Interactive Fiction!

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Ah! The joys of interactive fiction! Today I would like to share some thoughts and information on interactive fiction games (hereafter referred to as IF). I love this stuff, and it’s one of the mediums I hope to one day break into as a freelancer.

IF has been around for a long time, back in the seventies it was one of the first kinds of computer games available. It has waxed and waned in popularity over the years, but always maintained a strong underground following, especially when the internet became a thing. When I was a kid (in the 90’s, the glorious 90’s), this sort of thing was actually popular. From the time of it’s inception, to when IF exploded on the internet, it was usually very puzzle and exploration oriented. You had to get ye flask, and have a ridiculously large inventory, and sometimes take actual notes. It was a little cumbersome, but offered a fun experience nevertheless.

Nowadays, the medium has changed with the advent of new, user-friendly (and free!) programming platforms. I’m going to talk about a few of them, and maybe give a little mini-review for my favorite games. They are: Inform, Storynexus, Twine, and ChoiceScript. In general, these programs have caused IF to shift towards less puzzle-solving, and more narrative elements, with a little bit of RPG game-play mixed in.

Inform

Inform is older than the rest, and the kind of work that Inform authors have done is usually more old-school in it’s approach. I’ve never tried coding in Inform (because I suck at coding), but I’ve heard it’s easy enough to learn and get into. The Inform community is made up of kind, creative, and very intelligent people, and they have produced some excellent games over the years. They are the ones who originally organized the Interactive Fiction Competition, which is still chuggin’ on. Inform uses what is called a “parser,” which is where you type in commands to interact with the world (like “get ye flask”). It’s very traditional, and some Inform games are just like the classics from the 20th century. But there have been hundreds of creations, some are more experimental, some are just damn good stories. Here are some of my favorites –

  • Galatea, by Emily Short – A game that revolves entirely around one conversation with an animated statue, the character from Greek myth. Galatea is a fascinating, complex woman, one of the best-written in any game that I’ve encountered. Galatea has dozens of different endings, and a practically infinite number of combinations with each attempt at conversing. It’s addictive, and has some superb writing. Emily Short is a very accomplished IF writer, and a brilliant critic and thinker. Check out her site! You can play Galatea here.
  • Photopia, by Adam Cadre – This one is very focused on narrative (so is Galatea actually). You don’t do much but follow the clues, and read an amazing story as you go. It’s beautiful, it’s sad, and I’ll never forget the first time I played it. Try it out here.
  • Anchorhead, by Michael S. Gentry – Anchorhead is different from the other two, in that it has some very difficult puzzles, and a huge environment to explore. It’s a chilling tale of Lovecraftian horror, set in an isolated seaside town in New England. I tend to get quickly frustrated with IF games that are built around the old model of explore/collect items/solve ridiculous puzzles, but this one does such a good job of building atmosphere, and creating a rich world to explore. You can play it here. Sooner or later, you might want a walkthrough.

Most (if not all) Inform games are free to play online. There’s also an excellent app for those of you with tablets or smartphones called Frotz. CHECK IT OUT.

Next time, I’ll delve into the strange and wonderful worlds of Storynexus, as well as it’s flagship game (and current obsession of mine), Fallen London.

Images from The British Library – no known copyright restrictions

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