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My 20 Favorite Text Games
September 21st, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Note: Victor is holding a thread on intfiction.org for a list of everyone’s favorite text games here. There is still time to submit yours!

I enjoy voting. But like most Americans, I hate leaving the house, so I just use an absentee ballot. I have accepted the fact that my votes will just be thrown into a garbage heap of tires and inexplicably bruised organic bananas because 99% of absentee voters are in the military and vote the opposite of how I do. But when I figured out I didn’t have to drive to vote for Victor’s experiment and that Mike Snyder spambans anyone from registering on intfiction.org with a .mil address, it became extremely appealing.

I have been out of the loop as a player for a few years, so this list will look like it was written in mid-2006. (For instance, George Bush invades someone between picks 13 and 14.) I wasn’t going to post it because it’s unfair to all the authors making great games in the current day. The world probably doesn’t need another multi-Zork list. I’m currently playing Savoir-Faire, so I am so far behind the times, I might as well be playing games from the actual 18th French Century. I don’t want to discourage anyone doing new things, but this happens anytime there’s an IF list — the last few years of text games are almost completely ignored. But while players are behind, word does eventually get out.

1. Zork I: The Great Underground Empire by Infocom. The first truly great video game that was ever created.

2. Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz by Infocom. To this day there’s, what, fewer than a dozen video game sequels that were legitimately as good as the first one?

3. Knight Orc by Level 9. They ended up making a MMORPG with characters taking the place of logged-in users. Virtually everyone is reprehensible, there’s a ton of emergent gameplay and it really does feel like you got dumped into an unfriendly world, left with only your wits. This sense of community should be what on-line roleplaying games are trying to achieve, instead of bitcoin-based libertarianism and goblin-slobbing.

4. I-0 by Adam Cadre. Laugh-out-loud funny, with that sense of being able to go anywhere and do anything that I really love in IF.

5. Jinxter by Magnetic Scrolls. I only played this game after Michael Bywater made in appearance in the comments of that forum post where Andy Baio published internal Infocom e-mails without asking anyone if that was OK. This really is one of the funniest games ever made. The author’s challenge in Jinxter seemed to be to give a payoff for every single response the parser gave the player. (I’ve never written a proper review, so excuse me going into depth here.) When I was mid-way through the last game I made, I’ll confess that having to come up with so much text for mundane items was starting to become a chore. How many ways can a man describe a desk? Then I played Jinxter. Jinxter was like one of those personal trainers who yell at you. It made me realize what a gift it is to have the attention of a player. What an *opportunity*. It made me comprehend the rare series of events that need to occur for someone to even begin playing one’s text game in this age and if I didn’t respect that, and attempt to make every line of text as good as I could, I should just give up. Bywater doesn’t give up anywhere in Jinxter. He’s a force of nature here.

(But it’s below I-0 because no hawt chix go topless.)

6. Narcolepsy by Adam Cadre. Full review here.

7. Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin. Loved how smart I felt when I got inside the building, and the jarring shift that happens next. I never got tired of having the interrogator tell me that I couldn’t have possibly done what I did, seeing how what I did resulted in me squicking out. That — along with V.A.T.S. in Fallout 3 and take-downs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution — is one of those unique mechanics that I never ended up getting tired of.

8. Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls by Legend. A wise man once pointed out to me that after A Mind Forever Voyaging, an artistic triumph that fared poorly financially, Steve Mertezky did "sex game, then sequel." Sure, but after those two games he came up with what I believe is the most entertaining game of his career. S101 was meticulously plotted with a master of his craft leveraging his years of experience for a great story as well as game. There is a certain pleasure to someone experienced kicking ass in their creative years with such confidence. But at the same time, there was a lot of room for exploration within the game’s college campus. You could chose whether or not you went to class or not, and it was better to actually go! Amazing. S101 also holds the distinction of being the only game whose walkthrough of commands has ever made me laugh.

9. Fail-Safe by Jon Ingold. I’ve read some other reviews that indicate that other players had a difficult time navigating things, but this didn’t happen in my case. I’m awful at seeing the trick in movies, books and games, so my brain was perfectly pudgy and ululating to be so magnificently tricked by a game like Fail-Safe.

10. The Circuit’s Edge by Westwood Associates. I used to say this was my favorite book done by my favorite video game company. Then I got older and understood that the Infocom label was being used, though nobody at Infocom proper worked on it. The chief gameplay mechanic of this is just so amazingly brilliant: you can add microchips to your brain and instantly have a new personality or new abilities. This is dead-set sexy for video games. Like, argh, THIS should have been the genre that took over the world, and shooting people in the face with WWII weapons while having the word "of" in the title should have been marginalized. Fantastic soundtrack, graphics that don’t look too dated, random combat you can control to some degree via the microchip thing and the writing of (or in the style of) George Alec Effinger.

NOTE: One of the worst moments of my life was when I was carrying a lot more weight than I am now, and I went into Circuit’s Edge and accidentally had the player character eat too much food in one of the shoppes. This game flat-out tells you that you feel "grossly full" and, Christ – it was one of those "self" moments where you feel sick. Both Marid Audran and me made some lifestyle changes, although his involved a lot more bareback prostitute-fucking.

11. Photopia by Adam Cadre. I don’t have anything special to add, but here’s the reason why Adam is my favorite IF author: he has this way of either anticipating what players are going to type, thus making the parser seemless, like how Richard Bartle describes YOUR dragon in Get Lamp, or else he hypnotizes me by writing so well that I don’t try to get cute and awkwardly type stuff, struggling to make things work. I’ll play in a single setting any IF that manages to make the parser something I barely have to pay attention to.

12. Savoir-Faire by Emily Short. I am still playing this, but the humor and magic system really compliment each other. I feel the same way about most games with magic as people today feel about zombie games: there’s too many, and they suck right in their very reason for being. SF is an exception, like, say, Left 4 Dead 2. But really, the whole illusion with text games is that you can type anything into that prompt. So I like how Savoir-Faire, through the linking of objects, now has everything in play as a possible object that can pay off later. That, to me, is better world-building than a magic system where you find spell books or gain them via levels.

13. Suspended by Infocom. More for the amazing interface and unique way of looking at Interactive Fiction. Truly set up like a game more than anything else, and I think there was even points, in the form of human lives lost, in the game? I don’t remember exactly, but in my defense, I figured the bots were remembering everything for me. Features one of the few player characters I feel I could beat up.

14. Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country by One of the Bruces. My appreciation of this one is similar to Mentula Macanus, but I got more of the references in this one. I think I reviewed it on Trotting Krips back in the day. I think the only video game designer in the world whose games I’ve completely finished is Bruce. The moral of the story is: to be a successful author, develop an atmosphere where people feel that if they don’t finish your work, they’ll wind up with a mishmash of weird genitals sent through the post.

15. A Mind Forever Voyaging by Infocom. There is one thing I really like about this game: Mertezky wanted to write a game because he hated Reagan, and that’s great. More text games need to tell me who they’re pissed off at. Another guy at Infocom, and I want to say it was Lebling, was like, "That’s fine, as long as there’s nobody stopping me from doing a pro-Republican game in the future." (Paraphrased.) I mention this only because in our current political climate, everyone involved in such an exchange at almost any place of employment would be dead via the in-fighting, and that re-includes Reagan.

16. Guilty Bastards by Kent Tessman. I liked this when I originally played it, because I was trapped in the mind of Kent Tessman, who is wry, clever, witty and fun. I then savaged this game’s source as I tried to make things work in my Hugo games, and gained a greater appreciation for it and all the stuff I missed. It was very inspirational – I learned it was OK if you have stuff in a game that all players don’t see. Some people will, and those people will appreciate it.

17. Guild of Thieves by Magnetic Scrolls. I like to think this is what Zork IV would have been like, if Zork IV didn’t become Enchanter and was instead developed 15 years later. Funny, hates the player, gives you an entire world to solve puzzles in and has stunning graphics. Flack and I showed this one on the Amiga during the Oklahoma Video Game Expo, and some frigging reprobate had the unmitigated audacity to write, ">this game sucks" when we weren’t looking. Whoever that person was: YOU suck.

18. At Wit’s End by Mike Sousa. I used to like that, with everything that happens in this game, the Red Sox winning the World Series was still the least believable. Then they won twice and took to scoring like 25 runs a game against the Blue Jays. Therefore this is downgraded to #18 to signify the 18 years since the Jays have last been to the playoffs.

19. Rameses by Stephen Bond. Having a text game that basically doesn’t let you change anything is such a good idea — but it also didn’t occur to me what was going on until I finished playing it and went "HEY, WHAT THE." This is because I am very stupid. But this game takes an enormous chance by giving us a charismatic player character that we have no real reason to care for. It’s that level of guts that made me adore the game so much.

20. Annoyotron by Ben Parrish. Because, well. OK. It’s here because I can type several thousand words about the best genre in the world and it doesn’t change that, to the rest of the populace, they imagine these games we love so much to be exactly like this one.


One Response  
  • Jizaboz writes:
    September 23rd, 201112:57 pmat

    Good choices! Many of these are also some of my favorite IFs of all time. Spellcasting in particular. Spellcasting 201 was one of the first games I owned. Spent countless hours on it and the other 2 when I was about 13. Had to buy the hintbooks too! Never did complete 301.. I did something to “break” my game and have yet to re=play. Currently replaying 101 without any hints.


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