When I type, my fingers dance across the keyboard like a trailblazing cowboy. I didn’t develop mad typing skills in keyboarding class…my Keystroke Kata began well before school required that as a part of the daily curriculum. And I owe it all to Sierra.
The early text-based adventure games like Quest for Glory (originally dubbed Hero’s Quest), King’s Quest, and…ahem…Leisure Suit Larry really helped to shape my typing techniques because this style of game required you to input verb commands in order to progress and complete quests. As the graphics technology of this era were limited (but still awesome), you couldn’t always get an in-depth view of your surroundings. Commands such as “look around” or “look at” followed by what you wanted to examine returned an in game pop-up panel that gave you a literary description of what you were actually looking at.
The early Sierra games really required you to think. You drove the story with your commands, and so you had to think about what or how you wanted to do something, tell the game what you wanted to do, and make it happen (or not – depending on your command). The text parser system within these games translated your command inputs into something the game could understand, making it easier for the player to react to the game’s response. For instance, if you issued the command, “get the gold key”, the game would strip the input and understand “get key”, resulting in your character picking up the key in the game.
The game developers at Sierra had a quirky sense of humor that often coincided with the players themselves. You could enter in some not-so-politically-correct commands and the game would provide humorous admonishments about your lack of manners. I can clearly recall one instance in Quest for Glory where I instructed my character to “pee on bush” (come on…I was 12) and the parser responded with “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Sometimes this would turn into a personal conquest to determine how many insults I could fling at the game and get a response for.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the complexity behind these early adventure games was almost mind-boggling when you stop to think about it. Every interaction, every consequential combination of objects, all of these aspects had to be carefully planned and coordinated by the game’s designer. The designer not only had to plan out the story’s sequence, but how the multitude of players would play the game and interact with the world. At some point, the designers of Quest for Glory anticipated the juvenile requests exploring the possibility of urinating in the woods.
The cool thing about text-based games is that you were really drawn into the game on an interactive level. These games weren’t just about mashing buttons mindlessly. They were about putting together the bits and pieces, unraveling the story one step at a time. You had to apply reason and conscious thought – if you got stuck on a puzzle, you couldn’t just Google the answer. However, on the flip-side of button mashing, if you were at the mercy of a non-intuitive puzzle, oftentimes you would end up typing out every combination of interactions with every item in your inventory. It’s tough to be the only kid in your sixth-grade class with carpal tunnel.
The introduction of mouse-driven game engines saw the decline of the text-based adventure game era. But thanks to games such as the hit titles in the Sierra lineup, it only took me 29.6 seconds to type this blog post.
I promise, this isn’t going to be one of those, “Back in my day, we had to walk 30 miles through the snow to get to school,” kind of posts. But it is going to cover some ancient history. I’ll try to keep my geriatric diatribes to a minimum. 🙂
The very first video game I ever remember playing was called Adventure, which was published in 1979 and released for the Atari 2600 console. I was a small child in the early 80’s, but I’ll never forget the sense of wonder I felt when roaming (lost) through an 8-bit kingdom filled with mirror-image mazes, and searching for the Enchanted Chalice (which at that age, might as well have been the Holy Grail for all I knew).
Adventure was the first of its kind. Besides having honorarily popped my proverbial video game cherry, it was also the first action-adventure game, for without which the genre might never have been born, and we might never have had series such as King’s Quest, the Legend of Zelda, or Fable. This game also held a secret – the first ever “Easter Egg” known in video game history. In those early days, Atari did not credit the actual programmers for their work, and because of this, the game’s designer, Warren Robinette created a secret “room” in the game that could only be found by sheer luck and an eye for detail. In the secret room, the words, “Created by Warren Robinette” were displayed vertically across the screen. Another first in the history books was the introduction of an inventory system, in which the player could select one item at a time to carry, without the need to type in a myriad of commands.
This wasn’t a game you played because the graphics were so smokin’ hot, or because the story’s plot was bestselling material that inspired you to do great things. This game was about possibilities – you used your imagination to fill in any of the gaps that technology simply couldn’t cover. As a kid, I had a rampant imagination (and still do to some degree), and could clearly picture the single dot that represented my player character as a sword-wielding battle maiden, with flowing golden hair and eyes that shined like sapphires. It didn’t matter that all the TV screen reflected was a monotone blip…I could see it in my mind and that was good enough for my eight year old self.
I’ve watched the world of video games shift and transform over the years into a definitive art form. From graphics that leave you slack-jawed and drooling, to story lines that are continuously engaging…the technology just keeps getting better and better. But I do like to think about the game that started it all, at least for me. And I can’t help but wonder what the youth of today’s generation would think about playing a game that only used 4KB of ROM, 128 bytes of RAM, and a whole lot of grey matter elbow grease to see the kingdom of Adventure in the same light I saw it in 26 years ago.
What was the first video game you ever played? Inquiring minds want to know, so drop a comment below!