I have written more than once in AccessWorld about the fond and not-so-fond memories I have of learning to use my first computer. Although I purchased the computer from a totally blind person and received a bit of training from him as well, almost everything I learned in those first few years was from my sighted friends. They knew nothing about screen readers and what it took to make a computer program accessible to the blind, but they were more than happy to learn right along with me. I clearly remember one evening when one of my friends brought a floppy disk to my house with a text adventure game on it. I had never heard of a text adventure game, but I recall immersing myself in the story of T-Zero for hours on end. In fact, the game was all about time. The player needed to find round objects and transport them to the future in order to fix problems that will occur.
I have played many games in the text adventure genre since that first game on my old 1990s-era computer. Today, I play games on every device I own including my iPhone and my Amazon Echo. Those original text-adventure games required the player to use their mind and imagination to solve puzzles of varying levels of difficulty by typing short responses in a text area. In contrast,, today’s games have characters that move around the screen in real time, amazing audio acting and sound effects, and functionality that allows the player to swipe, tap, and make selections to move the plot along.
I recently came across a modern-day text adventure with the rather unusual title of Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way. The game is a comic mystery in which you play the part of an inventor who is down on his luck. Your latest invention isn’t going so well. If you don’t get it right, you’ll soon find yourself out of a job. As it happens, your newest lab assistant has some magical powers. In fact, there are quite a few people in your city who have such abilities. Surprisingly enough, you discover that you, too, have such abilities. You quickly find yourself drawn into a situation that, if not corrected, could cause real havoc.
Many text adventure games—also known as interactive fiction—require a piece of software known as an interpreter to play them. The game might be a file with a .z5 or .z8 extension. You load the file into the interpreter and begin playing. Thaumistry, like T-Zero, is a self-contained program. Install the game on your computer as you would any other program.
Although text adventure games are generally text only, game developers do sometimes include some graphics. As an example, you might find a map lying on the ground. You would issue a command such as “examine map,” often shortened to “X map.” A graphical representation of a map might appear on the screen with your current location marked on it. This is perfectly reasonable if you have sight, but a blind person may find themselves unable to complete the game because they can’t make use of this most critical piece of the puzzle. Also, screen readers sometimes don’t automatically read the text that scrolls onto the screen as the game is played, which can make it necessary to use a lot of screen reader review commands in order to play the game. Bob Bates, the developer of Thaumistry, has created a text-only mode for the Windows version of the game that ensures screen readers like JAWS read as they should. Although I haven't completed the game as of this writing, I so far haven't found anything that would stop me from finishing the game.
Thaumistry offers built-in prompts when you first begin playing that act as a bit of a tutorial for the novice text adventurer. I have played other games that make use of this feature, and I quite like it.
You often know that you are making progress in a text adventure because you will be told that your score has just gone up. If you find a glass of water sitting on a table and you drink it, you sometimes aren’t sure whether that was the right thing to do. If you are told that your score has just gone up by one point, you know you made a good choice. Some games will even tell you that your score has gone down to let you know you have made a bad decision. You can generally type “undo” to back out of the last action you took. Saving multiple locations in your game can also allow you to go back to certain areas of the story and continue from there. Instead of allowing you to save your game state by simply typing a name for the saved location, Thaumistry requires you to use numbers to save various states of your game. I am not a fan of this implementation, but it works. Most games will tell you how many points are possible in the game, but I haven’t found a way to determine this in Thaumistry. This isn’t a deal breaker, but it would be a nice feature.
Many text adventure games do not give you any help at all if you get stuck trying to solve a particular puzzle. Thaumistry is one of those games that does have a hint system. Simply by typing the word “hint” you are given a series of clues to how to solve a particular puzzle. If you choose to view the next hint, the clues become increasingly clear. In many cases, you can get the answer to a puzzle by continuing to ask for hints in that particular puzzle. I will warn you that this can greatly decrease the enjoyment of game play. There are many walkthroughs of classic text adventure games available on the Internet. If you are about ready to pull your hair out and are getting tired of a particular game, you can use one of these walkthroughs can get you to the end of the game and let you see how the story ends.
Some games have almost no plot at all. You wander through a world, encounter objects and characters, and solve puzzles in order to complete the story. In other games, there is a rich plot with many characters along the way who will help you on your journey. Thaumistry is one of the latter games: you can ask characters in the game about situations you find yourself in, and they will give you answers that will help you along.
Some games allow you to only give the simplest of commands such as “drop ball,” while others allow you to string multiple actions together. For example, “unlock the door, open it, and go inside.” Thaumistry isn't the best example of a game that understand complex commands—T-Zero was the best I’ve ever played in that regard—but the game is smart enough to let you enter logical commands without fussing at you for not entering a command in one single way.
Some games offer special touches, such as allowing you to say a magic word that will take you back to a certain location in the game no matter where your character currently is in the game world. Although I haven’t yet found that feature in Thaumistry, one nice touch is the ability to type a word such as “recap” or “think.” The game will give you a quick summary of where you are in the game and what puzzle you are trying to solve.
Not all text adventure games make use of magic, but many do, and Thaumistry is one of these. I haven’t found anything dark or disturbing in this game, although some text adventure games deal with the occult and other such topics.
Many text adventure games present you with a maze you must get through to complete the game. These can be quite difficult if you can’t draw yourself a map to help you get through it. Although I haven’t finished the game, I haven’t yet encountered any mazes. I’m not making any promises, though.
The Bottom Line
For $9.99, I highly recommend that you consider purchasing Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way. Although the game is available on several platforms, the Windows desktop version is the only one that offers a text-only mode at startup, which makes it a pleasure to play as a blind person. Kudos to the game developer for considering the needs of the blind community in the development of this game.
By now you may be wondering if I plan to tell you how the game gets its name. If you want to know the answer to that question, you need to play the game!
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
- FEER: The Game of Running Blind: A Game Review, by Jamie Pauls
- Game Review: Release Your Inner Child with The Great Toy Robbery, by Jamie Pauls
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