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Retrospective: Text Adventures

Interactive Friction.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

I admit it. I used to type swear words into text adventure games.

A lot of the time I wanted to see what replies the author has reserved for potty-mouthed players. It would usually be something like "How rude!" or "Wash your mouth out!" One exception was a game called Quest for the Golden Eggcup where swearing would see you thrown into "God's dungeon" from which you had to escape.

But sometimes I just couldn't help swearing. These games would drive me so mad that I'd find myself hammering out rude words without thinking. It was text adventure Tourette's and it would usually be triggered by a situation like this:

That's a particularly nasty example, though not uncommon. In text adventures, instant death was seemingly around every corner, but usually you were at least given an opportunity to save yourself. And when I say opportunity, I mean one fleeting chance to guess the correct verb-noun combination:

Infocom's original Zork adventure was included as an easter egg in Black Ops. A bit random, that.

Hopefully you'd saved your position beforehand so you could load it back up and try to kill the Orc in a variety of ways - no doubt to discover later that it only succumbed to the jewel-encrusted dagger which you received from the local blacksmith in exchange for six magic beans and a ladle.

But even when you had as many turns as required to solve a problem, you could still spend hours searching for the exact right words to enter. Take After Shock, for example, a game from Interceptor Software set in an earthquake-ravaged city. One of the early puzzles involved draining away water by opening a sluice gate in a sewer. Having attached a handle to the gate, you were told that you couldn't turn it because the gate was rusty. No problem - you were carrying a plastic bottle filled with oil.

So let's do this. "OIL GATE". You can't do that. "OIL HANDLE". Please be more specific. "GREASE GATE". I don't understand. "POUR OIL ONTO GATE". Don't be silly.


The correct words? "LUBRICATE MECHANISM". Duh.

Some solutions required a thesaurus. Others were just plain stupid, like in the old Artic adventure Espionage Island where you had to turn off some lights; there was a handy switch, but "PRESS SWITCH" or "PUSH SWITCH" wouldn't work. Naturally you needed to "SWITCH SWITCH".

Probably the most infamous example of this was found in Adventure International's The Hulk. The game began with you as Bruce Banner, alone and tied to a chair. It was pretty obvious that in order to escape you needed to become Hulk, but how were you supposed to get angry enough to transform? "BITE LIP" of course!

Thankfully the game hinted at the answer in the manual, otherwise I'd still be stuck in that chair right now. I never got much further though. The Hulk had me beat.