Text Games

Even though they’re amazingly outdated, text-only games continue to be a big part of my life.

I’m currently playing an online text-only game called “Legend of the Green Dragon” — which is kind of a Minimally Multiplayer Online Game. It’s based on an old BBS game I used to play back in high school called “Legend of the Red Dragon.” In some ways its design is more modern, in other ways it still reflects the (sometimes, but not always) charming design flaws of that era.

The basic premise of the game is that you create a character who lives in a small town. You, and all the other players, repeatedly go out into the forest surrounding the town to fight monsters. After gaining 15 levels by doing this, you get the opportunity to search out and kill the Green Dragon. When you kill her, she wipes most of your memory and you flee back to town — once more a level 1 character (though you get to keep some of your things from previous levels). The Green Dragon is then replaced with another one (from her seemingly endless brood) and life goes on. Each time you kill the dragon, more content unlocks and the game gets marginally more complex.

The other thing about the game is that you only get four “turns” a day. Four times a day, corresponding to certain real-world times, you get a fresh batch of forest fights and you go out into the forest and battle until you run out. It takes about 3-5 real-world days to get to level 15 and kill the dragon, assuming you don’t miss any turns.

It’s an interesting game. There are a few design decisions I don’t agree with. If I were willing to put more energy into it, I’d go into the code and fix them — but I’m not. It’s tough to want to do game design work on the weekend when I do it all week. Besides that, though, it’s pretty fun.

My friend John also pointed me to a game called Anchorhead — which is a Call of Cthulhu-inspired interactive fiction game. I played a little bit of it, and it sounds intriguing. Basically you play as a woman whose husband inherited some property from an ancestor. Of course, there’s all kinds of wierd shit attached to that, and you get to deal with it. Since the online version i played didn’t have a save function, I haven’t got too far yet, but it’s on my list to look into when I have some more time.

Sometimes I wonder why I don’t more actively seek out text-based stuff. Perhaps I’ve grown lazy and don’t want to read as much as I used to. Perhaps I’m afraid that the stuff that’s out there is too amateurish, outdated design-wise, or otherwise unnecessarily frustrating.

Perhaps it just reminds me that I should probably update my own interactive fiction — given that it’s been sitting there for a while.

Who knows?

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One Comment

  1. Amateurish is a fair assessment. There’s a very low bar for entry into text games; mostly you get juvenile efforts. Every once in a great while though, you get a little gem. It might still be an amateurish gem, but it’s a gem.

    Personally, I get an added thrill from something that was made for the pure joy of it. I love my AAA titles (although those can have just as many design flaws), but it’s nice to play a little game made by one guy every once in a while. That usually means graphics-lite or even pure text.

    For a long time, I gave up on that thrill though. The volume of free games was too big, and I lacked a decent way to filter it. Now the internet provides me all the filter I need. A quick search shows that Anchorhead is the highest rated Interactive Fiction out there. I like IF (I’m not a hardcore fan, but I play maybe 1 a year), so that makes it worth playing.

    Of course, I didn’t just think to myself: Damn, I bet the internet makes finding good text-based games easier. Other games have marketing, and stronger buzz. I hear about Fallout 3 or Starcraft 2 or GTA4 a year before they come out, and I check them out even if they don’t appeal to me, just so I won’t be left out of the conversation. Then the day comes that I’m reading the blogs of game designers, and other refuges for old-school enthusiasts and more independent minded gamers. Now I catch buzz about games like Anchorhead, Transcendence, Dwarf Fortress, Facade, and 5 Days a Stranger.

    I think you’re starting to catch that wave a bit too. It won’t be the exact same games, but it’s the same pattern. If you like Anchorhead, you’ll be tempted to go a quick google for something else. Perhaps you’ll find the Interactive Fiction Competition that’s held annually. Maybe the winner for 2007 is worth playing (I don’t actually know). Or perhaps you’ll find some guy’s blog, with an entry just like this one. One game you both like, and another you haven’t tried yet. And the wave grows a little bigger.

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