When I attended IndieCade 2016 at USC in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised at one unmistakable trend: text adventure games. I played a ton of them, and I'm glad they're back. They shouldn't be dismissed as old-fashioned, because this old format is getting interpreted in new ways.
Here are a few stand-outs that prove the genre is still relevant. Check them out!
Take Open Sorcery, an indie self-billed as "a game about technology, magic, and becoming a person." It's original in both narrative and gameplay. It's based on an old quote from Sci-Fi author Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
In it, you play as an AI gradually achieving sentience while using mysterious techniques to purge demons lurking in the Deep Web. If that's not interesting enough for you, note that it's formatted in a structure almost like days.
Each virtual day, you wake up and perform your rote machine tasks, purging demons with pre-set tools. But with each passing day, you become more sentient and face the ethical consequences that presents.
Each time you "wake up," you are given several digital demon-hunting tools to pick from. You select the tool you want to use from a list, and depending on the stage in the game you're at the tool you've selected, either it will say no demons were found, or tell you something fishy's going on.
At that point, you're usually given multiple choice options for how to deal with the situation. This isn't a game where you're typing in commands — it's mostly about picking from multiple options. But that makes it that much easier to get into.
If you've ever been to IndieCade, you know that a lot of the games are special because they tackle very personal and emotional issues important to their creators and players in a way that most mainstream games don't.
The Mirror is one of those games. It's about the tyranny of a mirror — body image issues, self-acceptance, and more.
The game gripped me because it came in cycles — you start in a mysterious room, full of beauty, but when you interact with the mirror, you're taken on a journey. The journey is perilous, and you will probably fail, learning the mirror is lying to you. And each time it gets you, the room you inhabit because darker and less pleasing.
In this game, as with many other modern text games, you interact by clicking on words in the text describing the scene, not by typing something in. It works just like hyperlinks on a webpage — you're basically browsing between a bunch of interconnected pages full of text by clicking around in the text. Imagine falling down an interactive Wikipedia hole!
This overcomes a lot of the esoteric challenges of old text adventure games, and works great in this game.
The Mirror shows that text games can be more than adventure titles — they can be a new way to share an idea of artistic merit.
Killing Time at Lightspeed, And More
Those were just two of the games I saw at IndieCade. I recommend visiting the IndieCade website to see other examples, like Killing Time at Lightspeed. There are plenty. And for more traditional interactive fiction, check out the Interactive Fiction Database. Believe or not, even that most classic of forms is still alive and well.
I'm old enough to remember the original adventure games, so there's a nostalgia factor for me when I try games like the ones I saw at IndieCade. But if you don't remember those games, trust me: you're missing out. Give them a try, new and old.