Yep, 2010 is the best year yet.
This deep love I have for today doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally wish awesome things from the past would come back, however. In the early 80’s most of the best games were text-based, meaning the graphics were provided by the player’s imagination. Just as film-making will never match books in my opinion, modern graphics haven’t yet caught up to the power of well-written text games and their ability to harness the imagination. But today such games are all gone, right?
Nope. Like I said, the best time to be alive is right now, and a big part of why is the Internet. There are countless text interactive fiction games being made now, three decades past the medium’s commercial prime, and they’re almost all freely available on the Internet. Called “Interactive Fiction” today, a list of the best games in this field would take ages to compile, so I’ll just show you a sampling of my favorite games that can be freely played online.
Lost Pig And Place Underground by Grunk
Pig lost! Boss say that it Grunk fault. Say Grunk forget about closing gate. Maybe boss right. Grunk not remember forgetting, but maybe Grunk just forget. Boss say Grunk go find pig, bring it back. Him say, if Grunk not bring back pig, not bring back Grunk either. Grunk like working at pig farm, so now Grunk need find pig.
So begins this less-than-epic quest, in which our hero attempts to find a pig.
No, really: that’s the plot. And it’s amazing.
This short game’s narrative voice is deceptively simple, and will have you laughing out loud more than once as you play it. It also features some pretty good adventure-game-style puzzles, but don’t give up too quickly: you can deduce everything easily, making this a great game for beginners.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Like many geeks I’m an avid devotee of Douglas Adams’ writing in general and the famous Hitchhiker’s Guide media franchise in particular. I love the radio series, the television show, the books and even tolerated the movie. I’m also quite fond of the classic Infocom game of the same title.
The real charm of this game is its narrative voice – the text was written by Adams himself. This game is not easy, and includes no hint system, but devotees of Adams’ work should struggle through – it’s worth it just for the one-liners.
For A Change by Dan Schmidt
The sun has gone. It must be brought. You have a rock.
If you think that reads more like poetry than it does a game you’re probably right. This is a game as well as a poem, and a pretty good one at that.
A surrealistic adventure featuring an invented vocabulary provides an experience no other medium possibly could, and makes a strong case for the continued existence of text games. Be sure to check this one out.
Photopia by Adam Cadre
Less a game than it is a story, Photopia is considered by many to be the most influential piece of interactive fiction in the post-Infocom era.
For this reason I highly recommend trying it out, although I fear talking too much about the plot will give too much away. I personally find this game beautiful, though there has always been controversy surrounding it so make up your own mind.
Whom The Telling Changed by Aaron A. Reed
As your village in ancient Mesopotamia decides whether or not to go to war the legendary story of Gilgamesh is told. Your role is to, by asking the right questions, manipulate public opinion toward fighting or not fighting. This game is great if you have a working knowledge of the Gilgamesh epic (read it free here) and even better for repeat playing, as there are multiple possible endings.
If you’re wondering where Zork is, the answer is that it’s hard to say. Technically Activision owns the rights to the Zork trilogy and the rest of the (amazing) Infocom library, which fueled the 80’s text game craze. They’ve not released any of these titles recently so far as I know.
This website seems to feature pretty much all of them, however, and you can play them in your browser. I’m not sure how legal this is, but it’s there and working.
This is but a small number of the text-based games you can find online, of course. You can find many more over at the IFDB, which serves as an online database of the many free games available. You’ll also find downloading instructions for any particular game there.
Well, do you think text games could be fun…or do you lack the attention span for them? Do any Interactive Fiction fans recommend games that I missed here? Comment away; we won’t tell you that you can’t.