Extreme Newbie Alert - Need help

Hi, I’m completely new to the world of IF. I didn’t have a computer until the late 90’s when this kind of game was already out of fashion but I have always enjoyed puzzle games. My video game experiences come from the days of Atari, the NES, and SNES. I always gravitated more towards RPG’s, which in many ways I think use the same skills as IF but I know the experience is different.

For about a decade I was completely disconnected from video games but recently I’ve gotten it into my head to go back and examine the roots of video games, even playing games that are older than I am. Based on a friend’s advice I started with King’s Quest and I really enjoyed playing that and did pretty well. Then I read about Zork. Now I’m kind of interested in the whole IF genre. I’ve been a big RPG fan for years, both table top and video game. I’ve also played several online RPG’s with a similar format. The GM gives you a scenario and everyone has to respond with what their character is doing. The only difference with IF is that the scenarios are pre-written. It also interests the writer in me and after I’ve played a bunch of these, I’d like to try my hand at writing one of my own.

My usual methods would be to start chronologically. I figure that if the people who were playing them at the time could take them in that order then I could as well, but I welcome any advice on what games would be best to start out with especially if anyone feels that going chronologically wouldn’t be the best way to go. So now on to the questions:

1.) I keep on reading that I need WinFrotz to play these games on a Windows PC. Unfortunately all that I’ve been able to find are versions of WinFrotz designed for Win95/NT. Would that work on my Windows Vista machine or are there more recent versions? Is there another interpreter that I could use? I downloaded Advent.z5 so if something else is designed for Windows Vista and will play that file let me know. Alternatively I suppose I could find a DOS interpreter and download DosBox but wanted the thoughts of the forum.

2.) Are there any comprehensive lists of IF games that anyone knows about? I realize that it would be impossible to catalog every homebrew game in existence but does anyone know of a list of every IF game released by a software company? Are there any lists of popular/common homebrew games? Lists like that would be helpful for me to navigate the various types of games and see what I would like.

3.) Does anyone have any recommendations as far as games that I absolutely must play at some point or recommendations of where I should start? I planned on starting with Adventure but if that isn’t a good place to start I’d like to know what people recommend and why.

4.) Are there any 2-player IF games (probably internet based) so that you and a buddy can play in a game world where multiple people can wonder around and you can interact with them as well? If so, where I would learn about those?

I appreciate any and all feedback. Please let me know what you think.

Use Gargoyle, not WinFrotz: code.google.com/p/garglk/downloads/list

Some recommended lists are here: ifwiki.org/index.php/Recommended_games
Also check out the IFDB: ifdb.tads.org/

For multiplayer IF, check out Guncho: guncho.com/

  1. The latest Windows Frotz is here:
    Scroll down the list to “WindowsFrotzInstaller.exe” (or “WindowsFrotz.zip”) if you don’t want to use an installer. I don’t have an install of Vista to hand, but it was built and tested on Windows 7.

I am pretty new to IF aswell. If you want some good beginner games some forum users gave me some really good recommendations on some posts I have here the past week or so.

My first game was ‘The Dreamhold’. Its s tutorial game but doesn’t make you feel too much like a newbie!

A really great source for games that even includes reallly early classics is ifdb.tads.org

All of the big modern players in the genre post their titles here aswell as being able to grab Infocom classics such ‘Zork’ and Scott Adams ‘Adventureland’.

I have only completed two games so far but like you I am really looking forward to trying loads more titles.

Happy hunting!

Supplementary to the good advice you’ve already been given on this topic, you might want to also look into trying out some MUDs ( / MUSHes, MOOs – the MU generally indicates multi-user) or sitting in on a ClubFloyd session.

But then in the next post someone directed me to WinFrotz and told me that it should work on Vista, so if the functionality in Windows is not in question why should I choose Gargoyle over WinFrotz? What are the differences? What are the advantages of each? I haven’t been able to find a good reference which explains interpreters to me. I’ve just found lists which just say these are the interpreters and this is what they’re compatible with. Is this just personal preference and they’re really just about the same?

Please let me know.

Just to add to the confusion, WinFrotz and Windows Frotz are not the same thing. WinFrotz is an outdated program that I don’t recommend to anyone, while Windows Frotz (mentioned by David here) is actively developed. So don’t be fooled when you see WinFrotz version 2.32 next to Windows Frotz version 1.17.

Which one you’ll want to use of Windows Frotz or Gargoyle is a matter of personal preference. Many people prefer Gargoyle for two reasons: It can play more games (Frotz is for z-code games, but Gargoyle includes interpreters under the hood for most big IF systems so that you don’t need a bunch of “terps” to play different games), and its main design goal is to look good.

So why do some people prefer Windows Frotz?

According to Emerald Windows Frotz allows you to select text while Gargoyle doesn’t, but I’m not sure whether this is (still?) true. I’ve been using Windows Frotx and Glulxe for no other reason than that those are the ones I happened to download first and have served alright ever since. Maybe I should switch to Gargoyle?

So I downloaded Gargoyle and loaded “Hunt the Wumpus”. There doesn’t appear to be a way to save a game in progress. To me that seems odd but wanted to know if I just haven’t figured out how to do this or if there really is no way to save an IF game. Would other interpreters allow me to save?

I don’t use Gargoyle, but it’s a full-featured interpreter, so I am pretty sure there is a way to save. Have you tried typing “save”? (It’s possible that Hunt the Wumpus doesn’t allow saves for some reason – possibly because it is trying to emulate what it would be like to play the original? – but seems unlikely.)

Support for selecting text & copy/paste was added to Gargoyle in 2009. It works somewhat differently than in Windows Frotz, but it’s functional.

Gargoyle’s main virtues are cross-platform availability and a high degree of configurability. Windows Frotz / Glulxe / Git are updated more frequently; new Glk features will likely appear there first.

Gargoyle has the broader goal of providing interpreters for all popular IF formats in a single download / app install. Given the current and historical preponderance of Inform titles, this may not add a lot of value for someone who just wants to play through the greatest hits, but it’s a reasonable place to start if you’re new to IF.

Hunt the Wumpus is atypical of modern IF, a throwback to the earlier pre-text-adventure era. It may not have save functionality, I don’t know; usually to save a game in a text adventure however you will just enter the command “save”, and get back to that point by entering the command “restore”.

Games that I felt advanced the state of things (note: an important gap in my knowledge of the early era is that I’ve never played any Magnetic Scrolls/Level 9 games – they were part of a parallel British tradition that never penetrated the awareness of my friends and I in the early '80s which I have always found odd – in fact I’d love it if someone could point out for me which are the ‘important’ early British games, as below)…


Adventure (early 1977) is the best place to start for seeking out “the roots of video games” in IF form. (If you’re playing Hunt the Wumpus then I totally believe that is your goal, for who would play Hunt the Wumpus today for any reason other than research?)

Dungeon (late 1977) – this is the original mainframe version of the Zork games and contains content that was later split into Zork I, II, and III in order to fit onto personal computers. It’s quite different from the later versions particularly in parser design, so if tracing the development of that is your goal, Dungeon is an important data point.


Adventureland – this is a Scott Adams game and not playable in Gargoyle, but if you can find a way to play this I would. Adventureland is older than anything released on a personal computer by Infocom!

1978 is also the year Space Invaders was released in the arcades. Space Invaders changed everything. It represents the refinement of the ideas that had been previously explored in many variations in arcade after arcade. But it wasn’t until Space Invaders that they realised the extreme importance of preserving the consequences of player choices on the playing field as long as possible, which is also an insight very relevant to IF but which many IF authors did not absorb (and some still haven’t). It was that bit of knowledge about what to do with player choice (i.e. do not dispose of it in mere seconds, that’s a waste of player interest) that sparked the massive growth of the video game craze and stuff like Pac Man. So this is an important bit of study even for those only interested in narrative games. Text adventures (and adventure games in general) would not reach the level of saturation of the experimental field seen in the arcades of the '70s for years afterward, so really the early arcades are where you need to go to truly understand the early evolution of video games, including narrative games, and how they should handle player choice. But I’ll stick to text adventures…


Zork I – the real prototype for almost everything that came afterward in single-player parser-based IF. Adventure was a proof-of-concept. Zork I established the actual specific parser conventions in the forms that they still exist today.


Zork II – skip it


Deadline – the first serious-minded experiment in actual narrative fiction. Deadline is probably the first ‘interactive fiction’ I’m aware of that is truly deserving of that label. It attempted to bend the freshly-minted conventions of IF to apply to a different kind of storytelling.

Starcross – was the first experiment of a different kind: rather than bend the interface to fit a different story we could take more seriously (ACCUSE BUTLER), instead it found a serious environment (exploring an abandoned alien space vessel) that would naturally line-up with the pre-existing Zork-style interface. The result is something like Rendezvous with Rama. The interesting thing is, the Starcross experiment was much more successful than the Deadline experiment, if you measure success in terms of numbers of imitators. There were a few more Deadline-like games that tried to stretch the bounds of the IF interface, but there were THOUSANDS MORE Starcross-like games that chose their stories to fit their interface instead of vice versa. In a sense, after Starcross every adventure story became a retelling of Rendezvous with Rama. (Example: isn’t that exactly what Myst is?) So Starcross is the first of many, many ‘Rama’ games and it’s still the most ‘faithful’. 8) The Starcross style of serious storytelling is ascendant still to this day, although that hegemony has been fraying. (P.S. Starcross is fairly expert level or at least advanced in puzzle difficulty.)


Enchanter – This time Rama is a castle and we return to the Zork style universe, only taken more seriously, so this game is historically interesting in that respect – it plays like a fusion of Zork and Starcross.

Planetfall – First truly emotionally compelling NPC. Every story game designer with an interest in the history of their craft should have played this game.

Suspended – A very fascinating experiment (not really pursued afterward by any other authors) in which you control six different robots each with a different sensory apparatus. This is a difficult, complex game! Why was this type of brain-switching not further pursued? Was it because the POV-switch was clunky and restrictive (true) or was it because making the subjects robots didn’t really allow the idea to stretch its wings into differing emotional states rather than just sight/hearing/touch (also true)?


Cutthroats – Mostly interesting for cluing me into what could be done with multiple NPCs independently going about their daily routines which involve clandestine meetings with each other to which you may or may not manage to bear witness depending on your actions. I feel Cutthroats did this more effectively than the actual detective games that should have done this, like Deadline and Witness, mostly because the suspense was better handled – I really wanted to know what would happen when various characters ran into each other. The Infocom detective stories mostly failed because the interface experiments interfered with rathr than enhanced the narrative. (Don’t get me started on the ASK/TELL ABOUT interface.) Cutthroats contains some of the elements of the detective stories without their interface weakness.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – This one is just here to demonstrate the amazing suitability of interactive fiction to stories that are playful with language. (One look at your inventory in this game is enough to see how well the two dovetail.) It’s also the first time I saw IF mechanics twisted and bent to fold not-necessarily-IF situations that were taken from a novel – the results are very interesting and unusual puzzle types.


A Mind Forever Voyaging – The first masterpiece of interactive fiction, in my book. AMFV is a serious work of science fiction regardless of its nature as a game. And it’s the closest thing Infocom ever made to sandbox game, unless you count Quarterstaff which is mostly graphical.


Trinity – Possibly as interesting a work of science fiction as A Mind Forever Voyaging, but Trinity is far better rooted in the prevailing interactive style. It is endlessly fascinating to compare AMFV and Trinity because they are both serious and mature works but they have widely divergent relationships to the prevailing conventions of IF – AMFV almost entirely rejecting them, but Trinity embracing them with extraordinary maturity and grace. And both these conflicting visions for the future of a medium came out of the same company about a year apart – it’s amazing. This is Infocom at the top of its game – it has never got this good again in the commercial realm.


Curses was the first homebrew game based on Infocom’s z-machine, of significant size. There were a bunch of TADS experiments before this (in fact there were MANY homebrew game systems before this), but I never got too into homebrew (besides Eamon games) before Curses. Anyway in this early era, most of the stuff was attempts to recapture the glory of Infocom, so there was a lot of recreation of prior advances, and very little experimentation with form. As a result, the earliest homebrew stuff is much less interesting to me personally, although Curses is an important exception. It’s a difficult game but it starts out easy and has a nice, gradual upramp in puzzle complexity. Graham Nelson’s prose style is whimsical yet economical and restrained. He did an amazing job on several levels, and wrote a general-purpose compiler too; the man is a genius. I wish he’d write more games!

Other homebrew games since that I feel introduced me to important new ideas in design that I don’t recall seeing elsewhere quite as early…

A Change in the Weather – Moving beyond the rigidity of environment.
Jigsaw – interesting handling of protagonist. This is a very difficult game.
Delusions – virtual environment in a text environment.
I-0 – one of the first experiments with not just retelling Rendezvous with Rama.
The Edifice – Rendezvous with Rama in linguistic form. Fascinating use of medium.

The rest I have to add are more recent and are generally discussed much more frequently around here…

Spider and Web
Lost Pig
Heliopause (I forget the full name of this one but it in form it was very, very interesting)

That last run is pretty sketchy and missing I am sure LOTS more good stuff written more recently – I kind of dropped out of awareness of the community in the 2000s so there was close-to-ten-year gap where I didn’t really play anything.

Hope all that helps.


Not a bad catch. I’m actually doing this to satisfy me as a gamer as well as to satisfy me as an amateur historican. In the last few years I’ve delved quite a bit into the history of video games and reading books on the subject, but text adventures appear to always be skipped. These books often chart the development from the Arcade (beginning with Pong and Computer Space) and charting it through to the console systems of today. There appears to be a huge genre here which has been skipped and I’m quite interested in playing through its development and seeing what I like about it.

Now that I’m looking into Interactive Fiction I have found this book: amazon.com/Twisty-Little-Pas … 159&sr=1-2

I’ll wait to read it until I’ve gotten some games under my belt though.

Just as an aside has anyone read Twisty Little Passages and if so what did you think?

I have won it in a competition 6 months ago, but have as yet to receive it by mail. I’m looking at you, taleslinger! (just kidding, happy Easter!).

Given the fact it’s written by Nick Montfort, it just has to be ace. You should also check out Jason Scott’s amazing documentary about text adventures called GET LAMP. Google it right now if you don’t know it.

Dastari – are you reading Jimmy Maher’s blog, The Digital Antiquarian? He’s working through a history of computer (not console) games from Adventure on, in particular text adventures and computer RPGs. I think you’d be interested in it.

It’s an interesting, engaging and good book, although I’d treat with a little caution; it’s both a general history and introduction and a pitch for a particular theoretical approach to IF (that its most important literary relative is the riddle) that reflects both its age (the importance of puzzles has declined a little bit in the ~10 years since it was written) and Nick’s special interest in clever word puzzles. Thoroughly worthwhile, excellent and productive ideas, but should not be considered entirely representative of the shape of IF theory.

And just to mention something else that’s not entirely representative of the shape of IF theory, there’s the free IF Theory Reader: lulu.com/shop/kevin-jackson- … 51190.html. The articles are pretty old, and a lot of it focuses on creating IF, but there might be something interesting in there for people following this thread.


I didn’t know about it before but I am reading it now.