“It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.”
Those words either mean something special to you, or they don’t. If they do, then you, like me, spent much of the 80s (and perhaps even later years) sitting in front of an Apple II+ (or similar machine) playing Interactive Fiction Games. Mostly from Infocom, which was the company that set the gold standard for these things.
They made a ton of great games… and those games really were stories. Though in raw text, none of them were probably more than a novella’s worth– maybe 20k words. But the writing was typically so tight and effective that it packed significant worldbuilding and storytelling punch in those few words. I was immersed, and I was far from the only one.
Probably my three favorites from Infocom were Planetfall, Sorcerer and A Mind Forever Voyaging. It’s probably not a coincidence that Steve Meretzky was the writer of all three.
Sorcerer holds a special place in my heart because it was the first one of these games that I honestly won, with no hints, walkthroughs or other help. Just doggedly plugging away at it over and over until I got through it. For a while I was totally stuck on one puzzle, and it wasn’t until I thought about a piece of information given in the supplemental materials (the “feelies”, as they were called– Infocom was great at packaging as well as the games themselves) and hit a revelation (“Bat guano!” I actually said out loud wherever I was at the time, and I couldn’t wait to get home to test my theory. And I was right!) Plus Sorcerer has a terrific Time Travel puzzle. It’s really great, fun work.
A Mind Forever Voyaging is great because it is little more than a rich, detailed environment. Unlike most games, there isn’t much to “solve”, in the traditional sense. But it’s a fascinating bit of dystopian sci-fi that’s worth experiencing.
How have these thing influenced me? Hopefully, they helped me be able to do a lot with just a bit of text. To create situations that characters have to think their way out of. And to just have fun when I’m writing, keep plugging at it until I have that bat guano breakthrough that gets me through to the end.