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Interactive Fiction - Wot Is It?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

You are sitting at your desk watching your computer screen intently.  You can see a door to your south.

The Computer is here. The mouse is here.

>Use Mouse On Computer

You use the mouse to click on your bookmark for - today there’s an interesting article on interactive fiction.

>Read Article

Hello everyone! Firstly I’m not a writer I am a gamer (sadly not yet for a living.) So when Simon mentioned that he’d been thinking about Interactive Fiction and writing for games in general I jumped at the chance to find new common ground between us other than Plants Vs Zombies tactics! So today I want to introduce you all to the most obvious link between writing and gaming: Interactive Fiction.

IF games, also known as text adventure games, have been with us for over 20 years (arguably over 30!) If you’ve ever read a “Choose your own adventure” book then you’ll already have an idea of what Interactive Fiction entails.

Each game starts off with the reader learning about their immediate surroundings and will usually describe in a few sentences such as “You find yourself in a small, dark room.” Sometimes it may describe scenery and items that you can interact with. With this information the reader can then tell the story what he/she wants to do and while these games are unlikely to pass the Turing test they do recognise such commands as “go east” and “take hat.”

The aim of each text adventure is to get to the end of the story by discovering the thread of the plot yourself via these actions. There’s an obvious puzzle element in using the correct items in the correct way to continue progressing through the game. These puzzles can be as simple as “Use Iron Key with Large Door” or less obvious like “feed Squiggoth the Gretchin Meat.”

Text Adventure Games have a very different appeal to other genres which is probably why it’s lasted for so long as a genre. And that’s because they don’t rely on fancy graphics (although some of them do use graphics to literally paint the scene) or full orchestral sound tracks, it relies on people using their imaginations!

Okay so your average 13 year old teenager isn’t going to suddenly drop his copy of Call of Duty 7 or whichever is the latest version (I guess I should know that really...) in order to get the latest IF release, however it does has an incredibly strong following. Such a strong following in fact that when experienced IF writer Andrew Plotkin announced he wanted to raise $8,000 to cover his expenses for a quarter and kickstart his own IF games company, he raised over $20,000 in pledges!

So, how do you get started with IF? Well if you’ve never played one before then the best thing to do is try some out!

My personal recommendations would be Zork (click to play an online version), a complete classic and one of the first pieces of interactive fiction created.

The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy game (click to play the bbc anniversary edition), another classic which “follows” the plot of the radio series. One of my favorites because you must remember not to take the towel off Ford Prefect when he offers it to you...the rest I’ll let you figure out!

These are getting on a bit though so if you’re after something that’s been done within the last 10 years I can heartily recommend the works of Andrew Plotkin, which you can play directly on his site.

So that's the long and the short of it, hopefully that's given you a decent overview of this corner of the gaming/writing world!

[If anyone is interested I was thinking of writing an article on designing, creating and publishing some Interactive Fiction using the Inform system. Let me know if you'd be interested in such an article!]


  1. Create post Andy - fascinating stuff. Can I put in an early vote for an Inform article. I'd love to have a go.

    Most of the IF I've read/played has been more like a game than a story. Nothing wrong with that, but I wonder how "literary" it's possible to make IF? I wonder if one could write an entertaining, literary short story in interactive format?

  2. This sounds fascinating; I've never tried a game of this nature. My husband plays X Box, along with everyone else I know. I cannot-I'm not geared that way.

    I might use the link provided and see how I do with IF....

    Simon-I think you should give it a go!

  3. I still haven't a clue what's going on here but then that's cos I'm a bit of a technophobe!!!

    But I feel your enthusiasm and passion for such things!!

    Take care

  4. Words Crafter,

    Thanks - and do have a go with IF and let us know how it goes.

  5. Old Kitty,

    Perhaps if I can work out how to post an IF story here it will all become clearer ...

  6. So that's what Interaction Fiction is! It sounds really interesting--I think I'll check out the links just to see what it's like.

  7. Holy cow -- I used to love those "choose your own adventure" books when I was a kid! I do believe IF might be a fascinating smartphone short story device...

  8. I'd be interested in reading an article if you write one. I've read the choose your own adventure type stories when I was younger and used to have fun with them. I was actually tempted to write my nano like one (only not in 2nd POV, which would have been a bit different). Though without an outline I stuck with a standard novel instead.

  9. Golden Eagle,

    They're a lot of fun - I'm very tempted to write one.

  10. Milo,

    Agreed. There are companies specialising in doing just that. mifiction come to mind but there must be others.

  11. Claire,

    Fascinating! Andy - that's definitely another vote for a how-to post!

  12. I love IF but I'm crap at it! It reminds me of the early adventure games when you had to type in commands, like Hugo's House of Horrors. I used to play with my kids but without their help (and a walkthrough!) I tend to get stuck forever.

    Great post, by the way, and useful links!

  13. fairyhedgehog,

    Yes I know what you mean; it can get frustrating - e.g. when the game understands "look at" but not "see". I think there's a difference between open text adventures where you can type what you want and IF where you're presented with some options, one of which you can choose. But this might all become clearer in Andy's next post ...


I'd love to know what you think.