Slightly Off-Topic: Interactive Fiction

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Some of you might remember the computer stone age, when the majority of computer games were text-based. Interestingly enough the games from these days are still pretty popular today. Perhaps not in the mainstream but there are still gamers who enjoy playing roguelikes or text adventures (aka interactive fiction).

When I was a kid I loved adventure games. I actually even tried to program them myself. My first attempts were quite terrible, but it was fun forcing the computer to do one’s bidding.

Recently I have been thinking about things I loved to do in the past and which I don’t do anymore. Writing software is one of those things. I never was a good programmer, but I still enjoyed coding small programs. I also wrote a lot of short stories when I was a kid, mostly using my grandpa’s typewriter. Ah, those were the days!

While I was basking in nostalgia I thought it could be a lot of fun to write my own adventure game. And in a way, these text-based games are not that far off from the role-playing games I play. Doing some research on the internet I eventually stumbled upon Inform 7.

Inform 7 is a software that allows you to write interactive fiction games using (almost) normal English language. You don’t have to learn a complex programming language, but designing your game comes almost as naturally as writing a story.

Here’s an example from the Inform 7 documentation:

“Cave Entrance”

The Cobble Crawl is a room. “You are crawling over cobbles in a low passage. There is a dim light at the east end of the passage.”

A wicker cage is here. “There is a small wicker cage discarded nearby.”

The Debris Room is west of the Crawl. “You are in a debris room filled with stuff washed in from the surface. A low wide passage with cobbles becomes plugged with mud and debris here, but an awkward canyon leads upward and west. A note on the wall says, ‘Magic word XYZZY’.”

The black rod is here. “A three foot black rod with a rusty star on one end lies nearby.”

Above the Debris Room is the Sloping E/W Canyon. West of the Canyon is the Orange River Chamber.

See, how easy it is? Of course you can’t just write down everything that comes to mind. You still have to follow certain rules, but it’s way easier than to write an adventure game from scratch using conventional programming languages.

So, if you are interested in creating your own interactive fiction, why not check out Inform 7. It’s pretty impressive and free to boot. And if you come up with a cool game of your own, please let me know.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

3 thoughts on “Slightly Off-Topic: Interactive Fiction”

  1. Keep at it! Inform rocks. Old school adventure games are the best. Check out the documentary ‘Get Lamp’.

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