Art by Mark Harrison ( http://www.m-harrison.co.uk/ ), © Adventuron Software Limited.

The Text Adventure Literacy Project

The TALP project aims to provide a friction-less method of teaching the next generation how to play text adventure games.

Text Adventure games are a genre of video games in which the player interacts with a simulation of a game world via submitting textual commands.

The game usually describes a location or situation, and then player then tells the game how they wish to interact with the world, and the story then continues.

Infocom coined the term “Interactive Fiction” to describe a certain type of text adventure that were narrative based.

Interactive Fiction / Text Adventure Games were extremely popular between 1978 and 1985, with popularity declining rapidly as computers became more graphically capable and graphically-rich mouse driven UIs taking over.

Amongst those that still love the genre, the ability to use your imagination in formulating commands (versus the rigid on-rails approach of graphic adventure games) is often cited.

Image Author: Celcom (via Wikipedia, CCSA 3.0 license).

Text Adventure Games often included basic graphics to represent locations in the game. Illustrated Text Adventure games were very popular in Europe, less so in America.

The Hobbit (ZX Spectrum 48K), ©Melbourne House

The last mainstream commercially viable text adventure games were published in the late 80s, and it’s been over 30 years since the genre was vibrant.

Dinosaur Island DX, Game by Richard Pettigrew, Art by Chris Ainsley

A whole generation has grown up without the skills required to play and enjoy this once (wildly) popular genre of game.

It is currently very difficult to learn how to play a text adventure game as games from 30 years ago were not built with training beginners in text adventure tropes in mind.

Enter TALP ….

The Text Adventure Literacy Project

The Text Adventure Literacy project is a set of design specifications designed to train absolute beginners how to play and enjoy text adventure games with lessons delivered in-game rather than in a boring document or video.

What’s The Point?

As mentioned earlier. The text adventure genre is (commercially) dead, so what’s the purpose in trying to resurrect something the market has rejected?

1 — Market efficiency depends on perfect knowledge, and sometimes the market simply is unaware of something it might want, and needs a sponsor to make the market aware of the product. The text adventure genre staying dead might simply be because there hasn’t been a compelling case put forward for a AAA text adventure game by a larger studio.

2 — Graphic adventures killed off text adventure games, but we are now in a post-graphics era. Games such as shovel knight and minecraft prove that the market has moved beyond its obsession with graphical fidelity.

3 — What’s old is new. Text adventure games are so old, that they often feel refreshing to new eyes.

4 — Coding text adventures is a great way to learn to code. If you don’t know how to play text adventures, and the market doesn’t know how to play text adventures, then coding a text adventure is a rather fruitless exercise.

Goals of TALP

The purpose of the TALP initiative is threefold.

  1. To encourage authors to create games that actively target beginners, as the trend is to serve the existing niche, not to be more inclusive.
  2. To teach a new generation the skills required to play classic text adventure (interactive fiction games), and in doing so, encourage a new generation to create their own games.
  3. To provide an easy acronym to search on the internet to be able to find absolute beginner friendly text adventure games.

Mandatory Design Features of TALP Games

  • Games should describe the type of sentence structure that is required by the game. If the game only requires VERB NOUN, explain this at the start of the game. Also list example inputs.
  • All locations must have location graphics. Preferably happy / colourful, but down to the artist. Location graphics can be very simple, but graphics are essential for maximum initial attention grab.
  • All games must be suitable for 8 year old children (no adult themes or language).
  • TALP games must educate player on the concepts of : compass directions, inventory, getting objects, dropping objects, use of verbs and nouns, use of more complex grammatical forms (if not a verb noun game), use of EXAMINE or LOOK AT — (see excalibur reference implementation of how to deliver these lessons).
  • First few puzzles must present strong hints or outright solution, to give players an early sense of success or progression. Gradually remove the overtness of the hints.
  • Help should summerize lessons.

Optional (Suggested) Design Features of TALP Games

  • Tutorial Mode should be able to be disabled via TUTORIAL OFF.
  • Tutorial instructions should ideally be distinguishable from normal game text via a different text colouring, but this is optional.
  • Tutorial mode should not be entire game.
  • Game should be relatively short — 10 to 20 puzzles long.

Reference Implementation — Excalibur (TALP)

The first reference implementation game in the TALP initiative is Excalibur:Sword of Kings (TALP).

Excalibur (TALP), © Adventuron Software Limited

Excalibur can be played on desktop and mobile platforms.

The TALP edition of Excalibur is a remake of the 1987 text adventure by Ian Smith and Shaun McClure.

Excalibur (TALP), © Adventuron Software Limited
Excalibur (TALP), © Adventuron Software Limited

(Excalibur was developed with the Adventuron text adventure authoring system.)

TALP Games

Development Tools

  • Adventuron Classroom — The Education Variant of Adventuron
  • DAAD — An engine for creating text adventure games on classic platforms.

Reading

  • Classic Adventurer Magazine — A highly recommended fanzine on the modern text adventure scene (UK/Spain) centric.
  • Twilight Inventory — An interesting dive into the UK indie text adventure scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s (after mainstream commercial viability was ending / had ended).

@ainslec

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