You can of course use the standard direction commands and their abbreviations. When there is only one exit, 'go' by itself will suffice. You can 'look' at an object or just type 'look' by itself to see the initial room description again.
It should be easy enough to figure out what to do at each screen, but there are a few useful commands I've added:
Go directly to the specified page.
Show the navigation links.
If the interactive fiction format is difficult for grading purposes, this command will linearize the essay and put all the body text on one page.
This will do the same thing as text but also change the color scheme to black on white.
Consciousness is slowly returning...
A Dark Room
You are in a small room, lit by a single candle. The air is cold and damp. You have no idea how you arrived here, or even who you are for that matter. The walls are made of solid concrete, and the only opening is a door to the east. In the center of the room is an old wooden table. On the table is a note.
The interactive fiction work All Roads by Jon Ingold begins in medias res, much like this essay, with no explanation of its setting, plot, or characters. As the player progresses through the game, his or her main objective is to find out exactly what is going on. The game doesn't make this easy, as it toys with the logical ordering of time and space. You frequently find yourself supernaturally "jumping" between locations, reliving a scene you've already played, and even entering the minds of other characters. These features, along with periods when the player has no control over the character, place All Roads in a category of its own, somewhere between "game" and "story," while its complexity and ingenuity place it firmly in the category of literature.
As the door slams and locks itself behind you, the room comes to life. Colored lights begin flashing and sweeping across the room, as if you were at a loud concert. Noise streams from an overhead speaker - it sounds like a voice but there is too much reverb to tell what it is saying. You rack your brains trying to figure out what this room is about, when it hits you: sound effects, lighting effects... What a terrible pun!
You notice a sign on the north wall - perhaps it will tell you about the effect All Roads tries to create for its players/readers?
There is another door to the south, but it looks like the same kind of trick door that will keep you from returning here.
All Roads immediately creates an otherworldly effect, as the character wakes up in bed and is suddenly transported to a gallows where he is about to be hanged. The player has just begun and is already stuck, as there seems to be nothing to do but look around and wait for the execution. In this way All Roads clearly sets itself apart from other text-based games like Zork where the player has an overwhelming number of possibilities.
As the player, you have no idea why darkness appears in the corner of your vision, but your character does and seems to think of it as an exit. You do the only logical thing and jump into it, and somehow find yourself in another room. You aren't sure what just happened, but the character apparently does this all the time. The overall effect is that unlike a Choose Your Own Adventure book or a more typical text-based game, the main character isn't invisible to let you feel immersed in the story. On the other hand, the narration is still in the second person, and you still choose what to do (though it often doesn't matter), so the work itself can't become invisible like a typical novel as you are forced to interact with it and fight for control.
As the game continues, the player moves through a series of short scenes which have a few possible choices of actions but only one correct action that will allow the player to move forward. This is the meaning of the title: the player can choose different paths, but all roads will lead them to the same destination with the same stops along the way. In this game, free will is an illusion.
That seems to be the underlying message of All Roads: that our perceptions of time, space, and free will are not necessarily the correct ones. Even "self" is a hazy concept in this world - the character merges with the player when he goes back in time and hears the player's commands echoing in his mind, and merges with Giuseppe in the final scene, stepping into his body before the execution. The only one who really seems to be in control is the game universe itself. It acts almost as a character, the embodiment of fate, communicating through objects like the convenient hidden bottle that allows you to cut the ropes or the note containing a critical hint that almost literally falls from the sky.
The "T" Room
You are in a narrow hallway. Ahead, to the south, it joins another hallway going east to west, each direction ending a short distance away with a door. The eastern door is open while the western door appears to have rusted shut from disuse. The corners of the hall are strangely shaped. A second later you realize you are standing at the bottom of a giant letter "T," complete with impeccably crafted serifs. At the top of the "T" is what looks like a shrine, with a golden box on top. This must be some sort of typography temple.
All Roads is very minimal in terms of its typography. There are only five styles of type: one used for the title screens and the title bar (light text on a dark background), the normal body type, bold and italic versions of this used for headers and emphasis, and a colored version used for the player's commands. All use the same typeface with different attributes, because of technological limitations. The early computers that ran the first text-based adventures were only capable of drawing one typeface (though if you were lucky they could also draw it in bold, italics, underlined, or with inverted colors). All Roads and most other modern interactive fiction games are actually written for these long-dead computers and run in an emulator that essentially translates them for modern systems. The writer of the emulator, not the writer of the game, is responsible for the choice of fonts, and the same game will look different in different emulators. The original machine almost certainly used a monospace font in amber or green on a black screen, much like this site.
That said, All Roads does what it can with the text's layout, which is not much. The game can control how much of the text is displayed at once, and uses this to change the perceived pace. For instance, the first screen has only the title "..." and a prompt. Next, as the character is waking up, it adds one line of text and a title. Then it presents a full page of description when the character wakes up fully. This gives the illusion of a slow, groggy awakening without ever saying so explicitly.
Similarly, time seems to be stretched out while waiting at the gallows, since only a bit of description is presented each time the player does something. This is especially effective since the player spends real-world time between each action thinking about how to escape. Later, when talking to characters, they give an overwhelming amount of information on each screen, making the player feel like everything is happening too quickly to understand.
Another effect is used when the character "jumps" between locations: all the text from the previous scene disappears, and there is no way to scroll back to it. This helps to make it distinct from normal travel - when walking between locations, the text from the last room is simply pushed up and it is still possible to scroll back to it. This also emphasizes that when the character jumps, the locations are disconnected, with no clear path between them and no way back.
Neither effect is really possible in a print medium. While an author can play with the spacing, this only has a small influence on the reader's speed. A chapter break can separate two sections of text, but the reader is still free to flip back to the previous chapter and re-read anything they may have forgotten. In interactive fiction, in some ways the reader actually has less control than with a traditional book.
You are in another hallway, with a door at each end. Before you can think about going back to the temple, its door slams shut behind you. Stupid trick doors. Looks like you'll have to go east.
You are in another room, and (surprise), the door locks itself behind you once more. You check the floor to see if there is some sort of pressure plate but see nothing.
The room is dark and empty except for a small desk in the center and a ladder leading down to what looks like a basement. On the desk is a computer monitor with glowing green text. How meta.
All Roads would be very different without digital tools. Interactive fiction is a new type of literature that could not exist without the invention of computers. While books like the Choose Your Own Adventure series might be considered interactive fiction, they are very limited and have more in common with traditional novels than with computer IF. Such books offer a limited number of branches, but each path has a defined order in which it is impossible to go backwards. There is no way to interact with the environment, since having a single object would double the number of paths that follow: for instance, one set where you take the item and one where you don't. These paths would most likely be identical until a point much later in the story, so the book would have a large number of pages that are nearly copies of each other. This makes even a short IF adventure impossible to implement in print.
All Roads uses its medium in a strange way, however. While most interactive fiction works give the player nearly unlimited choices, All Roads follows a well-defined plot. The player has freedom to move around within scenes but not between scenes. For this reason, the story could be told as an ordinary short story, but it would suffer. All Roads is less interesting as a story than as a series of puzzles. Scenes where the player must reach some goal provide a sense of accomplishment not present in static forms of literature. Scenes where the player only has to pass time are analogous to "cutscenes" in modern video games, but keep the player engaged and feel less separated from the other scenes than their modern equivalents.
Interactivity also makes the main character more relatable, even if the player never quite feels like part of the story. A time-traveling assassin is not the friendliest protagonist, but the medium makes it possible to see into his mind in a more powerful way than linear stream-of-consciousness narration. The character's problems are the player's problems, the character's goals the player's goals.
The interactivity of All Roads also allows it to "show, not tell" in a few situations. The player doesn't need to be told that the character has lost control of his body to some strange force - it's quite obvious when the game stops responding to their commands.
When you reach the bottom of the ladder, it retracts up into the ceiling. You aren't fast enough to grab it. Looks like you're stuck here.
As your eyes adjust to the near perfect darkness, you see sets of shackles along the walls. The floor is littered with pieces of rope, some bloodstained. These must have been used as restraints for the prisoners.
On the north wall there are charcoal tally marks. Beneath the marks is a large block of text - the barely legible scrawlings of a madman.
The constraints and affordances of the interactive fiction medium strongly affect how All Roads is written. As discussed earlier, the format gives the author very little control over the appearance and position of text on the screen, but allows him great freedom to place things within the imaginary space of the game universe and to control the timing of certain events.
For instance, the town square where the execution takes place is at the center of the map, reflecting its importance as the center of the story. You begin and end there, and also find yourself drawn there in the middle of the story. Similarly, the Denizen's office is above the square, showing her influence over the city.
The large clock in the square and its small copy in the Denizen's office form a sort of motif. The character is in a race against time to find his target, complete his mission, and leave town before he is caught.
A constraint of interactive fiction is that it is not well suited to large blocks of text. This, perhaps, is why there is no introduction - it would just feel like a delay keeping you from getting to the actual game. Instead, the exposition is scattered throughout, and you must visit different locations and talk to different characters in order to discover your objective.
You emerge from the tunnel into blinding sunlight. So blinding that you don't realize you are exiting the side of a steep hill. You stumble and roll down the hill, landing in a soft meadow.
You stand up slowly, testing each joint. Fortunately, you aren't hurt.
Across the meadow you see pavement - the road that will take you home. You've escaped.