Best software for authoring IF

Hi all,

So I’ve completed my first IF game ‘To Kindle A Light’, and I’m working on my second project new.

I’m new to all this. I’ve done the best I could using Quest, but I was wondering what people think of Quest. Does the community hold it in high or low regard? Or is it all down to personal preference? Any recommendations?


This is a subjective question, and at times controversial. Much depends on what kind of project you want to make.

I think it’s fair to say that Quest isn’t as popular as other IF tools. The two most popular tools today are probably Twine and Inform, where Twine is good for building hypertext choice-based IF, and Inform is good for parser-based “text adventures” (games that tightly combine puzzles into their story, especially inventory puzzles).

Quest occupies an in-between spot where you can build point-and-click text adventures. (It has a parser mode, but the parser isn’t as robust as what you can do in Inform, especially with all of the extensions people have written for Inform.)

I like point-and-click text adventures and I think there’s a huge opportunity there. (Detectiveland won IFComp last year!) But the problem is that I’m not aware of any Great Games written in Quest. Some of Steph Cherrywell’s earlier games were in Quest, and reasonably well received, but she decided to switch to Inform for her 2015 IFComp submission and she won that year. Detectiveland wasn’t written in Quest; it was written in Robin’s home-brewed system that’s not (yet?) available to the public. (I think Detectiveland could well have been written in Quest, though it would have lacked some of the UI embellishments.)

Ultimately, if point-and-click text adventures are your thing, Quest may be the best tool for you. Quest is the best tool to make a Quest game. Twine is the best tool to make a Twine game. Inform is the best tool to make an Inform game.

On the other hand, if you want to make money writing IF, almost nobody is making money based on Twine, Inform, or Quest games. In the choice-based world, Ink is designed for you to build a Unity game around it (you’ll need to be a full-blown coder to do this). At Choice of Games, we have our own language, ChoiceScript, which authors use to write choice-based interactive novels for us; we have a large enough fan base that we can offer to pay authors thousands of dollars in advance to write for us.

As for parser-based games, if you’ve got excellent technical chops, you can wrap up an Inform game into an iOS app and a Win/Mac/Linux app with tools that Zarf has provided, but it is Not Easy, and there’s no way to build an Android app (folks are working on it) which limits the market substantially. As far as I know, nobody’s making a full-time living off of the sales of their parser-based text adventures.

I think Quest is great and has a lot of useful functionality such as a map, automatic buttons and links for common verbs. In my personal experience, I have trouble getting immersed in most of the stories because it feels like there’s a layer of database software between the reader and the words. (One highly recommended exception: Spondre - although I think he heavily modified the Quest choice engine to do some magical stuff, specifically the concept that any interesting word in the story text can be clicked on and may respond with information. Also, the story can break the prose momentarily to offer a choice, then fold that choice text up into itself like it never happened.)

If you want to write a game like something Infocom produced, Inform 7 is built for that. If you don’t know what Infocom is, that won’t mean anything. Inform 7 has an odd Excel-like learning curve (“Why do I need this? Oh this is useful. Good god this is so easy! I can do anything! WHY OH WHY DOESN’T IT UNDERSTAND? Oh, wait, I can make it understand…” You can model a world and the physics of it and the syntactical presentation of the story through a very strict but natural language source text code that is probably the closest thing to being a MYST character and creating an Age Linking Book. If you don’t know what MYST is, that won’t mean anything.

I like Squiffy a lot too, which was another branch of Quest. It’s specialty is text morphing—the kind where the existing text on the page can expand and change and reveal new links based on the player’s input (which is clicking highlighted words and links.)

ChoiceScript is pretty powerful for text-heavy choice narratives with stats. The best fit for it is a forward-moving, mostly linear, authored narrative with subtle or significant lane-changes based on how the player “steers” events via their choices and reactions which contribute to ever-accumulating stats. There’s often less-fine-grained interaction, but the author can tailor events based on the reader’s preferences and decisions, often with larger-scale narrative choices like “Rule the Kingdom with an iron fist! More taxes!” “We’ve got plenty of money, free gold for all!” “Invest moderately in manufacturing and hold off on military funding.” “Who cares? Look, I can throw fireballs!”

Parser based like old text adventures and interactive fiction of Infocom yore:

Simple GUI Drop Down / Cut and Paste (Hold Ya By the Hand w/ little Scripting)
Quest and Adrift

A bit dumbed down but yet a step above Simple GUI with a bit more scripting and ZMachine specific:
Inform 7

No Gui but Can Learn Easy Peasy Through Scripting but Parser is a bit withheld (but ya can manage):
ZILF, ngPAWs and ALAN (2 and 3)

If you are interested in making parser games, I recommend taking a look at TADS 3. Here is what draws me to the language:

  • Various interpreters and compilation tools, which are supported on all major platforms (Linux, OS X, and Windows)
  • Simple and robust error-handling and recovery
  • Object-oriented, C-like code

If you decide to check it out, be sure to look into the adv3lite library, which I for one prefer to the default library.