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The ifwiki Interactive Fiction FAQ offers succinct and current information for newcomers to IF and the IF community. It answers those questions that come up frequently and directs readers to the most important online resources. While the FAQ is meant to be a useful part of ifwiki, it also should serve well read offline or printed out.

What is "interactive fiction"?

In the past the term referred mainly to parser-based programs (usually called "games" or, less often, "works") that let you type commands to a character. This character wanders around in a simulated world of some sort, typically one that is described in text. These parser-based games are sometimes called "text adventures." Examples include Adventure, Zork, Deadline, Planetfall, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Hobbit, and Curses.

More recently, the IF community has expanded its definition of interactive fiction to include choice-based works (also called CYOA) as well. In choice-based IF, players navigate through the story by selecting hyperlinks, or by periodically choosing from a list of options to determine how the story will progress.

Some people include gamebooks and graphical adventure games such as Myst when they use the term interactive fiction, but those sorts of works aren't the focus of this FAQ, nor the main concern of the IF community.

The ifwiki offers a formal definition of interactive fiction; there is a longer discussion of the topic in the rec.arts.int-fiction FAQ; and other definitions can be found in various works, such as the book Twisty Little Passages.

What happened to Infocom (Magnetic Scrolls, Level 9, etc.)?

None of the companies that produced IF during the 1980s are still around and producing IF. Infocom was acquired by Activision in 1986, for instance, and is now a (not very active) "label" of that company. Activision abandoned the Infocom trademark around 2002 (though not the copyright to the games); Pete Hottelet of Omni Consumer Products LLC acquired the trademark in 2007.

Interactive fiction from the Infocom era is often hard to find outside of abandonware sites and online auction sites, although some of it has been made available to the public by the company that produced it.

How can I download and play IF?

The Boston IF group The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction maintains a page of IF titles playable in your browser if you just want to get started quickly.

Many IF systems let you play in a web browser, and nearly all games are free to download. The Interactive Fiction Database is a community-edited IF catalog of thousands of free games available to play online and download, and includes ratings, reviews, and many other features to make finding and playing games easier.

In addition to the game itself (commonly called the 'story file') you usually will need to download an interpreter. Just like you need a player for music or video files, most IF games require an interpreter to run. The IFDB can help you download the correct interpreter, or you can choose one yourself; Gargoyle works well on Windows, Linux, and Mac. Other popular interpreters are Zoom for Mac and Linux and Spatterlight for Mac. You can play many games written with Inform on iOS, Android, and other mobile devices using interpreters written especially for those platforms.

One of the conveniences of Gargoyle and Spatterlight is that they can play IF created in multiple authoring systems. However, to see all the features of some games you may want a system-specific player; QTads is an example of a player created for a specific authoring system, TADS, and many other interpreters are available for specific combinations of systems and platforms.

Most of the games in the IFDB are hosted by the IF Archive, the main repository for free interactive fiction. It includes not only many games, but walkthroughs, interpreters, authoring systems, and more.

Where can I find out what games I might enjoy?

In addition to the IFDB, we recommend:

  • Looking back through past XYZZY winners or games that did well in the IF Competition.
  • Perusing the IF review sites. One of the best is SPAG.
  • Several members of the community have extensive collections of their personal recommendations, for instance, Emily Short.

What can I do when I get stuck?

If you've never played IF before, the People's Republic of Interactive Fiction created a beginner's postcard guide to IF.

Some games have in-game hints; try typing 'help', 'hint', 'hints', 'about', or 'think'. For others, hints or a walkthrough (a list of commands that will win the game, sometimes annotated) may be available on the IFDB, IF Archive or elsewhere on the Web. You can also ask fellow players for a hint on IF community sites (see below). Just be sure to include a spoiler warning and spoiler space before you reveal any details of the game, so you don't ruin the game for others by giving away some of its surprises.

How can I post a review of a game I've finished?

You can simply post a review to one of the community forums (see below), as many people traditionally do with IF Comp games. You can also submit your review to SPAG, put it on the IFDB, or post it on your own site or blog.

What is this "IF Comp"?

The Annual IF Competition is an Internet-wide competition for short games (ones you can complete in less than two hours), started in 1996 and currently run by Jason McIntosh. Anyone who is online can vote in the competition. Having played and rated five games is the only qualification necessary for judges. Recent years have seen dozens of entries and hundreds of judges: The 2011 Comp had 38 games voted on by 109 judges.

How can I write my own game?

Although some people develop IF from scratch in general-purpose programming languages, using one of the highly capable and free interactive fiction development systems will save you a lot of the grunt work involved in reinventing the wheel.

Popular systems include Inform, TADS, Hugo, Adrift, and Quest, but there are others. In recent years other choice-based systems such as Undum and ChoiceScript have attracted authors as well.

Which development system is best?

There really isn't a way to say which IF system you should use; what you should do is take a look at all of them and see which one fits you best. One way for you to decide is to review many of them at Roger Firth's Cloak of Darkness page. Another might be to play a range of games in the IFDB and see what style of game you like the most. You should also consider the development communities for different systems, what reference information is available for each, the system's capabilities (including multimedia, if that's important to you), and whether interpreters are available on the platforms you care about.

How do I get people to test my game?

You can ask for testers on one of the community sites (see below). Often you'll have an easier time finding testers if you test a few games yourself.

How do I get people to play my game?

Releasing it in the IF Comp can be a very effective way, if it fits the bill by being a two-hour game that is not based on previous copyrighted work. There are other IF competitions at other points in the year which are less popular but still provide good ways to release a game. If you don't release your game as part of a competition, you should announce your game on the IF community sites (see below).

You may also want to publicize your game outside the IF community, if there are other groups who might be interested in it. For example, the Electronic Literature Organization, if your work is written for a literary audience, or TIGSource, if your IF might appeal to the general indie games community. Outside the IF community there are increasingly more competition venues and forums for games such as IF, and the ELO and TIGSource are good places to start looking.

Where can I talk with other people who are into IF?

The IF community started in the early 1990s on two Usenet newsgroups: "raif", for authoring, programming, craft, and theory (raif on Google Groups, and see the raif FAQ and past raif topics), and "rgif", devoted to playing games (rgif on Google Groups). The term r*if refers to both raif and rgif.

For real-time interaction, IFers founded the ifmud in 1997 and it's still actively used today. There is an annual awards ceremony on ifMUD for the XYZZY Awards, the Oscars of interactive fiction (see the transcript from the 2013 XYZZY Awards here).

IFers created Intfiction.org in 2007, another web-based forum whose community overlaps with raif, and in 2008 Planet IF, a blog aggregator that follows many IF-related blogs and RSS feeds.

2009 saw the formation of the first IF meetup group, the Boston-based People's Republic of Interactive Fiction, and since then more groups have formed in Seattle, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay area. The PR-IF hosted the first 'IF summit' at the games expo PAX EAST in 2010.

How can I keep up with IF news and events?

Besides following Planet IF and community forums, you can also check the front page of ifwiki for competition news. There is increasingly more IF discussion outside the community proper on social sites such as Twitter.

Welcome to the IF community!

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