Did you ever play text adventure games years ago? They were the sort of command-line games where you would type simple directions and work your way through a story. I played these for hours and hours as a kid at my friend’s house on his dad’s teletype. I remember feeding the green and white paper back through as many times as we could to use all the available space. Later I moved on to the Zork series and other Infocomm titles, staying up way to late at my Commodore 64.
I don’t know what made me remember Zork recently, but it was a pleasure to find that they’re playable online. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite puzzles:
>look Tiny Room This is a tiny room carved out of the wall of the ravine. There is an exit down a precarious climb. On the north side of the room is a massive wooden door, which has a small window barred with iron. A formidable bolt lock is set within the door frame. A keyhole covered by a thin metal lid lies within the lock. >open door The door is locked. >inventory You are carrying: A sword A lamp A place mat A letter opener A newspaper >examine door The door is made of oak and is closed. >look in keyhole No light can be seen through the keyhole. >open lid The lid is now open. >put newspaper under door The newspaper crumples up and won't go under the door. >put placemat under door The place mat fits easily under the door. >put letter opener in keyhole There is a faint noise from behind the door and a small cloud of dust rises from beneath it. >get placemat As the placemat is moved, a rusty iron key falls from it onto the floor. >get key Taken. >unlock door What do you want to unlock the door with? >unlock door with key The keyhole is blocked. >get letter opener Taken. >unlock door with key The door is now unlocked. >open door The door is now open.
Success! I can distinctly remember the feeling of first pulling that place mat out and seeing the key on it. Such a sense of accomplishment for a 12 year old.
Today, people still write and explore interactive fiction, though I pretty much gave it up when I hit high school. These days, I solve tricky problems by typing into an email client rather than a green-screen game. The skills, however, are pretty much the same...