Interactive Fiction.

Spider and Web

So I’ve just gotten into it. Strange, in an age where most people are leaving wordy passages and verbose descriptions and >what now? prompts for 3D swordflinging and spectacular lifelike tank-and-airplane crashes. But being an irrepressible gamer and reader both from as early an age I can remember (I have a video from my childhood with mini-me yelling at Mario to jump over the stupid green pipe), text gaming is naturally my element. Besides, one of the first games I completed was a text game – an Alice in Wonderland adaptation that I lost when the 3.86 crashed, and never found again. I thought it was great, a fantastic idea. That was back in, oh I suppose, 1994, so I’m no child of the golden era of text gaming – I really did stumble back into those hedges. I eventually tripped up Quest while doing some of that stumbling, and after MUDding a little as well, I realised how unpolished Alice was, and how much more sophisticated text games could be. Sure, they’re just games, and lots of them are made by ordinary people not in the gaming industry, but even games made of words and prompts can shine. *gleaming letters*. Not ‘shine’ in that sense. I’m using the overused metaphor. But see, that’s exactly what I mean – like art, interactive fiction is open to interpretation and adaptation. If one decides that blinking letters makes a good point, then blinking letters it is, and it doesn’t have to be tacky. (Check out shrapnel, by Adam Cadre for a good example of innovative style.)

Perhaps most importantly: interactive fiction isn’t quite the same as text games – the latter can arguably be said to have its emphasis on the gaming aspect, and the former can arguably be said to focus on the literary aspect. Storytelling, like Cadre says in his (brilliant) game Photopia, where you tell the tale as much as I do. You absolutely have to get the idea out of your head that text games are just made nowadays because they’re considerably easier to code than graphic-driven ones – if there’s one idea we all should do away with, that’s definitely the one. What I have played of interactive fiction leaves me breathless, excited, astonished, addicted. It can be like literature. It can be literature. I’m practically hyperventilating with the absolute expanse of things you do with interactive fiction!

At any rate, you should stop listening – metaphorically speaking – to me fawn over interactive fiction, and try out some of these games… here’s the link to the Frotz interpreter archive. It’s what you need to play the Z-code games, which are all I’m playing at the moment. I’ll move on to TADS and the other kinds of files soon enough. I downloaded the WindowsFrotzInstaller, if that’s any help. Now go to Emily Short’s IF ‘Notables’ listing, where she categorises some of the more significant or prominent games according to Playable Character style and personality, Gameplay and structure, interactivity of NPCs, etc. Very good if you’re into playing unique, stereotype-bending games, which I am.

I’ve played quite a few games, but finished less – some are tough, and some are outright incompatible with my still nooby brain. I *did* manage to finish Andrew Plotkin’s (brilliant) espionage piece Spider and Web with only a small hint about grilles , and that means you should be able to do it too. Just hone your exploratory skills. Pay attention to everything that’s said or described, and examine, search, try everything. Trust me, the chair puzzle alone, when you solve it, is worth all your effort and time. I finished Babel by Michael J. Roberts and Sting of the Wasp by Jason Devlin too; the last took more time than the first, and has a wholly enjoyable streak of malice running through it. *grin* Schadenfreude! Babel, while possessing a rather cliched plot and premise, has sufficiently evocative descriptions that I was wearing a sweater and a jacket and the heater turned up high when I was playing it. Right now I’m handling two activities: playing as Adam Cadre’s delightful little Machiavel of Varicella, and currently swearing at the NPC in Jon Ingold’s Fail-Safe. That last primarily because I’m convinced what I’m stuck on is a guess-the-verb problem more than a real block on my part. Fail-Safe‘s got a very interesting idea working here though, so don’t let my being stuck stop you from checking it out. All games can be found at Baf’s guide to the IF archive… here.

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