IF works with an innovative take on space

Hello everyone!

First of all, I’m wishing you all a Happy and Creative New Year, full of new stories and adventures!

As I mentioned in my introduction post (Introducing Ourselves - #1106 by jen_k), I have been conducting academic research on Interactive Fiction for the last few years. Currently, I am interested in Modern IF works that present any kind of experimental/innovative/subversive take on space, especially as compared to more traditional IF works. By “space” here I refer to any spatial aspect of an IF work, including setting and navigation, the space occupied by the text on the screen, the spatial design of the IF work or even the way that space is conceptualized and handled on the level of the source code.

For instance, works that initially came to my mind were Caleb Wilson’s Lime Ergot and Chandler Groover’s Toby’s Nose, both of which provide a compassless and even ‘motionless’ way of navigating and exploring the environment.

Of course, I have already identified some very interesting and helpful posts in the forum but any suggestions grouped here would be more than welcome and appreciated!


Cygnet Committee and The Impossible Stairs might interest you.


This is something I was thinking about when I wrote Heliopause.


Threediopolos and Ether might be good to add to the list too. On the choice-based side of things, there’s a lot of possibilities, from things that ape parser navigation convention like we, the remainder or (in a funny, unique way) Limerick Quest. Thin Walls focuses on a house whose architecture shifts over time, and the gameplay likewise alternates between highly-situated chapters focused on one particular room or set of rooms, and interchapters where you can move around the house, so that might be a fun one too.


Every one else has mentioned most of the games I would think of, but depending on your definition of space, you might be interested in:
Shade, which is still one of the best explorations of ‘sub-rooms within one room’ that I’ve seen, and
Pilgrimage, an interesting game from a first-time author (who made great stuff later on), where each movement takes you to a different country or continent.


Oh yeah, that reminds me of Out, which does a similar thing (though with a metaphor to go with the navigation…)


My game Of Their Shadows Deep plays with the space occupied by the text in what I like to think is a unique way.


Castle of the Red Prince and other games by C.E.J. Pacian usually get mentioned in this context. There’s also a “compassless” tag on IFDB which might be helpful.


Midnight. Swordfight. has the player navigate time in the same way you normally navigate space.


The games Strange Geometries - Details and The Northnorth Passage. - Details come to mind.


Also its inspiration The Impossible Bottle.


Don’t mind me, just adding all of these to my to-play list. This is actually a topic that I am deeply fascinated with, and have tried to work on before.


Cygnet Committee … might interest you.

Thanks for the mention! The main gimmick is that it uses sound based navigation.

You might want to check out this game demo called Winters Wake by cheeseness, which uses a mouse look mechanic similar to FPS games.

I found it specifically by searching for games that did this a while ago. I think it was exhibited at a show, but I haven’t seen it talked about here and I’m not sure the author visits the forums. Incidentally it looks a lot like my own game, but that’s just coincidence and the mechanic is quite different.


Yes! Lots of @aschultz 's other games always have unique navigation too. His last palindrome game was on a donut planet with cyclical navigation being key to the puzzles.


Many thanks, everyone!

A few of your suggestions (Ether, Midnight. Swordfight., Castle of the Red Prince) were already in my list; still, the affirmation is very helpful. The rest of the titles mentioned seem really interesting as well.

Feel free to keep posting, if anything else comes to your mind!


Dead Like Ants has a different navigational system, since you’re living in an ant colony in a tree.


My help will mainly be with parser games and, in particular, my own, which trend toward puzzliness and abusing compass directions (navigation) rather than world building. But I hope something is useful in here!

And if someone says “hey, that’s not innovative, game/story X is innovative!” I’d love to have that to try. This is the sort of thing I’m looking for, too.

I’ve seen a few parser games use GO TO or GT to go to a certain place. This feels like standard good practice in a larger game without a lot of tense events, though of course sneaky players may try to GT places they haven’t been yet or which should be off-limits.

IFDB.org has a few lists that may help. Some lists cover works already mentioned above.

I can think of two recent works in Inform that use text spacing/frames in an interesting way.

Arthur DiBianca’s Trouble in Sector 471 (2022 IFComp) has a really neat layout – his text maps in general are really handy, but in the case of 471, the stuff off to the side can be customized, which is fun and practical.

Mike Spivey’s Junior Arithmancer (2018 IFComp) feels like an exam sheet on the right. It’s laid out clearly so you can see how far you’ve gotten in certain spells.

For directions, I can’t vouch for all the travel games, but some do seem to take a big-picture view beyond north/south/east/west. One thing in text adventures that makes me smile is the whole “walking between continents/islands” gag. Leo Weinreb used walking between islands and ancient Greek countries for Hercules (2021)–I guess if you’re a God or demigod, you can do that-- and Mikko Vuorinen used directions between modern countries in The Adventures of the President of the United States of America (~2003). There must be more.

Fore/Aft is used in Phil Riley’s Crash. It’s hardly the only work ever to do so, but I think it’s used in an interesting way when you have to go outside the spaceship, so I’d like to note it.

BJ Best’s Off-Season at the Dream Factory and CJ Pacian’s 2010 IFComp game Rogue of the Multiverse both use forward/left/right/back, OSDF for one sub-area (for retro effect) and RotM for the whole game. (Pacian is listed in the IFDB polls below & has more than just Red Castle above.)

I’ll second @gfaregan’s mention of The Northnorth Passage, and there’s an outside chance other things in the list work well too:

Non-compass directions in parser games:

ETA: Wade Clarke’s contribution to Cragne Manor uses a toggle-3-binary-options formula to flip between 8 different sorts of rooms. It came about because everyone only got one room for the project, but they could push the envelope. Source and explanations are here as you may not have time to attack all of CM :slight_smile: M1F5 – Cragne Manor source code for The Music Room (Wade Clarke)

My own stuff got a bit long, so I hope it doesn’t read like self-promotion. It’s more a case of, I bet one of these will have something you want, but I don’t know which. Also, my hope is that the walkthrough included or big picture writeup below can give a big-picture view so playing through isn’t necessary.

  • Woe Cubs Woe is on a pentagram. There is a text map in the header. Diagonal directions include NWW versus NNW because, for instance, there are two diagonal passages from the southeast point on the outside. The game accepts, say, NNW if you can only go NNW but type NWW. Also, typing WN is equivalent to NWW and NW is equivalent to NNW.
  • A Roiling Original is an anagram finding game where some areas have “unusual” directions to guess. The sub-areas are themed by part of speech, and one introductory area is prepositions, which provide a guess-the-verb without too many possibilities. For instance, you can’t enter PAT’S directly so you have to go PAST. There’s another area with non-action verbs that help you think about how to move on, and a third area has active verbs, so you must for instance TRAMPLE across a templar ramplet, or LEAP in the direction of a pale plea. In the adjective area, you can makes something NEAREST when you are close to drowning.
  • @pbparjeter mentioned Tours Roust Torus (sequel to Roiling) has a heptagon of locations in a circle where the commands are a for clockwise or b for counterclockwise and you can also type aa, bb, etc. (Note: Cygnet Committee, by pbparjeter, has a map attractively laid out. I just remember it being unusually effective, but I don’t remember details.)
  • A Checkered Haunting allows the player to type “RN” or “RE” to, say, run north or east as far as possible on a 5x5 grid (you can’t walk over the same square twice.)
  • The Problems Compound has one late puzzle that includes diagonal directions where, say, 2 S + 2 E = 3 SE in a 13x13 box. In other words, diagonal directions move you roughly their actual Pythagorean distance. (1.5 vs. 1.414.) Usually S + E = SE.
  • As people kindly mentioned above, Threediopolis/Fourdiopolis are puzzle games both allow certain manipulation and conglomeration of how to move around. Fourdiopolis has teleporters that move you +/-2 north, west and up. Each also allows for a header that shows your task list and what you’ve found and what you need to find.
  • The Cube in the Cavern is a silly game where you walk across a cube’s 6 faces. The compass rose is NESW on 2, NSUD on 2, and EWUD on 2.
  • In Big Nose on the Big Pyramid, a 2021 April Fool’s game, you only move diagonally. It sort-of parodies an arcade game, which you might guess is Q*Bert. It (as well as Haunting) is meant to show a mathematical concept of parity.
  • Fivebyfivia Delenda Est is a small game on a reduced chessboard where you move like a knight. It and the ones below were inspired by Magnus Olsson’s Zugzwang (another April Fool’s game,) which involves pretty basic ordering a piece around–or moving, yourself. Zugzwang is from ~1999 or so, though.
  • Fourbyfourian Quarryin’ is a small game on a reduced chessboard where you can say “a1” or “e5” to move to that square.
  • I also wrote 2 games that were classic chess endgame puzzles (You Won’t Get Her Back, Zero Chance of Recovery) where you had the option of putting the board in the headers, so the map wasn’t printed every move. It could toggle spaces between the squares, and it could also label the rows and columns, and it could toggle if there were lines or spaces between squares. You could also toggle if dots appeared on unoccupied squares instead of N, K, or B. So having these 4 binary options relates to text spacing in a way.

I have a WIP (forever starting, never finishing) that adds B and A to N, S, E, and W. The premise being you can travel BEFORE and AFTER in every room, being increments of hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, and centuries depending on how far along in the game you are. This factors into both the puzzles and revealed narrative of the overall location the PC finds themselves in.

I had to remap the compass points while still using the standard compass points, which took some doing and, other than some simple proof of concept puzzles and a pretty bare narrative outline, the funky time-travel space mechanic is the only meaningful part I’ve got working correctly thus far.


YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO this sounds amazing!!!


Wow… okay, I guess y’all like the idea. I’ll get back to it then.


That’s a neat idea! I actually did a similar prototype for Alice Aforethought in Inform to see if it would work, and I was able to mirror/reverse all the compass directions at will. It would have made everyone so angry the way I was planning to do it!