Author Highlights: Aaron Reed

Background: Aaron Reed is a long-term interactive fiction author and scholar. Besides his IF work, he has written numerous research and technical publications about interactive fiction, including Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 and a dissertation about narrative games.

Aaron Reed currently works at Spirit AI with several other well-known IF authors, and runs the annual Spring Thing competition.

Selected Works:

Gourmet (2003): This game is distinct from Aaron’s later games. A collaboration with Chad Barb, it is an unabashed but clever puzzlefest that took 5th place in IFComp 2003.

Gourmet puts you into the role of a restauranteur that has to get everything ready for opening day and a new food critic. Puzzles are extremely complex, involving mysterious and broken machines, social manipulation, and multi-step recipes.

It was a bit buggy when it came out, but well-regarded.

Whom the Telling Changed (2005):

This was the first of Aaron Reed’s experimental/artsy games, and it won Spring Thing 2005.

This game is highly polished, with special text effects for the title screen and a complex user-editable highlighting system.

It has character-building choices and keyword-based movement and conversation. The bulk of the game, though, is participatory storytelling where the player shapes a storyteller’s epic by choosing the focus of the story.

Blue Lacuna (2008):

This game is one of the monuments of Interactive Fiction. Winner of the XYZZY Best Game Award, in 6th and 11th place on the Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time polls (2011 and 2015 editions), and 11th place in the IFDB Top 100, Blue Lacuna is firmly in the top tier of IF games.

Blue Lacuna is one of the largest Inform games ever written, and may be the highest (comparable games might include Finding Martin and Inside Woman).

The game is set over many days and largely takes place on a tropical island inhabited by a strange and slightly insane wanderer. You are part of a group of people who can move between worlds thanks to their creative abilities, something like Myst (which this game channels). Movement is again keyword based, but compass directions (and even puzzles themselves) are options that can be turned on and off.

Although some bugs slipped in through the cracks of the massive infrastructure, this remains one of the most complicated conversational games (rivaling even Galatea) and one of the most epic storytelling games in the IF canon.

> by @ (2008):

In complete opposition to Blue Lacuna, this game was written with 140 characters or less of source code. It’s amusing how much story can be built out of Inform’s standard responses together with a small garnish of text.

maybe make some change (2011):

This is a game that borrows more from the culture of the art community than the IF community. In it, you play through several scenarios in Afghanistan involving you as a soldier and an Afghan citizen running towards you. Each is a single screen, a single action, and your options are severely constrained.

The game uses graphics and text. It is a clear movement towards integrating with the larger academic and creative arts communities.

18 Cadence (2013):

This game is completely unique. You explore a house in both time (over 100 years) and space (several rooms) from different character’s perspective.

Each page of text given you has a list of scenery objects. Scenery objects and all other text can be dragged to a sort of scrapbook page below. By overlaying these texts, splicing them into each other, and rearranging them, you can create your own story.

Hollywood Visionary (2015)

This Choicescript game was a return to basics for Aaron Reed, as it is pure text and generally follows Choice of Games style.

It was also a big success in the IF world. It was nominated for Best Game and Best NPCS in the XYZZY Awards.

You play as a movie maker in the McCarthy era. You have to deal with the political climate of the time as you interact with famous movie stars and directors like Jimmy Stewart and Orson Welles. The bulk of the game is deciding what your film will actually be like.

The Ice-Bound Concordance (2016):

This is a game that I have never played, but is apparently very complex. It consists of a large, visually dense book and a companion app that allows the player to see an augmented-reality version of the book. It delves into A.I. and has won several awards.


Aaron Reed has taken the most academic approach to interactive fiction, using games as research and trying to engage with a large community.

His games are designed for maximum ease of use, including using keyword systems and simplifying user interfaces, as well as allowing a great deal of player avatar customization. He uses graphics for the same reason. His games also tend to be very orderly and neat, with complex machines or clean-cut mechanics that have multiple interacting variables.


Aaron Reed, in his goals and works, is in a very different class from the authors featured so far. Another author that has similar goals is Victor Gijsbers, whom I’ll be featuring next.