Reinventing text adventure games for the modern web

5 September 2011
This post was originally published on Gamasutra.

Ah, text adventures. "You are in a mazy of twisty passages". "You are likely to be eaten by a grue". "That's not a verb I recognise". "I don't know the word 'help'". Oh, text adventures. You entertained and frustrated a generation, then graphics came along, and then we forgot all about you.

But text adventures didn't die, they just went underground. They weren't on the shelves any more, but a community kept them alive, making new games, creating tools, and hosting competitions. Meanwhile the rest of the world moved on to games with ever more impressive graphics.

In recent years though, I think we have seen a shift in attitudes towards gaming. Whether it's sneaking into the toilet to play Angry Birds on your smartphone at work, or being dragged into a game of Dance Central on the Kinect at a housewarming party, games are increasingly part of everyday life for ordinary people - it's not all about the latest graphics, speed, explosions and things to impress teenage boys any more. More people are playing more types of games, on more devices, more often.

This is why I believe that now is the right time to revisit the text adventure. It doesn't have to look the same as it did in the early 1980's - the modern text adventure can be more visually appealing for one thing, and include pictures, sound and even video, and it should all be delivered through the web browser. With the use of hyperlinks, we can reduce the need for typing and the unintentional "guess the verb" puzzles which have traditionally plagued this type of game.

That was the vision which inspired me to quit my job, and spend the last few months working full-time on an open source rewrite of my text adventure game system, Quest.

The goal of Quest is to reimagine text adventures for the modern web, by making them easy to create and share. There is a point and click editor, which means you can create games with no programming experience, but behind the scenes there is a full programming language for power when you need it. Quest is open source and licenced under Ms-PL, an MIT-like licence which means it can be used even in closed source games and applications.

I believe this can be a new beginning for text adventure games. I think there is an untapped potential for this type of gaming, particularly within education - a subject I hope to return to in a later blog post.

For now, I would love to get any feedback on Quest and to hear if anybody has any further ideas for reviving this almost forgotten genre!