10 Essential Interactive Fiction Games for Beginners
Interactive Fiction Games are a subset of the larger genre of text adventure games, distinguished by their high quality prose, plot development, and branching story lines. I have long been of the opinion that Text Adventure games took their first stumbling steps towards Interactive Fiction starting with Douglas Adams excellent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Unfortunately, The Hitchhiker’s Game is incredibly difficult and can be outright hostile towards inexperienced players. (One puzzle, that appears early in the game, was so notoriously difficult that Infocom sold T-Shirts, so that you could brag about solving it.)
Much of the Interactive Fiction of the 80s depended on the players already having more than a passive familiarity with the conventions of Text Adventures in general. It was far more recently that we began developing IF games that were actually approachable by new players.
Thankfully, over the years I’ve stumbled across some truly great Interactive Fiction and Text Adventure Games, and I’m always working to introduce new folks to the format.
Here are 10 Essential Interactive Fiction Games for Beginners
More Game than Fiction:
Curses, released in 1993, is the first Interactive Fiction game of the modern era. It was written by Graham Nelson, who also wrote the tools that he used to create the game (a programing language called Inform.) In the game, you play the role of a man exploring his attic, and also the occult gateways that link your attic to all manner of interesting times.
Many modern IF players got their start here.
Bronze is an Interactive Fiction game by Emily Short. It’s designed to be an introduction to the format, and succeeds as an introduction but, more importantly, as a game. You’ll play Beauty (from Beauty and the Beast), returning home to discover something is amiss.
Far and away, one of the friendliest works of IF ever conceived.
Originally released in 2003, and updated for this 10th anniversary edition in 2013, Slouching Towards Bedlam is a steampunk adventure, set in London that might have been, in 1885. The prose is great, the story is great, and the game strikes a good balance between difficult and frustrating.
One of my personal favorites, in this game, you play a troll in search of a pig. Lost Pig is a very funny, well written, and challenging game. It is fair, has a good hint system, and has a much larger plot, and much richer characterization than it might initially appear.
More Fiction than Game:
All roads is a supernatural thriller set in medieval Venice. There’s really only one puzzle in all roads and, though the game is played in a very traditional style, there is really only one path through. Worth playing twice.
Photopia presents a series of interactive vingettes that interweave in jarring and frustrating ways. The author advises against playing it twice, though I wouldn’t.
More of a conversation than a game. You’re talking to a statue that has come to life. She’s a great conversationalist.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ masterpiece adapted to Interactive Fiction by Steve Meretzky and Mr. Adams himself. This game is punishingly difficult, and absolutely hillarious. I defy you to finish it without help.
A Mind Forever Voyaging
It’s 2031. The world is on the brink of chaos. In the United States of North America, spiraling crime and unemployment rates, decayed school systems and massive government regulations have led to a lazy, contentious society.
To reverse this critical situation, government and industry leaders have developed a Plan combining the economic freedom and strong moral values of the 1950’s with the technological advancements of the 21st century. Will the Plan ensure peace and prosperity? Or will it set the earth on a suicide course to destruction?
As the world’s first conscious, intelligent computer, only you can visit places that have never been seen before. Only you can view the future. And only you know what must be done to save humanity.
A major departure for Infocom, A Mind Forever Voyaging is reminiscent of such classic works of science fiction as Brave New World and 1984. You’ll spend less time solving puzzles, as you explore realistic worlds of the future.
A Mind Forever Voyaging is another work by Mr. Meretzky. It is consistently considered one of the best works of Interactive Fiction of all time. It will stick with you when you’ve finished it.
(You’ll need the map and decoder matrix included with the original package. Reproduced here)
“Join the Patrol, and see the Galaxy!” You took the poster’s advice, bait and all, and marched right over to the recruitment station near your home on the backwater planet of Gallium. Images of exotic worlds, strange and colorful aliens, and Deep Space heroism had danced in your head as you signed the dotted line. And since that day the closest you’ve come to Deep Space heroism was scrubbing down the radioactive leper colony on Ishmael-3.
But suppose that jumbo fortune cookie you got at Qwang’s Take-Out Asteroid last shore leave was right. Maybe you will indeed narrowly escape disaster. It’s even possible that you’ll actually travel to an unknown corner of the Universe, where you’ll save a doomed planet — or die in the attempt. In fact, we’ll guarantee it — every crumb of it — because that’s just the way the cosmic cookie crumbles.
Another Steve Meretzky game. The game itself is pretty simple, but the plot (while, admittedly, also fairly simple) is executed with a deftness that is not often seen. Well worth playing.