Thomas M. Disch's Amnesia is a text adventure computer game created by Charles Kreitzberg's Cognetics Corporation, written by award-winning science fiction author Thomas M. Disch, and programmed by Kevin Bentley using the King Edward Adventure game authoring system developed by James Terry. The game was acquired and produced by Don Daglow and published by Electronic Arts (EA) in 1986 for the MS DOS PC and Apple II systems. A version for Commodore 64 was released in 1987.
The game begins as the player's character awakens in a midtown Manhattan hotel room with absolutely no memory. He has no clothes and no money, and doesn't even remember what he looks like. The player soon discovers he is engaged to a woman he cannot remember, a strange man is trying to kill him, and the state of Texas wants him for murder. From here, the player must unravel the events in his life that led him to this point.
In addition to being a text adventure, the game's major innovation was simulating life in Manhattan. Disch's model covered every block and street corner south of 110th Street. A hard-copy map of the streets and subways of Manhattan was included in the packaging. Players moved from place to place on foot, and had to reach destinations at the correct time of day to initiate plot developments. Stores opened and closed at the correct times, street lights went on, and other aspects of New York life were simulated. Almost 4000 separate Manhattan locations, including 650 streets, were part of the game.
Amnesia also featured the ironic, rich writing style of Disch himself, in distinct contrast to the functional or tongue-in-cheek tone of most text adventures. Disch is one of only three major writers (the others being Robert Pinsky, in Synapse Software's Mindwheel (1984) and Douglas Adams, in Infocom's 1987 game Bureaucracy) to create an entirely original feature-length piece of interactive fiction. However, over half of Disch's novel-length manuscript (possibly the largest ever in a major text adventure computer game) had to be cut from the published version due to the storage limitations of the then-current 5.25 floppy disk technology.
One of the last major text-based games published by a major games company other than Infocom, Amnesia is also the only all-text adventure ever published by EA (Hound of Shadow, released by EA in 1989, also was largely text-based but featured static graphical screens in its displays to establish setting and atmosphere). Although highly praised upon its release for its writing style, the game was only a moderate success.
This can largely be attributed to the game's limited power. The other major publisher of text adventures, Infocom, allowed the player a great deal of freedom. Amnesia, however, constrained the player in many artificial manners. For example, in the opening setting, the hotel room, the phone rings. Though the hotel room door is not locked, the player cannot leave the room. The player must answer the phone in order to proceed. Similar artificial limitations were placed on the player as they traversed the game world. A review in Computer Gaming World described the game as being "too much like a novel" as a result. The review also noted the main character would collapse after an unrealistically short amount of time if he didn't eat or sleep frequently.
Disch also wrote a screenplay based on the game's characters and story line and it was optioned to one of the major Hollywood studios, but the film was never made.