Syntax Error

Feeling all nostalgic today. Been tempted to log back into Realms of Despair and see if it can still hold the old magic for me. Not sure if any of you ever played it (or still do)? RoD is a text based mud that I stumbled across years ago and got very addicted to for a long time (I get addicted to everything – currently black magic chocolates and Haagen Dazs if anyone’s interested). At the time I joined it was number one on this list Top Mud Sites .It now appears to be no 10 which is still good. I’m not surprised though – it still regularly demands votes – clearly nostalgic itself for its good old days. Sometimes I wander over to the website just to check its existence (sort of like calling in on your gran just to make sure she’s alive). I’ve also checked on Twitter and it has a page/feed (whatever you call what we have on Twitter)- got to be a good sign? So there is still a world of text muds out there going strong even while we have the colourful visual feast of games such as WoW and Rift to enjoy.

Text muds were a natural source of entertainment for me when I was young as I loved to read and I loved computers. The Scott Adams adventures were my favourite and I loved playing Strange Odyssey (a cartridge game!) on my C16. The hours I spent on that. Like all text adventures it was very very pedantic, but I like a game with a controlling nature. You had to leave the spaceship in a certain way  (logically to be fair – with a space suit on and properly zipped up as your mother would have advised – no mittens though) or the lack of air would kill you (as it does – see I learnt all my science from text adventures). You then discovered a cave with an oddly protruding wire which you pushed in and out twice and then stroked a panel  to be transported to a magical place (is it me or is this loaded with innuendo?). You had to find three gems to get the spaceship moving. Or something like that. It took ages to figure out. I’m amazed I had the patience. I haven’t now. I pouted for ages yesterday because I couldn’t find any apple pears in Bloodmyst Isle – I was just looking in the wrong place but I was ready to report a glitch. I pick up a quest in WoW and immediately check my map to see where the number is. I run to the number, oblivious usually of the terrain and surroundings. I kill what I’m meant to kill. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes I kill things I’m not meant to kill because I haven’t read the quest description and then realise I’m meant to trap it, or neutralise it, or spray it or cuddle it. I sigh at the injustice of it all and redo the quest. Then I run back to the quest giver like a loyal little pup desperate for my treat. On and on it goes.

But in the old text adventure days I’d really puzzle things out. I became the master of syntax.

In Field

You are standing in a field. There is small box here.

> open box
There is no box

[WHAT – YOU ARE THE ONE WHO TOLD ME THERE’S A BOX]

> open

Open what

[GRRR]

>open container

What is open. Try help.

[NOW WAIT EARLIER ON YOU HAD A PROBLEM WITH BOX NOT OPEN, NOW IT’S OPEN, MAKE UP YOUR MIND]

>lift container

Lift WHAT

[OOOHH – GAME SOUNDS ANGRY NOW]

>lift lid

You lift the lid, the box opens and a rose falls out.

[WAIT YOU JUST SAID BOX AND OPEN…. HOW…OH NEVER MIND]

Why I loved that I don’t know. But I did. Until I’d come across a puzzle I couldn’t solve. I had that with The Time Machine. I could not move a certain lever. I was convinced it could be moved and tried everything – pull, push, lift, kick, punch, bite, tickle, fool, charm, passive aggressively convince by tears and tantrum (sorry this is sounding like a marriage “how-to” guide)- nothing worked. So I wrote to a magazine that gave hints and tips on adventure games. I waited weeks and finally got a little postcard response. The lever couldn’t be moved! It was a red herring. Great!

I even bought a special hints and tips booklet for the Scott Adams adventures – it had three types of clue

1. Slight hint for the more intellectual of gamer just a little bit frustrated.

2. More detailed hint for the clearly middle of the class sort of player that as a result of the government social inclusion policy had to be catered for.

3. The final – almost with an audible sigh – explicit detailed step by step answer for the person for whom computers really should be outlawed  (one answer I swear ended with a “wouldn’t you rather go and play with some lego love” comment.

(By the way – embarrassed confession time that shows clearly which category I was in – the answers in the book were given in numbers that referenced words you had to look up at the back of the book to put the hint together. Clever eh?! Too clever for me. When I first got the book I didn’t understand this and entered the string of numbers in the text field as if it were some secret code. Can you imagine the response I got for that? The computer tried to hurl itself off my desk in shame.)

Of course the really privileged group of players were the ones who had a Speccy or C64 that had text and graphics. I wasn’t part of that group. Readers of this blog will already know how deep my well of bitterness regarding the C16 runs – let’s not go there again. Suffice to say it could not cope with graphics no matter how atrociously rendered. So I was jealous of that too.

Then one Christmas my brother had an Amiga. OMG. It was incredible. I begged to be allowed to buy one adventure game to play on it- even though it was my brother’s computer not mine. He agreed (I used the lever pulling techniques outlined above to get my way) and I bought an amazing Sherlock Holmes game. Never finished that one – and here began the slide I think. The slide into mediocrity – my mediocrity. I enjoyed the fanciness and novelty of the game – it had a clever in-game note pad and a transport system – but its sheer sophistication also made me lazy. The most basic text game had me racking my brain for hours. The more sophisticated the game so certain brain synapses switched off – it was ooh pretty colours, look he walks, there’s a clock, now what am I meant to be doing?

The only adventure game that stopped the rot was Broken Sword. My husband and I fell in love with that game. “Hello George,” we’d coo to each other in bad French accents constantly, confusing my step dad George when he called over. Never got boring. But that bloody goat – that did get us well and truly stuck and we did have to have online help for that (by then my technology life had taken a crazy evolutionary leap that happens every 10 years or so and I had a PC and the internet – fantastic and life changing even though I worried myself sick every time I went online because I was uncertain of the dial up cost). We completed Broken Sword and celebrated for days.

Being online opened the door to online gaming of course and  this was when I discovered RoD. It was like a Scott Adams adventure but with other people. And even though I was too shy to talk to other people and refused all requests to group (once someone forced me to let her help me though because I was running round half dressed in an apron wielding a rolling pin and bringing the game into disrepute) I liked having people around. Basically I was a soloer who liked the hum of people in the background – like taking a book to read in the park. And I was quickly hooked on RoD. I chose a human mage as my first character. I got through the starting zone killing naga and kobolds. I moved into the Dwarven Daycare where you had to kill lots of evil dwarf youths and scary dolls (all dolls are scary in my view). Then up to Tullfuhrzky Manor where I stumbled across the Master and got killed in one hit. It used to come up in red YOU ARE BLEEDING TO DEATH when you were dying and I used to be absolutely terrified. Death was/is a complete pain in RoD (excuse the partial pun). It has a huge experience penalty and it seems to take ages to level up anyway. I think at 50 you become an Avatar. That’s when the game properly starts so everyone says. Sort of like moving into raiding I think. I never did play the end game in RoD. I logged on with my mage one day and something called the Shattering had happened. Everything was different. Spells had been changed. I’d just got an ability to portal here there and everywhere and that disappeared. I never got back into the game after that and eventually stopped playing. But during those pre Shattering days I loved it. I built baby macros to enable me to drink (quaff) potions, change fight styles, heal myself etc all with the simple press of a button. Although it was a text world the world of RoD seemed visually very real to me. It’s amazing what the mind can conjure. Because it was text I read the text. I read descriptions. I immersed myself in the game and after hours playing RoD I really felt as if I’d been adventuring in that world (once it led to me sleepwalking – ie falling – down the stairs determined to take a drink from the fountain in the middle of the square – I decided to cut down on my time in game after that. Impressionable is too mild a word for me!).

And then one day I read a forum post talking about World of Warcraft destroying MUDs. I remembered seeing WoW for sale in town and my interest was piqued (how’s that for loyalty!). A few days later, box tucked under arm, I came home, loaded it on and  the rest is history. Standing as Terema outside Northshire Abbey I knew that I was at the journey’s end for me and computer adventuring. This was my nirvana. This was where my Scott Adams Strange Odyssey had landed. At least until it all goes holographic.

So why then do I still visit the RoD website and even occasionally download emulators for the Scott Adams adventures. Why can’t I enjoy the brave new sophisticated world I’m in and leave the past alone? Is it because I think I played better on those early games – that I tried harder because they were harder? Is it right to be prouder of the me who tried to lift an unliftable lever for hours upon end rather than the one who easily (sometimes) kills 10 murlocs with no real thought about why I’m doing this and the mechanics involved?  As computer games evolve will our minds devolve until in the end we’ll be vacant automatons hitting the button that kills without any thought about why we’re doing it and for what purpose. Now what does that remind me of?

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4 thoughts on “Syntax Error

  1. Ah yes. The days when you could, if not careful, be eaten by a grue. Good times. But yes – frustrating !!!! I remember a friend telling me that a torch was a flashlight and needed batteries. I’d assumed for frustrating days that it was a log with a lump of oily rag at the end. Needless to say – I did not go far with those games. I didn’t do much until the Ultima series came out. The days of Apple ][ heh!

    1. Oh yes – different words for different things – really frustrating! Just found a site where you can learn to build & create your own text adventure/mud worlds. Can you imagine the power of being able to create all those difficult puzzles. This must be what God feels like 🙂

    1. There is definitely less of that in muds in my experience. Since writing that post I’ve been obsessed with the idea of becoming a builder on a mud! Don’t know why but the idea of being all creative and at the same time making something interactive is so appealing. Discovered TheBuildersAcademy where you can learn to build for CircleMUD – ridiculously excited about this! 🙂

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