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Keatah

Best vintage platform for text adventures? And why.

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While text adventuring is essentially defunct these days, there's still some nostalgia to be had. And what 8-bit platform does it best? I'm going to guess straightway and say  Apple II as #1 and TRS-80 Model I/III as a close second.

 

Not too familiar with text adventures and interactive fiction on the Atari 400/800 or C64. But I would guess that because those systems had real graphics and sound chips, the emphasis was on action and graphics. Not sedate thinking and typing. So, the Apple II had plenty of adventures that weren't ever ported elsewhere.

 

And of course, system requirements weren't all that steep. Just needed memory to hold the parser, everything else would load from disk.

 

Graphical adventuring was more widespread and ports more common, animated or not.

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Apple II, hmmm, not sure. Definitely not TRS. I think it'd be a toss up between C64 / ZX Spectrum. ZX had probably the biggest number ~2300 vs C64's ~1900. C64 might've had more "big" ones though (eg Infocom), thanks to the bigger memory and FDD. Though you can also use 3rd party interpreter and play them on ZX Spectrum +3.

 

Other factor could be display quality; here C64 has advantage with its dedicated monitors, though Spectrum 128 and up can output RGB so text looks pretty good on a decent TV, and you could connect them to monitors too.

 

One dark horse could be Amstrad PCW; it had a nice monitor and a lot of text adventure games.

 

I wouldn't say IF is defunct. The general public's gaming mindset might've changed but  I think these games are as playable as ever - and it has nothing to do with nostalgia.

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Commodore 128. You had your library of C64 text adventures, and you also had the CP/M text adventure library at your disposal. Both aren't large selections but both combined must add up to something, no?

 

But in the end, the Apple II and IBM PC probably has the largest selection of text adventures out there. //e is my system of choice for text adventures.

Edited by bluejay

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8 hours ago, bluejay said:

But in the end, the Apple II and IBM PC probably has the largest selection of text adventures out there

I doubt it very much, and I actually do research these platforms as we speak. Do you have some concrete numbers/sources?

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18 minutes ago, youxia said:

I doubt it very much, and I actually do research these platforms as we speak. Do you have some concrete numbers/sources?

I searched on MobyGames, and apparently there are 296 text adventures for Apple II, 405 for IBM PC, 439 for C64, and 375 for ZX Spectrum. TRS-80 and Amstrad CPC are rather low at 186 and 171 games respectively. 
 

So, if MobyGames is to be trusted, C128 indeed must be the best platform for text adventures with IBM PC coming second and Apple II surprisingly lagging behind the ZX Spectrum. 

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Eh.. five posts and nobody mentioned keyboards yet? I mean if it is a text adventure you will want a good, responsive keyboard that lets you type in commands without double keystrokes or keys not responding. You want a good angle of the keys, nice layout. I would think that is more important than screen resolution for text adventures as long as you have at least 40 columns and reasonable contrast between text and background.

 

Just because a lot of text adventures were authored at various systems doesn't mean anyone really played them, or more precisely that today anyone would want to play them on the original system.

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46 minutes ago, bluejay said:

I searched on MobyGames, and apparently there are 296 text adventures for Apple II, 405 for IBM PC, 439 for C64, and 375 for ZX Spectrum. TRS-80 and Amstrad CPC are rather low at 186 and 171 games respectively. 
 

So, if MobyGames is to be trusted, C128 indeed must be the best platform for text adventures with IBM PC coming second and Apple II surprisingly lagging behind the ZX Spectrum. 

MobyGames has its uses, but being crowd-sourced is no match for properly researched, dedicated databases. The numbers I quoted above for ZX/C64 come from the latest Gamebases, which are about as thorough as you can get. It's harder for Apple II and PC (eg exoDOS has 500 IF titles), but the numbers would be in hundreds, not thousands.

 

IF was immensely popular on ZX Spectrum, thanks to the easy BASIC and also many professional writing tools, so it's not really a surprise.

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Also the quality of the text parser was really of importance (in my opinion).

I wanted to be able to just type "n/e/s/w/u/d" for movement, "i" for "inventory" and do things like "take all", "go door" (instead of "go through the door"), "open all doors" or ' say person "go door" '. If this wasn't realized well or if there were too many "I CANNOT DO THAT", I'd probably lose interest after a while. On the other hand, if this was done well, like in "The Hobbit" for example (ok, this one has graphics too), the rubber keyboard of the Spectrum actually wasn't much of a problem.

 

And I wanted graphics too. The only real text adventure game I tried to play was "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (and "Pimania", lol). But as I didn't know the book (yet), I didn't get very far, because I didn't know the direction, the story was going.

Regarding graphics adventure games, I really enjoyed "The Hobbit" on the Spectrum, and on the Atari (best ones first) "The Serpent's Star", "Mask of the Sun", "Dallas Quest", "Questprobe: Hulk", "Questprobe: Spiderman".

 

Regarding the question, what's the best system for a text adventure game, in general I'd say, having a good keyboard and a flickerfree screen won't hurt. So the modern desktop PC would actually be a very good platform for that. Nevertheless, I don't feel like playing these games on my PC right now, although there are tons of them freely available. Strange, isn't it?

Edited by Pokeypy
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Hm. I can't recall ever seeing a text adventure where you can "take all" in a room but perhaps some allow that. Besides sometimes items might be dangerous to touch so it would have to be used with care.

 

What about secondary storage devices for saving and loading your game? Some games supported saving to tape, others probably saved to disk. It borders to the parallel thread which of these two medias people prefer, but here specifically about save files. Sure the media the actual adventure was supplied on also matters, if it is a slow loading tape, a fast floppy disk or in some cases an instant cartridge. Some games may load in multiple parts, and it is not a given that bigger memory capacity is to prefer and load everything in one chunk vs taking breaks now and then while the next part loads.

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18 hours ago, Keatah said:

While text adventuring is essentially defunct these days, there's still some nostalgia to be had. And what 8-bit platform does it best? I'm going to guess straightway and say  Apple II as #1 and TRS-80 Model I/III as a close second.

I think the text displayed on classic CRT Television was a big part of the formula for being mesmerizing and captivating for being new, and due to the more hypnotic qualities of classic Television in comparison to more modern displays.

 

Apple II text or even ZX-80 BW text on a black and white Television precipitated a phenomena where people stared at and disappeared into the glow of the screen, this is now seen with cellphones. Users wanted to believe and step into Narnia, this was the market we designed for.

 

I think the TI-99/4A, VIC-20 and the TRS-80 Color Computer had an edge early on through their larger text display that made the text Adventures friendlier and the interactive fiction easier to read. 

4 hours ago, Pokeypy said:

Also the quality of the text parser was really of importance (in my opinion).

I wanted to be able to just type "n/e/s/w/u/d" for movement, "i" for "inventory" and do things like "take all", "go door" (instead of "go through the door"), "open all doors" or ' say person "go door" '. If this wasn't realized well or if there were too many "I CANNOT DO THAT", I'd probably lose interest after a while.

Great point, as parsers got more sophisticated like Eliza to translate full length sentences, it was important to keep the parser backward compatible with verb and a noun combinations for adventurers who had learned to navigate via the earlier adventure interface.

 

Interesting Today that these were text games with a "Shell" for users to program them; relics from a bygone era when computers were for users to program with instead of e-shop. 

 

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19 hours ago, Keatah said:

While text adventuring is essentially defunct these days, there's still some nostalgia to be had. And what 8-bit platform does it best? I'm going to guess straightway and say  Apple II as #1 and TRS-80 Model I/III as a close second.

PC since you can have the keyboard of your choice and 80 column display, larger disk sizes to prevent disk flipping.   But if it really has to be an 8-bit system then something with a nice keyboard like the Atari 800 or Apple II.  

 

I can see that some people might be nostalgic for things like a certain font or screen colors, and playing on a different system won't feel quite right.

 

Recently I've tried playing some of the old Infocom games via an Android interpreter, with both Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech enabled, so you talk to it and it talks to you...  that was an interesting experience!

 

19 hours ago, Keatah said:

Not too familiar with text adventures and interactive fiction on the Atari 400/800 or C64. But I would guess that because those systems had real graphics and sound chips, the emphasis was on action and graphics. Not sedate thinking and typing. So, the Apple II had plenty of adventures that weren't ever ported elsewhere.

Not sure what you mean here..    There were several varieties of these kinds of games

Text Adventure - pure text on all platforms.   on Atari/C64 these ran at 40 columns

 

Graphics Adventure - text adventure with graphics, usually these graphics were crude on 8-bit platforms, probably to save valuable disk space.  Most never took particular advantage of the Atari/C64 graphics, and looked as similarly bad on those systems as they did on PC.   There were some exceptions where they looked nice though.  These also usually didn't have sound.

 

Hybrid Text/Action adventure-  Think "King's Quest".  These needed 128K+ Ram and were mostly on PC and 16-bit systems.

 

Point and Click - Like the classic LucasArts games.   Again, mostly PC/16-bit.  But C64 got a few of these,  but obviously had worse graphics than the 16-bit counterparts.

 

So I can't think of many multi-platform Interactive Fiction-type games where the Atari/C64 graphics and sound enhanced the game.   Datasoft's "The Sands of Egypt" would scroll the screen to make it look like you were really moving through the desert, but that's the extent I can think of for "action" in the graphics adventure genre on Atari. 

 

 

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Yes C64/128 probably has the most choices. However for that classic experience I would choose another system. For example, the Mrs and I recently decided to play some old Infocom games. I chose the Amstrad PCW 8256 because it has that classic green screen that is great for evoking text adventure atmosphere and a good keyboard to type on.

Capture.JPG

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Apple 2, PC, C128 are all great machines for text adventures.

 

If I ran a CP/M machine, I would probably say the same.

 

80 column display, good keyboards, enough storage.

 

Today, I would prefer to run them on an Apple with acceleration, or a PC with same.

 

Nothing against the 128.  I just moved away from those computers.  If I had one, Ibwould totally run it.

 

My very favorite is the Apple.  Always was for text adventures and RPG games.  

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Another way of thinking about it would be that the best platform for text adventures is one that doesn't have much else in terms of games. I mean on a C64 or A8 with huge catalogs of arcade games, text adventures would have relatively smaller exposure than on a MDA equipped IBM PC.

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I would vote Apple 2c (specifically, but more generally the Apple 2 line) because of the incredible keyboard and sharp, 80 column green screen display.  I suppose you could argue IBM PC for the same reasons.

 

I love the c64, but the keyboard is not particularly good.

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If you want to play a specific game, it may only be on one machine, so I'm not sure there is a best answer here. 
Rainbow Magazine for the Tandy CoCo ran adventure contests, and they published books/tapes filled with games you won't find on any other machine.
Tandy also had some exclusives including some graphic adventures you won't find elsewhere.
I'm sure there are similar examples for just about every other machine.

The Magnetic Scrolls adventures weren't on 8 bit machines. 
The virtual machine was basically a stripped down 68000 from what I've read. 
Not very practical to implement on an 8 bit at the time, but it has been done more recently.
The graphics were best on the Amiga which also had infocom adventures, but you loose a lot of early 8 bit adventures.
Personally, the added graphics, and better text parsers on those games make them a bit more enjoyable.
 

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My initial thought would be Apple II, but my caveat there would be you need a display that handles 80 columns well.

I believe there were some text adventures (Beyond Zork?) that only supported 80 columns on the Apple II, but would do 40 columns on the C64...

40 columns on the C64 is legible on a TV, but I wouldn't say the same for 80 columns...

 

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I still stand by my PCW8256 for Infocom stuff at least. However I did play Lurking Horror on a TI-99/4a with a PEB. The noisy disk loading and delay after you typed in commands kind of added to the tension as well haha.

 

I really wish there was more stuff for my Sharp MZ-80B. That machine screams text adventure with its all in one design and nice keyboard. Or A TRS-80 Model III/4/4p. That green screen is essential. No colors for text adventures please!

Edited by Arnuphis

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VIC-20 : Because the text is so nice and big and it is about all that I can read perfectly in my old age.

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On 9/20/2021 at 11:31 PM, JamesD said:

If you want to play a specific game, it may only be on one machine, so I'm not sure there is a best answer here. 
Rainbow Magazine for the Tandy CoCo ran adventure contests, and they published books/tapes filled with games you won't find on any other machine.
Tandy also had some exclusives including some graphic adventures you won't find elsewhere.
I'm sure there are similar examples for just about every other machine.

The Magnetic Scrolls adventures weren't on 8 bit machines. 

Interesting thoughts, I agree there was definitely something different about the CoCo adventure scene with the Rainbow productions being top shelf. 

 

I'm pretty sure only the CoCo had the Scratch n'Sniff adventure.

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3 hours ago, eightbit said:

VIC-20 : Because the text is so nice and big and it is about all that I can read perfectly in my old age.

Best answer.

 

Everyone will agree with you, eventually...

 

🙃

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On 9/2/2021 at 5:13 AM, carlsson said:

Eh.. five posts and nobody mentioned keyboards yet? I mean if it is a text adventure you will want a good, responsive keyboard that lets you type in commands without double keystrokes or keys not responding. You want a good angle of the keys, nice layout. I would think that is more important than screen resolution for text adventures as long as you have at least 40 columns and reasonable contrast between text and background.

 

Just because a lot of text adventures were authored at various systems doesn't mean anyone really played them, or more precisely that today anyone would want to play them on the original system.

Totally agree.  110%.  Just like I don't prefer to play Pac Man on a flimsy IBM analog 'joystick', I don't want to play a text adventure on a sticky or stiff or membrane keyboard.  Quality over quantity any day.

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19 hours ago, Mr SQL said:

Interesting thoughts, I agree there was definitely something different about the CoCo adventure scene with the Rainbow productions being top shelf. 

 

I'm pretty sure only the CoCo had the Scratch n'Sniff adventure.

LOL!  Yeah, I forgot about that one!

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I grew up playing the Scott Adams "pure text" games on the TI 99 4A, so that's naturally the one I gravitate to.  The black/silver 4As have a pretty nice keyboard.

 

Playing from disk was way better for us than cassette, though. 

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