ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Adventure Library —

When I started work on GET LAMP, one of the things I did was start buying adventure game-related books by the truckload. Anytime I could find them for sale on used-book sites, I’d snag a copy. Now it’s a few years later and I have quite the collection:

For easy reference, here’s the list as I have it:

A more comprehensive collection of books is here.

Some of these books are about how to solve the adventures. That is, go north and get this item and go over here and then you’re faced with the victory screen. Some include maps and artistic renderings of the games being walked through. Other books are about the craft of adventure-making, and obviously hold a deeper regard and meaning for the idea of text adventures. A rare few contain cultural analysis of the adventure industry, and are written from a high vantage point, which was difficult to get at the time. And some are basically page after page of program listings, waiting for you to type them in painfully. They are, in fact, books that give you a second moonlighting job as a clerk!

A few highlights of this collection:

Dacosta’s book is a wonder. Even though its title references the TRS-80 specifically, this appears to be some strapped-on publisher’s choice; the book itself is a general overview of writing adventures and could apply in the modern era as easily as when it was written 25 years ago. I am especially lucky to have the embossed hardcover version, which add a level of weight and quality to the words beyond even the amount that Dacosta put into them:

Dacosta breaks it down, my friends; he covers how to approach getting a scenario into identifiable locations, he discusses best ways to save the map in database form, and he has page after page of general tips on writing games that are good. It’s all in there, an excellent find, and it imbues the entire endeavor with a sense of taking on a trusted position within a guild.

I would be remiss beyond all expectation not to specifically recommend Montfort’s book, and not just because he’s become a friend. It’s a well-written piece, going deeply into the world of interactive fiction and the history of text adventures much deeper than I think I’ll be able to do with my work. It’s all in there, and he’s the real deal. Here’s his page about it.

On the cover of Schuette’s book is the legendary Dietz Lamp, which is the lamp that makes some heavy appearances in the GET LAMP documentary. This strikes at the heart of one of the points made in the documentary, about the ideas of the lamps and caves themselves. The Dietz lamp itself has a long and storied history (check out the excellent timeline here); but for the types of caves that adventure games reference, there’s this huge break with reality. You wouldn’t take a Dietz lamp into most caves, unless you 1. Were no longer living in the age of batteries, and 2. Were basically walking through one of the really large tourist caves, which are of a different style and class than many others. What I am saying here is that the caves of our dreams have little analogue to much in the real world. Maybe that’s how it should be.

Finally, I just wanted you to have a taste, a cold blast of air before hiding deep underneath your blankets, of the sort of daunting programs one might be asked to type in from books, in the dark recesses of 1984:

Magazines started including programs which would go through the lines of things you’d typed and tell you where the errors were. But no such luck here. You miss a POKE statement, transpose a 4 and a 5, and who knows what the hell you’d be facing. And while you’re in this shocked state of mind, yes, in fact it was the case that you could potentially see all the answers and spoilers of the programming being typed in. Some programs would obfuscate this, but many others wouldn’t. I have to assume you would do this for your kids, and talk about an act of love they’ll never understand…

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  1. Jason Wells says:

    Ah, the joys of “open source” as it existed for us mere mortals in the 1980s! For those of us who weren’t hacking gcc, we remember the pain of re-keying BASIC source printed on an ASR-33.

    I remember owning several of these books! Most notably, I had Compute!’s Guide to Adventure Games. Mostly it was adventure game reviews but it also had generalized adventure-solving principles in the back (such as tips for making it through any maze of twisty passages).

    Importantly, it had Tower of Mystery, the complete BASIC source for an adventure game. Its full annotations gave us nascent programmers a good understanding of some fairly advanced ideas like parsers.

    Great times! Good to see the book covers again!

  2. Wow, that’s a wonderful collection! Though, I’m quite surprised there’s no mention of “Hamlet on the Holodeck” on either your list, or the list that you’ve linked to.

  3. Chris says:

    What memories! I entered many machine-language programs that I found printed in different Commodore magazines into my beloved C-64, typing hundreds of lines full of those POKE statements until my fingers cramped up. Unfortunately, after many hours and days of typing, most of the programs were real disappointments when you finally ran them, but it was still fun.

  4. Dan Bruno says:

    Hey, I know Jim Menick! I had no idea he wrote a book on designing adventure games.

  5. l.m.orchard says:

    Wow. I think I’ve read at least 2/3 of the books in your list, and still have 1/4 of them on a shelf somewhere at home. This is some great stuff, and this post here really brings back 1984 memories. Hacking together my own naive Infocom-wannabe sentence parsers. Optimizing stretches of gnarly IF/GOSUB blocks in C64 BASIC into slightly more elegant runs of DATA statements. All to write text adventures for myself and 3 or 4 friends.

    I’m *so* looking forward to GET LAMP. 🙂

  6. Random visitor says:

    Since you know a lot about this: is there an active IF development scene today? Any quantum leaps/paradigm improvements being made (ie better AI in the game)? What is the most advanced (ie smart/complex/flexible) IF game ever? Thanks bro…

  7. Rubes says:

    There’s also and, which are still active communities.

    And there’s also the annual IF Comp, one of the annual interactive fiction competitions, which produces some really good works.

  8. p says:

    holy cow, I read that Dacosta book as a kid!

    I’m apple II-era, never seen a TRS-80, but that book was great for general game design.

    I drew so many dang maps!

  9. Gary McGath says:

    It’s nice to see that people still occasionally pick up copies of my book.