The history of text adventures remains to be written. Most people agree that it started with a game called Adventure (also known as Colossal Cave), written by Will Crowther in 1968-72 and expanded by Don Woods around 1976. The next milestone in the genre was the game Zork (a.k.a. Dungeon), written by several MIT students and graduates in 1977-79. It was to become the foundation of Infocom, the most successful producer of text adventures and still the epitome of the genre.
Another important event was the publication of Adventureland by Scott Adams, the first adventure that didn't require a university mainframe computer to run.
If you want to find information on the early history of adventures, try these links:
Text adventures reached the peak of their commercial viability in the first half of the 1980s when some of Infocom's titles sold in the 100,000s. Nowadays the commercial market is dead, but a small group of loyal aficionados is keeping the spirit alive. New text adventures are being published as freeware or shareware, and some of them can hold their own with Infocom's best.
- Adventureland (Hans Persson/Stefan Meier)
The big list of classic adventure companies and their games. There isn't much you won't find there... (Mirror available here.)
- The History of Interactive Fiction (Graham Nelson)
This page has the whole 4th edition of Graham's "Inform Designer's Manual" (published 2001 in paperback) for download. Chapter VIII deals extensively with the history of adventures.
- Giant List of Classic Game Programmers (James Hague)
A list of programmers from the classic age of computer games, many adventure authors among them.
- The Colossal Cave Adventure Page (Rick Adams)
Many interesting tidbits about the game that started it all.
Some interesting places to visit:
If you want to start writing your own text adventures, you might want to try the following links. Three of the most popular systems for adventure creation are Mike Roberts' TADS, Graham Nelson's Inform and Kent Tessman's Hugo. All three are freeware and open source. TADS has been around a few years longer than the others, while Inform has the big advantage that the resulting games can be played on virtually any platform, down to old 8-bit computers and handhelds like the Psion Palmtop.
- The IF Archive
The world's largest archive of Freeware and Shareware text adventures. No kidding. (You can also try the classic FTP version.)
- Baf's Guide to the IF Archive (Carl Muckenhoupt)
The page rates selected (freely downloadable) text adventures, providing indices by author and genre as well as links to the actual files in the IF Archive.
- ifwiki.org (David Cornelson)
Could become a great place for sharing information and discussing IF. Currently still pretty barebones, but the structure is there, it only needs to be filled with content. And *you* can do that...
- Classic Adventures Solution Archive (Jacob Gunness)
Jacob maintains an excellent site with maps and walkthroughs for a large number of classic text adventures.
- Brass Lantern (Stephen Granade)
This site offers lots of IF-related links and is being frequently updated. Includes editorials on selected topics and a news section.
- The Interactive Fiction Page (Scott Neal Reilly)
A good selection of pointers to other adventure and hypertext pages.
- PARSIFAL (Roger Firth)
It's called a "one-page summary of important IF links", and that's exactly what it is. Very sparse, very useful.
- Annotated Bibliography of IF Scholarship (Dennis G. Jerz)
A very good place to start if you want to delve more deeply into the theory of interactive fiction.
Finally, if you collect classic, out-of-print adventures you might be interested in the following pages:
- The TADS page (Mike Roberts)
- Another TADS page (Neil K. Guy)
- The Inform page (Graham Nelson et al.)
- The Hugo page (Kent Tessman)
- Which Authoring System Is Better? (Bob Newell)
A detailed comparison of TADS, Inform, Hugo and several also-rans (notably ALAN and AGT). The comparison is very out of date but perhaps still of some interest.
- The Adventure Market
This is a place where you can (try to) find and buy those games missing from your collection or sell the items you don't need. Maintained by Manuel Schulz.
- Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe (C.E. Forman)
Chris is a collector selling off (and trading) his spare Infocoms and other adventures. His selection is good, the prices are fair, and he also writes a regular collector's column. Well worth a visit.
- The Preserving Classic Adventures Project (PreCAP)
As indicated by the (slightly pretentious) name of the project, the idea is to collect and preserve classic adventures before the old original tapes and disks fall prey to bit rot. The danger of losing an entire heritage of adventure games is very real, as many collectors value their "pristine shrinkwraps" more highly than the actual games. If you're not that kind of collector, please join in!
Scott Adams' Adventureland was the first text adventure playable on the small home computer "micros" of the late 1970s (with no disk drive and only 16 or 24 KB memory). He wrote it in 1978 and founded his company Adventure International (AI) to publish it. AI published 17 other adventures (many of them best sellers) between 1979 and 1985.
To play these adventures you'll need the game datafiles and the ScottFree interpreter. First, download the appropriate interpreter for your platform:
- Scott Adams
The homepage of the man himself.
(The author of the popular Dilbert comic, by the way, is a completely different Scott Adams.)
You might also be interested in what Scott had to say on the topic of interactive storytelling during a panel discussion at the University of Wisconsin in 2001.
- AI Memorial (David Lodge)
General information, datafiles, cover scans... it's all there (or will be in time).
Now you'll need the datafiles. To start playing, unpack the interpreter and the datafiles into a single directory (for example using PKUNZIP under MS-DOS). Start a game by typing SCOTT followed by the name of the datafile. (For example, type SCOTT ADV02.DAT to play Pirate Adventure.)
- ScottFree (C source)
The UNIX/Curses source code for a portable Scott Adams interpreter, written by Alan Cox. Also downloadable from the Interactive Fiction Archive.
You can also download the MS-DOS version, the Macintosh version (ported by Scott Lemon) and the Windows 9x version (ported by Hein Pragt).
- ScottFree/Amiga 1.8
The latest Amiga version, ported by Andreas Aumayr, with support for speech and pictures.
Currently graphics files for Adventureland, Secret Mission and Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle as well as Brian Howarth's The Golden Baton and Robin of Sherwood are available. (If you want more graphics files, I suggest you send me some feedback. Creating them takes quite a lot of time, so I'd like to know first whether there's any real interest.)
You can also look at a screenshot showing the Amiga version in action.
Other related stuff:
- Scott Adams adventures
Datafiles for: Adventureland, Pirate's Cove, Mission Impossible, Voodoo Castle, The Count, Strange Odyssey, Mystery Fun House, Pyramid of Doom, Ghost Town, Savage Island I and II, Golden Voyage, Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle, Return to Pirate's Isle, Buckaroo Banzai, The Hulk, Spiderman, the AI Sampler.
- AI Adventure Hints
A hint reader (source and MS-DOS executable) written by David Lodge, complete with hints for all the Scott Adams adventures (transcribed from the official AI hint booklet). If you're stuck in a game you can get small, gentle hints as well as a complete solution to your problem.
- ScottDec 7
Decoder (ANSI-C source and MS-DOS executable) for Scott Adams datafiles. Useful if you want to know how the system worked, but it can also be used as a cheating tool.
- SAGA+ datafiles
The SAGAplus system was a late incarnation of Scott's parser, allowing more complex input sentences. You can download datafiles for: Buckaroo Banzai, Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle, Spiderman, Fantastic Four.
But beware: you can't play these games, because ScottFree has no SAGA+ support yet. Sorry.
Authoring systems for writing adventures in the AI datafile format were available on several platforms (TRS-80, TI 99/4A), and dozens of adventures were written with them. Brian Howarth was the most prolific author of games in the AI format. His series of 11 Mysterious Adventures, published between 1981 and 1983, is now freely distributable and can be played with the ScottFree interpreter.
- Scott Adams/Mysterious Adventures GFX formats
Description, comparison, extraction tools for the graphics in the AI UK games. Still work in progress (and part of my attempt to redesign this whole site...)
- Mysterious Adventures
Datafiles for: The Golden Baton, The Time Machine, Arrow of Death I and II, Escape from Pulsar 7, Circus, Feasibility Experiment, Wizard of Akyrz, Perseus and Andromeda, Ten Little Indians, Waxworks. (Also included are four bonus games: Supergran, Gremlins, Robin of Sherwood, Seas of Blood.)
- Mysterious Adventures (Commodore 64)
C64 versions of all 11 Mysterious Adventures, with graphics. You'll need a C64 (or C64 emulator) to play them.
Infocom was founded in 1979 and closed down in 1989. In their 10 years of existence they published 35 text adventures, among them undisputed classics like the Zork trilogy, Suspended, Planetfall, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Trinity. All their games are worth playing.
- Infocom Fact-sheet
My attempt to list everything worth knowing about Infocom, their history, their games and the people who worked there. (Of course there is still a lot missing, but hey: it's work in progress.)
- (Unofficial) Infocom Homepage (Peter Scheyen)
Most of the stuff can also be found elsewhere on the net, but Pete has collected it all and put up a well-structured and nicely presented page. (The link leads to the European mirror site. You could also use the original site in Canada but it's usually rather slow.)
- The Infocom Documentation Project (Roger J. Long & Gunther Schmidl)
Infocom manuals in PDF and HTML format.
- The Infocom Gallery (David Sinclair & Julian Linder)
Quality color scans of Infocom's package artwork and packaging contents. (There's also an alternative URL and an outdated URL.)
- The All-New Infocom Gallery
Yes indeed, yet another Infocom gallery, apparently based on the other one but sporting a new design, additional scans and an anonymous maintainer.
- The Infocom Bugs List (Graeme Cree)
A list of all known bugs in Infocom's games. Some of them are rather amusing...
- Infocom: The Master Storytellers (Roger J. Long)
Another nice page with a couple of Infocom-related articles, scans and links.
- Infocom - The Master Storytellers (Marco Thorek)
Yes, this page has just about the same title as the previous one. Different page though. Has scans of Infocom's advertisements, among assorted other information.
- Infocut (MS-DOS)
A little utility for cutting excess bytes off the ends of Infocom datafiles. (Works on V1 and V2 datafiles too.)
- Bob Supnik's Software Kits page
Contains, among many other things, the final version of the original MDL source code of Zork.
- Sample game
Infocom's games are still commercially available from Activision (packaged into several budget collections). This free sampler provides a tutorial and brief excerpts from Zork I, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Trinity. Other demo games can be found in the IF Archive.
(You'll need to download Frotz to play the sampler.)
London-based Magnetic Scrolls can justly be called the British Infocom. Founded by Ken Gordon and Anita Sinclair, they combined a state-of-the-art parser, beautiful graphics (especially in the 16-bit versions) and excellent writing with a great sense of humour in their adventure games. The graphics added a lot to the atmosphere (although text adventure purists can switch them off if they like...).
Magnetic Scrolls published 7 adventures between 1985 and 1992: The Pawn, The Guild of Thieves, Jinxter, Corruption, Fish!, Myth, and Wonderland.
- Magnetic Scrolls Memorial (Stefan Meier)
An excellent overview page: game information, manuals, maps, walkthroughs, articles.
- Magnetic interpreter, v2.2, C source code (Niclas Karlsson, David Kinder, Stefan Meier)
The portable MS interpreter. You can also download the MS-Windows version (no screenshot), the MS-DOS version (screenshot), the Amiga version (screenshot), or the Linux version (no screenshot). Other ports can be downloaded from the IF-Archive.
To play a game with this interpreter, you'll have to convert it to a unique datafile format. Currently there are converters for the IBM PC, Commodore 64, Acorn Archimedes, Amstrad CPC and Sinclair Spectrum versions of the games. Others (Apple II, Atari XL) will be created if there is any demand.
To see the beautiful pictures you'll also have to download the graphics files. Currently available: The Pawn, The Guild of Thieves, Jinxter, Corruption, Fish! and Myth.
The project also has a Sourceforge page but nothing much happens there.
- Magnetic Scrolls Fact Sheet (Stefan Meier)
This lists information about the games, the technical background and the Magnetic interpreter.
The Magnetic Scrolls Gallery (David Sinclair)Site seems to broken
Sample pictures from the Amiga and C64 versions of the games, as well as scans of the original boxes and packaging.
- Magnetic Scrolls: Official Website (Ken Gordon)
More of a curiosity, really: The official page was created in 1998 and contains nothing (except for the Magnetic Scrolls logo). But there it is.
Level 9 Software was founded by Pete Austin and his brothers Mike and Nick in 1982. They soon became the most successful European adventure company. While the Infocom games never really caught on in the UK due to the fact that they required a disk drive, Level 9 managed to squeeze hundreds of rooms and objects into the small 32K or 48K memory space of the popular 8-bit home "micros" (BBC, Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX, C64). Their first game was an adaptation of Colossal Cave called Colossal Adventure. Among their other adventures are classics like Lords of Time, Snowball, Return to Eden, Red Moon, Gnome Ranger, Knight Orc, and Scapeghost.
- Level 9 interpreter, v4.0, C source code (Glen Summers, David Kinder)
The portable interpreter for Level 9 games. You can also download ports that run under MS-Windows, Amiga and MS-DOS (16-bit).
- Level 9 Memorial (Manuel Schulz)
Lots of information about Level 9's games, history, fact-sheet, pictures of the packaging, etc.
- Level 9 Fact Sheet (Miron Schmidt & Manuel Schulz)
This lists information about the history of the company, their games and assorted technicalities.
- L9Cut (MS-DOS, with ANSI-C source)
Tool for extracting Level 9 datafiles from Spectrum snapshots and the like. It automatically detects the game version being extracted and also allows you to remove the copy protection from the datafile. (You can also download an Amiga port, but this is an outdated version.)
- L9Dis beta 04 (MS-DOS)
Disassembler for Level 9 datafiles. Really just a very early beta, and I've given up on the development (since nobody seems to have used the program anyway)...
- Level 9 Clue-sheets
Hints for most of their adventures, typed in from the official clue-sheets.
Do game titles like Acheton, Hezarin, Hamil or Fyleet ring a bell? If the answer is yes, then you're one of the few people who have ever played these text adventures. Which is amazing not only because they are classics of the genre (Acheton was originally written on Phoenix, a Cambridge University mainframe, in the late 1970s - at the same time as the original Zork!), but also seeing that many of them have been commercially available during the 1990s via Topologika.
- Topologika WWW page
The homepage only mentions the text adventures in passing, but the company is still there, producing all sorts of educational software.
- Phoenix/Topologika in the IF Archive
All the games have been made freely available in 1999. You can download the Topologika ports (IBM PC versions) from here, as well as selected original Phoenix sources and Inform ports. More sources and ports will be made available in due time...
Penguin/Polarware (based in Geneva, IL) published 8 text-with-graphics adventures in the 1980s: The Quest, RingQuest, Transylvania, Oo-Topos, Crimson Crown (Transylvania II), The Coveted Mirror, Talisman, and Transylvania III.
- The Polarware Page
Mark Pelczarski (founder and ex-owner of Penguin) maintains this official page with lots of background info about the history of the company. Apple II and IBM PC versions of several games can be downloaded from there; plus you can read the strange story of why Mark himself is no longer allowed to mention "Penguin Software" on his pages...
- Penguin games in the IF Archive (MS-DOS)
Three of their games can already be downloaded from the IF Archive: Transylvania, Crimson Crown and Talisman. (If you happen to have the MS-DOS version of any of the others, please send it to me or simply upload it to the IF Archive.)
Angelsoft, Inc., based in White Plains, NY, was founded by John R. Sansevere and Mercer Mayer. The company created eight text adventures in 1985/86, most of them book or film adaptations. Among the titles: Forgotten Castle (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty), Voodoo Island, Stephen King's The Mist, and Rambo - First Blood part II (!!).
- What? No links?
Well, the sad truth is that I didn't find any useful links. Their games were written in a rather simple script language called ASG, but no portable interpreter has been written so far. Anybody looking for a programming project?
Melbourne House was an Australian software publisher. Several of their adventures (Sherlock, the Tolkien games: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Shadows of Mordor, Crack of Doom) were written by Beam Software who now own the rights and allow their free distribution.
- Early Beam adventures (Spectrum)
The two earliest Beam adventures, The Hobbit (the first, rather buggy release) and Sherlock. (These are TAP files of the Sinclair Spectrum versions, so you'll need to find a Speccy emulator that handles TAP files.)
- The Tolkien Trilogy (Spectrum)
This was a budget re-release of Beam's first 3 Tolkien adventures: Hobbit (bug-fixed version), Lord of the Rings a.k.a. Fellowship of the Ring, Shadows of Mordor. (Available as TAP files.)
Sierra? Yep, Sierra! Before Coarsegold-based Sierra On-Line became the corporate monster many adventure fans love to hate, they actually published some decent adventure games. Their series of "Hi-Res Adventures" (1980-83) includes classics like Mystery House, Ulysses and the Golden Fleece, and Time Zone. In their AGI0-2 period (1984-87) they perfected their combination of animated graphics and text input, with games like King's Quest I-III, Leisure Suit Larry I, and Space Quest I and II. After that, they abandoned their parser in favour of pointless clickery (thereby moving out of the scope of this web page).
- Sarien AGI Interpreter (part of ScummVM) (Stuart George/Claudio Matsuoka)
Sarien (formerly called Yggdrasil) was the first open-sourced (and GPL'ed) AGI interpreter and has now been integrated into ScummVM. Current versions work with most AGI games.
- NAGI AGI Interpreter (Nick Sonneveld)
Another AGI interpreter, almost completely functional. Full source code has been released under the X11 license. Nick also maintains an interesting AGI Development Site.
- Vintage Sierra (Josh Lulewicz)
A very interesting collector's site, mainly dealing with the different packaging variants of Sierra's games.
- The Ultimate AGI & SCI Site (Brian Provinciano)
There are countless AGI sites out there, and most of them are only very rarely updated. This one is no exception, but you can find AGI utilities and lots of home-brew games written in AGI here. Also available: tools for SCI (Sierra's later, no-parser interpreter).
- AGInfo 1.40 (MS-DOS, with C source)
A utility that detects the AGI interpreter version, as well as the game version. Also detects a large number of corrupted game versions. Probably most useful for game collectors to find out whether they have a rare (i.e. undetected) game in their hands.
Legend Entertainment Co. were one of the last companies publishing text adventures. Founded by Bob Bates and Mike Verdu in 1989, they released seven text games (with graphics) between 1990 and 1993 - among them excellent games like Bob Bates' Timequest and Eric the Unready as well as the Spellcasting trilogy written by former Infocommie Steve Meretzky.
Legend WWW SiteSite is gone forever
Legend was bought by GT Interactive (later: Atari) in 1998, turned into a developer of "3D action/strategy games built using the Unreal engine" and then unfortunately shut down in 2003.
- Unofficial Legend Text Adventure Page (Steven Marsh)
Some game hints and packaging scans.
- Quandaries download (Home of the Underdogs)
This could be considered "the lost Legend game", except that it is not lost but neatly preserved by the "abandonware" folks at HotU. Bob Bates wrote this "serious adventure game" for the US Dept. of Justice in 1995/96.
Paul David Doherty
Last modified: 6-Jul-2007