Interactive Fiction Resources

September 20, 2006

Despite literally decades of declarations that interactive fiction (IF) is a “dead” art, the form remains alive and well today — indeed, it seems to be only growing in popularity as writers and readers alike discover the surprising breadth of IF’s expressive range. Mainstream publishers, sensing the potential for IF to become another selling point for the Holy Grail that is the Digital Book, have begun to pay attention, with heavyweights like Random House using online adventures to market new releases. For creators, writing IF has never been easier, and new “natural language” authoring platforms promise to broaden the talent pool in the coming years.

The lingua franca for IF is the “Z-Machine,” a flexible hypertext software engine developed back in the late 70s (find Z-Machine interpreters here). Everything from classics like Zork to new releases by authors such as Emily Short run on some variant of a Z-Machine, so make sure whatever platform you use can compile and output compatible code.

Depending on your comfort level with writing computer code, you have several options when it comes to choosing an authoring tool. Inform 7 (Mac OS X, Windows) is the latest iteration of the Inform series, which is as close to the Microsoft Word of IF as things get. It’s extremely functional, and sports a new, intuitive “natural language” authoring system. I’ve been using it for a while, and believe me, it’s amazing how simple the “code” is to write. Here’s a sample:

East of the Garden is the Gazebo. Above is the Treehouse. A billiards table is in the Gazebo. On it is a trophy cup. A starting pistol is in the cup.

This will create a playable virtual map, telling the Z-Machine where the Gazebo is relative to the Garden, where the Treehouse is, and what’s in the Gazebo. Adding functionality such as timed events, portable objects and conversations with other characters is equally straight-forward, and novices shouldn’t have much trouble putting together a simple adventure soon after installing the program.

For those familiar with writing code for Z-Machines or who just like coding in general, there are several other platforms to look into: TADS (Text Adventure Development System) is a strong multiplatform contender, with full installations available for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows. You can also check out a variety of programming utilities at the IF Archive.

Beginners can also check out the rec.arts.int-fiction FAQ for more information about getting started.

UPDATED links to resources:

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