Basing IF on existing fiction

According to the IFComp rules, as long as you’ve written it all yourself, no plagiarism, and you’re using characters and the setting from that world, you should be good to go. I believe that falls under Fan Fiction, which is covered by Fair Use. I’m getting the IFComp rule from here: IFComp - Transformative work

If I’m wrong, please correct me - D


I haven’t done this myself, but here are two threads that might be helpful to review:

First, a post-mortem of At King Arthur’s Christmas Feast, a really well-done adaptation by @MoyTW of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into ChoiceScript. There’s good info on what that process looked like, and a discussion in the thread of other IF adaptations.

Second, a post about adaptation occasioned by the author (@mathbrush) writing a game version of a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories, which might be pretty on point for what you’re looking to do.

Hope these are useful!


Regarding adapting copyrighted material:

In short, you can write your own original adventure in the (for example) Doctor Who Universe, but you cannot adapt the actual plot of Blink in whole or in part because someone already wrote that and they would need to be paid for adaptation rights. It must be non-commercial fan-fiction, or transformative parody/satire.

(In fact, Blink might be a good example of how to create an original work in the universe of another IP, but that is an actual copyrighted episode of Doctor Who.)

If you’re adapting a relatively new book, you can take it as inspiration, but you cannot lift the writing or the specific plot. You must have permission to adapt currently copyrighted work.

None of this applies if the work being adapted is in the public domain. Many of the examples cited down thread (Sherlock Holmes, Hans Christian Andersen, Jules Verne/80 Days, Shakespeare/Hamlet) are past the copyright window and in the public domain.


Aside from copyright issues, it’s important to think about what you’re undertaking.

For example, if you were to base a screenplay on a book, you’ll definitely need a different format (e.g. information about what the camera sees and where it’s placed) but at least you’d have the benefit of both mediums being linear. Just like a book, a movie has a start, middle, and end.

IF, on the other hand, is about multiple middles and multiple endings. So where do you get the material for that? If Harry accepts the invitation to go to Hogwarts, you’re fine. But what if he tells the owls to buzz off? What if the sorting hat sends Harry to Slytherin? Etcetera, etcetera.

This can leave you holding the bag as you have one story path (from the original material) well-constructed, but now you have to add more story paths of equal quality to what the original author wrote, who, obviously, isn’t you :wink:

Furthermore, IF isn’t just about multiple story paths but about game-ifying a story. The player/reader isn’t just passively consuming your story but actively doing something to try to steer the story path one way or another - and if that isn’t fun for the player/reader, your work will fail as a game even if all your story paths’ textual elements are written well.

Not saying it’s impossible to transform an engaging, linear story (book) into a game that’s fun to play (IF), but it is a rather daunting challenge. This is why you need to ask yourself - why am I doing this in IF? What was exciting about the experience of reading the original book that I want to recreate?

Was it examining the clues? Was it solving the crime before the protagonist did? Was it all the colorful and shady characters that you meet? Was it the shock of discovering the unexpected plot twist?

Whatever your answer is, that’s what you’ve got to transform :hammer_and_wrench: into an interactive and exciting game.

Good luck! :crossed_fingers:


I would advise not making the player character the same as the hero of the original work, you get both more agency and less pressure for the player. It’s easier to be Watson that trying to impersonate the eccentric genius that is Sherlock.

Canon example of that are

  • 80Days (based on Le Tour du Monde en 80j by Jules Vernes) : you play Passepartout and not Fogg
  • Elsinore (based on Hamlet) : you play Ophelia and not the eponymous hero

I’d say that if someone make a Dr Who game, of course you should play as a Companion and any Harry Potter game should cast you as Neville Longbottom !


There are quite a few games under the adaptation tag on IFDB

I recently reviewed an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Matchstick Girl on these forums

You might also want to check out the Gaming Like Its 1926 competition.

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I took this approach for my first Inform 7 game, an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. The player character is one of the Time Traveler’s friends from the novella tasked with proving that his scientist friends has not gone insane.

I was satisfied with how v1.0 came out for ParserComp 2021. Currently I’m working on v2.0 for release sometime this summer.


I’m actually writing some fan-fiction (more correctly, dojinshi, because the inspiration came from certain JRPGs) for personal fun (that is, private WIP not intended for release) whose, OTOH, backs also a test bed for ideas of mine, applicable to original fictions.

So, my take on the point is that taking on an universe similar or analogous to the universe in mind and doing a private interactive fanfiction on it can help in developing said original IF universe.

Doctor Who, with its 900+ very diverse episodes, IS indeed a good, if not excellent PIFF (private interactive fanfiction) testbed for conceptualising, and even help in development, IF in space and/or time…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

A big issue for me would be that games - parser games especially - all happen in one go. Using Harry Potter again, each book takes place over the course of almost a year; there are lots of places that time jumps in the narrative. This is, of course, pretty much universal in other media.

I would be curious to know how people handle that in a parser game.

I think pretty straightforwardly? Even in the Infocom era, you had things like A Mind Forever Voyaging which had (admittedly simulated) big time jumps, and Photopia, in the early stages of the amateur era, has a fragmented, nonlinear narrative with many different narrators separated by time. If it’s a question of adaptation, yeah, there’s often some work that would need to be done to wrangle a sprawling narrative into a series of longer scenes, but I don’t think the parser-IF-specific approach would be that different from, say, how the makers of the Harry Potter movies adapted the books, which is primarily just a matter of compression (indeed, since IF allows you to include narrative asides explaining what happened in a skipped-over time period without needing to crowbar awkward exposition into dialogue or title cards, it might even be easier?)

To get more concrete, I did something sorta similar with my last IF Comp entry, which was a memoir focusing on six different events separated with sometimes-significant time gaps – I think the longest was around a decade? And I don’t feel like I had to think that hard to make it mostly work. I did some scene-setting with intro and outro text for each sequence that conveyed just enough info to make sense of the transitions, and moved around some events so they all fit within the same scene – for example, there was one conversation that actually happened a couple months earlier than the sequence where I included it, but compressing the timeline meant it was playable rather than something I had to do via exposition or a nested flashback or anything complex like that.

Of course, this was a narrative, puzzle-less game, so things might be trickier if the gameplay is more of a traditional puzzle-fest (resetting the inventory and world in between sequences might make anything other than relatively simple puzzles harder), or if there’s significant interactivity where actions in one sequence can have downstream impacts in later ones, that’ll lead to more implementation work. But in general I don’t think there’s anything inherent in the parser format that makes it too hard to adapt works that take more than a relatively short period of time to resolve.


Parser or not, I think this is a useful time to reiterate that what the author of IF knows and sees is not what the player sees and knows.

For example, a game set in 1948 New York with a time jump to 1973 New York would feel like two different experiences of the same place to the player. But design-wise, the two timelines are completely separate locations with a “trap door” connecting them.

In other words, a game with no time jumps set in a large mansion with Room A and Room B is seen by the player as being two separate localities. But 1948 New York and 1973 New York are exactly the same - two separate rooms/worlds, even if the player’s mental image is that they’re both the “same” locality.

Long story short - the arrow of time is just a mental model used by the player. For the designer crafting the code, everything in the game is just a series of rooms. Whether a regular wooden door or a magic time-jumping portal separate the rooms is irrelevant.

Speaking of time jumps, a huge shoutout and thanks to Renga in Blue for their exhaustive and honest playthrough of Time Zone, published exactly 30 years ago. FYI, it’s a parser game with time jumps galore.

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That kind of glosses over the issues - and that may be because I was not clear. By “time jump” I am not talking about time travel, which seems to be the case for Time Zone. I am talking about time passing naturally. In a story, nothing happens for a few months, so the narrative just skips over that. How do you handle that in IF, with a parser?

What exactly does the player do to initiate the time jump? How does the author ensure the player knows this will be a time jump? It will be pretty frustrating if the player passes through a door and suddenly find his character is 25 years in the future with no way back, and a few sentences saying how time has passed, and he now has a steady job and two kids.

Does the player get any choice about how far into the future he is projected?

I much prefer writing to playing, and have very limited experience of playing games, by the way, so perhaps these issues are resolved in some games.

A good example of a recent parser-based story that does this, is Sting, by Mike Russo. The jumps forward are not at all frustrating, since they happen at the conclusion of each chapter, and they’re essential to the story it tells.


An example of a classic game that does this is Anchorhead. It only skips one day at a time (the protagonist goes to bed each night to progress the story), but you could extrapolate.

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As noted above, Sting is a good example of this (I haven’t played Anchorhead) and I also did this in my last game which is set over several days. The player reaches a certain point in the narrative then the action stops, there is a title card (I used actual dates, but ‘several days later…’ would also work, I think), the stage is reset and the action restarts. Seems to work fine.


This was a feature of Scott Adams’ The Count (1979) and Ghost Town (1980), so it’s nothing new! Anchorhead is a good “modern” example!


Hehe, yeah, I guess I used “classic” to mean “classic in the age of modern, Inform-based IF”.


For a “young” medium, IF sure has a lot of history!


I worked on Game of Thrones: Ascent, which brought the player through all of the books through canon events with canon characters, while also building their own noble House and bringing it to power. When we caught up with the show, we’d get the scripts from HBO and write content to drop that week alongside the show.

It’s absolutely possible to write someone through existing canon content, you just have to be really fictively deft about it. The trick is how to make choice feel choice-y within the restriction of established facts. We know what happens at the Red Wedding and as a writer I need to involve the player in those events, without changing what happens canonically. But it absolutely can be done, and I’m happy to discuss it at length if anyone would like to drop a hat or make me coffee. :smiley:

As far as making IF of established works goes, there’s no reason not to amuse yourself with it! I may have written some interactive Supernatural fanfic, in fact. :sunglasses: Just be aware that even if you don’t make money off it that some owners of some IPs aren’t thrilled about fanfic, while others don’t mind at all. Know which you’re dealing with before you publish and of course never take money off someone’s IP if it’s not public domain and you don’t have permission/license to do it.


Kel, earlier I have already noted that isn’t only an amusement, but is also a good exercising.

let’s take a trio of well-known signature props as a generic example. the versatility of the Doctor’s screwdriver is a perfect training/experiment field for many actions, the Jedi ligthtsaber cut everything, including walls and locked doors. perfect for map-changing experiments. Star Trek’s tricorder is the ultimate examining tool, with ample settings & tuning; turning the responses to EXAMINE, the bread and butter of IF writers, into a major exercising & experimentation in adaptive prose.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.