91: Pwned

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I'm sure a discussion of the reason for the disappearance of adventure games in favor of RPGs would be fascinating.
Title text: I'm sure a discussion of the reason for the disappearance of adventure games in favor of RPGs would be fascinating.


In the days of early personal computers, such as the IBM-XT, Atari, or C64, games were largely text-based adventure games. Those games were based on an interactive story, and the player had to solve a puzzle on this by communicating to the application using only a keyboard or, later, a mouse. Play was turn-based (like chess): the computer displayed some textual context, you entered a command (GO <direction>, TAKE <object>, KILL <person>, LOOK AT <object>, etc.), and the computer responded by giving the outcome of your command. This sparse context arose from the fact that games in the 1970s and 1980s needed to run on limited memory and microprocessor capacity, and on basic displays.

Over the following 20 years, technical advances allowed games to run in a real-time graphical context. Adventure games were largely displaced by other genres, including Role Playing Games (RPG), where the player navigates a character through a graphical environment to achieve goals or gain in abilities, often involving a combat component. While the broad structure of these has a lot of similarity to adventure games, the experience is very different.

Zork is a classic example of a text-adventure game franchise. In the Zork games, players have to evade predators known as grues, which fear light, but love to devour adventurers entering the dark. Therefore, you cannot win the game without owning some light source.

"Counterstrike" is a reference to the Half-Life mod Counter-Strike and its subsequent sequel. In the Counter-Strike series, you are either a terrorist or a counter-terrorist operative, and your goal is to stop the other from completing their objective. On a dark map, players would generally use night vision goggles, which don't produce light that would give away their position to the enemy.

Randall imagines a version of Counterstrike played in the text-context of Zork. Ironically, the outcome is not so different to what might be a typical experience of Counterstrike gameplay, particularly for inexperienced players: on starting the game, the player moves to another room and is immediately "pwned" (a typical online gaming term meaning beaten, killed, or trapped/tricked, originating as a typo of "owned") by an enemy.

In the title text, Randall suggests that a comparison of the genres, analyzing the reasons why RPGs have proved more popular, would make an interesting study. His imagined example suggests that what has been gained in immersive environments may have been lost in complexity of story and gameplay.


Welcome to text-only Counterstrike.
You are in a dark, outdoor map.
You have been pwned by a grue.

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Rikthoff (talk) Does anybody know why this comic is stored in Portable Graphic Format (PNG) instead of JPEG? Is this an inside joke? -- 12:29, 3 August 2012‎ (UTC)

Guest: An alternate way to look at this uses the same three cultural acknowledgements, but with a little more of thoughtful understanding. The grue lies in wait in the dark and devours the player, and likewise a 'camper' player in CS would wait for a player and kill them upon entry. It can be looked at that the blindness of entering the room that the camper kills the player at is comparable to the darkness that the grue eats the player from. All-in-all this amounts to a frustrating experience of dying in a game, and so a correlation is drawn. Because they seem to be similar frustrations, in which the only effective difference is whether you read it or see it, the text thus implies that there is no actual leverage that makes graphical games favored. It may also further extend from this to additionally taunt the relatively basic slang of getting killed in Counter-Strike being immature, brief, and unfulfilling compared to the larger descriptions that try to pull the player into the game that was needed for Zork to accommodate for the lack of graphics. (talk) 03:20, 20 September 2012‎ (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It's not worth changing the description, as it's not relevant to the context, but Zork was not "typical" because it could understand more complex commands than most other (non-Infocom) text adventures, like "kill the troll with the axe". Mark Hurd (talk) 12:33, 13 April 2013 (UTC)

You know, it's not just (standard) processor and memory improvements that led to graphical games but (unsurprisingly) actual graphical capability... Text-based games (including MUDs) could be played on anything, even text-only terminals and over telnet connections and the like. Graphical capabilities beyond CGA (which limits us to ASCII-art or 'ASCII-shaded' depictions of things, in leiu of sticking to text-only descriptions) allowed a progression to FPS-ish, via the likes of graphical tile-based games (although see Dwarf Fortress as a game that could have been text-only in its tile-ness, albeit that even the vanilla character-based display is implemented with graphics of said characters), and even if it was EGA you could now get graphics, and have to start worrying about whether you could calculate the image quickly enough to start looking at pre-Dooms, especially when you don't yet necessarily have anything approximating a separate GPU and graphics RAM... Which is much as originally said, but... ;)

Oh, and (referencing Rikthoff's question) IMO the .PNG format is far more suited to Randall's comics than .JPG, so I'm not sure there's any inside-joke. Indeed, some of the other early comics with colours (that may have been saved as JPEGs, I haven't checked) appear to have quite a lot of artefacts in them, but I don't know if anyone's enumerated the formats used. Certainly the very latest are PNG, which I say is all for the best. I can think of at least one (the Steve Jobs memorial one) that was almost certainly .GIF, because it needed animation. Inferior to .PNG, but still superior to JPEG for largely monochrome line-drawings (and not bad even for colour-filled ones, if not requiring the full gamut of colours that the current favoured format technically allows). 05:50, 24 June 2013 (UTC)

I think the title text is a reference to this: http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=523-- 00:29, 9 April 2014 (UTC)

I doubt the reference is to a Command & Conquer expansion pack and not to the Half-Life expansion pack, though there's nothing in the strip itself to say either way. --Alex (talk) 21:39, 18 April 2014 (UTC)

I agree. I've put more time into C&C than CS and I immediately connect this with the Valve game. Additionally, units in C&C are inherently light sources, so they are grue-proof. I am going to change the explain. 18:06, 23 July 2016 (UTC)

I made an edit to change the definition of RPG -NotAnAccount 21:16, 24 September 2015 (UTC)

There is now a text-only CounterStrike, albiet with some ASCII art: http://csstory.net/ Pablo360 (talk) 19:48, 16 February 2016 (UTC)

I know I'm going to sound like a grammar nazi for saying this, but to whoever put "it's subsequent sequel", it's "its" in this situation. Don't worry, i fixed it. --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 13:22, 14 September 2016 (UTC)

The RPG genre and the adventure game genre aren't mutually exclusive. Weren't the Quest for Glory games, for example, adventure games and RPGs at the same time? Wiki even describes them as hybrid adventure/role-playing games. Pelosujamo (talk) 16:14, 29 October 2018 (UTC)

The computers mentioned (IBM-XT, Atari, or C64) are too new. Zork was originally written for a DEC PDP-10 and ported to several other text-only computers. Condor70 (talk) 14:41, 1 April 2020 (UTC)

Those computers certainly are not too new. I played Zork and many other Infocom text adventures on my Commodore 64, and I'm sure far more people played them on the C-64 and the IBM-XT than could have possibly played them on the DEC PDP-10 mainframe. A big part of the success of the Infocom text adventures is that they could be ported to everything that could run them at the time, and so they were. 01:23, 17 October 2021 (UTC)

I was never into adventure games. Rocket-Propelled Grenades - now that sounds like it could be fun! TCMits (talk) 17:12, 16 August 2022 (UTC)

Am I the only one that picked up on Randall poking fun at explainxkcd with this one? Obviously an explanation of the comic would lead to "a discussion of the reason for the disappearance of adventure games in favor of RPGs," which is rather fascinating. Some kind of meta-humor here. (talk) 00:30, 1 December 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

...the above comic came out in 2006. The Explainxkcd site can be found to have been started in 2012 (going by the earliest created user accounts - and I think I was IP-editing on here within a year or two). The now-defunct, but separate, Forums/Fora might have created early enough to have been the target, but I can't easily confirm that bit of history. 00:48, 1 December 2023 (UTC)