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Interactive Fiction: An Acquired Taste

It’s true that Interactive Fiction is somewhat of an acquired taste. There is a level of engagement that is not overly intuitive to many people–learning how to communicate with the IF game parser can be a challenge, and it can take some practice getting your precise meaning across to the program so that it responds in a meaningful way.

But once a person has mastered three basic skills (how to move through the environment, how to manipulate objects within the environment, and how to interact with characters in the environment), the playability of the games really open up, and the player can start to have a lot of fun. Well-written IF games not only deal with actions that the player should make, but they also deal with actions that might make absolutely no sense from the standpoint of the situational logic within the game–yet are quite entertaining to the player nonetheless. (Seasoned IF players love to try different actions and commands just to see how the game will respond, even if those actions or commands do nothing to advance the actual game story.)

Below is a website that provides links to several IF games that you can play online. I recommend that you give them a try, especially if you’ve never played before. The IF experience is quite unlike the modern graphic computer games. If you enjoy reading, solving mental puzzles, and feeling like you have control over a game’s narrative experience, Interactive Fiction may just be your cup of tea.

5 Great Interactive Fiction Games You Can Play Online Right Now

Getting from Here to There: A Matter of Scale

April 22, 2012 1 comment

One of the great joys of playing Interactive Fiction games is in the discovery and exploration of the physical space or actual play environment of the game. Years ago when I played the Colossal Cave Adventure for the first time (on the Data General Eclipse computer at the office after hours), I delighted in drawing maps for all the locations and paths that were available. When I got to the maze area, where room exits looped back into the same room, the value of the mapping process became very clear. Those skills were well utilized as I grew into the Scott Adams adventure games, and later the collection of games from Infocom. Sketching out the location boxes with their associated path connections became second nature as a necessary Interactive Fiction player skill. (I am often surprised when I teach Interactive Fiction to college game design students, how few of them already know or readily develop the map-making skill set.)

Developing maps for IF is a slightly different process, though, that requires more than drawing boxes with interconnecting lines. There is the idea of location scale and relative size in IF games, and the developer needs to make some important decisions before committing to computer code. Locations are not all uniform in size (when we imagine our settings), and logical layout is not the same as physical layout. When dealing with fictional settings, there is some latitude for interpretation (though the good designers have a very clear picture of their environment before starting to code). However, there is no room for creative interpretation when attempting to recreate historical settings with absolute fidelity to the historical reality.

That’s our situation with the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. A large part of the questions could be framed around geographic granularity: as we build the maps, what is the smallest unit of measurement we should be using? (A square yard seems reasonable, actually.) There will be the typical Interactive Fiction flex in the maps; for example, walking down one side of a street may result in more “stops” along the way than walking up the other side. That would have much to do with the buildings or other pathways located on each side. But the point is, we need to make consideration of the space or area that needs to be “reserved” for game locations in which action may (or may not) take place.

I’m making my sketches now, and that will be one of the first pieces of the game that will be ready for review (we may even put that up on Playfic for people to try out). Do you have any suggestions regarding map making? Is that something you enjoy doing? If you’d like to contribute in some way on this (or any other) piece of the project, please drop me a line.

And don’t forget to check out the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative Kickstarter project.

PlayFic: Implenting Inform 7 on the Web

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

We’ve come across the PlayFic website, and it looks to be a very good tool for building Interactive Fiction through Inform 7 to place on the web. We’ve already built a few test programs, and the implementation works quite well. While we haven’t decided whether or not we’ll place “in progress” versions (perhaps the navigation component) of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative online through PlayFic, we definitely will be implementing a version of the program there.