Interactive Fiction

A long time ago, when my Apple IIe couldn't remember anything longer than a very short story, people were writing things called text adventures. You could walk around from room to room, collect objects, fight trolls and so on by typing in very simple commands:

Get sword.
Kill troll.

There weren't any pictures, but as any devoted reader will probably realize, this wasn't an entirely bad thing. The text adventures allowed the reader/player to participate in the story to a certain extent while retaining the ability to mentally visualize it, something not so easy with fancy graphics.

While browsing the internet, I discovered that devotees of the text adventure genre (now called interactive fiction) continue not only to write games but have also produced special purpose computer languages to write them. No doubt most people would consider this an archaic and useless pastime. Naturally I was immediately fascinated.

There was the drawback, however, in that I had never even looked at a computer program let alone tried to write one. (I'd never even got my computer to say "Hello Eric") and the first couple languages I checked out looked like so much gobbledegook! Then I chanced on ALAN by Thomas Nilsson, a computer language that is so "high level" that a computer programmer probably wouldn't even consider it a language. It almost looks like English! Later on I found Campbell Wild's Adrift which has a graphic user interface and requires even less programming than Alan.

Unfortunately my interest in If far outstrips my available time and skills, so my efforts really are simply play. Nevertheless, I've listed some of my games here. Please don't think they are representative of the best interactive fiction work being done today. Emily Short's Recommended Playing List will give you some insight about what If has to offer.

Play Online: If you want to get an idea of how the games work without having to download anything, you can play some of The Thorn or Doom Cat!! online. (Actually, you can play the games online in their entirety but I can't imagine anyone having the patience!)

Read the Games: If you aren't into playing games at all but you're curious to see what the games are about, you can read David Whyld's ADRIFT game transcripts at Shadow Vault. Since these are meant as walkthroughs, they show the quickest route to the end of the game, which means you will miss most of the scenery, but, like a book synopsis, they give a good idea of the story. These are listed below where available.

Games I've Written

The Secret in the Mithraeum
Interactive Fiction with John the Eunuch

My first learning experience. Mind you, this isn't really fiction but rather a vignette, a bit of a scene you can move around through. I thought I'd make it available just for fun, a kind of John the Eunuch cartoon feature (with some asides about ONE FOR SORROW so it is sure to be a collector's item!)

Download The Secret in the Mithraeum .
(The .zip file contains a .dat and .acd file with the game and the Arun interpreter needed to run it in DOS)
A selection of interpreters for other platforms can be found at the ALAN site.

The HeBGB Horror!
An interactive punk tale

I have also had the temerity to enter a longer game (the mystery being why I did so) in the Fifth Annual Interactive Fiction Contest. (I wrote an essay about the exerience which you'll find listed at Reviews From Trotting Krips along with other interesting things.)

In The HeBGB Horror! you become Phil Howard. You're a musician. Or at least you can play a few guitar chords. You journeyed to New York City hoping to follow in the footsteps of your idols, punk rockers like the Ramones, the Stranglers, the Saints and the legendary Laughing Kats. But you weren't prepared for the city -- the zombie-like hordes in the streets, the choking miasma from the garbage filled alleyways, sirens screaming through the night, air that tastes like the edge of a knife -- it gives you the heebie jeebies.

Worse yet you haven't found a single gig and now you're left with only a pocketful of change. You can't pay next month's rent or even do what you'd really like to do right now -- take in one last show at HeBGB, your favorite rock club. So on this hot July evening you're out wandering around a few favorite haunts that don't charge admission. Maybe you'll find a cheap souvenir. You hope so because this time tomorrow you'll be on the bus back to Arkham.

Then again, down in the dark and twisted streets of New York, who can be sure what's lurking just around the corner? (16th place, competition 1999)

Review, further information and Download The HeBGB Horror!(Alan 2.8)
Get an interpreter at the ALAN site.

Even Bantams Get the Blues
A humorous road crossing in two modes

A very short game about a lovelorn chicken crossing a road. It's a retelling of the old Atari favorite "Freeway" in If. It can be played in regular of "literary" style. This was entered in SmoochieComp 2001 and when you download it you get the other, better, entries as well!

Further information and Download Even Bantams Get the Blues (Bantam.acd and .dat) in SmoochieComp 2001. (Alan 2.8)
Get an interpreters at the ALAN site.

A haunted walk in the woods

Your life’s been falling apart these last few weeks. This morning you lost your job. So you went to the park at dusk, to walk, to get away from things. It seemed like a good idea at the time... Another short game, this one written with Campbell Wild's ADRIFT authoring system.

Reviews, further information and Download LOST (Adrift 3.9)
Get the ADRIFT Adventure Runner (Windows only).

Doomed Xycanthus
A weird fantasy

It's usually bad luck to get on the wrong side of an evil wizard -- except maybe if you're a master thief and the wizard's curse puts you in the vicinity of a legendary and fabulously wealthy lost city. But why do they refer to it as Doomed Xycanthus? Somewhat inspired by the fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith.

Reviews, further information and Download DOOMED XYCANTHUS (Adrift 3.9)
Get the ADRIFT Adventure Runner (Windows only).
If you need it, here is a walk through
Read the Shadow Vault walkthru.

Doom Cat!!
A quick, humorous cat tale

Written in one hour for a "one hour competition," this tiny game can be finished in 12 moves. Your CAT IS TICKING!!!! Do something FAST!!! (4th place, ADRIFT 3rd One Hour Comp 2003)

Download DOOM CAT!!(Adrift 4)
Or play it right here ONLINE.
Read the Shadow Vault walkthru.

The Thorn
An interactive ghost story

Your friend, Professor Wilkins, an expert on curious antiquities, seems strangely reluctant to relate to you the story of his visit to a mysterious ruined abbey in the fens. Being a journalist, you set out to investigate. (2nd place, Davidw's Minicomp 2003)

Review, further information and Download THE THORN(Adrift 4 or Inform)
Or play it right here
Read the Shadow Vault walkthru

Wax Worx
Weird horror in a wax museum

You wake up with a terrific headache and no memory. You don't even know who you are. From all appearances you've been locked inside a wax museum. It shouldn't be too hard to get out. After all, you have wax models of famous serial killers waiting to assist you. (Finished tied for 2nd in the Inside Adrift Game of the Year Competition 2004. Winner in the "Most unusual Adrift setting/plot" category. )

Further information and Download WAX WORX
Read the Shadow Vault walkthru .

A Walk At Dusk
An interactive essay

As you walk down the dirt road at dusk you hear the trilling of peepers. It's a familiar sound. The sound of summer evenings in the northeast. The tree frogs that produce the noise might as well be magical creatures, however. You've heard them since you were a child, but never seen one. Is this the night you finally glimpse one of the mysterious singers? Tonight, amid the chorus, one trilling voice seems to stand out. Listen. (An Adrift game)

Download A Walk At Dusk

Playing the Games

To play the games you need the appropriate interpreters which are avalable for free online. Here's where you can find interpreters for Alan and Adrift . Interpreters for other languages like Inform are available, among other places, from Baf's Guide to Interactive Fiction.

The bad news is the games are very specific about which interpreter they need. Doomed Xycanthus, for instance needs the Adrift 3.90 runner, because that's what the game was written in, whereas Wax Worx needs the 4.0 runner. The good news is that most interpreters are small, don't require any special installation, are simple to use and are available for many different platforms.

Essays, Reviews I've Written, Etc

"Easy" Interactive Fiction Languages
My experiences using Alan and Adrift, IF authoring systems designed for nonprogrammers
1999 Comp Journal
About writing my first computer game for the 1999 Annual IF Competition
IF and Mysteries
Some similarities between writing mysteries and IF
ADRIFT Game Recommendations
Written a few years ago, these are some of my favorite Adrift games from the 3.90 era.

A Few Game Reviews:

From Reviews From Trotting Krips
My Comp 2001 Journal
Desert Heat
Murder at the Folkestone Inn

Other reviews
Common Ground
Fallacy of Dawn

Also, I was one of three writers Stephen Granade interviewed for an article about Authors Who Write If.

Adrift Demos At A Glance

An easily browsable list of demos available for download from the Official Adrift Site. Loosely arranged by subject matter.

Interactive Fiction Links

For further information on interactive fiction check out:

Baf's Guide to Interactive Fiction
This is where most If lives. Hundreds of reviews and links to over 1,500 games.
Roger Firth presents the ultimate collection of IF links.
Brass Lantern
Stephen Granade's site with every sort of information imaginable about interactive fiction.
Emily Short's Interactive Fiction Page
Everything from a beginner's introduction to philosophical discussions about game design for advanced If authors.
The official site for the Adrift adventure games system with software, games and links
KF Adrift on the Web
Ken Franklin's site features the latest Adrift news, links, including a link to his InsideAdrift newsletter, articles and many other Adrift resources.
Shadow Vault
David Whyld's massive collection of Adrift information. Reviews,walkthrus and statistics for virtually every Adrift game.
The official site for the Alan language with software, links etc.
Reviews From Trotting Krips .
Reviews and pointed and highly amusing commentary.

And although it has nothing to do with IF don't miss:

  • Strategic Baseball Simulator
    Great freeware baseball game. Recreate practically every baseball season ever played. Think of it as sports RPG.

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