Use of Forms in IF

By happy coincidence, I recently played Deadline and The Corsham Witch Trial at the same time. Both use Forms (note capital “F” for clarity) in service to a narrative. By “Forms” I do not mean the everyday sense, as in a form one completes (to submit one’s taxes, apply for a credit card, etc.). Rather, I mean it in the creative writing studies sense: a piece of writing in an established, recognizable format. For instance, the emails in Corsham Witch Trial or the letter from Robner’s attorney in Deadline are both examples of Forms in IF. A sonnet is a Form, too.

A form is a Form, but not all Forms are forms.

It’s a technique I enjoy. I thought it was more effective for JC Blair to link PDF files of email threads, so that we could see their structure as they would appear on-screen or in a court of law. A text transcription would have a different effect. Likewise, the on-paper history of Anderson’s case in Deadline situates a reader differently than an in-interface transcription would.

I would argue that Deadline goes a step further, since many of the papers have different textures–which after all can be seen as part of the Form. Only owners of a physical copy (does paper stock change in the grey box release?) can touch the paper, which is a downside.

I am wondering if there are other works of IF that make good use of Forms. I also wonder if people find Forms preferable to transcriptions.

As a bonus: do the specific textures of pieces of paper packaged with Deadline (as well as the physicality of the folder) leave modern, digital-only players with a diminished experience? Folios range from 200-400 USD on ebay, which excludes most players.


There’s the letter-based “First Draft of the Revolution” by Emily Short and Liza Daly: inkle - First Draft of the Revolution

Also, there must be something in the water :slightly_smiling_face: , because a similar topic came up very recently here, cross-linking for reference:


Ah, yes, this is a great example. It additionally incorporates revision of documents which seems like a great idea. I’ll have to run though it once the IFComp due date rolls around and I’ve replayed Zork III (just for a transcript, that won’t take long). Thanks for this!

I’m not sure how I missed this. I am new and sometimes confuse tags/sections. Hopefully this post is different enough to warrant some replies.

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Interesting to see a similar question asked in different terms!

Ever since I encountered S (aka. Ship of Theseus), I’ve been enchanted by “ergodic literature.”

Interactive fiction, both web- and parser-based, strikes me as an ideal medium for storytelling of this type, and I’m surprised that there isn’t more of it. Looks like an opportunity!

I think telling a compelling story using Forms is more difficult than it sounds. Corsham is essentially reformatted prose. I think the real sweet spot is integrating interactive Forms (what I call documents in my post) as the principle interface into some world, rather than just changing the look and feel of prose. Pretty vague, I know. Still percolating.


I haven’t consumed any nondigital ergotic literature (I have a still shrink-wrapped copy of S on my shelf).

From a writing studies perspective, limiting input (your thread) and/or output (my thread) to specific forms is interesting craft-wise because both writing situations are constrained. Forms tend to be well-suited for some types of text and poorly-suited for others. In Deadline’s case, a combination of format and rhetoric situates the reader as a participant in an impersonal police bureaucracy. These specific tactics are not effective if the author wants to, say, talk about the protagonist’s memories of his deceased mother.

In the same sense, completing set forms would have an effect on both the ambiance/connotation of the form itself, and additionally require specific rhetorical strategies. I think it would imply a power dynamic as well because there is a submitter and an evaluator in most cases.

I’m not sure that I would say that authoring in Form is not as hard as it sounds (in my sense of the word). For everyday writing, only the words need be believable. To use a specific form, one must have a solid understanding of specific rhetorical requirements and, in most cases, play the role of forger as well. It’d say it depends on the form and the writer’s objectives. Writing an enjoyable story in villanelles would be quite difficult, for instance.

While this sort of constrained writing (input and output) tends to be difficult, it can lead authors to innovate and adapt in interesting ways. I am very curious to see the replies you and I get as I am building a list of titles to play,

I’ve toyed with the idea of an epistolary game, like First Draft of the Revolution.

I don’t feel that one was interactive enough, though. If anyone remembers the Griffin and Sabine books, I’ve always felt that something like this could be adapted brilliantly to IF.


I would say that’s true of most narrative styles, however. To sustain a character’s voice and psychology, whether in prose or in performance, is very much like forging or mimicry.

It’s also not a coincidence that the history of false documents in fiction is intertwined with actual forgeries or hoaxes.

The challenge is peculiar when the documents are expected not to conform to a person’s voice, e.g., business memoranda, official reports, and so on. I once developed a piece about a man tasked with writing a portion of the 9/11 Commission Report. The most difficult passages to write were him editing his report and capturing that dry, objective, matter-of-fact tone, while in his own voice he struggled with his own emotions toward the event.

You might try Pale Fire or Lolita with Appel’s annotations (which begins to feel like you’re reading another Pale Fire).

– Jim

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I think that’s all true, and yet I’d still argue that “free” prose does not have the same logistical challenges. It’s suited to just about any sort of tone, perspective, or event. As an example that stretches things a bit, I think telling a story via a series of reports about manufacturing safety incidents would be quite challenging. There are the specific jargons of both the field (manufacturing safety) and the company to consider, and one would be highly constrained in terms of form-specific tone and material.

The author of free prose has to abide by self-enforced rules of voice, tone, etc, but they are at least able to decide what those rules are. I don’t think one mode is better/harder than another. It’s just that the challenges are different.

Edit: though in workshop I always argued that free verse was the hardest type of poetry to write well because the author is responsible for every decision.

Ah! I should have read on before replying. This is the sort of thing I mean by challenging.

Thanks for this, I haven’t seen Appel’s annotations and will be on the lookout for a copy.

First I’ve heard of these. I think the physical act of removing text from an envelope would be a compelling experience. I think it could make for compelling IF, too.

Funnily enough, I have a WIP (like, very very early progress) that takes Pale Fire as an inspiration – there are some aspects of it that do potentially lend themselves to a parser-IF treatment, I think, notably the tension between different voices: poem vs. footnotes in Pale Fire, narrator vs. protagonist vs. parser in IF.

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Do the blog posts in A Paradox Between Worlds count as Forms or Documents? :stuck_out_tongue:

Speaking of IF with actual forms, A Murder in Fairyland used filling out forms as a main puzzle mechanic.

The other thread mentions Excalibur and Neurocracy, but I think there were some earlier IFComp games with wiki-like interfaces. Unit 322 (Disambiguation) was another wiki-browsing game. Black Marker and Ostrich are mostly epistolary stories about censorship that involve changing text (Ostrich feels especially Papers, Please-like). Harmonia is all about annotations in text.

Plus there are a ton of IF that try to represent online chats or computer interfaces.


I reserve the right to answer this question in a future essay :slightly_smiling_face: (loved APBW by the way). These are all great examples. I’ve added them to my list. Given my own background I will likely enjoy Harmonia quite a bit.

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