shipping, and delivery. A few priority updates:

  • Pre-orders are now available on BackerKit. If you know anyone who missed the campaign, this is a way you can still reserve a copy of the book. You can also upgrade your pledge via BackerKit while supplies last (you need to be logged in with the same email you used to back the Kickstarter). All editions of the book are available, however the Ultimate Collector’s Edition will likely only be on sale for a limited time due to a cap on some of the item quantities in the feelies box, so if you wanted a copy of this, please reserve one soon.
  • At some point later this summer I will finalize order quantities, at which point the BackerKit store will have a limited inventory of each item. Editions will remain on sale via BackerKit until they sell out or we’re close to the shipping date.
  • Remember that shipping was not included as part of your pledge. You’ll pay shipping via BackerKit later in the year. Shipping estimates are available on the campaign page (scroll down to near the bottom).
  • I’m actively researching ways to lower shipping costs for backers outside the US, especially UK/European backers who represent a big share of total orders (thanks folks!!) but I don’t have anything definitive to announce yet. I’ll share news in a backer update if I work something out!

I’m going to take a much needed break for a week or so to celebrate and regroup, but I’ll be back later in the month with more details about timelines for various pledge rewards. Thanks again for your support of this project. I’m so excited to be bringing it to life!

Finally: here’s another crowdfunding campaign that could use your love. [I] doesn’t exist describes itself as “a text adventure modernized with AI technology and pixel art,” and looks super cool. Here’s their blurb:

The cold stone floor beneath your hands brings you to a moment of consciousness. A gentle gust of wind brushes past your cheeks. Back again? Or have you never left? A heartbeat - not your own but of a safe. Neatly tucked away, protected from intruders, holding the key to your salvation. Your salvation - just beyond that door. It's everything you could ever want. All you need to do is: Get. Out. That. Door.

Gameplay gif for I Doesn't Exist

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