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Interactive fiction

Back in my youth I used to spend many hours play “adventure games”. There was something about the text-only descriptions that inspired my imagination and created an atmosphere that you just didn’t get from the rudimentary graphics of the time.

My first encounter with text adventures or Interactive Fiction as they are now known, was with a VIC20 title. My dad persuaded my brother and I to buy VIC20 cartridge called Pirate Cove by Scott Adams. The interface was very simple with just “verb noun” commands and incredibly terse descriptions. I didn’t go down very well with my brother, who preferred traditional joystick twiddling, but for me there was something rather magical about the idea of creating an alternate reality within a computer’s memory – even if that computer only had 5k of memory!

Twin Kingdom Valley

Once I’d upgraded to the Commodore 64, one of the first adventure games that I encountered was Twin Kingdom Valley. The game was obviously inspired by the original Adventure by Will Crowther , but what was interesting was the appearance of non-player characters who actually seemed to be carrying out their own existence (albeit in a rather limited way). There was also some nice graphics produced by a bespoke vector drawing system. The only problem was that the graphics, while helping to explain the brief location descriptions did little to add any atmosphere to the game. Recently Twin Kingdom Valley seems to be making it’s appearance in an extended fashion on mobile platforms.


The games of Infocom opened my eyes to what interactive fiction could really do. They had complicated plots, interesting non-player characters with a real feeling of personality and of course, a sublime text parser that made the games a pleasure to play and running from floppy meant that there was plenty of colourful descriptions and locations to work your way through. (It’s just a shame that the Commodore 64’s floppy drive was so appallingly slow.) I can say that playing Infocom games on the 64 was without doubt one of my favourite gaming experiences on any platform. I have fond memories of The Zork series, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Moonmist among a whole host of others.

Magnetic Scrolls

Adding graphics to text adventures had always been rather hit or miss sometimes adding greatly to a game or ruining the atmosphere and flow of the narrative. One company that got the graphics question right was Magnetic Scrolls.

My first encounter with Magnetic Scrolls was with Guild of Thieves. The text was beautifully written and soaked in wit and the parser seemed to understand some of the most complicated instructions. However, it was the lush state of the art graphics that raised the game head and shoulders about other games of it’s time.

On the back of Guild of Thieves I tried out other Magnetic Scrolls adventures including Corruption which made a refreshing change to traditional interactive fiction. Instead of the usual treasure hut you had to engage other characters in the game as you searched for evidence to expose greed and corruption – all against the clock.

Doing it yourself

Obviously the urge to move beyond being just a player and actually try creating my own games was very strong and I did have a go (twice) at trying to do something. The first was as a teenager using a piece of software called “The Quill” and the second attempt was rather more recently, using “Inform” to create games that run on Infocom’s Z-machine.

The Quill

I remember when my copy of The Quill arrived. It was packaged in one of those overly large padded plastic wallets and contained a good, but smallish manual and a cassette (Those were the days!). It was pretty simple to create games using the Quill. There was a simple menu system that you used to create a database of items, locations and actions along with a bunch of status flags that you could use to track events and such things as light and dark.

I started to write a lot of adventures – putting together the first location and a bunch of initial items was easy and I had lots of ideas. unfortunately I lacked any clear vision how they were going to develop and as it turns out a lot of them didn’t get any further than that initial location.

I did manage to put together one rather large and rambling game using The Quill. It was imaginatively called “The Spell” but I don’t think it ever saw the light of day. I’m not even sure if anyone else actually played it, but I had loads of fun creating strange locations and puzzles and doing so it taught me a lot about how (or how not) to create interesting puzzles . The objective of the game was a rather tedious “treasure hunt” to collect all of the relevant ingredients of a spell. The Quill’s limited verb/noun parse was frustrating. You never know, maybe one day it’ll turn up on one of the floppies I manage to rescue from the less than idea storage condition of the loft!


Many years later, after reminiscing about the old days and those old adventures I started to investigate the current Interactive Fictions scene and found that it was far more active than I had imagined. It wasn’t long before I started thinking about writing my own adventures again.

I’ve only really dabbled with Inform. and still suffering the same old problem of having load of (hopefully good) ideas but lacking the vision or the skills to implement them properly. I even invested in the Inform Designers Manual which really opened up Inform and got me started.

After many false starts I started putting a little game together in order to learn about the system properly. I figured the best way to learn the workings of Inform was to actually knuckle down and write something.

Eventually I had my first complete game called “Burglar!”. This little adventure is the result. The puzzles are pretty simple, and there’s nothing complicated about the plot as such, but hopefully it might provide a few moments of fun.

The story goes something like this:

“You are a master thief and you’ve just broken into one of many properties owned by Jefferson Smith, the fifteenth wealthiest person in England. All you have to do is load up your swag bag with valuables and get to your getaway car. Should be simple…”

You can download it here: burglar.zip and you’ll need a copy of Windows Frotz or similar in order to play it.

There’s still a lot of things I’d like to do with this game and a lot of ideas and suggestions that I’m still to implement. I really hope that I can get round to doing some more work on it soon.

What was nice about the experience of putting this little game together was the support of the Interactive Fiction community and special thanks must go to Curt Siffert, Neil Cerutti, Kai Roos and Brent VanFossen for their help and advice.


If your interested in playing interactive fiction or even writing your own, then you would do no worse than to join the following newsgroups:

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