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:

BackerKit Surveys are coming!
4 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!


4 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...


5 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

Become a Backer Now

Final 24 hours!!
5 months ago – Fri, Jul 08, 2022 at 10:03:20 AM

We're in the home stretch of the campaign. Over 5000 backers have pledged nearly $450,000 to make this project happen: what an amazing turnout! Incredibly, this book is on track to be the one of the top three non-fiction books in crowdfunding history before the campaign ends. It's so wonderful to see so many folks excited about the legacy and the ongoing story of interactive fiction! 

Want to help spread the word? Follow the link for a page with material to share and helpful tips to get the word about the book out to your communities in the campaign's final hours.

If you want to change your pledge level or reserve add-on books (extra copies), you can still do on the project’s Kickstarter page by clicking the “Manage Your Pledge” button. (Full instructions here.) You'll also be able to adjust your pledge level on BackerKit for a limited time after the campaign ends, but available quantities of higher-tier pledge levels will be limited. (In particular, I expect the Ultimate Collector's Edition will almost immediately sell out on BackerKit, so reserve one now if you want it!)

A reminder that shipping is not part of your pledge, and will be charged later in the year when I'm closer to shipping and know exact amounts. More details about this on the project page and in the project FAQ. 

In case you missed it: some fun links that dropped during the campaign:

How am I spending the last day of the campaign? Doing page layout for the book, actually... I'm more fired up than ever to make this book beautiful and worthy of your support. 

Laying out the first few pages of the chapter on long-running MUD "Achaea," quoting one of its epic in-game events...

Stay tuned after the campaign closes for some final words on this leg of the journey... which, of course, is just getting started.


Final Mystery Item Revealed!
5 months ago – Thu, Jun 30, 2022 at 11:17:51 PM

Folks, I’ve run out of ways to express my astonishment. With a little over one week remaining, the 50 Years of Text Games book now has 3,000 backers pledging more than $280,000 to bring this book to life: almost ten times my original goal. It’s now the #2 most funded nonfiction book about games (of any kind, digital or physical) in Kickstarter history. And the pledges keep rolling in! If anyone tries to tell you no one cares about interactive fiction any more, I’m beyond pleased to provide a useful counterexample.

If you’ve been following the project for a while, you know I’ve been revealing the contents of the “feelies box” of bonus goodies in the Ultimate Collector’s Edition a week at a time throughout the campaign. As a reminder, the contents so far include:

  • A reusable display box printed with text art
  • An 11" x 17" poster featuring one of three original maps (your choice) of games from the series
  • A piece of genuine computer punch tape, used to store programs in the 1970s
  • A 3.5" floppy disk with a vintage label, containing the text of the book and a few bonus surprises
  • A hint book with hidden clues for all fifty games (and a secret decoder wand)

There’s only one item left to reveal. Without further ado, here it is!

The final mystery item from the feelies box is:

a detailed replica prop of one of the first commercially sold adventure games: a double-sided cassette of Adventureland and Pirate Adventure!

The first computer software was sold on cassette tapes, an existing analog storage medium that could be plugged into the earliest home computers before dedicated disk drives became commonplace and affordable. In 1978, Scott and Alexis Adams began selling Adventureland and Pirate Adventure out of the backs of magazines. This release was one of their earliest, predating the official launch of their company Adventure International and published instead by Creative Computing, then the leading magazine for amateur home computer enthusiasts.

Original copies of this release are now hard to find. As an exclusive backer reward for Ultimate Collectors, I’m making an exactingly-recreated modern reproduction of this historic release, letting you experience what it was like to unbox it and hold in your hands.

The replica features:

  • A real cassette tape, with labels on each side replicating the lettering and layout of the original release
  • a plastic case with a reproduction of the original case insert
  • the small folded instruction booklet inside the original cassette box
  • The tape won’t include the original game data, since I don’t have the rights to redistribute it... but there just might be something loaded on there.
Part of the case insert for the original release; this will be recreated in high resolution for the replica prop.

I reached out to Scott Adams earlier this year and received his blessing to make this replica prop a reality. (He's still making games, by the way, 44 years later—check out his latest projects at clopas.net!) Scott in turn reached out to David H. Ahl of Creative Computing, who in response confirmed that he’s released all of the Creative Computing legacy into the public domain. Creative Computing showed up multiple times in the 50 Years blog series; I’m super excited that this great material is now freely available for new generations to learn from and be inspired by.

Note that your replica cassette will contain a few minor differences from the original, to keep it from being confused with an authentic copy (especially in light of the recent scandal about forgeries of old games!) These differences will be clearly advertised once the replicas are ready to go into production.

This will be a wonderful prop you can put on display or pull out to impress your friends with: a real physical connection to a bygone era of computer games.

It’s not too late to pledge for any edition of the 50 Years book, if you haven’t joined the adventure yet! If you’ve already pledged and want to upgrade to the Ultimate Collector tier, you can do so on the project’s Kickstarter page by clicking the “Manage Your Pledge” button. (Full instructions here.)

We’ve got one more week of this campaign left. What an incredible journey it’s turned into! We’ll see where the last few hills and turns of this roller coaster take us.

A few other projects worthy of your time before I sign off:

  • Kandria is an indie open-world RPG with a big focus on story and character. They’re hoping to reach some stretch goals that will let them open up their custom level editor and narrative scripting engine Speechless (inspired by Ink) to modders. Check out the project page to find out more!
  • Need even more books about games in your life? The latest volume of Brett Weiss’s series on console games just finished crowdfunding and is still available for pre-order. Check out The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998if you’re interested in colorful, in-depth looks at some of the biggest games from this seminal period.

That’s all for now—take care and talk soon!