Visions for the future of IF

“In the beginning was the word…”

Words will always be with us; same with imagination, technological progress and with that increased potential for interaction.

I don’t know if many other people feel this way, but it seems to me that due to how the currently maturing generation has grown up saturated with TV (where we were observers) a lot of people may be growing a little weary of constant visual stimulation the lacks involvement. I can see many with this background coming to embrace more artforms where graphics are less central and also where interaction is available.

So, what are some visionary ideas for IF (realistic to idealistic, whatever)
And along with this, what may be some limitations to achieving these, be it available technology, feasibility, programmer finesse, inherent limits to the form, etc.

Truly intelligent interlocutors who can react to anything the player does or says. Not very realistic, but progress has been made toward this goal (see e.g. Versu), and it’s much easier in text than in graphics.

A lot of people foresee AI IF; I’m skeptical. Today, hand-authored IF is awesome; auto-generated IF is not as awesome. Maybe someday a powerful AI will auto-generate IF as good as hand-authored IF, but I’m skeptical that we could make an AI that was able to do that and would be willing to write lots of IF for humans to play, as opposed to, say, taking over the world.

IMO the future of IF looks like MORE of the present. More people–more kinds of people–authoring (by hand) more kinds of games, using easy-to-learn choice-based design tools, especially Twine.

Other than that, it looks like the future of the novel: lots people working hard to write good stuff, where the definition of “good” varies from author to author, audience to audience. Predicting the future of the novel is predicting what people will care about in the future.

Next step: Fully web/browser integrated parser development platform (i6/7) delivered through modern web delivery mechanisms (HTML5, CSS, JScript, AJAX, etc…). Interpreters are a dead end.

CYOA+Parser+Rich text+Graphics+Sound+Animation+Screen management etc.

Someone needs to develop this.

I’d hate it if the future of IF was web-only. No matter how good internet connections become, there will always be times when you get disconnected or your browser freezes. Interpreters are still my preference for playing IF games.

Ideally I’d like to see an interpreter that can flawlessly play every IF game out there, regardless of which system it was written in, sounds and graphics included without needing to install third party addons or mess around with configuration options. From the writing side of things, I’d like a system that was easy to use but could do incredibly complex things without the need for me to continually look up examples in the manual or ask for help. Inform 7’s natural language is a big step towards this, but once you start trying to do complex things in it, the natural language isn’t very natural at all.

I can’t remember where I heard this point first, but it’s stuck with me: The currently maturing generation, through phones and social media, reads and writes more text for more of the time than any previous generation, and relentlessly innovates with that text with astonishing speed and inventiveness. I can’t wait to see what they write.

A future: ever-greater integration of things-that-look-like-IF with things-that-look-like-videogames. More visual games with inventive text, more text games with inventive multimedia. IF not as a little island but as one point on a spectrum of game design that many designers move fluently and promiscuously along. More zinester IF. Teenagers writing angsty heartfelt games instead of / alongside / with angsty heartfelt poetry, with IF as one of the primary entryways. IF as an entryway to gaming, not as something you discover at the end of a twisty little passage.

David, I’m going to disagree slightly with some of your comments.

It’s easy to conflate web technologies with web delivery. While an integrated platform could be provisioned across an internet connection, it can also be packaged and delivered locally (i.e. rich media e-books that you download)

To re-phrase this “Interpreters are currently my preference for playing a specific type of IF game” - i.e. a parsed text platform.

You’re talking about a web browser.

We have a huge set of powerful, fully interoperable web based delivery technologies (HTML5, CSS, JScript, AngularJS, AJAX, etc…etc…) which support integration with a number of back-end services (or API’s) C++, C#, Java, etc…etc… and databases. This software stack is the de-facto mechanism in this world for delivering content, applications, media, experience, data, the ‘internet of things’ to the user.

I-F has either ignored it, preferring instead to focus on the traditional parser/Zcode/intepreter model, and, when it has reared it’s head in the form of Twine and others, be sniffy about it.

IMO it’s time to wake up and smell the bacon. I-F needs to embrace modern web enabled delivery mechanism across all aspects of the interactive experience. To try and replicate this rich experience and rich interactive capability in an interpreter would be …well…silly.

I believe it’s time to entirely re-architect the way that parser based interpreted platforms like i7/6 and others integrate with other layers of the software stack. What we need, as Harry intimates is a development platform that enables us to create IF worlds, and utilise BOTH mature parser platforms and web delivery technologies

However, the current encapsulated and enclosed world of ZIL, Zcode, Inform, TADS, Interpreters for every platform is just a dead end and will lead to, if we’re not careful, the ultimate dearth of parser based interactivity limited to a couple of dozen die-hards and hobbyists.

Partner. Integrate. Re-architect.

I sense a kickstarter IF integrated development platform project in this. I need a million dollars :slight_smile: Anyone?


Not necessarily. I also play CYOA-style games and Twine games. I’m just not a fan of playing games in a browser for the reasons I mentioned before. The fact is: internet connections aren’t perfect, browsers don’t always work the way they should, errors occur because someone is playing the game in one type of browser when it was written with another in mind*. When I clicked to reply to this message, I was sat there tapping my fingers for 10+ seconds while the browser loaded the correct page. If I was playing a game over the internet and the response time was 10 seconds after me entering a command until the time it was processed, I’d quit.

  • I’m sure I’ve read a few reviews of games in the IFComp this year where people have run into problems because their browser of choice doesn’t play the game properly.

You sound like the people who cried that text adventures died out at the end of the 80’s.

I’d donate to this cause if I could, but I can’t. Still, you have my proverbial sword.

To all intents and purposes, as a commercial, widespread, accepted and populist form of entertainment, they did. However, I don’t want to reopen that particular can of worms!

I am not favouring, or making any distinction as to what form of media we deliver a work of interactive fiction in: Text. Graphics. Video…etc… Nor am I making any form of distinction as to how the player interacts with the media they are presented with: parsed text input, clicking on hyperlinks, clicking on graphics…etc… Nor am I making a distinction as to what mechanism a player uses to enact that interaction: keyboard, mouse, gamepad…VR helmet…voice.

I’m not making that distinction, because I shouldn’t have to. I honestly believe that in order to become once more a mainstream, popular, and widely used artform that IF needs to be ALL the above. And deliver a single, integrated, simple to use development environment that reduces the barrier to entry for even parser based games.

Right now, parser IF games are based on bespoke, archaic technology. They are. I was an active participant in the old r.*.if groups in the early nineties (Interestingly, I was a participant (reviewer and judge) of the first IF competition - there’s a weird sort of symmetry for sure) As far as I can see, there have been no fundamental advances in the underlying delivery of parser IF other than:

  • An ostensibly ‘simpler’ natural language front end to inform
  • Interpreters that can be embedded in a browser / mobile app.

Stasis. I can understand why. Re-architecting the fundamental basis of the technology that underlies inform or whatever to enable it to be a plug-in service to integrate with other layers of web technology is hard. Very very hard. And there are a lot of people with a massive stakeholding in the current technology.

So, if I was an external consultant looking at the ambitions of the IF community and tasked to come up with a recommended future-state strategy that satisfies the business goal of “IF is a accessible, commercialisable and accepted artform that reaches the widest possible audience.” My recommandations would be:

  1. Develop and deliver a simple integrated IF development environment.
  2. Re-architect Inform so that it can form part of a business logic layer within a traditional web software stack that is delivered through a browser / mobile app
  3. Abandon the ongoing development of interpreters
  4. Provide a ‘shop’ frontend to IFDB that both enables players to play IF online and ‘package’ it for download

And then a bunch of ‘blah’ about marketing.

If I was then the consultant tasked to come up with the solutions to 1 and 2, I would start with Twine, and throw in a dash of Scratch (, and then go from there!


My utopic vision for the future of IF:

A device about the size and shape of either an iPod Touch (for fitting in your pocket, with an external keyboard the same size as the device) or an iPad Mini (easier reading/playing). The device would be capable of running every interpreter: Alan, Hugo, Glulx, ZMachine, DOS games, windows games, web-based games (on- and off-line), Magnetic Scrolls, Level 9, Scott Adams format, possibly even Amiga and Apple II and Spectrum and Commodore.

Plus, it would have Trizbort and note-taking software.

In other words, a mini-computer (possibly running Windows) that would exist exclusively for playing IF, and would be optimised for it, and that would be completely portable.

Currently the closest we have are iOS devices and Android, which is a step in the right direction! I hope someone considers iTADS someday; I’d be glad to test it out.

TL;DR: I envision the future of IF as portable.

McTavish, I don’t understand why you think those would be improvements. Even if we could move more towards browser based IF (more than all of the major IF systems already targetting the browser how exactly?) why would you want to abandon interpreters? What about all the old classics?

My hope for the future is a revived Gargoyle, hopefully using a html5 implementation of Glk.

That sounds really nice.

[redacted - because coffee always makes me feel better]

Maybe that was a bit harsh, but you’re the one who called interpeters a “dead end”, saying that we are ignoring modern web and backend technologies, that we “need to wake up and smell the bacon”. You said there have been no fundamental advances in the delivery of IF. And then you suggest that we should revert to plugins and non-enclosed (ie, unsandboxed??) technologies?!? Why would we want to do that when we already have purely native web IF delivery systems. That’s quite hubristic for someone who isn’t a stakeholder…

Someone tells you you’re being ignorant and you’re throwing a hissy fit and leaving? Quit being so melodramatic.

Hah! Fair point. Well made. Hissy fit over. :slight_smile:

I don’t mind being called ignorant if ignorant is what I’m being. But in this case, I am simple offering an opinion. After all the context of this discussion is “what would you like to see as the future of IF.”

However, in this instance it is my honest belief that our ‘purely native web IF delivery systems’ (read: interpreter with a text parser with a smattering of media) is not the right way to go, and that we need to re-architect our approach to the integration of language parsing within a wider web context.

Note - this is my opinion only. As I said, I think there are too many core players with far too much at stake to make this possible.


I liked the hubris, McTavish.

Can I have a million dollars then?

From a slightly different perspective: this comp has been (among other things) an impressive demonstration of how much can be achieved with artwork, music, text effects, and other presentation effects, and it feels quite limiting not to have that palette of effects easily available under Inform.