Choose Your Own Animation

Posted: November 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | 2 Comments »


A portion of the GET LAMP documentary discusses Choose Your Own Adventure books, also known as “game books” and a bunch of other names (not all were called “Choose Your Own Adventure” and there were thousands of them). While there’s no direct lineage between text adventures and CYOA (I checked this, there really isn’t), there’s that same sense of chopped-up narrative and the unique interesting aspects of the feeling of freedom of destiny that both of these products brought to the world. And there is a little overlap here and there; for example, Steve Meretzky created a number of gamebook based on the Zork world at one point.

Recently, after over a year of work, Christian Swinehart released an online exhibit allowing you to experience these books interactively, graphically, and via animations. It is, frankly, amazing.

The exhibit has an explanation at this page, but I would suggest going right to one of the gallery pages and just experiencing it. It’s that amazing. Amazing work, Christian.

Interactive Fiction Competition Winners Announced

Posted: November 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | 1 Comment »

The Interactive Fiction Competition Winners have been announced. Congratulations to Rover’s Day OutBroken Legs, and Snowquest for winning!

While playing these three games based on their winning scores is encouraged, bear in mind the others are good too. Check the results page to see the weighted scores, and consider playing the newest of the new in (award-winning) interactive fiction!

The 15th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

Posted: October 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | 2 Comments »

As is traditional, the Interactive Fiction Competition (or IFcomp, as it is generally known) has begun. Within the community it’s pretty well known (and obviously the entrants are very well aware of it) but since the readers of this site might not be keeping on the latest and greatest of what’s going on in Interactive Fiction….

Every year, there’s a competition of new interactive fiction creations. Currently run by Stephen Granade but with a bunch of people working to ensure things go smoothly, this competition is basically where the work of months and occasionally years come out to show their stuff, be judged, and then be crowned with a variety of awards after the judging period.

After the judging period, a ceremony is held online on IFmud, and all the winners are announced.

Walkthroughs are provided for easier judging, or you can play various ones and vote.  It all depends how you want to go about it, if you decide to judge. There’s suggestions for the best ways to judge and how to approach it.

Or you can wait, as many people do, and see which ones win and play the winners. The winners list, while not perfect as a reference guide of what to play (obviously judges have biases like everyone else), it’s a very good initial first step.

A number of people play the entries and write spoiler-free summaries of what to expect.

Some people enter games to make a “point”, and obviously the play value may be reduced. Other creators, somewhat reknown, will submit games under pseudonyms so the stuff is judged on its own merits (although you often can tell a practiced hand is behind what you’re playing). And some people work for years on a piece and drop it into the mix and blow everyone all away.

Check it out!

Nick Montfort’s 2009 IF List

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | No Comments »

Nick Montfort’s been mentioned a number of times in association with this production. With a doctorate in text adventures, and what is likely the first academic book on text adventures (Twisty Little Passages), he’s an authority on the subject, and a great guy too.

Just recently, he took it upon himself to answer the simple question: It’s 2009 and you want to play some decent interactive fiction – where to start?

The resulting weblog entry on his weblog Post Position gives some of his personal recommendations.

Here’s the list reposted here, although of course you should also read his original posting for links. What I like about the list is how it shows how the form has matured from the early days, and the plentiful directions people/authors are taking the medium.

Anchorhead by Michael Gentry, 1998

A sprawling horror based on the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, with exquisite attention to detail and compelling characters and places.

Bad Machine by Dan Shiovitz, 1999

The surface of this game seems to be a confusion of code, error messages, and a small bit of English, but its strange science fiction world is deeply systematic.

For a Change by Dan Schmidt, 1999

Schmidt’s game programming is better known thanks to Guitar Hero but before he coded that up he was inspired by Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String and wrote this piece of interactive fiction, which features an odd lexicon and curious, magical assemblages.

Varicella by Adam Cadre, 1999

A sort of revenge-play, difficult, complex, and worth several attempts. A strange palace holds intrigues, surprises, an array of excellent characters who wander and plot against the player character, the palace minister.

Shade by Andrew Plotkin, 2000

The most famous “one room game in your apartment.” What seems to be a sleepless night undergoes a disturbing transformation as the character, undertaking ordinary actions, uncovers a different reality.

Slouching towards Bedlam by Daniel Ravipinto and Star C. Foster, 2003

An intricate steampunk piece with that deals with insanity and language and offer several different concluding threads.

Whom the Telling Changed by Aaron Reed, 2005

A reframing and reworking of Gilgamesh, the first known epic, which combines elements of hypertext-like word selection with the usual command-based IF interface.

Bronze by Emily Short, 2006

Reworks the beauty and the beast legend, embedding memories in an architectural space in compelling ways. It has a special “novice mode” and a status-line compass that will aid players in understanding and navigating IF locations.

Lost Pig (And Place Under Ground) by Admiral Jota, 2007

A hilarious underground romp that brings every major type of puzzle together in miniature form. The really wonderful aspect is the orcish, semi-literate narration that is used throughout.

Violet by Jeremy Freese, 2008

A graduate student locks himself in his office to try to make progress on his dissertation. The puzzles, as the player seeks to overcome distraction, are amusing, but the atmosphere and the voice of the character’s absent, imagined girlfriend are extraordinary.

Great Map of Adventure

Posted: September 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | No Comments »

A warning – any maps you look at for a game you haven’t played will undoubtedly spoil the game for you. If you haven’t played Adventure yet, what are you doing here? You should check it out; play it for free either here (flash version) or here (java version) or even here (java version).

Maps are, of course, inherently spoilers by their very nature – they tell you where everything is, how much left you need to explore, and sometimes how to solve the puzzles to get there.

They’re usually scrawled out while the game is being played, or drawn by the software company/author behind the game itself to provide as a solution or hints.  They’re rarely nice works of art by themselves.

I thought this map, done by Mari Michaelis, was particularly well done:


I also find it surreal that I’ve actually been inside some of these locations.

The Professor

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | No Comments »

4947_96468092932_605482932_1975747_7861389_nWhen he was working at Infocom, Brian Moriarty‘s nickname was “Professor”, as in “Professor Moriarty“, the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes.

As the creator of such games as Trinity, Wishbringer at Infocom and later works such as Loom and The Dig, he was hardly nefarious and evil, merely brilliant.  But I have a number of documents referring to him as Professor, and that nickname still sticks around in some quarters.

But this year, he has finally earned that moniker, as Brian Moriarty is now a Professor of Practice in the Interactive Media and Game Development Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Additionally, Loom and The Dig have been announced as being available on the game distribution service Steam.

Brian has been very generous with interviews, both for myself and many other historical projects. It’s great to hear of his new career in academia and that a new generation of folks will have the opportunity to play some of his games.

June 2009 Update!

Posted: June 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 12 Comments »

Time passes…

There’s not been an update here for months, and I am sure for some people it’s been a little weird. I had promised there wouldn’t be gaps like this, but then this gap happened. So, I figure let’s just put it all out here and let people know what’s up, instead of leaving things open to speculation and concern.

First of all, let’s be clear: this project is alive, and is continuing, and will be finished. If you had any worries along those lines, please don’t have them.

The reason things have been delayed is one of simple reality: my day job, which funds my existence and the production, went from being somewhere in the realm of what a work week should be to something that we’ll diplomatically call “demanding”. It became harder to be able to put this work aside at night and work on editing the movie, which asks for a certain frame of mind. I was able to do repetitive or low-mental-level tasks, like scanning and sorting, but going through footage and finding links to compare side by side, and planning the arrangement of sequences was something I was only able to work on every few days or once a in a couple of weeks. It slowed things down dramatically.

I have recently recalibrated my life so that I can work harder on the editing of the film and the rest of the production and move forward more quickly.


There’s a great movie here! I’m enjoying editing it again, and watching all these recorded interviews, split as they were across years, connect and form ideas, is always a thrill.  Now I just need to finish it.

As a parting gift, let me share an artifact that is both old and new. As part of the promotion for the Infocom game Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a PR photograph was taken of the two primary authors, Steve Meretzky and SF author Douglas Adams. This photo showed up in a variety of computer magazines and publications and for people who know the game from the time it came out, they probably ran up against this photo in one form or another.

I have had the opportunity to scan an original slide of this photograph, and do so at a ludicrous DPI setting, and so I present you this photo at the largest resolution and quality it ever has before.

Meretzky and Adams PR Photo

The Macintosh is simply placed in the photo to give a “computer” look to the shot (Douglas Adams was a big fan of the Mac, which had very recently come out). The real development work would have been done on the Digital VT terminal behind Meretzky’s left shoulder, which would be hooked up to the mainframe that held the ZIL environment that Infocom games would be written in. This is Steve Meretzky’s office at Infocom at the time – family photos are on the bulletin board. Not as obvious is that these are two very tall men: Douglas Adams was 6’5″ and Meretzky is comparable.

Thanks again for your patience, and I hope to have more frequent updates in the future.

Suspended in Hot Mustard

Posted: February 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | No Comments »

Obviously, many of the people I interviewed have gone on to do other projects, other jobs, and other realms of creativity. When I can, I’ll link to some of these new projects. 

Mike Berlyn, who created Suspended, Infidel and other works for Infocom, and also went on to co-design Tass Times in Tonetown, recently completed an album of smooth jazz! From the mailing he sent out about it:

Dear Family and Friends,

[Here is a] link to an album of light jazz of mine.  I’ve written, performed and recorded this album under the band name “Hot Mustard.” The album is called “All Spiced Up.” As some of you may know, I composed symphonic, contemporary music for several years and managed to complete two symphonies.  I decided to try my hand at a more popular, accessible form, and so I created Hot Mustard. I enjoyed the entire process so much, I am working on a second Hot Mustard album, which is not yet finished.

Here is a link to the Amazon page, which has preview tracks.

“Computer Games Have No Respect for you”

Posted: February 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | 7 Comments »

I love this article. While scanning in a bunch of artifacts, I found this newspaper column written in January of 1985. It was acquired by a clipping service for Infocom during the cycle of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (hence the paragraph that is outlined in yellow) and is nearly 25 years old.

Called “Computer Games, and Players, have no respect for you”, this article tells the travails of playing Interactive Fiction in 1985. Specifically, playing Infocom games, because the author mentions Zork, Suspect, and Hitchhiker’s Guide as the games she tried to play. In all cases, she hates the format and hates the tone of the games. It’s an enjoyable counterpoint to the rah-rah approach most articles (and, really, a lot of the documentary) find themselves promoting. People who normally didn’t engage with computers as game machines found themselves doing so for Infocom games and adventure games, and the process wasn’t always for their enlightenment or enjoyment.

Computer Games Have No Respect

You can see the full-size scan here. I went and tracked down the author, Gayle Gertler, and she’s still living in Providence, selling Southwestern-themed items (which she was interviewed about in the paper). It looks like she was an editor when she left in the 2000s, meaning she had a nice long run in the newspaper business. Maybe I should ask her what she thinks of these games now…

An Adventure Tournament

Posted: January 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | 4 Comments »


As mentioned in a previous entry, the original adventure game, “Adventure” (or “Colossal Cave” depending on who transferred the game to what system) was a feature on the old (now-gone) time-sharing and information service Compuserve.  Like a bunch of the games at Compuserve, really wonderful illustrations and posters were created to promote them, even though they had no actual graphics. Such as it was for the advertisement I got from a posted item at a site called Daily WTF, the main admin of which I interviewed for GET LAMP.  (He’d done some unrelated-to-the-site work in interactive fiction.) The actual article this came from on there was not up to standards, mostly showing the ads for this and other adventure games, and then making fun of them.

Concentrating on this advertisement alone, there’s a lot being said here that’s really interesting to me.

First of all, this is in the 1982-1984 era, considering several factors of promotion and how they chose to spend their advertising dollars. (I might be off by a year, but 1982-1984 had some amazing ads made.) The poster on the left is by a man named Gray Morrow, who was a legendary illustrator whose work spanned decades and covered everything from comic books to science fiction covers, pin-up art and all manner of stylish graphic work.  Notably, he’s tried to incorporate aspects of the game Adventure into the painting, including the dragon, the dwarf with axe, the jeweled trident, and even the bird in a cage. Not bad.

The event itself is rather interesting; a nationwide “Adventure Tournament”. I have not the slightest idea how this would be conducted. (New rooms added to the games? There were expanded versions of Adventure available on Compuserve and perhaps this was one of the opening days for a new version.) What I do know is that compuserve was expensive, costing you upwards of $10 an hour to be on. Assuming this tournament cost you regular fees, then you were spending $10/hr or thereabouts to have the chance of winning a poster and two free hours. Pretty bogue. As an additional bit, you would even be charged for postage and handling of the poster being offered for “free”!

This whole event smacks of the sort of experimentation happening at Compuserve at the time.  Trying new events, making people revisit the games, or other properties, and always that huge hurdle of explaining these games and the experience of being online. It’s quite a piece.

If someone played in this tournament, I wouldn’t mind chatting with you, just to have the history of it.