We don’t usually do straight game news on ExtremeTech, but I’m going to take a risk with a post about one that harkens back to a time many ET readers may remember: the heyday of interactive fiction, from companies like Infocom and Adventure International. In addition to owning an Atari 800 as a kid and playing all manner of hardware-sprite-infused 8-bit games and colorful RPGs, I also loved IF titles like Enchanter, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Deadline. Games like these had no graphics, sound, or animation; instead, they were entirely text-based, and employed classic storytelling and (as the 80s wore on) increasingly sophisticated natural language processing to provide a rich, fiction-like experience you could actually play using the computer keyboard.
Now there’s a new game in the same genre called Hadean Lands ($ 11.99) — and from what I’m seeing, if you have any nostalgia at all for interactive fiction, it’s certainly worth your time and money. The game originally came out for iOS, and has just landed on Steam for PCs.
Here’s the story: You’re stuck on an island on an alien planet with no breathable atmosphere. Your spaceship’s hull is cracked and the rest of the crew is missing. You’re an apprentice alchemist, and alchemy actually works. Can you figure out how survive?
Acclaimed IF developer Andrew Plotkin built Hadean Lands on Inform 7, an open-source, object-oriented IF system based on natural language. And on a basic level, Hadean Lands draws from computer gaming’s text-based roots in the 1970s and 1980s. The game presents you with a description of the room or situation you’re in, including any objects you may see (and this is literally the beginning of the game, so I’m not giving anything away):
Then you type in what you want to do next, using simple or verbose commands:
But several things of note elevate Hadean Lands beyond a 1980s text adventure, without detracting from the concept or muddying the waters in any way. The game contains many puzzles that require you combine various items, using peculiar rituals and formulas that go beyond anything I grew up playing in their level of sophistication and artistic aspiration. A built-in map (partial picture on top) shows you the layout of the spaceship, and lets you toggle the room labels and your current location. The interface is completely minimalist, but beautifully done, with attractive fonts and colors.
A single index card (pictured below), complete with an awesome Zork reference, gives you many of the most common (but nowhere near comprehensive) available commands. It’s all pretty self-explanatory if you’ve ever played an interactive fiction game before, and there’s a built-in tutorial just in case you haven’t.
Finally, there’s the single item of DLC — and it’s amusing. For an extra $ 34.99, you get a certificate you can print out and hang on your wall that pledges you’re not going to ask for any hints or read spoilers, and commit to solving the game yourself. I find this hilarious — no calling 900 numbers for audio hints at $ 1.99 per minute! Or wait, I guess that’s for people still living in 1989. Nonetheless, the DLC doesn’t deliver any actual game content, and is largely an in-joke, but you could also think of it as a donation to support Plotkin’s hard work. After all, Infocom games each cost $ 40 in the 1980s, and that’s not counting inflation.
I’m admittedly just getting into the game myself, and am already stumped by some of the puzzles. But as a long-ago enthusiast of this genre, I’m really psyched about it. Hadean Lands is available now on Steam. No word yet on whether Plotkin’s releasing a 5.25-inch diskette version with feelies.