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Interactive fiction

Interactive fiction, often abbreviated as IF, refers to a simulated environment in which players use text commands to control characters. Works in this form can be understood as literary and as computer games. Often the term interactive fiction is used to describe or refer to text adventure games, which are a particular type of adventure game. Sometimes the term IF is used to refer generically to all adventure games, at other times to the games produced by the interactive fiction community rather than game companies.

IF author, developer, and critic Graham Nelson has characterized interactive fiction as "a narrative at war with a crossword puzzle".

Table of contents
1 Text adventure
2 Notable games
3 History
4 Example of an Interactive fiction game
5 See also
6 External links

Text adventure

Text adventures are one of the oldest types of computer game and form a subset of the adventure genre. The player uses text input to control the game and the game state is relayed to the player via text output.

Input is usually provided by the player in the form of simple sentences such as "get key" or "go east" which may be handled by a simple parser. Parsers vary in sophistication; the first text adventure parsers could only handle two-word sentences in the form of verb-noun pairs. Later parsers could handle increasing levels of complexity from sentences such as "open the red box with the green key then go north".

The first adventure games to appear were text adventures (later called interactive fiction), which typically use a verb-noun parser to interact with the user. These were the first things to appear on mainframe computers after Spacewar, evolving from early titles like Hunt the Wumpus and Adventure (Will Crowther, c1975; expanded by Don Woods 1976) to the widely popular Zork series (1979-) which made its way onto the new Apple II as well as most of the other types of personal computers.

Hobbyists of this genre of games generally agree that the best text adventures were produced in the 1980s by Infocom. Activision, who purchased Infocom, has released some games based on Infocom stories such as Zork.

Some companies that were important in bringing out text adventures were Adventure International, Infocom, Level 9, and Melbourne House.

Notable games


The first text adventure game,
Adventure (also called ADVENT, or Colossal Cave), was written in Fortran for the PDP-10, and has since been ported to many other operating systems. It was created by Will Crowther and augmented by Don Woods, with the canonical version being released in 1976.

The popularity of Adventure lead to the wide success of interactive fiction during the late 1970s and the 1980s, when home computers had little, if any, graphics capability.

In the United States, the best-known company producing these games was Infocom, which created the Zork series and many other titles still fondly remembered by countless fans. Another company which published a series of interactive fiction was Adventure International founded by Scott Adams (not the creator of Dilbert).

In the UK the leading companies were Magnetic Scrolls and Level 9. Worth to mention is also Delta 4 and the homebrew company Zenobi.

Today, interactive fiction no longer appears to be commercially viable, but a constant stream of new text adventures is produced by the interactive fiction community using freely available text adventure writing systems, particularly Inform and TADS.

Most of these games can be downloaded for free from the Interactive Fiction Archive (see link at end).

Since 1995 there has been an annual Interactive Fiction Competition (IFComp) for relatively short games. There are also annual XYZZY Awards in various categories, modelled on the Academy Awards.

Two free online newsletters exist: XYZZYnews and SPAG.

Example of an Interactive fiction game

Many IF works are quite difficult, and include a large amount of descriptive text. A transcript of the very ending of one of these games might read:

> look
You are in a big room with tall pillars, to your north 
resides the large doors into the Wikipedia.

> go north The doors are locked. Wait, that makes no sense, Wikipedia is for everyone! Something must be done...

> inventory You are carrying a soda, an umbrella, The Key to All The Information in the Universe, and a little plastic bottle cap.

> unlock door Unlock door with what?

> key The door opens easily and noiselessly, and before you can walk through, there's a mad rush of people who enter the library and begin improving it.

***Your mission is complete!***

Would you like to restore a saved game, restart, or quit?

> quit

See also

External links