Version 1.0.1, 2005-04-08. This Interactive Fiction FAQ was created to offer succinct, up-to-date information to those who are new to IF or new to the IF community. The FAQ is intended to give brief, helpful answers to those questions that do actually come up frequently, and to direct readers to the most important online resources. While it is meant to be a useful part of ifwiki and to have current, useful links, this FAQ also should serve well as a stand-alone document that someone might read offline or print out. Another resource for newcomers that is helpful (although it hasn't been updated recently) is Roger Firth's Ifaq (http://www.plover.net/~textfire/raiffaq/ifaq/).
The term refers to programs (sometimes called "games" or, less often, "works") that let you type commands to a character. This character wanders around in a simulated world of some sort, usually one that is described in text. "Text adventure" and "text game" have been used to mean pretty much the same thing. Examples include Adventure, Zork, Deadline, Planetfall, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Hobbit, and Curses. Some people include graphical adventure games such as Myst when they use the term, but those sorts of games aren't the focus of this FAQ, nor are they the main concern of the IF community. The ifwiki offers a formal definition of interactive fiction & e-lit; there is a longer discussion of the topic in the rec.arts.int-fiction FAQ (http://www.plover.net/~textfire/raiffaq/FAQ.htm#whatisif); and other definitions can be found in various essays and books.
None of the companies that produced IF during the 1980s are still around and producing IF. Infocom was acquired by Activision in 1986, for instance, and is now a (not very active) "label" of that company. Interactive fiction from this era is often hard to find outside of abandonware sites and online auction sites, although some of it has been made available to the public by the company that produced it. Plenty of people are still creating IF, however, and there are hundreds of free new games that have been developed since the "commercial era" of interactive fiction.
The IF Archive (http://ifarchive.org) is the major repository for free interactive fiction, and includes hundreds of recent games, games in many different languages, and many historic games. You'll probably want to download games from there, using the convenient interface provided by Baf's Guide to the IF Archive (http://www.wurb.com/if/).
Authors have made some game available for you to play on the Web or download in stand-alone form. But you will usually need to download both an interpreter for your particular platform (a sort of "reader" or "player") and the particular game's "story file" (the data file that is read by the interpreter).
If you use Windows and want to run the zcode file curses.z5, for instance, you need a Windows zcode interpreter. Windows Frotz is a popular one. One you have installed Windows Frotz, you will be able to play any zcode interactive fiction just by downloading and opening the file, which usually will end with .z5 or .z8.
You can find a popular interpreter for your platform and IF format in the following table:
|Story File Extension||.z5,.z8,.z3 (other .z# or .dat, rarely)||.gam, .t3||.ulx, .blb||.hex||.taf|
|Windows||Windows Frotz 2002||HTML TADS Playkit||Glulxe, Git, Zag||Hugo Multimedia Interpreter||ADRIFT Runner|
|Linux||Frotz (redhat binary RPM)||QTads||Zag||Hugo wxGTK||SCARE|
|Mac OS X||Zoom||HyperTADS||Zag||Hugo Mac||SCARE|
|Mac System 9||Nitfol, MaxZip||HyperTADS||Glulxe for Mac||Hugo Mac||(none)|
|RISC OS||Zip2000, Frotz||AcornTADS||(none)||AcornHugo||(none)|
|PocketPC||Pocket Frotz||Pocket TADS||Git PocketPC||Hugo WinCE||(none)|
|DOS||DOS Frotz||DOS TADS||Git for Dos||Hugo DOS (16 bit)||SCARE DOS|
These are not all the interpreters available, just some of the most popular ones for the most popular platforms. The IF Archive has a fairly comprehensive, if not exactly friendly, list of interpreters that you can download:
Also see the ifwiki's "Websites for downloading or playing IF."
Some games have in-game hints. For others, hints or a walkthrough (a list of commands that will win the game, sometimes annotated) may be available on the IF Archive or elsewhere on the Web. If Baf's Guide doesn't list any files for the game you're playing, search the Web for the name of that game and the term "walkthrough" or "solution." You can also ask fellow players for a hint on rec.games.int-fiction. Just be sure to include a spoiler warning and spoiler space before you reveal any details of the game, so you don't ruin the game for others by giving away some of its surprises.
If you like, you can simply post a review to rec.games.int-fiction, as many people traditionally do with the Comp game after the Comp has ended. You can also submit your review to SPAG (http://www.sparkynet.com/spag/) or IF Review (http://www.ministryofpeace.com/if-review/), or post it on your own site or blog.
The IF Competition (http://ifcomp.org/) is an annual, Internet-wide competition for short games (ones you can complete in less than two hours), started in 1996 and currently run by Stephen Granade. Anyone who is online can vote in the competition. Having played and rated five games is the only qualification necessary for judges. Recent years have seen dozens of entries and hundreds of judges: The 2004 Comp had 38 games voted on by 174 judges.
Although some people try to develop IF from scratch in general-purpose languages, winners of the IF Comp and developers of successful longer games have shown that it can be a good idea to use one of the highly capable and free interactive fiction development systems. Inform, TADS, and Hugo are the most powerful and cross-platform of the options, but there are others. You can seek help from fellow developers on rec.arts.int-fiction as you work, and avail yourself of some of the extensive documentation, tutorial material, and sample code that is online.
No one knows for sure, but a safe way for you to decide for yourself is to review all of them at Roger Firth's Cloak of Darkness page (http://www.firthworks.com/roger/cloak/index.html). You should also consider the development communities for different systems, what sample code and tutorial and reference information is available for each, the whole range of these systems' capabilities (including multimedia capaibilities, if these are important to you), and whether interpreters are available on the platforms you care about.
You're welcome to, and we're all very glad that people such as Graham Nelson (creator of Inform) and Mike Roberts (creator of TADS) have done this. There are sometimes discussions about how to create IF development systems on rec.arts.int-fiction and on ifMUD's #craft channel; you can also check ifwiki's Building a New Interactive Fiction System. While some people will be glad to offer reactions and advice, many people on raif and #craft do prefer to discuss writing games, and almost all of them now are effectively using some existing system such as Inform, TADS, or Hugo. If you're developing a new system, it will certainly help to be very familiar with how all of these existing systems work, so you can imitate their better features and avoid imitating anything you think is a mistake.
A very good question. It's very important to have others test and review your game before releasing it. The IF Beta Site Info Page (http://www.plover.net/~textfire/beta.html) has information about beta-testing, including links to several articles about how to helpfully test games, and it also provides a way for you to sign up as a tester and submit your game to be tested. There are several other ways to find testers. If you've tested someone else's game, you might ask them to reciprocate. You can also politely ask for testers on rec.arts.int-fiction or on ifMUD.
Releasing it in the IF Comp can be a very effective way, if it fits the bill by being a two-hour game that is not based on previous copyrighted work. There are other competitions at other points in the year which are less popular but still provide good ways to release a game. If you don't release your game as part of a competition, you should announce your game on rec.games.int-fiction. Although the editors of IF review sites will learn about it from rgif, it's fine to politely bring your work to their attention by email if it hasn't been reviewed after a while.
You may also want to publicize your game outside the IF community, if there are other groups who might be interested in it: e.g., Latin teachers, if your game is in Latin; the Electronic Literature Organization, if your game is written for a literary audience; the Keeler Society, if your game is an adaptation of a Harry Stephen Keeler novel.
Version 1.0.1, 2005-04-08. The ifwiki hosts the "live" and current IF FAQ. The FAQ as seen on the ifwiki can be edited by anyone and may be more current, but no one testifies to its overall accuracy. This version of the FAQ, from nickm.com (http://nickm.com/if/faq.html), has been checked by Nick and he believed it was accurate (in 2005!). If you are curious about how this document has been revised, you can replace "faq.html" in the URL with "faq.1.0.html" to see version 1.0. The IF FAQ is available to all under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.