What would you like to do?

I’ve just received my first programming assignment, which will involve building a simple ‘choose your own adventure’ game in Java. As soon as I saw the brief, I was immediately transported to the realm of Limmy’s Show character Falconhoof and his Adventure Call.

“What would you like to do?”

‘Choose your own adventure’ games are absolute classics; simple, expansive and available in a huge variety of styles and formats. They were amongst the very earliest of computer games and have evolved over time, but the general idea has stayed the same; pick which way to go and face the consequences of your choice. One classic example is Oregon Trail. Originally released in 1971 the player would have to successfully carry their party of travellers along the Oregon Trail, avoiding the many hazards that faced the travellers of 1848, many of whom will no doubt die of dysentery or cholera along the way.

Oh well.

A personal favourite of mine has to be Lucasarts’ Monkey Island series. Originally released in 1990, the game follows the story of Guybrush Threepwood; you learn how to become a pirate and navigate your way to Monkey Island to save the beautiful governor Elaine Marley from the hands of ghost pirate LeChuck. This game was much more advanced that Oregon Trail as you’d expect; offering a much more interactivity including ‘point and click’ features and was generally much more player-friendly (it’s almost impossible to kill Guybrush or leave yourself in an unwinnable position).

“How appropriate, you fight like a cow!”

Over time this concept of gameplay has evolved and expanded with technology, but as with many of the classic game formats, the original, simplified ‘Choose your own adventure’ format has seen a resurgence lately as games come full circle — from simplified industry open to just about anyone who could program, to big budget console games, back round to the booming indie-developer age where something like a ‘Choose your own adventure’ game can be produced in about a week or less. A recent example I tried for myself was Lifeline. In this entirely text-based game, you’re connected to Talyor who’s stranded on an alien moon, hoping you can help them escape. One new feature that Lifeline introduced to this genre was that it plays out in real time — something made possible by new mobile technology like push notifications — you might give Taylor and instruction which may take an hour to complete, and you won’t hear back until it’s done.

I’m really looking forward to building my own game, and I’ve no doubt I’ll continue to expand on it after the assignment is completed. The big challenge now is to come up with an interesting and original idea that I can build on. I’ll need to keep it simple to start with — it’s very much a habit of mine to think way bigger than I have the capacity for and it would be nice to avoid that for once. This should be a really interesting project to work on and I’ve no doubt I’ll learn a lot from it.

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