Interactive Fiction – the Text Adventure Returneth

I used to love text adventures as a kid. I remember playing ‘Adventure’ for hours… I find it amazing that text adventures haven’t made a bit of a comeback these days. My students send text messages to each other for hours (even when they sit beside each other) – surely this is a ripe market? And indeed, there are companies out there making adventures for Ipods etc..

So, in conjunction with the local high school and its archaeology club (how that club came to be is another story, for another time), I’m going to see whether creating an historically-based text adventure can be a way of creating historical literacy. The hand-out I’m giving the kids is below:

A lonely steam whistle punctures the darkness. You turn, and watch the Prince Arthur slip her moorings and steam away into the night along the Ottawa River. You sigh to yourself. It has been a long journey from Montreal and the offices of the Canadian Illustrated News.

“Go to the wilderness, young Henry! See what is happening in the Dominion’s newest Towns and Cities!” said your editor.

An easy assignment…. But on board the steamer from Union Village to Portage, you began to hear rumours about this village, unpleasant eddies beneath its placid exterior.

“Well Henry, time to see if there are any lodgings to be had in this town” you say to yourself, as the rain begins to pelt down.

A flash of lightening reveals another lonely figure standing on the wharf. It looks to be a girl of about 12. And she’s crying.

You can see a building by the water’s edge.


This project is to create a work of interactive fiction, also known as a text adventure. Before decent graphics, text adventures were one of the best selling games in the industry. They are now enjoying a renaissance, since they can be played on Ipods and other PDAs and handheld computers that can’t handle complex graphics. ‘Text adventure’ does not mean that there are not any graphics or sounds. However, they are used generally to support the action of the text, by providing visual or auditory clues to solve the puzzles of the game.

I’m inviting the PHAC to become involved in this project. I will provide a game generator to help you make the game. There is a very real possibility that we will publish this game on the internet – so if you can make a good game, you will be able to put this on your resume, and it might open up some career or educational doors for you (Algonquin has a three year game design programme, for instance). And it just might be fun too!

What are the parameters?

  • The game will begin with the paragraph above (‘A lonely steam whistle…”)
  • It will be set in Portage sometime in the last quarter of the 19th century. There are maps and photographs of Portage in the Archives that you will need to consult to construct the game.
  • You will need to develop the locations, the tasks (puzzles), the characters, and the descriptions of the people, places, things : the story
  • You will need to plan out all of the locations, and use storyboards to work out what will happen in the game

Game development companies usually divide these tasks up, with one or two people providing overall guidance and control. I will act as the producer, providing you with the resources you need to build the game. Other roles are:

· Project Manager: keeps everybody on schedule, and on task

· Level designer: creates the map of the ‘world’

· Lead Writer: creates the overall story

· Writer: writes the descriptions and texts

· Puzzle designer: works with the lead designer and the level designer to work out what the puzzles are, where they will be, and how they are solved

· Programmer: puts the game together so that it may be played.

In this case, the programming will not be from scratch, but rather will use a game editor called ADRIFT. I will provide training in how to use this program.