Interactive Fiction: Exploration and Experimentation

Classic IF involves solving puzzles through exploration and experimentation.

A puzzle in IF is, in one sense, a management tool to separate "movements" in the overall plot.

In the graphic adventure "The Dagger of Amon Ra," the PC, is cub reporter Laura Bow, who must find a party dress in order to gain entry to a gala event. The plot is structured so that the Laura must go on several side quests that set up the main storyline. In the process, the player gets to know Laura's character, and therefore has more reason to care about what happens to her when the plot really gets rolling.

The original authors and players of IF were all computer programmers or highly technical Ph.D. students. Other games available at the time were variations on "battleship" (c.f. "Hunt the Wumpus" and "Star Trek [mainframe]"), which required the player to perform mathematical and/or geometrical calculations while hunting for and shooting at objects in a grid.

"Adventure" (Crowther (c.1975); Crowther and Woods (1976) is the common ancestor of all computer adventure games -- not just all text-based games. Crowther is a computer programmer and, at one time at least, an avid amateur spelunker. An associate describes Crowther "driving the van with his knees" while simultaneously playing (and apparently winning) a "mental" game of chess against a passenger who has a board in front of him. Later, while studying computer printouts in the back of the van, he passes the time "marking up assembly listings and posing puzzles for us to solve" (Heller §2).

One such puzzle: "Prove that a grasshopper can jump as high as a person."

The solution: "Assuming all muscle tissue has roughly equal contraction strength, then the length scales as L, and the cross section as L squared, giving an impulse that scales as L cubed. So the impulse scales the same as the mass, and to first order all animals can jump the same height."

Given this glimpse into Crowther's knack for abstract spatial awareness and his fondness for logical stumpers, the puzzles in "Adventure" seem thankfully simplistic.

Woods's expansion is said to have added some of the game's cartoonish fairytale features; hence, Woods has been credited for making a cave simulation into an enjoyable (if simplistic) narrative. Yet Crowther cites his involvement with "Dungeons and Dragons" as one influence that promted his creation of his original game. Further, Crowther envisioned "Adventure" as a diversion he could enjoy with his children: "a computer game that would not be intimidating to non-computer people... that was one of the reasons why I made it so that the player directs the game with natural language input, instead of more standardized commands. My kids thought it was a lot of fun" (Adams col 1 ¶4). When divorce left him feeling isolated from caving (which he used to enjoy with his wife) and his own children (who presumably remained with their mother), the multple losses "left me a bit pulled apart in various ways" (Adams col 1 ¶2). The resulting narrative, in which a nameless and ghost-like protagonist repeatedly descends into the depths in order add to a stock of above-ground treasure, is rich with metaphorical and psychological significance (even though no particular chunk of prose commands attention for literary merit).