Your first IF experience: a wholesome, welcoming thread

Back in May, I made a thread about making a game for the first time. But what about playing IF for the first time? Some possible—but certainly not mandatory—questions you might answer:

  1. What IF game did you first play?
  2. What tech/platform did you play it on?
  3. How did you discover it?
  4. How old were you?
  5. Have you been steadily into IF ever since?
  6. Did it inspire you to write a game?

My first IF game was Zork I on the Commodore 64. I’m pretty sure that I was nine. It was in the old CBM packaging, which I prefer to the more familiar folio and gray box covers. Is that skull-person meant to be the Thief? I think so! It was a parser game and the first microcomputer game to run in Infocom’s famous “z-machine.”


My friend’s big brother was a bit of a hacker. He didn’t buy many games, but he chose to pay for Infocom games because he thought that they were worth the money. That’s where I first played Zork—at my friend’s house. We took turns at the keyboard. I was amazed by what seemed possible. Zork I seemed far beyond what I believed home computers could do at the time.

I was not steadily into IF afterward. I kept up during the C64 days, and then played everything (new and old) when the Lost Treasures of Infocom came out in the early 90’s. I peaked in on the newsgroups, but only as a dabbler. I know that I tried Curses and Christminster at some point. Somewhere in there, I tried to learn Inform 6. However, I was tired of doing IT stuff all day. I didn’t want to come home and program. Then, a long hiatus. I replayed many Infocom games in the mid-teens (2015 or so) but not all. I had an idea about making a game, but it never went anywhere. I was focused on poetry instead. Got an MFA.

With Gold Machine, I seem to have become pretty serious about IF. I started it just as a way to kill time. I’m disabled and had recently dropped out of a PhD program. I needed something to do. That’s been good. I came to this forum because someone here shared a link to Gold Machine. Later, I decided to make an Inform game because there are always threads about code and testing here. I figured: so long as I’m here, might as well. I was excited about reader experiences that traditional, sequential text could not offer. That’s been good, too!

What about you? What is your IF origin story? How about the rest of it? This is not a stealth parser thread! I’d love to hear from all sorts of players about all sorts of games. Everyone is welcome.

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Like many people of my age in the UK, my first experience with a text adventure was The Hobbit by Melbourne House… played on a ZX Spectrum when I was about ten, I guess. It managed to be both a great text adventure and an absolutely awful text adventure, for probably exactly the same reasons.

The timeline is fuzzy. It’s hard to recall if the copy of the book, that came with the game, was the incentive for my dad and I to buy the game… whether we already had the book… or even if we’d read The Lord of the Rings by then… But I guess we must’ve been Tolkien fans by then (I read LotR about ten or twenty times in primary school and I have vivid memories of our “top juniors” teacher reading The Hobbit aloud to us at the end of each day).

After The Hobbit, though, I didn’t play many other “IF” or text adventures for many years, and instead lived vicariously through the writing of people like Mike Gerrard and “Gordo Greatbelly” in the computer magazines. Mike, especially, was a great writer and really made you feel like you were part of a special gang. There wasn’t the money to buy adventure games and I didn’t play them myself until they started giving them free on the covers of magazines.

After that, it wasn’t long until I started writing them myself and joined great communities like Adventure Probe. But The Hobbit was the game that started everything off and inspired so many of us.

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There where those CYOA books I used to get when I was a kid that was half adventure half solve some school exercise to continue. Even though it was interactive and it was fiction, I don’t think I can count them :stuck_out_tongue: (I don’t remember the titles anyway, even in French… but they were in the same section as those holiday book you give to kids for the summer so they remember what they learned the previous year).

I don’t think I encountered what we might consider proper IF until last year actually. I played A Tale of Crowns on itch, which was recommended by a friend who was looking for random games to play there. And who then pushed me to try to make my own too (and I started like a week later). The game itself wasn’t really my cup of tea, but it made me wonder if I could manage to create an IF game of my own.

I think I’m still pretty into IF since then, though I mainly hang in the Tumblr IF crowd (there are a lot of long IF projects there). Even if I don’t play all that there is there, it’s nice to talk to other devs and be able to interact a bit more with readers/players. I think I write/code more than read nowadays tho.

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That is the most metal Zork cover art I’ve ever seen!

  • What IF game did you first play?
    Technically, it was probably Oregon Trail/Lemonade Stand in like 4th grade during a summer computer camp on Apple IIe. We also were given time with Colossal Cave also on Apple IIe in 7th grade Science class.
  • What tech/platform did you play it on?
    Apple IIe 5.25" floppies!
  • How did you discover it?
    Both were during school classes, Science, and a proto “intro to computers” summer thing for school I signed up for.
  • How old were you?
    In fourth grade I would have been 9 or 10. 7th grade, 12-13?
  • Have you been steadily into IF ever since?
    Yep - with one major break. My dad had an 8088 blazing fast computer with a whopping 40MB hard drive. He got pirated copies of all kinds of stuff from work, so I played a couple Infocom games I couldn’t complete due to missing copy protection. <walks naked in shame pelted by coconuts> But I did purchase more games from Waldenbooks (!) and Babbages (!) at the mall and even got a couple Infocom games by mail order through catalogs. I remember Lurking Horror had a rubber centipede in it…which I guess was supposed to be scary, but I was like “Is this supposed to be in here? Oh, feelies.”
  • Did it inspire you to write a game?
    Yes. I even tried to write a text adventure with 15-year-old Basic skills on the TRS-80. I used EAs “Adventure Construction Set” (which made games that were more like tile-based RPGs) and (I think) AGS. I dropped text adventures when I got out of high school into college and became obsessed with theater and “normal” video games and writing plays and screenplays. Finally dropped artistic ambitions and got a normal job sometime in the early 2000s and discovered Inform 7 and wrote some real bad experimental stuff lurking in the community for years and years. First release was an AIF for a mini-comp in Inform in…2013.
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  1. Theatre, a very good lovecraftian horror by Brendon Wyber.
  2. I ran it on a lovely machine, the Psion Revo.
  3. Revo OS, apparently EPOC16
  4. I just downloaded all games I could on the Revo for a train ride. frotz was included and I picked some adventures at random.
  5. I discovered it by chance.
  6. I was around 20. Before that, my English was good enough to play adventure games but not interactive fiction.
  7. On an off. I love the immersion no other game can give you, but they are difficult to get into as a player, and slightly less rewarding as a developer (as fewer people will play them, alas).
  8. Yup, some of my small games are gamebooks. In general I am more inspired by games which are IF and can be played/have an appeal to non IF players too (Winter Storm Draco, Trouble in Sector 471 among many).
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I tried to play some ZX adventures via an emulator and Good Lord — let us say mordern authors and tools are really spoiling us (better parsing, less silly deaths, in-game hints, actual sound and not jarring buzz, etc.). In the past adventuring was hard and cruel business!

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I think it was 1980.

  1. ADVENT/Colossal Cave
  2. DEC VMS on a Micro PDP, I believe
  3. My Dad showed it to me. It was on an 8" floppy.
  4. 9 I think.
  5. I’ve had a fondness for IF ever since, with long breaks in involvement with it. I’ve investigated the possibilities now and then, even to the point of writing about 1/2 a game for an IFComp many years back. It was called “Colossal Blunder”; it began with escaping from Colossal Cave and ended in front of a white house with a mailbox. It even had a maze in it! This maze had a magnetic field that screwed up your compass.
  6. One of my ambitions has always been to write an IF parser game, and with IFComp I’ve finally done it :slight_smile:
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I’m guessing that I got The Hobbit for C64 in 1984. Mine definitely did come with the novel. Even though I owned it already, I was very impressed. I enjoyed seeing all of my favorite characters walk around the map, even if it sometimes felt chaotic.

Even though this isn’t a good place to discuss definitions of interactive fiction (I think sometimes those conversations get rather heated), I’ll say that my definition doesn’t include specific technologies. I can’t rule it out!

RIght?

I got a lot of stuff from Waldenbooks. K-Mart, too. I was pretty bad luck, I guess!

I still haven’t played Theatre. I really need to get to it.

Nice! I enjoyed it, too.

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Like many others, my first IF game was Zork. It would have been around the mid-90s, I think, and I was around ten or so. It was on one of the various Macs my family had, I can’t remember which. (and, in retrospect, was very likely pirated). I never got very far in it. Mostly I just wandered around the forest and got hopelessly lost (my sense of direction in parser IF has not improved in the years since).

I haven’t really been steadily into IF after that. It was something that I was aware of but mostly existed at the edge of my consciousness. Sometimes I’d come across an IF game and play it, and one summer I just decided to teach myself Inform 7 for some reason I can’t even remember, but until the mid-2010s or so it wasn’t really something I actively paid attention to. Funnily enough, my inspiration for finally writing a game wasn’t really IF itself—I’ve always been a fan of point-and-click adventure games, and I wanted to write a text version of those. (Point-and-click adventure games themselves are of course descendants of text-based IF, so that was kind of going backwards in a way, but still.)

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I believe the first interactive fiction I’ve ever played was an obscure one called Louis Street Adventure around 2001, on Mac OS 9.

It’s a bit blurry in my mind because I was 6-7 but, if I recall correctly, it was a shareware made by a mother and her children and you could send them a cheque by letter to have the full game or something. I found it on one of the CD-ROMs bundled in issues of SVM Mac, a French magazine. (And yes, I played this interactive fiction in English while being a 6-year-old French child.)

The game was illustrated with lightly animated vector art in a side window. It was a kind of hybrid between a parser and a point-and-click (e.g. you could type directions at the prompt, and also click on objects to pick them up). It was set in the neighbourhood of the family that wrote the game, but I don’t remember the goal. I only remember that it was unfair, although my understanding of English at the time might have not helped.

So thank you for asking, I had forgotten about that game! After a quick search on the web I think I found it on this page (I might have a copy of the game on an old hard disk somewhere too). (On Linux, you can unpack the .hqx file with the unar command line tool to read the README, but I guess I’ll have to set up a Mac OS 9 VM to play it.) I also think the same family made another interactive fiction with light bulbs in it? But I remember it even less.

Anyway, the game totally blew my mind at the time, and I had no idea that there existed a healthy community in English, and I don’t think the current French community existed then. So I didn’t play more interactive fictions for a few years after that.

When I was around 12, I discovered Ekphrasis on my eMac and it blew my mind even more. I immediately set out to find how to make my own games, but I found Inform 6 to difficult for me. Then a few years later the then-maintainer of the French translation of Inform 7 wrote a tutorial on a popular programming tutorial website in France, and I dabbled in writing my own interactive fictions. But I only released my first game at 16, and I have never left interactive fiction and the French community since then.

Thank you for reading that long post, and thank you to have brought back these memories!

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My first was ADVENT (aka Colossal Cave), but way later than most of you: probably the late 2000s, I’d guess. I ran into it on one of those flash-game-compilation sites like Armor Games and got very confused and very lost. Then it turned out my mother had played it on a mainframe years ago and she helped me figure out how it worked; I struggled for a few days before managing to compile one of the C ports, played all the way to the end, blew up the wrong end of the final cave, and just went into the source to see the actual ending.

After a while I found out about Infocom and played several of their games. I was more interested in the technology than the games themselves (though I did spend a long time reading all the InvisiClues I could get my hands on), and spent a while looking at the Z-machine and Glulx standards and learning what a VM designed specifically for interactive fiction would look like. From there I got into Inform and spent a long time experimenting and hacking it in various ways before finally publishing anything.

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Infocom really went all in on mazes in Zork I, then dropped traditional mazes altogether. At least they learned! Here’s a long, tragic video of a player heading straight to the forest, getting stuck, then quitting. At least the soundtrack for Japanese Zork I is quite good, better than I ever would have expected.

In my weird world, a P&C can be IF. At least, some of them can be! Your game is A Long Way to the Nearest Star, isn’t it? Congratulations on the many positive reviews!

My French is awful, but I noticed that the narrator of Ekphrasis speaks in first person (Je or “I” in English). Is this common in French IF? I recently had a conversation comparing use of English “I” and “you” in IF. Thanks for sharing your experience!

The InvisiClues have so much humor and personality! I’ve read and enjoyed them all.

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This has always been a hard question for me to answer, and I’ve seen it come up from time to time.

My use of computers started in 1980, when I was 13, beginning in a library and then moving on to a computer lab in high school. I was exposed to a lot of games. We played them and then tried to make them. But I never had a computer at home growing up.

So in 1980, I started with Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail. But I never considered that interactive fiction. Then in 1981, I came across Oldorf and Will 'O the Wisp. I’m not sure which one I played first, so this question has haunted me, but it was at this time that I found IF.

The first IF game I bought was The Mask of the Sun in 1982, and by 1983 I tried writing my own IF game. It was all done on large reams of dot matrix paper, written over the summer, and I didn’t have a computer to work on it. So when I got back from summer break, the code was horrid and didn’t stand up at all. I gave up on the game. Little did I know that the Apple’s memory back then couldn’t hold all the code I was trying to cram in. Three months of eager writing over the summer generated too much.

Then by 1984, I finally ran across Infocom and was blown away. Sorcerer was the game I found, and the time travel puzzle was pretty neat to see after playing all those other IF games. Around this time, I heard of Starcross but never had a chance to play it.

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Lovely idea for a thread, Drew!

  • What IF game did you first play?

The first one that I can remember must have been Zork. This was in a special education class I took in 7th grade: I was 12 or 13, so that would be 1994ish. I took turns with 2 or 3 other students trying to figure out what commands the game would accept. The only part I remember is wandering around the part above ground.

I tried to play Zork again like 10 years later, and I didn’t recognize it at all. I wonder if the game we played was mislabeled or some kind of bootleg?

  • What tech/platform did you play it on?

The school had early Windows installations on most devices at that point, but this particular computer might have been something with a 486 chip in it. Or could it have been an Apple product…? I can’t recall.

  • How did you discover it?

That first time in classroom was just “something to do in class,” and by the time I had a computer of my own, it was mostly forgotten. However, in late 2000 or early 2001, I was following a game news website—the “Gaming Intelligence Agency”—and one of the guys involved had written about the successful amateur IF scene. He sent me a ZIP with some other games. I know it had at least A Mind Forever Voyaging, Spider and Web, and Curses, though I think there might have been some other Zarf and Adam Cadre games on there too.

  • How old were you?

12 or 13 for my first definite encounter, probably 19 when I started following the IF scene thereafter?

  • Have you been steadily into IF ever since?

I was really into the idea of the IF community from around 2001 to ~2006—I followed the newsgroups, I went on ifMUD a lot, a bunch of us followed each other on LiveJournal and social media, etc. In the years afterward, more of my online activity started going into stuff like web forums, Minecraft, and the occasional MMO, so while I was still following IF current events, I wasn’t really playing or working on games at the time. Cragne Manor brought me back.

  • Did it inspire you to write a game?

Here’s the part I can’t figure out: as a sixth grader in 1992, I had just enough understanding of BASIC to start on a text adventure. Awful parser, no “examine” command, heavy emphasis on combat—

Oh! I completely forgot about BBS games!! My best friend’s family had a subscription, and I remember games on there… Something about a red dragon? Something else about a food fight? We only played them once or twice, and they don’t stick out in my memory as such, but clearly this was a more formative experience than I’d realized.

Gosh, this was fun to reminisce!

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I’ve always been curious about Mask of the Sun. I’ll have to give it a try sometime.

I’m a few years younger than you, so I didn’t dare attempt my own parser. However, I did have ridiculous amounts of paper committed to CYOA. I didn’t have a disk drive for my C64 when I first got it, so I had to write everything down, too.

True story, my father saw WarGames the year I got my first computer. As a result, I was never allowed to get on Compuserve where Scorpia and other cool adventure game people used to hang out. No modems allowed! That movie seriously freaked my dad out.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with IF!

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Yup, Legend of the Red Dragon – I had a friend who ran a BBS so I played this one too, and dimly remember Food Fight too. Aaron Reed featured another of the big “door games” in his 50 Years of Text Games series, Trade Wars 2002, which gives a good flavor of how I remember these things working.

On topic, my first experience of IF was Wishbringer – we had it alongside an old Apple II in our sixth-grade classroom, so I would have been about 10, in 1991. I remember enjoying it, especially the feelies, but having a hard time making progress; it’s hard to play longer-form IF in short chunks during breaks between classes, and I recall I kept running afoul of the time limit in the opening section, since I typically spent a lot of time flailing around trying to understand how commands worked. Plus the other kids mostly wanted to play games with graphics, go figure!

It did inspire me to try writing some of my own IF for my own amusement, I’m just now remembering – incredibly basic BASIC games that were choice-based games in parser clothing (like, you’d get to a castle corridor where you could go left or right by typing LEFT or RIGHT – I don’t think I figured out how to code real actions). I think I also had one of those type-in books with the source code for a game based on Captain Kidd’s treasure, but I don’t think I ever successfully wound up typing it in to learn how it worked (I think some of those were intentionally obfuscated, so you could still play without spoilers after typing it in). Are there lists of those books anywhere? It’d be fun to try to track it down again.

That encounter with IF didn’t take me especially far, though, since the early 90s were a fairly tough time to try to get into IF. A few years later in high school, I had a friend who had the Lost Treasures of Infocom box and I remember messing around with a few of those, but in a rather desultory fashion. It wasn’t until the beginnings of the aughts that IF really got my hooks into me – I think I saw a writeup of Photopia on a mainstream gaming site or magazine, and from there learned about the amateur scene. 2002 was the first IF Comp where I played the games, and I even wrote a set of reviews that are, God help me, still archived in the Google newsgroup backups.

…actually, wait, I talked a bit about how I got into IF in those reviews, didn’t?

I’m a bit of a newcomer to IF; I played a few of the Infocom games back in the day, but never got terribly into them. My introduction to modern IF came from a random message-board posting I read 2 and a half years ago that mentioned Photopia in a discussion about games-as-art. My curiosity was piqued, I downloaded, and was of course blown away. When that year’s competition rolled around, I checked out some of the entries, but schoolwork prevented me from really digging in; ditto for the next year. I spent some time fooling around with Inform, managing to bang out a three-room game in which butter would melt in warm rooms and nothing interesting happened, but never really stuck with it, again mostly due to time constraints. So when I wound up having a fair bit of free time this year, I thought it’d be fun to play through all of the games and actually take part in the judging, and from there a short step to writing reviews.

Okay, I got a few details wrong but my memory is mostly right! I stuck with things for several years after that, including more time fooling around with Inform (6) to write half of a bad House of Leaves knock-off.

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Yes. Yes you do.

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My prized possession as a 12-year-old, recently reacquired:


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The neo-classical period sounds like a pretty exciting time for IF. New tech, heady theory discussions. Easy to see the appeal.

Ah, I remember the days of third party hints! There are a few interesting-looking scans of Infocom ones. Some very DIY looking. Congrats on a very nice get.

OK! :slight_smile:

It was, perhaps, but as with any time in the history of gaming there was a mixture of experiences on offer. There are plenty of fair and easier ZX Spectrum games out there. And, once you appreciate a few of the conventions of the time and get in the right mindset, then things become much easier.

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