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Text Raider: The old Adventures are the Best
Jess Wynne
Lara


Now showing! Be stunned as Angelina Jolie leaps and kicks her way across the screen as cyberbabe Lara Croft. Against spectacular backdrops! With a variety of quick costume changes! Swoon as the scantily clad action chick of fantastical proportions blows away her enemies, thereby ensuring her status as a feminist icon that any woman can identify with! Smile at her incredible ability to swim, jump and backflip, whilst simultaneously advertising Ericsson! Yes girls, get your guns out for the boys and the sequels will follow!

And now for something completely different…

Lara Croft arrives home at her apartment after a long hard day packed with violence, dinosaurs and amazing archaeological discoveries. No glamorous parties for Lara - she's knackered. With agonising back pain - which several of my friends assure me is the result of being so well endowed (Jealous? Me? Never!) - she slumps in a chair to watch a little TV or maybe play a computer game. Her interest in history may draw her to games that predate the era of graphics; the stunning, complex visuals and enhanced sound that are integral to Tomb Raider and today's gaming market. Namely text-only games.
Once upon a time text games ruled the electronic earth. They were rather slow, ponderous creatures, lacking in comprehension. An encounter with one often proceeded thus:
GAME: You enter a room. It is dark.
PLAYER: Turn on light
GAME: You can't see anything! It is dark.
PLAYER: Use match.
GAME: Do not know the word 'match'.
PLAYER: Inventory
GAME: You have:
Empty crisp packet
Lump of coal
PLAYER: Move south
GAME: You can't go that way. A Wookadoog has entered the room. You hear a low, menacing, growl.
PLAYER: Exit room
GAME: Do not know the word 'Exit'. The Wookadoog is advancing on you. Two flesh eating Bogiwoks have flown into the room and are circling you.
PLAYER: Light the coal
GAME: Do not know what 'Light' means in this sentence. The Wookadoog has opened its gigantic jaws wide to swallow you.
PLAYER: Throw the crisp packet at the Wookadoog
GAME: The Wookadoog looks surprised as the crisp packet hits it but eats you anyway. You are dead.
© Jess 'Wookadoog' Wynne

Yes games before graphics were fiendishly frustrating but a precious few were so well written that they were intriguing and/or humorous, with the capacity to test the powers of imagination and intellect. Without a doubt the best of these was a text adventure written by Steve Meretzky of Infocom and the much missed Douglas Adams based around his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In 1984 this was a popular best-seller; it sold 350,000 copies. However, the gaming climate was about to change.

The graphics games came along and the computer using portion of the human race forgot all about 500,000 years of language evolution and went straight back to the electronic equivalent of banging rocks together - the point 'n' click game. (douglas.adams.com)

The good news however is that the advent of the Internet appears to have brought about a rejuvenation of the text game. The popularity of emailing, chatrooms and role-playing on the 'net may go some way to explain why games in which interaction is the essential factor have again become desirable. Whilst searching for something entirely different I unearthed the gem which is the Hitchhiker's text game - now available as shareware on the web. A wave of nostalgia swept over me as a recalled the horrible confusion which this game rendered in my childhood self. I was compelled. I started to play and…wow in an amazing triumph for the English education system I got slightly further in the adventure than I did as an eleven year old.


Babelfish

It actually occurs to me that if I hadn't been introduced to the Hitchhiker's radio series, books and game as a child, I might be a more together person with less of a propensity for wasting time envisioning surreal situations and laughing at inappropriate moments in supermarkets. But never mind, it was all worth it.

And the game is definitely worth a second look or a first for the saddos that missed it the first time around. Not only does it communicate the crazy humour of the original the game is written well enough to deal with most situations that the player offers it. Even if it does not understand you it is often witty about it. You play Arthur Dent who wakes up one morning with a hangover to discover not only that his house is about to be demolished but also that his best friend is an alien and the world is due to end in twelve minutes time - to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Well we all have mornings like that but from here on it just gets stranger.

The game does follow the original storyline to some extend but also allows the player to diverge; at least this is what I gathered from the pitiful progress I have made so far. Knowledge of the radio series or the books helps in that it suggests a certain method of warped rationality but in general bewilderment will reign whether you are a fan or not. Apparently many consider it 'a signal achievement to get out of [Arthur's] house' at the beginning let alone leave the planet. Once you have though, such glories as Vogon poetry and haughty doors await. And something that is almost entirely, but not quite, unlike tea.

Any tips? Well obviously bad spelling is frowned upon. It will get you no where. Commands such as 'Diagnose' will inform you of your physical condition and 'Inventory' will tell you what you possess. 'Look' and 'examine' are useful and 'up', 'down', 'south', 'north', 'east', 'west' are used for moving. Other commands are included on the web page with the game. Remember to 'get up' and take the headache pill or else the room will not stop spinning. Apart from that your guess is as good as mine.

One major annoyance with this shareware version is that you can not save and restore games. Dying and restarting becomes very tedious plus this adventure might turn out to commit one of the most serious felonies possible to the computer game. I have a sneaking suspicion that I may not be able to finish a game if I don't manage to pick up a Babel fish even though I can continue from that point. If anyone out there knows if this is true or not, and how I actually get the bloomin' fish out of the dispenser please email me.
Otherwise, kick the doors, insult Marvin the paranoid android, and don't forget the thing your auntie gave you that you don't know what it is. Share and enjoy!
Don't panic, here's the address: www.douglasadams.com/creations/infocomjava.html
Email me: jessiwynne@yahoo.co.uk

© Jess Wynne 2001

In memory of Doug


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