> READ POST
(Originally posted on 1UP.com, May 17, 2004.
Interactive fiction! I still love this stuff, even though I got out of the habit of actually playing it quite a while back. Lately my interest has been rejuvenated thanks to Twine, though, so this repost is sort of timely. Twine games are different than the parser-driven sort I talk about below, and have different strengths, but they’re extremely accessible and easy to just jump into and experience. I may have to write something about Twine specifically in the future, should I find the time.
It’s worth noting that this post largely predates the modern surge in indie gaming, which is why I was perhaps a bit more wide-eyed at the concept than I would be today. Also, I’m impressed at how many of the links still work, though I had to replace a few of them. The best find was that 1UP’s ancient Magic Words article, long thought lost in a site redesign, is actually still hosted somewhere.)
Which post do you mean, the post about interactive fiction, or the post about the N-Gage?
> INTERACTIVE FICTION
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if there was no “gaming industry?” What if there were no companies, no focus groups, no market pressures, just people making games because they enjoy it? What sort of games would people come up with if they could do whatever they wanted without having to justify it to their boss?
If the lead-in with the > prompts didn’t give it away, I’m here today to tell you that such a fantasy world does exist. It’s called interactive fiction, or just IF. IF is commonly known as text adventures, though that isn’t entirely an accurate label. It’s one of those subset deals—all text adventures are IF, but not all IF works are text adventures.
The thing about IF is that it’s commercially unviable now. Maybe in a perfect world this wouldn’t be true, but the fact is that no one wants to pay money for a game without any graphics in a genre that’s seen seemingly no technological advancement since the mid-80s. You might think this apparent obsolescence would cause IF to shrivel up and disappear, but instead the opposite has happened. A completely independent community has sprung up around the genre, with people making games just because they want to and giving them away for free. The result of this is that some really interesting stuff has been produced, since there’s no market in place to keep people from making whatever kind of games they want. Even calling them all games isn’t quite right, as there are a number of more artistic works that are closer to stories you can interact with (and not in a ‘choose your own adventure’ sense—these are significantly more complex than that, trust me) or even something else entirely.
I’m not going to go into details, because it’s already been done much better than I could. Check out this article if you’re at all interested in seeing what modern IF is like. It’s from our very own 1up.com, and put together by four of my favorite GIA alumni. It’s pretty long, but it’s good—I’d barely even played any IF before I read it and now look at me. It’s also full of suggestions for games to try out, ranging from old-school puzzleful adventures to crazy modern art pieces. In case you miss it or don’t read the article but still want to try some games, make note of http://wurb.com/if, the site where you can find pretty much all IF that’s freely available.
Instead of trying to give an overview of all IF, I’m going to discuss three of my favorites in some detail and hope to elicit some interest. If you want my longer list of recommendations, I actually had a letter about this very topic printed on Penny Arcade a few weeks back (down where it says Interactive Fiction on that page). I’m not going to bother copying all that over, since a lot of it is what I already said here, but there is a list of games in there.
Now, the favorites. You’re going to need a Z-code interpreter to play these, such as found here. That page doesn’t have the greatest interface ever (as in, none), but you should be able to find something that works. Frotz seems good; I use WindowsFrotz which can be downloaded directly here.
Photopia by Adam Cadre
This is one that’s difficult to classify as a game. You certainly get to interact, and there are puzzles to a small degree, but it’s mainly about experiencing the story. And what a story—I don’t want to spoil anything, but Photopia can be quite emotional, even touching. It really made me feel things by the end, and I can’t say that about a lot of games. I think it shows off the power of IF well, too; I don’t think it would have had nearly as strong an effect if I didn’t feel I had some personal, interactive connection with the characters involved.
A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzky
This isn’t actually a work of modern IF, but was published in 1985 by Infocom, also known for the likes of Zork. Despite its age, it has nothing to do with exploring caves, finding treasure, or disarming traps. Actually, AMFV is surprisingly modern in that it’s more about exploring a large world than solving puzzles or trying to win anything. The plot goes like this: It’s the future, and you’re the first truly intelligent computer. The state of society in the United States has been steadily declining, but a senator has proposed a radical plan to turn the country around. Your job is to enter a simulation of an American city ten years in the future and see what life is like with the plan in place. As you gather more data, you’re able to simulate further and further into the future, watching as the country slowly changes. It’s just a really fascinating world to put yourself into, and I find it interesting to see how the passage of time treats one city as the state of the nation shifts. When I finished AMFV, I was struck by the thought that I never realized anyone made games like this twenty years ago, or even today for that matter.
I should note that if you download it from that link, it comes with an AMFV.DAT file and DOS program to run it. The DOS program didn’t work quite right on Windows XP for me, but you can still open AMFV.DAT with any Z-code interpreter like I linked to above, even if you aren’t running Windows.
Anchorhead by Michael S. Gentry
If you like the work of H. P. Lovecraft, you should probably play Anchorhead. I have to admit that I haven’t actually read any Lovecraft yet, but it’s on my list. To say that Anchorhead is inspired by Lovecraft isn’t really going far enough, since from what I know about his work this game is basically a Lovecraft story in game form. This game is full of detail, with a highly explorable and creepy New England town that keeps giving way to new areas even when you think you’ve seen it all. The puzzles aren’t too tough at the beginning, but things do get pretty intense near the end, so keep some extra saves and don’t be afraid to glance at the walkthrough if you feel the need. Anchorhead isn’t as artsy or innovative as the other two games I’ve mentioned, but it’s just done so well that it doesn’t matter. Hell, just read the description at the link. This is considered one of the best IF games of the modern era, so if you find you like the genre you might want to give it a whirl.
That really went on, didn’t it? Well, hopefully I’ve piqued someone’s interest and haven’t just spent a lot of time writing about games no one cares about anymore. I’d like to get back into more theoretical territory tomorrow, with that discussion of moral imperatives that I mentioned. My schedule is a bit tighter than I thought it would be this week though, so we’ll see what happens.