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"SOMEWHERE NEARBY IS COLOSSAL CAVE, WHERE OTHERS HAVE FOUND FORTUNES IN TREASURE AND GOLD, THOUGH IT IS RUMORED THAT SOME WHO ENTER ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. MAGIC IS SAID TO WORK IN THE CAVE. I WILL BE YOUR EYES AND HANDS. DIRECT ME WITH ONE OR TWO WORD PHRASES"
—Colossal Cave Adventure
Interactive Fiction is a term originally introduced by the seminal Adventure Game company Infocom to describe its line of more "serious" long-form text adventures back in the Golden Era. Interactive fiction games are adventure games in which the interaction is almost entirely text-based. Early games, and games from purist companies like Infocom, were nothing more than bare text, but some later offerings added pictures, sound and limited mouse input (one game, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, even included plot-relevant scratch-and-sniff cards as Feelies) -- but the primary form of interaction was still through descriptive text and typed commands. The genre began with the original adventure game, Colossal Cave, and really took off in the early 1980s, with offerings such as the Zork trilogy and later, more literary works, such as Trinity and A Mind Forever Voyaging.
The obvious reason why they were in text form is that was the only means of output available. Original Adventure was written in the programming language FORTRAN and was designed to run on the mainframe and minicomputers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Graphics output wasn't possible because most places had no systems available for on-screen graphics. It was only when graphics capability became popular on PCs starting in the mid 1980s that the text adventure started to be replaced by various programs that used graphics capability.
Interactive Fiction was once the industry standard for long-form narratives now implemented in computer Role Playing Games, but fell out of commercial viability by the 1990s (largely replaced by the Point and Click Adventure). Shortly after the major players disappeared from the market, a lively amateur scene sprung up on the Internet, centred around the Interactive Fiction Archive (http://www.ifarchive.org ) and the UseNet newsgroups rec.arts.int-fiction and rec.games.int-fiction, thanks to the appearance of good-quality programming tools that have allowed recent amateur efforts to equal or exceed the quality of commercial games from the heyday of the genre. An annual contest sponsored by the community typically draws more than 20 entries per year, and the hobby continues to evolve and improve.
The Multi User Dungeon (MUD), the MUCK and the MUSH or Multi User Shared Hallucination are related games with very early origins, which emphasize the roleplaying aspect of user-generated online environments. The Adventure Game progressed directly from early text-based adventures, and is graphic-intensive but similarly story-oriented. This evolution kicked off by Interactive Fiction (also known as Text Adventure) is what eventually led to the MMORPG.
Arguably the most modern form of Interactive Fiction is the "Visual Novel" derived from Romance Games, but in general, these stories tend to be much less interactive than the classics were, since they don't have a Text Parser, or even much of an interface.
Tropes common to Interactive Fiction games include:
- An Aesop: Rarely played straight, usually warped in some way, because True Art Is Incomprehensible (or offensive).
- Chekhov's Gun
- Easter Egg: Typically in the form of a Shout-Out to classics of the genre.
- Easy Amnesia: Sometimes justified by plot, sometimes not.
- Empty Room Psych: The unintentional version is far more common. Knowing which author wrote the game you're playing helps a lot (good authors are probably really pulling a psych, new or bad authors probably just didn't bother to code the furniture).
- Exposition Break
- Guess the Verb: Lampshaded in a game of same title.
- Have a Nice Death: Usually Played for Laughs, again the horror genre is an exception.
- I Can't Use These Things Together: Sometimes the source of the famous Guess the Verb problem (the plastic explosive in Zork II was a particularly bad one).
- Insurmountable Waist High Fence: Typically enforced by a player character who doesn't want to climb over the fence, for some reason.
- Inventory Management Puzzle: Sometimes averted; a player's holdall or infinite inventory is common in newer games, as a courtesy to players.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: Well, it wouldn't be very interactive if all the story took place at once, now would it?
- Kleptomaniac Hero: Even worse than in video games, since item interaction is the basis for most IF puzzles.
- Last Lousy Point: Originating in the ur-IF game Colossal Cave.
- Late to the Party
- Locked Door: Though many subversions exist -- the door may require a password, or there might be another way through, or you might just have to destroy the door.
- The Maze: A Discredited Trope in Interactive Fiction.
- Multiple Endings: Mostly in recent games.
- Nintendo Hard: Part of the genre's charm for many players, though games do range in difficulty and some of them can't be gotten into an Unwinnable state.
- Schrodinger's Gun
- Scrolling Text
- Second Person Narration: Ubiquitous, to the point where not using it is experimental.
- Specifically, second-person present tense.
- Strategy Guide
- Take Your Time: Virtually all text games are turn-based, so timing doesn't matter. However, some games avert it with "timed" (turn-sensitive) puzzles to increase the difficulty. (A Change in the Weather is one of the hardest; make ONE wrong move and the game is lost.)
- Talk to Everyone: If it's possible to TALK or ASK or TELL or SHOW at all.
- Text Parser: Originated the concept.
- The Many Deaths of You: Popularized in the Zork games, still common in later works. "Serious" games tend not to have a million ways to kill you, except in the horror genre.
- Unwinnable by Design: Used to be standard. Generally somewhat frowned upon in modern games, though there are some much-praised exceptions. Zarf's cruelty scale, quoted on the Unwinnable by Design trope page, was designed for interactive fiction.
- For example, "Broken Legs," the second-place game in the 2009 IFComp, was cruel, but "Rover's Day Out" and "Snowquest," the first- and third-place games, were both polite in that any death could be undone. In fact, most of the latter two games are merciful, in that you can't do anything to prevent yourself from being able to reach the ending.
- Vaporware: Plenty of old ones, since graphics killed the text-game stars. Production of vaporware is ongoing, since text games can be produced by single artists, and coding is a huge project. The IF archives are full of half-finished orphans.
- Walkthrough: Optional. Some games come with, some don't. Lack of walkthroughs contributes to some of the mystery in old Vaporware games.
- Welcome to Corneria: Common with NPCs, especially in early games, but becoming used less and less. (Galatea might be the strongest single-author aversion out there.)
- Wiki Rule: IFWiki.
- With This Herring: Best intro ever: "The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock." (from Dan Schmidt's For A Change)
- You Can't Get Ye Flask: Particular to this one genre.
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