April 19th, 2005


Problem solving adventure games...

Before the advent of realistic color computer displays and real-time 3D, game developers would focus a lot of detail on describing their worlds and they would focus on the details. Some of these games are still going strong... Civilization, Railroad Tycoon, Pirates!, and even Leisure Suit Larry has a new episode out.

Leisure Suit Larry was a graphical adventure / problem solving game. Prior to Sierra Online and their use of pretty graphics (King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry and so on...), interactive fiction adventure games were all text:
Tool Shed

You are in the family's back yard tool shed. Cobwebs and dust cover most of the wooden surfaces. The workbench has not been used in years. One part of the workbench is cleaner that the other half. A claw hammer rests on this half of the work bench.

You see: A claw hammer (on the work bench).

Exits: South.

> get hammer

But there's no liquor here... Oh... You meant the hammer on the work bench, Never mind...
As you step over to the workbench, the floor creeks under you as you nearly catch your foot on a loose nail.
Hammer taken.

> look

Tool shed

You see: A loose nail (in the floor boards).

Exits South.

> pull nail

With what would you like to pull the nail with?

> hammer

Pulling the nail out of the floorboards reveals a trap door, which you open.

> down

You exit through the trap door to find...
POINTS: 5 (out of a possible 257)
These games were supposed to challenge your observation skills critical thinking / problem solving abilities. Hints were provided in the above example to tell you that the hammer has been used frequently (a little cleaner than the rest of the shed), the floor is not too solid (it creaks), and a single loose nail is out of place (because it has been pulled out too many times).

The problem with some of these problem-solving games is that the logic used in the game is a bit faulty to being with. Take "Beneath a Steel Sky" (1994) for instance. I just finished the walk-through from a guide I found online. I refuse to waste my time trying to actually solve these things, any more. Why? Because in B.a.S.S., I had to get killed to find out about the monster hiding in the hole in the subway tunnel. Then, to scare off the monster, I had to put a light bulb into a socket in the tunnel, which meant that I needed to have the light bulb with me. The light bulb, which can be found in a sky scraper, is on the other side of a one-way ventilation shaft. If I didn't read the walk-through, I would have no motivation to get the light bulb other than to just have it, and going through life, taking everything possible, just because you'll never know when you'll need it, doesn't make sense.

But, beside those little set backs, I continue to respect the creators of text adventures / interactive fiction that rely on solid logic puzzles, even if they eventually frustrate me and make me feel like I'm just jumping through hoops to get to a pre-determined conclusion... Ahh... nevermind.

First developed in either the late 60's or early 70's (with the start of Colossal Caves, which was originally supposed to model an enormous in Kentucky so that other people may experience them before they filled them with angry dwarves, puzzles, and treasure...), text adventure (interactive fiction) games are still going strong. Google for "interactive fiction" - if you dare. There is still a yearly contest for developing IF games (last I checked).

Colossal Caves is still probably the best written, most logical, text adventure ever written... If you believe in waving wands to create bridge or you ignore the fact that the mazes don't follow directional logic (going South, and then back North will not put you in the same section of maze), Despite these minor problems, it's still the best text adventure ever. It has been re-written and re-translated to just about every single computer platform and operating system in existence.

So why'd I make this post, other than to complain about poor game design logic? Because it has been a while since I've made fake text console screen shots in web pages, and I thought I'd astound you with my re-production of old school text games from the days of MS DOS and before...

Do what? To whAT?

I was searching for help on a problem I was experiencing, when I came across a tech support forum web page in German within the Google results. I click on the translate link, and the page opens. I'm skimming through the article when I come across the following tranlated line:
"Lubricate the error message"
Uhhh...huhhh... That bad, huh?