Thursday, January 9, 2014

Introduction to Interactive Fiction

Playing Zork and Similar Games

Zork and similar works of interactive ficiton are games which you play by typing commands, which can be only subject-verb, but may be more complicated; you can, for instance (and sometimes must) use conjunctions or prepositions. “Attack thief” might work, but you might prefer “attack thief with sword” or “attack thief with axe.” Other examples are “eat sandwich,” “open door,” “unlock door with red key,” and so forth. Adverbs and adjectives are pointless and probably will cause a command not to work; subjects, verbs and prepositions are what count. Prepositions may not work in all games (i.e., the Scott Adams adventures mentioned below). Conjunctions can be worthwhile, and may work: “take everything but hammer,” “drop everything but saw.”
You will always find yourself in a “room,” although sometimes the rooms are outdoor locations. You move around to different rooms with compass directions, which can be abbreviated. “Go North,” “North,” and “N” should all be equivalent.
You can “quit,” “save,” or “restart” a game. You should experiment with “verbose” to always turn on long descriptions, “inventory” to see what you are carrying, and “look” or “examine” to examine objects more closely: “examine egg,” for instance. You will quickly learn that one of the difficulties of interactive fiction is choosing the right word and phrasing commands correctly (of course, representing events the way we wish to is a problem in all narratives). This may not be entirely unlike the difficulties involved in writing well.

Creating a game

Creating a small piece of interactive fiction would be an interesting and doable final project for this class. It helps to be a programmer, of course, but shouldn’t be absolutely necessary. I have received outstandingly good and also very bad projects in this form; you should only do it if you really want to, and want to put in the necessary effort. You can inform yourself on what’s involved on the interactive fiction archive, the address of which is below.

Some relevant websites

Here are sites where it is straightforward to play Zork, the game we will investigate as a class:
Here’s a site where you can play a broad selection of Infocom’s interactive fiction online, including “Zork.” “Enchanter,” “Sorceror” and “Spellbreaker” are in a fantasy setting, where you play a wizard. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is based on the SF novel, and created by the same author. “Deadline” and “The Witness” are mysteries, which you have to solve in the allotted time. Infocom was the premier commercial maker of interactive fiction in the 1980s.
Here’s the interactive fiction archive, which not only has a plethora of non-commercial games, but also various other resources: Note that there are several beginner’s guides on the main page.
Within this archive, note especially the following massive catalog of games.
Here you will find the “frotz” interpreter for Windows systems, which will enable you to run almost all text adventures on your own system (you can also choose to run many of them on the internet, as detailed above).
Note: If you encounter any bad urls above, let me know - there is always a chance that one of them is out of date!

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