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Interactive Fiction Then and Now 180

Flipkin writes "Interactive Fiction was immensely popular in the 80s and believe it or not has a strong, albeit small, following today. MobyGames takes a look at the origins and history of Interactive Fiction and where it is heading." These games really were some of the best I've ever played.
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Interactive Fiction Then and Now

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  • by RockModeNick ( 617483 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:02AM (#15189210)
    Were my first interractive fiction, I used to love those. Especially the ones where you could die really easily.
    • by voice_of_all_reason ( 926702 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:16AM (#15189279)
      The best ones had the endings derived totally on luck, where even choosing the most logical and safe path would lead to your untimely demise. I liked that Packard guy who wrote the later ones (shiny covers). The earlier editions had stuff like "To run from the bear, turn to page 37. To fight him off with your fists, turn to page 129". And you always knew the endings were in the back :)
      • TSR produced a short-lived D&D-based series of books that were actually mini RPGs. There was a tearout character sheet/bookmark in the front, you rolled up your character, and then you started reading. You'd get up to a part where you had to pick a lock or fight a monster. Depending on your stats and the die roll, it'd tell you to turn to different pages. It made the whole Choose Your Own Adventure thing more interesting because you could sit down and go through the same book/story multiple times with d
        • by ronfar ( 52216 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:50AM (#15189475) Journal
          I have one, Knight of the Living Dead []. It's pretty well written, by some guy named Allen Varney []. I loved some of the dialogue in that game.. oh, and the neat picture of the one vampire lady taking a bath...

          Now, Tunnels and Trolls [] made this their focus for a while. I have a ton of Solitare dungeons for T&T.

          Chaosium had their Alone Against series, though I think there were only two, Alone Against the Wendigo and Alone Against the Dark, I have both. Pagan Publishing published a similar solitare scenarion Alone on Halloween [] which I do not have, and looking at the current price probably never will.

          Oh, and there is something called Fighting Fantasy [] which is apparently British, so I missed out on that.

          Still, being an angry loner as a teenager really paid off for me, as you can see....

        • by PatrickThomson ( 712694 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @10:03AM (#15189544)
          In practice though, nobody did them. Why? because a failed luck stat either lead to death or a fight, and a failed fight lead to death. Noone's going to go back to the start of the book because they rolled a 5.
    • The CYOA books themselves were pretty poor, I found. I liked Jackson and Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy series, at least early on; later, they succumbed to serious monster inflation. It was possible to complete Citadel of Chaos with hardly any fighting at all, if you were smart about it. Later books threw monsters at you non-stop.

      I was a huge fan of the Lone Wolf series. Stomped through like twenty of those things. No magical weapon I ever had in any game ever came close to the Sommerswerd. It should have

      • by _|()|\| ( 159991 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @11:11AM (#15190007)
        I was a huge fan of the Lone Wolf series.

        The author of the Lone Wolf series has generously allowed many of them to be published on line [], free of charge.

        • The author of the Lone Wolf series has generously allowed many of them to be published on line, free of charge.

          This makes me very happy indeed.

          However, reading through... I must have missed that rule about only ever carrying two weapons. I seem to remember having been a bit of a pack rat with those things. Not that I ever used any of them except the Sommerswerd, but I always had them. I feel I have dishonoured the Order and must do it properly this time. It's as good an excuse as any to do so, after all

    • Man, you've just unleashed a tide of nostalgia by reminding me of Deathtrap Dungeon. I can picture that multi-eyed monster on the cover and the descriptions of foul-smelling corridors and poisonous balls of mould.

      Did anybody else ever read the Nintendo Adventure Books []? They were quite big back in junior school, I can remember them being featured at a book fair in our assembly hall and we all used to swap them with eachother.

    • "Especially the ones where you could die really easily."

      I had a set where - no matter what set of choices I made - I always was killed by ninjas. No, seriously; "Oh no, there's a tornado outside! Do you: get into the storm cellar (turn to page 54 and be killed by ninjas hiding in the storm cellar) or face it head on (turn to page 86 and be killed by ninjas falling out of the tornado)?

      Madness, I tell you.
    • Best damn adventure book ever published: Murder in Irliss, published way way back in 1982. I used to spend hours with friends playing it. Can't find much info about it on the web, but if you like adventure books, find a copy!


    • Were my first interractive fiction, I used to love those. Especially the ones where you could die really easily.

      I loved those as a kid, but my "must explore every possible alternative" compulsion would always result in having about a dozen post-it notes sticking out to mark my path backward for when I eventually hit a dead-end (good or bad, didn't matter, I'd still backtrack and take the next path).

      Then I learned the concept of reverse indexing, and could burn through one of those suckers in under an h
    • "Were my first interractive fiction, I used to love those. Especially the ones where you could die really easily."

      When I was in fifth grade (1988... I only mention that because I think the hooplah over D&D has died down since then.) I showed one of these books to my teacher. She basically said "I won't have anything to do with Dungeons and Dragons" and wouldn't have anything to do with me the rest of the day. I tried correcting her by telling her that it was a sci-fi set in space and had nothing to do
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:03AM (#15189220)
    How can you write an article about IF and not mention MUD's, which continue to be popular even today? These games not only continue the text-based adventure tradition, but they also allow for interaction with other players within the text "world."

    -Eric (former alum of the Kobra MUD)

    • If by "interaction with other players" you mean "more prick-waving dick-fights", then yes.
    • by mgblst ( 80109 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:54AM (#15189500) Homepage
      I can't believe they didn't post an screenshots!
    • I remember Kobra, used to be a great MUD :-)
      • It's been a few years since I've played. I wonder if that annoying C3PO is still on Kobra Station, still being chased down and killed by players who've finally had enough.


        • I wonder if that annoying C3PO is still on Kobra Station, still being chased down and killed by players who've finally had enough.

          Not sure, but you've got _me_ wondering now. Is the creature known as The Lag still lurking in the streets of Ankh-Morpork, there to be slain by players frustrated with network latency?

          ... it's been six years, dammit. Do NOT get back into that habit!

          ... aaarrrrrrrgggghhhhhhhhhtelnet

          • Man, I'll still never forget how hard it was to get a lightsaber in that game on your own (beneath 19th level). My biggest moment of frustration was double-teaming that enslaved jedi working as a pump jockey on that one planet, only to have him explode on us when we finally killed him. That was a damn cruel joke on the designer's part!


        • Hehehe, I do recall a newyear's eve when an arch with a sense of humor set C3PO to aggressive. Didn't last long, fun tho, having him attack players only to run away scared...

          (Comming to think of it quite a few Jedi and arches were playing little pranks that new-year's eve, that was a good party, not as good as some of the Kremlin parties, but pretty good)...
    • I don't think there's a whole lot of similarity between MUDs and IF, other than that they're both text-based. MUDs resemble IF no more than Everquest resembles Myst.
  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:04AM (#15189227) Homepage Journal
    > L
    You are on slashdot.
    You can see the headlines.

    > Read headlines
    There are 12 old articles.

    > N
    You are in the mysterious future.
    There is 1 article here.

    > RTFA
    I'm sorry, you cannot do that.

    > open article
    You open the article in the mysterious future.

    > L
    It is empty in the comments section, You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

    • >open article
      Nothing to see here, please move along

      >move along
      Its Not News, It's Fark.Com!

      >disconnect internets
      ATH0~~~#@)@#)#_Q)#$(@#[NO CARRIER]
    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @10:58AM (#15189898)
      It is empty in the comments section, You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

      > make post in comments section

      First post - YOU WIN!

    • Awesome post, here's my take on it.


      You are at the Slashdot home page. There are 12 old articles here.

      >Read article 1

      Hmm. It seems this same story was posted on Digg yesterday. You've already read it.

      > Read article 2

      As you scan the headline, you realize you read it on 2 days ago. Oh well, better luck next time.

      > Read article 3

      You're in luck! It's a flamebait piece by Dvorak about how the internet will explode in 2012..literally. Unless Microsoft saves
  • Go to page 177.

    Page 177. You are in the future. [Describes grim future]. You are affecting events around you which causes a collapse in time space. No longer will you be able to get back to your friends or save the planet from [insert name of evil man]. Game over.

    Oh boy, those were the days!

    Seriously though, they had some really cool sci-fi/fantasy in those books, pretty much as good as any conan book or similar.
  • by mccalli ( 323026 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:08AM (#15189239) Homepage
    MobyGames takes a look at the origins and history of Interactive Fiction and where it is heading.

    I can tell you that. Currently it is in a maze of twisty passages, all alike...


  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:12AM (#15189259) Homepage Journal
    You have:

    no tea

    • I am so embarrassed that it took me several seconds to place the reference.
    • And don't forget the thing that my aunt gave me that I don't know what it is.
    • Better yet... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by meringuoid ( 568297 )
      Later in that same game...

      You have:

      no tea

      I am convinced that this started life as a bug. The 'no tea' joke was great, but the 'no tea' item led to weirdness. Then they added the 'common sense' line to cover for the workaround to stop people doing things like dropping the no tea. Then someone did some really bad acid and decided to incorporate it into the plot as a puzzle...

      • "I am convinced that this started life as a bug. The 'no tea' joke was great, but the 'no tea' item led to weirdness."

        Funny, I always thought that little gag started life as somebody getting coffee from a coffee dispenser. "Well... supposedly it's coffee.. but it isn't. Hey, check this out! I have both coffee and no coffee!" "That sounds like something Douglas Adams would say!"

        You might be right, but I didn't get this joke until I tried the coffee machine at the train station.
  • Some good amateur IF (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:15AM (#15189270)
    Try Metamorphoses [] and Photopia []. The former is known for its diverse ways of solving the puzzles; the latter is known for its nonlinear plot, touching story, and controversial lack of influence over ultimate outcomes. (Slight spoilers in the Wikipedia entry [].)
    • Then let me add Spider and Web []. Some of the puzzles are a little tough, but for many of them the game setting works as a built-in walkthrough without making you feel like you've failed or breaking you out of the story's atmosphere.
      • Spider and Web is memorable for the extraordinary way the story is told, and for the impact this has on the main puzzle. Understanding and "solving" it at exactly the right time is one of the gaming memories I'm most fond of.
      • Spider and Web absolutely rules for the utterly awesome solution to escape from the interrogation room. Brilliant. I would repeat it here but it's just so deliciously good that I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone.
    • Just to clarify: the way Photopia is told is very non-linear (fragments of a story that only make sense when the last one is revealed), but the gaming experience itself is very linear. Actually, it is so linear that some people have argued that Photopia is not a game but a merely a story where you press Next regularly. (This is wrong: there are puzzles, though not very hard.)

      Photopia is very powerful, a dramatic short story that haunts you for a long time. Another of my best gaming memories.
    • I'm also a fan of "Shade" by Andrew Plotkin. It's a nice, smallish one-room game with fantastic atmosphere.
  • Adventure (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tedgyz ( 515156 ) * on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:20AM (#15189295) Homepage
    Playing Adventure on a PDP-11 at the local library was the primary reason I got into computers. Now, as a Software Architect with 20 years experience, I can safely say that computer games did me good.

    I just saw a great sig on another thread:

    You are in a maze of twisted little posts, all alike.
    • I am certain that the need for focus and persistence to complete the game of Adventure (and later a number of Infocom titles) served me well in my computing career. I started programming in 1972 and later specialized in Software Testing and Software Quality Assurance.

      I found that software testing is like playing a game of Adventure:

      • Adventure: Explore cave and collect treasure.
      • Testing: Explore code and collect bugs.

      There are lots of little treasures (low-priority bugs), but once in a while I'd disc

      • Kudos to you. Good QA engineers are very hard to come by. I've only worked directly with one. It is not a popular career path.

        I used to have FORTRAN printouts of DUNGEON (eventually Zork). It was the first open source game. :-)
  • For The Escapist issue 7, I wrote " > Read Game," a similar article about the history of text adventures and current trends in interactive fiction.
  • Grues (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:27AM (#15189330) Homepage
    I'll always remember the line

    It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

    It always excited me, as back then it was the only sort of sex I could get.

    Come to think of it, that still is.

  • Ahab: LFM [White Whale] need rezzers pst
  • Good games (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rekolitus ( 899752 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:32AM (#15189366)

    Myself, I reccomend Return to Ditch Day [] and The Plant [] (as well as Adam Cadre's works [].)

    Anyone else played these?

  • I haven't played most of the games mentioned in the article, but there's one specific type on interactive fiction I love: Sierra ones.

    I didn't have an Internet connection until I was 16 or so, so I spent a lot of time playing these damn games. Police Quest 1/2, Leisure Suit Larry 1/2/3, Space Quest 1/2. In my opinion these are some of the best games ever made. I recall at the age of 5 spending half an hour guessing the answers to the 'age verification' questions in LSL1. That game rocked, despite me not und
    • I recall at the age of 5 spending half an hour guessing the answers to the 'age verification' questions in LSL1.

      I downloaded LSL1 last year.

      It started asking the age verification questions. I stare blankly. My answers convince it that I'm three years old.

      No, I'm TWENTY-THREE you stupid game. It's 2005! You have to be like forty to know about all that crap these days!

      You'd think they'd have it phone home over the net to get updated questions each year. Lack of foresight, huh?

  • by MythMoth ( 73648 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:39AM (#15189403) Homepage
    I recently read "Twisty Little Passages" ( [] ) by Nick Montfort which despite its horribly self-consciously academic approach (it's all about developing a "theory" of IF for lit. crit. purposes) still has some interesting sections about the history of IF and comparing the various approaches to the field against each other.

    It also introduced me to my favourite work of IF, "For a change" by Dan Schmidt, which is really proof that the genre has more to offer than you might have expected. He's a genius, and it's beautiful.

    Give it a go online here: [] (requires Java) or download the ZCode files from Dan's site: []
  • by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @09:50AM (#15189479) Journal
    Wow, I'm really surprised that this article could completely miss online IF (otherwise known as MUDs). Not only are there commercial entities successfully running online IF (such as Iron Realms [] it allows for a much larger story to be told.

    The big problem with IF is that you can't do whatever you want. You're limited to what the creator was able to forsee and program. Not so with MUDs, which are able to have long and rich stories. The reason MUDs are able to overcome this limitation is that they have staff running it all the time, who are constantly adding new code updates and story updates.

    An example of a player run storyline is in ArmageddonMUD [], which is based on Dark Sun. In it a player playing a dwarf decided to free his fellow dwarves who were slaves in the obsidian mines, and lay seige to the city-state that had kept them enslaved. This was entirely thought up by players, and with the staff's help, done by the players.

    MMOs sometimes attempt to be roleplaying games, to enable an interactive story to be told. But they're even further limited by the fact that, you can't do what you want. You can only do what animations have been coded. Again, MUDs don't have this limitation, with any action being able to be provided by emoting. [] MUDs have the advantage over IFs in that they are multiuser. Whereas in an IF there's no-one but yourself.

    So I'm very surprised that something discussing interactive fiction, including it's future (which IMO are MUDs, with more and more being created every day while others continue to be run for over 10 years), didn't feel the need to mention MUDs.
    • The big problem with IF is that you can't do whatever you want.

      That and multiplayer are what separate IF from MUDs.

    • Bleh.

      I've played some MUDs. Even wrote a browser-based MUD-like game. I guess they *can* be IF-like, but I don't think that's as common. I've found MUDs to have room descriptions that are way too long, and intereactions/responses that aren't nearly long enough. It's like the effort goes into room creation, not gameplay. Plus, I don't really want to commit to one game for a long period of time. Double plus, authors of IF can work on a single game and make it work right, where MUDs just keep on going, with va
    • Also, unless things have changed dramatically these past few years, the parsers in a MUD are nowhere near as what you get in most Interactive Fiction. Well a MUD understand what you mean if you try to PUT LARGE ROCK INTO THE SMALL BOX THEN PUT THE BOX ON THE TABLE AND OPEN IT. ? I mean -- unless that *exact* interaction is required, it's not going to do anything in a MUD. With IF languages, as long as your box is a container, has a capacity large enough to hold the rock, and there is a table set up as a pla
    • It takes time and energy to staff a mud, manage it, and adapt it. As more and more mud admins get careers, kids, etc.... they have less time to maintain them. Sometimes they are handed off to new talent, other times they become footnotes in history due to neglect. They'll never go away all-together, but I think they are still fading away.

  • Interactive Fiction (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mknewman ( 557587 ) * on Monday April 24, 2006 @10:07AM (#15189557)
    I, like many people, started playing Zork at college instead of studying in my CS classes. Later, the Infocom games were lots of fun on my old Atari 800, and even today I still have all of the Infocom games on my PDA, there are a number of PD ZMachine interperters, I use ZipARM on my PocketPC. One thing I didn't see mentioned was the horribly abortive attempt for Infocom to break out of the game business into the database arena with Cornerstone, which eventually brought the company down. Just think, if they had made a go of it Office and maybe even M$ might be afterthoughts.
    • the horribly abortive attempt for Infocom to break out of the game business into the database arena with Cornerstone, which eventually brought the company down

      Infocom stuck with text long after King's Quest.

      The problem was and is that reading large blocks of text on screen and just isn't as much fun (for most people) as interacting with fully animated characters and environments.

  • Brain hurts from too much reading. Must click graphics...
  • by wrecked ( 681366 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @10:15AM (#15189596)
    I play these games on my Palm with Frotz [], a Z-code interpreter. Frotz exists for a variety of platforms, including Unix, Windows CE, GameBoy Advanced, Windows, KDE etc. Many of the interactive fiction games are in Z-code format.
  • by Expert Determination ( 950523 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @10:15AM (#15189597)
    I was an active collector of Infocom games until recently, but I had to give up because (1) I eventually acquired all 35 games and (2) the special edition versions of the game still sell for incredible prices. Check out this [] copy of Starcross that just sold on ebay for $500. People still have fond memories for these great games.
    • Sure, everybody always talks about how well-written the Infocom games were, but the packaging was a stroke of marketing genius. I still have the copy of "Hitchhiker's" that I bought for my Atari 800, with the peril-sensitive sunglasses and the piece of pocket fluff. Hmmm, $500, eh?

      I also have a fair number of issues of The New Zork Times (or whatever they were forced to rename it), and if I look hard enough, I could probably find my "I Got The Babel Fish" t-shirt.
  • by vulgrin ( 70725 )
    Hands down, STILL my favorite game ever. I love CStrike, Oblivion, and Unreal, but no other game affected me so much after I finished it. Its led to my healthy dose of skepticism and paranoia that I have today!

    Definitely go check it out if you are into these at all. I believe there is still a telnet server out there where you could play these games online...
  • What a timely article! Videlectrix [] just released Thy Dungeonman III [] today!

  • The trouble with IF is that not much has changed since the days of Infocom. Here are some features that would definitly be welcome in modern day IF or Z machine interpreters:

    1. Auto mapping - I mean, come on, I still have to map things out on graph paper? An automapping feature would be welcome.

    2. Notes section - OK, how about games that automaticly generate notes that are accessable from a tab or button. So when the wizard tells me "Bring the magic crystal to me, and I will give you the Staff of Ages", a n
    • In the modern day and age, I shouldn't have to write things down on paper to play a computer game!
      Yeah, and the games make you read! And type, too! All I should have to do is click on the pretty pictures.
    • Automap is implemented in the nitfol interpreter, but it's a bit tricky to use, because it relies on you being able to find the global variable that is used to represent the player's location. It works pretty good though.

      GUEMap is an external mapping app that can scan a transcript for you and build a map, IIRC.
    • Younger generation, say hello to older generation.

      Older generation, meet younger generation.

      You don't want to have to write things down, take notes, or make alternate representative models of a surrounding to solve a puzzle?

      Either the younger generation is far more intelligent than the older generation, or far more lazy.

      Survey says??

      • Except that I am part of the older generation. I was a huge fan of the Infocom back in the day. I have played probably over 100 IF games over the years. I probably still play 4 - 5 new IF games each year.

        A teletype interface was great back in the day, but that isn't a good interface anymore. Manually mapping on paper adds nothing to gameplay, it is not fun or a challenge, it is just a hassle. When I find out the password is "52390" in the game, it is not fun or challenging to write "Secret Password: 52390"

        • Since we're now delving into the realm of personal opinion and subjectivity, I disagree completely.

          The tactile component of the maps and notes are very important. They allow the player to transcend the exegesis in a physically immersive way that computer-assisted gameplay simply cannot provide. In fact, I would argue that having a computer keep track of this information spoils the suspension of disbelief by introducing -- in most cases, and with the exception of the teletype itself -- anachronistic elemen
  • Here's one I did not too long ago called
    Eric the Power-Mad DM [] about playing D&D back in the early 80's with a megalomaniac dongeon master.

    Here's a Javascipt interpreter for the Old School Scott Adams games []

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.