Nerdy fun: Interactive Fiction

Sometime back in the late 80s when our family had a Commodore 64, we’d go to the public library and check out games on 5.25″ floppy disk (and occasionally cartridges, which were great because they loaded instantly!).

One game looked amazing…. Zork. Well, maybe we didn’t actually know was it was about, but the cover looked cool, and that counted for a lot back then. We got it home and it turned out to be an all-text based game. A so-called “Text Adventure.” I’ll be honest that it didn’t really grab my attention all that well. I was more interested in shooting aliens.

I think my brother Ben got more into it, but we scoped out a few more similar games like Zork II and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams himself. HHttGG was a tough game! I don’t think I got very far past the bulldozer.

Eventually I (and my friend at the time, Jim) grabbed the Commodore 64 manual and lo’ and behold, it had some instructions on how to actually write your own programs in BASIC. This was pretty interesting to me, and I figured out how to write very simple text games. They might still be on a disk somewhere, victim of technological obsolescence.

It was pretty fun and it made me think I might be interested in programming someday, although that didn’t last too long in college.

Anyway, a few years ago a documentary about Text Adventures called GET LAMP (link to full movie on YouTube) was made by the same guy who did a 10-hour documentary on Bulletin Board Systems (which I bought when it came out), so it should be right up my alley. I probably won’t force Aimee to watch. Probably.

The term for the genre now-a-days is “Interactive Fiction.” It turns out there’s a language called Inform that allows you to write your own. It’s a bit messy to learn but I’ve finished my first attempt at Interactive Fiction: Billings and Spivey: The Game. It’s a short game starring some characters from a TV show we worked on in college.

The Inform 7 language is interesting. For example, in my game, the “donut” is created as so:

The donut is a thing in the Break Room.
The description of the donut is “[if the donut is stapled]It’s a donut that some numbskull tried to staple[otherwise]Glorious fried dough. Sugary frosting. Sprinkles. This is what dreams are made of[end if].”. The donut is edible. The donut is stapleable.


It’s a little like programming. Inform has  a lot of built-in actions like eating and examining (try typing “look at (object)” as a start). The tricky part is trying to anticipate what the player will attempt to do, and give clues as to what they need to do (and what they can do). So, check it out and let me know what you think.

One Comment on “Nerdy fun: Interactive Fiction”

  1. Bang says:

    last night i dreamed i was payling zork. and i was using a pen paper to map out my progress, making diagrams and notes as i went. but the game kept changing, things were never in the same place so my map was useless. my dreams are, obviously, trying to tell me something play more zork