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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Zork-esque 'Interactive Fiction' Comes to the Kindle

Could text-based adventure games be transformed into a genuine art form by their introduction to an appropriate platform?

  • September 9, 2011

Interactive fiction, aka text adventure games, have finally come to the one platform for which they could hardly be more perfect: Amazon’s Kindle. The first work of interactive fiction on the device is called The King of Shreds and Patches, and it takes place in a “historically accurate” rendering of 17th century England.

A Kindle, after all, is pretty much just a PC from a previous era shrunk into a tiny package, and it even comes with its own monochrome screen. It is, in short, the ultimate device for playing Zork.

What’s Zork, you say? The short version is that Zork is what a bunch of geeks at MIT produced when they wanted to create a Dungeons and Dragons-style adventure game but computer graphics weren’t up to the task. The first version was developed on that early hacker staple, the PDP-10 minicomputer, and was later rolled out on the Commodore, Amiga and Apple II.

The King of Shreds and Patches, the modern-day reincarnation of both an engine for producing interactive fiction and the first work produced with that engine, takes advantage of the fact that the Kindle can run apps. (Which everyone seems to have forgotten.) The entire production is brought to us by Jimmy Maher, an itinerant programmer and one of the world authorities on the history of interactive fiction. He even wrote a book on the subject. It’s quite thorough.

Hopefully this means that more interactive fiction / text adventure games are coming to the Kindle. It’s a medium that, to a mass audience, at least, died an early death owing to the advancement of graphics and sound technology, and that’s a shame. The written word hasn’t seen a significant upgrade since hypertext, and interactive fiction feels like one of those branches of human innovation waiting for a renaissance. (It’s worth noting that a handful of die-hards still carry the torch for interactive fiction.)

h/t j_zimms

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