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:

November update
21 days 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!


Shipping Update for UK backers
about 2 months ago – Wed, Oct 05, 2022 at 11:42:14 AM

Hi backers-- apologies for the double update, but some UK backers rightly pointed out that books should be exempt from VAT in the UK, leading to higher shipping rates for that region than expected. This was my fault and due to a communication issue between me and my European fulfillment partner (stemming from the fact that some pledge levels, including the Ultimate Collector's Edition, include non-book items which are not categorized as zero-rate for import tax purposes). I've cleared this up and been able to split UK shipping out into a new tier which is somewhat cheaper:

New UK rate in text: Softcover $18, Hardcover or Collector's $21, Ultimate Collector's $29.

Note that Ultimate Collector's Editions shipping to the UK do still include some pre-paid VAT for non-book items, so the drop is not as noticeable as for other pledge levels.

I also fixed an issue affecting a handful of backers where the free shipping credit for Patrons and above had not been properly applied if you also had purchased add-on items.

To clarify a question some people have asked: yes, unfortunately Canada is included in the "Other" region. Shipping prices from the US to Canada are ridiculously high right now for reasons I don't fully understand. I looked into adding a third fulfillment center in Canada, but I don't have enough orders from there for companies to be willing to work with me, so I'm stuck with paying international shipping rates from the US. Sorry, Canadians, wish I had better news!

UK backers should now see the updated pricing reflected on your BackerKit page. Thanks for bearing with me as I continue figuring out how to get each of these six thousand books to the right doorsteps, and thanks again to the backers who pointed out the VAT issue!


October Update
about 2 months ago – Tue, Oct 04, 2022 at 06:41:48 PM

Greetings backers! Hope you're excited to fall into fall (or spring into spring, depending on your hemisphere). 

I'll lead with the big news, which is that I can now announce final shipping rates across all tiers and territories. Here are the final shipping charges:

Text summary:

US: Softcover $8, Hardcover or Collector's $12, Ultimate Collector's $14

EU, including VAT: Softcover $16, Hardcover $19, Ultimate Collector's $22

Other (UK includes VAT): Softcover $24, Hardcover $28, Ultimate Collector's $32

These rates are thankfully very similar to the prices I estimated during the Kickstarter, in fact lower in a few cases. EU rates are cheaper than estimated, for instance, due to a deal with a second fulfillment center in Europe, and also include pre-paid VAT. UK rates are unfortunately a little higher than estimated, since they don't get the EU discount (thanks Brexit), but the rates also include pre-paid VAT which wasn't true of the original estimates.  Note that VAT is only included for EU and UK addresses; if you live in any other country with an import or VAT tax, you should plan to cover it yourself.

What happens next with shipping? You can now see the final price for shipping your particular order, and for any add-ons you added to your pledge post-campaign, on your BackerKit page: if you don't have your survey link handy, you can retrieve it here. Please review these charges to make sure there's nothing erroneous or unexpected. If you have any questions about shipping or your order in general, you can contact BackerKit Support for the project here. You're also welcome to reach out to me directly via the Contact button on Kickstarter.

I will lock credit cards and charge for shipping and add-ons on November 1st, so make sure to confirm your final charge by then. I'll soon start reaching out to folks who ordered a physical item but have not yet put in an address or credit card, so if you haven't entered this information, please take care of it as soon as you can.

If you qualify for free shipping, you should see this reflected on your BackerKit check-out page listed as a "Complimentary Credit" that offsets your shipping charge. Paid Substack subscribers, backers at the Patron or Commission tiers, or local friends who've arranged direct pickup qualify for free shipping. These credits were added manually, so if you expected to get free shipping and are missing it, please contact me. Paid Substack folks, I cross-referenced you via email address, so if you used a different email between Kickstarter and Substack or obfuscated one or both as an anti-spam technique, I probably missed you: please reach out.

You'll still be able to update your shipping address any time between now and early next year, in case you move or need to change it in the meantime. I'll give notice before shipping addresses are locked down.

Other Updates

The long road of getting the book from 95% to 100% finished continued in September.

  • Folks who indicated in their survey that they'd like to leave feedback on a part of the book they were connected to sent some great corrections and addenda.
  • My copyeditor Emily continues to make deft adjustments to each chapter, paragraph, sentence, and semicolon, and it's been wonderful to see the text elevated into that higher tier of clarity and readability a good editor can help you achieve.
  • I have started some discussion about getting the digital/ebook versions produced.

I'm also nearly through researching and writing the content for Further Explorations, the Collector's Edition bonus book-- last week I learned a whole lot more about visual novels-- and I've ordered posters, packing material, and boxes for the Ultimate Collector's Edition. Here's a look at a proof for the latter, which turned out very close to my original Photoshop mock-up. A big focus once the main book is finished will be on production runs for the goodies that will go in this box.

My current goal is to send the book files to the printer by the end of October. Here's my current best estimate of the timeline from then on:

  • Initial setup & verification of print-ready files: 1 week [Nov 8]
  • Physical proof: 2 weeks [Nov 22]
  • Printing: 4-6 weeks [Dec 27]
  • Shipping, book printer to fulfillment centers: 7-10 weeks [Feb 21]
  • Port delays: 1??-6+?? weeks [Mar 15]
  • Shipping, fulfillment centers to backers: 1 week [Mar 22]

So my best current estimate for book delivery is late March 2023, though this could slip if shipping or port delays get worse in the interim. I'll keep folks posted on the latest.

In October, my big focus will be putting the finishing touches on the print-ready files for both the main book and Further Explorations. I'll be printing the full manuscript out at a local printer and going over it one last time with a red pen, incorporating final copyedits, and finish assembling final materials like the index. Here's what part of the "A" section looks like right now in InDesign, with the first pass of indexing complete up to around page 300 (out of 625). There will be some refinements in the second pass to, for instance, break out the many references to Adventure into additional useful subtopics:

Stuff Worth Supporting

Some of you may have been following "Critical Kate" Willært's incredible videos and blog posts on early videogame history. She's hoping to boost subscribers to her Patreon page so she can continue to do groundbreaking research into subjects like the history of playable female protagonists, the true first Easter Egg in a game, even the origin of the term "gamer" (six centuries earlier than you might expect). I'm personally a Patreon supporter of Kate's, and her work gets my highest recommendation: consider becoming a fellow patron to support her amazing scholarship.

After four years of development, my friend Raph D'Amico has launched a Kickstarter for his tabletop roleplaying game of surreal horror and strange explorations. Inspired by movies like Stalker and Annihilation, The Zone is an out-of-the-box storytelling game that requires no prep and teaches you how to play, enabling you and a group of friends to invent a story together about a doomed expedition into a weird place where anything might happen. I'm writing a scenario for the "Book of Twists" that comes with the Complete Set. If tabletop roleplaying games are your thing, I definitely recommend checking out THE ZONE! (And watch out for a cameo from yours truly in the trailer).

An annual tradition since 1995, the 28th Interactive Fiction Competition is now live, featuring dozens of new parser and choice based text games. The competition could use more participants as players and judges (you only need to play five games to be a judge). Check out IF Comp and discover a story that (who knows) might end up in the next Fifty Years of Text Games! 

That's all for this month. Thanks and take care,


September update
3 months 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!
4 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.