Why IF?

Why have I chosen to create a blog about Interactive Fiction (IF)?  Let me define that a bit first.  IF traces it’s roots back to the text adventures of old.  Back to the old Infocom games of Zork, Enchanter, Trinity.  Going further back to the Scott Adams games that I was first introduced to.  And traveling even further back to what many consider the father of it all, Adventure.

Back when I was a young teenager back in the early 80s, I was introduced to text adventures (I had not heard the term Interactive Fiction until much later) on my Vic-20 with Scott Adams Adventureland and Pirate Adventure.  The Scott Adams games were not at the pinnacle of the technology at the time, the parser only accepted two words and even then only scanned the first three letters of each word.  So the phrase LOOK BEAR was syntactically the same as LOO BEA.  Consequently LOOK BEAR was treated the same as LOOK BEAN, LOOT BEAN, LOOP BEANPIPE.  While seemingly limited, with careful programming the developers included a vocabulary of over 120 words and a rich, while terse, story for the times.

Then I discovered Infocom.  Oh what a difference their games were.  Rich and entertaining stories, descriptive scenery, full sentence parser (though the two word verb-noun, still prevails to this day) and much larger and difficult gameplay.  I played through almost all of them.  Purchasing each one as they came out and while I only ever finished one (at least back then), I believe it was Enchanter, I loved them all, played them constantly trying to get past just one more puzzle.  Infocom set the standard for the text adventure and many conventions that they began, carry through to today and modern IF.

Many other companies came along, selling their own brand of text adventures, some (including Infocom) started to include graphics and sound into their games to attract the crowd they were beginning to lose as video cards and computers became cheaper and more obtainable by the gaming masses.  Eventually, as a genre of commercial games, they faded into history.

However the community never dies.  Players kept playing, developers kept developing.  Companies developed adventure game creators, that allowed the general public to create their own adventures without worrying about the technical details of building a parser or managing memory or any of that stuff that us developers love (well at times not so much).   Enterprising folk, reversed-engineered the Z-machine, the virtual machine that Infocom games ran upon so that still others could write interpreters to run the Infocom games so people could play them on modern machines.  The community blossomed.  In 1993 Graham Nelson brings us Inform, a language that you could write IF games with that compiled to the z-code format that all those z-machine interpreters could run.  in 1996 Michael J Roberts opens up his TADS development system, which since 1988 was a shareware development system, for free for the masses, making it today the second largest development platform for IF behind Inform.  There are many others, and as we move to the modern era, even more platforms are being created to develop and run your games on, with some HTML platforms becoming popular over the last few years.

I don’t mean this article to be an all encompassing history on Interactive Fiction nor a plug on any one particular style or platform.  I really intend this to be a introductory message to help you see what kind of information you’ll find presented here.  I hope to share:

  • Being that I’m a software developer by trade and a bit of story-teller at heart, I’ve gravitated to writing my own Interactive fiction.  Since I ‘ve settled on the Inform 7 platform (for now, it’s natural language structure intrigues me as a developer and is different enough from my day job as a .NET developer, that it provides and escape from work), I may share code or coding tips or strategies that are useful or that I may want to easily recall at some later time.  I will also include pieces on story-telling, plotting and other story crafting thoughts that apply across the board to any platform.  I may include technical bits or information on other platforms as I want see the community grow regardless of what platform is being used.

  • Information on the history of interactive fiction, interesting tidbits that I run across or other well-known (or not) pieces of story behind the pioneers of the genre.  I enjoy playing the old games and learning about the history of the companies, people and games that I recall from my childhood.  Information was harder to come by back then, but now in the world of the internet, information is just a search away.  I’m finding all kids of interesting information.
  • Reviews or thoughts of modern pieces of IF that I play and find interesting and that I have something to say about.  I like to play the games still.  While modern games look and sounds incredible, I find, with some exceptions of course, that modern gaming lack the story of even the simple IF games.  The visuals that are presented also take away the visuals that come to mind as I read a simple sentence in a game I’m playing.  I can become immersed into a piece of IF much quicker than any modern game.
  • Any thing else that catches my eye and I feel is useful to and relates to (whether anyone else agrees or not) the world of IF.

So there you have it, in under 1000 words, I’ve laid out my plan for this site.  Using the play on my name, I give you Lautz-of-IF!

If you’d like to explore before I go much further, go to the Interactive Fiction Database to find more games and everything you need to download and play for yourself.