ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Amnesia Manuscript —

As mentioned in a rather recent weblog entry, a collector has gotten their hands on both original packaging and the manuscript for a game by the late Thomas Disch called “Amnesia“. This game, released in 1985, was a text adventure featuring a player waking up with no memory of who they are and the resulting puzzling out to solve a mystery.

True to their word, the collector, Stephane Racle, has scanned in the hundreds of pages (430+) of the manuscript and made them available. I’m mirroring it here.

Here is the PDF of the manuscript. (18 megabytes) (original link is here.)

Stephane Racle also did an amazing job scanning in PDFs of the first 100 issues of Computer Gaming World. I considered his work sterling in that regard and am sure this PDF represents an excellent version of the original paper. Stephane also OCR’d the PDF so it is possible to search it, although some notes are handwritten, and some pages are nearly unreadable generally. But you’ll get the idea.

To be clear: this is not a novel, this is not a script in the sense most people think of a play or a shooting script. This is a specification outline for an interactive fiction, where the descriptions Disch works in are meant to be manipulated by the player in the process of exploring a world. It is informative and interesting to see a writer grappling with the form, trying out things to say, giving unusual linguistic touches to descriptions, and generally making his way through the core ideas he’s trying to get across. The term most often used for this is pseudo-code. An example in the script is (If response to 11> is TAKE BLANKET or WEAR BLANKET:], i.e. what the game should print as a description for a blanket in a given room. Disch referred to this decision junctions as nodes, other authors grappled with the terms in their own way.

If you’re hard-pressed to want to read “writing”, he definitely has full-blown paragraphs from this manuscript. Some of this stuff never made it into the final game (space limitations would have demanded it), so it’s stuff that may or may not exist anywhere else but in this scan. For example:

“You spend the next hour preparing to face death and debating with yourself the pros and cons of capital punishment. If you could be sure you’d killed a guard while trying to escape from this prison, you’d feel less
of two minds. Since you’re not sure, you feel it isn’t really fair to be executed. How much more humane, you
think, to induce amnesia like your own. instead of condemning men to death. On the other hand, given a choice
between a quick and painless death and a lifetime of dying slowly here in Revoltillo…”

A number of authors tended to work in this sort of pseudo-code. Robert Pinsky did when he worked in Mindwheel, Douglas Adams definitely handed his ideas over to Steve Meretzky for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Marc Blank/Mike Berlyn contributed a spec script for Zork: The Undiscovered Underground. (Some authors, of course, never went near the game in any fashion, just having an agent license the rights to a company to build a game around.)

A great thank-you to Stephane for being so generous with his talent and windfall.

Categorised as: computer history

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