Old-School Text Adventure Game (OSTAG) Resources
My interest in Old School Revival/Renaissance (OSR) and its connection with weird tales/fiction includes text adventure games such as Adventure and Zork. Here is a list of resources for anyone interested in old-school text adventure games (OSTAG) for 8-bit machines such as the Apple IIe, Atari 400/800, BBC Micro, Commodore PET/VIC-20/64, TRS-80, and ZX Spectrum. Most of these are from the early 1980s, especially 1981 to 1984, when most such games were written in BASIC and/or asm. OSTAGs morphed into interactive ficton (IF) through the 80s and 90s, and there are many excellent resources from that time, including authoring tools such as Graphic Adventure Creator (GAC), Adventure Game Toolkit (AGT), TADS (Text Adventure Development System), and Inform; but although some of those tools ran on 8-bit systems, I have ignored most of that stuff in favor of earlier resources that involved writing your own games from scratch.
There are many books written about computer adventure games and interactive fiction; these are my favorites.
- Writing Basic Adventure Programs for the TRS-80 (TAB Books, 1982) by Frank DaCosta
- Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer (Ballantine, 1983) by Tim Hartnell
- Write Your Own Adventure Games for Your Microcomputer (Usborne, 1983) by Jenny Tyler and Les Howarth
- COMPUTE!'s Guide to Adventure Games (COMPUTE! Publications, 1984) by Gary McGath
- Conquering Adventure Games (dilithium Press, 1984) by Carl Townsend
- Golden Flutes & Great Escapes: How to Write Adventure Games (dilithium Press, 1984) by Delton T. Horn
- Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction (MIT Press, 2005) by Nick Montfort
The following are not about text adventure games per se, but are a boon to designers of adventure games in any medium, and games involving magic especially.
- Authentic Thaumaturgy (Steve Jackson Games, 1998) by Isaac Bonewits
- Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives (A K Peters, 2008) by Jeff Howard
- Game Magic: A Designer's Guide to Magic Systems in Theory and Practice (CRC Press, 2014) by Jeff Howard
- How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck (Goodman Games, 2017) by various authors
Many hobby microcomputer magazines from the early 1980s included BASIC listings for adventure games you could program into your machine at home. There were a few magazines that focused on adventure games.
- Micro Adventurer, November 1983 - March 1985
- Adventure Contact, 1986 - mid-90s
- Adventure Probe, June 1986 - 2000
Computer adventure games intersect considerably with other types of fantasy games such as board games and roleplaying games, at least thematically if not mechanically. Here are a few periodicals for tabletop games of the late-70s and early-80s.
- Ares, 1980 - 1984
- Different Worlds, 1979 - 1987 (various content, but published by Chaosium)
- Dragon, 1976 - 2007 (various content, but published by TSR)
- Imagine, April 1983 - October 1985 (focused on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons)
- Nexus, April-May 1982 - January 1988 (focused on Task Force Games)
- Interplay, 1981 - 1982 (focused on Metagaming's The Fantasy Trip)
- *Sorcerer's Apprentice (SA), 1978 - 1983(?)
- The Space Gamer, March 1975 - 1985 (various content, but published by Metagaming)
- White Dwarf, June-July 1977 - present (various content during first several years, now focused on Games Workshop)
- "Adventure" supplement insert, Computer & Video Games, January 1984
- "The Adventure Game Showdown" (ANALOG Computing, No. 73, June 1989) by Michael A. Banks
- "Adventure Interpreter" (SoftSide, July 1980) by Scott Adams
- "Adventureland" (SoftSide, July 1980) by Scott Adams
- "Adventures: Expanding Universes" (SoftSide, July 1980) by James Garon
- "Adventuring: Participate in Fantasy" (Antic, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1983) by David and Sandy Small
- "A Basic Adventure" (RUN, May 1988) by Cindy Hurley
- "Call Yourself Ishmael: Micros Get the Literary Itch" (Softline, Vol. 3, September-October 1983) by Fred Saberhagen et al.
- "The Challenge of the Quest" (ANALOG Computing, No. 10, 1983) by Brad Griffin
- "Creating the Well-Blended Adventure" (The Rainbow, Vol. 3, No. 7, February 1984) by Eric T. Tilenius
- "The Facets of Adventure" (Amazing Computing, Vol. 2, No. 8, 1987) by Eddie Churchill and Ken Shaefer
- "Fantasy Games - Part 2" (Creative Computing, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 1981) by David Lubar
- "Keys to Creating Winning Adventures" (The Rainbow, Vol. 3, No. 7, February 1984) by Bob Liddil
- "On the Road to Adventure" (BYTE, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 1980) by Bob Liddil
- "Origins of the Adventure" (Softline, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 1981) by Ken Rose
- "Pirate's Adventure" (BYTE, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 1980) by Scott Adams
- "Putting Adventure in Adventure Games" (Creative Computing, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 1981) by Robert Plamondon
- "Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game" (Computer, Vol. 12, No. 4, April 1979) by P. David Lebling, Marc S. Blank, and Timoth A. Anderson
- "Zork and the Future of Computer Fantasy Game Simulations" (BYTE, Vol. 5, No. 12, December 1980) by P. David Lebling
- Gaming After 40
- The Interactive Fiction Archive
- The Interactive Fiction Database
- The Internet Archive
- The Museum of Adventure Game History
You can play many OSTAGs online today at the Internet Archive or Complete BBC Micro Games Archive; or using local emulators such as DOSBox, MAME, or (my favorite) Matthew Reed's TRS-80 emulators for Windows and MS-DOS.
The success of a text adventure game depends as much -- if not more -- on its command parser as on its world-building and storytelling. Many of the resources named above cover parser design in more or less detail, but here are a few additional resources, most of which are comparatively recent.
- "Building a Text Adventure" (Wireframe, No. 6, January 2019) by Andrew Gillett
- "Creating a Text-Based Adventure Game" (YouTube, 2017) by Unity
- "How to Write a Text Adventure in Python" (Let's Talk Data, 2014) by Phillip Johnson
- Make Your Own Python Text Adventure: A Guide to Learning Programming (Apress, 2017) by Phillip Johnson
- "Making a Text Adventure Game with the cmd and textwrap Python Modules" (The Invent with Python Blog, 2014) by Al Sweigart
- "Making a Text Adventure Parser" (YouTube, 2017) by Evan Wright
- "Object-oriented Programming in Python: Create Your Own Adventure Game" (FutureLearn) by Raspberry Pi Foundation
- "Text Parsing Tutorial" (YouTube, 2017) by Ryan Abrahams
- "Writing Mechanically Solid Parser Games" (Sibyl Moon Games, 2014) by Carolyn VanSeltine