A question about modern IF

Hi all,

I’ve kept an eye on the modern IF scene over the past several years, even if I haven’t participated in the community much. I have seen innovation and massive creativity in the games I’ve played, and I am in awe of the many fine writers and implementors who have labored so selflessly to bring more Art into the world. My hat goes off to all of you.

But as someone who grew up with Infidel and Zork, I sometimes feel left out of the newer, more experimental games. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Photopia and Galatea as much as anyone. But with so many games seemingly written around the IF Comp’s two-hour time limit, I often find myself missing the Infocom days, in which each new game required several sessions at the keyboard to complete (if one was lucky).

I have been toying with the idea of writing a game of my own, and have done some preliminary scripting and outlining. The tone would be more akin to Ballyhoo or Wishbringer: a simple but pleasant puzzlefest, with a colorful setting (an amusement park in this case). I think I could come up with something that would be an enjoyable throwback to those sorts of simpler games.

So here’s my question: would anyone even care? Has modern IF simply moved beyond this type of game? Indeed, does anyone even want to play a game that can’t (theoretically) be finished in two hours anymore? I’m just curious if there’s a consensus.

In no way do I mean to denigrate experimental IF. Some of it is astounding, and all of it is interesting. But is there still an interest in more traditional adventures too?

Thank you for your consideration of the question.


Those are the type of games I like to play and make. So do eeeet!

Counterfeit Monkey fits your description; it came out at the end of last year and was well-received.

Thanks, Zarf. I missed that one. I’ll snag it now.

And MTW, that’s good to know! Thanks. :slight_smile:


You don’t need a consensus, just an audience. And you’ll have one, for the first few turns. And if your game is fun, you’ll have them for the next few turns. And if your game is still fun, you’ll have them for the next few turns, and … :slight_smile:

I like game with a lot of puzzles (possibly even puzzles within puzzles within the entire game which is one large puzzle, all interfering), and takes several weeks to play; especially if it is in Z-machine format (although I have TADS 2, TADS 3, and Glulx interpreters too, so that will still do, but I don’t know what other people prefer). I also like to have all the fancy literature descriptions of things too, though, in combination with it.

I think that the trend towards shorter games is a case of the tail wagging the dog; the Comp’s the main event, the Comp promotes short to mid-length games. (It’s not that shorter games became popular and so we enshrined them in the Comp.) I think that, if anything, the relative shortage of longer games has made them a potentially more attractive prospect when they do show up. I think that many, many people are very happy to play puzzles as long as they’re fair, entertaining, make sense, have strong overarching design and are delivered with good writing.

I think that people are a lot less tolerant than they used to be of (for instance) the old method of extending play time by making puzzles hugely difficult, or puzzles that don’t really make much narrative sense, or read-the-author’s-mind puzzles, and so on. So if what you really want to do is make games just like they were in 1983, you might not get many takers. But those aren’t really objections from an avant-garde experimental or high-literary viewpoint; it’s just good craft, applicable irrespective of a game’s tone or size or puzzliness.

(I note you mention Galatea and Photopia, which served as poster-children and/or bogeymen for the idea of new-school IF in the late nineties and early oughts. As far as I’m concerned, the idea that IF audiences were irrevocably split into new-school experimentalists and old-school traditionalists, never all that plausible in the first place, died in 2002 with Savoir-Faire.

You are unlikely ever to get a consensus with this lot: what we have is a continuum. There are people who don’t care and will never care about anything made after 1989, and there are people who think that IF kind of sucked until the late 90s, but mostly there are people somewhere in between.)

Lots of great info above! Thanks, all!

And yes, I have no tolerance for games or puzzles that are hard simply for the sake of being hard (the bank puzzle in Zork II is inexcusable). Nor am I a lover of mazes, at least not the Adventure or Zork I type. Although I haven’t played Zork I in a while, I can still remember the path through the Cyclops maze, simply because it burned itself into my memory forever as I mapped it out in the '80s. (I just fired up Zork I before writing this post to doublecheck, and yep, I can still do the maze. That’s crazy.) By contrast, I thought the Royal Maze puzzle in Zork III was splendid.

Wishbringer is the game I keep coming back to. Although everyone sings Brian Moriarty’s praises for Trinity (and justifiably so–it’s my avatar, for Pete’s sake), Wishbringer is, in my opinion, quite underrated. I admire it so much; there’s a very rich and detailed world contained in a relatively small game map. The puzzles are all extremely fair, but not so easy that you can’t derive satisfaction from solving them. It was the first Infocom game I ever completed, so perhaps that colored my view of it, but I think it’s a marvelous introduction to IF even today. The poodle puzzle at the beginning of the game is the only part that feels contrived.

But had Wishbringer been released by a modern IF author in 2013, rather than Infocom in 1985, would it have been played and enjoyed, or denigrated for being simplistic and unambitious?

Although I played a lot of games in the post-Curses IF boom, the ones that resonated most strongly with me were Anchorhead, Jigsaw, Perdition’s Flames, Once and Future (I’ve still got my Cascade Mountain boxed copy!), and even Theater (which had flawless atmosphere but mediocre proofreading, at least the version I saw). All of these felt like ambitious games, all were very tough. but all were fair, although I still haven’t completed Once and Future. After that, I found it difficult to track down full-length games rather than IF Comp entries.

I’m sure I’ve missed some great stuff along the way. I’m trying to make up for lost time.


Reading back over this thread, I am no longer sure whether you are worried about (a) longer games being rejected by the community, (b) shorter games being rejected by the community, © easier games being rejected by the community…? Wishbringer is not a two-hour comp game.

Is there an actual trend of games-being-rejected that you are worried about stumbling into? I mean, did you read the recent batch of XYZZY reviews and think “Wow, they’re really tearing into the kind of game I’m writing?” Or did the kind of game you want to write fail to be nominated for XYZZYs? (If so, again, I think Counterfeit Monkey is a counterexample.)

A fair question, Zarf. Let me try stating it a different way.

Here are two things I perceive to be true:

  1. The works of IF that have attracted the most acclaim in recent years have been more experimental than traditional in nature.
  2. The rise of experimental IF seems to be connected, at least on some level, to the annual IF comp and its two-hour time limit.

If these two statements are indeed true (and perhaps they’re not; I’m not yet familiar with most of the recent XYZZY winners), then I am forced to infer that either:

  1. Traditional IF is less desired by the community than it used to be; or
  2. Traditional IF is still desired, but because it doesn’t easily fit into the time constraints of the IF comp, less of it gets written today.

I guess what it comes down to is: I’d hate to spend a lot of time working on a game that has no potential audience. But as others in this thread have said, it looks like there’s still at least a certain amount of interest, which encourages me greatly. (And yes, the irony is not lost on me that I’m worried about “traditional” games not being accepted while esoteric games are. At least in the case of IF, it seems that non-mainstream work has become the new mainstream.)

By the way, I downloaded Counterfeit Monkey on your recommendation, Zarf. Thanks; looks like it might scratch an itch for me.


You could make something that has features of both traditional and experimental.

  1. is not particularly true. Here is a list from IFDB: games with a net rating of 4+ and at least 5 ratings, sorted by most ratings, 2006-present. If you look through that, I don’t think you’ll see a particular skew towards experimental games - I’d say something like 40-50% are experimental, though of course what counts as ‘experimental’ is pretty arguable.

  2. is true only if by ‘experimental’ you mean ‘short’. In general, the Comp’s voting system tends to reward conventional and traditionally-designed games over experimental and avant-garde ones, because experiments are usually controversial, and often less robustly implemented. If there are any forces rewarding experimental games, then they’re a) discussion and theory, because there’s a lot more you can say about experimental games, and b) the XYZZYs, which often reward games that have enthusiastic followings rather than games with the broadest appeal. (But I don’t know that there’s evidence that the XYZZYs really influence game-creation to anything like the degree that the Comp does.)

Again, 1) is true only insofar as the community is not made up entirely of people who prefer long-form, puzzly IF. And 2) is true only insofar as ‘traditional’ means ‘long-form, with difficult puzzles’.

It happened at the same time, that’s undeniable. 1998 had way more experimental games than 1994! (As a percentage of releases, even.)

But that’s talking about a shift that happened 15 years ago! What has the trend been like over, say, the past decade? Much less clear.

All of the above is certainly true. And again, I’m talking about personal perception, which can certainly be skewed (if not altogether incorrect).

I was most active in the IF community in the late '90s. Then I got married and started raising kids, so my time for reading forums/newsgroups and playing interactive fiction plummeted. I still lurked on RAIF and RGIF when I could, but I wasn’t able to follow the day-to-day activity the way that I used to. I’ve got a decade’s worth of games and trends to catch up on.

At any rate, I thank everyone for their input. It makes me feel like it would be worthwhile to continue.

Now, the only question is whether to start learning Inform 7, or wait for the new version, which I understand is in the works. As I mentioned in my introductory post, I became fairly proficient with Inform 6 back in the day (although I never released any games), but I found it hard to wrap my brain around the more natural syntax of Inform 7.

Of course, I could still write in Inform 6 if I really wanted to, although at this point I’d have to relearn the language pretty much from scratch. And if I’m going to do that, why not learn the newest version?


For learning purposes, I expect that the new version if Inform 7 is not going to change much. So I wouldn’t wait for it. (Especially since its release date tends to be … shrouded in mystery.)

What Victor said. While there are going to be some important changes in the next release, it’s not going to be Inform 8.

“Long form, with difficult puzzles” (especially intermixed puzzles!) is things I like to find in some text adventure game. Three days is too short. However, you should still write it with the descriptions that you might write if you are writing a book, or possibly in some cases more details would be required, even.

Just write the game you like. Someone else is bound to like it too. Don’t worry about whether you’re conforming to norms.

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Zackly rite.