What if I want to be unoriginal?

It’s funny that the letter-remover wasn’t exactly a new concept even there.


Ooh, not to get too off-topic, but if you have recommendations for earlier games that involve text manipulation like that, please let me know. CM is the only one I’ve played that does that.

CM was a riff on a “T-remover” puzzle in Leather Goddesses of Phobos. That was just one puzzle in the game, though.


Yeah, I was being vague on purpose. But evidently, the revolution didn’t sparkle in a particular moment, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. I still need to study more that event.

One thing I would like for the community to explore is interactive fiction based on the model world, but telling tales that are not based on the paradigm of location, objects, and actions. That is, more like hypertext, but world model powered.

We have an example of this in Spanish, by JFM Lisaso. But I think it deserves the time to try it and feel it, maybe with auto-translate or something.


Or maybe I should translate it, precisely as we did in those times: to prove a point. :wink:

Another way I would like to see explored is the ingenuity of earlier adventures where they try to conversate with the player, you know, that things we have read in Dyer’s All Adventure series: “I will be your hand and eyes. Direct me with two words commands”. And that being implemented for voice recognition software.

But that technology is only available for coders, not authors. If current tools would have that integrated, we could explore it, and fulfill that dream of “the telephone adventure”.

Part of it is whether you’re creating something for your own entertainment or whether you’re doing it to be shared with an audience. There’s nothing “wrong” with reverse engineering a project to learn how it’s done, but that would mostly be for your own benefit.

Even when you’re writing something for an audience, you don’t have to break completely new ground. There’s value in building bridges from past works to suit the conventions of the present day – especially if you’re trying to reach new audiences and introduce them to the larger library of interactive fiction.


I think the obsession with “progress” is a dangerous byproduct of a linear view of art history. It’s the Wassily Kandinsky argument of the moving triangle, with a value distribution favoring those in the more forward, more avant-garde (in this case perhaps more technically innovative), most progressive segment: every new artwork builds on what has been done to discover the new elements of what is possible, so good artists should be those who are moving art history forward, providing the most innovative paths forward for future creative works. Firstly, this is kind of an empty way to look at art, which is neatly vivisected into an overly historicized pilgrimage to nowhere, in which artists are sort of like scientific pioneers who are valuable only insofar as they are waymarkers of a development: Maxwell’s equations, Feynman diagrams, the Higgs boson. To me, an artist like Théodore Rousseau is still fascinating, even after Vincent van Gogh completely “superseded” his emotively intense landscapes. Secondly, as someone who has read literature from across the world and across the millennia, I can tell you that it’s really not useful (and often Eurocentric) to think of literary history linearly, especially since we tend to understand “progress” as what is most precipitative of us, as per Hegel’s complete misfire on the subject. Literary and philosophical trends, and a notional horizon of artistic possibility, are always shifting, disappearing in one place and reappearing in another: it’s super fascinating to think, for instance, of Nagarjuna as a very different contextual reiteration of an impulse that had once led to Heraclitus. Moreover, the existence of Wordsworth → Byron → Shelley/Keats doesn’t mean that it’s not valid to go back and read the works of Alexander Pope or John Dryden who codified the neoclassical model that the English Romantics rebelled against. They are both interesting sets of literary possibility, and just because the Romantics are much closer to our own contemporary aesthetic preferences doesn’t mean that they were in some sense “right”.

A more helpful way to think of literary history, of which I believe IF is a part, is as a fireworks display, random bursts into color appearing out of a shared abyss, holding for a few moments, then fizzling into the night. I think this is the tragedy that Short is talking about: that sense of the loss of an incredible artistic community that made amazing things and encouraged each other into making even more amazing things, as well as a bit of inevitable wistfulness for all the dreams that never materialized. That’s a very valid thing to mourn, and from my outsider’s perspective as someone who appreciates the artworks they made, I can understand a level of that grief. However, I think it’s important to decouple that with what are, to me, toxic ideas of originality and linear progress.

Ultimately, you yourself are the originality your art should create.


As with all rules, they are moot if the material is awesome and you know what you’re doing.

You can write the tropiest parser dungeon-crawl-treasure-hunt you like so long as it is interesting. The caveat that comes with that is the extra work involved to make something old-hat interesting again. Pastiche and deconstruction is often a good route, as well as if you just write a damn-good “another one of those” for people who specifically like “those”.

That’s why some authors do work selling inexpensive pulp genre fiction on Kindle - they can build an audience for whom “another one of those” romance/western/horror novels to read on a plane is exactly what they want.

IF is a tiny niche though as compared to prose fiction, so building that audience who will appreciate another “find the treasures dungeon crawl” might prove be a wee-bit more difficult without the aforementioned extra work to make it potentially transcend.


And whatever you end up making, it’s never going to be completely unoriginal, because it’s by you, and there’s only one you.




Speaking strictly from a consumer perspective, while I appreciate all of the trailblazers trying to do something that no one else has done before, I don’t think I can think of a single experimental movie, book, work of art, etc that I enjoyed (as opposed to appreciated). All of my favorite things are ones that stayed within the standard confines of their medium and just told a really good story, painted a really good picture, etc.

So while pushing the boundaries is necessary for every art form, you don’t have to be the one doing the pushing. There’s a lot to be said for doing what everyone else has already done and just doing it really well.


I know Nord and Bert was not the best game in the world, or perhaps even a good one, but WOW I remember completing that thing as a kid. I learned so many idioms.

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I see what you’re saying, I think, but I don’t think this invalidates the idea of certain works expanding the possiblities of an art form, or revealing the possiblities that were already there. We should be able to avoid the trap of an evaluative focus on the “frontier” that ignores what goes on in already explored territory - after all, we’ll miss out on a lot of great art that way - while still recongizing and honoring those works that open up new paths for future works to take.

Honestly, it seems to me that the opposite error is more pervasive these days - too many critics (and everyone’s a critic!) are obsessed with spit and polish to the detriment of the more substantial artistic ideas hidden within, so that sharply creative, fascinating works are undervalued for lacking a certain handsomeness in the presentation. I think of this (flamebait in spoiler tags) as the Star Wars prequel fallacy.

Ultimately, as you say, it’s all valid, the new models and the old are mutually enriching, and it’s possible that the greatest cave crawl adventure has yet to be written.


It’s always slightly disappointed me that, in a game featuring waterways, the T-remover wasn’t introduced as a “tea clipper”.



How long have you been walking around with that one? Must’ve been burning in your brain from the moment you thought of it.


Don’t die on the hill of “people will like my game because I did a new technical thing” and forget the fiction part.

This deserves so much emphasis. I did die on the hill of “new technical thing” back in the 90s – I got sucked down the rabbit hole of fiddling with tools (ADVSYS, which I’d been working with in the years before the first release of Inform came out) rather than actually releasing games.

The things I’m working on now are half-finished concepts from all the way back then, and whatever winds up seeing the light of day is absolutely going to be a better game for having been influenced by all the great work that the other folks on r.a.i-f back in the day (and the folks who came after) actually did release. Most of the features that were innovative and novel about those game ideas back then have been done, and almost certainly done better, in other games in the intervening decades. (There’s one feature in my Grand Shakespearean Epic that I haven’t seen yet, but that’s beside the point.) The point of those features wasn’t to get a gold star for novelty, but to drive the narrative I had in mind.

So absolutely write the game you have in mind! Even if you’re going back over well-trodden ground, you’re likely to pull it off better than a similar game from decades ago might have done.


Fairly minor points of departure from existing IF (What if this character did A or B rather than C? What if Event D had happened before Event E? What if a different character had rubbed that magic lamp?) can still get something worth releasing into the world. Having a game that plays like something familiar, but is fun to play and had something to recommend it, feels like a pair of old slippers.

Think of it like long-running series of romances, detective stories or westerns - they may have similar plots and the same tropes, but as Hanon Ondricek said, lots of people enjoy reading as many of them as they can find because they are comfort reading. There’s space for large-scale revolution in IF, but there’s also space for the next instalment of genre fiction, for trustworthy sources of a particular sort of joy in gaming.

Finally: if nobody’s told your story before, then you have an original story, even if you’re using familiar tools and tropes to tell it. That’s plenty enough - especially for a first-timer. (Though you can also push boundaries in whatever way you see fit if you think that will, in your opinion alone, improve the game in front of you. “Original” has plenty of flexibility in it).


I asked the same thing when I joined the community. I received many of the same answers, though I’ve had a hard time internalizing them.

I grew up on Infocom, and the games I enjoy most tend to involve solving puzzles via good old-fashion object manipulation. Give item #1 to character #2 to get the key to unlock the door. If there’s an engaging story or memorable setting tacked on, great. I admire and greatly respect the more experimental games, but they don’t often resonate with me. (Photopia is the exception that proves the rule.)

My favorite Infocom games include Wishbringer, Infidel, and Ballyhoo, three short (but not TOO short) games that involve traditional puzzle-solving in an evocative setting. I miss these types of games. I’ve long wanted to make one: a medium-length game with a fun sense of place and traditional puzzles, but I find myself not starting because I can’t imagine who’d be interested in playing something like that in 2021. This, even though I know I’m not the only person who enjoys such games.

I was fortunate enough to be a beta tester on Anchorhead, which I still regard as one of the high-water marks in interactive fiction, but it also intimidated me. The caliber of writing, the overall design… it’s a traditional adventure elevated to Art. And I’m still haunted by it, 20 years later. How many other (non-commercial) IF games have I enjoyed that much? Hmm… maybe Jigsaw?

I’m rambling. But suffice it to say, there’s at least one person here (and it sounds like more than that, based on the comments) who would gladly play a traditional game that covers no new ground. Although with that said, if I never have to solve another maze again, so much the better. :slight_smile:

Good luck!


Try Larry Horsfield’s Alaric Blackmoon games. Most were originally written in the 90s but they had a complete overhaul about a decade ago.


I imagine you’ll find that this exact specification is what most of the traditional IF community prefers, even to this day. Regardless, I don’t know that there’s much value in worrying about what other people want, both in a general sense (life is too short, make what matters to you), and a specific sense (you’re not going to make any money on IF, so what does it matter if your work is niche?). The only IF worth creating is the kind that invigorates you to work on it day in and day out until it’s complete.