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A Brief History of Interactive Fiction, Page 3

by Stephen Granade

What follows is the full list of events that are included on the timeline.

Fall 1945. ENIAC is assembled at the University of Pennsylvania.

1957. John Backus and a team at IBM create FORTRAN.

1959. John McCarthy develops LISP.

1960. Digital releases the Programmed Data Processor 1, or PDP-1.

1 October 1969. The first characters are sent between two computers. This is the start of ARPAnet, the predecessor to the Internet.

1972. Will Crowther visits the Mammoth and Flint Ridge caves.

1975. Will Crowther writes a simulation of Bedquilt Cave (a real cave in Kentucky) on a PDP-10 in FORTRAN for his two daughters and names it "Advent" (also known as "Adventure")

1975. The MITS Altair 8800 is the first personal computer on the market.

1976. Don Woods, working at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, discovers "Advent". He obtains Crowther's permission to expand the game. His changes, influenced by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, include a troll, elves, and a volcano inspired by Mount Doom.

A full
image of the timeline

1976. Advent begins spreading across ARPAnet.

1976. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak form Apple and begin selling the Apple I.

1977. Radio Shack releases the TRS-80 Model I.

1977. Jack Tramiel forms Commodore. The company creates its first computer, the Commodore PET.

June 1977. Marc Blank, Bruce K. Daniels, Tim Anderson, and Dave Lebling begin writing the mainframe version of Zork (aka Dungeon), at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. The game is written in a computer language called MDL, an offshoot of LISP.

1978. At Cambridge, Jon Thackray and David Seal write "Acheton" on an IBM 370 mainframe named "Phoenix."

1978. Scott Adams writes "Adventureland", patterned loosely after the original Advent. When he takes out a small ad in a computer magazine and begins selling "Adventureland", it becomes the first commercial adventure game.

February 1979. Last puzzle is added to mainframe Zork.

1979. Scott Adams founds Adventure International.

1979. "Pirate Adventure", by Scott Adams and Adventure International.

1979. Atari releases the Atari 400 and Atari 800.

1979. Tom Truscott, Jim Ellis, Steve Bellovin, and Steve Daniel create the first version of Usenet.

22 June 1979. Infocom is incorporated, founded by ten members of the MIT Dynamics Modelling group.

1980. On-line Systems (later called Sierra On-Line) releases Roberta Williams's "Mystery House". The game is the first recorded commercial graphic adventure.

February 1980. Sinclair Research releases the Sinclair ZX80.

November 1980. First copy of Zork I, for a PDP-11, is sold by Infocom.

1981. Bruce Adler, Chris Kostanick, Michael Stein, Michael Urban, and Warren Usui, members of the UCLA Computer Club, create the infamous DDL, the Dungeon Definition Language.

1981. Olli J. Paavola, at the Helsinki University of Technology, creates the first adventure game based on a book: "Lord", based on the Lord of the Rings.

12 August 1981. IBM announces the IBM PC.

April 1982. Sinclair Research releases the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

December 1982. Acorn releases the BBC Micro.

1982. Acornsoft and Peter Killworth begin releasing the Cambridge adventures for the BBC Micro. He begins by modifying "Brand X"; the new game is called "Philosopher's Quest."

1982. Three brothers, Pete, Mike, and Nick Austin, form Level 9.

1982. Commodore releases the Commodore 64.

1982. Melbourne House (the games division of Beam Software), an Australian company, releases "The Hobbit", based on the Tolkien book of the same name. The game becomes renowned for its bugs.

1983. Sierra On-Line creates "King's Quest: Quest for the Crown", a graphic adventure game, for IBM as a demonstration of the power of its new computer, the PCjr. The PCjr fares poorly; Sierra goes on to create a whole line of graphic adventures.

1983. Level 9 releases "Colossal Adventure", a version of the original Adventure for the 32k BBC Micro and Sinclair Spectrum.

1983. Gilsoft releases The Quill, by Graeme Yeandle. It is a commercial program for the Sinclair Spectrum and (later) the Commodore 64. In the USA Quill was marketed under the name "Adventure Writer". It is the first widely-available program for writing text adventures.

1983. Level 9 releases Snowball. Its packaging proudly proclaims that it has over 7,000 rooms. This is true; however, some 6,800 of those rooms form a color-coded maze with minimal descriptions.

January 1984. Apple releases the Macintosh.

1984. Anita Sinclair and Ken Gordon form Magnetic Scrolls, based in London, England.

1984. Trillium, soon to be called Telarium, releases "Fahrenheit 451".

October 1984. Infocom releases "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," based on the Douglas Adams creation of the same name. Other than the Zork trilogy, it becomes their best-selling title.

1984. Synapse releases Robert Pinsky's "Mindwheel", one of the earliest "literary" pieces of interactive fiction.

1984. Melbourne House updates "The Hobbit," adding graphics, and releases "The Lord of the Rings."

1 November 1984. Infocom announces Cornerstone, its database software which accepts natural language input.

1985. Adventure International goes bankrupt, partway through the production of Questprobe #4 for Marvel Comics.

1985. Magnetic Scrolls releases "The Pawn".

August 1985. Mark J. Welch releases GAGS, the Generic Adventure Game System, a shareware program for creating adventure games.

September 1985. Infocom releases "A Mind Forever Voyaging".

February 1986. Infocom slashes the price of Cornerstone from $495 to $99.95.

1986. "Thomas M. Disch's Amnesia" is released by Electronic Arts. Disch is initially fascinated with this new art form of "Youdunnits," but is disillusioned by the poor sales of the game. He later blames this on the audience's desire for "trivial pursuits."

June 1986. Infocom releases "Trinity".

13 June 1986. Activision, Inc., buys Infocom for $7.5 million.

14 July 1986. David Betz releases ADVSYS, an adventure game language based on Lisp.

1986. Telarium finishes its last game, "The Scoop". The game publisher Spinnaker will rerelease the game in 1989.

1987. Michael J. Roberts releases version 1.0 of TADS, the Text Adventure Development System.

1987. Ross Cunniff and Tim Brengle write ADL, the "Adventure Definition Language." It is superset of DDL, the Dungeon Definition Language.

25 May 1987. The InfoTaskForce, a group of people working on reverse-engineering Infocom's z-machine, releases their first Infocom Standard Interpreter. This paves the way both for other z-machine interpreters, such as ZIP and Frotz, and for Inform.

1987. Peter Killworth, David Seal, Jon Thackray, and Jonathan Partington port a number of the old Cambridge/Acornsoft adventures to more modern computers for the company Topologika.

August 1987. The Usenet group is created.

1987. David Malmberg takes Mark Welch's GAGS and enhances it substantially. The two of them release the result as AGT, the Adventure Game Toolkit. AGT will go on to become one of the most popular early interactive fiction languages.

1987. Mastertronic buys Beam Software and the rights to the name Melbourne House.

28 January 1988. Thomas Nilsson and Göran Forslund complete version 0.10 of a text adventure language named Alan.

1989. "Scapeghost", from Level 9, is released. It is to be Level 9's last adventure game.

5 May 1989. Of Infocom's 26 remaining employees, 15 are laid off. Activision (now called Mediagenic) offers to move the remaining 11 to California. Five accept.

1989. Bob Bates, who wrote "Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels" and "Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur" for Infocom, and Mike Verdu form Legend Entertainment Company. Steve Meretzky, late of Infocom, joins them.

June 1989. Mediagenic closes Infocom's Cambridge, MA offices and moves what remains of the company to Menlo Park, CA.

1990. Legend Entertainment releases its first game, "Spellcasting 101", by Steve Meretzky.

June 1991. Level 9 closes down.

1991. Dave Baggett and Dave Leary create a company called Adventions to sell shareware and commercial text adventures. They release their first game, Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure, written by Dave Leary.

January 1992. Activision releases "The Lost Treasures of Infocom", a rebundling of many of the most popular Infocom adventures. It sells remarkably well; interest in text adventures begins to grow once again.

1992. Magnetic Scrolls shuts down, and is bought by Microprose.

June 1992. Thomas Nilsson releases Alan 2.3, the first widely-available version.

July 1992. Buoyed by the success of the first, Activision releases "The Lost Treasures of Infocom II". Between the two volumes, nearly the entire Infocom collection is once again available.

21 September 1992. The Usenet group is created.

17 November 1992. TADS 2.0 is released.

24 November 1992. Volker Blasius announces the opening of the interactive fiction archive at GMD. David M. Baggett is the co-moderator.

1993. Legend Entertainment releases "Gateway II: Homeworld." It is to be the last widely-released commercial game which is entirely parser-driven.

1993. Mark Welch and David Malmberg release AGT as freeware.

28 April 1993. Graham Nelson releases "Curses!". It begins at version 7.

9 May 1993. Graham Nelson releases Inform 1. It holds the promise of allowing hobbyists to create text adventures that run on the Infocom z-machine.

18 May 1993. Graham Nelson posts "A Bill of Player's Rights" to

10 July 1993. Dave Baggett releases "Colossal Cave Revisited", a port of the original adventure to TADS.

September 1993. Activision releases "Return to Zork", a graphic adventure set in the Great Underground Empire of many Infocom games.

30 September 1993. Broderbund and Cyan release "Myst". It goes on to become the bestselling graphic adventure of all time.

20 October 1993. Gerry Kevin Wilson asks for beta-testers for his game "Avalon". He estimates that it will take him a month or two to finish it.

16 May 1994. First issue of the 'zine SPAG, The Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games, comes out.

13 June 1994. Graham Nelson announces Inform version 5. It is with this version that Inform truly begins to come into its own.

1994. Phoenix, the old IBM mainframe computer at Cambridge University on which "Acheton" and many other adventures resided, is shut down for the last time.

15 January 1995. Graham Nelson releases "The Craft of Adventure," a companion to the Inform manual. In it, Graham discusses what goes into good game design.

17 January 1995. Eileen Mullin announces issue 1 of XYZZYnews, a new zine for interactive fiction.

8 March 1995. "The Legend Lives!", by Dave Baggett.

1 April 1995. Carl Muckenhoupt opens Baf's Guide, which has reviews of a fair number of the text adventures at GMD. In the years to come it will grow to be a complete database of the games at GMD.

May 1995. The readers of raif organize a competition for short Inform games. It is quickly expanded to include TADS games. The One Rule is instituted by Kevin Wilson, who agrees to be the competition organizer: games must be winnable in two hours or less.

15 June 1995. Kent Tessman officially releases version 1.0 of Hugo.

21 July 1995. "Theatre", by Brendon Wyber

1 August 1995. "Christminster", by Gareth Rees. It, along with "Curses" and "Theatre", helps establish Inform as one of the top languages.

1 September 1995. The first interactive fiction competition officially begins, though many of the entries had been available earlier. Twelve games are entered: six TADS games, and six Inform games.

4 October 1995. The results of the first competition are announced. Magnus Olsson's "Uncle Zebulon's Will" wins the TADS category. "A Change in the Weather", by Andrew Plotkin, wins the Inform category.

15 March 1996. DreamCatcher Interactive, a small game publishing company, releases its first title, Jewels of the Oracle. DreamCatcher will go on to become one of the largest adventure game companies at the turn of the century.

21 March 1996. "Lost New York", by Neil DeMause.

1 April 1996. Jacob Weinstein announces RAIF-POOL, the most amazing IF language ever.

7 April 1996. As part of its publicity campaign for the graphic adventure "Zork: Nemesis", Activision releases Zork I for free. Zork II and III soon follow.

11 April 1996. Roger Giner-Sorolla posts "Crimes Against Mimesis", his critical essay examining realism in interactive fiction. It quickly becomes one of the touchstones in IF criticism.

19 June 1996. "So Far", by Andrew Plotkin

20 June 1996. Mike Roberts, the author of TADS, announces that High Energy Software is closing. TADS becomes free, though the source code cannot be released at this time.

30 August 1996. Robert Masenten releases the first beta version of his portable AGT interpreter, soon renamed AGiliTy. AGiliTy allows people not running DOS to play the many AGT games available at GMD.

6 September 1996. Glen Summers releases his Level 9 interpeter.

16 October 1996. Mike Roberts makes the TADS source code available on GMD, spurring a new round of porting.

19 October 1996. The Second Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins. Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson is the organizer. Twenty-six games are entered.

26 October 1996. "Jigsaw", by Graham Nelson.

2 December 1996. The Second Annual Interactive Fiction Competition ends. "The Meteor, The Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet," by Angela M. Horns (aka Graham Nelson), wins. Other notable games: "Tapestry", by Dan Ravipinto, and "Delusions", by Christopher E. Forman.

January 1997. Eileen Mullin announces the XYZZY Awards. They are the IF version of the Oscars: many different categories, from Best NPCs to Best Game, are included.

26 January 1997. Adam Cadre announces the release of "I-0", his first game.

8 February 1997. The XYZZY Awards Ceremony is held on a temporary MUD that Andrew Plotkin creates for the occasion. Andrew also takes home four XYZZY Awards for his game "So Far," including Best Game.

1 April 1997. Mark Pelczarski, ex-owner of the text adventure company Penguin/Polarware, releases his company's old games, including Oo-Topos, for free.

10 April 1997. In response to concerns that, due to the increasing number of games entered in the annual competition, people won't have time to play and rate all of the games, Lucian Smith releases Comp96.z5. it is a front-end for the annual competition designed as an Inform game, and can list the games in random order.

4 June 1997. The Mining Company (later opens its interactive fiction web site, with Stephen Granade at its helm.

5 June 1997. Liza Daly opens ifMUD, a gathering site for fans of interactive fiction. It quickly becomes a popular destination for a number of authors and players.

11 August 1997. Kent Tessman releases version 2.4 of Hugo, which adds graphics capabilities to the language.

2 September 1997. Niclas Karlsson announces the release of Magnetic, an interpreter for the Magnetic Scrolls games.

17 September 1997. SPAG #11 comes out, with Magnus Olsson taking over editorial duties from Kevin Wilson.

9 October 1997. The Third Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins. Kevin "Whizzard" Wilson is the organizer. Twenty-four games are entered.

7 December 1997. Dave Baggett releases all of the Adventions games, including the heretofore-commercial ones, for free.

16 December 1997. Andrew Plotkin releases the specification for Glk, his universal input/output library designed primarily for text adventures.

20 December 1997. Campbell Wild begins work on version 3.0 of what will soon become ADRIFT.

10 January 1998. The Third Annual Interactive Fiction Competition ends. "The Edifice," by Lucian Smith, wins. Other notable games are "Babel", by Ian Finley, "Glowgrass", by Nate Cull, and "Sunset Over Savannah", by Ivan Cockrum.

15 January 1998. "Losing Your Grip", by Stephen Granade

January 1998. Eileen Mullin opens voting for the 1997 XYZZY Awards.

5 February 1998. The XYZZY Awards Ceremony is held on ifMUD. Adam Cadre wins Best Game for "I-0".

4 March 1998. "Spider and Web", by Andrew Plotkin

1 April 1998. A new IF company, Textfire, releases demos for several games. This sets off a firestorm of discussion on the newsgroups, especially given the date the games were released. Textfire is indeed later revealed to be a hoax headed by Cody Sandifer.

April 1998. The Digital Village and Douglas Adams release "Starship Titanic", a graphic adventure game which uses a parser for communicating with the robots in the game.

13 April 1998. Mike Roberts announces HTML TADS, a new version of TADS which allows graphics and sound to be added to TADS games.

7 May 1998. Michael Gentry releases "Anchorhead", a Lovecraftian horror game.

12 May 1998. Lucian P. Smith announces a mini-competition, sparking a rash of mini-competitions.

19 June 1998. Mike Berlyn, former Infocom implementer, announces the creation of Cascade Mountain Publishing. One of CMP's product lines will be text adventures.

2 August 1998. "Guilty Bastards", by Kent Tessman.

2 October 1998. The Fourth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins. David Dyte is the organizer. Twenty-seven games are entered.

2 October 1998. David Cornelson holds the first SpeedIF competition on ifMUD, in which coders have one hour to write a very short piece of interactive fiction. The games must fit a given set of criteria which are determined by a madlib-style question and answer session.

10 October 1998. Kevin Wilson and Cascade Mountain Publishing announce that Avalon, renamed Once and Future to avoid trademark infringement, is shipping.

16 November 1998. The Fourth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition ends. "Photopia," by Adam Cadre (under the identity of Opal O'Donnell), wins. Other notable games include Muse, by Christopher Huang, and Little Blue Men, by Michael Gentry.

4 December 1998. "Bad Machine," by Dan Shiovitz.

6 January 1999. GT Interactive buys Legend Entertainment.

10 January 1999. Eileen Mullin opens voting for the 1998 XYZZY Awards.

6 February 1999. Evin Robertson hosts the XYZZY Awards Ceremony on his copy of ifMUD, the original being unavailable at the time. Andrew Plotkin wins five XYZZY Awards, including Best Game, for "Spider and Web".

7 March 1999. Marnie Parker announces the first Interactive Fiction Art Show.

1 April 1999. Infogrames, the French juggernaut of a software publisher, buys Beam Software.

1 April 1999. Andrew Plotkin releases Glulx, a new virtual machine designed for text adventures.

12 May 1999. The first IF Art Show ends. "Crystal Ball", by Marian Taylor, takes Best of Show.

28 May 1999. "Aisle", by Sam Barlow.

17 June 1999. Marnie Parker announces the Summer IF Art Show.

10 July 1999. Magnus Olsson steps down as editor of SPAG. Paul O'Brian becomes the new editor.

20 August 1999. "Varicella", by Adam Cadre

24 August 1999. Graham Nelson, Adam Atkinson, and Gunther Schmidl release z-machine versions of "Fyleet", "Crobe", and "Sangraal", three of Jonathan Partington's old Phoenix games.

8 September 1999. The Summer 1999 IF Art Show ends. "Statue," by David Clysdale, takes Best of Show.

30 September 1999. "The Mulldoon Legacy", by Jon Ingold.

1 October 1999. The Fifth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins. Stephen Granade is the organizer. Thirty-seven games are entered.

1 November 1999. "Winchester's Nightmare," by Nick Montfort. It is notable for being available as a "hardback," a computer running the game designed to mimic a hardback novel.

15 November 1999. Infogrames buys GT Interactive, thus inheriting Legend Entertainment.

16 November 1999. Results of the Fifth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition are announced. "Winter Wonderland," by Laura A. Knauth, is the winner. Other notable games are "For a Change", by Dan Schmidt, and "Hunter, in Darkness", by Andrew Plotkin.

10 December 1999. "Worlds Apart", by Suzanne Britton.

14 December 1999. Neil deMause, Marnie Parker, and Duncan Stevens announce the Interactive Fiction Review Conspiracy. The IFRC's goal is to increase the number of reviews of interactive fiction.

6 January 2000. Lucian Smith announces the first installment in the Interactive Fiction Book Club, which is designed to foster discussion of longer games. The first game chosen is "Losing Your Grip".

11 January 2000. Eileen Mullin opens voting for the 1999 XYZZY Awards.

12 February 2000. The XYZZY Awards ceremony is held on ifMUD. Adam Cadre's "Varicella" takes four awards, including "Best Game."

22 March 2000. "LASH", by Paul O'Brian.

2 April 2000. The 2000 IF Art Show ends. "Galatea", by Emily Short, takes home "Best of Show".

3 May 2000. "Dangerous Curves", by Irene Callaci.

5 May 2000. After a few days of speculation about the Cascade Mountain Publishing web site announcing that CMP was no longer "maintaining a web presence," Mike Berlyn confirms that CMP has indeed shut down.

6 August 2000. "Rematch", by Andrew Pontious.

20 August 2000. "Return to Pirate's Island 2", by Scott Adams.

2 September 2000. The Sixth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition begins. Stephen Granade is the organizer. Fifty-three games are entered.

18 October 2000. Roger Long and Gunther Schmidl announce Infodoc, the Infocom Documentation Project. The project's aim is to recreate the documentation for all Infocom games and make it freely available.

16 November 2000. Results of the Sixth Annual Interactive Fiction Competition are announced. "Kaged," by Ian Finley, is the winner. Other notable games are "Metamorphosis", by Emily Short, "Being Andrew Plotkin", by J. Robinson Wheeler, "Ad Verbum", by Nick Montfort, "My Angel", by Jon Ingold, and "Shade", by Andrew Plotkin.

December 2000. Campbell Wild releases version 3.90 of ADRIFT, which adds graphics and sound capabilities to the language.

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