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The Interactive Fiction FAQ from ifwiki was created to contain succinct, up-to-date information about interactive fiction for those who are new to IF or to the IF community. The FAQ is intended to give brief, helpful answers to those questions that do actually come up frequently, and to direct readers to the most important online resources on the topic. While it is meant to be a useful part of ifwiki and to have current, useful links, this FAQ also should serve well as a stand-alone document that someone might read offline or print out. Another resource for newcomers that is helpful (although it hasn't been updated recently) is Roger Firth's Ifaq.

What is "interactive fiction"?

In brief, "interactive fiction" indicates programs (sometimes called "games" or, less often, "works") that let you type commands to a character. This character wanders around in a simulated world of some sort, usually one that is described in text. "Text adventure" and "text game" have been used to mean pretty much the same thing. Examples include Adventure, Zork, Deadline, Planetfall, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Hobbit, and Curses. Some people include graphical adventure games such as Myst when they use the term, but those sorts of games aren't the focus of this FAQ or of the IF Community. The ifwiki offers a formal definition of interactive fiction; there is a longer discussion of the topic in the rec.arts.int-fiction FAQ; and other definitions can be found in various essays and books.

What happened to Infocom (Magnetic Scrolls, Level 9, etc.)?

None of the companies that produced IF during the 1980s are still around and producing IF. Infocom was acquired by Activision in 1989, for instance, and is now a (not very active) "label" of that company. Interactive fiction from this era is often hard to find outside of abandonware sites and online auction sites, although some of it has been made available to the public by the company that produced it. Plenty of people are still creating IF, however, and there are hundreds of free new games that have been developed since the "commercial era" of interactive fiction.

How can I download and play IF?

The IF Archive is the major repository for free interactive fiction, and includes hundreds of recent games, games in many different languages, and many historic games. You'll probably want to download games from there, using the friendly interface provided by Baf's Guide to the IF Archive.

Authors have made some game available for you to play on the Web or download in stand-alone form. But you will usually need to download both an interpreter for your particular platform (a sort of "reader" or "player") and the particular game's "story file" (the data file that is read by the interpreter).

If you use Windows and want to run the zcode file curses.z5, for instance, you need a Windows zcode interpreter. Windows Frotz is a popular one. One you have installed Windows Frotz, you will be able to play any zcode interactive fiction just by downloading and opening the file, which usually will end with .z5 or .z8.

You can find a popular interpreter for your platform and IF format in the following table:

Zcode TADS Glulx Hugo Adrift
Story File Extension .z5,.z8,.z3 (other .z# or .dat, rarely) .gam, .t3 .ulx .hex .taf
Windows Windows Frotz 2002 HTML TADS Playkit Git, Zag Hugo Multimedia Interpreter ADRIFT Runner
Linux Frotz (redhat binary RPM) QTads Zag Hugo Windows SCARE
Mac OS X Zoom HyperTADS Zag Hugo Mac SCARE
Mac System 9 Nitfol, Zip HyperTADS Glulxe for Mac Hugo Mac (none)
Palm Frobnitz (none) (none) Hugo Palm (none)
PocketPC Pocket Frotz Pocket TADS Git PocketPC Hugo WinCE (none)
DOS DOS Frotz DOS TADS Git for Dos Hugo DOS (16 bit) SCARE DOS

These are not all the interpreters available, just some of the most popular ones from the most popular platforms. The IF Archive has a fairly comprehensive, if not exactly friendly, list of interpreters that you can download:

Where can I find out what games I might enjoy?

  • Baf's Guide is a complete listing of the games on the IF Archive. Most games have mini-reviews, and there are powerful search tools, but like the Archive itself it might be overwhelming to trawl through.
  • The Usenet group rec.games.int-fiction is a good place to ask, particularly if you have specific tastes.
  • Interactive Fiction Ratings is a site that lets anyone give IF games ratings out of 10, and publishes a list of (among other things) the highest-scoring games. This gives some idea of which games enjoy the most popularity in the community, although it shouldn't be considered the final word on the quality of games.
  • Looking back through past XYZZY winners or games that did well in the IF Competition can also give you some idea of which games are (or were) highly thought of.
  • There are several sites that collect and publish reviews: SPAG, Brass Lantern, and IF-Review are the most prominent of these.
  • Several members of the community have extenstive collections of their personal reccomendations: Emily Short and Sam Kibo Ashwell, for example.

What can I do when I get stuck?

Some games have in-game hints. For others, hints or a walkthrough (a list of commands that will win the game, sometimes annotated) may be available on the IF Archive or elsewhere on the Web. If Baf's Guide doesn't list any files for the game you're playing, search the Web for the name of that game and the term "walkthrough" or "solution." You can also ask fellow players for a hint on rec.games.int-fiction. Just be sure to include a spoiler warning and spoiler space before you reveal any details of the game, so you don't ruin the game for others by giving away some of its surprises.

How can I post a review of a game I've finished?

If you like, you can simply post a review to rec.games.int-fiction, as many people traditionally do with the Comp game after the Comp has ended. You can also submit your review to SPAG or IF Review, or post it on your own site or blog.

What is this "IF Comp"?

The IF Competition is an annual, Internet-wide competition for short games (ones you can complete in less than two hours), started in 1996 and currently run by Stephen Granade. Anyone who is online can vote in the competition. Having played and rated five games is the only qualification necessary for judges. In recent years there have been dozens of entries and hundreds who voted: The 2004 Comp had 38 games voted on by 174 judges.

How can I write my own game?

Although some people try to develop IF from scratch in general-purpose languages, winners of the IF Comp and developers of successful longer games have shows that it can be a good idea to use one of the highly capable and free interactive fiction development systems. Inform, TADS, and Hugo are the most powerful and cross-platform of the options, but there are others. You can seek help from fellow developers on rec.arts.int-fiction as you work, and avail yourself of some of the extensive documentation, tutorial material, and sample code that is online.

Which development system is best?

No one knows for sure, but a safe way for you to decide for yourself is to review all of them at Roger Firth's Cloak of Darkness page. You should also consider the development communities for different systems, what sample code and tutorial and reference information is available for each, the whole range of these systems' capabilities (including multimedia capaibilities, if these are important to you), and whether interpreters are available on the platforms you care about.

Why not create my own IF development system?

You're welcome to, and we're all very glad that people such as Graham Nelson (creator of Inform) and Mike Roberts (creator of TADS) have done this. There are sometimes discussions about how to create IF development systems on rec.arts.int-fiction and on ifMUD's #craft channel; you can also check ifwiki's Building a New Interactive Fiction System. While some people will be glad to offer reactions and advice, many people on raif and #craft do prefer to discuss writing games, and almost all of them now are effectively using some existing system such as Inform, TADS, or Hugo. If you're developing a new system, it will certainly help to be very familiar with how all of these existing systems work, so you can imitate their better features and avoid imitating anything you think is a mistake.

How do I get people to test my game?

Very good question. It's very important to have others test and review your game before releasing it. The IF Beta Site Info Page has information about beta-testing, including links to several articles about how to helpfully test games, and it also provides a way for you to sign up as a tester and submit your game to be tested. There are several other ways to find testers. If you've tested someone else's game, you might ask them to reciprocate. You can also politely ask for testers on rec.arts.int-fiction or on ifMUD.

How do I get people to play my game?

Releasing it in the IF Comp can be a very effective way, if it fits the bill by being a two-hour game that is not based on previous copyrighted work. There are other competitions at other points in the year which are less popular but still provide good ways to release a game. If you don't release your game as part of a competition, you should announce your game on rec.games.int-fiction. Although the editors of IF review sites will learn about it from rgif, it's fine to politely bring your work to their attention by email if it hasn't been reviewed after a while.

You may also want to publicize your game outside the IF community, if there are other groups who might be interested in it: e.g., Latin teachers, if your game is in Latin; the Electronic Literature Organization, if your game is written for a literary audience; the Keeler Society, if your game is an adaptation of a Harry Stephen Keeler novel.

Major Resources

Newsgroups, Chatter, Events

  • rec.art.int-fiction, the Usenet newsgroup known as "raif" and devoted to discussing of authoring interactive fiction. The right place to discuss programming, craft, and theory. raif on Google Groups, raif FAQ
  • rec.games.int-fiction, the Usenet newsgroup known as "rgif" and devoted to playing games. Annoucements of new games, requests for hints, and reviews go here. rgif on Google Groups
  • r*if is a term used to refer to both raif and rgif.
  • ifMUD, A MUD where members of the IF community hang out and chat.
  • There is an annual awards ceremony on ifMUD for the XYZZY Awards, the Oscars of interactive fiction. Transcript from the 2003 XYZZY Awards, February 28, 2004