krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Checking the Planet IF aggregator weblog might not get me any closer to playing text adventures on a regular basis, but I do see interesting things on it. This morning, I happened to see a first report a digital archiver had put the source code of the canonical Infocom games (and a few incomplete, unreleased projects) on a program repository, and it was the added comment that this was a very grey area of “information archiving” that engaged my digital packrat instincts and had me downloading the files.

I’ve dabbled a bit in Inform 7, which compiles to run on the “Z-Machine” that allowed Infocom’s text adventures to be ported to multiple systems simple and complex, but this programming language was developed after Infocom had gone out of business. ZIL, the language Infocom used, looks much more forbidding and quite distinct from the six previous versions of Inform as well, although there have been recent attempts to recreate it. In reflecting on “possible insights on games I could already play,” I did happen to think of the rediscovery of a long-known-of third version of “Wumpus,” and how source code in BASIC is still more my speed.
krpalmer: (apple)
Along the endless road of fiddling around with old computer games and programs via emulation, my thoughts began bending back to a destination I'd touched on before. It wouldn't be long until The Digital Antiquarian got to 1993; he might cover the CD-ROM game Myst, and that coverage might even be positive. While I don't often "play along" with the games that site visits, I could imagine making an exception in this particular case. The only problem was that as I contemplated doing that, I knew I could almost manage playing "the game as first released."
One challenge after another )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Delving into "old computers" may be no better or worse than any other form of "catching up now on what you missed out on at the time," but I can suppose it doesn't have to be as expensive as something like collecting old toys. The only problem there is that it doesn't have to be as expensive because one way to find documentation and applications is to dig into obscure archives for scans and disk images instead of the more upright method of buying actual products from whatever sources there may be. Still, when one archive being updated right now with new "cracks" of Apple II disks made before their physical media demagnetizes altogether had one of the very first versions of Zork I show up, I saved a copy of the disk image. In the process of realising there'd been one version even before it for the TRS-80, looking through the older archives for that computer, and pondering if the specific "Z-Machine" data files for those versions could be extracted and played outside of hardware emulation (it took looking in a third, interactive fiction-specific archive for patch files and installing a command-line interpreter), I did get to contemplating what else I might have missed in the first archive. When I searched for a particular piece of software, all of a sudden I'd completed another quest that had been going on for a while already.
Choosing adventure )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
I often suppose one part of what motivates me to seek out information about the computers of the 1980s, one particular subject among a good many others, is the sense I was around at the time but not quite aware of a lot of things outside the amiable corner of the Radio Shack Color Computer. That sense can be carried too far, though. My related interest in the text adventure games dignified with the name interactive fiction does have something to do with my family having been given a copy of the Infocom adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which first made me aware of adventure games that could accept more than two words at a time and then suggested in a catalog there was a whole line of other games like it. The only problem was that the regular hints offered for the game in the Color Computer magazine The Rainbow never quite explained how to solve its last and most elaborate puzzle. When I did manage to make out the faded hints in a high school acquaintance's old hint book, the sense of it being too late to play any other Infocom game was right to the extent of the re-release collections having less elaborate packaging and being for more elaborate computers.
Advantages to the passing of time )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Something about reading news about text adventures and interactive fiction every day but seldom getting around to playing any of those games I read about can get to me just a bit. On one trip to the Interactive Fiction Database, though, a new review on the front page managed to pique my interest and point me onward. For all the games I haven't played, I do still seem to have picked up enough knowledge of "familiar adventure genres" that a game promising to poke fun at "the psychological landscape of an incapacitated protagonist" evoked amused expectations. I downloaded Ryan Veeder's "Nautilisia" into my iPad's interactive fiction interpreter and started into it.
The adventurous push )
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
I've been keeping my "other" online presence running, although I haven't had to say much about it here to keep up the pretence of regular updates. Part of keeping my Tumblr topped up is to use its queue, although this does sort of detach me from what hypothetical other eyes might see. However, when I happened to see the "recently updated" section on the front page of Wikipedia had something to say about the "Dog Star Adventure," I realised I had just managed to say a bit about that very same adventure. The synchronicity reminds me I could get around to playing it.
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
The Renga in Blue weblog aggregated on Planet IF has been working its way through a series of early text adventures for a while now. While it's moved a lot slower than The Digital Antiquarian, it has pointed out some intriguing obscure works on its way from the first mainframe-based games to the simple BASIC adventures squeezed into early home computers, now illustrated with screen shots from appropriate emulators. After a game I could tell had been ported to the Radio Shack Color Computer (although I did think of one person who's moved into the unoccupied niche of porting a slew of small games to the tiny variant of that machine sold for a little while in the effulgent year of 1983, when Tandy was churning out minimally intercompatible computers as if to see what would stick), though, the next set of images just had me guessing.

Adding "scan lines" to the display of an emulator seems easy enough to do, but I wondered what TRS-80 emulator, or at least what obscure configuration of one, produced that effect. I could have thought of a browser-based emulator I had happened on a while ago, but there was the question of just how to run programs not included in its site's small selection... and then, in the next post, I saw a link to a new site that can load what seems every TRS-80 program in a large existing archive into the emulator. Not every one of the "Model I" programs seems able to run on the "Model III" emulator (which I believe was an issue with the actual computers), but it certainly lifts the online program a ways above "a brief diversion."
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Continuing to follow the Planet IF aggregator, I noticed a very interesting piece of news being passed along. The documentary "Get Lamp" had featured images of design documents for some of Infocom's interactive fiction, and I'd eventually sorted out they had come from the files of Steve Meretzky, who the Digital Antiquarian consistently describes as a prolific, well-adjusted, and good-humoured game designer. Now, scans of the files the documents were selected from (slightly redacted to remove names of game testers and the like) are available on the Internet Archive. I've only been able to look at some of them so far, and while they're more high-level design and correspondance than source code printouts that's quite interesting in itself. Some of the output from what I presume was Infocom's line printer is a little hard to read, but I've also noticed some "made on a Macintosh" documents from the early adopter Douglas Adams and a tester talking about how they'd received their new computer right around when they also got their test copy of "A Mind Forever Voyaging."
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
Making up an icon (for Dreamwidth's slightly more ample confines only) from a screen shot from "Get Lamp" to illustrate "adventure games" was fine and well, but I still don't seem to make a lot of time to play them. However, in continuing to follow the Planet IF aggregator, I somehow managed to hear about a tiny little game called "The Northnorth Passage," and spurred myself to at least try it, downloading the story file and starting one of my interpreters to begin a story where you're cursed to only move north. Once I'd played all the way through, I reflected on the intimations in the reviews that there was a different conclusion, but needed most of the "Invisiclues" politely included in a comment to figure out just what to do, after which it seemed obvious enough in the fashion of a bunch of other adventure games I've played.

I did get to thinking the "family curse" could have allowed for different responses before the inevitable conclusion, but a bit more looking did turn up the game was being programmed for a "three-hour competition." Having dipped a toe into the creation of text adventures with Inform, I do understand a bit better now how programming always takes more time than you think. The writing did impress me enough that the experience has stuck with me beyond the conclusions of the game.
krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
I was playing some of the simple adventure games included in computer magazines pretty early on, and I suppose the thought of "making one myself" did come to me as I tried now and again to get started on the BASIC tutorials that came with my family's computers. It was easier to do things with "IF-THEN" statements than with parsing text strings, though, which made the very first "adventure game" I tried to peck into one of our Radio Shack Color Computers "just" a "Choose Your Own Adventure." I remember it had something to do with surviving on the moon, but I do have to admit I didn't get much further than a decision or two into it before I either got bored with the whole thing or just lost track of the "combinatorial explosion" and gave up without actually saving to cassette what I'd done.
I did accomplish more than that, eventually )
krpalmer: (Default)
Keeping up with the Planet IF aggregator, I managed a while ago to pick up on some announcements of a get-together about "interactive fiction" at a thoroughly convenient day-trip distance from me, and resolved that even though I don't play anywhere near as many "text-based" games as I could, it would still be interesting to go to. Last Saturday, I got on the train and headed into the big city, where I then headed north to the reference library and the get-together.

More chairs had to be set up at the back as things got under way, which I suppose is a reasonable sign. The ice-breaker was an "group play-through" of a famous "one-move" game, and then I stayed for a speech by Andrew Plotkin, one of the notable figures of the modern "non-commercial" era. He had, however, made things a bit more "commercial" by raising funds through Kickstarter to develop a text adventure for iPhones. Since he took four years to finish the game, though, some people in the audience did seem inclined to point out further avenues that had opened up in those four years to promote "indie games" through (which may have been more philosophically acceptable to them, anyway). I checked out some game rooms with iPad and "keyboard" games on display, realising I'd even managed to play "Thomas Was Alone" (although that game did seem to me to be more of an "ironically minimalist arcade game," it does have a fair bit of "story" to it), and then returned for three special presentations on how to create your own "writerly games."

When I'd started looking up information about this get-together, I saw something about a workshop teaching Twine, which develops "hypertext" games that might be classed with "Choose Your Own Adventure" books at first glance. (Quite a few years ago, I was experimenting with Hypercard and created something in it that might conceivably be recreated in Twine, only to discover the "combinatorial explosion" in trying to reference my impressions of the adventure games I'd only heard about then; I do wonder if this might have been called "cargo cult programming.") I prepared myself for that by installing Twine on my "travelling" portable and starting to learn a few basic things about it, and then realised I'd managed to see information about a presentation from last year. In any case, though, I did get to see a bit of information about "ChoiceScript" (which was what made "Mecha Ace"), Inform 7, which develops full-scale text adventures in the grand tradition, and a new tool called Texture which tries to strike a fresh balance between the links of hypertext and the "verb-noun" interface. As much as I can suppose I ought to play more games to get ideas of how to make them, what I did see was invigorating and different.
krpalmer: (Default)
While I've long supposed the "Planet IF" aggregator to concentrate on "interactive fiction" games, specifically typing in commands to move around the game's described-in-text world, handle objects, and solve puzzles, in the past few months I've noticed enough references to start really catching my attention to "choose your own adventure"-type games, where you're presented with a list of choices every so often, trading fine control for the potential of greater scope. If my early years spent playing adventure games amounted in some part to never quite figuring out the puzzles, the Choose Your Own Adventure books in my school library just seemed to intimidate me; I guess I took the whole "'you' could die at any turn" possibility too seriously. Now, though, I was getting a little more curious about the current computerized variety; having recently played a few "visual novels," more illustrated variants of this kind of game, may have played a role there. Remembering that one phrase being used to describe them was "choice-based games," I tried searching for that phrase. The results at the top of the page weren't general discussion, though, but links to a single game company. I followed one of them all the same, though, and it just so happened their latest game, visible on the front page, caught my attention in a specific way.

Even if the title "Mecha Ace" did make me think in part that the company must have run through a good many other genres already, the game did exist; I went ahead and bought it for my iPad. Starting it up, I was intrigued to see a good part of its first choices seemed to be shaping your own character, picking strengths and weaknesses (although you don't get to name yourself until later on, most of the offered choices instantly recognizable for someone familiar with the specific genre); the rest of the game seemed as much "playing to those strengths" as "guessing at the obscure best choice early on." That on my very first try I got to a conclusion that didn't involve personal death or complete failure was at once encouraging and somehow suggestive the game had one major storyline built in instead of several diverging off in different directions; however, the accomplishments that showed up in Game Center did make me think there'd be chances to replay it and try out different strategies. (I'd played things "cautiously but honourably" to start with.)

Beyond the mechanics of the game, I was interested in its own take on the genre. The world described in the game's text did seem definitely inspired by Gundam, although "interstellar" in scope instead of Gundam's "we won't casually invoke interstellar travel and have you suspend that bit of disbelief straight off." There did seem a few nods to Battletech, too, and in general I did have the impression the game was trying to avoid the familiar "youthful, inexperienced pilots" of mecha anime without making too big a deal of how it was avoiding it. In any case, it didn't seem to be proclaiming "mental control" to be an indistinct yet essential add-on to the control sticks. While there may be a bit of "so how can the next game top this?" to my thoughts, I suppose I can always take another look at the catalogue.
krpalmer: (anime)
It's been a while since I first learned about one group of "visual novels" (or "visual novel-like 'indie games,'" anyway) by Christine Love, long enough that I can't remember exactly how I did it. When I was playing through her "Digital: A Love Story," though, I already knew she'd named a later game "Analogue: A Hate Story," which did pique my interest. As I bought that later game, however, I also decided I'd play through another one of hers "in between" the two named, and with one thing and another that took a while to do. Once I'd got around to "Analogue," though, I did seem quicker to get to one of its multiple endings. It was, unfortunately enough, what I suspect to be the "not enough accomplished ending," but even in reaching it I'd found plenty in the game to intrigue me.
At least a bit more )
krpalmer: (Default)
Before I had this journal, I had a home page, but even though the journal links to that page I haven't revamped it for quite a while. "Linkrot" is one thing; it's something else to look at things you said you were interested in and wonder if it's quite the same now. After a certain amount of unproductive thought about mere possibilities, I at last scraped together the motivation to start working on the text.

What I'd said about Mystery Science Theater 3000 could stay just about the same, even if it's been that much longer since the general MSTing community closed up. Aware I don't start my text adventure programs or Marathon all that much these days, I rolled them together and added an introductory section about "old computers" in general. I then turned my look at Robotech specifically into a "narrative" from Robotech to anime in general, although my daydream of going from a "Robotech eyecatch" to the "Super Dimension Fortress Macross eyecatch" to one from Macross Frontier with its illustration of the way things changed again seems on hold until the possibility of indeed getting those English-subtitled Blu-Rays of the Macross Frontier movies later this year and perhaps rewatching the TV series that preceded them. My section on Star Wars does stay at the bottom of the page where people might not be as likely to get to, but I did expand it; I also moved the link to my journal up to the top so that someone following a link might be a little more likely to see it.

To brush things up a little, I sorted out a few more basic tricks with CSS (although the style sheet section might be a little chaotic) and changed the look of some sections (although this might amount to the old-fashioned folly of "using every font in the menu just because you can"). I don't know how long it'll be before I work on my home page again, but maybe it might not be as long as the last time.
krpalmer: (anime)
A while ago now, I finished an adventure game named "Digital: A Love Story" with the thought it had helped convince me to buy another game from its writer Christine Love, "Analogue: A Hate Story." However, she also happened to have created another adventure game in between those two with the more unique title "don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story." Where "Digital" was set in the past and presented through an antique graphical user interface, "don't take it personally" was set just in the future and had the look of something I'm aware of without quite having been able to experience. I know a certain number of anime series have been adapted from Japanese names called (among other things) "visual novels," and there can be a certain undercurrent of "the original was better" to how those series are discussed, just as with series adapted from manga or "light novels." However, the little matter of either having to learn Japanese or figure out how to apply patches to games that seldom seem "cross-platform," and certainly can be associated with that old scandal slapped on anime itself of "indecent drawings," do keep me detached from chasing them.

With "don't take it personally," though, the first few objections at least didn't apply, and it did look better than a good number of other fan-made "visual novels" created with the same game engine. The game was slow going for me at first, though, and it was only after letting it sit for quite a while that I noticed one more reference to "Analogue" and got back to my old saved games. This time, this far into the story something clicked for me, and I clicked all the way through it, even winding up with a few thoughts that seemed worth sharing (if thoughts that might give a thing or two in the game away...)
The things given away )
The "anime-esque" art (the "online profile pictures" look to be drawn by a different artist, but do leave me wondering a bit about "creating new identities) does sort of tie in to certain interests of the characters, and I do remember thoughts of certain apocalyptic fears from certain anime fans that "people not them" have or will have found other things to follow. In remembering them, though, they don't seem quite as pressing at the moment. Finishing the game at last, anyway, means I don't have any excuses to start playing the copy of "Analogue" I paid for and downloaded a while ago.
krpalmer: (Default)
I heard a while ago about a documentary on DVD about text adventures, featuring interviews with notable figures from the past and present of those games. Although I continue to be aware I'm interested in those games without now making the time to play them, I kept more or less daydreaming about watching the documentary until all of a sudden I checked its official site and saw it was no longer being shipped internationally. That awareness of a missed opportunity oppressed me for a while, until I checked the site again and saw I'd once more be able to get a copy. At that point, I didn't waste any time in ordering "Get Lamp." On beginning to watch the disc, though, I did sort of run up against an issue with technology constraining a storytelling experience...
'Before the first person shooter there was the second person thinker.' )
krpalmer: (apple)
While I can't quite remember just how it happened, I did take notice of an "indie game" called "Digital: A Love Story." My usual long-simmering interest in "interactive fiction" made me pick up on a game revolving around dialing into BBSes "five minutes into the future of 1988" using the white-on-blue Workbench interface of an "Amie" computer, but I suppose I was also mildly intrigued by it being called a "visual novel," a term I perhaps can't altogether define but which I have heard of in connection to "anime adaptations of Japanese games." Once I'd downloaded the game, though, it did take me a while to get around to playing through all of it, and once I was finished I noticed there had already been a fair deal of discussion of it... still, it was an interesting experience, if one I feel concerned about "giving too much away" of. As "novel" might imply, there wasn't quite the wide-ranging, poking under everything, trying to find just the right command of an adventure game, but clicking "reply" to messages and gauging what that unseen response must have been from the followup was interesting in its own way; in some ways, it might be a more effective form of "interaction with characters" than a good number of adventure games. I am tempted to pay for another game by its author Christine Love, "Analogue: A Hate Story." (The immediate connection doesn't seem quite as obvious as the titles imply, anyway...)
krpalmer: (apple)
Although I do sort of chide myself about just reading about "interactive fiction" a lot more than actually buckling down to playing it, I do pick up things about it even in that. One of those small bits of information that caught my attention was that the famous "Zork I" had been trimmed down (just as that sold-in-stores "text adventure" had been trimmed down from a hobby project in MIT's computer labs in the late 1970s) to a size that could be completely loaded from cassette tape into the memory of a Commodore 64, instead of residing on a floppy disc and being loaded a bit at a time. It even so happens the "Mini-Zork" game file can now be downloaded from the central interactive fiction archive to be played with modern interpreters, and inspired in part by a weblog that's been working its way through old computer games of similar type getting to Zork I, I got around to playing the condensed adventure.

Although I hadn't been able to play Zork I until getting the "Lost Treasures of Infocom" bundle, something that's always amounted to "after the fact" for me, it's familiar enough to me. My first impression of "Mini-Zork" was that the text had been pared back; soon enough, I had figured out locations had been compressed together and started "mapping" in a spreadsheet, which doesn't have the visual flair of drawing on paper but doesn't leave you running out of space at the margins or having to erase boxes once you realise places are connected at "right angles." For all my familiarity with the puzzles, though, at one point I figured that because one particular treasure wasn't in plain sight it must have been left out of the game, and after mapping my way through the rigours of the "maze" I was left standing around wondering if there was an actual conclusion to this particular version of the game. Then, at last, I managed to remember what to do there.

Beyond whatever weight got loaded on to the "Great Underground Empire" after the fact, it's easy enough to think of Zork as a very typical text adventure of its day, where puzzles are to be solved and treasures are to be picked up just because picking up treasures has to be a good thing, except for that you could connect your verbs and nouns with "the" or string longer commands together. In being condensed, I suppose that "Mini-Zork" did give up some of the amusing responses to offbeat orders that helped enliven the floppy disc game. At the same time, I was able to muse about "working to the full use of limited space," and reflect in some small way on the further simplicities of "two-word" adventures loaded off cassette tape into computers with a quarter of the memory of a Commodore 64... although I know enough about those poky loads to wonder just how long it would take to load this particular game.
krpalmer: (Default)
Years ago, I picked up from a library used book sale a copy of Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine," a book about an advanced minicomputer being built in the late 1970s, and never quite read most of it. That wasn't quite the end of it, though, as at a more recent book sale I saw another copy of the book, and for some reason or another I decided to take another try at it. This time, I finished it with no trouble. What the difference between then and now is, I don't quite know.
Perhaps not quite a 'new machine' any more )
krpalmer: (Default)
Keeping up my occasional interest in "old computers," I took another look at a mailing list about TRS-80 computers and saw a link to an emulator that runs in a browser. The comment that it ran just with Javascript and not Java caught my attention somehow in a "technology had advanced" way. After that, though, I managed to remember that I've seen and used emulators running in a browser that use "just Java," including a Color Computer one and an Apple II one I learned about not that long ago, linked to by someone who had just written a text adventure specifically for that computer. (That caught my attention at the time in a way that a piece of interactive fiction written for one of the modern cross-platform engines might not have, although I know that this particular adventure only has a "two-word parser.") In any case, you can do things with the TRS-80 emulator right off; several games can be loaded into it, and I'm tempted to recommend "Sea Dragon" and "Galaxy Invasion," so long as you understand their graphics are one low step up from "ASCII graphics."

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