don't panic button

Computer Club: Let’s Play Interactive Fiction Together

Entertainment Geek Culture Videogames
don't panic button
Kreg Steppe via Flickr

A few years ago, I downloaded all the old Infocom games on the iPad, and they’re so much fun to play with the kids because of the history. I played those games when I was their age, and now they’re playing the games. (And yes, kids, I’m saving the files for you because, damnit, my grandkids are going to play these games one day.)

But the interactive fiction world has marched on. There is a thriving interactive fiction community writing in a multitude of programming languages. Time’s Game of the Year was the interactive fiction, 80 Days. Twine was featured in the New York Times. Slate just crowed this week about Andrew Plotkin’s Hadean Lands.

In fact, it was Hadean Lands that kicked off this idea. It has been fun having a critical mass of people all playing the same game at the same time, just as it was back in the old days when Infocom would release a new game and everyone would rush to play it. It means that there are people around thinking about the same puzzle that you are, sharing things they’ve noticed or possible solutions. It’s sort of like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of people online.

So I want to start a monthly computer club where we all play the same game at the same time. Bookmark the post at the beginning of the month and then start talking in the comment thread. What do you like about the game? What do you dislike? Where are you stuck? Has anyone figured out how to get the dart out of the bar? What about kill the troll? Get the shield?

We’ll spend a full month playing the same game together and hopefully we’ll all have solved it by the end of the month.

I’m aiming to pick games that kids can play, too, in case you want to do this with your child. I won’t be choosing games specifically written for kids, but I’ll aim for games that are kid-friendly in terms of language, violence, or sex. Of course, I’m playing along with you, so I apologize in advance if you stumble across a passage that isn’t exactly kid-friendly. Give everyone a heads up in the thread if that happens.

Our first game, kicking off next week is Adam Cadre’s Endless Nameless, a perfect introduction to today’s interactive fiction world. A tongue-in-cheek game that channels Zork, it’s an easy one for map creation. (Yes, you’ll have to make your own map, or one of us can scan the map we make and upload it online.) I’ve just started playing, so I’m going to stop and wait for everyone else to catch up.

If you want to join along, you’re going to need to download a z-machine interpreter so you can read the game files. My favorite one for the Mac is Zoom. Another popular one is Gargoyle. My favorite z-machine interpreter for the PC is Frotz. I also use iFrotz on the iPad.

You can download the game (for free) from the Interactive Fiction Database (IFDB). Once you’ve downloaded your z-machine interpreter, create an account at the IFDB and link it to your interpreter. You’ll be able to download Endless Nameless as well as hundreds of other games.

Let me know in the comment section below if you’ll be joining along next week when we start playing this together, as well as any questions you have about getting yourself setup and ready to play.

Grab your lamp and your nasty knife and let’s play!

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33 thoughts on “Computer Club: Let’s Play Interactive Fiction Together

  1. I’m in. I will try my best to dedicate a certain amount of time each week to trying to solve it.

  2. This is a great idea. I have tried, fairly unsuccessfully, to introduce my daughter to these kinds of games. Maybe the monthly game club will inspire her more than my efforts have. We’re in.

  3. Ah that’s great! Something to force me to finish games… C: Does this club exist purely in the comments section?

  4. There’s no need to create an IFDB account. Of course you can if you want, but there is no gatekeeping of who can download stuff from the site — unless they’ve implemented a new policy since last I checked, and I have no idea why they’d want to do that.

    1. Oh? Maybe it’s just with the z-machine interpreter. Mine asked me to log in when I was setting up the interpreter. But maybe I didn’t actually need to do that.

      1. Perhaps it’s because I already had Frotz from yonks ago (before IFDB was really a thing). It should still be possible to download most if not all interpreters from their own, separate, non-IFDB-affiliated websites, though; obviously my own experience may be outdated, but I’ve compiled resource posts for IF newbies more recently than that.

        1. I logged out and tried to download something and it worked. So, everyone, you don’t need to make an account. But… I mean… why not make an account. It makes you cool.

  5. I’m going to join – and might start an Interactive Fiction club at the school where I teach !

    1. Fun! I teach kids how to make interactive fiction games through our local computer club. But it would be fun to make a club just to play the games together.

    1. I found that my kids “got” them when they were 8 — understood the idea and enjoyed exploring. They still need a lot of help to solve the puzzles. But hey, I still need a lot of help to solve the puzzles. Hence this group!

  6. I’m all set for our Interactive Fiction club at school. Kids will be coming to join me play the game tomorrow afternoon.

    1. Watch them need to help all the adults solve the puzzles.

      The only iffy moment I found in the game so far (not sure the ages of the students) is that the troll on the bridge makes a joke about sex. So just a heads up when you encounter the troll.

  7. We’re huge fans of interactive fiction, too. We’ve built an engine that lets anyone create their own and share their stories with friends, family or the world. We’re just getting going, releasing the engine to the public in the next few days. We do have a demo story up and more stories will be released every month.

    Our hope is that amateur and professional writers will create stories and those that are amazing will be published and made available for sale, with royalties coming back to the authors. I hope that you’ll check us out – either on our website or our YouTube videos Cheers!

    1. PS I hope that didn’t come off too salesy – we’re really trying to get the word out because we’ve had very positive early feedback and you seem like someone who would like our vision and purpose!

      We’re a scrappy start up located an hour north of Toronto and we’ve raised $170K to get our company off the ground, to change the games industry with our platform.


  8. So far we have learnt that the purple dart in the weapon shop is very heavy, a cooked mackerel from the fisherman is very expensive and there is an annoying troll. Also there is a tribute to Zork outside the cottage πŸ˜‰

    Our map of the game can be found here –>

    We have also found this guide to help us on our adventure

    Chris Leach (see previous comments – WHS is my school)

  9. Hope y’all don’t mind if I ask for hints here… but anyone managed to smuggle a dart out of the tavern? (not to mention turn it purple without the shopkeeper noticing…)

    1. Not a problem, though the real thread will go up tomorrow, so I may repost this over there as well so people can find it. Have you tried getting drunk? Have you tried getting really drunk? What do people do when they’re really drunk? I’ll stop there to let you try a few things. Then I’ll give you a few more hints. P.S. Make sure you are holding the dart (or better, have it in your pocket) before you start getting drunk.

  10. My feedback about this game so far is that I’m definitely enjoying it, however unlike some other IF games I’ve played, there seems to be alot of restoring/restarting in the early parts of the story because it soon becomes apparent that you have missed doing something critical and it would seem that in some cases this is irreversible. This sort of story is less fluid to me because it relies on (to use a D&D/RPG analogy) having previous ‘player knowledge’ rather than current ‘character knowledge’ with the story, i.e. restarting and doing things because you now know how. This may in fact be the whole purpose of the game of course! πŸ™‚

    1. Have you tried that “recording” option yet? I haven’t, but I saw that you could record actions and then hit replay so you didn’t have to keep redoing all the tasks.

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