I recently had the pleasure of browsing through the first few years of the rec. arts.int-fiction archives in google groups, and it was fascinating. It gave me the following picture of the IF, which is almost certainly inaccurate:
For the first two years, there was almost no activity on raif, besides a couple of people asking about hypertext (apparently ahead of their time).
When Infocom shut down, the boards started getting about a few posts a month, mostly about Infocom nostalgia and asking how to crack the games.
Michael Roberts releases TADS and Ditch Day Drifter around 1990. It seems to have spread around, but isn’t mentioned a lot on the forums… for now.
Posts pick up to more than one a week when Dave Baggett begins evangelizing Unnkulia. People now ask a steady stream of TADS questions. These fall into two categories: How do I use TADS? (answer: download it and buy the manual/debugger). What TADS games are out there? (Answer for a year or two: The first two Unnkulia games, Ditch Day Drifter and Deep Space Drifter, then, later, Save Princeton).
A steady stream of Infocom nostalgia continues.
In 1993, Graham Nelson introduces Curses! and inform. The initial discussion of Inform (makes games that run on Infocom’s compilers; there’s one for every system, so you can play these games anywhere) heats up a bit, but doesn’t take off. Curses! now gets mentioned as much as Unnkulia.
Then, something crazy happens. By mid 1994, after another release of Curses! and Inform, and after people have had time to use Inform, the forum just takes off. There a many hundreds of posts this year, with tons of questions on how to use inform. People are thrilled that they can make games in the same file format as Infocom.
Ironically, this increases interest in TADS as well, as more people in general flood into the field, and discover that TADS has a lot more history and example code. Baggett releases more Unnkulia games, and somewhere the Horror of Rylvania comes out.
By the next year, Spag magazine is started. XYZZY news is started. The IFComp is announced, and Andrew Plotkin shows up. Christminster, Jigsaw, and Theatre set themselves up to be the most popular games for years to come.
What I find interesting is that TADS really came into its own after all of this. Babel, Glowgrass, and Sunset over Savannah all came out in the late 90’s, and Worlds Apart in 200 (I think).
But from reading the newsgroups, it seems like the flowering of Interactive Fiction started around the same time people started making a lot of Inform games.
So anyways, this may very well be all inaccurate; I’d be interested in hearing from those who were there how close this is to reality.