3) Manifestos & Taxonomies by Fans


This bibliography was published in the November 2002 issue of TEXT Technology.

25 Aug 2001; Dennis G. Jerz
This part of the Annotated IF Bibliography covers the manifestos of aficionados, theoretical analyses, fan and author publications, and other analytical material about interactive fiction not published in scholarly venues.

Barger, Jorn. "IF, AI, and the confabulating-arranger model of interactive fiction." 1994. 8 Jan 2001. http://programmersheaven.com/zone22/cat165/1188.htm. [link]
** Barger approaches the topic of interactive storytelling as a monumental computational and data-retrieval task. Barger approvingly cites Chris Crawford's discussion of the "topology" of interactive fiction, in which Crawford observed that, since humans cannot account for an infinite number of player actions, "storytrees must either be folded back on themselves in a very limiting way, or have most of their branches trimmed to (violent) dead-ends" (¶1).[Note: The highly successful 1999 creation "The Sims" is very nearly what Barger describes, although the software is not a component of an interactive story engine that permits you, the person sitting at the computer, to participate in a narrative. Instead, playing "The Sims" is more like tormenting ants.]

Firth, Roger. "Inform FAQ." 2001. http://homepages.tesco.net/~roger.firth/informfaq/. [link]
*** A well-designed resource introducing the IF programming language Inform. (See §3: Nelson, Inform Designers' Manual.)

Galley, Stu. "The Implementor's Creed" [Internal Infocom document]. Undated. [1984?] 18 Dec 2000. http://infocom.gerf.org/Articles/creed.html. [link]
*** A short, eight-point summary of the mission of the "implementor" (or author-programmer), as articulated by one of Infocom's founders. Selected points include:

Giner-Sorolla, Roger. "Crimes Against Mimesis." Usenet posting. 1996. HTML edition by Stephen van Egmond, 1998. 4 Apr 2000. http://bang.dhs.org/if/library/design/mimesis.html. [link]
**** A fine taxonomy of IF conventions. While his foundational claim that IF should aim for realistic simulation is debatable, and he is almost certainly wrong when he says puzzle-free IF is automatically boring, Giner-Sorolla makes an excellent plea for puzzles that fit naturally into the storyline: "Well-written fiction leads the reader to temporarily enter and believe in the reality of that world. A crime against mimesis is any aspect of an IF game that breaks the coherence of its fictional world as a representation of reality. . . . Mystery and adventure fiction, from Poe's 'The Gold Bug' on, can capably integrate set-piece puzzles into the overall mimetic goals of the story."

Granade, Stephen. "Artificial Intelligence in IF." About.com. 2 Jun 1997. 31 May 2001. http://interactfiction.about.com/library/weekly/aa060297.htm. [link]
****1/2"To be honest, we don't need AI in IF. What we need are better ways of distracting the player from the fact that, in the end, a game can only react in so many ways." (See also §4: Interactive Fiction. Stephen Granade, ed.]).

Granade, Stephen. "Plenty Annoyed." About.com. 16 Feb 1998. 31 May 2001. http://interactfiction.about.com/ library/weekly/aa021698.htm. [link]
**1/2"It's not a great leap of logic to move from "players like challenging puzzles" to "players love difficult puzzles." It is, however, a small leap to an unwarranted conclusion. The result of such a jump? Designers add puzzles which are difficult simply to be difficult."

Granade, Stephen. "Being a Literate Gamer." About.com. 30 Mar 1998. 31 May 2001. http://interactfiction.about.com/library/weekly/aa033098.htm. [link]
**** "I think that IF can be more than entertainment. It is an art form, and at its best it does what all good art does: it sheds light on the human condition. But for IF to be art, IF must have its cadre of literate critics and creators."

Nelson, Graham. Inform Designer's Manual, 4th ed. (release 4/2). The Interactive Fiction Library, St. Charles, Ill. 2001. Minor revisions to the Adobe PDF e-text, released 1 May 2001 and available at http://www.gnelson.demon.co.uk/inform/DM4.pdf. [link]
***** A tutorial and reference guide to the Inform programming language, featuring a chapter on "The Craft of Adventure" (339-407). Existing solely in electronic form since 1994, the manual was first published as a print book in the summer of 2001. Nelson, who created the Inform programming language (which has featured strongly in the IF revival), has also produced two epic-length works of IF (the genealogical romp "Curses," 1993; and the time-travel romance "Jigsaw," 1995). His "A Meteor, a Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet" (written under a pseudonym) won the 1996 Interactive Fiction Contest. His various contributions have inarguably defined contemporary IF. Even when describing dry technical material, Nelson's writing is unrelentingly witty and literate, as in the following example: "Animate objects representing people with proper names, like 'Mark Antony', need to be given the proper attribute, and those with feminine names, such as 'Cleopatra', need to be both female and proper, though of course history would have been very different if . . . " (136).

Nelson, Graham. "Interview: Graham Nelson." XYZZYnews 1 (1995): 3-8. 31 May 2001. http://www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.1c.html. [link]
*** Nelson, who describes himself as "a rather junior pure mathematician at Oxford University," explains why he created the Inform programming language, and why he distributes it freely: "I wanted to revive the 'dead format' of the Infocom [i.e. Zork-style] game, and persuading people is easier when they don't have to pay to listen to you. In the early Renaissance, Italian artists would wander round Roman ruins and say, well, we can build arches too...and I'm as vain as those artists. There are other kinds of profit."

Nelson, Graham. Inform Home Page. [Personal website.] 1996-1999. 31 May 2001. http://www.gnelson.demon.co.uk/inform/index.html. [link]
** Inform is a computer language for programming interactive fiction. Nelson created it and released it as freeware in 1993. Since then, the language has been expanded by other contributors, and continues to develop. This site offers a clear overview of the effort involved in creating a work of interactive fiction.

Parker, Marnie "Doe." "[An Iffy Theory] Version 2.25: The Meta-Puzzle of Interactive Fiction: Why We Like What We Like: Interactivity Is The Message." [Personal website.] 2000. 31 May 2001. http://members.aol.com/doepage/theory.html. [link]
**** Parker's document, written for a non-academic audience, is a diamond in the rough of interactive fiction analysis. Identifying herself as a dyslexic who sees text differently than others, Parker offers compelling observations about the diverse reader responses to several recent IF works. In the process, she gestures towards a sensory-feedback critical theory of IF, and offers an underdeveloped but nonetheless interesting analysis of IF aesthetics.

Parker uses the terminology of psychology, but she is actually exploring the cultural issues of literary taste - a well-traveled field of criticism theory, but especially visible in 18th-century aesthetics. An extended section on emotive responses to textual experiences fails to apply the term "willing suspension of disbelief," and thus belabors points well-established by Coleridge (1772-1834). Despite the gaps in her knowledge of literary analysis, Parker - unlike many cybertheorists who have never actually invested the time to read command-line IF for pleasure and appreciate the special merits of the genre - bases her observations on careful study of a wide range of recent texts. Further, because she writes for a non-academic audience of amateur critics, Parker rightly introduces a deep awareness of the metadiscourse on the USENET newsgroups which both reflects and shapes contemporary opinions about IF. (See also §4: Parker, IF Art Show).

Rees, Gareth. "Distinguishing Between Game Design and Analysis: One View." XYZZYnews 6 (1995): 22-26. 31 May 2001. www.xyzzynews.com/xyzzy.6g.html. [link]
**** The author uses his own excellent game "Christminster" to exemplify the process of designing IF, which he describes in terms of four levels, which overlap during the considerably.
  1. Rees sees the plot as the outermost level, which describes how events unfold and how characters change as the story progresses.
  2. On a more local level is the scene, which can be extremely tightly scripted (for instance, as a character overhears a conversation in the next room).
  3. Next, puzzles mostly exist in order to prevent the character from ignoring important scenes, or from experiencing them in the wrong order.
  4. Code and text involves determining what commands the user will be able to type in order to interact with a given set of objects, and then writing the code to create the desired effect.
Rees also considers what he calls tools for analysis: the maps, scoring tables, and flowcharts that hard-core gamers typically create for themselves during play. Rees seems to suggest that if an IF author spends too much time developing these details in advance, the story suffers. 

Roberts, Michael J. "Better Adventures." TADS Authors' Manual. 1987, 1998. 8 Jan 2001. http://www.tela.bc.ca/tela/tads-manual/tads-b.html. [link]
*** An appendix to the "Text Adventure Development System" manual. Roberts advises the would-be game author: "TADS makes it possible to write games that are technically polished with little programming. However, it's up to you, the author, to provide the creativity and storytelling skill needed to make the game fun to play" (¶1).

Roberts, Michael J. "Getting Started with TADS." TADS Authors' Manual. 1987, 1998. 8 Jan 2001. http://www.tela.bc.ca/tela/tads-manual/tads-9.html. [link]
**** One chapter from the manual for the "Text Adventure Development System," which is intended to help author-programmers create their own IF works. A useful introduction to the complex relationship between developing the story and creating the code.

Short, Emily. "NPC Characterization: Being a Compendious Guide to the Asstd. Tricks of the Trade, as Far as the Author has been able to Identify Them or to Devise Them Anew" [Personal website.] 2001. 31 May 2001. http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/NPC3.htm. [link]
****1/2The acclaimed author of "Galatea" (featuring an extremely well-implemented NPC) and the simulationist "Metamorphoses" describes the characteristics of a successful NPC. Her main audience is other IF authors, but her criteria are clear and thorough. She concludes: "[T]he better you are at the craft of writing dialogue, the more convincing and effective your NPCs will be, and the more they will stick in people's minds. Adam Cadre is justly known for his non-player characters, not because he relies uniformly on techniques like these, but because he crafts them with distinctive and memorable voices" ("Writing" ¶1). (Short's other articles on simulation, multiform storytelling, settings, and IF in general are also well worth reading; see .)

Silcox, Mark. "The IF Lover's Bookshelf" Interactive Fiction [Suite101.com]. 1999. 31 May 2001. http://suite101.com/article.cfm/interactive_fiction/34117. [link]
**1/2"If one relaxes one's criteria just a bit, though, it becomes easier to bring to mind at least a few works that should probably belong on the bookshelf of any legitimate fan of interactivity in fiction. Here's a small, open-ended catalogue - hope this at least manages to plant some seeds."

Silcox, Mark. "Slices O'Life." Interactive Fiction [Suite101.com]. 2000. 31 May 2001. http://suite101.com/article.cfm/interactive_fiction/34117. [link]
**1/2A brief commentary upon the escapist/fantasy quality of most interactive fiction: "After all, how much novelty is there really in stepping into the shoes of yet another armor wearing, sword carryin' whiteboy who's [sic] simulated task it is to swing the chopper, kill the trolls and grab the treasure?"

Tangray, David Adrien. "Adventure Game Properties and Discussion." Undated. 13 Oct 2000. http://www.thinkage.on.ca/~dat/games/Adventure_Games.html. [link]
**** A useful, concise critical taxonomy, which Tangray provides in order to explain the terminology he uses in reviews elsewhere on his site.

Wilson, G. Kevin. "Whizzard's Guide to Text Adventure Authorship v. 2.0." 1994-5. 31 May 2001. http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/info/authorship-guide.base. [link]
** Wilson rarely refers to examples from existing IF in order to back up his statements, which means his work has limited value as a taxonomy of IF conventions. A longer-than-necessary paraphrasing of Polti's The 36 Basic Dramatic Situations offers some value to would-be authors looking for inspiration.

Dennis G. Jerz
03 Sep 2001 -- last modified
Dec 2006 -- minor HTML edits