In The Beginning…: in this month’s Edge magazine Stephen Poole says some interesting things about how games begin. He contrasts them with other cultural forms, where the intro or opening scenes or first paragraphs often try to make as much impact as possible, to serve notice of the quality to follow. In contrast games are made and sold on the promise that they will improve as they go on, and a gamer’s first experience of a title is often a drab training level with a scarcity of atmosphere, plot or thrills.

Poole suggests that this is a bit of a bummer and I agree, even though the training levels are sometimes the only bits I can actually do. But of course it was not ever thus: one entire genre used to thrive on its marvellous opening sequences. When I think about text adventure games it’s often the openings that most stick in the mind: the desperate scrabble to find cover in Return To Eden; its sequel’s allegorical dream sequence; the eerily ordinary Hyde Park of Trinity; the hardcore-basic “It is dark. You cannot see.” in Philosopher’s Quest with its promise of puzzle purism. (People who have kept up with the genre will be able to offer many more modern examples).

Why were text adventures so good at this? Because their users already shared the primary gameplay tool – the English language. No extra training was needed. This is an advantage that non-linguistic control systems can’t match, right? Well, no, wrong. It wouldn’t be too difficult for game designers to come up with a general protocol for each console – an expectation of which button does what which would mean the skill-set for playing games didn’t vary so much. Then training levels could be pretty much optional and games could let you dive right in again.