Interactive Fiction -- Great Idea or Menace to Society?

TelltaleGamesTelltaleGames Telltale Staff
Hi everyone. Brendan Q. Ferguson here. Today I'm going to tell you something that will, without a doubt in the world, change your life. In fact, I'm so sure it will knock you right out of your chair that I'm offering an ironclad double-your-money-back guarantee that you'll be reading this blog from the floor before this is all over. Double what money, you say? Well maybe it's about time y'all started paying me, don't you think? How else am I going to give out all these refunds? Think, people.

So wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Something that will change your life. Okay, I have two words for you: interactive fiction. Ever heard of it? No? Well, you've heard of fiction, right? If not, your local elementary school is probably still accepting applications for the fall semester. Assuming you have heard of fiction, though, then the quick thinkers among you may have already guessed that interactive fiction is pretty much the same thing, except interactive.

Usually when people refer to interactive fiction (or IF), they specifically mean text adventure games, in which you're given a text description of your surroundings, and you type in what you want to do. I believe Infocom coined the term to describe their text adventures from the 80s, some of which are among the best adventure games around. They're not the only ones who made interactive fiction, though. Among the other companies making IF, my favorite was Legend Entertainment, who incorporated graphics into their games, but retained the text input up until about 1993.

But I have news for you, my friends, interactive fiction has come a long way since then. Over the last decade, interactive fiction has experienced a resurgence that may one day be viewed as the biggest renaissance since, you know, the Renaissance. Thanks to programming systems such as Inform and the Text Adventure Development System (TADS), individual authors can create their own interactive fiction. In the last several years, a number of bright, talented authors have taken IF places that no one ever dreamed of. Okay, I dreamed of those places, but no one else did.

You see, when a game doesn't require a cast of thousands to make, the authors can be freer to try things that might be too innovative for the typically conservative commercial gaming companies. Consider Photopia by Adam Cadre, in which you examine the life of a young person from several different perspectives. Taking less than an hour to finish, it's a moving and powerful work, but Electronic Arts probably won't be throwing ten million bucks into it anytime soon, and if they do, I'll hop on the back of my flying pig to pick up my own copy at the mall.

The relative freedom that IF authors possess has led to interactive fiction spanning a very wide range of styles and themes. Some pieces (Photopia being just one example) invite you to experience a story that's not really a game at all. You don't necessarily solve any puzzles, you don't win or lose, you just take part in a story. Other pieces of contemporary IF have as many fiendish puzzles as any adventure game ever made. If you enjoy reading, I'd be willing to bet all my proceeds from this blog that you can find some interactive fiction out there that will appeal to you.

Myself, I've only just clawed the surface of what's been done, but I've already played works of interactive fiction with more creativity and distinctiveness than a truckload of most contemporary commercial games. In large part due to the annual IF competition, great free IF games are now a dime a dozen. Well actually they're even less than a dime a dozen. They're free, as I mentioned earlier. If you'd like to learn more about the IF scene, I'd recommend taking a gander at the IF sites by Suzanne Britton and Emily Short. They know a lot more about this stuff than I do, and their sites will help you get rolling.

Although we at Telltale will be making games with utterly unbelievably stunningly beautiful 3D graphics, we're hoping we can capture the spirit of the great interactive fiction games. We want to let you explore worlds that haven't been portrayed in a zillion other games. We want to immerse you in a story the way the best works of IF do. We want, in short, to enslave all of humanity. Wait, no, I've gone too far. We just want to make distinctive, fresh games that tell a great story.

Isn't that worth shooting for?

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