By Sean Perryman on April 9, 2015 at 8:31am
Let me start off by saying something that probably goes without saying: I am a writer. I like writing, I feel like I do it well. Lately, there have been more and more text-adventure games (henceforth known as interactive fiction) appearing on Steam, and I can't help but wonder if they are, in some way, cheating the system with their inherent lack of graphical prowess or actual interactivity in the traditional sense.
I can remember playing Zork as a child and having a great time at it. There were no graphics to speak of, so you were left to your own imagination to determine what the rooms and their contents would look like. This was, of course, during a time where there were no graphical video games available to me. The best I had was a shareware copy of Hugo's House of Horrors, and that wasn't too far ahead of Zork.
Then came the modem, and the BBS', and door games. Man, that was an amazing time of my life. Never again have I been able to stay up all night with such ease as when a new BBS' came online with a whole catalog of games. "LORD", "Planets: TEOS", "BRE", the list goes on and on. Again, minimal graphics and lots of text, but this time I was playing with other people as well.
Somewhere along the way text adventures, and even graphical adventures like "King's Quest" and "Maniac Mansion", gave way to more graphically and aurally advanced games. There was probably a period of ten years or more where old-style adventure games were not even a blip on people's radar. They were still around, of course, by way of independent developers like Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software. No more Sierra Online or LucasArts.
Text heavy adventure games have made a resurgence over the last few years, due in part to studios like Telltale picking up the torch and really hitting some home runs with their series of CSI based games for Ubisoft as well as using other prominent IP from other media (Sam and Max, The Walking Dead, Jurassic Park).
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the current landscape of Steam being populated by games made with Twine. Well, they aren't all made with Twine, but some of the particularly terrible ones are.
Don't take this as gospel that all text adventure games are drivel, quite the opposite. I had the change to play through one just the other day called "Choice of the Deathless" by Choice of Games, LLC. It is $2.99 on Steam, and took me about 5 hours to finish. In the game you play as a lawyer of sorts, and you "interact" with members of your firm as well as other people in the world. I placed interact in quotes not because you don't actually interact with people, but more because it is not an interaction in the way we all equate interaction with being.
The game reads like a book, and allows you to make choices at particular points in the story. Very similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books of yesteryear, the plots and endings are all predetermined. The choices you make throughout the story steer you to a particular ending. This game, and it looks like all the other ones produced by Choice of Games, come with the added feature of saving to Steam Cloud. That means you can read the story on multiple computers, and have your place saved along the way.
"Choice of the Deathless" also has a stats system that I hadn't gotten too much into on my first play through, but every time I checked it things were moving so I assume it was doing something. There were things like charm, craft (your power in the game), cunning, determination, and your character's type: gunner or socialite. There is also a field for sleep, which I can only imagine would change your responses when it gets too low. This was something I hadn't expected from a text adventure, and was a really neat way to see how story progressing as you make choices.
Beneath that was a listing of the few major players in the game and your status with them. Make decisions that affected a character negatively and you would see a low percentage reflected here. Do a good job for them and be rewarded in kind. I assume these statistics have something to do with the interactions you are presented with from a given character, as well as how they act when in your presence. From the way the story was going you could almost see the 'favor' of an individual going down in real time.
While some text adventures that are available on Steam are shallow and incomplete seeming, this one was exceedingly polished and well-written. If I'd had any doubts about a text adventure's worthiness of being sold on Steam, this one sealed the deal. Looking over their other titles it appears that they put the same care and thought into each one they release, and the reviews they've received speak to that fact.
All in all, it really does read like a book. If it is a subject that you aren't too fond of, then you likely aren't going to enjoy the game. If you are into the subject of the game, however, you may find yourself glued to your screen waiting to see what happens next.
To answer my question from the subtitle of this article, I don't believe that text adventures are a cop out on the whole. Sure, there are some very poor entries into the genre, but you can say that about every genre of game that is available. There will always be people who just buy a bunch of junk of the Unity asset store and put together a game, but there are also the people who pour their heart and soul into their work. Choice of Games, I must say, has shown themselves to be the latter; as well as a shining example of what interactive fiction is really about.
Choice of Games Choice of the Deathless on Steam Planets: TEOS Fan Page