Contents | < Browse | Browse >

===========================================================================
                             READY, AIM, GAME!
  Kevin Scully                                        kscully@whidbey.net
===========================================================================

This is my first offering to the general public, as I usually only write
for a small local Amiga newsletter.  If I get the time, and if I get good
response from this, I may make further game reports.  Feel free to email
me!

New games are planned for release soon.  Some of the new titles include
Dungeon Master II and the long awaited Alien Breed 3D.  Due to Escom's
decision-making, AGA is now the way to go.  Expect most games to be
AGA-only from now on.  Plan to upgrade, I'm sure you won't regret it.  I
myself plan to get an Amiga 4000 Tower and an SX-1 expansion module for my
CD32.

By the way, let me know what you think of having reviews written out like
this, rather than in the old compartmentalized format.  If enough people
like this, I will write my column in this format in the future.

SPECIAL REPORT

This month I've decided to make my column a special report, due to the fact
that what I'm reviewing is commercial, shareware, and news, all at the same
time.  What is this amazing thing, you ask?  Well, here is the announcment:

TEXT ADVENTURES ARE NOT DEAD!

Much to the contrary, they are still alive and well, thriving in a growing
shareware market.  There are people who take their time writing such
adventures at home, and upload them to the Internet and BBSs, all around
the world.  I will take a look at how they create such games and how you
can play them, a bit later.

HISTORY OF TEXT GAMING

In the earliest days of computers, even before screens, there were computer
games.  Of necessity, these were text games, because graphics has not been
implemented yet on most terminals.  One of the oldest games in existence is
Advent, or Adventure.  It was written on a mainframe computer in the mid
70s, and is generally attributed as being the first text adventure game. 
It began the Golden Age of text games, lasting from the mid 70s to the late
80s, and is still being played, in various versions, nearly a quarter
century later.  Ruling over this Golden Age was the undisputed King of Text
Games, Infocom.  Their first game, Zork, which was based upon Advent, was
released in 1980.  They released nearly 3 dozen text adventures over their
lifetime, and they were played by millions.  But then technological
breakthroughs in the mid 80's allowed low cost advanced personal computers
to be brought to the public.

Realistic graphics and sound, made their way into many homes in the mid
80's, causing many people to believe that text-only gaming was obsolete.  
The great and mighty maker of text games, Infocom, slowly ground to a halt,
and was bought by Activision in 1986.  They gradually turned from making
text-only games to graphic/text, and by the '90s, all new 'Infocom' games
use graphical interfaces.  The other, smaller companies switched to making
other types of games, or went out of business as well.  Sadly, these new
games, and many others, lack the gripping gameplay of those in the earlier
days of computing, disappointing many players of the old games.

But now there are other programs out there, that allow you to make your own
Infocom-style adventures, and others that give an improved interface to the
old Infocom games, as well as allowing you to play any of these new games
people have created.  These programs exist for all styles of computers,
from Amigas to Macs, PCs, Unix machines, even palmtop computers.  This is
possible, because the Infocom style of creating games was extraordinarily
well thought out and portable to any computer.  Called Z-Code, games can be
created in this style, and be easily played by anyone with a interpreter. 
These games are not playable on their own, but this is a small loss.  The
interpreter programs come with tons of options, and quite a few things to
make issuing commands easier.

WHAT IS Z-CODE?

Z-Code is the special language, designed by Infocom, that all Infocom style
games are written in.  It is quite flexible, powerful, and is able to be
ported to almost any computer in existence with little difficulty.  There
were several different versions of Z-Code, incorporating improvments as the
computers and games grew better.

Version 1: The earliest Zork and a few others around 1980.  Antique.  All
games from Versions 1 and 2 were converted to Version 3.

Version 2: Much the same, with several minor improvements. Also Antique.

Version 3: Standard: Most of the Infocom games were originally released in
this format.  Many games can still be found using it.  Vast improvements
over Version 2.

Version 4: Plus: Minor improvements, doubling the possible size of a game,
and increasing the vocabulary word size. 

Trinity, Bureaucracy, Nord&Bert, and A Mind Forver Voyaging are Version 4
games.

Version 5: Advanced: This is the other commonly used version, with many
improvements some additional commands, and sound and mouse support.  Most
shareware games are created in Version 5 format.

Beyond Zork, Border Zone, and Sherlock are Version 5 games.

Version 6: Graphical: The last official Infocom Z-Code version, it allowed
games with pictures, such as Shogun, Zork Zero, Journey, and Arthur. 
*NOTE: Version 6 games are not supported by many interpreters, if any.*

Versions 7 and 8: Enhanced: These versions were created by shareware
authors, and allow for much larger games.  Some interpreters support these
versions, but as of yet, I have seen no game that uses them.

SO WHAT ARE THESE PROGRAMS ALREADY?

Well, one program I have seen to allow you to write these games is called
Inform, written by Graham Nelson.  It is a mature, efficient program that
more accurately could be called a compiler, because you write the game in a
text format, then run it through Inform to get the playable Z-Code version.
It even comes with several sample games, though you must already have an
interpreter.  Though a bit intimidating to some people, once you explore
Inform, it is an easy program to use, and one I heartily recommend.  Inform
exists for many types of computers, and is available on the Internet for
FTP from

ftp.gmd.de in /if-archive/infocom/compilers/inform

There are other programs out there to create Z-Code games, but I have not
seen any of them yet.

As for interpreters, I know several.  Known as Z-Code interpreter programs,
or ZIPs for short, they are much more flexible than the old Infocom
interpreter.

Infocom, by the InfoTaskForce, is a wonderful interpreter, allowing you to
play almost every official Infocom game, as well as all shareware games. 
It comes for many computers, including Amiga, PC, and Mac.  Better known as
ITF, it is my interpreter of choice.  It is available also for FTP from

ftp.gmd.de in /if-archive/infocom/interpreters/itf

There is also another, called ZIP.  A small file, it handles the newest
versions of Z-Code games, versions 7 and 8.  It is also reputedly more
stable than others.  Get it from

ftp.gmd.de in /if-archive/infocom/interpreters/zip

[ITF also supports V7 and V8. -Jason]

The third interpreter I know of is PInfocom, available for Amiga, PC and
several Unix systems.  It is based on an early version of ITF, and is
prettier, but plays less of the Z-Code versions.  I do not know where it is
available from.

WHERE TO GET MORE GAMES

Activision released two packages known as the Lost Treasures of Infocom,
Volumes I and II.  These contain 20 games in Volume I, and about a dozen in
Volume II.  Together, these consist of most Infocom games ever made, so it
is an invaluable package.  You can probably buy them used somewhere-and
since the data files are machine-independent, it doesn't matter if you
obtain an Amiga, PC, or Mac version as long as you have an interpreter.

I doubt any more commercial games are being released in Z-Code format, but
that may change in the future if companies take note of the devoted fans
out there.

ftp.gmd.de is the main archive for new adventures, as well.

BUT I DON'T HAVE INTERNET ACCESS!

Well, if you at least have a modem, I should eventually upload these
interpreters, the Inform compiler, and some games to Whidbey Winds BBS. 
(360-675-4447)