Text adventure games: from the front lines to behind the scenes

Posted by Howard Sherman.
First posted on 18 August 2006. Last updated on 26 July 2010.
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When you fire up a video game of any kind you more or less know what you're in for. But when you take your first step into the magical world of an adventure game, any adventure game either textual or graphical, there's no telling what'll happen next. Where video games are predictable and adhere tightly to the theme of the game, adventure games tantalize the adventurer with seemingly endless…

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What an interesting article... When I first stumbled upon the Malinche website I was excited. I eagerly downloaded a demo for Pentari First Light. Soon after running that, my excitement ran away!

I found that this game was very poorly written. This was certainly not in the league of the Infocom games I grew up with. There did not seem to be a lot of interacting, it seemed more narrative to me. I tried to interact with several objects mentioned in the text and I was told that they were not recognised. Seemed very linear.

I almost gave up on IF after that. Assumed I had outgrown the genre. Luckily a friend sent me a link to the IF Archive and I was amazed at the amount of games held here, all written for love. Sure, there may be some stinkers here, but there is something for everyone and there are a huge amount in here that stand much higher in my books than what I have seen of the games from Malinche.

Which brings me to this line in Howard's article:

"Malinche’s staff numbers less than 10. The estimated population of the amateur community at large is shy of 500.

In terms of manpower the amateur movemnt has 50 TIMES the resources of Malinche."

I wouldn't mind betting, that the majority of the amateur world still work on their own individual titles. Beta testing may go out to several people outside the project, which is good practice but to compare the size of Malinche's company to the amateur community is ridiculous.

The following point is a tad meaningless too.

"Now I’ll drive the point home even more—Malinche’s customer database on any ONE of the titles we sell is far larger than the entire population of the entire amateur/free movement."

If only one copy of, say "First Light", is sold, then isn't it obvious that it will sell more copies than all the other FREE games out there? I think this is a case of comparing apples to oranges.

Please Howard, I hope you continue in your business. I hope one day that I will play one of your creations and get a lot of entertainment out of it. So far, I do not have much faith in you though and this article hasn't done much to your credibility for me.

I don't think you should bag the "amateur" community either. Some of the titles from them are far more superior to what I have seen from you.


New Zealand (Aotearoa) By TheKiwi • On 06 August 2007 • From New Zealand


> I write games that people enjoy. Titles that entertain and tantalize. I write what sells.

I don't think so: do you write first-person-shooters or MMPORPGs? Those are games that sell, for people who want to be mildly entertained. People who want more than the keywords of today -- "fun" and "entertainment" -- have a tough call among the myriads of flashy unsubstantial output from Hollywood, the game industry and best-seller authors.

Since the demise of Infocom and the other commercial publishers, though, IF has come to be seen more of a literary narration with some interactivity than the web of mazes filled with puzzles of early. This is a good change of pace and has lead to a host of amazing works hardly able to be called games and yet wonderfully intricate, elaborate, fun and even emotionally envolving.

But of course, there will always be enough people happy with just roaming mazes and finding treasures and solving puzzles with some awkward teen fantasy backstory throw in. That's where Malinche finds its noble goal of making money, letting the more ambitious goal of leading the way to true interactive storytelling some point in the future to the many amateur pionneers out there. You're building more wagons while amateurs build automobiles...

> In terms of manpower the amateur movemnt has 50 TIMES the resources of Malinche. Yet Malinche’s performance in delivering enjoyable advenutre games is unequalled.

People in highly industrialized countries are living in denial by endlessly filling their consumerist lifes with all types of garbage they can get their greasy hands at. They don't care for art, the big secrets of life, deep questioning or anything they can't get with their credit cards. Commercial Corporations are a certified Seal of Quality and will get the bucks, specially in face of marketing.

History will know better, though.

Brazil By nemesis • On 19 July 2007 • From Somewhere


Totally selfish and incorrect article. ACG used to be better.

Portugal By José Borges • On 27 August 2006 • From Portugal


Mr. Sherman, you are obviously proud of yourself. As well you should be. You are living the amateur game creator's dream. Be proud, dude. Revel in it. You deserve it.

BUT... for the love of God, get some perspective. Your total disregard for the game community at large will do nothing but harm you. Putting aside the moral issues here, think about it logically. These are potential customers, man! The people you belittle so rampantly are the people who WANT to play quality IF games. Why are you putting all this effort into insulting them and isolating them, when you should be convincing them to play your games?

You say that you have a huge customer base and don't need the gaming community. Well, here's a Reality Check. Your customer base is PART of the gaming community, and the gaming community is surprisingly savvy. Word gets around. The more you present yourself as a self-serving egomaniac, the more you will turn people away from your products.

Part of the magic of the "implementors" was the sense of belonging to a community, and of being part of something cool and great. By all means, be proud of your accomplishments, but don't lord it over everyone else.

I wish you and your company the best of luck, but please get over yourself.

United States By Dave Gilbert • On 22 August 2006 • From New York, NY


Is this article a joke?

The only real Implementors are the former authors of Infocom. Anyone else who calls himself an "Implementor" is a blowhard with delusions of grandeur.

And the self-appointed title of "Grandmaster" is pathetic.

United States By Furtech • On 21 August 2006 • From San Diego, CA


This is not an article.

United States By Andy • On 20 August 2006 • From okc, ok


Howard is fully capable of spewing unsubstantiated garbage on his own; it reflects poorly on ACG that they gave him a soapbox.

United States By Jon • On 20 August 2006 • From Somewhere


The difference between this and a GOOD article is that this is a self-serving advertisement, while a good article is not.

I was tempted to rate this as 2 (fair). It lacks goodness, but it does publicize IF. The thing is, it publicizes IF in all the wrong ways. Advertisements and self-praise belong at your website. Or in commercials. Or on flyers. Or wherever else there isn't an expectaction of moral and factual correctness. It really is a poor article.

You've described yourself as IF's last, best hope. The part that got me was when you called your own anologies "witty". I had given serious thought to buying one or more Malinche games, just so I *could* see first-hand what they're like. The IF community's opinion of you seems very, very low. I would like to have reviewed your games myself, since nobody else seems willing to do so. Not now, though.

Your games represent the smallest of dents in the larger world that is interactive fiction. In a primarily hobby- and amateur-driven circle like this, large numbers of bad games are written. Large numbers of *good* and *great* games are written as well, and you are either arrogant or foolish if you think none of them compare to yours. You seem to consider yourself as being in a completely different league, but if you are writing interactive fiction -- free or not -- you are just like the rest of us.

As I see it, the criticism you get isn't for the reasons you think. It's not because you write bad games. It's not because you charge for them. If I had the time to write a commercial-sized and commercial-quality work of IF, I'd charge for it! No, it's because you gloss over the IF community entirely, and when you don't, you paint it as something trivial and non-essential to the continued survival of interactive fiction. That job, you seem willing and able to handle alone.

That's why I see you as shallow and deluded. I don't for an instant believe you have sold 150,000 copies of your games, unless you purchased one yourself over and over, or they were all "sold" at remarkable discounts. Download statictics do not a "sale" make. As an IF author myself, I have no problem with people writing bad games, or people selling their games (good or bad). Still, to paraphrase Tyler Durden, these things do not make you a special snowflake. Where you lose credibility is in discounting the rest of us entirely. We are not trivial.

United States By Merk • On 20 August 2006 • From Somewhere

Very Good

I liked the article. Some things I did not understand, but well...
Ego is GOOD. And money DOES matter.
So stop complaining folks.

Finland By ScuMM • On 20 August 2006 • From Fin


A surprisingly unsavoury rant even coming from this source. Obviously someone touched a sore point.

"Critics can read the testimonials and weep"

Yeah, weep with laughter. Howard is so hard-up for complimentary words about his junk that he quote-mines negative reviews for faint praise. On his testimonals page you can read raves like "in-game descriptions are pretty interesting", "the story line was good", "Azteca is quite good, really" and "The back-story sounds... um, interesting". I mean, how desperate would you have to be to include "testimonials" like that?

Probably desperate enough to get a mail-order bride.

Howard likes to portray himself as a literary professional, but in fact, he's not even a literate professional, as his numerous poorly-written screeds amply show. He just carves out a shameful career swindling simpletons into forking over the cash for his low-quality, racist, bully-worshipping, sub-literate, bug-ridden rubbish.

It doesn't reflect well on ACG that they keep giving space to such a person. With this and the dreadful article by David "What-IF" Ledgard, one might be forgiven for thinking it's a site that prints any old guff from wherever.

Europe By sodexho • On 20 August 2006 • From Somewhere
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