Back in the day, way back in the late 80's, my pre-adolescent days were spent at school and my nights (well, evenings anyway) were spent playing games and programming on my trusty Commodore 64 computer. Those were great times. Okay, so we still had the Soviet Union, and we transferred files by hand on 180K floppies, and we were 12. But there was a devil-may-care technophile attitude I find myself getting misty over from time to time. BBS's (Bulletin Board Systems), "multi-user" systems that often had only one user at any one time by modem, had a popularity far exceeding that of the still-small Internet. Each offered a distinctive menu of chat rooms, games, and file transfer areas. Of course you had beg, borrow, or steal access from the SysOp (System Operator) in order to get the good stuff. Once you did, you could get warez and slightly forbidden stuff like the Anarchist Cookbook. BBS members occasionally met off-line at "swap meets," where you traded disks that, somehow, always had the same weird pastiche of games you wanted, games in foreign languages, and games that didn't work. These guys (they were always guys) also had sector editors, range dialers, and a Programmer's Reference Guide, just like you. We were elite!
Well, I wasn't ever really elite; I think the only truly elite were the ones who got arrested for cracking telephone networks and such. I arrived on the scene in the last gasp of the Commodore's heyday. Still, some great games came out of that era. Modem Wars was the first graphical multiplayer game. Below the Root had a gigantic game world and very intriguing human-factors design. And who could forget all those text games from Infocom, culminating in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Text games in particular had an interactive feel that was part puzzle, part novel. With no pictures, the characters and settings had to be rich and multifaceted. Especially since one never really knew what the user was going to do in the game. I could "KILL THE TROLL," "TALK TO THE TROLL," "KISS THE TROLL," and do many other things besides. Good text games accommodated all manner of common and uncommon responses to the game world. Chris Ethridge and I wrote a text game, partly because we liked them and partly because somebody argued that we couldn't write something as sophisticated as HHGTG in Commodore BASIC v2. That game was OMNIQuest.
Today, text games are known as "interactive fiction" and writer/programmers spend hundreds of hours crafting the story and multiple plotlines. Miraculously, they have developed an Infocom-compatible compiler that produces platform-independent object code. Go to the community's website and get one for the platform of your choice so you can play OMNIQuest. A few notes: OMNIQuest was written partly in jest and contains several ridiculous puzzles that lampoon Infocom's twisted notion of playability. (Anyone who ever tried to get the babelfish in HHGTG knows what I mean. The solution required a dressing gown, a towel, a satchel, and the pile of mail sitting on your porch at the beginning of the game!) Also, the canned parser in this version pales in sophistication to OMNIQuest's original parser, which was capable of such feats as "GO DOWN THREE, TAKE ALL THE KEYS BUT THE RED ONE AND UNLOCK THE OBLONG DOOR." But I'm pretty happy with the port, since it only took me a weekend and now I can play it on my Palm organizer. Take a look at the source if you want some hints. Happy gaming!
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