So, this week we delve into a topic that is close to my heart: Interactive Fiction. Now many of you reading this may not be familiar with what that term is, and I wouldn’t blame you for it. Interactive Fiction is a genre of computer games, one of the oldest there is. With the earliest example being the precursor game and the grandfather of all narrative computer games: Adventure (1976). They were a breakthrough in technology because this came at a time when computers were in the form of mainframes – giant hulking pieces of machinery, and was the first time ever that a person could communicate with text to a computer, and the computer would communicate back by printing paragraphs indicating the consequences of your text. Seems silly nowadays huh? But don’t forget, most people of that day and age had ever even SEEN a computer, much less interact with one and this was a time BEFORE graphics were commonplace; computers were just printing texts and that was it. Thus came the term for this type of program: ‘Interactive Fiction’.

Exhibit A: Adventure. Delicious, delicious pixels…

Today, I want to share the joy of playing this forgotten and oft times under-appreciated genre of computer gaming. So let me preface this by telling YOU, the reader, a very big piece of good news:

Nearly EVERY Interactive Fiction game ever commercially/publicly released can be played for FREE thanks to the efforts of foundations such as the Interactive Fiction Database and Interactive Fiction Archive.

I will include links here so that you can visit these sites and begin your own adventure in one of the thousands of IF games available.
Interactive Fiction Database:
Interactive Fiction Archive:

But wait, ArticLyrae,.. What exactly do you do in IF games? Well, simply put, most games end up looking a little something like this:

Exhibit B: Actual Gameplay of the Classic IF, Zork. Yup… I hope you like words. Cuz’ IF games are all about that business.

Perhaps I’ll give you a brief intro into how these games work then shall I? An IF is a game where the player will read rows of text generated by the computer, all pre-written by the game’s writer, then you are given an empty command line to type in your command, it’s that simple. In the example above, the player in Zork has found themselves going north (indicated by the ‘n’), then appeared in a clearing, so the game described the surrounding area to the player and patiently awaits the next command. The player probably got bored of the clearing and typed ‘n’ or North, again and headed that direction into a forest, then ‘s’ or South back into the previous clearing, and so on…

So, you might be asking, “How is this fun exactly?” Well, there’s more to these games than meets the eye, you see (pun intended). There exists a set of universal commands that most IFs adhere to, I’ll list a good few of them here:

‘x’ here refers to any appropriate word. (e.g. For the command ‘Get’, you could type ‘>Get lamp’)

>N (Move North)
>W (Move West)
>E (Move East)
>S (Move South)
>Up (Move Up)
>Down (Move Down)
>Left (Move Left)
>RIght (Move Right)

Standard Actions:
>Get x (To pick up or collect something)
>X x (Examine)
>I (Check Inventory)
>Take x/Drop x/Attack x/Put x in x/Put x on x/Drink x/Ask x… (To do specific actions)
>G (Repeats last command Again)

System Related Commands:
>Look (Reprints the last output of text)
>Undo (Exactly what it sounds like)
>Save (Saves the game’s progress)
>Load (Loads the game to last ‘Save’ command)
>Transcript (Lets you keep a note that you can read later)
>Help (Prints a user Readme, usually with some basic instructions and credits)

That’s just a few sample commands that apply to all IF games out there, and for each IF, the game may have their svet of special commands that you can use, usually you can find out about these by using the ‘Help’ command. But if you are still unsure how to go about actually playing one, may I recommend the excellent guides available at Brass Lantern:

Additionally, while most IFs can be played online using a browser, to experience some games in their full implementation, you will need to download the Glulx software, and download game packages to run them on Glulx. It’s extremely hassle-free and won’t take you 5 minutes, get it here:

So, now you’re all prepared to get started playing IFs, but wait, which ones should I play? Well, that depends. Just like video games, there are a multitude of different genres available to choose from.

Perhaps you might be interested in playing an RPG, with combat mechanics? Why not try the classic Zork series of games?
Maybe you want to be spooked and have a scary experience? Try out some horror classics like Anchorhead, a game about the lovecraftian mythos.
Would you like to solve a mystery? Play the excellent Make it Good, a noir-detective story where you solve a case.
How about some light-hearted comedy fun? Look no further than the hilarious Lost Pig, where you play Grunk, an orc who must retrieve a lost pig from his pig farm.

But above all else, if I had to recommend playing any IF, I would point you to the incredible Photopia by Adam Cadre, often considered as the greatest work of linear narrative-driven gameplay in an IF. Please do yourself a favor and experience this story of soul-searching and identity in under 2 hours. Be ready to be surprised at simply how much potential IFs have as a story-telling medium from this one game alone.

Exhibit C: Photopia. Please do play the coloured-text version of the game on Glulx, it’s basically the definitive version, and you’ll be missing out otherwise.
photopia_teaser_1.png (702×200)

Whew, that was quite a lot of stuff to go through, but trust me when I say that IFs are a different beast to every other form of video game out there, and if you are interested in keeping up with the latest games, you might want to follow the annual Interactive Fiction Competition for the latest and best IFs out there:

And finally, if this article managed to spark your interest in the history or background of IFs, let me direct you to this excellent article detailing a brief history of IFs, as well as the definitive documentary film, ‘Get Lamp’, about IF games and all text-based adventure games in general:

A Short History of Interactive Fiction:

Get Lamp:

With all that said, that’s it from me this week. Go out there and play some IFs goshdarnit!

Next week on The HotSeat:

“Why Video Game Music Matters or Baba yetu,yetu uliye… ”

ArcticLyrae is a 3rd-year Monash University Sunway undergraduate with great enthusiasm for all things related to gaming in its many forms. He writes articles discussing various gaming-related discussions in his weekly blog, The HotSeat.

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