1985: Making TEXT ADVENTURE Games | Micro Live | Retro Gaming | BBC Archive

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Fred Harris goes behind the scenes at Boston software company Infocom. The developer has enjoyed great success with its line of text adventure games – the likes of Zork, Planetfall, Enchanter, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which eschew graphics in favour of a simple text display, and arcade gameplay in favour of what the company calls ‘interactive fiction’.

Game designer Dave Liebling – one of Infocom’s founder members – is currently putting the finishing touches to a new game called Spellbreaker. He explains the processes that go in to making a good text-adventure game.

This clip is from Micro Live, originally broadcast 29 November, 1985.

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88 Comments

  1. Interesting seeing how much programming has changed since 1985. That part where he's looking at the code, trying to figure out the bug, and thinking it ought to work, is rather relatable.

  2. "Why is it not terminating? It really ought to work"
    I see programming hasn't changed a bit.

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    Enjoy Sunshine and Please be Vegan, no animal’s eggs, animal’s milk, animal’s cheese, animal’s butter, and insect’s honey. Return to the original owner 1 by 1: return every animal and insect 1 by 1, every bite of meat, every drop of blood, every drop of soup, every bone, every bone marrow, and every skin. I’m sorry. Thank you.🥬🥗🌽🥕🥦🥥🥑🍓🍇🍌🍎🍐🍑🥭🍅🥒🍉❤️🌞🌈👼❤️🏖.

  4. Had to save this to watch later you just know I need to see this

  5. When I first invented the computer, I didn't expect it to end up like this!

  6. For a laugh I had a go at hand-coding a text adventure for the 16K Spectrum and ZX81 last year so I can understand the section about how simple they are to port; essentially just a different set of IO routines. Obviously it's a bit more involved if you're changing the CPU but the core game remains the same

  7. Who the hell put a thumbs down on this video!?? Must be a grue.

  8. We played these on VAX 11/780s back in the day

  9. I have only played Zork, though I didn't get far.

  10. A great lost artform, the text adventure. Where the graphics are formed in your mind and not in a huge GPU with a cooling system. Watching I figured I must have played at least one of their games and looked them up and it turns out I don’t think I have played a single one, which is a great shame.

  11. Old VT100 being used there. Memories… of 24 by 80 character screens and 16k max process memory!

  12. Imagine going back in time and showing this programmer a modern day hi-def video game. He'd be blown out of his mind.

  13. This old video footage is a real treasure! Thank you for posting it.

  14. I love this channel so much! Lol the nostalgia from these old fascinating videos is amazing 👏 I wish this was a longer video 😭

  15. Obviously, Zork has been a major influence my entire life… just look at my name. I really do miss Infocom and wish Microsoft who bought Activision after buying Infocom would bring back new text only Zork or Planetfall adventures.

  16. Favorite after Zork was "Nord and Bert couldn't make head or tails of it."

  17. I loved playing this games back in the day…when you had to use your imagination (and probably improve your grammar/typing skills!).

  18. These games were incredibly imaginative and fun to play. I know I spent hundreds of hours playing them on the Commodore 64, Apple ][, and TRS-80. The competitors that used primitive graphics (Sierra Online (Ken and Roberta Williams), Scott Adams) just weren't anywhere near as classy as the pure text games from Infocom. The later ones had more sophisticated parsers that could understand prepositional phrases ("put coin in green slot"), not just VERB NOUN sentences. The illusion of interacting with a live storyteller was strong, in part because of the rich descriptions, and how the programmers seemed to have thought of every off-the-wall thing you might conceivably try. Some games, like Planetfall, contained truly emotionally moving scenes, while almost all of the games had a wry tongue-in-cheek humor to go with the story.

  19. In the Itchy and Scratchy Text Adventure Game, is there a way to get out of the dungeon without using the Wizard Key?!

  20. There was a star trek game like this I use too play on a Tandy laptop.
    Back then I had a very developed imagination from reading novels for entertainment. It was pretty cool, because your kind of in a trance when reading.
    Use too enjoy the radio story shows too. People really freaked right out during the war of the worlds broadcast.

  21. When he said you couldn't reach the cube in the idol's mouth, I immediately thought, "What if you could bring the idol to life and make it yawn?" I hope the rest of the puzzles aren't so obvious!

  22. 0:21 That is Brian Moriarty who lifts up the can of soda! He went on to be instrumental to Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts! He did a tremendously great presentation at GDC 2015 on how he and his team made "Loom," and that presentation is on YouTube!

  23. I remember spending a ton of money for a memory upgrade as you had to have 24k of RAM to run Infocom games and the Atari 800 only came with less than that to start. I had a blast playtesting games for them shortly after this video was shot. It is odd that they have no posters up on the walls. They had a nice poster for Wishbringer at this point. What a blast this video was to watch!

  24. Yeah. They wrote ZIL programs on PDP-10 systems.

  25. When playing computer games stopped requiring note-taking on paper, some of the magic was lost forever.

  26. The lady that enthusiastically presents the bug to Dave Lebling is Amy Briggs, who went on to write Plundered Hearts. 😄

  27. In the early 90s I got a 1982 IBM XT from an auction. I didn't have any software for it until I was walking down the street and found a big box of floppy disks someone left by the curb. They had gotten wet from rain and snow so I dried them and many were damaged but among the working ones was Zork, Hitchhiker's Guides to the Galaxy, and Leisure Suit Larry. I had a ton of fun with those.

  28. Never saw this before, and it is very interesting to see how the original "implementors" used to work: they seem to form a pretty happy bunch.

  29. Isn't it mad that all these whizz kids are now pensioners

  30. If they are finding that many bugs in his work then he is obviously not doing his job properly

  31. I remember Micro Live on the Beeb! Thanks for sharing this 👍👍👍 Infocom were so ahead of their time writing on one system and just porting their games to other computers like running an emulator

  32. Programming is about being extremely detailed at everything and have a 3rd person perspective of what your doing

  33. Hi 🙂 Good video. I'm working on a text adventure myself, set in a fantasy setting. The time of text adventures is not over and these games are slowly becoming fashionable again. The game I'm working on is called The Legend of Elderhollow. Updates about the game appear on my channel from time to time. Best regards. 🙂 ……..

  34. Growing older and having grown up with those "logic puzzles", I've come to realise these games were made by dudes who wanted revenge against their fellow man. Like it's PURE malice. This was their therapy in the 80s

  35. Turns out that a bunch of MIT grads weren't the right group to anticipate that the average person actually just wanted pictures so they didn't have to use their imaginations! Thank you, Roberta Williams. 🙂

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