New Maps of Hell

Once upon a time, I wrote and released several text adventure games. There’s a small but enthusiastic underground cult of people who write and play these games. Sooner or later it will die out, but for now it’s still a thing.

Someday soon maybe I’ll go into detail about which features of this art form are good and which are bad. Today I’m just musing.

Like most authors of these games, I have an unfinished one on my hard drive. I quite like the development system that I use, but it’s not the most popular. In years past, playing games developed using this system (which is called TADS 3) on anything but a Windows PC was a trifle ugly. Getting people interested in playing a game that requires them to type commands is difficult enough. (“Why can’t I just tap and swipe???”) If they also have to download a separate interpreter program or run the game from a command line, it’s hopeless.

Nonetheless, I have a boredom-shaped hole in my evening schedule, so I was musing about hauling out my dust-covered game and finishing it. Maybe I should port it over to the other development system. That would be a massive job, but I’ll bet the other development system (it’s called Inform) has an interpreter program that can run in iOS devices.

Well, fry me for an oyster! (Extra points if you know what fictional detective was fond of that expression.) Not only is the Frotz interpreter a free download for iOS, it doesn’t just run Inform games, it runs TADS games too! Not only that, you can download more games from a site called the Interactive Fiction Database (ifdb) directly from within Frotz.

Of course, typing in an iPad or iPhone is more than a trifle ugly, and that’s how you have to play these games. But I don’t know … maybe if people could play my as-yet-unfinished game on their phone or tablet, finishing it would be worth doing.

The main downside of my game, aside from the fact that it’s a text-based game, is that it’s incurably bloated. Nobody is ever going to play it all the way through. But does that matter? The fun part is writing the game. It’s an intellectual challenge and calls for wheelbarrows full of creative imagination. Okay, much of the imagination part is already finished, but the challenge is still there.

All I really wanted to do today is offer a sneak peek of what you’re in for if I ever finish writing the game and you try playing it. Below are the maps of the locations in the game. I don’t think Frotz will display graphics, so these will be a separate download, or at least something you’ll have to pop over to Safari to view. But for the benefit of the intrepid adventurer in us all, here’s what “The Only Possible Prom Dress” looks like at the moment:



In order, you’re looking at the main level, the lower level, and the upper level. You’ll notice that the Octagonal Room appears in all three maps; there’s a reason for that.

This is a map of a rather disreputable and largely deserted shopping center called Stufftown. It was the setting of my first game, “Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina,” which was released in 1999 — and was, I might add, favorably reviewed. In the years since, Stufftown has changed a bit. The new game, if it’s ever finished, will be a direct sequel of “Ballerina.”

Footnote: As of October 1, 2022, the game is now finished and released. Those maps are mostly correct, though one or two details have changed.

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