Crystal Cave: Siege Perilous   Leave a comment

One of the less-common Patterns I’ve noticed with games is to take an action which is somewhat abstracted (slaying generic monsters, say) and add personalities and/or ramifications (slaying monsters that turn out to have names and families, you monster). This sort of exercise could be performed on the standard treasure hunt, where the game chastises you for stealing stuff and points out how bad a person you are for playing a game. (This can occasionally be effective but is also wearying in the “you were helping the bad guy the whole time!” plot twist sort of way.)

The opening conceit of Crystal Caves runs along similar lines: having a cave realistically made where touching things will break them and a ranger constantly chastizing you for your plundering adventure sensibilities.

Except here there’s an “inner game” and the change happens, the ranger is never seen from again. (Except, maybe he’ll come back in the endgame?)

You are at the upper end of the misty lake.
You are afloat in a small boat.
There is a large rimstone dam here. Behind it, a pool of water spills steadily over the dam. The ceiling dips into the pool.

This is the location where I hinted at last time that it helps to know something about real caves. I admit my Zork training initially made me think of a human-built dam, but “rimstone dam” refers to a natural cave formation.

Because we aren’t talking about a giant concrete structure, the next action makes more sense. I don’t think any rimstone dams are holding back giant bodies of water as implied, but since this is the barrier between reality and fantasy, it works out:

The dam crashes open with a mighty roar. A gigantic wall of water leaps across the lake and down the stream passage, destroying everything in its path.

You have to be careful to stow away your boat so it isn’t swept away, but otherwise, this will reveal the inner game as well as jam the front gate so you can’t go through anymore.

You are in a large hall with a pool of water. To the south, a waterfall thunders into the pool, and flows out through a passage to the east. To the west, a hole in the wall looms beyond a small beach.
You are afloat in a small boat.

The classic Adventure dwarves start attacking you here (and behave exactly as in original Adventure) and the pirate is also active (and will take any treasures he steals to his “grotto”, although I have no idea where that is). The geography is otherwise entirely different.

The Hall of the Mountain King has expanded to nine rooms. In the center is a throne which launches you in the air.

> W
You are in the center of the Hall of the Mountain King, a large octagonal room. There are passages on all sides!
There is a large, bejeweled throne here.

As you sit, you notice the inscription–“Siege Perilous — Nobles only.” With a fearful roar, the throne hurls you straight up — plastering you on the roof of the cave!

To the northwest is a “bugbear” (although close in behavior to a bear; I think the name is from Dungeons and Dragons but bugbears in that game are humanoids). It is chained to the wall just like the classic one from Crowther/Woods Adventure, but if you feed it, it becomes a “well-fed” bugbear and still happy to attack you.

There’s a “King’s Dungeon” complex off to the southwest leading to a crypt. The crypt has a “Fell King” with an iron crown who will start chasing you if you try to take the iron crown. (You can run all the way back to the throne, where sitting while holding the crown isn’t fatal any more … but it doesn’t seem to help in stopping the Fell King anyway.)

The Crypt also has a “ruby medallion” which I haven’t fulled worked out, but seems to let out a glow every time an enemy is nearby, essentially behaving like the elvish sword from Zork. However, it does count as a treasure, and the Pirate has very grabby fingers, so I haven’t been able to play with it much.

There’s a Wizard’s Tower which you can enter as long as you’re holding a nearby scroll, whereupon you will find a Timemaze.

“p” and “f” here stand for “past” and “future”.

I originally hoped for some crazy “change things in the maze in the past to modify the future” type action, and I supppose it’s *possible* that’s embedded somewhere, but mainly the Timemaze is just a regular maze with two additional exits (past and future). One of the treasures (a scepter) is guarded by a dragon, where the KILL DRAGON trick from the original game doesn’t work. It looks like you can just take the scepter and run if you have some way of resisting fire.

To summarize, my open problems are:

1.) passing the bugbear

2.) defeating / evading the Fell King

3.) finding the Pirate Grotto

4.) stealing the scepter from the dragon

Item #3 is, in essence, the top priority for me because I can’t get much done with treasures being lifted all the time, but “find the hidden place that could be anywhere” type puzzles are intrinsically difficult to just work on.

Posted June 18, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Before Adventure, Part 6: The Public Caves (1973)   3 comments



The last we saw of the Caves series by Dave Kaufman was perhaps a little underwhelming. The game generated a set of “caves” in tree format and challenged you to escape, but it was arranged in a manner that didn’t provide any challenge.

However, Mr. Kaufman wasn’t quite done yet, and according to the date on the source code, returned to the Caves in August 1973.

PCC Nov. 1973. “The ‘Public Caves’ are ever-expanding and forever changing. Each visit, the graffiti is different; new tunnels have been dug and new caverns added. New names have appeared and there is always someplace new to explore!”

One of the issues (perhaps, the only issue) with both Caves and Wumpus passing into adventure-game territory was the sameness of the rooms. The Public Caves does away with that. Each new room is built by a visitor who names it, each room has “graffiti” that the visitors can add to.

PCC Nov. 1973. While a touch confusing to read, this is showing an actual gameplay transcript.

The system is very clunky (although to be fair, the first of its kind). You must type WRITE, MOVE, BUILD, DIG, or OUT in full to do a command. WRITE lets you add to the text of a room. MOVE gives a list of adjacent rooms; if only one room is adjacent, you are moved there automatically. BUILD lets you make a brand-new room that is linked to your current room, and DIG lets you make a new tunnel into an existing room (which requires you type the exact name of the existing room you’re thinking of).

You can only BUILD once and DIG once per visit. This does not seem to be due to the technical limitations of the system, but as a sort of social engineering: encouraging people to contribute as a mass group, rather than having one person dominate and write a lot of content at once.

During the weekend that this post is going up, a version of The Public Caves will be live at the conference Narrascope. (I typed the 1973 source code and compiled it with QBASIC, so it runs under DOSBox.) The plan is to take what is collaboratively built and make it accessible to everyone. I will modify this post after the conference is over and include a link to play online.

(Incidentally, the Narrascope setup is using a batch-file loop, so it’s not hard to quit and return to make more rooms, but I’m guessing that was true of the original game as well.)

Now, is this an adventure game? This post is part of “Before Adventure” so I guess I’m still waffling, but mainly on a technicality: it’s a system for creating a world but doesn’t come with one. (Of course, it’s possible to render the screenshots above as the start of a world, so if you consider the November PCC article part of the source code then that objection is taken care of.) The other question is if adventure games need puzzles. A fair number of definitions require them, like:

Adventure games focus on puzzle solving within a narrative framework, generally with few or no action elements.


a video game in which the player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.

although the mention of “puzzle solving” is more to distinguish the mechanics from, say, that of an action or strategy game. If you want to get technical, you could say there is an “narrative/exploration genre” but there needs to be some puzzle element added on to be a full “adventure game”. To which I say: fair enough. Game genre definitions can be useful for identifying what techniques work in which settings (see: Quarterstaff having a bad time when RPG and adventure elements clash) and isolating exploration games may even be useful in finding things adventure games can’t do that exploration games can (like having the audience itself make all the content).

But whatever this game’s designation, it gets tantalizingly close to a new era, and it seems like that’s worth celebrating. To paraphrase Stanley Kubrick, the universe may be dark and devoid of meaning, but that just means we get to create our own light and meaning to bring to it.

Posted June 14, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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For Those Attending Narrascope   3 comments

Narrascope is starting tomorrow in Boston (June 14th, 2019) and goes through the weekend.

NarraScope is a new games conference that will support interactive narrative, adventure games, and interactive fiction by bringing together writers, developers, and players.

I am on the wrong side of the country to go, but if you happen to be attending, I have arranged something special (thanks to Andrew Plotkin for help setting it up!)

Specifically: there is an expo room that is showing demos over the weekend.

Amongst the live demos there will be a historical exhibit with a game that has not seen the light of day since the 1970s. One could plausibly make the claim it is the first adventure game ever made. It predates both Wander and Adventure.

I’ll also be finishing my Before Adventure series soon after so y’all who can’t make it will get a chance to try the game out.

Posted June 13, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Crystal Cave (1980?)   3 comments

I should’ve known better.

I wanted something strictly traditional to trudge through, so I poked through my game list and came across Crystal Cave, a game from an unknown year and an unknown author but one that was made by modifying the original Crowther/Woods source code to Adventure. We have access to it because Kevin O’Gorman ported it to C in the late 80s from UNIVAC FORTRAN, of all things.

Boy howdy, did it break “traditional” in half.

(Year and author unknown-ish — I found someone asking about it in March 1984. 1980 is a decent educated guess. I also have a strong suspicion who the author is and may even be able to verify 100%, but I’ll get into that in a later post.)

If UNIVAC is ringing a bell, you may have heard about it as being the world’s first commercially sold computer. Here’s a spot from an educational video (1950-1952ish) explaining how the keystrokes on the keyboard are turned into electrical impulses.

By 1980 (or so) our code in question was running on a UNIVAC 1100, which had at least moved past vacuum tubes. It was still bulky.

Image from the public domain.

We’ve certainly seen many variants of Adventure now:

This isn’t like any of those. This is a brand-new game which just used the original source code as the base for writing a text adventure. There are very few elements unchanged (most notably, the dwarves seem to be identical to original Adventure).

The port I was playing gave me warning: while the game has some similar elements to Adventure it very intentionally deviates from them in their use, almost like a running joke. Acheton (1978) played with this idea a bit …

You are standing in the depression.
There is a 3×3 steel grate set in the ground nearby.
The grate is open.
> d
You fall into a well. The water is icy cold, and you rapidly die of hypothermia.

… but Crystal Cave grabs the idea, runs with it, vaults over the wall with it, lights it on fire, does an arts-and-crafts project with the remains, then lights it on fire again just for good measure.

You are standing before a barn at the northern end of a road. To the east is a pasture. To the west and north are woods. There are well-worn paths in several directions.
A Boy Scout compass is lying nearby.
You’re in the barn. It has been converted to quarters for spelunkers.
There are electric lights, and a number of mattresses strewn about.
There are some keys on the ground here.
There is a shiny brass lamp nearby.
Your wallet is here, containing 1 dollar in change.
There is a shower here.
There is a cola machine in one corner. The instructions read:

Here’s the start. Nothing too unusual so far, except the standard-issue bottle you get at the start of the game comes out of a cola machine.

Where things get odd is upon arriving to the caves:

You are at a stream exiting from a cliff. A sign says:

> n
You are at the mouth of the cave.
Ranger Rick cautions you not to take or break anything in the cave.
The gate is locked, and guarded by a Ranger. A sign says:

> pay ranger
You are inside the entrance. A stream exits here. A path runs beside the stream.
The gate opens easily from the inside. A sign says:
There is an ancient indian pot here.

Let’s back up to be clear: the opening is designed like a realistic visit to an actual National Park. (Except the reference to Ranger Rick suggests you’re talking to a raccoon, but that never gets spelled out.) The opening section is filled with realistic cave features. Like here …

You are in a long flat room, sloping along a trench in the floor. There is a hole in the ceiling, but you can’t reach it.
There are gypsum flowers here.

… or here:

You are at the intersection of three passages. One rises slightly, one drops rapidly.
There are helictites on the walls.

If you try to touch any of the features, they break and Ranger Rick shows up to chastise you.

The ceiling is covered with soda-straw stalactites.

> get stalactite
There is a Ranger behind you! He says:
“I told you not to take or break anything! Don’t do it again!”
You’re at clock shop.
The ground is covered with pieces of broken soda-straws.

Hence, as what I’m sure is a shock to adventurers everywhere, there are many “items” at the start that you must actively avoid taking and are there purely as realistic cave scenery.

This section is fairly extensive (it took me several hours) and the author clearly did some research; it takes a bit of a puzzle-solving leap (where it helps to know something about caves!) to break into the “inside section” where there are actual treasures you can get and dwarves and a dragon and so on; I’ll save that for next time.

My map of the “realistic” portion of the caves. The east side includes a lake with a boat. You can attempt to sneak into the far west side using a rope but Ranger Rick kicks you out.

Posted June 12, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mount St. Helens (1980)   7 comments

Via Google Maps and US gov’t satellite data.

On March 20, 1980, northeast of Portland, over the state line to Washington state, a series of earthquakes began at Mount St. Helens.

This was followed on March 27 by a pair of explosions, forming a crater at the north face; the volcano, previously dormant for over 100 years, began to spew ash.

Minor earthquakes and intermittent eruptions followed in the weeks after. The crater, in the meantime, expanded.

By April 30, the governor of Washington had signed an executive order creating “red” and “blue” zones of danger.

The Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1980.

While nearly all people were evacuated from the red zone, hundreds of scientists, campers, hikers, and curiosity seekers stayed in the blue zone five miles away. It wasn’t far enough.

Public domain photo from USGS.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens exploded. The geologists Keith and Dorothy Stoffel were in an airplane above when the event happened.

From our viewpoint, the initial cloud appeared to mushroom laterally to the north and plunge down. Within seconds, the cloud had mushroomed enough to obscure our view … The pilot opened full throttle and dove quickly to gain speed. He estimates that we were going 200 knots. The cloud behind us mushroomed to unbelievable dimensions and appeared to be catching up with us. Since the clouds were billowing primarily in a northerly direction, we turned south, heading straight toward Mount Hood.

Robert Payne, Mike Hubbard, and Keith Moore were fishing, sixteen miles northwest.

Hubbard: We could see half a mile of ridgeline. The cloud suddenly loomed over the ridge as a wall. It didn’t continue up but flowed down through the forest toward us. The front was a thousand feet high—boiling, gray, turbulent, coming very fast.

I dropped my pole and ran down the bank. I looked back and already it was almost on us, a hundred yards back. Bob ran just behind me, and I glimpsed Keith forty yards back running from the river into taller timber. Just ahead of me was a huge maple tree, four feet in diameter. I dove in behind it, Bob dove in, and it turned black.

Payne: It enveloped us, pitch black and indescribably hot. Thunder like heavy artillery close by lasted ten seconds—trees coming down, I think. Then came heavy rumbling and thunder from the mountain, and lightning in the cloud. A fierce wind knocked me back onto Mike. It lasted half a minute. It was like Navy boot camp when we jumped into water with fire on it, but this much hotter and longer.

Venus Dergan and Roald Reitan were camping 30 miles away.

As they scrambled to the car, a lahar from the eruption was speeding down the river towards them—hot mud from the volcano that had been cooled by the river until it was the temperature of bath water. Upriver from their campsite, they could see a train trestle holding back a mass of mud and debris. Their car wouldn’t start and they watched as the mudflow hit the train trestle, unleashing the debris that quickly engulfed their car. They climbed to the roof, the mudflow picking up the car and sweeping it upriver. Dergan and Reitan were thrown into the river, which had quadrupled in size, as their car drifted away like a boat.

All the people mentioned above survived, but not everyone did; in the end, 57 people died.

A month later, Victor Albino decided to write a game based on the events (originally, it appears, for the Commodore PET). In March 1981 it landed in the magazine SoftSide for the TRS-80.

Victor writes:

“Volcano” is an TRS-80 educational adventure game requiring at least 16K memory.

As one of the snow-capped jewels of Washington’s Cascade Range, Mount St. Helens ruled with majestic silence for 123 years. Then on Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., it erupted in a mammoth fury which paralyzed much of the Pacific Northwest.

Despite these elements and the odds, almost 200 people were saved from the mountain by brave crews in rescue helicopters. This program, based on actual eyewitness accounts, recreates the experiences related by these survivors.

If you had been one of those present near the mountain that Sunday morning, would you have managed to survive?

The TRS-80 version of the game is fairly serious about the educational angle, even giving a volcano diagram and a glossary of terms.

I’ve merged two screenshots here, with the four lines of text and the image that followed it.

The game is also the first “pure” choice-based game written for a computer that I know of; that is, it could be rendered strictly as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.

There is no “world state” or “inventory” because every wrong move you take will kill you. Under Sam Kabo Ashwell’s taxonomy, it’s a deadly gauntlet.

Here is the result of choice #1:

Choice #2:

Choice #3 (the correct one):

This is three screenshots merged into one.

I’m guessing you get the idea — by the end you get rescued by helicopter (depending on which version you’re playing, with a little animation to go with it).

If you’d like to partake of this unique piece of computing history, this link will play the TRS-80 version online, or you can download the 1980 Commodore PET version here.

Posted June 11, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kadath: So Black as to Be the Colour of Space Itself   1 comment

This game ended up around 2 hours long; if you’re interested in trying it, the Commodore 64 version is fine (link to play online). As far as *if* you should play it — if the idea of playing the first gamebook-form computer game appeals to you, or playing the first Lovecraft game in any form, then yes, try it out.

Cover via ISFDB; after this point are complete spoilers.

I. On the pentagonal map trick

Last time, I mentioned each main room of the game has five exits, and when you enter a room you specify where you go by a number (1, 2, 3, or 4) where the numbers represent the exits clockwise.

It worked for this game, but it wouldn’t work generally.

The map above is partial, but more or less represents my own game mid-play. I had mapped out the “Domed Narrow Band” room, “Two Bands” room, and “Domed” room. I just added the “Damaged” room and tried another exit, which brought me back to the “Domed” room.

But: where in the Domed room did I just arrive? There’s already a known connection (to the “Domed Narrow Band”) but I had no idea where the new passage is relative to the known one; that meant I couldn’t merge my new passage with what was there. In other words, the “known passage” could have been any number from 1 to 4. Figuring this out involved a lot of error and redraws of my map.

The author clearly knew his map was confusing and amplified the effect. You might go through a passage to a room and find there is a door to the left and a door to the right going back (that weren’t mentioned before) to find only one of them goes back to the original room … or even find *both* of them go back to the original room, but one of them is to a different exit (so the numbers 1 to 4 now correspond to entirely different places).

In fact, I’m fairly sure my current map is far off from the real one, so I’m not going to reproduce the whole thing here. It turns out the winning sequence is short so I just needed a sequence that worked, rather than thoroughly understanding how everything connected.

II. So far

The game gives “progress reports” at regular intervals, and one more report when you die.

This was, in essence, akin to a “Story So Far” type update where a game gives you a running narrative of what’s happened so far if you restore a saved game file. (I most recently saw this in Heaven’s Vault, but it’s very rare in general.)

The reminder of days remaining serves to keep the tension up, and the mention of what items are found serves as fairly strong hints.

III. Instant death

There are no shortage of places to die. Some of them require you to actively take the final plunge.

Where could so many bones have possibly come from? Maybe I should get closer and check it out?

Some of them are a little more arbitrary.

I went the wrong direction.

IV. How inventory is handled

You’ll occasionally find an item; the game will either prompt if you want to take it with you, or in some cases if there’s more than one item, which one you want to take.

The “which item to take” complication keeps the puzzles from being too simplistic … but only barely. My first time through I had taken the sphere. Later I found an “AMORPHOUS BLOB” where my only option was to run away, and the game frets over my lack of a weapon. So … return to swap the sphere for the dagger, come back, and then I could use the dagger on the blob.

V. On winning

The start of the game states you need to

find and return the Eye of Kadath

invoke the Elder powers

destroy the Gate

The “story so far” bits helpfully fill in when you’re ready, so it’s just a matter of going to the right location and … typing?

This felt weirdly like a trivia quiz, but I suppose the effect was better than having everything done automatically. Having to type the chant was a nice touch, except my first time through I messed it up because my emulator’s apostrophe button was a different-than-usual key, causing the universe to be destroyed. (Little did we realize humanity’s fall would be due to keyboard mapping.)

This game was just the right length to get across the Lovecraftian sense of dread and confusion without overstaying its visit.

VI. On the gamebook connection

My main question by the end was (and still is) “where did Gary Musgrave get the idea for this?”

While there are many gamebooks that came before, Kadath doesn’t resemble any of them that closely (and I hope the numerous re-inventions I mentioned in my short history attest to the fact it’d be possible to be writing in 1979 while still unaware of all of them). Primarily, the choice books before that point had each numbered section as a plot-point but not as a physical location in space, and the idea of returning to prior locations in loops would be doubly weird. If anything, he may have been familiar with the Tunnels and Trolls games, but even those emphasized forward progress and were more into RPG elements than puzzles.

In other words, this may have represented yet another re-invention of the gamebook form. Cave of Time (the first Choose-your-own-Adventure) wasn’t out until July of 1979, the same month this game was released. Could this have been made immediately after the author saw Cave of Time (assuming, of course, he saw it in the first place)? While possible, it seems too heavily morphed from the CYOA concept to be a rush job.

We have seen some menu-based adventure games: Treasure Hunt (1978), Quest (1978) and Mines (1979) all qualify. Even if Mr. Musgrave hadn’t played them, it wouldn’t be too complex a leap from menu-based adventure as a concept to a game with more active plot choices, attempted atmosphere writing, and choices involving an inventory.

There’s also some element of text simulation-narrative games, yet another genre I haven’t written much about. Compare the march of time to that of, say, Camel (link to play online).

You have travelled 0 miles altogether.
What is your command? 2
Your camel likes this pace.
You have travelled 9 miles altogether.
What is your command? 3
Your camel is burning across the desert sands.
———-W A R N I N G———- Get a drink
You have travelled 23 miles altogether.

Alternately, note how in early versions of Oregon Trail you have to type BANG correctly while hunting. Compare this to the ending of Kadath where you have to type the chant. (I never verified if the typing was timed, but the game did indicate you needed to hurry.)

Whatever the original source of creativity, I appreciated this game was rescued from the depths by being ported off the Altair. If you’re wondering when the first “straight CYOA game” for computer happened (that is, one designed specifically for computer that only goes from node to node, with no inventory or the like), we’ll need to return to 1980 and a famous disaster that killed over 50 people.

Posted June 10, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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A Very Brief History of Gamebooks (up to 1979)   9 comments

This was intended as part of my series on the 1979 game Kadath (aka the first Lovecraftian game ever made), but it got rather digressive, so I separated it out. I’ll tie some of these elements in on my next and last post on the game.

In a way, “interactive fiction” started before fiction was explicitly interactive. The mystery genre has always had an element of trying to predict who committed a crime before the ending is revealed. Ellery Queen (aka Frederic Dannay) appears to be the first person to explicitly cater to this tendency in The Roman Hat Mystery (1929).


A “branching narrative” where the reader can choose which direction the story flows came shortly after, in 1930, through the book Consider The Consequences! by Doris Webster and Mary Alden Hopkins.

Via Demian’s Gamebook Web Page. “Here is a brand new idea in fiction — a story which ends in any one of a dozen or more different ways, depending entirely on the taste of the individual reader.” There’s even branching diagrams showing the stories mapped out as trees.

Both these types of books — mysteries with explicit attempts to let the reader find the solution, and branching narratives — occurred intermittently through the 20th century. For the purposes of Kadath, we care more about the branching kind, so let me highlight a few more:

Treasure Hunt by Alan George (1945): “A MAZE in Volume Form – A Puzzle – A Picture-Story-Book – A Brain-Tonic – An Absorbing Pastime with Hours-and-Hours of Interest”

TutorText (1958-1972): A series teaching a wide assortment of topics interactively with titles like Trigonometry: A Practical Course, Understanding Shakespeare: Macbeth, and Understanding Stocks.

The second of the TutorText series, via

Un conte à votre façon (A Story as You Like It) by Raymond Queneau (1967): part of the French “Oulipo” group; a short story where your choices affect the parameters; you can try the English translation in interactive form here.

A diagram of Un conte à votre façon that was published with a collected volume of Oulipo’s work.

Lucky Les by E. W. Hildick (1967): “…by ingenuity and even more LUCK, Les survived in Miss Tabb’s boarding school where the pupils were fed on crusts and fried bootlaces! But what happened to him when he left school? Well, you can decide this for yourself.”

Sleep, and the City Trembles by Dennis Guerrier (“engineered by John Garforth”) (1969): He published three others the same year, including one where you could play solo Tic-Tac-Toe.

Via Amazon.

The twelve Tracker books (1972-1980): starting with Mission to Planet L and ending with Codebreaker International, with illustrations across every page of text …

… and I know I’m leaving a few out, but I hope the point is made that there was quite a bit out there before Edward Packer’s Sugarcane Island (written in 1969, finally published in 1976) which eventually led to the Choose Your Own Adventure series and a much, much larger audience.

Curiously, most of the people working above seemed to have come up with the branching idea independently. This was an invention that surfaced multiple times with different inspirations.

1. Doris Webster and Mary Alden Hopkins previously wrote “party game” books like I’ve Got Your Number! which finds the “key numbers” of party guests via personal questions. The idea of “personality traits adding up to a number” creatively evolved into a book with fictional characters where decisions go from number to number (and thus different story parts).

2. Treasure Hunt extends the general idea of puzzle books for children so that the narrative itself is a puzzle.

Let’s Play Together, The Second Eye-Cue Builder Book (1945), a combination book / jigsaw puzzle.

3. The TutorText series came from the ideas of teaching machines (Sidney L. Pressey, 1926), branching programming (Norman Crowder starting in the 1950s) and programmed learning (B.F. Skinner around the same time).

4. The French “Oulipo” group did all sorts of experiments with text where the goal was to find “new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy”. Queneau in particular was interested in textual permutations, with a book of sonnets where the lines can be rearranged, and a single story told in 99 different ways.

5. E. W. Hildick seems to have segued off the idea of cats having “multiple lives”, and his book is subtitled “The Adventures of a Cat of Five Tales”.

6. Dennis Guerrier was apparently familiar with the actual TutorText books (and thus would be the first person inspired to write branching text via already existing branching text), but he turned the non-fiction overlay into fiction.

7. I’m least sure about the Tracker books. Weirdly, the covers emphasize “you” going on an adventure, but the text is in first person (of the books I was able to check).

8. For Edward Packer’s inspiration, I’ll quote directly from a secondary source (I assume this was pulled from an interview, but I haven’t been able to find the original).

Edward Packer created the series of books out of an exchange he had with his daughters. He used to tell them stories each night about a character named Pete. One day, he ran out of adventures to send Pete on and he asked his children what they thought Pete should encounter that night.

To summarize, choice narratives were invented at separate times and derived from: adult party games, children’s puzzle books, educational learning philosophy, French experiments in text, the “multiple lives” of cats, and in-person storytelling.

All the above is in regards to stories “without state”, where the reader goes from section to section without keeping track of an “inventory” or “statistics”. (Of course, adding a whole lot of sections can essentially simulate keeping state, which is how it’s possible to make a book that plays tic-tac-toe.) With the introduction of roleplaying games in the early 1970s, it was inevitable that someone would eventually write a solo RPG. The same year that Sugarcane Island was published (1976) saw the release of Buffalo Castle by Rick Loomis for the Tunnels & Trolls system:

From one of the first pages of Buffalo Castle.

Dungeons and Dragons was/is the titan of the RPG field, and the first D&D solo adventure entitled The Solo Dungeon came out two years later in 1978 (written by Richard Bartle of MUD1 fame).

It’s worth lingering an extra moment here with a comment from the introduction:

It will offer a number of choices from which you pick out what happens … it is, in effect, a manual computer programme such as those used in certain ‘Teach Yourself’ books.

Despite all the history above (including the fact the D&D people knew about the Tunnels and Trolls people), the book references the TutorText series as a model for how the game works. In a way, by 1978 the form of gamebooks was just getting started, even though they technically dated back to 1930; they kept getting re-invented anew.

The Choose Your Own Adventure series proper launched in 1979: that’s when, finally, they got popular and people starting referencing other gamebooks in making their own.

1979 is also when Kadath was released, and where we’ll finish our story next time.

Posted June 6, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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