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Games: Interactive Fiction

[Games: Interactive Fiction] A while ago I briefly mentioned a neat little game called 9:05, and swore that I would "write more about interactive fiction later this week." And did I? Did i write more about later that week? No I did not. And while that may make me a filthy stinkin' liar, I am at least a filthy stinkin' liar so racked with guilt at this oversight that I'm going to make good on my promise now.

"Interactive Fiction" is the new-fangled term for a genre of games that once lacked a name and was simply described as "like Zork." "I'm totally addicted to this new game I bought called Planetfall! it's one of those game, you know, like Zork?" Later this category of time-killers was referred to as "text adventures": games without graphics, in which everything is described in words and you, as the protagonist, interact with the environment by entering a series of written command.

West of House

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

> open mailbox

Opening the small mailbox reveals a leaflet.

>

Ahhhhhh yes, it's all coming back to you now, isn't it? I'm sure many of you, like I, wasted hours and day and weeks back in the 80's as you sat in front of your computer, subsisting solely on beef jerky and RC Cola, trying to solve each and every puzzle in Enchanter. Well, a few years back someone clued me in to the fact that, while the legendary Infocom is more or less defunct, there is still an active community of Text Adventures out there, walking around with brass lamps and stashing treasures into their trophy cases. Better yet, there's quite a few folks who continue to write (free!) text adventures -- so many that there's even an annual competition to reward the authors for their efforts.

These games are now called "Interactive Fiction" (IF), because many contemporary offerings break the traditional "solve puzzles, save princess" mold. While the classic puzzle romps are still prominent, many IF authors now use the medium to explore literary and philosophical ground. (Try the groundbreaking Phototopia to a prime example.)

I go on an IF bender about once a year, during which I typically download and play half a dozen games over the course of a month. I'm on one now, which is why I'm writing about it here. If trying out such games interests you, there's no shortages of resources available to you on the web. Check out Stephen Grande's Brass Lantern, the Interactive Fiction Archive (along with this nice guide to the archive) and the two largest IF societies, XYZZY and the Society for the Preservation of Adventure Games.

Me, I've played maybe 20 modern IF games and enjoyed quite a few. Here are my favorites

  • Anchorhead An astounding game, and the one that got me rehooked. I am an H. P. Lovecraft fan, and this tribute to his literary (and atmospheric) style is my favorite of all the contemporary IF games I've played.
  • Spider and Fly Adam Cadre (who also wrote the aforementioned 9:05 and Photopia) is considered one of the masters of modern IF. This is the one I enjoyed the most.
  • Babel Eerie science-fiction game reminiscent of "The Thing". I hated one of its puzzles but, beyond that, recommend it hightly.
  • Winter Wonderland Cute! Fun!
  • Yes, Another Game With a Dragon! Just finished this one the other night and thought it was great. A nice introductory game for those who have fond memories of Zork
Incidentally, you can play any of the old Infocom games by telenet'ing to eldorado.elsewhere.org. Have fun.

Posted on April 18, 2002 to Games