Anne’s Picks for Totally Awesome Interactive Fiction
Posted on 3 February, 2009 at 12:11am
Being a computer nerd growing up in the 80s, I was lucky enough to have first-hand exposure to some of the greatest interactive fiction games of all time. My parents played Colossal Cave together on our Apple ][ and it was my mom who figured out the answer to the insidious final puzzle. Our basement was (and probably still is) full of Zork maps, notes, and drawings from a time before FAQs were plentiful and free on the internet. Some of those games took us six months or more to solve (Suspended, I’m looking at you) and required collective effort from our entire family. It was awesome.
Many computer folk were IF players back in the day. But what you may not know is that there is still an active community of people writing and distributing these games. And best of all, both the games and the interpreters are free! I don’t think the quality of these “amateur” games is any lower than the Infocom games I played in my youth. If anything, I think the genre has grown in incredible ways, and you can find some truly unique stories and play experiences in the IF archive.
When I was younger I spent an entire summer vacation playing Christminster on my Mac Plus. The basic story is that you visit your brother at college only to find he has gone missing. Your investigations lead you to a curious and sometimes mystical conspiracy. The game is incredibly rich, featuring memorable NPCs and some of the best descriptive writing I have seen. Bonus points for having a (likable) female lead.
2000, Andrew Plotkin – Download
A true mind-fuck, and one of the most renowned one-room games. You start out in your apartment, looking for your tickets as you get ready to leave for desert retreat. You can’t find them, but you do notice a slow trickle of sand into the room… seemingly coming from nowhere. There is not much you can do in this game but wait for the inevitable, but you’ll do it anyway, out of hope or perhaps morbid curiosity. Truly frightening and difficult to forget.
1999, Suzanne Briton – Download
The only IF that has ever made me cry. You wake up in a strange world with no memory of yourself, and you end up on an inter- and intra-personal journey to unlock your blocked-off memories. The author has a remarkable ability to create a world both dreamlike and incredibly real, complete with specific species of plants and animals. A long game, but the ending is beautiful and satisfying. Worth playing through.
Spider and Web
1998, Andrew Plotkin – Download
This game has won a million awards and deserves all of them. On the surface, it’s a futuristic spy thriller, but the gameplay is what makes this game so unique and entertaining. The narrative is “told” entirely through flashbacks – which means it is, in a way, fatalistic. You can’t do something that didn’t actually happen, can you? It may sound strange, but play just a few puzzles and you’ll see how subtle and brilliant it is (while still being quite challenging). It also culminates in one of the most spectacular twist endings in any IF game. Probably one of the more original games you’ll find anywhere.
Lost Pig! And Place Under Ground
2007, Grunk via Admiral Jota – Download
The 2007 IF Competition winner. I wasn’t expecting to like this at all, but it won me over immediately. You play a simple orc named Grunk caught up in an underground adventure to find his lost pig. The writing and dialogue are incredibly funny, as everything is done in oafish Grunk-speak. You can also set your pants on fire. What’s not to love? Charming and amusing with memorable puzzles and an impressive array of destructive actions you can try.
So hopefully now you’re hooked and desperate for more. Don’t worry, it’s out there. Start with Baf’s guide to the IF archive (now slightly out of date), and after that try browsing through the IFDB. And there are always more great titles emerging every year for the IF Comp and the XYZZY awards. Go forth!
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