Over at Armchair Arcade, Matt Barton has an article up about reflections on Zork and Interactive Fiction. It focuses mainly on parsers and gets into AI (we’ve been there before ;), but it got me thinking about something else.

Zork was a non-linear game. Non-linear, because it had no real story. You simply went around solving puzzles to acquire varies items, and then stashed ’em in a trophy case.If you were stuck in one area, no problem. You just chugged along somewhere else, most of the time, and found something else to do. Aside from frustration now and then, the game was pretty much open.

Of course, an endless stream of “pick up sticks” games would be boring, so eventually story came in. Yet even with that, many of the old Infocom games managed to avoid “ride the rails”.

One example is Starcross, where you had a whole alien spaceship to explore. While many things had to be done, there was no feeling of being forced along one particular path.

So I wonder: if game designers went back and looked at a few of those old text adventures, would they get some ideas for opening up storylines in RPGs? Because a game has a story, does it necessarily have to be strictly linear?

Understand, I’m not saying there should be lots of puzzles in RPGs. But the way this was handled in the text adventures might spark some thought in developers who are too deep in the linear rut.

By the way, Matt has written an article for Gamasutra on the history of Zork (not published yet), and interviewed several Infocom alumni, including Marc Blanc and Steve Meretzky. The interview will be up on his site after the article comes out. I’ll be watching for that one. In the meantime, check out Matt’s thoughts.

Matt Barton reflects on interactive fiction