The Wray Castle Text Adventure
‘A gripping interactive text based game for all popular computer formats’
by Glenn Boulter
The Wray Castle Text Adventure is an interactive story encouraging young people to explore the castle’s unique architecture and learn about some of its former inhabitants. The game sees the protagonist locked in the Castle after dark and centres on a gentle ghost story including some simple freshwater biology and radio operating-themed puzzles. Players are also be quizzed on details from specific rooms in order to progress through the game.
You Are in a Grassy Clearing…
The project started as an homage to one of the earliest games I can remember playing, one that has always stayed with me for over 30 years. Lost Frog and Merlin’s Castle were two educational (not to be confused with ‘edutainment’) games for the BBC Micro programmed by mathematician, educator and computer scientist extraordinaire Anita Straker OBE. It’s not been confirmed that the OBE was for Lost Frog alone, but I like the idea of the Queen handing out titles for ‘services to text adventures’. These were vaguely terrifying games of dubious educational quality, rendered in chunky, brightly coloured text that lived on the huge computer in the library. If we were lucky, we would be granted access to it for 10 minutes per week – nowhere near long enough to solve it’s impenetrable mysteries.
Returning to the game in preparation for the recent Text Adventure Time project (lead by Hwa Young Jung and FACT), some of the things about the game that still stood out in relation to modern game design included:
- A sense of exploring a strongly defined and often unnerving place, using a bare minimum of description place.
- The short duration of each play session, usually ending in what is now known as perma-death (no save points etc) leading to a heightened/mortal sense of danger,
- A sense of frustration without feeling that the game is being unfair. The game accumulated a mythical quality in that no one in my primary school could beat it. A familiar scene saw a downcast child trudging back across the classroom, announcing ‘Fell off the ladder again’.
- A total lack of handholding coupled with a slightly obscure approach to revealing progress and objectives – both qualities that are starting to become valued in games at the moment.
Thematically I see a strong link between the Wray Castle Text Adventure and the rest of the projects within OK Sparks. The activities that take place over the weekend – playing a text adventure, measuring fish scales and operating an amatuer radio – all celebrate a particular culture of making, doing and learning that exist slightly on the fringes of the mainstream and kept alive by a community of enthusiastic devotees. The origins of the text adventure genre are literally ‘domestic’ in the sense that beyond programmers like Straker and others such as Infocom (see the excellent Get Lamp doc for more on them), many of the most successful games were produced by individuals in their bedrooms then distributed on cassettes which you could buy for £1.99 in the corner shop, Woolworths or Littlewoods.
Spellcasting – D-I-S-M-I-S-S
At some point after playing Lost Frog, I was also heavily immersed in Interactive Fiction’s printed relative, the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book. Fighting Fantasy was clearly the best of the lot, followed by the Usborne and Bantam series. I was also drawn to plenty of slightly surreal licensed titles like Transformers Desert of Danger (featuring illegal booze smuggling and graphic death scenes at the hands of a razor toothed wolf-bot). You can play that one here.
By extension, ‘gamified’ TV programmes like Knightmare which shared many of the Text Adventures good and bad qualities and later, at the other end of the scale, something like Cyberzone seemed to be an extension of this, translated into a physical space.
*Cyberzone is a must-watch for anyone thinking of purchasing a VR device – think Craig Charles shouting vaguely Cyberpunk-ish nonsense whilst footballer John Fashanu stumbled around a ‘Cyber Swindon’ rendered in jagged lines in an enormous helmet*
Get Pork Pie, Eat Pork Pie, Examine Gelatin, Drop Pork Pie
I’ve worked a lot with making artists’ books and am always looking for ways to scramble narratives, create non-linear texts and play with the physical form of the book. One early work I produced as my MA thesis was based on a walk across my home county of Leicestershire to retrieve a pork pie. Split into squares, or zones, this was underpinned by a text adventure-like format and was something I always meant to come back to. The book has strange items to collect and NPC’s like philosopher George Berkeley, local R&B celeb turned convict Mark Morrison and the embalmed head of the Elephant Man.
A great strength of text adventures is that they allow you to cut through time and space in much the same way as a film (think of the red curtains in Twin Peaks) except arguably more effectively. Why not create a door that takes you from Burnley Library to the surface of Mars or create a clock that changes several hours every few seconds?
Initial Visits to Wray Castle presented me with a series of disorienting jumps between eras, decor and historical traces. “You are in a grand banqueting Hall”. Go North. “You are in a Naval Radio training centre”. Go West. “You are in a room recreating Peter Rabbit’s burrow”. These extreme contrasts were something I was keen to capture in through creating a text adventure, as well as throwing in a few bad puns, bizarre puzzles and Knightmare-ish speaking doors. ghostly algae. The game starts with the classic text adventure trope of being locked outside of a house with no obvious entrance and once you are inside things become even stranger…
The Wray Castle Text Adventure runs on the weekends of 7th,8th, 14th and 15th May between 10:30 and 16:30. Visitors can find us in the Castle to download the game to their mobile device or borrow a tablet.
- Here are a few other games you can play online to whet your appetite:
- Zork (1977)
- The Hobbit (1982) *Text only – minus mind-blowing 80’s vector graphics
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984) Famously difficult!!
- Weird Tape in the Mail (2012)
- Detritus (2013)
- Destroy / Wait (2013)
- Depression Quest (2012)