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Modern Text Adventures
The Rise of the Community

Commercial interactive fiction practically disappeared by 1989 with the demise of Infocom. In retrospect, it was probably good for the new medium. Let’s see why.

See also the first part describing the beginnings and the commercial era.

Amateur programmers were trying their hands at producing text adventures of their own already during the commercial era. Writing a game from scratch in a general-purpose programming language is a daunting task though, with most of the effort spent on the ‘backbones.’ Soon, specialized authoring systems started to appear, and the online services (and later Internet) allowed enthusiasts to connect with each other.

Interactive Fiction Timeline

The difference was that soon the fans had to cater for themselves, and they mostly did so for free. This allowed the authors of the modern works to experiment with the characteristics of the medium. What makes it different from novels or movies? What are the unique strengths or weaknesses? The emphasis was shifted away from solving puzzles (which was the pinnacle of the era when games were written by the programmers for the programmers) to the narrative and emotional impact.

A critical discussion of interactive fiction (and its development as the new media and art form) required some terminology and framework. Drawing parallels with novels and movies is insufficientThe medium is inherently interactive and non-linear. It has aspects of a simulation and a game, and features different ‘voices’ and identities (the protagonist, controlled by the player, usually has his own character, and sometimes even goals)., so the community gradually invented bits and pieces of the theory of interactive fiction. To create a memorable experience, the author needs not only good writing skills but also game design and programming abilities. Interactive fiction also requires more writing than a comparable ‘static’ piece.

But when the media characteristics meet the right talent, the result is a tight, polished and interesting story. Some of the free modern works are at least on par with the best Infocom adventures, so no wonder that the current community cherishes those who stand outTo name but two: Andrew Plotkin for his masterful explorations of the possibilities of the new medium, and Emily Short whose work on conversation systems and “simulationist” approach advanced the state-of-the-art.. Against all odds, the ‘text adventures’ continue to be published long after the fall of the commercial era, they have become the subject of academic studies, and they seem to be getting even better.

The best way to learn more is to try one of these stories out. A good place to start is IFDb. Most of the works can be played on almost any device, including phones. Here are some handy playing instructions. And if you’d like to continue the story of interactive fiction by writing one yourself, I would recommend either tads 3If you have a solid object-oriented programming background, tads 3 is arguably the most robust system available. or Inform 7Writing in Inform 7 uses sentences such as “Hercule Poirot is wearing a bowler hat.” It is surprisingly efficient in dealing with complex concepts: “If Poirot suspects someone who is incriminated by something carried by the player…” (Which would actually be the source code..

6 Comments »

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Scott Adams, January 18, 2009:

Hi Nice article!

For the record I founded AI in Sep of 1978 :)

Scott Adams

Pavel Soukenik, January 25, 2009:

Thank you for commenting and pointing this out Scott! The table is now fixed with AI proudly on its own line. As a side note, Pirate Adventure was the motivation and tool for me to learn English (with a big dictionary next to my 8-bit Atari).

Scott Adams, January 26, 2009:

Your English is excellent! I am gald to know my games were helpful in that regard!

Happy Adventuring!

Scott

Martin, January 29, 2009:

Hi,

Very interesting article. I just started digging into interactive fiction and found your article helpful. Thought, I should let you know. ;-)

Martin

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