Category Archives: Interactive Fiction

Celebrating Rick Loomis by Replaying Buffalo Castle

When I learnt Rick Loomis passed away, I pulled out my copy of his Buffalo Castle, the first solitaire RPG adventure. I played a lot more solitaire RPGs than in-person, and I have Rick to thank for that. (I met Rick once, at a convention, of course.) You can play along with me:

  1. Purchase a revised edition.
  2. You’ll need Tunnels & Trolls to play. I recommend 1st Edition, because Rick originally sold Ken’s 100 copies from the ASU copy shop, and it’s actually a love letter from @Trollgodfather (Ken St. Andre, the designer of Tunnels & Trolls) to a group of friends who made up the game together. Plus, go Sun Devils!
  3. You’ll also need this treasure table (not in 1st edition).

Play along! I created a character. Key thing to note when you do: “Constitution” is what you will probably think of as health or hp. “Hit points” in T&T are for each round of combat: “The hit point total is the sum of a characters [sic] dice roll plus whatever adds may be coming to him.”

  1. On my first game, I went through the left door, and I tried to sweet-talk my way past the troll (spoiler!), only to have him kill me in one blow.
  2. On my second game (same character), I went through the center door, was teleported to the troll (1 out of 12 paths!), to be killed in one blow after I missed my saving roll by 1. (“Saving rolls are made with 2 dice. Doubles add and roll over so that you need not give up hope.”)
  3. On my third game, I went through the rightmost door, fell into a pit, and crawled out to be rewarded with “You have entered room number six.” I drank from a fountain and lost 2 charisma. I then failed my saving roll twice and got: “The walls smash you flat. Sorry about that!”

Yeah, so this was like a 1970s arcade game. You’d just expect to die a lot and have to puzzle your way through. This reminds me of a BASIC or FORTRAN IV program, which is not surprising as Rick claimed to be the first person to buy a computer just to play games!

I eventually came up with a strategy, bought different weapons, and won!

So celebrate the life of Rick Loomis by playing this pioneering game and returning, momentarily, to what gaming was like in 1976.

The Fall of the Gamebook and the Rise of Interactive Fiction

One out of five adult Americans with online access (90% of the population) have ever read any gamebooks, such as Choose Your Own Adventure, Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, or solitaire RPG adventures such as the Tunnels & Trolls series. These books definitely reflect the 1980s, when publication peaked: those 35-44 years old (kids in the 1980s) are most likely to have ever read a gamebook (39%), compared to just 18% of those 45-54 years old and 30% of those under 25. While classic gamebook lines are being relaunched (e.g., Endless Quest and Choose Your Own Adventure), the genre is unlikely to return to its heyday.

Contrast that with interactive fiction. Interactive fiction in the 1980s was about text adventures, map making, command-line prompts, and sudden death, but modern interactive fiction focuses on narrative, delayed branching, and meaningful choices that shape a longer story arc.

A fifth of online adults have ever played any text adventures or interactive fiction games on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, such as Choice of Games, Infocom, or Twine games. The growth is in interactive fiction on smartphones. The younger the adult, the more likely they’ve played: 45% of 18-24 year olds, 36% of 25-34 year olds, and 26% of 35-44 year olds have played.

Smartphones reshape our cognition and our attention spans in ways that should lead to the continued rise of interactive fiction vs. traditional books. Interactive fiction presents short segments of text that then require a response, a medium well suited to the smartphone era.

This Researchscape survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was fielded online from April 22 to 23, 2019. For more, please check out the slides and general methodology.

Colossal Cave Adventure 101

Colossal Cave 101

When my 11-year old wanted to learn to program last spring, I got him a book on writing games in JavaScript. It had the source code for four games, but my son found it difficult. Four games?! A far cry from the 101 BASIC Computer Games that was my go-to (ahem) when I was his age, programming a TRS-80 Model I.

So I looked at a number of different BASIC implementations for his iPod Touch, eventually landing on LowRes Coder, which turns an iOS device into an 8-bit microcomputer circa 1979. I jokingly describe it as “turning your iPhone into an Apple II”, but – having programmed an Apple II – I can tell you that LowRes Coder is a lot more powerful. While it lacks functions and procedures (GOSUB rules the day here), it has a rich variety of sprite commands. And, thanks to the Internet, people can easily share their BASIC programs with one another without having to retype them or, shudder, load them from cassette. The point of it being “low resolution” is that no one has to worry about the quality of their art: the fun is in making the games.

And my son found, as I did before him, that it is easy to write BASIC programs. Loving math, he’s written a number of math programs, and of course some graphical experiments, and an adventure game.

The sample adventure program that he based his game on, though, was menu-based, and his aspirations went beyond that. So a few weekends ago I ported Colossal Cave to LowRes Coder, streamlining it for BASIC and adding random maps. While it has a two-word parser system, it’s driven by INKEY$, so selecting the first letter shows the entire word: no guess-the-verb problems here.

The app is free if you’re just going to play other people’s games. Here’s Colossal Cave Adventure 101. (And here’s my card game inspired by Colossal Cave.)