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Introduction

Interactive fiction or IF (also known as text adventures) are a genre of computer adventure games where the player types in commands and receives text responses describing their environment and how their actions have affected the IF world.

They have been around since the 1970s and during the 1980s they were commercially popular but have long since fallen out of fashion. In fact, there's nothing funnier than sitting a Generation Z-er down in front of one and observing their complete incomprehension and boredom. Nowadays there is a dedicated IF community online still producing new games. It also somewhat overlaps with retrogaming.

The player types in what they want to do - minimally a verb eg JUMP or a verb and noun eg THROW AXE; adjectives can be used to disambiguate between objects eg TAKE GREEN KEY and prepositions allow more complex commands eg TIE ROPE TO TREE. The commands are interpreted by the parser and the appropriate response is displayed. The player then types in another command and the cycle continues, with the player exploring the environment and solving puzzles. Most IF is not in real time (ie the game will wait indefinitely until a command is entered) although there are exceptions. Some IF games do employ graphics, for example an image of the current location, but these are not necessary to play the game.

The game world is made up of a number of discrete locations ('You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building') which may contain various objects ('There is tasty food here') that the player can manipulate. Movement from location to location is usually by typing in cardinal directions ('GO NORTH'). The new location is then described, any objects present are listed, as well as anything else relevant happening in the game world ('The dwarf throws a nasty little axe at you, misses, curses, and runs away').



Common IF Commands

Some of the most common and generally universal commands are:

Movement commands - GO NORTH (EAST, SOUTHWEST, DOWN etc... usually abbreviated to N, E, SW, D etc), IN, OUT, ENTER HOUSE, GO THROUGH GREEN DOOR etc...
LOOK (also REDESCRIBE or just R) - describes the current location.
INVENTORY (usually abbreviated to I) - lists what the player is carrying.
GET or TAKE - pick up an object.
DROP - drop object.
EXAMINE (usually abbreviated to X) - get more information about something.
BRIEF, VERBOSE - the level of detail shown when a location is described.
SAVE, RESTORE - save current game to be resumed later.
QUIT - end current game.
Action commands - PUSH, PULL, MOVE, OPEN, CLOSE, LOCK, UNLOCK, WEAR, REMOVE, SEARCH, BREAK, TIE, LIGHT etc etc etc...



Example Transcript

This transcript is taken from the Inform version of Countdown to Doom by Peter Killworth, slightly modified and originally published in his 1984 book How to Write Adventure Games. Player entries are in caps.


Countdown to Doom
V1.03 Copyright (c) 2000 by Peter D. Killworth
Release 1 / Serial number 000920 / Inform v6.21 Library 6/10

Control room
You are standing in what used to be the control room of your spaceship, but after the attack it looks more like a junkyard. The only usable exit is north, as the others are covered by a delicate patina of squashed solid-state circuitry.
A ruined console lies to one side, barely operating. Only one button seems to be functional.
There is some explosive on the floor, with a self-igniting fuse.

>PRESS BUTTON
Nothing happens.

>GET BUTTON
That's fixed in place.

>TAKE EXPLOSIVE
Taken.

>GO NORTH

Cargo hold
You are in what used to be the engine room of your ship, only in the landing the cargo hold has been concertinaed into it. What's left of the motor will not, alas, be responsible for any more flights. There is a port south, and a doorway leading northeast to the outside world.
The door to the northeast was jammed on landing and won't open.

>NE
The door to the northeast was jammed on landing and won't open.

>OPEN DOOR
I'd like to know how, too!

>THROW EXPLOSIVE
You throw the explosive a short distance.

>GET IT
Taken.

>LIGHT FUSE
The fuse starts to burn.

>DROP EXPLOSIVE
Dropped.
Time before ship collapse is 390.

>S

Control room
A ruined console lies to one side, barely operating. Only one button seems to be functional.
From next door there is a loud bang!

>N

Cargo hold
The door to the northeast is off its hinges but still blocks the way.

>NE
The door to the northeast is off its hinges but still blocks the way.

>PUSH DOOR
CRASH! The door falls outwards onto the ground, leaving the way clear.

>NE

Landing area
You are standing under a dull copper sun in a wide open clearing where your ship crashed. To the northeast, north and northwest lies an evil-looking (and smelling!) swamp, while further round a track climbs steeply up the lower tongue of a glacier. Westwards there seems to be jungle, while south an opening in the mountains reveals a valley. Southeast there is a path into the mountains, and a narrow path wanders east through cliffs to skirt round the swamp. To the southwest lies your ship.
There is a heavy mangled door here.

>GET DOOR
I think that door has had enough of you!

>E

Burnt ground
You're at a flat area of burnt ground, the blue-white dust from which rises and falls as you walk. Cliffs to the west fall away to the swamp. Paths lead northeast, east, and southwest. A large metallic cube, somehow rippling faintly as you look at it, has what is poorly described as a way in to the south. A wide rocky hole has been scooped down into the earth.
There is a small jelly-like blob here.

>GET BLOB
As you touch the blob, a thousand volts pass through you. Tragically, this comes as a great shock for you.


You have departed this world, alas.


*** You have died ***


In that game you scored 0 out of a possible 325, in 18 turns.

Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game, UNDO your last move, give the FULL score for that game or QUIT?




What Now?

To explore further you can use the sub-menu on the left...

What my favourite IF games are.
A guide to playing IF on modern PCs.
Applications available for writing IF.
A brief history of IF.
The various companies that produced IF during its heyday.
MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) are somewhat related. Think IF crossed with MMORPGs and you get the general idea.



Links

The Interactive Fiction Archive

A massive archive of freely downloadable games and files. Here you'll find games, maps, interpreters, authoring tools, adverts, articles, utilities and more.

The Interactive Fiction Database

A Wiki-style database of IF reviews and recommendations.

Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive

An excellent site of IF games categorized in every way you can conceive, plus reviews. A good site for newbies. (Currently down)

IFWiki

A regularly maintained Wiki of everything IF. Excellent.

intfiction.org

The interactive fiction Community Forum.

Brass Lantern

A well written general IF website with numerous fascinating articles. Also good for beginners.

XYZZYnews

An interactive fiction magazine. Apparently no longer updated but still interesting.

SPAG

Another magazine style website devoted to IF with issues dating back to 1994. Not updated very often nowadays though.

Planet IF

A collection of interactive fiction related blog posts. Dive in.