Wednesday, December 21, 2011

EXP Podcast #152: Musings on Mandatory Missions

Long before the advent of Achievement Points, players have chased after goals. But are all tasks created equal, or are some more important than others? This week, inspired by Wired's two articles on mandatory missions every well-informed gamer should undertake, we discuss some of the game experiences that give us common ground. As always, feel free to jump into the comments and share your thoughts. Thanks for listening!

Discussion starters:

- What do you consider to be mandatory missions?
- Is the idea of a set of canonical video game experiences useful or realistic?
- How has time and technology affected what we would consider to be defining video game moments?

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- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
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Show notes:

- Run time: 34 min 07 sec
- "9 Mandatory Missions All Gaming Geeks Must Master," via Wired
- "Readers’ Picks of 9 Mandatory Gaming Moments," via Wired
- An interesting interpretation of Portal: "Still Live? She's Free?" by Steve Bowler via Game-ism
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Before I even hit those lists I was thinking, "Man, someone had better mention text adventures." And they kind of did in the reader's choice follow-up where someone mentioned The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nerd rage averted. But I think we should broaden that particular mandatory mission to "play a text adventure from beginning to end".

    Of all the video game genres we've seen over the years, it saddens me that this one is no longer around -- at least in a commercial sense. While elements of the text adventure game were folded into point & clicks, which in turn were folded into third-person action/adventure games, I still think the experience of actually reading text, constructing a game world inside your head, then interacting with that world via the keyboard is something all gamers should enjoy at least once.

    Despite the crude technology underlying most text adventure games, many of them were still exercises in frustration. Memory limitations ensured that descriptions were terse, text parsers infuriatingly poor at translating simple English commands ("guess the verb" being a problem akin to the later "hunt the pixel" requirements of point & click adventures"), and puzzles often impossible to complete without being afforded terrifying glimpse into the author's psyche.

    Thankfully we had developers such as Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls who ensured that all their game designers were writers (and vice versa), had an amazing parser that could understand relatively complex sentence structures and bundled their games up in amazing packaging that makes me weep for the boxless products of today.

    If I had to single out just two Infocom titles on which to bestow "must play" status, it would be A Mind Forever Voyaging and Trinity. Even now, some 25+ years after their initial release, I still hesitate to summarize their content through fear of spoiling the experience for those you've yet to experience them. They're both highly literate games that simply couldn't be realized in any other medium and are just as effective today as they were when originally released.

    There's still a thriving text adventure (or "interactive fiction", if you want to borrow Infocom's trademark) community on the internet today. So much so that there's annual competitions that often deliver truly exceptional pieces, but I'd be here all day listing those. Just Google around for the names Emily Short, Adam Cadre, Andrew Plotkin and Graham Nelson and you'll be well on your way.

  2. Well said!

    Playing text-based games is a dying art, for sure. But as you say, there is a thriving IF scene on the Internet these days.

    For those interested, Jorge and I played "Don't take it personally, babe..." a while back and really enjoyed it: