Shade and Interactive Fiction

Probably the most obscure and underrated genre of gaming is text-based interactive fiction, made popular with the Zork series in the 1980s. Commercial text adventure games are long gone, but hobbyists like Andrew Plotkin and Adam Cadre continue to push the boundaries of the genre.

I finished Plotkin’s Shade in only 15 minutes, but it continues to resonate like only the best short fiction can. Take a few minutes to play it online right now, and let me know what you think of his strange and beautiful world.

A couple hints are below, for those unfamiliar with Interactive Fiction.

  • Before you can do anything in the game, you’ll need to get off the futon. Type stand up or get up when you’re ready to get started.
  • Type l or look to get a description of your surroundings. (Also, look under object and look in object are useful.) x noun or examine noun to examine something. go location or enter location to go to a particular area.
  • Many common verbs work as you’d expect. open, read, turn on, use, take, fill, eat, drink, push, empty, dig, and so on. Don’t worry; you can’t die in this game.
  • Try things more than once. If you get stuck, look, read and examine everything nearby again and you’ll probably get a clue. Worst case scenario, post a comment here and I’ll help out.


    ok, I’m so completely at a loss for where the package in the kitchen storage is.

    “remove package from kitchen storage”

    I’m trying! I’m trying!

    I’m sure it’s just going to turn to sand the moment I touch it but where is it?

    (Maybe there are spoilers in this post, so those of you who are still trying to make it on your own, skip it.) Because I don’t want those 30 minutes of mine go wasted, please tell me: I get the tickets. Then what? There’s this sand on the floor, I try to clean it with the vacuum, I even water the floor with the glass. But nothing happens. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.

    man, i used to play zork on my old man’s apple IIx. i loved that game. i’m going to have to try this stuff out.

    OK, I give up. I reached the part where it says “taxi horns repeatedly” and I can’t open the door a second time, because it says “I don’t want to” (but I do!). I tried every single verb with all of the objects surrounding me, but could get nothing to work. The to-do list keeps saying “call taxi, wait for taxi, don’t rush to open the door” and that’s all. I don’t know if further help would prove to be useful, because –frankly– I’m too hesitant to give it another shot – it’s a time waster!

    ok, im stuck.

    found tickets, to do list says buy socks and clean closit, but the vacuum wont close because of the sand

    Is there only one ending to this game? And if so, what does everyone feel about it?

    Examining the contents of the vacuum reveals nothing, and emptying it is impossible. Where are the tickets?

    ok, having given up i have started again but i seem to be doing everything in a different order and missing things i found before. if anybody has a guide for this i would really like them to send it to me.

    my email is [email protected]

    This is a creepy little game. I like it a lot. It’s an interesting fiction format.


    There is only one ending (you can peer through the source code if you go to the website, but it will entirely ruin the game for you. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re probably prepared to have the game ruined).

    If you didn’t understand the story the first time, play it again. It’s spookier the second time, I think, knowing what you know.

    Think about how thirsty you are when you begin. Think about the sand that seems to come from everywhere. Think about the helicopter with which you do not interact. Think about dehydration. Think about the book and the radio.

    If you still do not get it, there is little hope for you.


    I finished the game, twice, and I still don’t get the ending. Please explain?



    This spoils it, pretty much. Please don’t read this if you haven’t already finished the game twice.

    The game is supposed to be frustrating. It is supposed to be fruitless. No matter what you do, you cannot change the ending. Here is why:

    The whole story is a flashback. You are already in California, and you have taken your night hike and gotten lost, and have not been found for days.

    You are dying in the desert.

    You are delerious with thirst. The water does not taste right because you are not actually drinking it. You can’t even remember exactly what kind of plant you have. Everything turns to sand because that’s all you have. All you can touch. You’re drowning in it.

    The helicopter overhead is a search party, looking for you. It doesn’t find you.

    You die on your vacation, the one that you looked forward to so very eagerly.

    It’s a short story, and no matter what order you do things in or how much you try to avoid your fate, it’s inevitable.

    At least, that’s my interpretation. If anyone has a different one, let me know.


    I have a queston: I understand the fact that the character is dying in the desert and everything is a hallucination and so forth, but what is the small human shaped figure thing at the end? Maybe I messed up somehow, but the ending I got has the tiny figure crawling out of the sand, dead, and saying “You win. Okay, my turn again.” I am rather confused.

    SPOILER: OK, here goes my interpretation of this scenario. You start off as the character, who I will call John. John is actually asleep, in the middle of the desert, lost. Losing energy and supplies, he temporarily loses consciousness. During the house scenario, where the game starts, the dream tries to remind John what is actually going on, thus he is surrounded by the theme of dehydrations. The plumbing is dead. The water(which does not exist) is unfullfilling. John becomes hungry, and the only foods available may absorb the little water in his body, but those aren’t real either. It is my opinion, that at this point, the game changes. Instead of John, you become something else. Notice how as the apartment scene comes to close, “John” is rather amused in unfolding his own horrific fate. You can’t leave your own house. You fear the light, and expose yourself to it anyway. Then a figure darts across the wall, out of sight. It is my opinion, that this figure is John, the original character, and you are now the force of the desert. You are John’s inevitable fate, death in the desert. You have been depleting his resources(everything turns to sand) this whole time, toying with his consciousness. Eventually you take everything he has to shelter himself from you, and you finish him off. He dies. Then, his [spirit?] raises from the sand and speaks to you.

    “You win. Okay, my turn” Now John becomes the force of death in this desert, and it hsi turn to finish off the remaining missing persons of the desert[remember the radio].

    I’ve gotten up, filled the glass, drank the water, and examined and gotten everything I can… but I still cant find the tickets. I’ve opened the refrigerator, cupboard, vacuum cleaner, and closet; I’ve looked on the desk, I’ve looked at and in the crate, I’ve looked at and in the papers, I’ve looked at the jacket, I’ve looked on the floor, I’ve looked under the futon… I’ve jumped, sat down, turned the stereo on and off…

    And I have no idea where the tickets are.

    I haven’t even gotten to any of the sand that everyone else seems to be talking about…

    Am I missing something blatantly obvious?

    I’m in the desert and all that’s left is the computer and the travel book, but the game won’t end. I don’t know where the figure went, everything has been examined umpteen times, and I feel like every single possible verb has been used. How can I end this game????

    I’m at a loss what to do next. I have the tickets, all sinks pour out sand, the shower won’t turn on, the closet has exploded into sand, and the radio is annoying. the crackers and pb are sand, and the plant is thirsty. The only water is in the toilet, which the game refuses to acknowledge. Umm help. I looked under stove, but nothing.


    At the end, your book is the Desert Elemental’s Handbook. … You’re a “Desert Elemental”. You’re not yourself any longer. The contents of the book prove this.

    Damn, I have to say this game sucks. I did everything I could think of in this game, and didn’t even find the tickets. Finally I looked for a walkthrough, found it here, and guess what… I’d already done everything listed there before finding the tickets. So I tried doing all those things again — just in case — and you know what? I still couldn’t find the tickets. Frankly, without the walkthrough I’d have just assumed that it was a crap game. Even now I’m not sure sure, but I’ll give it another try.

    Interesting. Even after restarting and following the walkthrough word for word, I still haven’t had any joy with the tickets. However, I *have* had enough. Pity.

    Good text adventure – I like that everything is not obvious but yet the game is not frustrating.

    Okay, I’m guessing the cryptic comment at the end is a reference to reincarnation.

    That, or the game has to do with what “self” is (as reflected by the Om Festival, meditation being a losing of self) and you have become the other and the other has become you, meaning that the desert-self is now the struggling self.

    But I’m guessing reincarnation.

    *Spoiler below*

    Everyone seems to have trouble finding the tickets. Well, for me they turned out to be in a place where I’d already looked. The very first place where I looked for them in fact. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

    They’re in the last place you look- either in the luggage, in your jacket, or in the desk. It doesn’t matter the order, they’re in the last place you look.


    I like the desert elemental idea. I tried talking to the figure, and when I did, the result was hot air curling across the desert. Very cool.

    My take at the ending is this:John Appleseed is actually in the desert. The room is all a mirage. Everything he thinks he is touching is actually sand. He goes through the mirror, representing going from imagination to real life. In the desert, the small figure is the forces of the desert as he takes in that he is dying. When it says ‘You win, my turn again’, its probably him going crazy. The sun crawls higher is probably the last thing he sees.

    i imagine a short psychedelic movie based on this game. soundtrack has to include “four leary biscuits” by tiamat.

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