Book Review: 50 Years of Text Games

Note: I followed the author's blog and read his 50 posts, which represent the book contents (the book expands them). My review is based on those posts, not on the book itself.


50 Years of Text Games book cover

Title: 50 Years of Text Games: From Oregon Trail to A.I. Dungeon

Author(s): Aaron A. Reed

My first experience with text adventures was getting frustrated trying to learn how to play a Spanish Colossal Cave Adventure adaptation called "La Aventura Original". I was very young, and decided to use game guides for that genre, but I liked a lot the idea of "interactive books" and having to draw maps and take notes to follow your progress.

When I read that somebody was planning to write a book about text adventures, from the very first one up until 2020, and picking one each year to focus on, I got hooked. The results are great and quite innovative, as most retro video-game books focus on aiming to be a mere catalogue, instead of a more detailed, curated sampling of titles.

Your mileage may vary with the selection of covered games, and I did skip one or two. But, on the other hand, I discovered very different titles such as Fallen London (and even better, Sunless Sea), piqued my interest to experiment with AI Dungeon classic, and finally decided to play Dwarf Fortress (although I'm playing the "GUI" version).

The book is also a great history lesson on how computers evolved; and, really, also the internet itself, and online communities. We'll learn how most text-adventure games used specialized parsers, with at times a nice detail of how they worked internally (without getting too deep in technical details, but more than the average), and how those parsers were limited, but also evolved and became more and more complete and feature-rich.

There are also a lot of examples, in text and visual forms, and even flow-charts and maps to showcase the explained game's world. And apart from the book size, 600 pages, I can attest that the chapters are detailed and very informative.

A must-read for people interested in retro games and/or text adventures.

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