the OTHER Old School Renaissance

There’s been a lot of talk about the literary antecedents of Dungeons & Dragons, and TV shows reflecting the eclectic design ethos of the early days.  But (to my knowledge) there’s been relatively little talk about that other medium influencing and reflecting early Dungeons & Dragons play: interactive fiction, a/k/a “text adventures” like Zork, Wishbringer and A Mind Forever Voyaging.

To make a long post somewhat shorter, here are two points I want to raise:

  1. Back in the day, these sorts of adventure games were about as good as CRPG’s got, and they were a significant part of the Geek-geist, at least among those of us who began playing D&D with the B/X or BECMI stuff of the early 1980’s.  I think the feedback between tabletop RPG’s and these sorts of zany adventure games–primitive gaming tech that nevertheless required you to “imagine the hell out of it” or face sadistic peril–isn’t sufficiently acknowledged in the Old School Renaissance.
  2. This may reveal my shameful ignorance, but interactive fiction has been subject to an Old School Renaissance of its own!  These guys are still going strong: 25 years after these sorts of games ceased to be commercially viable, there is a thriving interactive fiction fan & writing scene!  They’ve got several contests, guidelines for how to write this stuff, and many of them are trying their best to push the limits of the form.  Obviously they’re doing very well for themselves and don’t need validation from the likes of us, but I had no idea they even existed and am very pleased that they’re keeping the genre alive.

If you’re curious about interactive fiction, either because you are a young whippersnapper or, like me, weren’t paying attention for the last twenty years, here are some of the ones that get a lot of critical acclaim:

  • Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom, by S. John Ross.  If you’re brand-new to this, like I am, this is a decent place to start as it’s based on an Old School Role-Playing Game (Encounter Critical).  The full version costs $9.95 but there’s a free demo.  This is perhaps the funniest game I’ve played in ages.  If you ever ask yourself, “What’s it like to play with the New York Red Boxers?” the tone of this game comes very, very close, particularly to Tavis’s White Sandbox shenanigans.  (My score is 457 points in 1724 turns.  I imagine others can do better–but I scoff at your efforts all the same, poltroon!)
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams – one of the classic titles from the heyday of IF, snazzed up in 2005 with graphics as part of a movie tie-in.
  • Anchorhead by Michael S. Gentry – a Cthulhu Mythos-inspired piece of interactive fiction.  Its appearance in 1998 seems to have reenergized the IF community.
  • The King of Shreds and Patches, by Jimmy Maher – an interactive fiction adaptation of a classic Call of Cthulhu module.
  • The Metamorphoses, by the prolific Emily Short, is a brief adventure game involving a wizard’s apprentice, notable for its evocative, dream-like imagery.
  • Galatea, another game by Emily Short, is more experimental: a very brief, dialogue-driven game with an exceptionally well-done NPC.

I’ve dabbled in these ever so slightly, but they’re every bit as retro, and as under-appreciated, as Old Timey RPG’s, and if you like one you might well enjoy the other.

1 Response to “the OTHER Old School Renaissance”

  1. December 1, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I was all jazzed to mention the Encounter Critical game, but you beat me to it! I’ve never actually played it, and now I know why: it’d be like playing with myself, and nothing would be worse than going blind and having to use a speech synthesizer to play IF games and read this blog.

    However, I do get to be the first to mention Jared Sorenson’s Parsely and [Action Castle]: “Parsely games are inspired by Ye Olde Text Parsers from days of yore, but substituting a live human for the computer parser.” There’s also a free homebrew [riffing on this idea].

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Past Adventures of the Mule

December 2009

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