Saturday Crapshoot: 9:05

Richard Cobbett

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Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, get ready to READ ARTICLE. (Uh. Like normal.)

Interactive fiction. Text adventures. In the days before graphics, or at least graphics that didn't make you want to poke your eyes out with a spork, they were what transported us into worlds of endless imagination, and even convinced a hitherto sane world that The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy game was anything other than appalling. As technology moved on, they became more and more of a niche genre - but never stopped evolving or being developed. Today, with powerful creation tools like Inform 7 and advanced world simulations on their side, modern interactive fiction is still capable of incredibly fun, very original concepts. Want to see a quick example? Yes? Well, that's lucky!

Here's a quick taste of something only a game without graphics can hope to offer.

9:05 is a game from 2000, and far, far from the most advanced IF out there. It's a... short game. I don't really want to say more than that. I will however say that if you want to play it for yourself, do so before reading on. You have been warned. It's one that I've mentioned to people a couple of times over the last month though, and I like it for its cleverness - so hopefully you will as well. We join our hero fast asleep in bed, about to be disturbed by the second worst sound anyone can hear in the morning.

The phone rings.

Oh, no -- how long have you been asleep? Sure, it was a tough night, but-- This is bad. This is very bad.

The phone rings.

Bedroom (on the bed)

This bedroom is extremely spare, with dirty laundry scattered haphazardly all over the floor. Cleaner clothing is to be found in the dresser. A bathroom lies to the south, while a door to the east leads to the living room.

On the endtable are a telephone, a wallet (which is closed) and some keys.

The phone rings.

>

What do you do in that situation? What else?

>answer phone

You pick up the phone. "Hadley!" a shrill voice cries. "Hadley, haven't you even left yet?? You knew that our presentation was at nine o' clock sharp! First the thing with the printers, now this -- there won't even be enough left of you for Bowman to fire once he's done with you. Now get the hell down here!!"

Click.

"Crap," you think. It may not be the end of the world, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, interactive fiction often takes on much smaller scale situations than regular commercial games, if only because here, "And then the world blew up in a totally awesome fireball!" isn't inherently that much more interesting than a well-written description of a character's lips glistening as they lie. In a regular game, if the designer wants a plague of burning locusts to systematically destroy a castle, they have to convince a whole art and design team to make that happen. Here, "a swarm of burning locusts descended on the castle, rending it apart brick by brick..." is all anyone requires, with the player's own mind filling in the details.

>stand

You get off the bed.

Bedroom

This bedroom is extremely spare, with dirty laundry scattered haphazardly all over the floor. Cleaner clothing is to be found in the dresser. A bathroom lies to the south, while a door to the east leads to the living room.

On the endtable are a telephone, a wallet (which is closed) and some keys.

>take keys

Taken.

>take wallet

Taken.

>look in wallet

You can't see inside, since the wallet is closed.

>open wallet

You open the wallet, revealing a driver's license and an ID card.

>look at license

BRIAN HADLEY

315 AVENIDA VICTORIA

EAST LAS MESAS, DO 88827

Driver's license photos are generally far from flattering, and this one is no exception, but this photo looks a lot better than you look now.

>look at ID card

The size and shape of a credit card, this bears a magnetic strip on the back and some identification on the front:

BRIAN HADLEY

LOUNGENT TECHNOLOGIES

215 COLLINS STREET

LAS MESAS, DO 88701

Interactive fiction means adapting to so many different rules. Nothing is given freely. You have to experiment with your senses, to probe and poke and learn the rules each time. They may generally be similar, asking you to type LOOK to see or a cardinal direction to move, but nothing is ever guaranteed. Even in the classic days of Infocom text adventures, every game could be a new experience. There was Suspended, where you interacted entirely via a team of robots, each representing senses, as you sat personally helpless in the middle. There was A Mind Forever Voyaging, an amazing game about stepping through decades of time, witnessing the fall of America. A more modern game I highly recommend is Spider and Web , about which I choose to say nothing. You'll understand when you play it.

>open dresser

You open the dresser, revealing some clean clothing.

>wear clothing

(the soiled clothing)

You're already wearing that!

>take off clothes

You take off the soiled clothing.

>wear clean clothes

(first taking the clean clothing)

It seems ridiculous to put on fresh, clean clothes when you yourself are covered with mud and dried sweat.

And that's another thing. Forget simply moving and hitting buttons on the wall. In an interactive fiction game, everything can be interactive. You, your clothes, the scenery. When anything can be made functional with a couple of lines of dialogue, far more can be weaved into both the narrative, and there to make the world a more believable place. The smallest little touches can make all the difference.

Bathroom

This is a far from luxurious but still quite functional bathroom, with a sink, toilet and shower. The bedroom lies to the north.

>take shower

Carrying your possessions into the shower is a bad idea.

>drop all

clean clothing: Dropped.

wallet: Dropped.

keys: Dropped.

soiled clothing: Dropped.

>take shower

Carrying your possessions into the shower is a bad idea.

>i

You have:

a gold watch (being worn)

>remove watch

You take off the gold watch.

>drop watch

Dropped.

>take shower

You step into the shower, turn on the water, and within a few moments you feel like a new man. But no time to dawdle -- you hop back out again and dry off in record time.

>take all

gold watch: Taken.

soiled clothing: Taken.

keys: Taken.

wallet: Taken.

clean clothing: Taken.

>wear watch

You put on the gold watch.

Mustn't forget the watch. It may or may not be plot relevant, but you never know. Besides, it's probably-

>look at gold watch

According to your watch, it's 9:36.

Oooooh, hell. No time for that then...

Living room

The furniture isn't as carefully arranged as one might like, and it's a bit lacking in the luxuries that might make this a more pleasant place to spend an evening -- no stereo, no TV, no DVD, none of that -- but this living room is still nicer than most of those in this neighborhood. A kitchenette lies to the east, the bedroom to the west and the front door to the south.

>s

Walking outside naked would probably not be a smart move.

>wear clean clothes

You put on the clean clothing.

>s

You can't, since the front door is in the way.

>open door

[Which do you mean, the bedroom door or the front door?]

>front

You open the front door.

Of course, there are games where wearing clothes is optional. Violet , for example, makes a puzzle out of simply trying to finish the main character's homework while dealing with itchiness. This is not one of those times, but you can try randomly stripping if you want. You can verb any noun you like. Sometimes, they might work. Other times, a hollow voice may simply say "Fool."

Driveway

This is quite a seedy neighborhood, but there isn't really anywhere in the whole Las Mesas metro area that isn't at least a little rundown. Of course, the locals may complain about the ugliness and the crime, but the fact is that a starter home like this one would cost easily five times as much in someplace like Las Playas -- and that's if you could find one.

A car is parked on the driveway.

>unlock car

Unlocked.

>get in car

You climb inside and start up the engine.

>drive

Driving

Ah, scenic Las Mesas. Man, this place is an absolute toilet. Soon you'll be able to afford to get the hell out of here -- provided you can avoid making any more slip-ups on the job.

As you cruise down the road, you notice a freeway onramp approaching. Would you like to get on?

> no

It turns out that the ramp was blocked anyway -- some sort of maintenance work.

> wait

Time passes.

As you cruise down the road, you see the familiar Loungent Technologies building approaching. Would you like to stop here?

> yes

You pull into the parking lot and hop out.

Playing an IF game is about more than simply solving puzzles. Sometimes, it's about dedicated game things, like solving a murder mystery. Other times, it's about enjoying the writing itself, as in Emily Short's Galatea - a game about nothing more than talking to a living statue. With no price-tag, and no fixed length, you can get everything from the jokey "Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die" to the forthcoming Hadean Lands , a Kickstarter project. Its author, Andrew Plotkin, aimed for $8,000 to fund his costs while developing it and other IF related toys - for living expenses, mostly. He got it on the first day . The total now? $31,337. That's the best kind of 1337 to be, whatever the hacker kids think.

Loungent Technologies parking lot

You are at the employees' entrance to the Loungent Technologies building. There is a slot by the door, next to a sign reading "INSERT ID CARD HERE".

The car is parked in the parking lot.

>put id card in slot

A green LED lights up, the door clicks open and you step inside.

Loungent Technologies

You are standing in a hallway near the back entrance to Loungent Technologies. The hallway leads north to the reception area and south to the parking lot, while a door marked "MATTHEW BOWMAN" lies to the west.

There is a cubicle here; it is marked simply "HADLEY".

>in

You get into the cubicle.

On the desk are a form, a pen and a note.

>read note

The note reads, "Hadley -- sign this 209F and return it to me IMMEDIATELY!! MB".

>take pen

Taken.

>sign form

Someone passes by the cubicle as you sign the form. You look up just in time to see Bowman's door click shut.

Okay, so it's not the most advanced puzzle in the world. Look at it this way. At least it's not the bloody Towers of Hanoi or something with sliding blocks or - god forbid - putting a bit of newspaper under a door and poking the key out with something spiky and then pulling back the paper because in adventures games, doors always have massive gaps underneath them because nobody minds hideous draughts freezing them in winter apparently and yes, yes, okay, I'm drifting. Where were we?

Loungent Technologies

Ah, yes. Then let's continue.

> w

You walk into Bowman's office and, smiling, hand him the signed form.

Bowman asks, "Who the hell are you?"

...what the?

The jig is up. You try to make a break for it, but Bowman calls for security and they wrestle you to the ground before you can make it back to the car.

...but... uh...

Jail

The anchorman chuckles. "And now, on the lighter side of the news -- you've heard about the burglar who broke into a home and started stealing the family's valuables, only to get so worn out from the exertion that he fell asleep and was caught when the homeowners returned? Here's one to top that: a burglar broke into an East Las Mesas home, killed the owner and stashed his body under the bed, put his possessions in the trunk of his car -- and then fell asleep, woke up the next morning, went to his victim's office and tried to do the victim's job! An insanity defense is likely. And now here with the weather is Jay Doubleday -- or is it?"

*** You have been sentenced to life imprisonment ***

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game or QUIT?

Well, that was unexpected.

Still, read back. At no point does the game ever lie to you. At many points, it's almost up-front, with talk of things like 'the job' instead of 'your job'. It just takes advantage of the fact that you can't see the face on the ID card, that you assume it's your bedroom, your shower and your soiled clothes.

But what if you'd been less rushed? What if you'd been a bit more thorough?

Bedroom (on the bed)

This bedroom is extremely spare, with dirty laundry scattered haphazardly all over the floor. Cleaner clothing is to be found in the dresser. A bathroom lies to the south, while a door to the east leads to the living room.

On the endtable are a telephone, a wallet (which is closed) and some keys.

The phone rings.

>look under bed

Under the bed you see the corpse of the guy who owns this house.

And with that one little piece of information, how different everything becomes...

Driving

Ah, scenic Las Mesas. Man, this place is an absolute toilet. Soon you'll be able to afford to get the hell out of here -- provided you can avoid making any more slip-ups on the job.

As you cruise down the road, you see the familiar Loungent Technologies building approaching. Would you like to stop here?

> n

Soon the Loungent building is in your rear-view mirror.

9:05 is obviously just a quick and dirty gimmick game, taking about five minutes to play in its entirety. It's a great example of how just toying with a single preconception can make for something incredibly clever. Other games are equally clever, but over the space of a much longer adventure. If you're interested in checking out a few more, you can't do better than to head for the yearly Interactive Fiction Competition, where you'll find lots of free games designed to be played and finished in a couple of hours, or at the very least, enjoyed to the full within that time. As for other games, you can play them on the web, you can play them on your phone, and if you've never played any before, you have literally decades of classics to catch up on. Just don't trust anyone who tells you Hitch-Hiker's Guide is good, because... really... damn. Talk about rose-tinted Stockholm Syndrome. Shudder...

Driving

As you cruise down the road, you notice another freeway onramp approaching. Would you like to get on?

> yes

You merge onto the freeway, crank up the radio, and vanish without a trace.

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