i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Interactive Fiction - An Overview

September 26, 2004

Interactive Fiction

Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from back in the day? You'd read a page then select from a series of choices for what the main character should do in order to progress the story forward. Then, when your main character died, you could hurry up and flip back to where you'd made the bad error and try again. Well, Interactive Fiction is very similiar to that concept. Except you can't cheat as easily.

Dr. Jerz writes, "Interactive fiction requires the text-analysis skills of a literary scholar and the relentless puzzle-solving drive of a computer hacker. People tend to love it or hate it. Those who hate it sometimes say it makes them think too much." (Jerz's Ifiction)

Many of today's popular video games sport a similiar idea to interactive fiction - complex storylines driven by user interaction / decision-making complete with snazzy graphics and sound effects. One complaint that hardcore IF fans have about such derivations from the old school plain text game is that developers often get so caught up in designing the graphics and recording the sound effects that the story line, the most important part of a true interactive fiction game, gets lost in the shuffle.

The difference between such videogames and true IF might be likened to the difference between a book and the movie based on it. You might get some enjoyment out of the flick, but if you want the real story, you pick up the book. Suzanne Britton, author of The World of Interactive Fiction, describes IF as, "the interactive equivalent of a good book. In other words, text-based, parser-driven interactive fiction."

Britton also created a list of items essential to good IF:

Stephen Granade writes, "Because IF involves storytelling and puzzle-solving, it tends to emphasize thought over action, a boon for people who like to play computer games but don't like reflex-dependent ones like Quake." (Brass Lantern)

One of the key differences between true IF and the Choose Your Own Adventure type hypertext fiction is the manipulability of the game through user decisions. In addition to the story itself, one of the most important aspects of IF is the puzzle-solving dimension: you have to figure out how to open a locked door or score a needed object from another character in the game. Your angle in attacking such problems will influence the rest of your game.

This puzzle-solving aspect is the primary distinction between IF and hypertext fiction: hypertext fiction presents choices - you click your choice and the story continues. With IF the story is created through your actions and instructions, allowing more flexibility and a greater range of story directions. This flexiblity and range coupled with a good story and intriguing puzzle is what creates the immersibility of the game: the more intriquing the storyline, the more mind-boogling the puzzles, the more likely you are to be sucked into the story and swept away to another land.

Recommended Reading

Playing, Studying and Writing Interactive Fiction
This site by Dr. Jerz offers a great selection of informative links on the basics of IF. Explains the differences between IF and other forms of interactive games, offers instructions for beginning to play IF games, a history of Interactive Fiction, and links for those interested in writing their own IF games.

Brass Lantern: Beginner's Resources
Includes an introduction to IF and a very informative beginner's guide.

The Best of Interactive Fiction
A comprehensive list of shareware & freeware IF games divided by genre (conspiracy theory, science fiction, magic realism, etc.), including reviews, ratings, and descriptions. All are considered good for beginners.

A Beginner's Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction
This site has everything you need to get started, including interpreter's based on your computer system and the game you want to play. Features a pretty large list of games / interpreter's all suited for the beginning IF enthusiast.

Iamcal's Choose Your Own Adverture
Possibly the most bizarre IF-type game out there. (Well... probably not!) It's a weird one. It all starts with a knock on your door: Do You answer it or hide in the bathroom? What makes this game truly strange is that when you eventually come to the end of this maddening adventure, you get to extend the story with your own input. Very strange. (This is more hypertext fiction than IF but still worth a look.)

Choose Your Own Adventure
Features a collection of IF-type stories you can play and like Iamcal's page, when you reach the end of a storyline, it is up to you to add the next step. I played the game Another Monday Morning where I got eaten by sharks, reincarnated in California in the year 2050, where I had to fight the evil-eternal Kevin Costner and his totalitarian regime. My regime of bandits all named Greg were about to invade Hollywood.... when suddenly it was time for my input to the game. damn. This site also allows you to write your own games. Pretty spiffy. (Again, more hypertext fiction than IF.)

Moira at 12:14 PM :: Comments (7) :: ::

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I already have my subject material ready for november and now I'm itching to see if I can get it done.

Posted by: Hashim at September 27, 2004 11:36 PM

Note to self: Post about Nanowrimo on blog ;c)

I need to figure out what I'm going to write this time around! I love the idea of some kind of "new media" creation for my november novel!

Posted by: Moira at September 28, 2004 6:45 PM

This is probably the best blog entry on interactive fiction that I have read. Great job, Moira!

Posted by: ChrisU at October 6, 2004 12:46 PM

Thanks, Chris! Are you exploring interactive fiction for your individual project?

Posted by: moira at October 6, 2004 1:54 PM

Yeah, actually, I have already started writing/coding an IF game for my project.

I'm a little stuck though, as to what direction I want to take for the plot; at first I was designing the game mostly to provide the player with a lot of exploration, but now I'm starting to consider adding some kind of solid plotline.

The setting is a part of the SHU campus, and I'm adding in some fantasy elements to make it interesting, but... I'm not sure whether or not I should add a certain task for the player, such as finding a lost valuable or something like that.

Posted by: ChrisU at October 6, 2004 9:40 PM

I like the idea of having to find something in particular as part of the search. I don't know how much more difficult that would make your coding of the game but it would probably add something interesting to the game, especially if it was something distinctly Seton Hill (like having to grab a copy of the Setonian in order to proceed in the game or... eh, something like that ;c)

You know... I've heard some stories about Maura hall having a haunted elevator! Maybe you could add that in!

Where did you find information on coding IF games?

Posted by: moira at October 7, 2004 11:51 AM

Thanks for the ideas; the one about the Setonian is especially cool, since I'm working on the paper now. ;)

Oh, and I originally found the coding information for IF by reading Neha's blog entry about IF and following the link to Dr. Jerz' academic weblog. He has some links there that lead to a downloadable tutorial and the software needed to program the games.

Check it out:

Posted by: ChrisU at October 7, 2004 5:23 PM
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