Interactive fiction was the first great computer-game craze. Through the early 1980s, the most sophisticated, complex, involving games available were the text adventures. Everyone agreed. Go look up up old videogame rating charts; Infocom was always on the list — with several games.
Of course, advancing graphics eventually washed away IF’s supremacy. By 1990, all the text game companies were closed, or about to be. But... the games didn’t go away. And a community of IF fans — still interested in sophisticated, complex, involving, literate gameplay — continued to create them.
I’ve been part of that community for a decade and a half. This is what I’ve been doing.
You can play my games freely (and for free). All of the games on this page run right in your web browser. These are not demos or previews. They’re complete stories.
(Okay, except for Hadean Lands. That costs money.)
Everyone’s heard that IF is hard to play. You have to type exactly the right command or you fail, right? Well — no. Modern IF games are pretty easy! They understand a good range of commands, as long as you stick to a familiar pattern. There are variations, but not too many.
Furthermore, most situations in every game are amenable to a handful of common commands. I’ve drawn up this handy reference card. It shows all the common commands, and a selection of others, to give you a feel for the overall pattern.
If you still feel overwhelmed, I recommend you start with The Dreamhold, listed below. I wrote it specifically as an IF tutorial game. It will introduce the common IF commands and conventions, step by step, as you play.
I launched this game as a Kickstarter project in 2010. It took longer than I expected. It’s done now.
Hadean Lands is my first fully commercial text-parser game. Purchase it for iOS, MacOS, Windows, or Linux. Now available on Steam!
alchemy, crashed starships, dragons, ritual engineering?
Won the XYZZY Awards for Best Puzzles, Best Setting, Best Implementation, and Best Use of Innovation for 2014.
They're running out of nouns.
surreal, noir, very easy, very short, cyoa, twine, 2017
Written for the nanobots Twine album.
Marco Polo tells the Khan of an unusual underground journey. But what story will he tell next?
fanfic, easy, short, cyoa, 2012
Written for the Yuletide 2012 fanfic exchange.
A small game about fairy tales and who believes them.
Cold Iron was part of a metapuzzle in the 2011 IFComp. See the notes page for an explanation.
fairy tale, easy, metapuzzle, very short, 2011
Ranked 15th (of 38 entries) in the 2011 Interactive Fiction Contest.
fairy tale, very short, cyoa, 2011
Created for the Indigo New Language Speed-IF challenge.
“Myrmidal is the queen of the bright worlds, and you’ve walked her million cities beneath her sky and beyond it. Myrmidal laughs and Myrmidal dances; they say no one weeps on Myrmidal, except for moments on the stage. But even on Myrmidal the sun rises and sets, and the music grows tinny and harsh when you weary of dancing.”
Steer a ship to distant stars and see what you find, in this compact science-fictional fairy tale.
science fiction, exploration, easy, very short, 2010
Created for the @party demoscene event in Massachusetts, in the summer of 2010.
Won the XYZZY Award for Best Writing of 2010.
Dual Transform is my take on the room-escape subgenre. But the room is virtual, and what you have to escape may not be what you think.
You play a programmer; but the game is not about programming. Rather, your environment is based on physical forces — heat, light, weight — and their natural interactions. See what their transformations entail.
science fiction, surreal, escape, short, one-room, 2010
My entry in the JayIsGames Casual Game Design Competition #7. It was in a three-way tie for second place.
“Grey gravel crunches in the drive. Grey windows retreat behind wrought-iron balcony rails. Grey skies press down over the looming, shadowy edifice.... You do enjoy your job, but the decor can become a bit much sometimes.”
Delightful Wallpaper is a ghoulishly humorous take on the mannerly (or manorly) murder mystery. You do not play the detective, however. Your point of view is part of the mystery; but don’t worry, it will all come clear in time.
(As you explore the game, you will automatically take notes about the things you notice. Read the notes to remind yourself what is significant.)
dark fantasy, gothic, medium-short, fairly difficult, 2006
Ranked 6th (of 43 entries) in the 2006 Interactive Fiction Contest. Also won the Miss Congeniality (authors’ choice) award.
Won the XYZZY Awards for Best Writing, Best Puzzles, Best Individual Puzzle, and Best PC of 2006.
The Dreamhold is my interactive fiction tutorial game. It’s designed for people who have never played IF before. It introduces the common commands and mindset of text adventures, one step at a time. There’s an extensive help system describing standard IF commands, as well as dynamic hints which pop up whenever you seem to be stuck.
Of course, you can turn off the hints and the tutorials, and play The Dreamhold as a real game. The puzzles are not extremely difficult, but they should offer some challenge to both experienced players and newcomers. (If the challenge is insufficient, there’s an “expert” mode which makes some of the puzzles harder.) There are also many optional bits to explore beyond the main storyline.
I’ve tried to create a game which rewards many species of adventurer: the inexperienced newcomer, the puzzle-hurdler, the casual tourist, the meticulous explorer, the wild experimenter, the seeker after nuances and implications.
fantasy, surreal, tutorial, long, easy, puzzle-heavy, 2004
Won the XYZZY Awards for Best Puzzles and Best Use of Medium of 2004.
This is not a game, but an entry in Emily Short’s Walkthrough Competition. The challenge was to take a list of player commands and write a transcript of a game (or even a complete game) that made use of those commands.
I had some fun with the concept.
non-interactive, transcript, non-English, 2001
Winner of the Special Award for Causing Emily Short the Most Grief.
Shade is an experiment in surrealism and psychological fear. It begins as a classic “room escape” scenario; but that’s not how it ends.
Play Shade if you’re in the mood for a short trip into an uncertain, shifting environment that might just be a nightmare.
psychological horror, surreal, short, fairly easy, one-room, 2000
Ranked 10th (of 53 entries) in the 2000 Interactive Fiction Contest. Also tied for third place for the Miss Congeniality (authors’ choice) award.
Won the XYZZY Award for Best Setting of 2000.
This game is a tribute to certain early computer games. But if I said which ones, it would be a spoiler. So I won’t.
Play Hunter, in Darkness if you’re in the mood for a tense and harrowing chase in a claustrophobic cavern setting. You will be hurt; you may be killed. “Undo” and keep trying. The struggle is survivable.
(One helpful note: This game does not use the usual “north”, “south”, “east”, “west” compass directions. Try “ahead”, “back”, “left”, “right”, “up”, or “down”. You can also “enter” a particular passage.)
(Despite this disorientation, no serious mapping is necessary, or even useful, in playing this game. If you think you need to start drawing a map, you have misunderstood.)
fantasy, underground, moderately difficult, short, 1999
Ranked 8th (of 37 entries) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Contest. Also tied for second place for the Miss Congeniality (authors’ choice) award.
Won the XYZZY Awards for Best Setting and Best Individual Puzzle of 1999.
Spider And Web is not a game about a vacation. It is a game about deception, incomplete knowledge, and the ways that stories in other people’s heads can be the best lies. It is also about how the role of the narrator works in interactive fiction — but you don’t have to worry about that to play the game. (Well, not much.)
Play Spider And Web if you’re in the mood for a complex spy intrigue, in several chapters.
It is possible to make a fatal mistake in this game, but you will immediately know you have done so. You can always “undo” after death, and then fix the mistake. Therefore, the game is best played straight through. Accept any non-fatal mistakes that you may make; you will have a second chance. If you back up and replay each scene for maximum efficiency, avoiding all mistakes, certain aspects of the game will be lost.
However — you will eventually reach a point where things become dangerous. You’ll know when. Beyond that, you’re playing for keeps and heartbeats count. Save early and often.
intrigue, challenging, long, 1998
Won the XYZZY Award for Best IF Game of 1998. Also won Best Use of Medium, Best Individual NPC, Best Puzzles, and Best Individual Puzzle.
This is not traditional IF. I sometimes describe it as “interactive poetry.”
Verbs such as “take”, “drop”, “open”, and “examine” are not relevant in this work. They will not be understood. Instead, your part is to type the names of objects (or attributes or aspects of objects) that you see in the narrative. When you refer to an object, it will be brought into greater prominence, changing the course of the narrative thread. Or it might be reduced to lesser stature, or removed entirely. You’ll have to experiment. Typing the same name second time may cancel the effect of the first time, or the effect may be cumulative. The order in which you type names may or may not be important.
contemporary, interactive poetry, keyword, 1997
Created for The Space Under the Window, a collaborative art project organized by Kristin Looney.
An uncomfortable theatrical performance turns into a journey of discovery. Step between worlds — dangerous worlds, strange ones, and beautiful ones — until you learn what has brought them together.
Play So Far if you’re in the mood for a meandering exploration of landscape and symbolism.
(The puzzles in this game are not forgiving. It is possible to make mistakes which will prevent you from winning. Sometimes common sense will serve to avoid such mistakes; sometimes insight is necessary; sometimes neither will help. Save often, and keep your old saved games.)
fantasy, surreal, challenging, long, 1996
Won the XYZZY Award for Best IF Game of 1996. Also won Best Writing, Best Puzzles, and Best Individual Puzzle. Also was two of the four runners-up for Best Individual Puzzle.
A programming tutorial. No, really!
This was a programming exercise: could I implement a very small Lisp interpreter inside the Z-machine? (Scheme interpreter, actually.) Turns out I could. And I did. But I wanted to enter it in the IFComp as a game, so I added a Scheme manual and a problem set. So it’s a little self-paced lesson in Scheme programming.
I admit it’s still not a game.
nonfiction, exercise, educational, programming, 1996
Ranked 11th (of 27 entries) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Contest.
I guess it’s okay to spoil the joke at this point: I implemented Tetris, in Inform 5, for Infocom’s Z-machine. It wasn’t even very hard.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in Parchment (the web-app interpreter I use for browser IF). So to get the full effect, you’ll have to download the game file and an appropriate interpreter. Or you can just imagine Tetris.
nonfiction, tetris, exercise, 1995
The lost Zarf game. I wrote this as an exercise, just after Weather. It was an IF-style re-interpretation of Andy Looney’s arcade game Icebreaker, which I was porting to the Mac at that time.
I brought it in to the office and showed it around, and everyone thought it was cute enough to include on the final Icebreaker CD. (Both Mac and PC versions, I believe. But not the 3DO version; that came much earlier.)
That was pretty cool. (My first IF publication!) However, Icebreaker was an impressive flop; barely anyone has a copy. And since my IF version was based on the arcade game, which is owned by Magnet Interactive Studios, I can’t distribute it.
So if you see a copy of Icebreaker sitting in a bargain bin somewhere, pick it up. It’s a treasure and a rarity. Or something. Plus it’s got this pyramid-shooting arcade game on the CD, as a sort of bonus find, and that’s pretty entertaining too. :-)
A Change in the Weather was my first serious work of interactive fiction. I was trying to evoke mood and place in a way that IF had not really tried, in those early years.
I think I succeeded at the mood and place. However, I blatantly failed at puzzle balance. This is a very difficult game to finish. Any choice you make may be a wrong choice, and you may not discover it was wrong until later; and not choosing is always a choice. Timing may be critical. Save often and keep your old saved games.
contemporary, challenging, short, 1995
Ranked first (of six entries, Inform division) in the 1995 Interactive Fiction Contest.
The Fifth Praser Maze was a sort of logic-puzzle, word-puzzle... thing that I created in 1989. It has existed in many forms, but now I’ve implemented it as a Z-machine game.
This is not traditional IF; the usual parser commands will not work. Instead, you need to type single words or short phrases. See the game notes, or type “about”, for instructions.
fantasy, surreal, word puzzles, keyword, 1989
Not to put too fine a point on it, I wrote this when I was about fifteen. In BASIC. Inhumane is shoddy and I will make no apologies. (This is a re-implementation in Inform 6, but I have carefully avoided improving it.)
It is, of course, a parody of Infocom’s Infidel. But the game abounds with in-jokes so obscure that even I probably don’t recognize all of them any more. Some of them are publically accessible; some less so. (Let’s just say that a certain friend of mine was deeply, er, moved by eighth-grade geometry class.)
contemporary, parody, juvenile, 1984
My earlier IF games were written in Inform 6. (Actually I started with Inform 5, but 6 was an incremental update to the language.) Inform 6 is a traditional C-style compiled language, invented by Graham Nelson. It generates games in Infocom’s Z-machine format.
Building an I6 game is familiar territory for a programmer (although the language has some IF-specific features and an excellent standard parser library). However, if you are a writer interested in IF, but you have no programming background, I6 can be a challenge.
Inform 7 tries to cater to both writers and programmers. It is a completely new language (despite the name), with two significant innovations: a natural (English-like) syntax, and a rule-based programming model. The natural syntax makes I7 code easy to understand and maintain. The rule-based model makes I7 code easy to extend. (In other words, it’s easy to customize the standard parser library, and it’s also easy to build a large game in small pieces.)
I’ve used I7 for all my games since 2006, and I’m very pleased with it. However, both languages are available: take your pick.
(All my games listed above have IFDB links; you can follow them to read reviews and find similar games.)
The intfiction.org web forums are a popular discussion site.
Brass Lantern is an IF news site. It also hosts some great introductory articles and IF tutorials.
The Interactive Fiction Wiki is just what you think — a repository of articles on IF-related topics.
Planet IF is a blog aggregator which collects many IF news feeds and blogs.
The IF Archive is the memory of the IF community. All the games and associated software is stored here. It’s not really meant for casual browsing, though. (I only mention it here because the Archive is important, and because I help maintain it.) IFDB is the Archive’s search function.
There are several real-life IF meetup groups now. The one I hang out with is the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston-area IF fan club.
Get Lamp is a devastatingly comprehensive documentary on IF — history, theory, and practice — by veteran documentarian Jason Scott. It’s a two-DVD set.
The Gameshelf Episode #8: Modern Interactive Fiction is a more tightly focussed video by Jason McIntosh. It shows how IF has persisted in the present. It’s only ten minutes long, and you can watch it on Youtube.
(I am interviewed in both of the above videos.)