Brief Interactive Fiction Newbie Guide

The Basics

An "interactive fiction" (IF) is the fancy, modern name for a text adenture. A number of very famous games exist from Colossal Cave, Zork, and Planetfall to Dunnet, which is a part of the Emacs text editor. Being text-based makes the games portable between systems without worrying about graphics libraries, CPU power or, generally, memory consumption– at least with modern devices, anyway.

Every game comes packaged in a world. The player wanders around in this world, collects items, and solves puzzles, which generally increases the player's score. There are also traps and pitfalls that prevent the player from winning. Usually, there are ways for the player to die in the game. IF games are turn-based, so you can walk away from your computer and trust that nothing's happened when you return.

Communicating With the Game

IF games accept commands. You tell the computer what you want to do, and it attempts to carry it out for you. Commands are always imperitive sentences and usually begin with a verb. For instance, go east or get lamp are valid commands, depending on the game's situation. Most modern games allow more complicated commands requiring a second noun. In the Harrow series, for instance, shoot guard with shotgun may become valid.

Because players don't like typing all of this, commands can be shortened. Instead of typing go east, players can type east or just e, and the interpreter can figure out what you're trying to do.

Important Basic Commands

Almost all modern interactive fiction games recognize the same basic set of commands. To change the amount of detail you receive every time you walk into a room, the commands are brief, superbrief, and verbose. To look at something, use examine [something]. There are some commands to manage what you're carrying. To get something, use get [something], and to drop it, drop [something]. To view a list of the things you're carrying, use inventory or i.

Movement is done by typing in cardinal directions. Not all games are nice enough to list the exits to an area. It is handy to draw a map or constantly read the area descriptions. Basic movement can be shortened to typing n, e, s, w, nw, ne, sw, se, up, down, in, or out.

To repeat the same command that you previously used (handy in the Harrow games), type again or g. Commands can be combined on the same line by splicing them with a comma. For instance, if you know that you need to go east, then north, then east again to get to your destination, you can type e,n,e.

Also, typing save and restore can save the game state to an external file, so it can be played later or copied to a disk and taken elsewhere.

There are many other standard commands with Inform-style games. Experimenting is highly encouraged! There's nothing to lose and much, much fun to be had! Back