Interactive fiction

Every once in awhile, I duck into the world of interactive fiction (IF; also known as the world of “text adventures,” for those of you who are appropriately old-school), one of my all-time favorite computer game genres, to get an idea of what’s new in the field and what’s been happening. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read that Wikipedia link; it gives a much better summary than I could and goes into fantastic detail.)

I love interactive fiction, going way back—we had a bunch of Infocom games when I was a kid and for my money, those were some of the best computer games around, bar none (still are, to a large extent). My two favorite Infocom games are “Planetfall” and “The Lurking Horror,” though of those two I only ever finished “Planetfall”… but I digress.

Infocom games were the shizzle (who says that anymore?), but I even enjoyed simpler text adventures, and even crafted a few of my own, in Commodore 64 BASIC. I actually designed, on paper, many more text adventures than ever made it to the computer; this is the same love of creating/world building that drives my desire to write fiction for a living, among other things.

Anyway, back to the here and now. Interactive fiction exists today in a kind of unique space; here’s what the Wikipedia article says about it:

…interactive fiction no longer appears to be commercially viable, but a constant stream of new works is produced by an online interactive fiction community, using freely available development systems… these systems allowed anyone with sufficient time and dedication to create a game, and caused a growth boom in the online interactive fiction community.

Today, the games created by enthusiasts of the genre regularly surpass the quality of the original Infocom games, and a number of yearly competitions and awards are given out to the best games in the field….

Yes, strange to say, there is a small but thriving community surrounding this arcane game form. None of them do it for the money—okay, maybe some who enter the competition for the cash prize ($500) do—which is what makes it truly remarkable (nearly everything about it is free—the games, the programs to play them, the authoring tools, the documentation—everything). They do it for a love of the craft.

What’s weird is this week, the Wall Street Journal Online published an article on text adventures: Keeping a Genre Alive. Total coincidence; in fact, I was checking out the IF sites before I saw the article. That’s kind of a freaky wavelength. At any rate, it’s a bit of a look-down-the-nose take on the genre and IF community, but it’s not all bad.

So, having “rediscovered” interactive fiction (and downloading and checking out the latest authoring tools), writing some will be added to my perpetual list of Things I’d Like To Do But Don’t Have The Time For. This like many other interests will fall off the list at some point (probably in the near future) and then be re-added when I rediscover it again. It’s a big list. I’ll post it sometime.