In 1983 I encountered my first INFOCOM game. A text adventure that changed my life. It was Infidel, by Michael Berlyn and Patricia Fogleman.
It was not the first INFOCOM game I played – that would be Suspended, also by Michael Berlyn.
While Suspended was a bit esoteric (you had to move five robots around, each with limited sense ability, but complementary to each other, so you might have to use multiple robots to fully understand a problem, and then figure out how to solve it.
While that game had the best packaging of any computer game ever, the game itself was… difficult. A friend of mine solved it on his own, and I, to this day, have no idea how.
However, I solved Infidel on my own, and still consider the atmosphere to be wonderful. It really immersed me into an ancient Egyptian pyramid, which I had to loot to win the game. And the end was… surprisingly delightful. And controversial to this day.
So in 1985 with my Commodore 64, I wrote a simple two-word parser game in BASIC, called Piracy, based around a captain of a space ship tasked with bringing an infamous space pirate to justice, only to have your secret course intercepted by his men, your ship boarded, your crew killed, and you tossed into the brig.
You wake up in the brig, have to escape, and get your ship and your prisoner back to headquarters for trial.
It was a fun exercise. While INFOCOM’s parser was quite robust, and could interpret full sentences, even multiple sentences, (“>put the glass onion inside the puzzle box, then twist the puzzle box to the right. get the umbrella. open it”), mine was literally two words, like some Scott Adams text adventures: >cut pipe; >insert battery.
Inform 6 opened up the possibility that I could re-write, or even re-invent that old 1985 story with a full, robust parser, and a much, much richer story, and a much, much richer game.
So I did.
In 2008, I entered the IF Comp, the big annual IF competition.
Who the heck was I? A newcomer to the field of indy Interactive Fiction stories, which had evolved beyond INFOCOM to some wonderful games (or more accurately in more modern times, stories), to think I could walk among the big IF writers like Emily Short or Andrew Plotkin?
But I entered, nonetheless. Arrogant me entered the contest with my 1985 game modernized with a new parser and a fully robust story and game that I was able to expand into a game I quite liked.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked my 1985 effort too, but it was a much more simplistic game.
The 2008 version was so fully rounded, with details on the ship so thoroughly implemented that even the toilets worked – a rebuke of the idea that in Star Trek, we never saw toilets. (But if you had the blueprints of the Enterprise like I did, pinned to my wall for most of my teen years, you knew they existed, and exactly where.)
Hey. Guess what?
I came in fifth! Out of a field of 35!
Emily Short’s review was quite humbling. She really seemed to like it. Even if she couldn’t quite figure out how to finish it during the limited judging time for the competition. I read a later addendum that she wrote that she had figured it out and actually enjoyed playing it through multiple times.
Anyway, I often forget what achievements this game made.
But it also got nominated for several categories in the 2008 XYZZY Awards:
Nominee, Best Game
Nominee, Best Setting
Nominee, Best Puzzles
I didn’t win any of those, but to be nominated, as they say… high praise indeed, for a first-timer among people who had been keeping Interactive Fiction alive and thriving for decades.
It got some good ratings, and a few good reviews at IFDB:
You can read the reviews here:
But what really inspired me was reading so many people who, during the course of the competition wrote blog posts about the various games they played during the competition that compared my game to INFOCOM games. It seemed one of the prevalent feelings about Piracy 2.0 was that it was one of the most old-school INFOCOM-like games in the competition.
And you’d really have to know how much I adore INFOCOM games to fully appreciate how much of a compliment that was to me.
Even if sometimes that comparison was made by people who had moved on from the INFOCOM style of games, which might include insta-death, getting stuck if you made a bad move that left you with no win scenario, to things like having to eat, keep a light source fresh, mazes and things that today seem passe and out-dated. The idea that in 2008 I was compared to the games that I loved so much was beyond praise.
Hell, I didn’t even care I came in fifth, after finding out who many people thought my game was the most like an INFOCOM game.
That was my original goal in 1985, even though I was hamstrung by a two-word >verb noun parser.
Here are some categories my game was mentioned in in IFDB polls:
Once More, With Feelies. (This one based on the feelies I made for Piracy 2.0, which include a map, but also a hand-dyed purple data cube. I found a source online that made 1″ (roughly) acrylic cubes. I bought a couple dozen and used RIT Purple Dye, heated, in a bath I dropped the cubes in. They turned into a quite nice purple. I also bought a rubber stamp with my United Worlds logo on it that I hand-stamped on these cubes, and handed them out as Feelies. Data cubes turn out to be quite vital to the plot of my game/story.
I also made a nice map available to anyone who wanted one.
During a meetup I gave out these data cubes to people.
The coolest thing is that you can actually play Piracy 2.0 online in a browser!
IFWiki also had some things to say about Piracy 2.0:
- Detailed, functioning space ship complete with computers you can control. (Yes, including toilets.)
- Multiple, detailed endings, with varying degrees of success, including the perfect score ending.
- Fairly faithful INFOCOM-like feel. Old-school gameplay.
- Feelies available. Maps downloadable from web site. Purple Datacube available through author.
I wrote another game in 2010 but while I wrote a sprawling epic game, it was not well-received.
But if you want to read about it: IFDB The Promise.
My web site about it is here: The Promise.
Thing is, my motto is Put Something Out There.
It is not Put Something Out There People Are Guaranteed To Love.
I put it out there. If people like it, lovely. If not, it’s still out there.
This year, because I listened to a podcast that mentioned a spooky Halloween-themed IF competition (EctoComp), I decided to write my third fully-featured IF game based around a silly game we played at my office some years ago:
More on that later as things develop.