What book / story / film would make a good IF premise / structure?

I was reading the reading discussion on the Off Topic board. It struck me that it would be interesting to hear people’s ideas on this question. It doesn’t have to be a straight conversion / adaptation but more perhaps that there’s an aspect of the story that you feel would work well in IF.

Probably don’t post anything you wouldn’t be happy to see someone else create for obvious reasons!

I’m going to kick it off with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I read this a few years back so my memory is a bit hazy on the details, but the basic premise is this:

The protagonist is stuck in a hotel under house arrest because of his role in the Russian Revolution and has to stay there for decades. He interacts and forms friendships with the staff and guests passing through the hotel.

Why this might work for IF?

Firstly, it answers the limited setting aspect well - you can’t leave the hotel! Secondly, you’d have a fairly plausible way to prevent the player pinching every object in sight… you’re a gentleman guest, after all. For a wider design, you could move the story on 10 years a few times so that whatever interactions you have would play forward (perhaps in a more branchy CYOA way). You could also describe how Moscow (or whichever city / setting) changes with all the machinations of politics etc carrying on outside.

Now I read this back, it does sound quite a big project! So feel free to respond with short stories / poems etc. For example, I really enjoyed Ryan Veeder’s little game (no disrespect!) Nautilisia which forms itself around the shell of a poem. Speak soon…


Short: Every!

Long answer: I’ve an extremely long list in my mind with books I would love to turn into an adventure. For example classics like Robin Hood, Artus, etc. but many others, too.

You need to add something of your own ideas to the plot, or otherwise some players will know the story in advance, and that is boring.

If you have ideas how to give it a twist, it’s ok and easy to take inspiration from a book or movie imho.


The Librarian films!

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear - Wikipedia

While I was watching this, and the successors in the series, I caught myself thinking GO INTO SMALL RECESS; SWING ON ROPE; READ TOME; LICK SPEAR more than once.


most of my games have been adaptations! I would say the best stories to adapt are those with lots of potential built into the story for adding interactivity that a player could fiddle with. interactivity in this case being “the player can affect the state of the story via player input”

the most obvious example of this is stories where attention is drawn to the fact that events could go a bunch of different ways that the story did not ultimately go with - so you can flesh out those alternate options and make them real possibilities for the player to encounter. the manifestation of “what if it went another way?”

even if the player can’t make choices which change the content, maybe the order the og story is told is purposely loose, so a player can choose the order in which it unfolds in a game adaptation.

maybe there’s a lot of things to explore that aren’t fully so in the text, like a bunch of fascinating characters (as in your example) or a rich set piece you wanna have players step in as if they’re in the world affecting it, not just watching it.

as a Twine person, even when I’m adapting more directly and don’t want to add exploration or branching, I find things which have a lot of backtracking, introspection, faceted perspectives of the same thing, strong pacing, or aspects that imply visual effect, really fun to adapt because I think Twine is great at those things.

for example, the static story, compassionate simulation, among other good adaptation-y things, has “computer popups” that are represented in the text with some underlines and headers along with context. I turned the popups into actual dialogue popups in my IF version.

I have a wip adaptation of the poem, litany in which certain things are crossed out, because it is full of states which persist but visibly change over time (the deleting/crossing out of existing text) which I represented with a backspace macro literally deleting read text according to the poem’s tight pacing. (unfortunately richard siken told me to stop…)

as for other games, I don’t know if anyone’s done it already but 1001 nights sounds like it’d be a doozy but very fun to adapt into IF.


Cool ideas… I think that if I were doing Robin Hood, I’d like to do from the Sheriff’s point of view trying to catch Robin. I imagine Robin Hood being a bit like the Babel Fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide - you have to set up every trap exactly right or he’s going to wriggle through your fingers… then perhaps you could switch to Will Scarlet and make it a rescue game. Basically I imagine Robin being a better NPC than protagonist…


Sounds properly zany - nice idea - might need a very forgiving parser / hints system for the hard-of-puzzle-solving like myself…


Thanks for this thought-provoking response. I think that it’s a really interesting choice how much you let a player know about other pathways. My instinct (perhaps like yours) is ‘SHOW THEM!’ but I know some games have epic surprises when you realize all by yourself there is another layer / another way to do things. But the risk is that a lot of people don’t twig / never see them…

Those look like intense adaptations… I’ve not read the story yet but the poem was great and definitely just about the last thing I’d have thought of adapting - though your idea makes sense to me. I loved the twist where he says,

Okay, so I’m the dragon. Big deal.
You still get to be the hero.

The final part of the poem got quite arcane for me but might be clearer if you know Richard Siken and his backstory better.


Ok, here a small selection of my game ideas:

  • Parcifal: knight(s) fighting each other and conquering the heart of a noble lady.
  • Michael Ende “Endless story”: A person flees from reality into books and returns with some skill or tool.
  • I once saw a movie which had a good base idea but was trash. A tailor is tailoring clothes for politicians and/or secret agents. For some reason he starts to invent stories which are taken seriously by his customers.
  • Artemis Fowl: A teenager with lot of criminal energy messes with the fairy folk (which is technically very advanced). For example he tries to steal artifacts.

I’d love to see an adaptation of the Abhorsen Chronicles books, especially the book Sabriel. For the puzzley meowmeows among us, you could do a really cool series of challenges with the right bell combinations to dispel the dead mobs, (as each in her bandolier canonically have different abilities, and are often wielded in combination) with a timer function implemented by how long Sabriel can hold out against the river of death’s current before it drags her under/knocks her over.

A fun room to implement would be the big ship that her husband Touchstone was bound to, down in the caves/sinkhole, with all of the old loot and environmental storytelling of the tattered ruins of former majesty. Also, Mogget the cranky little cat beast would make a good tips/hints offerer in all his usual snark. I think the puzzles lend it more so to the parser side of things.

For a book that has already had an IF adaptation but I’d still like to see explored, I’d choose The Night Circus. Back in the day, as a promotional thing, it had a Fallen London styled adaptation. I think it was kind of clunky, though, because the experience of the circus is highlighted to be deeply intimate and personal in the books, with a lot of customized tailoring that’s too finicky to really evoke in game: and the external lore isn’t strong enough to bolster it up like in Fallen London.

Rather than an everyman protagonist, being able to play from the perspective of Cecilia or her love interest (Marco? Marcus. Something like that.) would be interesting. I’d really like to see the character Poppet and her twin adapted as friendly NPCs (to provide in game assistance on a quest?). Their whole tragic doomed romance and her evil fucked up dad would both provide good plot stakes I think.

This one would be better done as choice I think, since it’d rely more on the strength of its prose evoking your feelings for Cecilia/her love interest and less so on puzzle-y mechanics. Maybe a menu based sort of thing with the option to choose different responses when conspiring with him, to get one of several endings: running away together, breaking up, burning down the circus like they do in canon, etc.


I’m a bit of a sucker for games in which you have to traverse different worlds and can bring objects from one back into the other… for example, you can pick up a bow and arrow in one world which is used to solve a puzzle in the first world where you landed. Fundamentally, this isn’t really so different from having an object a long way away from its puzzle solution geographically. But somehow imaginatively it is way, way cooler.

So I think your second idea about the Endless Story is the one I’m immediately taken with… for the Artemis Fowl one, again I think that I’d rather be the fairy folk than the teenager - that would be fun!


These both sound great ideas. I read the Night Circus way back when and actually even played the Fallen London demo too. I haven’t read Sabriel at all. Even so, I think that’s the one I find exciting. Animal helpers are a favourite and don’t come with the same heap of expectations as human NPCs. The setting sounds awesome too.

I have a bit of a problem with purely choice-based stories slowing myself down to actually appreciate the story and the emotions of the characters. I suffer from a kind of click-o-tisis. With parser stories, my useless puzzle-solving usually optimizes the pacing for me.


A structure where you spend the first act setting up traps and then the second act avoiding those traps sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Great puzzle potential in there.


Phil Dick’s Paycheck (there’s also a John Woo-directed Paycheck movie) has a solid gold IF premise:

In the near-ish future, you’re a high-priced engineer who just finished your contract with Large Tech Corp. NDA’s have gotten more extreme: your memory of the past two years has just been wiped (as you knew would happen when you signed up for this).

You get handed an envelope of random crap that one wanders around picking up in an IF puzzler (a wire, a bus token, a ticket stub, a strip of cloth, a key, half a broken poker chip, and a parcel receipt) and told that you had requested this envelope in lieu of the set-for-life payout you expected. And then, naturally, you’re thrust into danger and intrigue.


Oh, I loved those books. I had a phase when I read everything by Garth Nix I could get my hands on; the Seventh Tower ones also stand out in my memory.

Both charter magic and the bells feel like they’d be well-suited for IF puzzles. There’s a reason “spells are basically special verbs” has such an illustrious pedigree in the field!


I were doing Robin Hood, I’d like to do from the Sheriff’s point of view trying to catch Robin.

That is done in Shades of Gray. Don’t let that discourage you, though.


And the land of Death itself! With “rooms” and a puzzle in each one, sort of.

I once had the chance to talk to Garth Nix directly (this was at an SF conference) and ask him whether he had videogame activity in mind when he designed all that stuff! He said no, he just wrote whatever fit the story. Fair enough.


Now that you mention it, I am kind of surprised that Infocom never made a Robin Hood game. It seems like a story that would of worked really well with that company’s personality. But I guess Robin Hood wasn’t exactly a hot commodity during the mid 80s.

I remember watching an interview with Ron Martinez in which he talks about being approached to do a text adventure game based on the novels of William S. Burroughs, which I find both hilarious and horrifying in equal measures. The project was eventually canceled, with even Martinez admitting that it was probably an unrealistic endeavor. Still, I think it would have been fun to traverse the marketplaces of Interzone while trying to score space drugs off a Mugwump.


The Traitor Baru Cormorant series feel like a Choice of Games-style adventure, to me. Much of the story involves relationship and trust-building, and how the plot develops overall just reminds me a lot of the CoG style, the escalations and the sequence of episodes and callbacks.


It’s funny that you mention it. Actually a Robin Hood game was in the works. Part of the development deal that Bob Bates had with Infocom was an “Immortal Legends” game series, which was planned to consist of three games, centered around Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and …drumroll… Robin Hood. “Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels” came in 1988, “Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur” in 1989 and a third game about Robin Hood was never finished because Infocom was dissolved by its parent company Activision in 1989.

One needs to consider that the work Bates did for Infocom was totally contrary to what Infocom did in the past, where they were very focused on creating “original” stories rather than building upon the foundation of someone else’s content. The only exception of course being 1984’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy though it’s debatable if that’s really an exception since Adams was actively involved in the development of the game and scripted much of the game’s content. Meretzky was more like an assistant to Adams in this process, as Adams wasn’t familiar with the Z-machine.


It was in the UK. Thanks to the a very successful TV series. Which is why we got a text adventure based on it.