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Author: Jim Fisher
Title: What is IF?

Creation Date: 8/6/2004 10:38:41 PM
Last Updated: 8/6/2004 10:38:41 PM

What is IF?

F is an acronym for "Interactive Fiction." In the broadest sense of the term, "Interactive Fiction" is any work of fiction with which the reader/player interacts. To be reasonable, this could include visually oriented games like Diablo or Ultima. Even shoot 'em up games like Half-Life have a storyline to convey. But long before there were PCs to be taken for granted, back when "computers" meant "mainframes" that occupied entire rooms, and "cool graphics" meant correctly aligning the asterisks on the amber terminal screen, there were "Text Adventures".

For the purposes of this site, and the vast majority of the interactive fiction community, the terms "Interactive Fiction" and "Text Adventures" are synonymous. Text adventures, as the name implies, are programs done entirely in text. I use the qualification "programs" here to differentiate text adventures from written or static works of text. Examples of such works are books like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series, and some more modern adaptations that exist in the form of web pages, today. Although some would argue that these are indeed "Text Adventures", they are outside the scope of what is generally being referred to when the phrase is being used. In standard text adventures, the player typically types out his intentions in plain English (or whatever other language the specific game is targeted for) and the games attempt to "understand" what was meant and perform the action.

Does that sound like AI? Not by today's standards, but in the Seventies, a "Natural Language" interface to a computer was unheard of. Yes, text adventures certainly seemed to bring reality several steps closer to Arthur C. Clark's 2001 vision of HAL.

The Baby IF...

What is generally accepted as the first-ever text adventure is a mainframe program written in the seventies, now known by the name "Colossal Cave". As is the case with most subculture-creating pieces of work, "Colossal Cave" birthed derivative works, such as "Adventure," which in turn served as a basis for many modern pieces of IF.

The Adolescent IF...

The company generally given credit for making huge advances in the interactive fiction evolution is a company named Infocom. After producing dozens of text adventures, Infocom went out of business (several years ago now) and sold the rights to their games to Activision. Strangely enough, years after the company's demise, Infocom works are still widely accepted as the defacto-standard in interactive fiction.

Today's IF (All Grown Up)...

Since Infocom closed it's doors, many people have put intensive work into furthering IF. Some have reverse-engineered the game files and executables of the old Infocom games and created a documented standard from them (Z-Machine). Because of this published standard, there are now dozens of interpreters that can be used to play Z-Machine games (including the old Infocom games). Interpreters exist for virtually any operating system, from a Linux workstation to a Windows CE PalmPC. A language and compiler has also been created (INFORM) and released as freeware. This compiler can be used to create original Z-Machine games and carry on the Infocom legacy.

In addition to the Z-Machine standard, other IF development platforms have also sprung into existence. The most accepted among these, which leads a close second to INFORM, is TADS. There are more as well, such as HUGO, ALAN, and ADRIFT. All of these can be located in the interactive fiction archive located at:


Copyright 2004 - 2021 : Jim Fisher
OnyxRing.com has been given the potentially non-exclusive right to display the content of this article. However the original author retains all rights. Permission to reproduce this article -- either in part or in whole -- is left strictly to the discretion of the original author.

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