Zork! Old text-based games are the hot new thing

Do you remember the game Colossal Cave? How about

YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK BUILDING.
AROUND YOU IS A FOREST.  A SMALL STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND
DOWN A GULLY.

parsely-1 Anything? (If you’re under 30, ignore this question.) You may also know it as Colossal Cave Adventure or even Adventure. Colossal Cave was one of the first (if not THE first) of what are known as text-based adventure games. Created back in the ‘70s, these games were at one time the cutting edge of computer gaming and the sentences above will cause many an elder geek to wax nostalgic about evenings of Doritos® and Tab®. These games used a simple verb-noun parser to interpret these instructions, allowing the player to interact with objects at a basic level, for example by typing "get key" or "open door". Well guess what? They’re making a comeback, digitally and in-person. There’s even a documentary about them.

The ones I have had personal experience with are from Memento Mori Theatricks. As a whole, the series is called Parsely (parse, get it? Of course you did.). Memento Mori has turned these into more of a party game. One person gets the instructions and map and gets to play as the parser (a role that’s more fun than you might think) while the other people take turns giving very simple commands as they try to complete the adventure. I have played with 70+ people (at ConnectiCon) and with two other people while driving in the car, both times it was a hoot.

Around the same time Colossal Cave came out, the print equivalent was coming out in the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books. Each of these books was written in the second-person and at the end of each page the reader was given a choice to make. If you chose A you turned to one page, if B then to another page. The decision tree was seemingly endless and not a few of us didn’t so much play them as just read all the possible outcomes. Edward Packer, the creator of these games, is now updating them for the modern era as iPad/Phone apps called “U-Venture.”

The basic idea of the choose your own adventure books has had a profound impact on the development of PC/Video games. Do a news Google of the phrase and you get a surprising number of results – many from the recent ComicCon. But, if that’s not cutting edge enough for you, consider this headline from TechCrunch: Foursquare’s Next Game: Choose Your Own Adventure? 

Additionally there is now a documentary called Get Lamp, about the history of the computer versions. It has a genius tag-line: “Before there was the first-person shooter, there was the second person thinker.” DAMN THE VIDEO CARDS! Yesterday, HERE WE COME!!!!!

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9 thoughts on “Zork! Old text-based games are the hot new thing

  1. Great article, but a correction is warranted.

    My company, Memento Mori Theatricks, is the publisher of Action Castle and the other games in that series. As a whole, the series is called Parsely.

    - Jared

  2. I’m 45 now and I can remember in my 20′s playing MUDS. In fact I still have withdrawals every now and then and log back in to one of my old time sites. If I can figure out what the site ip address is now. 8)

    I have to admit, I really enjoy the FPS on-line games now … Battlefield 2 is my poison of choice at the moment.

    Does that make me strange? 8)

  3. I played this game. I stood at the side of the road and got around the grill and even made a map of the adventure. But most of the map was in my head as I played night after night. Is it still available? LMAO

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