Saturday, February 27, 2010

You Are Standing In An Open Field West Of A White House...

Many, many years ago before there was such a thing as the Internet, Halo, or more than 16 colors on a screen at a time, there was a quiet revolution in computer based gaming. That revolution was called Text Based Adventure! How fondly I can remember sitting in front of my dad's old Commodore 64/128 module awash in a blue glow from the computer monitor I was sitting much to close to, reading text on a screen and typing things like 'go north' so that the screen would 'move' my character forward and give me a new description of where I was. It was like reading a book, but playing a game! It was better than those lame-o Choose Your Own Adventure novels because I didn't have to turn the page hundreds of times. It was, in a word, Glorious.

Since I recently got the dreaded Red Ring of Death (no, no, it's not a VD, it's a hardware malfunction on the XBox. No, really. Here, I'll show you: RROD) I haven't had much going on in the way of electronic entertainment. No Netflix, no Trials HD, no Last.FM? What was I to do? Thankfully, as with all of life's big problems, there's an app for that. On a whim I decided to search for Zork on the App Store window. Surprisingly it shot back with this lovely gem (which is free) that contains not only an early version of my beloved Zork but also 24 other Interactive Fiction stories that range from deeply involved to deeply disturbed.

Some of them are very short games with wonderful twists (9:05) to fairly long with involved plots (An Act of Misdirection). All of them provided me with some degree of amusement and a large dose of nostalgic glee as I typed my instructions and used my mind to solve puzzles and navigate around a room/world. If you've never tried, or have never heard of Interactive Fiction let me try to explain it:

Interactive fiction is usually written in the bastard son of the tenses, second (you see a desk, you move to the tree, you do this, you do that, etc.). Each screen usually contains a description of the area you're in (detailed the first time you enter the area, truncated for each subsequent entry unless you tell the computer to 'LOOK') and lists the interactive items therein. Many of the games feature puzzles, mazes, and riddles the player must solve before moving forward or acquiring the things they need to complete the game. To move you give a command such as 'Move North' or 'North' or, if you've played a few IFs in your day, simply 'N'. The game then moves your character one 'room' to the North and gives you another description and list of interactive items. Trust me, this is fun.

IF fell out of favor in the mid 80s with the advent of Nintendo and more easily accessed graphics hardware on home computers but there is still a thriving online IF community here in the West and in Japan the craze never really died down with 'Visual Novels' accounting for nearly 70% of all PC games made there. Everyone that likes to read and think should give IF a chance.

Frotz is available on the Mac, PC, iPhone, and about a thousand other platforms. There's really no excuse for you not to give it a try.

7 out of 10 stars.

Go download this game. Now.

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