A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games

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In early , the game was completed. In order to make its games as portable as possible, Infocom developed the Z-machine , a custom virtual machine that could be implemented on a large number of platforms, and took standardized "story files" as input. In a non-technical sense, Infocom was responsible for developing the interactive style that would be emulated by many later interpreters.

The Infocom parser was widely regarded as the best of its era. It accepted complex, complete sentence commands like "put the blue book on the writing desk" at a time when most of its competitors parsers were restricted to simple two word verb-noun combinations such as "put book". The parser was actively upgraded with new features like undo and error correction, and later games would 'understand' multiple sentence input: 'pick up the gem and put it in my bag.

Several companies offered optional commercial feelies physical props associated with a game. The tradition of 'feelies' and the term itself is believed to have originated with Deadline , the third Infocom title after Zork I and II.

Interactive fiction

These included police interviews, the coroner's findings, letters, crime scene evidence and photos of the murder scene. These materials were very difficult for others to copy or otherwise reproduce, and many included information that was essential to completing the game. Seeing the potential benefits of both aiding game-play immersion and providing a measure of creative copy-protection, in addition to acting as a deterrent to software piracy, Infocom and later other companies began creating feelies for numerous titles. In , Infocom released a special version of the first three Zork titles together with plot-specific coins and other trinkets.

Interactive fiction became a standard product for many software companies. By Softline wrote that "the demands of the market are weighted heavily toward hi-res graphics" in games like Sierra's The Wizard and the Princess and its imitators. Such graphic adventures became the dominant form of the genre on computers with graphics, like the Apple II. Synapse Software and Acornsoft were also closed in Leaving Infocom as the leading company producing text-only adventure games on the Apple II with sophisticated parsers and writing, and still advertising its lack of graphics as a virtue.

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Probably the first commercial work of interactive fiction produced outside the U. Also worthy of mention are Delta 4 , Melbourne House , and the homebrew company Zenobi. In the early s Edu-Ware also produced interactive fiction for the Apple II as designated by the "if" graphic that was displayed on startup. SwordThrust and Eamon were simple two-word parser games with many role-playing elements not available in other interactive fiction. By March , there were 48 titles published for the Eamon system and over titles in total as of March In Italy, interactive fiction games were mainly published and distributed through various magazines in included tapes.


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The software house producing those games was Brainstorm Enterprise, and the most prolific IF author was Bonaventura Di Bello , [20] who produced 70 games in the Italian language. The wave of interactive fiction in Italy lasted for a couple of years thanks to the various magazines promoting the genre, then faded and remains still today a topic of interest for a small group of fans and less known developers, celebrated on Web sites and in related newsgroups. In Spain, interactive fiction was considered a minority genre, and was not very successful.

Later on, in , the same company produced an interactive fiction about Don Quijote. During this period, the Club de Aventuras AD CAAD , the main Spanish speaking community around interactive fiction in the world, was founded, and after the end of Aventuras AD in , the CAAD continued on its own, first with their own magazine, and then with the advent of Internet, with the launch of an active internet community that still produces interactive non commercial fiction nowadays.

It started out from the ashes of Infocom. The text adventures produced by Legend Entertainment used high-resolution graphics as well as sound. The last text adventure created by Legend Entertainment was Gateway II , while the last game ever created by Legend was Unreal II: The Awakening — the well-known first-person shooter action game using the Unreal Engine for both impressive graphics and realistic physics. After the decline of the commercial interactive fiction market in the s, an online community eventually formed around the medium.

In , the Usenet newsgroup rec. By custom, the topic of rec. As of late , discussions between writers have mostly moved from rec. One of the most important early developments was the reverse-engineering of Infocom's Z-Code format and Z-Machine virtual machine in by a group of enthusiasts called the InfoTaskForce and the subsequent development of an interpreter for Z-Code story files. As a result, it became possible to play Infocom's work on modern computers.

For years, amateurs with the IF community produced interactive fiction works of relatively limited scope using the Adventure Game Toolkit and similar tools. The breakthrough that allowed the interactive fiction community to truly prosper, however, was the creation and distribution of two sophisticated development systems.


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  7. In , Michael J. Roberts released TADS , a programming language designed to produce works of interactive fiction. In , Graham Nelson released Inform , a programming language and set of libraries which compiled to a Z-Code story file. Each of these systems allowed anyone with sufficient time and dedication to create a game, and caused a growth boom in the online interactive fiction community.

    Despite the lack of commercial support, the availability of high quality tools allowed enthusiasts of the genre to develop new high quality games. Competitions such as the annual Interactive Fiction Competition for short works, the Spring Thing for longer works, and the XYZZY Awards , further helped to improve the quality and complexity of the games. Modern games go much further than the original "Adventure" style, improving upon Infocom games, which relied extensively on puzzle solving, and to a lesser extent on communication with non player characters, to include experimentation with writing and story-telling techniques.

    While the majority of modern interactive fiction that is developed is distributed for free, there are some commercial endeavors. In , Michael Berlyn , a former Implementor at Infocom, started a new game company, Cascade Mountain Publishing, whose goals were to publish interactive fiction. Despite the Interactive Fiction community providing social and financial backing Cascade Mountain Publishing went out of business in To learn more about the history of interactive fiction, see the Get Lamp documentary.

    A Mind Forever Voyaging

    Adventure ' s parsers could only handle two-word sentences in the form of verb-noun pairs. Infocom 's games of , such as Zork , were written using a LISP -like programming language called ZIL Zork Implementation Language or Zork Interactive Language, it was referred to as both that compiled into a byte code able to run on a standardized virtual machine called the Z-machine.

    Storytelling in Video Games

    As the games were text based and used variants of the same Z-machine interpreter, the interpreter only had to be ported to a computer once, rather than once each game. Each game file included a sophisticated parser which allowed the user to type complex instructions to the game. Unlike earlier works of interactive fiction which only understood commands of the form 'verb noun', Infocom's parser could understand a wider variety of sentences. For instance one might type "open the large door, then go west", or "go to the hall".

    Infocom was also known for shipping creative props, or " feelies " and even "smellies" , with its games. A number of systems for writing interactive fiction now exist.

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    While familiarity with a programming language leads many new authors to attempt to produce their own complete IF application, most established IF authors recommend use of a specialised IF language, arguing that such systems allow authors to avoid the technicalities of producing a full featured parser, while allowing broad community support.

    The choice of authoring system usually depends on the author's desired balance of ease of use versus power, and the portability of the final product. Interpreters are the software used to play the works of interactive fiction created with a development system. Since they need to interact with the player, the "story files" created by development systems are programs in their own right.

    Rather than running directly on any one computer, they are programs run by Interpreters, or virtual machines, which are designed specially for IF. They may be part of the development system, or can be compiled together with the work of fiction as a standalone executable file. The Z-machine was designed by the founders of Infocom , in They were influenced by the then-new idea of a virtual Pascal computer , but replaced P with Z for Zork, the celebrated adventure game of The Z-machine evolved during the s but over 30 years later, it remains in use essentially unchanged.

    Glulx was designed by Andrew Plotkin in the late s as a new-generation IF virtual machine. It overcomes the technical constraint on the Z-machine by being a bit rather than bit processor. In addition to commercial distribution venues and individual websites, many works of free interactive fiction are distributed through community websites.

    A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling | Chronotope

    Works may be distributed for playing with in a separate interpreter. In which case they are often made available in the Blorb package format that many interpreters support.

    700 lines of code. No graphics.

    A filename ending. It is not common but IF files are sometimes also seen without a Blorb wrapping, though this usually means cover art, help files, and so forth are missing, like a book with the covers torn off. Z-machine story files usually have names ending.

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