Interactive fiction, from birth through precocious adolescence: a conversation with Jimmy Maher

A great interview, on Adventure Classic Gaming.

Was something like Adventure inevitable? That’s a tough question, but I think probably so. I’d say that the real wild-card here is not Adventure but rather Adventure‘s inspiration, Dungeons and Dragons. You just can’t exaggerate the importance of D&D to all of the many storygames that have followed it. It really did revolutionize the way we look at stories and games and the combination of the two in a way totally out of proportion to the number of people who have ever actually played it. But then, we could make exactly the same statement about Adventure, couldn’t we? Every story-oriented computer game today, including graphical adventures, can trace its roots straight back to Adventure — and from Adventure, straight back to D&D.

I’m not omniscient, but yes, I think we’d have something like Adventure come along, probably sooner rather than later, absent Crowther and Wood. Would it have used such a flexible parser for interaction, though? I don’t know, really. Certainly the many IF conventions that we still employ that have come down to us from Adventure would be a bit different. We can also say for sure that adventure games wouldn’t be called adventure games — that name is lifted straight from the original Adventure, which might perhaps begin to convey to your readers Adventure‘s importance in the scheme of things.

But what would the computer gaming landscape look like if Gygax and Arnenson had never invented D&D? Now that’s an interesting question, and one I’m not even going to attempt to answer here! — Jimmy Maher

I like Maher’s answer.  A few years ago, David Thomas asked me the same question, and I blogged a tongue-in-cheek response that nevertheless laid out some of the impact of this particular game.

Here’s part of my answer  (“What If… There Were No IF? An Alternative History of Games, sans Crowther’s Colossal Cave“)

For want of Adventure, the magic word XYZZY is lost. (Computer users around the world are forced to think of less-guessable passwords, and information technology is more secure.)

For want of Adventure, Zork was lost. (But now everyone uses a really cool spreadsheet called VisiCalc.)

For want of Zork, Roberta Williams does not create “The Mystery House.”

For want of Adventure, Adventure International was lost.

For want of Adventure International, Ken Williams does not work briefly for Scott Adams.

For want of Ken and Roberta Williams, Sierra was
lost. (A generation of youngsters don’t bother nagging their parents to
upgrade their video cards from CGA to SuperVGA; when an explosion at a
factory in Japan cripples the world’s supply of memory chips, about six
people notice.)

For want of Sierra Online, Leisure Suit Larry was lost.

For want of Leisure Suit Larry, Grand Theft Auto was lost.

For want of Grand Theft Auto, Grand Text Auto
was lost. (The creators choose the name “Rogues’ Gallery” instead,
because it got more votes than “The Pong Throng” or “VisiCalc User

For want of the text adventure genre, the entire field
of computer science seems lifeless and boring to a significant number
of young men and women who briefly consider it in the late 70s and
early 80s. They drop out in droves. The ones who don’t end up running
computers at financial institutions, but are eventually put out of work
by high-school dropouts using VisiCalc.


Oh, and Dave Thomas has a scar, Nick Montfort has a beard,
side-scrollers all scroll the opposite way, and all ships have funky
spikes on their warp drive nacelles.

2 thoughts on “Interactive fiction, from birth through precocious adolescence: a conversation with Jimmy Maher

  1. Dennis,
    I’m the fellow who interviewed Jimmy Maher on IF history. A compliment from someone who has done work as superb as yours means a lot to me and to Jimmy (who, incidentally, is moving to Denmark next week).
    Many thanks,
    Harry Kaplan

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