Sunday, April 19, 2009

What sort of Text Adventure could you make with modern technology?

After reading Tipa's reminiscences about the days of Zork I did a little experiment to see if my own 21st century kids could still be entertained by something as low tech as an interactive story. I made up a simple adventure (using a location I used to live in for source material) with obstacles to overcome, guardians to be avoided and treasure to be found. I acted as both story teller and game master. The episode was something of a success and convinced me that they might be prepared to try this type of game on a computer.

Of course I do remember that those text based adventure games of 1980's could be frustrating exercises. The puzzles were often deeply unfair (you did remember to keep that piece of fluff from the pocket of your dressing gown didn't you?) and the language interpreters were extremely dumb. Almost inevitably a time would come when you were reduced to trying random combinations of nouns and verbs from the games limited vocabulary in an effort to progress.

I wondered how a quarter of a century of technological progress might have advanced the genre. Wikipedia informed me that the more correct name for the genre is now "Interactive Fiction" and that while there is little commercial activity in the field there is still a healthy amateur communnity of creators and players. Unfortunately from what I can see these fan made efforts (such as those available here ) seem to be stuck in a technological time warp. They have the same basic command parsers and complete lack of artificial intelligence that we struggled with back in the 1980's. I guess that this isn't too surprising given the lack of commercial interest but it leaves me to wonder: What could be done today if state of the art computing and artificial intelligence were to be applied to a text adventure game? Would it be possible to build a game with a much smarter language interpreter and a much cleverer environment?

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