What Is Interactive Fiction?
Back in 1977, Will Crowther and Don Woods set off a craze amongst computer gamers (the few that then existed) with their game Adventure, which featured an enormous cave to explore, magic words that teleported you from room to room, and a two-word parser that could understand English commands. Immediately, programmers set out to do Adventure one better.
Among those were a group of MIT computer science students who designed a more powerful parser and a more intricate game by the name of Zork. The game proved so popular that it enabled the students to start their own company, Infocom, which created over 30 renowned games such as Planetfall, Trinity, and several Zork sequels before its untimely demise in 1989.
The corporate gaming industry has long since moved on to multiple-CD full-motion-video games starring the likes of Mark Hamill, or "adventures" where the interactivity is limited to seeing how many aliens you can kill. But the idea of computer games that use the written word to create a more truly interactive story is far from dead -- today, dozens of individuals continue to write and distribute interactive fiction, primarily via the internet FTP site at ftp.ifarchive.org, which maintains a huge i-f archive (including a version of the original pre-Infocom Zork.). The Usenet groups rec.arts.int-fiction and rec.games.int-fiction maintain a healthy community of i-f players who sponsors their own yearly competition in short i-f writing; the field even has its own newsletter, XYZZYnews.
Interactive fiction games like the ones available on this page don't have computer-generated graphics or sound effects, but then again, neither does a novel. Both rely, as Infocom put it in one of their most famous ads, on "the world's most powerful graphics technology" -- your brain. If you have one of your own, you should enjoy putting it to work exploring the world of interactive fiction.
I-F by Neil deMause:Lost New York: When you got on that ferry to the Statue of Liberty, you never thought you'd end up here...
"*****"--Baf's Guide to Interactive Fiction
"Ambitious and richly detailed." --Roger Giner-Sorolla
"One of the best games I've played in recent years, period." --Dave Seybert
"A highly detailed little gem of a game." --Colm McCarthy
"Probably the greatest superhero adventure game ever made." --Robb, Trotting Krips
"Rather annoying. ... On the flipside, I did not die while playing this game." --Bryan, Trotting Krips
"Smaller and tighter than the first entry in the series, and funnier as well. ... An immensely amusing half hour or so." --Baf's Guide to Interactive Fiction
"The maze is horrific." --a beta-tester
"A tiny little weird game." --Baf's Guide to Interactive Fiction
Other I-F links:
XyzzyNews: The unofficial magazine of interactive fiction. Featuring a great many articles by yours truly.
Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive: Not every recent I-F game is reviewed here, but darn near close to it.
Brass Lantern: Hosted by the inimitable Stephen Granade, author of the inimitable "Losing Your Grip."
Feelies.org: Honest-to-goodness real-life maps and manuals and other goodies for a whole mess of recent I-F games, all at reasonable prices.