Playing, Studying and Writing Interactive Fiction (Text Adventure Games)
What is Interactive Fiction?
Interactive fiction (IF) is computer-mediated narrative, resembling a very finely-grained "Choose Your Own Adventure" story. The interactor reads a short textual description ("You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building."), and types instructions to the computer ("enter building"). The plot can change based on what the interactor types. It has the potential to be more truly interactive than hypertext.
On this page:
Read a few lines or paragraphs describing a simulated world. Type a command. The computer first tries to figure out what you want to do, and then checks to see whether you can do it. The computer prints out some more text, describing whether or to what extent your action has affected the simulated world. (See transcripts and examples of interactive fiction.)
Interactive fiction requires the text-analysis skills of a literary scholar and the relentless puzzle-solving drive of a computer hacker. People tend to love it or hate it. Those who hate it sometimes say it makes them think too much.
- Puzzles in Interactive Fiction
A puzzle in IF is, in one sense, a management tool to separate "movements" in the overall plot. A good puzzle will also be part of the game's atmosphere (a spy game might involve decoding messages; a science-fiction game might involve learning about an alien artifact).
- Detailed Playing Instructions
- Online Gallery
- A Beginner's Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction (Fredrik Ramsberg)
History of Interactive
"In the mid 1970's Will Crowther, a programmer and an amateur caver, having just gone through a divorce, was looking for a way to connect with his two young children. Over the course of a few weekends he slapped together a text based cave exploration game that featured a sort of guide/narrator who talked in full sentences and who understood simple two word commands that came really close to natural English.... Some time later Stanford graduate student Don Woods came along, and he came across an unfinished copy of this game on a mainframe computer. He expanded it and released it on the Internet."
Bibliography of Interactive Fiction (TEXT Technology)
Other Resources about Playing IF
- Interactive Fiction: How Does It Differ From...
- What's IF? (Emily Short)
- Glossary of Interactive Fiction (ongoing collaborative project)
- IF Theory Book (forthcoming; edited by Short and Jerz)
Designing interactive fiction involves both computer programming and storytelling skill. Designers with any ambition must spend considerable time fiddling with the mundane technical details of coding objects and behaviors, while also creating characters, dialogue, and narrative elements that can be pieced together in multiple different ways.
A particularly exciting development in interactive fiction is the release of Inform 7, a complete package for writing, debugging, mapping, and publishing interative fiction games playable on a wide range of platforms, including PCs, Macs, and handhelds. Inform 7 code is designed to resemble ordinary English, and is thus an excellent choice for verbal thinkers who are not trained as programmers.
The pages that follow are intended to provide some sense of the challenges and rewards of writing interactive fiction.
Creating the Code
Crafting the Experience
Elsewhere on this website...
Scott Adams: Storytelling in Computer Games
The author of the first commercial computer game ("Adventureland," 1978) leads a lively discussion on narrative, copyright, and violence. He also describes his first night playing EverQuest.
You come around a corner, away from the noise of the opening. There is only one exhibit. She stands in the spotlight, with her back to you: a sweep of pale hair on paler skin, a column of emerald silk that ends in a pool at her feet. She might be the model in a perfume ad; the trophy wife at a formal gathering; one of the guests at this very opening, standing on an empty pedestal in some ironic act of artistic deconstruction -- You hesitate, about to turn away. Her hand balls into a fist. "They told me you were coming."
Eliza was the first chatterbot -- a computer program that mimics human conversation. In only about 200 lines of computer code, Eliza models the behavior of a psychiatrist (or, more specifically, the "active listening" strategies of a touchy-feely 1960s Rogerian therapist).
You wake to stillness. The hammering, banging, and shouting that kept you awake half the night are gone. The air is cold, and something smells burnt. Your master's experiments must be finished, but with what result?
PICK UP AX (Review)
PICK UP AX is a three-character stage play, set in Silicon Valley around 1980, in which the characters play an "Adventure" clone. Much as Shakespeare might allude to mythology or appeal to floral symbolism in order to make a point about human nature, playwright Anthony Clarvoe uses computer games as a vehicle to show the audience who his characters are and what they want out of life.
Nelson's Interactive "The Tempest" (Review)
The "interactor" takes on the role of the fairy spirit Ariel, who must perform tricks in order to win his freedom. In theory, it sounds like a great way to experience Shakespeare's work in a new context. In practice, however...
Elsewhere on the Web...
Will you tell me a story -- please?
"Lured by the siren song of ever-improving graphics power, terrified by the risks involved with truly unique ideas in gaming, the industry is collectively stumbling along a path well-worn by Hollywood."
Text-based computer game lets players interact with story
"Imagine yourself creating a game with a world for other people to inhabit on your own computer. It is a world without sounds or visuals. Now, put yourself into the textual world and imagine yourself in that world and living through the game."