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:

Mystery Item #4 Revealed: would you like a hint?
5 months ago – Wed, Jun 22, 2022 at 08:59:57 AM

Happy Tuesday, folks! We’re in the doldrums-y middle of the campaign right now, so updates have slowed down: but to keep things exciting, I’ve got another reveal from the Ultimate Collector’s Edition for you.

Last week, I announced that the third mystery item from the “feelies” box was a 3.5" floppy disk containing the text of the book and a few bonus surprises.

We’ve made it to week three and the next reveal. The fourth bonus collectible to be included in the Ultimate Collector’s Edition is....


A 40-page “hint book” zine with hidden clues for all fifty games!


Image is an early mock-up: final design may change.

Hint books were common in the days when most games had puzzles. Early game companies figured out this could be a valuable secondary revenue stream: they opened 900 number phone trees and sold hint books of varying designs to desperate fans. At one point, Infocom's hint books were outselling their games (probably due to rampant software piracy).

To keep from accidentally seeing hints you didn’t need, and also probably to prevent hint books from being easily photocopied, companies used various forms of obfuscation in their hint books, from invisible ink to numeric look-ups or cyphers to cardboard decoder wheels. The 50 Years of Text Games hint book will honor this tradition by obscuring hint answers with a red pattern that your very own secret decoder wand will reveal.

Mock-up showing hint for Emily Short’s 2000 classic "Galatea."

Details:

  • 40 page pocket-sized A6 mini-booklet (4.1" x 5.8" or 105 × 148 mm)
  • Red-tinted secret decoder wand included, omg! 
  • At least one hint for each of the fifty games in the book—yes, even the ones without puzzles! For these games your decoder wand might reveal tips for playing, easter eggs, little-known secrets, or other cool factoids.
  • Don't expect comprehensive hints for each game—this is a sampler, not an omnibus!—but each will be genuinely useful or interesting, with an aim to be helpful to a first-time player just encountering each game for the first time.
  • The hintbook will only be available as part of the Ultimate Collector's Edition!
     

If you 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.) As a reminder, here’s what you get with the Ultimate Collector’s Edition tier:

  • The slipcase Collector's Edition book with the bonus “Further Explorations” book
  • A reusable display box printed with text art
  • Feelie #1: An 11" x 17" poster featuring your choice of three original maps of games from the series
  • Feelie #2: A piece of genuine computer punch tape, used to store programs in the 1970s
  • Feelie #3: The collectible floppy disk
  • Feelie #4: The 40-page hint book zine with decoder wand
  • One more mystery feelie, to be announced soon!
     

Thanks as always for your support, at any pledge level: your belief in this project keeps me going. Please keep spreading the word about the book to your networks: there’s some tips for how to do that here.

More news next week as we head into the final stretches of the campaign! Until then, take care, and I hope you find all the hints you need this week…

—Aaron

New game article (and some updates)
5 months ago – Fri, Jun 17, 2022 at 07:41:26 AM

A few quick updates today: more next week!

  • We're at almost 600% funded! 🤯🤯🤯
  • I released a bonus chapter today on the "50 Years of Text Games" blog: a look at a flawed but fascinating 1980s text game with a script by a sci-fi legend: Thomas M. Disch's Amnesia. This will be part of the bonus material available on the online portal for Premium Hardback backers and above, but not in any print version of the book. (The story behind this piece, if you're curious: it was originally one of the first articles written for the project, but I later reshuffled the set of games being covered and needed to move something else into its release year. I figured I would hold on to it for some useful future occasion, like, say, having something interesting to drop in the sluggish middle of a crowdfunding campaign...)
  • If you missed it on Tuesday, I revealed the first of three mysteries "feelies" included in the Ultimate Collector's Edition: a vintage floppy disk with the fifty main chapters from the book as ASCII text files and an original text adventure:
  • I did an interview for the newsletter of Stephen Granade (long-time interactive fiction writer and organizer of IF Comp for many years) where I talked a bit about this project, and debuted some new material from the book on the surprising differences between MUD parsers and text adventure parsers. 
  • A Twisted Tale is a graphical point-and-click adventure on Kickstarter right now, created by a talented illustrator. It's approaching its funding goal but needs a little help getting over the top!

That's it for now! If you want to help spread the word about this project, there's a helpful page of links and resources you can use to do so at the link. Thanks for your support, and more news soon,

--Aaron

Mystery Item #3 Reveal!
6 months ago – Thu, Jun 16, 2022 at 08:44:35 AM

Here we are in week two already, and the campaign is continuing its tremendous momentum, surpassing $160K raised and 1600 backers. I couldn’t be more pleased by how many fans are showing up out of the woodwork to support this project. Thank you!

A few quick updates, then it’s time for a big reveal:

  • A reminder that shipping is not part of your pledge, and will be charged separately once I know exact prices. Current estimates are on the crowdfunding page (scroll down to near the bottom). I’m in the process of trying to get cheaper rates for shipping outside the US, but can’t promise anything just yet: I’ll post an update if this comes through.
  • This July I’m honored to be keynoting NarraScope, a fantastic conference for interactive narrative fans and creators. It’s a virtual event again this year and you can get tickets now!
  • I was on the Ludology podcast talking about some of the more interesting games covered in the book.
  • I did a guest post for Gold Machine, a blog covering the classic Infocom games in depth, where I debuted some new material from the book on the classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure.

Now: how about that reveal??

When I was planning out the Ultimate Collector's Edition, which comes with a box of bonus “feelies” (echoing the cool props and handouts that came with classic text adventure games), I realized there was going to be too much cool stuff to squeeze an adequate description of each item onto the campaign's main page. So I decided to create a little suspense by parcelling out reveals of the box's contents during the campaign.

So here we are at the first reveal! Feelie #3 will be:


** a 3.5" floppy disk with a vintage label, containing the text of the book in ASCII (and a few bonus surprises)

Your disk will have a stylin’ label (designed with stone-cold vintage classic The Print Shop!) and on the disk you’ll find:

  • the full text of each of the fifty main game chapters in plain text ASCII
  • an original short text adventure by me, Aaron A. Reed (author of Blue Lacuna)
  • one or two bonus surprises, if there are any extra bytes left over!

The game will be a short but sweet original parser adventure, inspired by all eras of text games history. It’s being designed with the tool PunyInform, created to combine modern interactive fiction authoring with the tiny footprint required for older computers (or delivery media!)

I’m aware most people no longer have access to a floppy drive! Ultimate Collector’s Edition backers will also be able to access a digital download of the contents. (For the true vintage experience, though, you can get a USB floppy reader that will plug into a modern computer for about $20…)

Floppy drives were ubiquitous through the 80s, slowly giving way to CD-ROMs and downloads in the 90s. The constraints of dividing your digital life up into 1.44 megabyte chunks, the sounds of the drive as it spun up to access your files, and the unique frustrations of discovering which f$#@ing disk you'd saved that precious document on (never labelled, of course) helped define the earliest era of home computers. If you lived through it, you know; if you missed it, amaze your friends (and turn your elders to dust) by proudly showing off this ancient antique.

These floppies will only be produced for crowdfunding campaign backers (and post-campaign pre-orders before I get final counts for production), making them a unique memento and addition to your collection.

If you’re not an Ultimate Collector and want to upgrade your pledge, you can do so on the project page by clicking the “Manage Your Pledge” button. (Full instructions here.) As a reminder, here’s what you get with the Ultimate Collector’s Edition tier:

  • The slipcase Collector's Edition book with the bonus “Further Explorations” book
  • A reusable display box printed with text art
  • Feelie #1: An 11" x 17" poster featuring an original map of a game from the series (your choice of three options)
  • Feelie #2: A piece of genuine computer punch tape, used to store programs in the 1970s
  • Feelie #3: The collectible floppy disk
  • Two more mystery feelies, to be announced soon!

Thanks as always for your support, at any pledge level: your belief in this project keeps me going. Please keep spreading the word about the campaign to your networks: there’s some tips for how to do that here.

Other Projects Worth Your Time

  • I've been a fan for a while now of Geoffrey Golden's Adventure Snack newsletter, which sends tiny interactive stories to your inbox every two weeks. If you often find yourself too busy to fire up a full-length adventure (guilty as charged) it's a great and gentle way to add a little dose of interactive fiction to your email routine.

Map peeks and quick news
6 months ago – Sat, Jun 11, 2022 at 04:09:44 PM

Quick update: the campaign continues to have a great first week: we're at $137,000 and counting, over 400% funded. Incredible to see all the support for this project!!

I'll be back next week with the first reveal of the Ultimate Collector's Edition mystery box items, but a couple quick end-of-week links:

  • You might have missed it on the campaign page, but I linked to a sample chapter from the book from A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985), one of my favorites. This includes an original map of the game's fictional setting of Rockvil, South Dakota: one of the largest maps in an Infocom game. From the caption:

"Each building and intersection with a connection can be entered: stores sell goods, bars serve drinks, businesses kick you out at closing time. As the simulation progresses through future decades, the map changes as buildings are repurposed or torn down, parks are converted to condos, and shifting values and policies leave their marks on the landscape. Meretzky squeezed this textual open world into a 256K story file, smaller than a single texture in a Grand Theft Auto game."

Small detail of the map from "A Mind Forever Voyaging" in the sample chapter.
Late '70s map of the 1977 version of Adventure.

Stay tuned next week for the first big update and more news. In the meantime, I'd love your help spreading the word about this project: here's a page with helpful links and text you can use.

Have a great weekend and take care,

--Aaron

FUNDED!!
6 months ago – Thu, Jun 09, 2022 at 06:04:15 PM

What an incredible 24 hours!! Exactly 99 minutes after launch, we blasted through the funding goal of $29,000, and as of this morning are sitting pretty at $98,708, around 340% of our goal.

I don’t know what to say other than thank you! It's wonderful to see so many fans of text games show up and pledge their support to this project. So excited to know the book is definitely going to happen, and I'll do my best to make it something you all are proud to own.

Next stop: $100K!

A couple quick updates:

Ask me Anything on Reddit

Tomorrow (Thursday June 9th), I’ll be doing an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit’s popular /r/Games channel. If you’re not familiar with AMAs, it’s basically just a chance to ask someone with an interesting story or project any questions you like (on or off topic) in real time via text posts. The AMA will run Thursday from about 7am PT (10am ET) through 10am PT (1pm ET).

This is a big community with lots of general-interest games folks, so I’m a little nervous about what the reception to a book about (gasp) games without graphics might be over there. If you’ll be around on Thursday morning and wouldn’t mind dropping by to ask a question or hang out in the comments, I’d appreciate it! I’ll post a direct link on my Twitter when the AMA goes live, or you can look for the post that morning on the /r/games main page.

Help Me Signal Boost

I’ve put together a collection of resources to help spread the word about the project to your communities, including social media posts to reshare, images to post and summaries of the project. I’d love to build on this fantastic day-one momentum and keep getting the word out to wider audiences. Anything you can do to help is greatly appreciated!

Stay tuned for more news as the campaign progresses, including reveals of the three bonus "feelies" in the Ultimate Collector's Edition! This campaign's just getting started. ;)

--Aaron