Modern Interactive Fiction

Interactive fiction is the same as text games, it’s just a more modern definition.  I’ve spent a lot of time saying “this is what I’m writing/working on just now”, but I haven’t gone in-depth with it.  Well, so the past 4 months or so, that’s what I’ve been up to.  There’s some interesting things I’ve learned and discovered over those past months, especially that the modern definition of a text adventure isn’t the same as when the older text games of the 1980’s came out.

 Even Zork, for example, has maps that go with it.  In later versions, this gets even more intense, and by Zork IV and V, it’s a visual game that either occasionally has text or doesn’t really have it at all.  The game goes on till a seventh installment, all done in graphics.  What caused the change?  For one thing, developers changed over time, as Activision became involved with the original Zork company Infocom.  For another, the original developers of the game took a six-year hiatus.  By the 1990’s, graphics games were becoming more and more popular, so the new owners of the franchise decided that was the way to go with this one.  (Having played through the entire series, I personally prefer the original pure-text games, but I do like the graphics version, just don’t think it feels much like “Zork”).  

Interactive fiction is having somewhat of a little revival now, though, but like any life form, it’s appeared in a different format.  These days, when out in the realm of actual gaming, the definition gets taken somewhat more loosely than the original “interactive fiction = text games = game almost entirely in text.  Take the interactive fiction games on the fairly popular site Kongregate, which allows you to not only play games on there for free but it allows devs to upload games that they have created.  (Kongregate isn’t only for interactive fiction, just so you know).  There, you can find games like You Find Yourself in a Room, which is entirely  text.  However, devs have also gotten creative with the definition of “text game”, and have uploaded ones such as Story Hero.  That little game is very clever; it gives you lines of text from a short story, which is a basic fantasy tale.  However, the way the game is unique is that you need to pick out words from said story to get items to use within it.  For example, if you pick out the word “sword” at one point, you get a sword with which you can attack an enemy!  And, later on, you can actually make steps in the same way, to prevent yourself from falling through a hole in the text.  Story Hero is not a totally text game, though; you play as a small avatar who goes through this journey, and you can see the items that you, the hero of the game, pick up from the words over time, as well as the enemies you fight along the way with those items.  It really ends up being about 50/50 text and graphics.

Other games on Kongregate go even farther with the definition of interactive fiction.  The game Relive Your Life has a deceptively simple title.  The plot to it is a short poem presented with simple graphics, about you, the player, going through your life.  There’s a very small bit of actual text in the game; however, the textual parts are the parts where you make the choices that will determine where your life in the game goes.  In the end, you find out that there are 29 different endings to this virtual life!  The tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the choices is pretty funny; there’s one where you are asked to diffuse a bomb on a  plane, but Morgan Freeman shows up and puts you to sleep with his voice, so you end up crashing (ok it’s dark humor). 

There are of course other games than what Kongregate has to offer. has a list of several other interactive fiction games,both from the “post-Infocom era” and also at least one made with that famous company, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (this link sends you to the late Douglas Adams‘s site).  That game, true to its source, is entirely text – an updated version of it, though, the “20th anniversary edition“, has some pretty neat graphics.  Other games that mentions are more visual, including Photopia, which like newer version of the previous game, has both text and graphics combined.  Also, there are modern games that try to do their own take on what Zork had to offer.  Games such as iFiction, made in 2007, are more like the original definition of the text game:  “hit enter to continue,” “please type this or that”, and so on.  And there’s the extremely creepy and disturbing game I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, based on a famous story by Harlan Ellison.  That game runs more like a graphic novel, giving the player blocks of text but also cartoon pictures with each block, some of which are interactive.

By now, I’m rather familiar with the “Please type this or that” kind of commands, and have learned that (at least in Python code), I need to put a “print” line between blocks of text, among other things.  But over time, I’ve also started to learn that I don’t have to restrict myself to the old “Zork” way of doing text games; honestly I hadn’t thought there was another way to do it, but the newer world of interactive fiction is fascinating to me.  Just one week ago the game Candy Box appeared on the internet and suddenly became hugely popular – and it’s a text game. 

I originally chose to start with interactive fiction because, well, I’m a writer – it made the most sense for me to start my game development career with the most writer-friendly style of game design.  It’s also a very personal thing; my husband and I literally met because of a mutual love of Zork.  I still remember the first year we were together, playing through the entire series with him (I mean ALL SEVEN ITERATIONS, lol).   But now that I’ve learned about there really being so many more possibilities for interactive fiction than just pure text – who knows where I’ll go with this?

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4 Responses to Modern Interactive Fiction

  1. One thing I should point out: Calling Photopia a “visual” game is a bit misleading. This game certainly plays off of the significance of color more than other interactive fiction, but the graphics you mention pretty much end with colors. The Java version on Adam Cadre’s site ( has some other graphic touches that are missing from the version you posted, including some critical transition screens which help frame each vignette (literally, in the case of the Java version). Even then, however, the only graphic improvements I can see include new fonts and glow effects as well as color and style changes to the framing on the text window. On the other hand, I see why you include these in the definition of “graphics”, as I can imagine some purists up in arms that even the Z-code version of this game had — gasp — multiple fonts and colors!

    It’s certainly a visual game, however, and there aren’t a lot of interactive fiction games that use the color of the text to frame their setting to the degree that Photopia does. If anything, I think the vast number of games relying on little more than text drives the point home that there’s a lot of room between Zork and, say, Bioshock: Infinite. And that as long as you tell a good story, you’ll always have an audience no matter what medium you use.

    • catchersrule says:

      Yeah, that’s true – you know I still haven’t tried Bioshock but hell, just seeing what other things can be done with interactive fiction is quite an eye (and brain lol) opener.

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