diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Press return to continue

20 years ago computer games were very different to the slick violent action games we have today. Graphics, if there were any, were sparse and chunky. There were no handsets with special buttons to press, you just hammered your spacebar to jump and used Z and X for left and right. With only a few kilobytes of memory available, games designers were forced to concentrate on playability instead of special effects. This meant that many of the games were ten times better to play than they actually looked, which is the exact opposite of most of the £40 no-brainers released today. One particularly basic example of the genre was the text adventure, which normally went something like this:
YOU ARE STANDING OUTSIDE A SMALL CAVE.
ON THE GROUND IS A GOLD COIN.
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY.
PATHS LEAD NORTH, SOUTH AND WEST.
>
The cursor would flash at you, expectantly, waiting for you to type your next instruction. Vocabulary was rather limited so it was important to type exactly the right words - for example take coin instead of pick coin (SORRY I DON'T KNOW HOW TO 'PICK'). You also had to try follow the twisted logic of the game designer, so it could ages to try to work out which of the many game objects you needed to use in a certain situation and precisely how to use it.
> enter cave
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> talk to knight
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> kick knight
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> scream
THE SILENT KNIGHT BLOCKS YOUR WAY
> give obscure-artefact-I-picked-up-three-rooms-back
THE SILENT KNIGHT SAYS "THANK YOU" AND STANDS ASIDE
> enter cave
Sometimes the puzzles were so difficult that you'd get stuck in the second room and give up on the entire game, unable to proceed any further. There was no internet on which to look up the answers in those days, just playground gossip and various 'cheats' printed in monthly magazines, but it always felt good to complete even one part of the puzzle unaided without resorting to any of the above. Memorable text adventure games of the era included Zork, Philosopher's Quest, Granny's Garden (still selling well after 21 years) and the surprisingly good L - A Mathematical Adventure.
> follow abbot
And now one of the all-time greats has been resurrected to celebrate the launch of the third series of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. The BBC website is playing host to a 21st century version of Douglas Adams' classic text adventure, a game which sold a third of a million copies back in 1984 (probably on ropey cassette tape) but which you can now play online for free. The plot is twisted (but always just-about logical) and it certainly helps to know something of the storyline of the original series. Douglas described the game as "user-mendacious", which means that you tend to die quite frequently, but at least in such circumstances you can restart and try again. Highly improbable, but not impossible.
> give sandwich to dog
The dog is deeply moved. With powerful sweeps of its tail it indicates that it regards this cheese sandwich as one of the great cheese sandwiches. Nine out of ten pet owners could happen by at this point expressing any preference they pleased, but this dog would spurn both them and all their tins. This is a dog which has met its main sandwich. It eats with passion, and ignores a passing microscopic space fleet.
The game is here, there are some hints here, and there's plenty of time to play while you wait for episode 2 of the latest series on Radio 4 tonight. You might even want to load my saved game to see if you can advance the position a bit... > restore > dgeezer


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