Game Development Reference
Writing for Interactive Fiction
J. Robinson Wheeler
19.1 What is IF?
Originally known as text adventures, interactive fiction (IF) holds a unique place in
game writing history, being one of the oldest genres of computer games, predated
only by the original Spacewar, and the undisputed progenitor of all modern interac-
tive storytelling. For more than three decades, IF has continued to make advances
in technology and technique, guided and shaped by very bright and talented writers
and programmers. Some of its early writings still educe a tingling feeling of nostalgia
in gamers across the world:
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
You are standing in an open field west of a white house,
with a boarded front door.
It is pitch black.
You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
• ''Floyd here now!''
• What do you, the detective, want to do next?
Only very recently has IF re-emerged in gaming consciousness and popularity. Its
commercial heyday was a full quarter century ago, when Infocom was producing big-
selling hits like the Zork series and its adaptation of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy . Activision bought the ailing company a few rocky years later (a
business software venture nearly bankrupted Infocom), and the rise of better graphics
cards consigned the text-only adventure game genre to obscurity. To most people,
interactive fiction was “dead.”
What really happened, though, was that the medium was nurtured in obscurity
by an international community of hobbyists, who created a comprehensive FTP (file
transfer protocol) archive of IF games, languages, and compilers and gathered their
collective thoughts on a Usenet discussion group. Electronic magazines promoting