One of my prized possessions is the “Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces” CD, which contains almost all games that have been published by Infocom, the most eminent producer of text adventures. Infocom effectively closed shop in 1989; around that time, all other companies that had been doing business with text adventures either got out of the market or went under as well.
There was, however, one notable exception: just after Infocom went out of business, Bob Bates founded Legend Entertainment with the explicit aim of producing text adventures. Bob Bates was not just anybody: he had written two games for Infocom, Arthur and Sherlock, and had done so as the only external contractor of Infocom. As historian Jimmy Maher describes in his excellent account of Legend Entertaiment‘s beginnings, Bob Bates had just gotten started with authoring text adventures and liked it so much that he was not prepared to let go. He and his co-founder Mike Verdu figured that the market for writing and selling text adventures was that big enough for a moderately sized company. Surely, there were enough aficionados of the genre that would continue to buy well-made games!?
Legend Entertainment did indeed produce several text adventures, but finally even Bob Bates had to acknowledge that text adventures were commercially dead. Fortunately, not completely dead: thanks to authoring systems such as TADS and Inform, a very active community of hobbyist writers of text adventures developed. Scores of excellent games have since seen the light of day, many of them on par with or even surpassing what Infocom and its competitors had to offer in their time.
So… about the commercial death of text adventures. Today’s answer to the question of how to produce something for a limited market is, of course, crowdfunding! Indeed, already in 2010, Andrew Plotkin, one of the most admired and successful authors of the contemporary interactive fiction community, successfully funded his game Hadean Lands. And now, Bob Bates is ready for another go at the text adventure market: his Kickstarter campaign for Thaumistry: in charm’s way closes on February 21st.
Since Infocom’s demise, I have played many text adventures written by members of the prolific interactive fiction community that I have enjoyed at least as much as and sometimes even more than the Infocom games. (Try out Anchorhead, Christminster, or Curses, for example.) But… a new game from a former author of Infocom adventures!?! I must confess, I am hooked. Fortunately, the campaign is already funded, so I will definitely be able to play this game. Now I am keeping my fingers crossed for the first stretch goal, the “digital feelies”: Infocom games came with elaborate packaging, which always contained one ore more so-called “feelies,” i.e., items connected with the game’s story such as a letter, a “magic” stone, a sun dial, etc. I realize that “digital feelies” is something of a contradiction in terms, but still: as a direct successor to the Infocom games, Thaumistry should have feelies, even if they are “only” digital ones.
If you are into text adventures, go and check out the campaign for Bob Bates’ Thaumistry. If you have never played a text adventure, do try playing one, for example Andrew Plotkin’s The Dreamhold: this particular games has an extensive help system built in and thus serves as a great introduction to the genre for novice players.