Greg Hunter

You Really Should Be Playing Interactive Fiction

In Games on August 11, 2009 at 10:01 PM

Hear me out on this one. Interactive fiction, or the “text adventure”, is a terribly underappreciated form. It’s also one of the primary genres I’ll be blogging about, so this post will serve as an introduction.

Perhaps the best way to get introduced to the form is just to play it, so I’ll start with something of a beginner’s guide. First, you’ll need to get yourself an interpreter, a desktop client that you’ll use to open most IF files. For the Mac or Linux people (that’s all of us, right?), I recommend Zoom. For everyone else, if you exist (in which case: hi!), try Gargoyle. I hear that one’s good too.

Then you’ll need some games. Let’s see:

The Dreamhold. This one’s by Andrew Plotkin, a pretty big name in the world of IF (and, Infocom aside, the author of the first few games I ever played). The main purpose here is to teach you how to think like an IF player. It came out a few years after I started playing, so I can’t comment on how effective this is. Maybe Tom can share.

Alternatively, there’s Blue Lacuna. This one can also serve as an introduction, but it’s significantly longer. By which I mean, it’s actually the length of a novel. It’s a good introduction because, unlike most IF, the vast majority of commands you’ll enter will actually just be single words, and they’re bolded in the text. It’s designed to be played by both veterans and newbies, and after the first chapter (out of ten), it’ll branch you off in a harder or easier direction based on how experienced it thinks you are.

I hesitate to recommend it as an intro because (1) it’s so long, (2) the single-word input doesn’t really prepare one for the usual syntax of IF, and (3) there’s a goddamn maze, about 3/4 of the way through. Mazes suck. Still, the writing is great, the setting is fascinating, and the drama manager (it senses how bored or stuck you are, and speeds up or slows down the various plot threads appropriately) makes it a worthwhile play. Also, I think Alex and I could have a fun time contrasting this one with Lost.

From these first few, you might get the impression that “text adventure” is an accurate label after all. Here are a few games that should disabuse you of that notion. Most of them are short enough that I won’t even both introducing them:

Photopia, Rameses, Shade, Alabaster, and Everybody Dies.

Okay, cool. Seven pieces. Obviously I don’t expect anyone to play all of them, but if you try one of the first two, followed by a few of the latter ones, we should all be on the same page by the time I write another post on this topic. If you’re having trouble, technologically or puzzle-y, please comment. As the title of this post suggests, I think everyone should be able to enjoy these games.

  1. I prefer Spatterlight for running IF on Macs–I think you need it to run Blue Lacuna. Photopia and Ramses are awesome, and light on puzzles, if that’s a recommendation.

  2. Oh yeah, Spatterlight. I didn’t have any trouble running Blue Lacuna in Zoom, but I’ll take that under advisement.

  3. I’ve never really gotten into the whole IF scene, but thank you Jonah for this wonderful introduction. I will use it to look at some of the cool IF games out there.

  4. […] here), my absolute favorite single puzzle in an IF game (don’t worry if you haven’t caught up on IF yet; most typical IF conventions are eschewed for this one anyway), plays on a very similar […]

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