How Victorian Era Gamers Would Have Played Computer Games Using the Analytical Engine
Text adventure games, such as the well-known Zork series, were some of the first computer games ever made, second only to the likes of Spacewar! and the better-known Pong.
So let's travel back in time for a moment, to a time that never was.
Charles Babbage successfully built his Difference Engine, and went on to build a more successful Analytical Engine, thus ushering in the Age of Computing nearly a hundred years earlier than its time. That's the premise of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's book, The Difference Engine, often considered a seminal work of Steampunk literature.
What games would they have played on the Analytical Engine? Considering that cathode ray technology was still half a century away, there would be no digital (or analog, for that matter) displays. Instead, readouts would be done entirely in text form, possibly even printed (or typed) out on paper.
What I'm getting at is that this would have been a prime opportunity for the birth of the text adventure game!
For those who are too young to have lived through it, text adventure games were pioneered by a game called Colossal Cave Adventure, or sometimes just Adventure. The game was entirely made of text, and the player had to navigate through a fantasy-inspired cave, successfully recovering a variety of treasures. This soon led to the much-more-successful Zork franchise, and then spawned a huge number of other text games.
This is one of the most famous pieces of text in video game history, from Zork 1.
These games developed certain styles of play in order to make it an easier experience for the user. For example, instead of the player having to guess at what words are necessary in a given situation, the available vocabulary was narrowed down to just a dozen or so verbs which could then interact with a potentially unlimited number of nouns.
For example, you would say something like "take potion" (picking up the potion and putting it in your inventory) and then "drink potion" (to, well, drink the potion). Sometimes 'quaff' was used instead of 'drink'. There's your vocabulary word of the day: quaff.
Anyway, to carry on the non-existent tradition of text adventure games that may or may not have existed in an alternate Steampunk history, I wrote a Steampunk text adventure game. Why don't you give it a try, and take a trip back to what Victorian computer gaming enthusiasts may have enjoyed?
The game is available to play thanks to the Z-machine interpreter Parchment. The game is called "Trouble in the Workshop", and in it, you play a young laboratory assistant to the brilliant and eccentric Doctor Edgar von Winterstein. However, when Doctor von Winterstein leaves you alone in his lab, various hijinks (another vocabulary word!) ensue, which could lead to either the destruction of the workshop, or perhaps even the dawn of a new age for humanity!
If you're a newcomer to text games, or Interactive Fiction as it's called today, here's a quick rundown on what you need to know to play them:
- The syntax will always be <verb> <noun>, such as the "take potion" example I mentioned earlier.
- Sometimes the syntax will require <verb> <noun> in/on <second noun>, such as "put potion on table", or "put potion in backpack".
- "Look" by itself will show you the room you're in.
- "Inventory" will show you what items you're currently carrying.
Here's a list of all the verbs you need in "Trouble in the Workshop":
- Look, read, go, take, put, open, close, turn on, and push.
You can also try to eat various things, if you'd like, but it won't really get you anywhere. So that's it, just nine verbs to keep track of!
I hope you enjoy my humble entry! Let me know what you think.