You come around a corner, away from the noise of the opening.
There is only one exhibit. She stands in the spotlight, with her back to you: a sweep of pale hair on paler skin, a column of emerald silk that ends in a pool at her feet. She might be the model in a perfume ad; the trophy wife at a formal gathering; one of the guests at this very opening, standing on an empty pedestal in some ironic act of artistic deconstruction - You hesitate, about to turn away. Her hand balls into a fist. "They told me you were coming."

- Emily Short, Galatea (2000)

The annual Interactive Fiction Competition is now in its eleventh year. This, the best known of many IF contests, draws three to five dozen entries annually - 30 to 60 complete text games, each playable in two hours or less. (Or anyway, they're only rated on how much the judges can complete in two hours.)

These games cover a stunning variety of subjects: genre adventures in the Infocom tradition, historical tales, mind-bending dream worlds - one recent entry, Aidan Doyle's Bolivia by Night, is basically a tour of Bolivia. There's even a text version of a first-person shooter, Jason Bergman's IF Quake:

A Grunt is on patrol here, armed with a shotgun and looking rather surly. As you enter the room, he looks up and turns in your direction.

The Rottweiler sniffs you immediately and runs in your direction.
You can also see a Medkit here.


You hit the Grunt, taking off 12 from his health.

The Grunt's shotgun nicks your leg, hitting you for five points. It won't kill you, but you'd really rather it not happen again.

Interactive fiction fans range widely, and some of them write well. Chris Klimas' Blue Chairs, which swept the major Xyzzy Awards for 2004, leads the player through a stylish, symbolic second-person hallucination/dream full of sad recollections:

Beatrice's Room

The first time you saw this room, you were laughing. It was Christmas, after dinner, and you were flush with the wine her parents insisted you drink - maybe because you seemed so nervous - and there you saw them: all those paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. She made them, one by one, to remember things worth remembering. Her sixteenth birthday. When she stopped taking ballet classes. You caught her reaching for a piece of origami paper on her bureau that night. She thought you had fallen asleep.

(Klimas has posted a Blue Chairs walkthrough. Playing any IF walkthrough makes you part actor, part stenographer, part observer. It's like watching a really good Dance Dance Revolution player: entertaining, but the experience is completely different from actual play.)

For newcomers, one good introduction to IF is Andrew "Zarf" Plotkin's fantasy game Dreamhold, an amnesiac's exploration of a wizard's high house. It has a tutorial mode that helps the newbie along with hints and encouragement.


This is the weathered front porch of the house. A closed screen door leads westward into the house. You can leave the porch to the east.

Mr. Martin is standing in the doorway.

There is a particularly yummy bone here.

"What! Timmy's fallen down and broken his leg! Where?"

"In the old Johnson barn! Let's go!"

- a joke contest example from the Winter 1986 Infocom newsletter, "The New Zork Times"

These interactive fiction games range so widely because their cost of entry is so low. Using free special-purpose compilers like Inform, TADS, or the more recent Hugo, any IF enthusiast can make a complete computer game in days instead of years, alone instead of on a huge team, with minimal programming knowledge. No, there's no money in it - but then again, if there were, the games would probably look a lot more alike, slick mass-market clones.

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