This link appeared first as a comment, then as a tweet, and finally now as a blog-post, which is all back to front. But this is archaelogy, which works downwards.
The short version is: presenting Kingdom Without End by Shannon Cochran, a multi-choice input game from 2001 about archaeology, that is perhaps the best example of CYOA written in a parser-IF style, and not only that, it’s a damn fine piece of work too.
The game bills itself as an old-fashioned cave crawl, somewhat fashioned after Infocom’s Infidel: an archaelogist has been banned from excavating an ancient ritualistic site, but cannot resist the lure of the unknown. Will they uncover the secrets of the catacombs?
Kingdom Without End was written for the 2001 Lotech competition organised by Mark Silcox in collaboration with Suite101.com, which was a mini-comp for games with a multiple-choice input only. (Although arguably, KWE breaks that rule, as I’ll detail below).
2001 was one of the most successful years for the modern IF community – it was the year of First Things First, Heroes, The Gostak, Fallacy of Dawn, Moments Out of Time, The Weapon, Pytho’s Mask, Earth and Sky, my own All Roads, Ribbons, Fine Tuned, Voices, No Time to Squeal, just to pick out the games that meant the most to me.
Against that backdrop, there were relatively few multi-choice games, and the consensus was, I think, that CYOA games could never be as challenging, rewarding or immersive as parser-based stories.
The Lotech comp drew six entries, of a pretty high standard, including one by a well-known IF author writing pseudonymously, and a rather good life-sim game by “Papillon” called One Week. But, for me at least, Kingdom Without End stood a league above, because it was a serious, coherent entry; because it was a story and not a sim; and because it turned its multi-choice interface into first a clever constraint, and then a meaningful one.
Cochran manages to work in several clever puzzles, some moral ambiguity, and plenty of replay value. The cost is a lot of repetitive text: the game plays out much more like a parser-IF game with a world-model than like an Undum-style flexible narrative.
(Through a quirk of the Adventure Book system, the player even has an inventory of items, and , these can be used to access “hidden” options – if the player thinks one of the items can be used at a certain paragraph, instead of choosing an option they can type the inventory item’s name instead. Cochran takes this concept and uses it to full effect, with a few moments of clear, intuitive-puzzle brilliance.)
So far, so much ancient history. I hadn’t thought about Kingdom for a long time, until replying to a comment on this blog about choice-based games that mimic text games I quoted it as an example. That led me to try and track the game down once more.
The original game-file is still available in its original “adv” format, but the TextRun interpreter required to run it has now fallen off the web, except for via the incredible web archive, which has a stored copy of the original page and links. But even then, TextRun was only ever available for DOS, and now no longer even runs on Windows 7 machines.
Around the time of the competition one of the entrants, Randall M! Gee also converted the two Adventure Book games entered to TADS 2 format, and they’re still available today from his site.
But with the recent release of Edward Griffith’s Inform 7 extension Adventure Book, essentially a port of the old system, it was easy enough to convert the adv file to Inform-valid source, enabling a Glulx version, and hence, a version playable on the web.
If you’re not an I7 user, or even if you are, that means:
If there are any bugs, they’re probably in the conversion process, and so are my fault. I’ve left the old-school-stylings of the game in, apart from bold-typing the location names. I was tempted to move them to the status line and maybe add hyperlinks for the options – maybe even a clickable inventory list that’s always visible – but it isn’t my game.
What it is, however, is a great demonstration of how good a simple choice-based game can be, and of how puzzles can still exist in a selection-based context – and especially one in which the player has access to certain “magic words”.
The game is probably not a model of how I’d write choice-based games from here on in; I’m more interested in games which produce unbroken prose rather than discrete chunks which may be repeated frequently; and I’m less interested in inventories and object-object puzzles.
But undeniably, this game is a classic.
(Disclaimer: I should add that I’m not in contact with the author; the game has been available free for ten years so I hope the port is not seen as an infringement – if it is, please let me know and I will take it down.)