Interactive Fiction

In the wake of the Slamdance fiasco (6 finalists have already dropped), I’m ending up checking the entries. I ran into Book & Volume, and thought it might give me new respect for the current state of Interactive Fiction.

After 5 minutes, it’s only given me despair. It works like a classic text adventure: a bunch of text and a prompt where you write what you want to do. So the game starts: I’m in a room, there’s a pager buzzing. Here’s the series of commands from my first session:

>pick pager
>get pager
>open pager
>use pager
>click pager
>look pager
>break pager
>turn off pager

GAME OVER. Apparently, I have a finite amount of actions before the pager kills me. Every command I tried was met with the equivalents of "you can’t do that" or "I don’t recognize that verb".

I have spare time so I’ll try it some more and post in the comments, but boy did I expect things to have improved a bit in the past 25 years.

Edit: It’s obvious this is not a game for me, and it’s somewhat unfair that I criticise it. I’d be interested if someone who appreciates it can explain why. All I’ve found are people who say "it’s great" but don’t really convey a reasoned explanation with comparisons to other games.

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5 thoughts on “Interactive Fiction

  1. In my second attempt at the game, I successfully avoided death from the pager. After a few minutes of successful progress, these are the last few bits of text:

    >exit house
    Something that you’re trying to refer to either hasn’t ever been mentioned or is not currently in the area.

    >exit home
    You get off the couch.


    It’s your residential canister. Your lime-green couch is against the longest wall. And it looks like we also have a heap of clothes.

    >exit home
    But you aren’t in the surroundings.

    Still not very encouraging. They way it seems to work so far is as a linear series of "states" (not strictly linear, as seen in my previous death, but linear enough). The text blurb in each state basically gives you textual hints about what you are supposed to do in order to progress to the next state. Above the text window, there’s a sort of summary of your location and possible exits. Game elements don’t "exist" except within the state where they are supposed to be used. If things (either mechanics or the story) don’t become more interesting soon, I’m going to start missing the good old days of "The Hobbit" (1982).

  2. Once you’re out of the house, you are in what seems like a decently sized city. I couldn’t find anything particularly interesting or noteworthy before I gave up.

  3. I don’t know about Book&Volume, but I can recommend Slouching towards Bedlam as one of the best short pieces of IF I’ve seen lately. Another short classic is Photopia.

    But in general, you should make use of the solutions in case you get stuck. One can appreciate the story, the freedom and the writing without having to appreciate the puzzles.



  4. I have mixed feelings about IF myself.

    I haven’t tried Book & Volume, and I guess that the problem you’re having with the game not understanding most commands arises from not following the "conventions" of IF. Book & Volume I saw was a Frotz game (or whatever that’s called), and there is a list of commands that have been used since the very first games: inventory, get x, etc. Specifically, to move from one room to the other you use north, south, etc, and that’s probably why the game had trouble with "exit house" (you can probably just say "exit", though).
    All this should be covered by the game’s help, anyway.

    In any case, my biggest complaint about IF is that games are reduced to brief descriptions and obscure puzzles. I tried Slouching towards Bedlam, and I barely knew how to do anything. The game would probably make a great movie, but the interactivity wasn’t so great, imho.

  5. Thanks for the pointers, guys. Trying Bedlam now. It seems more complicated in terms of how to phrase things in a way that they are recognized, but the writing and atmosphere are instantly engaging.

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