Participate in the Interactive Fiction Top 50!

commercial classics:
zork - first text adventure to hook me
moonmist - infocom’s most playable and accessible
a mind forever voyaging - infocom’s best narrative
arthur - infocom’s best puzzlefest
gateway - a complete multimedia experience
eric the unready - funniest commercial game ever

modern era:
varicella - great writing, great pc
vespers - best competition winner
anchorhead - best horror
pascal’s wager - most replayable
bolivia by night - educational & entertaining
rendition - best political
textfire golf - best z-code abuse
city of secrets - best implementation
stiffy mckane the undiscovered country - funniest free game ever
hoist sail for the heliopause and home - most elegant structure

Hi, All,

Here’s one more stab at a list of the top twenty IF stories. It was pretty hard to get the list pared down sufficiently, and I ended up giving myself a new rule—no more than one story per author. Without this rule, Andrew Plotkin, Emily Short, and Brian Moriarty would have appeared more than once.

Brendan Desilets

  1. Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin—Remember when we thought that Andrew Plotkin’s stories were brilliant, but awfully difficult? This story let us concentrate on the brilliance.
  2. Bronze by Emily Short—A fine plot, engaging characters, and an understated, Gothic setting. The best “worked example” ever.
  3. A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzsky—Absolutely compelling. Required reading for Tea Party members :wink:
  4. Wishbringer by Brian Moriarty—A gentle adventure for people of all ages. The ending may bring a tear to your eye.
  5. Arthur: the Quest for Excalibur by Bob Bates—A worthy addition to the Arthurian legends. More historically observant than most.
  6. “Photopia” by Adam Cadre—Remarkably original and unforgettably sad.
  7. The Firebird by Bonnie Montgomery—Very funny retelling of a classic tale.
  8. Suspect by Dave Lebling—A surprising mystery that hasn’t lost its charm.
  9. Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter by Michael Gentry—Very interactive and engaging story. The ending is a bit weak, but I’m surely looking forward to the sequel.
  10. 1893: a World’s Fair Mystery by Peter Napstad—Before The Devil in the White City, there was 1893: a World’s Fair Mystery, with its amazingly detailed evoking of one of the most important events in the history of popular culture.
  11. “Lost Pig” by Admiral Jota—This story implements everything, and it’s all funny.
  12. “The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet” by Graham Nelson—A master at work, short form.
    13. LASH by Paul O’Brian—A serious and creative use of the medium.
  13. Lost New York by Neil deMause—History and adventure, with a bit of nostalgia.
  14. Christminster by Gareth Reese—Alchemy, mystery, and a British college, too.
  15. Moon-Shaped by Jason Ermer—Truly spooky.
  16. Once and Future by G. Kevin Wilson—An exciting time-travel story, with King Arthur, JFK, and Vietnam.
  17. “The Warbler’s Nest” by Jason McIntosh—There are lots of effective IF horror tales, but few are as subtly frightening as this one.
  18. Bonehead by Sean M. Shore—Baseball, failure, and triumph.
  19. Worlds Apart by Suzanne Britton—A fully-realized fantasy adventure.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the depth of experience with modern IF that many of the longer-term vets do, so I’m probably missing several games that would otherwise take a spot on my list.

My top 10 (in the order I thought of them):

A Mind Forever Voyaging: The game that woke me up to the potential of IF. From the lavish backstory in the feelies to the moving, nonlinear, experiential gameplay, I considered this game for years the archetype of a perfect gaming experience.

Spider and Web: Outstanding mechanics and storytelling combined to produce an experience that challenges – at times frustrates – but ultimately satisfies.

Photopia: Compelling story from start to finish, told with power and heart. Yes, I cried.

The Baron: Somewhat didactic, and confusing at times, it is also powerful and affecting, with a an impact that lasts for weeks.

Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom: A surprise gem, the polish and attention to detail makes this gamer’s walk down memory lane a fantastic retro-themed exemplar of how form can be liberating in IF.

LASH: Somewhat flawed in execution towards the end, it still packs a tremendous punch and illustrates the power of IF to spur character identification.

Savoir-Faire: Emily had all cylinders firing on this one: great writing, setting, plot, puzzles, topped off by a brilliant magic system.

The Gostak: I’ve never actually gotten through this, but it’s the game I keep telling myself I have to solve next. Fascinating concept and thorough execution (from what I can see so far).

Lost Pig: The more I write IF the more I appreciate the amazing level of technical polish that went into this. Great writing and characters and imaginative puzzles make this a modern classic.

Blue Lacuna: Again, I haven’t fully finished this one, but several hours in was enough for me to know that it deserves a spot on my top 10. The sheer scope and ambition of Blue Lacuna would be plenty, but the amazing technical innovation really cements it for me.

I enjoy voting. But like most Americans, I hate leaving the house, so I just use an absentee ballot. I have accepted the fact that my votes will just be thrown into a garbage heap of tires and inexplicably bruised organic bananas because 99% of absentee voters are in the military and vote the opposite of how I do. But when I figured out I didn’t have to drive to vote in this thread and that Mike Snyder spambans anyone from registering with a .mil address, it became extremely appealing.

I have been out of the loop as a player for a few years, so this list will look like it was written in mid-2006. (For instance, George Bush invades someone between picks 13 and 14.) I wasn’t going to post it because it’s unfair to all the authors making great games in the current day. The world probably doesn’t need another multi-Zork list. I’m currently playing Savoir-Faire, so I am so far behind the times, I might as well be playing games from the actual 18th French Century. I don’t want to discourage anyone doing new things, but this happens anytime there’s an IF list – the last few years of text games are almost completely ignored. But while players are behind, word does eventually get out.

  1. Zork I: The Great Underground Empire by Infocom. The first truly great video game that was ever created.

  2. Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz by Infocom. To this day there’s, what, fewer than a dozen video game sequels that were legitimately as good as the first one?

  3. Knight Orc by Level 9. They ended up making a MMORPG with characters taking the place of logged-in users. Virtually everyone is reprehensible, there’s a ton of emergent gameplay and it really does feel like you got dumped into an unfriendly world, left with only your wits. This sense of community should be what on-line roleplaying games are trying to achieve, instead of bitcoin-based libertarianism and goblin-slobbing.

  4. I-0 by Adam Cadre. Laugh-out-loud funny, with that sense of being able to go anywhere and do anything that I really love in IF.

  5. Jinxter by Magnetic Scrolls. I only played this game after Michael Bywater made in appearance in the comments of that forum post where Andy Baio published internal Infocom e-mails without asking anyone if that was OK. This really is one of the funniest games ever made. The author’s challenge in Jinxter seemed to be to give a payoff for every single response the parser gave the player. (I’ve never written a proper review, so excuse me going into depth here.) When I was mid-way through the last game I made, I’ll confess that having to come up with so much text for mundane items was starting to become a chore. How many ways can a man describe a desk? Then I played Jinxter. Jinxter was like one of those personal trainers who yell at you. It made me realize what a gift it is to have the attention of a player. What an opportunity. It made me comprehend the rare series of events that need to occur for someone to even begin playing one’s text game in this age and if I didn’t respect that, and attempt to make every line of text as good as I could, I should just give up. Bywater doesn’t give up anywhere in Jinxter. He’s a force of nature here.

(But it’s below I-0 because no hawt chix go topless.)

  1. Narcolepsy by Adam Cadre. Full review here.

  2. Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin. Loved how smart I felt when I got inside the building, and the jarring shift that happens next. I never got tired of having the interrogator tell me that I couldn’t have possibly done what I did, seeing how what I did resulted in me squicking out. That – along with V.A.T.S. in Fallout 3 and take-downs in Deus Ex: Human Revolution – is one of those unique mechanics that I never ended up getting tired of.

  3. Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All The Girls by Legend. A wise man once pointed out to me that after A Mind Forever Voyaging, an artistic triumph that fared poorly financially, Steve Mertezky did “sex game, then sequel.” Sure, but after those two games he came up with what I believe is the most entertaining game of his career. S101 was meticulously plotted with a master of his craft leveraging his years of experience for a great story as well as game. There is a certain pleasure to someone experienced kicking ass in their creative years with such confidence. But at the same time, there was a lot of room for exploration within the game’s college campus. You could chose whether or not you went to class or not, and it was better to actually go! Amazing. S101 also holds the distinction of being the only game whose walkthrough of commands has ever made me laugh.

  4. Fail-Safe by Jon Ingold. I’ve read some other reviews that indicate that other players had a difficult time navigating things, but this didn’t happen in my case. I’m awful at seeing the trick in movies, books and games, so my brain was perfectly pudgy and ululating to be so magnificently tricked by a game like Fail-Safe.

  5. The Circuit’s Edge by Westwood Associates. I used to say this was my favorite book done by my favorite video game company. Then I got older and understood that the Infocom label was being used, though nobody at Infocom proper worked on it. The chief gameplay mechanic of this is just so amazingly brilliant: you can add microchips to your brain and instantly have a new personality or new abilities. This is dead-set sexy for video games. Like, argh, THIS should have been the genre that took over the world, and shooting people in the face with WWII weapons while having the word “of” in the title should have been marginalized. Fantastic soundtrack, graphics that don’t look too dated, random combat you can control to some degree via the microchip thing and the writing of (or in the style of) George Alec Effinger.

NOTE: One of the worst moments of my life was when I was carrying a lot more weight than I am now, and I went into Circuit’s Edge and accidentally had the player character eat too much food in one of the shoppes. This game flat-out tells you that you feel “grossly full” and, Christ - it was one of those “self” moments where you feel sick. Both Marid Audran and me made some lifestyle changes, although his involved a lot more bareback prostitute-fucking.

  1. Photopia by Adam Cadre. I don’t have anything special to add, but here’s the reason why Adam is my favorite IF author: he has this way of either anticipating what players are going to type, thus making the parser seemless, like how Richard Bartle describes YOUR dragon in Get Lamp, or else he hypnotizes me by writing so well that I don’t try to get cute and awkwardly type stuff, struggling to make things work. I’ll play in a single setting any IF that manages to make the parser something I barely have to pay attention to.

  2. Savoir-Faire by Emily Short. I am still playing this, but the humor and magic system really compliment each other. I feel the same way about most games with magic as people today feel about zombie games: there’s too many, and they suck right in their very reason for being. SF is an exception, like, say, Left 4 Dead 2. But really, the whole illusion with text games is that you can type anything into that prompt. So I like how Savoir-Faire, through the linking of objects, now has everything in play as a possible object that can pay off later. That, to me, is better world-building than a magic system where you find spell books or gain them via levels.

  3. Suspended by Infocom. More for the amazing interface and unique way of looking at Interactive Fiction. Truly set up like a game more than anything else, and I think there was even points, in the form of human lives lost, in the game? I don’t remember exactly, but in my defense, I figured the bots were remembering everything for me. Features one of the few player characters I feel I could beat up.

  4. Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country by One of the Bruces. My appreciation of this one is similar to Mentula Macanus, but I got more of the references in this one. I think I reviewed it on Trotting Krips back in the day. I think the only video game designer in the world whose games I’ve completely finished is Bruce. The moral of the story is: to be a successful author, develop an atmosphere where people feel that if they don’t finish your work, they’ll wind up with a mishmash of weird genitals sent through the post.

  5. A Mind Forever Voyaging by Infocom. There is one thing I really like about this game: Mertezky wanted to write a game because he hated Reagan, and that’s great. More text games need to tell me who they’re pissed off at. Another guy at Infocom, and I want to say it was Lebling, was like, “That’s fine, as long as there’s nobody stopping me from doing a pro-Republican game in the future.” (Paraphrased.) I mention this only because in our current political climate, everyone involved in such an exchange at almost any place of employment would be dead via the in-fighting, and that re-includes Reagan.

  6. Guilty Bastards by Kent Tessman. I liked this when I originally played it, because I was trapped in the mind of Kent Tessman, who is wry, clever, witty and fun. I then savaged this game’s source as I tried to make things work in my Hugo games, and gained a greater appreciation for it and all the stuff I missed. It was very inspirational - I learned it was OK if you have stuff in a game that all players don’t see. Some people will, and those people will appreciate it.

  7. Guild of Thieves by Magnetic Scrolls. I like to think this is what Zork IV would have been like, if Zork IV didn’t become Enchanter and was instead developed 15 years later. Funny, hates the player, gives you an entire world to solve puzzles in and has stunning graphics. Flack and I showed this one on the Amiga during the Oklahoma Video Game Expo, and some frigging reprobate had the unmitigated audacity to write, “>this game sucks” when we weren’t looking. Whoever that person was: YOU suck.

  8. At Wit’s End by Mike Sousa. I used to like that, with everything that happens in this game, the Red Sox winning the World Series was still the least believable. Then they won twice and took to scoring like 25 runs a game against the Blue Jays. Therefore this is downgraded to #18 to signify the 18 years since the Jays have last been to the playoffs.

  9. Rameses by Stephen Bond. Having a text game that basically doesn’t let you change anything is such a good idea – but it also didn’t occur to me what was going on until I finished playing it and went “HEY, WHAT THE.” This is because I am very stupid. But this game takes an enormous chance by giving us a charismatic player character that we have no real reason to care for. It’s that level of guts that made me adore the game so much.

  10. Annoyotron by Ben Parrish. Because, well. OK. It’s here because I can type several thousand words about the best genre in the world and it doesn’t change that, to the rest of the populace, they imagine these games we love so much to be exactly like this one.

Cool post! I’m in. I’ve probably played fewer IF games than many hardcore IF fans, so I’ve limited myself to a top 10 list.

The Witness
This is my all-time favorite interactive fiction story and really one of the first that I was able to solve without too many hints. It’s definitely old-school with all the good and bad of what was state of the art Infocom in the 1980s. It also included great “feelies” in the package. My own work-in-progress game “The Z-Machine Matter” has a modest tip of the hat to The Witness and other IF mystery games.

Border Zone
Another great Infocom title, Border Zone was an espionage story that took place in 3 acts with a real-time clock. It’s tricky, but a fun story where you have to move quickly. Definitely gets your heart racing! I was finally able to pick up a copy on eBay many years after having lost my earlier version in misguided spring cleaning years ago. What memories this game had for me!

While I never finished Trinity, I still think it is one of the coolest concepts for a game. Great historical story telling that goes into a while other level of mythology working on multiple levels. Also included a very cool comic book and great props.

An Act of Murder
This is a great short “who done it” mystery by Chris Huang. This was one of the games that got me back into Interactive Fiction after a long absence. It’s very approachable and does a great job of creating a randomized mystery story. Huang’s story is also an inspiration to my own game.

While Photopia is more story than game, it’s an excellent example of a more experimental style of IF that is actually interesting and moving. Definitely worth trying out. Extremely compelling writing.

Lord Bellwater’s Secret
This is a short one-room mystery. While it has some quirks and some puzzles that are not completely logical, it’s still a pretty darned good piece of entertainment. The writing is strong and there’s some good surprises for such a tight-knit game.

Spider & Web
An intriguing piece of IF with some inteesting narrative techniques and solid writing by Andrew Plotkin.

The King of Shreds and Patches
Admittedly, I’m late to this game, trying it for the first time with the recently released Kindle version. I could use Zoom on my Mac, but I really wanted to see whether IF could work well on the Kindle. I’m just blown away at what a great job Jimmy Maher has done exploiting the Kindle UI. This truly captures what an interactive novel should feel like. Elizabethan stories are not usually my cup of tea, but this is so well done I’m willing to stretch a bit. If you have a Kindle, how can you not try this out?

Make it Good
This is the most awesome post-Infocom detective mystery story out there. It’s truly an epic piece of work.

Lost Pig
Despite the fact that it’s not a mystery story, this is a fun game with a helluva great narrative voice. It’s fun, it’s entertaining and it’s not crazy hard.

My favorite IF games are pretty much all my favorites for similar reasons: they’re the ones that take advantage of IF’s strengths, often by playing with the significance of the text interface itself or by awareness of the historical form/tropes of text adventures, and they generally have a high level of polish. I’m probably forgetting something here, but off the top of my head with some help from my “Played Games” list on IFDB:
The Gostak
Savoir Faire
Spider and Web
Ad Verbum
Suveh Nux
Rover’s Day Out
Rogue of the Multiverse

Some of mine in no particular order.


The first Scott Adams game has a very classic design. It’s a treasure hunt through a forest and some caverns, with a bit of magic thrown in and a lot of random things that can go wrong. As a kid, it was one of the first adventure games I was able to make progress in on my own, though my dad already considered it uninteresting compared to the graphic splendour of stuff like Wizard and the Princess. However today, I don’t really enjoy playing Wizard and the Princess, but I do enjoy Adventureland. The game has an elemental adventure quality befitting its name

Strange Odyssey

I still haven’t played all the Scott Adams adventures, but this is my other favourite. Relatively speaking, Adventureland comes across as friendly, whereas Strange Odyssey is hostile and properly alien in feel. Again, this is ultimately a treasure hunt, but the treasures are on different mini worlds, reachable through a portal in an abandoned spacecraft. Each world is very dangerous. You might step through a portal into an incompatible gravity field and be crushed immediately. I really like the sense of unpredictable danger and mystery in this game. The minimal prose works well because the worlds are more threatening without explanation.


The only Infocom game I was ever able to make major headway in on my own, though that’s not the only reason I like it. I love the transformation of the town and its atmosphere, and the black humour attendant upon the transformations. I find the game creepy and mysterious, exciting but threatening, and the puzzles are doable. A great spooky fantasy game.


The first Infocom game I ever played. I didn’t achieve much (again, I was probably eight years old) but I kept playing the part I could do again and again because I love the chilling atmosphere. I get creeped out when my robots are dispassionately reporting on the arrival of the humans who have come to turn me off. Also there’s the whole business with the robots themselves, named after their propensities (kinda like the Smurfs). I like moving their counters around on the real board, studying the board and thinking about what might be in different locations. I’ve still got my original copy of this with the big frozen face prop.

Lucifer’s Realm

Ken and Roberta Williams teamed up with the guy who did the graphics for Transylvania to produce a game about dying and going to hell, where Hitler is taking over. This Apple II game is scary, but somehow a better word is freaky. One of the puzzles involves trying to get past the Rev Jim Jones (he’s guarding a door). Lots of caverns, abysses of screaming souls, blood and freaky graphics. This game tried to maximise the graphics real estate by using the whole screen for graphics, then hiding the picture for the text interface as soon as you started typing.

Marika the Offering

This is my favourite one room game from recent times. You play a young woman barricading her room against a vampire. It’s not that I’m opposed to one room adventures which are conspicuously adventurey - that is one of the joys of adventure games - but this one is probably not, and its natural quality, earnest tone, the sense of urgency and the neat way of giving you clues when you die all add up.


Just finished playing this the other day, but I would say it’s one of the best modern spooky games done in a classic style. After leaving your pager in a theatre, you become trapped in there and get involved with an ancient plot. This is quite a big adventure, but with no terribly abstruse puzzles until near the end. I found it was a game where you could keep circling areas already visited and become unstuck as a result. I hate games where I circle diligently, only to find out the solution was a real mind reading job that wasn’t actually to be ‘found’ anywhere, and wasn’t sufficiently suggested. A good atmosphere and good puzzles in this one. (In similar terrain, I also tried Anchorhead, but I find it too hard and abstruse, and it was another experience for me where the walk-through destroyed my interest in the game, resulting in me quitting.)

One Eye Open

A little buggy in its current state for my tastes, but a great purveyor of a very contemporary style of horror. Psychic experiments go awry, moving you through parallel and alternate realities in a hospital ala Silent Hill. Lots of good creepouts, shocks and guck.


Just don’t make me spell its name… A good and earnest G-rated adventure, very well written, quite action packed in spite of relatively hefty wordiness. The delivery has the kind of grace+flow that tends to make a game of any genre stand out.

Zork II: The first Infocom game I ever played (back in 1984), well ahead of the first part of the trilogy. Took a couple of years to finish. Despite its shortcomings (never understood the bank puzzle), this treasure hunt with a persistent enemy is still an entertaining game.

Planetfall: The first Infocom game with a plot that I played. With the bonus of Floyd the droid, the first properly realized interactive NPC (who even responds to meta-commands).

Wishbringer: A beautifully written beginners game that had me stumped for a long while. Platypuses, transformed town, multiple solutions to problems. What’s there not to like.

Guild of Thieves: While The Pawn was more of a technology demo to show Infocom that Magnetic Scrolls were a real competitor, their second game was a much better product. A relentless treasure hunt through a quasi-medieval milieu was perhaps cliched, but an impressively put together collection of puzzles.

Unnkulian Unventure: The first new generation game that I played. A game that proved that there’s still life in the genre even though the commercial publishers are dead. Humorous and complex. A perfect showcase for TADS, the language and virtual machine that allowed development of highly complex games.

Curses: The Inform language and compiler began intimately tied to Curses. A massive game that mixes in puzzles of variable quality and difficulty. Immensely enjoyable, but packs a steep learning curve.

Photopia: Short, pointful and emotional.

Anchorhead: Long, pointful and powerful. Finest horror game I have played. So good that I actually crafted a mostly functional Call of Cthulhu- scenario out of the plot.

Lost Pig: The most recent entry on the list is yet another impeccably written game. The point-of-view of a not so smart protagonist is well realized in an avalanche of appropriate responses to most commands.

My top! These are not exactly the works I personally consider the “best” according to my taste, but the ones I both consider as great works (so it doeesn’t pretend to be objetive) and would recommend to anyone wether she shares my tastes or not (so a few of my “masterworks” list get excluded).

-Cozumel. (A.K.A. Diosa De Cozumel) Aventuras AD, 1989
Spanish commercial IF at its peak. It was released for most active 8 and 16 bits platforms at Europe in 1989, and it had evrything in the exact right measure: clever, challenging puzzles, a nice plot, a detailed enviroment which helped inmersion, good NPC characterization, sense of good old clasic exploring and adventuring… all of it as basicly developed as expected for 80’s home computers, but so wisely mixed that it makes all prior and subsequent spanish IF production (incuding current modern works) look, well, unbalanced!

-Floarea Soarelui. Colin Woodcock, Serban Ovidiu Morcan, 2006
-On Reflection. Lee Tonks, 2007
These are two very different approachs to a same goal. Floarea is a spies comedy located in a little village. Reflection is an atmospheric daunting sci-fi thriller. Both are modern works made for an old school 8-bit computer, and they make more than one current platform work pale by comparision just with their carefully stylized writting and powerful ambientation. Strongly recommended.

-1893 A World’s Fair Mystery. Peter Nepstad, 2002
Now there goes a lesson on how to make commercial IF viable nowadays. Select your audience and give them something of their true interest. There is a fair chance of reaching outside your target if the product is nicely crafted. I was never into History or world’s fairs and had a great time with it, anyway. Worth every penny!

-Violet. Jeremy freese, 2008
Cheerful romantic comedy at its best. Casual IF players (if such a thing exits :laughing:) could love it just like casual moviegoers could enjoy a Kevin Smith flick. Incidentally, It also has some twist that makes it groundbreaking in terms of IF narrative, but that’s not the point now. Play and enjoy!

Thanks for participating, everyone! Voting is now closed and I will process the votes and post the results. But feel free to continue posting your own personal lists here.

oh, damn. I missed this?!

Thankfully, the votes came out pretty ok. I’d add a vote for Spellbreaker and a few other puzzlers, but in the end, a well rounded list indeed.