All entries for Monday 04 October 2004

October 04, 2004

Time to Traverse Those Twisty Little Passages…

Writing about web page

All modern IF authors may well hate me, now. (Mazes are deeply unfashionable, these days. ) And all non-IF players will be utterly confused.

Ok, you may be asking yourself this:

What is IF?

IF is short for Interactive Fiction.

Of course, that doesn't help. TV is, after all, interactive fiction, since you can switch the damn thing on or off, and change channels. A book in interactive fiction in that you can turn its pages, or if you are in certain loony fundamentalist sects (not that I am passing judgement, or anything…), toss into a burning pyre. Pornography, done well, is definitely interactive fiction. In fact, many of the best works of official 'IF' have succeeded in the remarkable act of being either uninteractive, or nonfictional.

Crazy people, eh?

Quite. Interactive fiction is really the new name for text adventure. After the commercial programmers finished with the medium, it ended up being taken up by a whole culture of hobbiests. And being mostly students, it was neccessary to add a new level of pretension to the proceedings. Suddenly, they weren't making games anymore, not least adventure games. They were making art.

But still, the basic medium has remained the same. In broad terms, then:

Interactive Fiction/Text Adventure describes a computer program which tells a story or simulates a scene by mainly ascii text, responding to commands given in the form of typed instructions from the user/player.

Maybe I've been a little too cynical.

Because, despite the protestations of the old nostalgics, the new stuff is quite good. Very good in fact, and often rivaling the old Infocom days in terms of quality. But the new works are different, and you need to play them with different expectations than when you play the older ones, or really, any sort of game.

An important list of points for new players.

1. Winning is not the point of IF.
While all games tend to have end points, the point of IF is the experience, not the destination. A good IF author accounts for unusual responses, and part of the fun is looking for them. You are deeply damaging your gameplay experience if you do not EXAMINE every item, person, animal, abstract entity etc.

2. The game is not real.
A counter to the previous, really. While IFs attempt to be 'real life', they are in the end simply computer programs. While you are quite free (in how many other types of game can you use the command SING?), you are ultimately constrained. Specifically, the instructions you enter need to be in the form: > VERB (OBJECT)

3. Do not expect.
IF is young, really young in the scheme of things. Much of it is experimental. There is a great chance of you finding something unexpected. Or an almighty bug. Try and play as many as you can.

4. If you are unhappy, complain.
Almost all IF is free, but current IF development works closely with those who play. (Especially since the community is so small that most players are authors.) If you have a problem, or a suggestion, ask in or But be nice.

So why am I talking about this now?

Because IFComp 2004 has just started. IFComp is a competition for IF, which happens annually and is judged by a public vote. That's right. You can go to the website right now, and download the games, play them, and submit a vote.

Do you have an excuse not to?

IFComp Website

Actually, maybe you do. Its a good idea to play a few 'classic' works first to get the hang of the engine. You can find some at:

Best of IF


Emily Short's IF Page

Hop to it!

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