Archive for the Interactive Fiction Category

I recently cataloged all of my old Commodore 64 diskettes using DirMaster from Style (highly recommended). While browsing through the list of programs, one title jumped out at me: MAGIT MANSION. That particular title jumped out at me for three reasons: one, because it was located on disk 001 (my very first disk); two, because even though it was located on the front side of the first disk in my collection, somehow I had no memory of ever playing it; and three, somebody didn’t know how to spell MAGGOT.

I fired the game up in an emulator and typed RUN. “Welcome to MAGGIT MANSION,” the screen declared. Great. Not only could the author not spell the word MAGGOT, he couldn’t misspell it the same way twice. Obviously the game was a text adventure, and a primitive looking one at that.

The game begins with the player in the most trite of text adventure locations, the front porch of a haunted house. The last line (“YOU SEE A DOOR HERE.”) prompted me to type “OPEN DOOR”. I did, and soon found myself inside the mansion’s foyer, with options of going west to the living room or east to the kitchen. I decided to head east to check out the kitchen first. While it’s a matter of personal preference, I tend to find that authors of text adventures (especially beginning ones) like to hide needed objects in their virtual kitchens.

Inside the game’s kitchen I was greeted by a floating knife. This scenario immediately set off mental alarms for me. I have spoken and written many times about an identical scenario in Haunted House, a game I played as a child on our TRS-80. The solution in that game, as deceptively simple as it seems, was GET KNIFE. After typing that same command in this game, the game responded with “YOU NOW HAVE THE KNIFE” before unceremoniously dumping me out into BASIC.

That was rude. Let’s try this again.


(Yeah, yeah, yeah…)

Thinking there might be more to do outside the house, instead of opening the door I typed “OPEN MAILBOX” and hit enter. (Authors of text adventures also love hiding things in mailboxes.) But instead of interacting with the mailbox, I got the exact same response as before and was automatically moved into the foyer of Magit Mansion. Huh. Again I entered the kitchen to face the enchanted knife. Instead of attempting to take the knife this time, I decided to examine it closer.

“> LOOK KNIFE” [enter].


Seriously, what the hell?

A quick examination of the BASIC code explained the game’s multiple issues: I wrote it.


Upon digging into the code a bit further I found that my “text adventure” wasn’t a text adventure at all. Anything you type while standing on the front porch moves you to inside the house. Entering any room but the kitchen crashes the game, and any command entered within the kitchen takes the knife.

To quote Luke Skywalker’s initial opinion of the Millennium Falcon: “What a piece of junk!” And while Han was quick to defend his ship’s honor, I cannot do the same with MAGIT MANSION. Not only was it incomplete and riddled with misspellings (including the first word of the title), but it wasn’t even a game.

I estimate I wrote MAGIT MANSION back in 1985 or 1986. I graduated high school in 1991. Over the past 20 years I’ve written lots of useful programs, and in 2011 I even wrote my own text adventure. I’ve come a long way since MAGIT MANSION.

You know what they say: fake it until you make it. Take it from me… it works.

I had heard of the website Bundle-in-a-Box before, but never really looked into it until one of my friends Robb Sherwin had one of his games added to a bundle. What Bundle-in-a-Box does is group several games together and allow their customers to pay whatever price they think the bundle is worth. The games are downloadable and DRM-free so you can install them wherever and to whatever you want.

This week’s bundle contains five games and the minimum price you can pay is $2, which works out to be 40 cents per game. If you go crazy and pay more than the average price (which is currently $5.85), you get four additional games for a total of nine in all. $5.85 for 9 games is 65 cents per game, big spender.

This is the part where I talk about what you else in this world you could get for 40 cents instead of a game. McDonald’s now charges 25 cents for additional tiny plastic cups of McNugget dipping sauce, so with 40 cents in your pocket, you could buy one additional container of sweet and sour sauce there. For 40 cents you couldn’t afford the cheapest item on Taco Bell’s menu, a “cheesy roll-up,” which is a tortilla with some melted cheese inside it that costs 79 cents. At the mall, a single gumball from the gumball machine costs fifty cents, so you couldn’t buy one of those either. The cost of a single stamp is 46 cents now, so with only 40 cents to your name you couldn’t buy enough postage to mail a latter to your next door neighbor. I suppose on iTunes you could buy 40% of a single song. I’m not sure they pro-rate them that way, but you get the idea.

One of the downfalls of digital distribution, be it games or music or movies or books, is that many consumers think digital goods should cost less than their physical counterparts. And I agree, to an extent. When I first added my book Commodork (which retails for $15 in paperback) to the Amazon digital bookstore, the initial price Amazon suggested was $9.99 which I was told by potential consumers was too high. I almost immediately lowered the price to $4.99, which I was also told was too high. Currently you can buy DRM-free PDF copies of my books Commodork and Invading Spaces for $2.99 each from my website. Each of those books represents a year’s worth of work. I wrote Commodork by waking up early and writing, staying up late and writing, and writing on weekends. For a year. If you figure I worked on Commodork 10 hours a week for an entire year, at $2.99 that means I earned a whopping .006 (six one-thousandths) cents per hour. Robb Sherwin told me last night he spent 2 1/2 years working on Necrotic Drift, his game in this week’s Bundle in a Box. A game which, again, you can own for 40 cents.

For Christmas, my son and I each got a new game for the PlayStation 3 (Call of Duty and Need for Speed). The total price of these two games combined with tax was $130. The cost for 5 games here is a minimum of $2. I won’t lie; I paid the whopping $6 to get 9 games. That’s more than “cheesy roll-up” money, but it barely covers the price of a combo meal.

Bundle-in-a-Box takes PayPal, Google Checkout, and credit cards. When I bought my Bundle it took about 8 seconds to pay and then I received the e-mail containing the download information about 4 seconds later. It will take you much less time to buy these games than it will take you to read anything I’ve ever written. Ever.

This week’s bundle contains an RPG, puzzle games, a couple of graphical adventure games, and of course my friend Robb’s text adventure. Won’t you consider buying a bundle of 40 cent games this week?

Link: Bundle-in-a-Box

And the winner of the Cyberganked contest is…

…announced in the following video!

Here are the Twitter accounts mentioned at the end of the video:

@Commodork (Mine)
@icecreamjonsey (Robb Sherwin’s)
@Cyberganked (Updates about the game)

Here is a link to Robb’s online photo gallery, where he is posting some of the pictures as he prepares them for the game:

Again, thanks to everyone who mailed in pictures and entered the contest. Although the contest is over, if you would still like to submit pictures for Robb’s game, you can continue to e-mail them to me and I will make sure he gets them.

On Monday of this week I announced a contest in which all you had to do to enter was take a picture of yourself from either the waist up or the shoulders up and mail it to me for a chance to win fifty bucks. On Monday I had six people enter. On Tuesday I had three people enter. On Wednesday and Thursday I had 0 people enter. Ah, the short attention spans we have all SQUIRREL!

Seriously though, today is the last day to submit your photo to me. Your photo will be used as a character’s photo in Robb Sherwin’s upcoming work of Interactive Fiction, Cyberganked. Your name will also be entered into a random drawing to win a $50 gift card. If you need more specifics about the type of pictures or characters you can re-read my original announcement.

I can’t imagine why more people haven’t sent in a photo. Here are the reasons why (in my head), and my answers to them.

“I am not very photogenic.”

Some of the characters in Robb’s new game include “man on street corner” and “girl in restaurant.” Surely you fit the bill for those. No costumes necessary for those!

“I feel stupid having my picture taken.”

I did too. It lasts about 30 seconds. And, unless you show them, nobody in real life who knows you will ever see your picture in this game. Your real name will not appear in the game next to your picture.

“I hate gift cards and money. I have no use for $50.”

Throw the gift card into the drawer under your microwave and re-gift it.

“Robb probably already has all the pictures he needs.”

Robb most definitely does not already have all the pictures he needs, otherwise I wouldn’t have launched this contest. Robb has dozens of characters he wants to implement and dozens more he would like to. He is even creating new characters based on some of the photos that have been received so far.

“I don’t want to be a bad guy in Robb’s game.”

Not all the photos will be used for enemies. Some will be used for good guys. Some will be used for neutral characters. Some will be used for background characters.

Those are all the excuses I can think of. What are you waiting for?



My very good friend Robb Sherwin is working on a new computer game, titled Cyberganked. It’s a text adventure (er, Interactive Fiction) game that takes place a few years in the future. In his game, Robb wants to include pictures of random people, and that’s where we come in. Anyone who e-mails me a usable picture by midnight this coming Friday will be entered into a drawing to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card. Are you interested in having your picture appear in a computer game and possibly winning $50? If so, keep reading for details!

I’ve talked about Interactive Fiction several times in the past — they’re the games that require players to type in commands like GO WEST and TALK TO GUY instead of using a joystick to interact with them. And yes, people still write these types of games! But not all works of interactive fiction are limited to strictly displaying text. Robb’s games also typically contain still pictures to accompany the text. In these games, a person typing ENTER CAR would then see a picture of the inside of a car displayed. If you type TALK TO JILL, you might see a picture of Jill.

Each year, interactive fiction games go head to head at the Xyzzy Awards (pronounced “zizzy”). In 2011, Robb’s most recent game (Cryptozookeeper) won Best Game, Best Writing, Best Setting, Best NPCs and Best Individual NPC. In a recent review of Cryptozookeeper, long time interactive fiction enthusiast Jacek Pudlo referred to Robb as “Shakespeare” when compared to some other contemporary authors of interactive fiction (if, one assumes, Shakespeare talked like a sailor.)

In Robb’s current game in progress, riots have broken out in the streets after everyone’s internet access has been cut off. For an early proof of concept test of Cyberganked, Robb asked me to send him a picture. In the demo I play a mercenary, so for my picture I I threw on a coat and a hat and a pair of sunglasses and sent him the following picture:

In this game, this is how I appear:

Here are a couple of other characters that appear in the game’s early demo:

Don’t worry about dressing up in a costume. According to Robb, he needs pictures for (at least) the following classes in his game: Adrenaline Junkie, Burglar, Carny, Communist, Crack Addict, Embalmer, Homewrecker, Illiterate Polish Web Forum Troll, Mall security guard, Motorcyclist, Mountain Climber, Nurse, Policeman / Policewoman, Private Detective, Programmer, Prohibition Advocate, Racecar Driver, Surfer, Swordsman/ Swordswoman, Whig, Wikipedia Admin.

So, what do you need to do to appear in Robb Sherwin’s next computer game and have a chance at winning a $50 Amazon Gift Card? It’s simple!

01. Take somewhere between 1 and 5 digital pictures of yourself. The best pictures will be of you from the waist up, although pictures from the shoulder will also be accepted. If you only take one picture, have a “neutral” look on your face. If you send in more than one, you can try a few different expressions. (Happy? Mad? Insane?) Pictures taken in front of a plain wall will make it easier to cut your picture out in Photoshop, but if that’s not possible, don’t worry about it. (Both I and Rob are pretty handy with Photoshop.) The main colors in the game will be red, blue, purple, black, and white, so if you can wear one of those colors, that’s a plus. If not, again, it may get digitally changed later.

02. E-mail the pictures to me. If you don’t know my e-mail address, click here. To be eligible for the drawing, pictures must be received by midnight on Friday, January 12, 2013.

03. In either the subject or body of your e-mail, please include the phrase, “Robb Sherwin has the right to use this picture/these pictures in in his game.” Please, only send pictures that you have the rights to.

04. Robb needs both men and women to appear in his game. If you would like, you can also send in pictures of your significant other as well. If you do, I will enter each one of your names in the drawing. What a great way to double your odds of winning!

05. Everyone who submits a photo has the option of having their name appear in the game’s credits. If you would like your name to appear in the game’s credits, let me know how you would like your name to appear. It might be your real name. It might be your online alias. You might not want your name to appear in the credit. Whatever you want is okay — just let me know.

On Saturday, January 13th, I will wake up and add everybody’s name into a big spreadsheet. Each line will have a unique number. If you sent in pictures of your significant other (or a friend, or whatever), each person will get their own line and own number. After that is done I will use an as-of-yet-undetermined random number generator to select the winner. This process will be recorded and uploaded to YouTube. After the video has been uploaded to YouTube, a link to the video will be posted on to announce the winner.

When the game is finally released, each person who mailed me a picture will receive an e-mail containing a link where the game can be downloaded for free. Additionally, I will create a photo gallery where you can go online and find the final version of your picture, in case you don’t want to play through the game just to see it. Other than that single e-mail, your e-mail address will not be used for anything else. I will not share them. I will not post them. I will not sell them. I will not spam you with e-mails. I won’t even give them to Robb. The goal of this contest is not to harvest people’s e-mail addresses; it’s to collect usable pictures for Robb’s new game. That’s it.

I think I’ve covered all the bases here. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing your pictures. Good luck!

(EDIT: The Amazon Gift Card has not yet been purchased. If you would like a gift card to some other online store, we can discuss that as well.)

This weekend marked the 9th annual Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I attended the first show in 2003 as a spectator, but have participated as a presenter (almost) every year since then.

Along for the ride this year were my friends Robb and Steve, who I previously mentioned flew in from Colorado and New York (respectively) to attend the show. Robb Sherwin is, among other things, the author of the award winning interactive fiction game Cryptozookeeper. Steve and Robb have known each other since the BBS days.

Photo by Brandon Staggs

Since our local NBA team (the Oklahoma City Thunder) are currently in the NBA Finals, I decided to go with a basketball theme this year.

Due to a slight table misconfiguration I only ended up with one table instead of two this year, but we made it work by just cramming everything together and leaving a few things under the table. From left to right we had my NES playing Double Dribble, my (blue development) PlayStation running NBA Showtime, and my Commodore 64 running a couple of different games, including One on One and Street Sports Basketball. I wouldn’t say I had the most popular table at the convention, but lots of sports fans stopped by to play a few quick games of basketball. At the table I also had a playlist of basketball-related songs and sports anthems going throughout the day, playing songs like “Basketball Jones,” “We Will Rock You,” and of course the parody song “Beard Like Harden.” I apologize to the people across the aisle from me who got bombarded with this music all day long.

Along with all the console and computer games available to buy and play, there were also several pinball machines and arcade games set up to play at the show. These are machines that are brought in by private owners and set up for people to play for free all day long. They’re a great hit every year and really add to the show.

Besides games, there were a lot of other game-related items on display and up for sale, including these animation cells over at Drew Stone’s table. I probably should have bought one of these when I had the chance.

Photo by Earl Green

You may notice that I’ve had to borrow a few photos from my friends Brandon and Earl for this post. That’s because, before I knew it, the show was winding down. I only got out from behind my table a few times, and when I got home I found I had only taken a dozen or so photographs … so I went to Facebook and borrowed a few from other people. I added the ones I took to my photo album of the show along with theirs, renaming them to give them proper credit.

Photo by Earl Green

Photo by Earl Green

Although OVGE is pretty console gaming-centric, Ed Martin brought another giant stack of retro Apple computer hardware, along with an impressive spread of classic boxed text adventures.

Several local groups and websites were on hand this year, including Nintendo Okie who did a live podcast from the show. They did a decent job of capturing some of the in-show action going on throughout the day.

Brandon Staggs also uploaded this video of OVGE 2012 to YouTube. He did a great job of capturing all of the booths there. You can catch my basketball-themed table just after the 2:30 mark.

Thanks to everybody who came out to OVGE this year and everyone who stopped by and said hey. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of OVGE, and I know people are already talking about what they will be bringing to next year’s show. I know I am!

OVGE 2012 Photo Gallery: LINK

Episode 115 of my podcast You Don’t Know Flack went online earlier today for some strange reason. I had actually scheduled the post to go live this Saturday, but something went wonky with WordPress and the post decided to go live on its own today. So, there you go.

Episode 115 is all about text adventures. This episode is unique in multiple ways. Not only does it feature the infamous Interactive Fiction author Robb Sherwin via Skype … but it features him for approximately two hours. What can I say? Robb and I got carried away talking about text adventures!

Here is the link to the current episode. If you’ve been dying to hear Robb Sherwin and myself swap old memories of text adventures and talk about what we like and dislike about current ones, boy did you just hit pay dirt!

At last year’s Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE), I officially debuted my first full-length text adventure. Hangar 22, written in Inform 6, was a light-hearted text-based work of interactive fiction that involved aliens, tacos, and a talking GPS that sounded like Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Over the past 30 years lots of people have written lots of great (and lots of not-so-great) text adventures and works of interactive fiction, so completing one does not make me an expert or authority on the matter. I did, however, jot down a few notes about writing text adventures as I was working on the game. I know it’s been awhile since I released Hangar 22, but I decided to go ahead and compile those thoughts into a single post and cast them out onto the Internet anyway.

So here they are.

Three Phrases.

For me, I found that creating a work of Interactive Fiction involved three unique phases, each of which requires unique skills. There’s the “game design” phase, a decidedly right-brained phase of the process during which characters, adventures, puzzles and solutions and dreamed up. The second phase, “programming,” is an almost entirely left-brained function. Once the story makes sense and the programming is “done” (har har) you move to the “testing” phase, which requires not only making both literary and programming corrections, but dealing with other people as well. They say one of the reasons it’s difficult to edit your own writing is because it’s difficult to quickly flip between left-brain and right-brain functions. When creating a text adventure, especially during the later phases, I found myself doing it repeatedly until I was mentally exhausted.

Creating Worlds

When Leonardo Da Vinci painted “The Last Supper” he didn’t have to worry about who prepared the food. He didn’t have to worry about what anyone standing outside on the street was doing, what outside sounds could be heard from inside the room, how the food smelled or whether or not the bread was stale. And yet, these are the types of things that Interactive Fiction authors continually have to deal with in every game they write.

Text Adventures take place in virtual worlds that, assuming some connection to reality exists, must adhere to common universal rules. For example, in Hangar 22 I created a mailbox outside the protagonist’s home for no other reason than the fact that most homes have mailboxes outside them. But there’s more to it than that; to make the mailbox seem “real” I had to program it to open and close. Then, I had to add logic rules to prevent things larger than the mailbox (including the player) from entering the mailbox (because, as I found out, your beta testers will try such things). I suspect I could have spent weeks detailing the parts of the mailbox down to the screws holding it together, a level of obsessive madness comparable to detailing in paint the wood grain pattern on the underside of the chair Jesus sat in during The Last Supper. The virtual world I created in Hangar 22 is little more than a caricature of reality that’s not too terribly difficult to break. I believe, if you really wanted to, that you could gather every single carryable item in Hangar 22 and stuff them all into the mailbox. At some point though, I (as a programmer) had to draw the line between just how much detail and realism to build into things in my virtual world that really didn’t matter.

Playing God for a bunch of Demons

If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “That’s why we can’t have nice things,” you know what it feels like to have your text adventure beta tested. Trying to guess what testers and players alike will (and won’t) try can become the ultimate game of cat and mouse. In the first beta release of my game, someone carried the front door off my house, ate the alien they were supposed to be rescuing, and parked their virtual El Camino in the aforementioned mailbox. And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

The more objects that go into a game, the more ways there are for those objects to interact with one another. Put a knife in your game and you can expect at least one player will just become Stabby McStabStab and go around attempting to slash everything in sight. Drop a book of matches into a game you’ll have to come up with a laundry list of excuses as to why the player shouldn’t go around burning down your entire virtual landscape. This can be handled directly (“The cat is not flammable.”) or through suggestion (“You decide against burning that.”), but when you don’t want the player to do something that makes sense (burning a piece of paper, or starting a fire in a fireplace, for example), you had better come up with a damn good reason as to why you won’t let a player do such a thing.

Balance and Fairness

Before writing a book, authors must consider their target audience. Obviously, a mystery novel intended for small children would be written differently than one written for adults. As I began writing Hangar 22 I realized that I didn’t have a target audience in mind. Ultimately I decided to make my game for beginner players. Not only did I build in a custom hint and cheat section, but I also “led” players by the hand through most of the game. Before killing players, I warned them. If an item wasn’t important, I told them so. I’m sure most advanced players would/will find my game silly and simple to breeze through. But even with that being said, I think it was important to pick a demographic and stick with it.

I also made a conscious point to make sure all the puzzles in my game were fair. At one point in Hangar 22 you cannot advance unless you look like an astronaut. The game will even eventually nudge you, letting you know that astronauts typically have space suits, gloves, and helmets. Each of those items is obtained in a different manner: one has to be found, one is obtained by solving a puzzle, and one requires a creative substitution. None of them are particularly difficult to obtain, and (again, considering my target audience) my goal wasn’t to stump players for any length of time. There are plenty of games out there that will stump you for hours or days or weeks; while playing through my game, I wanted players to, upon encountering a new puzzle, slap their foreheads and say, “Oh, *I* get it!” I’m not saying that’s the right way to design a game; I’m just saying that’s how I made mine.

Would I Do It Again?

I’ve been asked by several people, “are you planning on writing another text adventure?” The truth of the matter is, I don’t know.

Between beta testers, fellow forum members, and friends, I’d guess the number of people who played Hangar 22 was well under 50. Probably well under.

I’ve always been the type of person that lives off of feedback from my work, whether it’s my website, my podcast, my books, or whatever. I greatly enjoyed the feedback I received from the dozen or so people who helped me test the game, but after that, the feedback stopped.

The one exception to this was a very awesome transcript posted by ClubFloyd, who played my game as a group and posted the transcript online. This was by far the coolest thing to come out of me releasing Hangar 22. Even if you have no interest in playing my game, you can go through it by reading their transcript. Throughout it you can see the players did what I wanted them to, went where they were supposed to, and laughed where they were supposed to.

I started work on another text adventure, but my interest began to wane mostly because the game itself wasn’t funny and didn’t really lend itself to humorous writing. Based solely on the ClubFloyd transcript, I might write a sequel to Hangar 22 someday, but … it’s just a lot of work for something that only a few people will ever see. About once a week I get e-mail from someone who has just read Commodork, a book I released in 2006 and that people are still buying and reading. I doubt that five years from now, I will be receiving feedback regarding Hangar 22.

If it weren’t for that ClubFloyd transcript and the feedback and support I got from Ice Cream Jonsey and Roody Yogurt, I’m pretty sure my answer would be no. Right now though I’ll go with a definite maybe, if the right plot idea popped into my head.

This is going to sound stupid, but nothing makes me feel cooler than hauling arcade games around on the back of my truck.

So many collectors never get to show off their collections to outsiders — and when they do, typically it’s done online. Seeing pictures of someone’s collection can be kind of neat, seeing an item in real life is much cooler, in my opinion.

I’ve never been hunting so I don’t really know what it’s like to take down a big animal or anything, but … I don’t know, I have this visual image of a caveman returning from the hunt with a saber tooth tiger hoisted up on top his shoulders or something. And the caveman enters his cave where all the other cavemen are hanging out, and throws down the carcass on the floor and it goes BAM and … in that one little moment, he’s the MAN.

And that moment, that feeling … that’s how I feel when I’m driving slowly through the neighborhood with an arcade game on the back of my truck. It’s like I’m the caveman. And the arcade game is the saber tooth tiger. And my club is … well, a credit card.

And I know deep down that 99% of the people I pass could not care less about the fact that some random stranger is driving around with an arcade game in the back of his truck. When I think back to when I was a kid … there was this family that lived in our neighborhood, the Sloans, and one time we went over to their house and they had an arcade game in their house and I remember thinking that they must be rich. And maybe they were, I don’t really know, but … the point is, especially as a kid who hung out in arcades and liked playing arcade games, the thought of actually ever owning a real, full size arcade cabinet was like … indescribable. It would have been the ultimate toy and the ultimate status symbol all wrapped up into one 300 pound chunk of wood and electronics.

It’s not that way any more, of course. I mean, the people I’m impressing, or at least the people I think I’m impressing, it’s not the 10-year-old kids out playing in their front yard. To those kids, I might as well be hauling antique junk off to to the dump. Those aren’t the kids that grew up feeling like a rock star because they got to enter their initials into a Centipede cabinet for achieving the high score. It’s the people my age I get the looks from, the people like me who saved a little bit of their lunch money so they would have an extra quarter or two in their pocket the next time they ran across an arcade game in the grocery store, or the convenient store, or the laundromat.

The other day I was delivering a couple of machines over to a friend’s house. Facing to one side of my trailer were two machines, Speed Buggy and Karate Champ. I pull up to a stop light and can feel the guy next to me at the light waving, so I look over and this guy is at first waving, then he points to the arcade games, and then he gives me two thumbs up while he’s grinning from ear to ear. He was obviously pretty excited to see them (I’m guessing he was excited over Karate Champ; nobody gets that excited about Speed Buggy). And then I gave him a nod back and a smile, acknowledging that, at least in that moment, I’m the caveman with a couple of saber tooth tigers on the back of my trailer. And then the light turned green and I turned left and I never saw him again.

The funny thing about this encounter was, I think I paid a hundred bucks for that Karate Champ machine. The last time I filled up my truck, the day I was moving those games, it cost me $112. I was literally carrying more money in gasoline in my truck right then than I had invested in that machine. Of course, nobody has good memories of spending their formidable years playing with gasoline … unless they were a pyromaniac or something. Or maybe they sniffed a lot of gas as a kid, and even then, they may no longer have any memories of those years.

Over the past decade and a half I bought somewhere around 60 machines, give or take. Of those, 2 I had delivered; the rest I moved myself. Many of those games were located out of state and purchased through eBay. I’ve hauled games from Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas. When we sold our old house, I had to move the 30 machines I currently owned to storage. Of those 30, I ended up moving 15 or so to my new house. Of the ones I’ve sold, I’ve delivered many of them. During my time in this hobby I’ll bet I’ve moved 200 machines, maybe more, and every time I drive through my neighborhood or down Main Street with a machine or two in tow behind me, I get that same feeling. And part of it, I won’t lie, is wanting to be seen with those machines, but another part of it, the bigger part of it, is wanting those machines to be seen.

Back in December of 2011, Ice Cream Jonesy and Roody Yogurt (yes, those are their real names) suggested holding a “Hugo Speed IF” competition. The “IF” stands for Interactive Fiction (aka “Text Adventures” for you/us old timers); “Hugo” is the language the games were to be programmed in, and “Speed” part refers to works created in a very short amount of time.

The “Hugo Speed IF” morphed into the “Hugo Open House Competition”. Originally I declined to participate for a number of reasons — the top three being I didn’t have the time to work on a game, I didn’t have an idea for a game, and most importantly, I have never programmed anything in Hugo before. That being said … after play testing Jonsey’s game on December 30th (the day before the deadline), the bug bit me and I immediately set out to write my own game.

I spent the morning of December 30th reading about Hugo. It’s a scripting language that’s pretty similar in syntax and logic to Inform, which I have written a few text adventures with. At a minimum, text adventures need rooms and objects and a way to interact with those things, and after skimming The Hugo Book and the Hugo by Example webpage, I figured out the basics of those two things. Saying that I can “program in Hugo” at this point would be akin to a person saying s/he could “speak Spanish” after learning the words to “Feliz Navidad”.

The next part involved coming up with a story. I came up with an idea for a short story that, if you’ve ever read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” or seen “Jacob’s Ladder”, well, the plot will not be particularly groundbreaking to you. I wrote enough of the story to know how and where things were going and then started coding the rooms and objects and custom verbs. Keep in mind that this was a mini-comp; unlike a formal game competition in which the goal is to release the best game possible, the goal of a mini-comp is to draw attention to a particular genre or language (in this case, works of Interactive Fiction written in Hugo) by writing and releasing small works of Interactive Fiction. At least, I think that’s the goal. If that is not the goal, things have gone horribly wrong.

Without giving too much away, the idea of my game was to tie together multiple scenes using common words and threads. For example, the first scene of the game ends with you (the protagonist) spinning, and the second scene begins with a record player spinning. This allowed me two opportunities. One, I could require the user to type in a command (“spin”) to move the game from scene #1 to scene #2. And Two, at least I hope, the somewhat interesting story and mystery as to what is going on would divert the player’s attention away from the fact that my Hugo programming skills are poor and that the game is (except for a few viewable objects and harshly-steered commands) essentially non-interactive.

One thing I found difficulty in was translating the story from first-person (“That was the moment I realized …”) to second-person (“That was the moment you realized …”). To be honest, I don’t know how well the game translates from first to second person. I specifically made the descriptions of the main characters vague in an attempt to allow the player to see himself in the main role. And yeah, in the game, you are a male. That’s just the way the story was written.

I didn’t officially finish in time (turns out, giving yourself 24 hours to (a) write a story, (b) learn a new programming language, and (c) write a game in said language) is not enough time, at least not for me. But, with an additional 24 hours tagged on to the end of the due date I was able to get my game submitted. Keep in mind that of that 24 hours, I was in the hospital with my wife for 7 hours, slept for 8 hours, and was watching my kids the other 9 hours. Not that I’m making excuses for the small stature of my game, but … those are my excuses.

Hugo allows programmers to insert pictures and music into their works of Interactive Fiction. I didn’t have enough time to explore those features, but I would like to in the future. Inform would be the perfect language if it were able to display graphics. Hugo would be the perfect language if it were playable through a web browser. As other ideas for works of Interactive Fiction come to me, I will have to decide which feature is more important for that particular work before deciding on which language to go with.

Once all the entries to the Huge Open House Competition have been publicly posted I’ll add a link to them here. For those who don’t care about playing Interactive Fiction games, I’ll probably just post a transcript from my game as well.