PDD's Adventure Page

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.

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. Finally, if you collect classic, out-of-print adventures you might be interested in the following pages:

[ Adventure International ] 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: 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.)
Other related stuff:

[ Mysterious Adventures ] 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.

[ Infocom ] 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.

[ Magnetic Scrolls ] 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.

[ Level 9 ] 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.

[ Topologika ] 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.

[ Penguin/Polarware ] 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.

[ Angelsoft/Mindscape ] 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 (!!).

[ Melbourne House ] 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.

[ Sierra On-Line ] 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).

[ Legend ] 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.

Paul David Doherty
Last modified: 6-Jul-2007