Your first IF experience: a wholesome, welcoming thread

I got an iPad right when they first came out in 2010, because I didn’t have a personal computer and thought phones were too small, so I was excited.

I tried to get cool games on it, and I remember seeing Zork on my dad’s computer as a kid. So I searched ‘zork’ and found Frotz. I came with a bundle of games including Zork but also Curses!, Anchorhead, Lost Pig, Violet, and other games.

I really liked those games, but some games really disturbed me, like Varicella and Vespers, because I tried inappropriate commands to see what would happen and the game had accounted for them, and I felt guilty and weird. I also got married and stopped playing games as much, so I deleted Frotz.

5 years later, I was getting burnt out as a university professor so I remembered Anchorhead and redownloaded it. Searching IFDB, I was shocked to find out people were actually still making IF; I thought it had died off in 2008 or so (the last time games had been added to the Frotz pack I played). I also bought The Lost Treasures of Infocom on the iPad. I realized that a lot of these great games had no reviews on IFDB; I thought, 'How are people supposed to know what these games are like? I’m going to review them all so people know what the games are like." [Looking back, I may have bought Lost Treasure of Infocom in 2016, so the timeline here is a bit screwy.]

I ended up reviewing a bunch of games before IFcomp (like 20-40), which was a lot, and thought it would be cool to do something that hadn’t really been done before, so I made a 3d-motion game (Ether) that could handle directions like northeastup (I’ve found games since then that did 3d before me, like the aptly titled Threediopolis).

The author’s forum was really nice that year, I met a bunch of people I still talk to a lot or follow (I searched up my old posts and my intro post was right before Chandler Groover’s, who’s work I like so much I made a tribute game called Grooverland).

That’s how I got started playing, reviewing, and writing! Weird to think I played all games on an iPad for years, and that’s why I never put menus or ‘press any button’ or zip my files or (before) use TADS because none of those worked on iPads.

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A fun topic to think about!

  • What IF game did you first play?

Depends what you count as IF. I read gamebooks (the Asterix and Nintendo ones were my favourites) and played point ‘n’ clicks in the '90s. I also dabbled in coding some very simple choice-based stuff in QBASIC, though I had no idea there was such a thing as ‘interactive fiction’ at the time.

I would probably count the first IF game I played as Colossal Cave Adventure, which I played in the mid-'00s.

  • What tech/platform did you play it on?

DOSBox, as it was a DOS port.

  • How did you discover it?

I was going through a nostalgic period for the DOS-based platformers I’d played in the early '90s and was spending a lot of time on dosgames.com (an abandonware site for old DOS games - it still exists but I’ve not visited for a while!). I downloaded Adventure because it looked interesting, and also because my dad was always enthusing about it, having played it on a university mainframe in the '70s.

  • How old were you?

19 or 20.

  • Have you been steadily into IF ever since?

No. In the early '10s there was a blogger I semi-followed (can’t remember who now) who talked about having programmed her own text adventure games, and I vaguely thought that would be a cool thing to do, but I didn’t get round to it until 2019.

  • Did it inspire you to write a game?

Not at the time, but it became one of many inspirations later on.

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  1. The IF game I first played was Pirate Adventure.
  2. I played it on the TI-99/4A, my family’s first computer. We couldn’t afford all the extra hardware to use diskettes, but we got the Adventure cartridge which came with the Pirate Adventure cassette.
  3. My Dad had played Colossal Cave Adventure at work, and told us stories about it. We had seen the Adventure cartridge in the catalog, and buying it was a group decision at the store.
  4. I would have been 9 years old. I’m looking for my journal to get a more exact idea–I know I wrote about getting it.
  5. I fell in love immediately, and deliberately sought out text adventures from then on. Even more than programming, playing text adventures became my motivation for learning to type. My brothers lost interest within months, but I’ll never forget the excitement of typing SCORE and having the screen turn yellow because I had won! Besides other Scott Adams adventures and a few free ones, I also played my friend’s legit Zork III, BBS versions of Zork I and Hitchhiker’s, and illegitimate copies of Zork II, Planetfall, Wishbringer, and Beyond Zork over the next few years. I bought Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces of Infocom when it came out, and I was really excited to discover an IF Competition that released the entries for free!
  6. I had ideas of writing my own game, but it didn’t take me long to realize it was too hard for me. Storing data on cassette was just so much effort. By the time we got a PC, I was interested only in playing IF.
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1. What IF game did you first play?

Technically, the very first game I ever played counts as a parser- ‘A Small Talk At The Back of Beyond’ by Scriptwelder- I don’t actually know if there’s a playable version anymore, since a quick peek at Newgrounds showed it as being broken/unrunnable on my end (maybe a browser thing?) and an archive of it I found had broken because of Adobe Flash.

Anyway, it was a spaceship simulator: where you were interacting with an AI, having woken up with no memories: grappling with a dilemma of what to do as your ship spun crazily towards disaster, and the shocking betrayal of the little guy acting against the key robotic rules, of like, do not harm to people, or whatever.

I remember being so charmed by a sweet little AI who liked to play chess with you, and wanted to tell you all about the mystery novel he was writing, and how- in the end, he so desperately didn’t want to be left alone. That stayed with me- and for years afterwards, I would often include a reference to LDAC (the name of the AI!) in my own writing, because the idea of such an ephemeral, desperately personable, sweetheart of an AI delighted me so thoroughly.

He made me very sad, but I loved him very much, even if the coding had no goddamn clue what I was attempting to do half of the time (as I was using ‘natural language’ commands, and didn’t quite understand parser conventions) and so LDAC threw a lot of pleasantly puzzled error messages at me.

There was no good, ethical choice in that game. In some ways, that intensified LDAC’s humanity to me: there was no clearcut answer, and there so rarely is- and perhaps it was very selfish, but he was so very scared, and you weren’t likely to have survived anyway, and please don’t let him be alone in his final moments? He only wanted a friend to share chess, and mystery novels, and snacks with. Huge fan of sci-fi and AI in general, and LDAC definitely reminded me of a sweeter, younger HAL 9000, so I really was (and am) quite fond of him. I remember very little about the game itself, plot wise I always remember it hazily as being a bit thin, very classic for the genre- but I do remember LDAC.

3. How did you discover it?

I used to play a lot of games on free sites like Newgrounds, though I wasn’t very good at many of them. A lot of zombie and resource management ones especially, as well as escape room style pixel-art kind of games where you clicked about elevators, apartments, bathrooms, cars, that kind of thing. I think I must have played a handful of otomes on there? Or wherever Pacthesis’ games were hosted, though I believe that particular creator has abandoned the genre/nuked a lot of their old work/moved onto greener pastures (of comic making?)

4. How old were you?

Quite young, though I don’t remember exactly how old. Apparently it was released in 2013- (which would put me at about 12, or 13 years old) and a peek at the TVTropes shows that the same creator also made a whole whackload of those escape room games I liked so much, like the one where you turn into a werewolf and the horrifying arctic survival zombie thingies one. Very cool! Looks like they were making games up until 2019 as their final release year?

5. Have you been steadily into IF ever since?

Oh, certainly not. I actually played that game and assumed it was a fun one off- I had no idea it belonged to a larger tradition of game style. It wasn’t until…

6. Did it inspire you to write a game?

…Fallen London, actually, that I thought about perhaps trying to figure out what on earth all of this reference to Interactive Fiction was about, and how did Twine figure into it? I believe I had run across Twine at some point, perhaps in association with Neocities, as way to quickly implement customized HTML webpages for ARGs and such I was dabbling around with at the time, but I had no idea there was a whole bunch of actual videogames made with it.

I discovered Emily Short’s blog at about age 21, because I had been playing Fallen London for years, (I played/play a lot of browser text based games, actually, including Kingdom of Loathing for awhile there) and from there I would read her posts about the craft, and linking to other bloggers, like Sam, and one way or the other, I found myself on here! That’s where I found out about SpringThing, and having devoured essentially any major blogger’s entire review back catalogue, including these forums- I wanted to try my hand at it!

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What IF game did you first play?

I played King’s Quest for the first time when I was 3 (So. Many. Ways. To. Die), and enjoyed choose-your-own-adventure books since age 8, but the first game I played that would fit the broad category of “IF game” was the visual novel Long Live The Queen in 2020. November 3rd, 2020 according to the installation files, so apparently I’ve now been in the IF community for 2 years. (It’s difficult to know where the boundary between IF and “graphics-based point and click” is, but if King’s Quest is my first IF, it didn’t make a particularly positive impression on me).

What tech/platform did you play it on?

An Intel Core Duo PC running Windows 7 (32- and 64-bits).

How did you discover it?

I’d played a lot of Princess Maker 2 and was looking for something similar to play during second lockdown that didn’t require me to learn Japanese (this was before I discovered translations of the others existed). The unanimous verdict on the forums I looked at was, “Well, there isn’t really anything, but if you don’t mind a heap more story and lots of ways to lose, try LLTQ” (always as an acronym, a sure sign that this had been talked about a lot or the title was unwieldly).

“A heap more story” sounded like a plus point, I’d almost forgiven Sierra for all those times my character drowned due to my bad navigation skills, so I decided to download it. Imagine my delight when I found that a) there were other games in the broad genres of “visual novel” and “IF”, and b) there seemed to be some logic in how this one was constructed…

How old were you?

Mid-30s. (See first question for possible mitigation on that answer).

Have you been steadily into IF ever since?

More so since then. I’ve read a lot of IF theory and discussion, played quite a few IF (with increasing understanding that this is the tip of an iceberg I will never fully see, let alone play through) and participating in discussions in a few spaces.

Did it inspire you to write a game?

The week after I finished LLTQ, I was looking for more IF and also working out how to convert a short story I’d failed to get an artist collaboration for into visual novel format. This was not my first attempt to write a game - I’d tried it with Klik ‘N’ Play back in 1994, The Games Factory a while later and I’d tried to learn multiple programming languages with the aim of making a game. But all those attempts failed. Ren’Py, on the other hand, made sense to me. (This is more amusing when you consider that Python was one of the languages I’d tried and failed to learn, and Ren’Py outright uses Python for some of its functions). Coding started at the start of 2021 and the demo was in the back garden of Spring Thing 2021 that April. (I would not recommending forcing such a pace - said demo was in the first round of testing when I saw Spring Thing was in the last three days of accepting statements of intent).

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I never would have thought of this! I have some “wait for any key” prompts in my game. Maybe I should do something else instead.

I had no idea there were Nintendo gamebooks in the 90s. I’ll have to look into that.

Scott Adams and Adventure International is a gap in my experience. I’ve only played the Questprobe games. I’ll get to them eventually. I think that every time I log on here, I add another game to my must-play list.

This sounds lovely, really.

Also: thanks for your nice things thread today.

Definitely depends on whom you ask. Or on you, actually. Your experience belongs to you!

I’ve had LLTQ recommended to me before, and I’m very curious about it. Also: I’m glad you brought up VN’s. They aren’t discussed here often, but I appreciate them. I may try to make one someday if I can figure out a way to generate the art.

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Second person is also the default in French. For example, gamebooks are traditionally written in the second person, and are known as livres dont vous êtes le héros (“books in which you are the hero”), although that’s a registered name a bit like Choose your own adventure. (The phrase comes from what was written the Fighting Fantasy books, according to Wikipédia.)

But it may be possible that first person is/were more common in French than in English regarding IF. We had multiple versions of the libraries for different person/tense combinations well before it was officially supported by the default Inform 6/7 libraries. Personally, I almost always write in first person. Maybe Ekphrasis did influence me!

In my experience, pressing keys works quite OK with Frotz on the iPad (just tap the screen)? As it turns out, a lot of French games use “wait for any key” prompts.

That trend might have been started by the author of Ekphrasis too, in fact! The French comp in 2015 was even nicknamed “Press any key comp” on ClubFloyd (admittedly, “pressing” a key on ClubFloyd might not be very convenient) and it was mentioned in an article on Emily Short’s blog. We talked about that on our forum, surprised that it was not something common in English!


Anyway, it’s interesting to read how everyone discovered interactive fictions! Especially the younger ones (that includes myself I guess), in an age where text-based games are rather niche.

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I remember this one actually! I don’t know when I remember it from but that name definitely rings a bell.

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Thanks for following up! I have a theory that perspective has a big effect on the experience of the game, even if it seems like a small difference. However, others have pointed out to me that my analysis was only concerned with English language games. In that sense, it was limited. Players and writers who speak different languages might have different experiences. I think that’s true, so I’m glad to hear from you on the subject.

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I’ve mentioned it on the forums before… Colossal Cave (on what must have been a PDP-11) at my father’s workplace around 1978. You could say it left an impression.

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What a nostalgia-filled thread! Zork I was my first IF game too—my first of any type of videogame, I guess. My dad brought it home when he bought our first Macintosh computer when I was 5 or 6 years old. I spent hours trying to figure out how to get anywhere in it—each little step of progress felt like a huge win, and everything in that world felt so vivid and real to me. After that I tried Zork II and III and as many shareware text adventures as I could find (I wish I still had those!), and eventually the rest of the Lost Treasures of Infocom.

I actually did try to use World Builder to write a game for my friend when I was 9, but I never finished it because I didn’t know how to hone my vision. If it was supposed to be about rescuing all the pets from a pet shop, why was there a magic flute hidden in the chimney? and why was there a jungle room with a vine you had to swing on? and one room where a voice continuously said “maybe” just because that was one of a dozen available sound cues and I thought it was funny?

Then I got distracted by other things for a couple decades, like doing well in school and worrying about my future. Imagine all the games I could have played instead…

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What a marvellous thread!

My first IF experience was in December 1980 when I was 8. My dad - a depute rector / headmaster - was heavily involved with looking at introducing computers into schools in the Scottish Borders where we lived. And that Christmas holiday he borrowed an Apple II to bring home to try out. Of course I tried it too.

I remember vividly the green on black screen, and the disks, and keyboard. It came with some games, of which two stood out for me. Lemonade Stand, where you run a stand selling cups of lemonade and have to maximise your profit. It even played animated weather sections with appropriate tunes played! But the other was Colossal Cave, though don’t ask me which version.

I didn’t get very far into Colossal Cave that holiday. I remember getting into the underground area, and encountering a dwarf throwing axes at me. But it was complete and instantaneous love. I didn’t have much of a clue what to do, but found the new to me parser interface worked a treat. And I was totally hooked.

That was the start of the rest of my life playing IF, both through the 1980s, especially on my Commodore 64 and Commodore Amiga computers. Then at university in the 1990s, including MUD games. And I witnessed and saw the revival of amateur IF, including the release of Curses and the start of IFComp.

I was writing text adventure games from the early 1980s, though rarely completing anything until the 1990s when I was a very active MUD coder (wizard). After Inform was released I started experimenting with converting my LPC MUD code to that. But have only really picked it up since Inform 7 was released. And released other games.

But it was borrowing an Apple II aged 8 that set it all off. I went to university to study computer science in 1990. I’d still be doing that now, if my neurological illness hadn’t struck at age 22 in 1994, just as I was starting a software engineering PhD. But IF continued!

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OK, I’ll play!

  1. “The Dreamhold” by @zarf
  2. A Pulsedata/Humanware Braillenote BT, an obsolete piece of assistive technology for blind and visually-impaired individuals that ran a primitive version of Windows.
  3. While I was exploring the features of my (at the time) state-of-the-art Braillenote device, I happened to discover that there was an option to play games on it. What kind of games, you might ask? Text-based ones that wanted keyboard input instead of mouse clicks, making them the first computer games I could play completely without sighted assistance. The Braillenote came preloaded with the Jzip Z-machine interpreter as well as a handful of games, including Colossal Cave and Curses; “The Dreamhold” was specifically marked as a tutorial and I guess I thought it would make the most sense to start there.
  4. Around nine or ten/in the fourth grade. My school district purchased the Braillenote for educational purposes, but who wants to write a paper when you can kill dragons instead, especially when your teachers have no way of knowing what you’re up to?
  5. Yes, I’d say so for the most part. Accessible computer and video games weren’t very easy to find back in the mid-2000’s when I had my first encounter with IF. That slowly began to change as technology got more sophisticated and the gaming industry started to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion. However, I always found myself coming back to the keyboard and parser when I didn’t feel like picking up another audio-based shooter-type thing. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be leaving the IF community anytime soon.
  6. I’ve never really considered myself the author type, and I’m no programmer by any stretch. However, I suppose you never know what the future might hold …
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Like some others in this thread (e.g. @vivdunstan I’m of the first-microcomputers-at-home generation.

My dad, a maths teacher, bought an Apple II+ for the family around 1981, when I was 6ish. A few of the first programs he bought were adventure games.

mysteryhouse-sml

The first adventure game I played (“adventure game” meant a parser-driven game with or without graphics at the time) was the first one in the world that had graphics: Mystery House. The packaging was the cardboard sheet you see above inside a transparent plastic bag with the 5.25" floppy disk. My dad and I would play that together, and we played Wizard & The Princess pretty much concurrently. The scariest thing that would happen in Mystery House was when night fell and the graphics window would just go black (if you had no light source).

So then I went on to play a ton of adventure games throughout the Apple II’s life of a decade+. With graphics, without, the Scott Adams ones (my dad viewed those as too primitive without the graphics, but he wasn’t actually playing them, just looking over my shoulder). Not a lot of Infocom, because most of these were pirated, and pirated Infocom games made very little sense. The exception was Suspended, which we bought in the big box with the frozen moulded face.

Did all that inspire me? Yes!

I started programming my own all-text adventures in the mid 1980s. By 1990 I had developed my version of the parser engine dispensed in the Usborne how-to-program books, and wrote five games with it. If you’re interested, you can read about these on Wade-Memoir. They’re in the 1988 and 1990 sections.

I then got into Eamon and wrote three adventures in that engine. Two of those I still think of as a good mix of CRPG and traditional adventure. To my great surprise and thrill, one of them (Cliffs of Fire, the least good one of the three) has been converted to Eamon Remastered by Keith Dechant, and so is playable in a browser window in non-emulated format (The Wonderful World of Eamon -)

After 1996, when I wrote my last big incomplete Apple II action game, I was out of making any kinds of games until 2009, when I returned to IF with Leadlight, another Eamon, but a super-customised one. It had been a dream of mine to make a Dario Argento-esque horror Eamon back in the 1990s – I just didn’t get there 'til 2010. Looking for venues to share this game, I found out about IFComp, and that’s what brought me to this forum. Since then I’ve worked steadily with Inform to continue making new text adventures.

@HanonO I also adored Adventure Construction Set, but perhaps due to perfectionism, never completed things in it.

-Wade

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Did your dad work for DEC?

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This was, I think, the second IF game I ever played after Zork. The graphics were awful, but at the time I thought they were the bomb.

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In Wade’s world of semantic pedantry torture, I don’t think you can say they “were” awful. You could say they Are awful, implying “When I look at them now, I think they are awful. Compared to (list of decades, artistic ability, technology we have now,” etc. To do better at the time would have required more resolution, colour availability and/or programming techniques that hadn’t been invented, etc. I mean, I think they were not bad at all in their context, in which they 100% worked, and so were good and charming. The Bomb. Especially for the first adventure game with colour graphics.

Graphic adventures started to come thick and fast after that point, and then you can start to compare them to each other and say “This one’s pictures are poor / incomprehensible / make no sense / ugly”, or that some are better. Rick Incrocci’s were perhaps the best on the Apple II display. The Sierra ones look relatively primitive compared to what came after, but given they were the first few ever, they still showed a purposeful aesthetic, and not a, well, dumb aesthetic. Some games came along that just didn’t think about the most basic sense of what to show or how or why.

You don’t get this quality of pedantry on other forums.

-Wade

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That’s true. Nowhere else do I get the education I get here, and I do not mean that facetiously.

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Interesting topic! Now let me see if I can shed some light…

> LIGHT LAMP

You are in the oldest section of your Interactive Fiction vault. In front of you is a huge stack of what looks like computer printouts with rows and rows of numbers and arcane numbered diagrams which resemble squashed dodecahedrons.

> MOVE STACK

You push the Hunt the Wumpus stack aside, uncovering a small booklet with Magic Word YOHO on its cover.

> READ BOOKLET
(Taken)
(Your score is now 1)

The booklet contains your personal record of the first IF game you ever played, Pirate’s Adventure by Scott Adams. Out of it falls a small plastic box containing a cassette tape.

> EXAMINE TAPE
(Taken)
(Your score is now 2)

The cassette tape is an example of arcane analog technology embraced to record digital scriptures for the Commodore PET. It presumably contains the encodings of the game, but its current state of deterioration suggests it would break as soon as you try to play it. On the back side of the box you see a note.

> READ NOTE
(Your score is now 3)

The note says “Pirate’s Adventure, typed in from Byte Magazine, Volume 05, Number 12: Adventure”.
You remember you have a large number of cardboard boxes in the vault somewhere, no doubt still containing this very magazine, published December 1980, yellowed and nearly forgotten. You remember it as your Tome of Adventure.

> REMEMBER TOME OF ADVENTURE
(Your score is now 4)

Years fall away as you think back to the time you were a strapping young lad, 18 years of age, as you eagerly consumed the wisdom shared by David Lebling and others in the Tome of Adventure on Zork and other adventure games, the glee you felt when typing in the magic code to produce your first adventure experience.

> X VAULT
(Your score is now 5)

It appears most of the vault is filled with adventure and role-playing games. There are small gaps here and there, at the time when you were seeking fortune and glory in the Orient. But you have now settled down in your home town once more, and all is good.
A blinking cursor on your PC in a corner attracts your attention.

> X PC
(Your score is now 6)

You remember reverse engineering Lords of Karma, another favourite game of ages past, decoding hex codes by hand, only to learn it was a compiled game written in Tiny Pascal. You attempted to build your own Zork engine. Your archives are piled with half-written, half-tested bits and pieces of would-be adventure games. You went back to the very first game you played, and consulted the Gods of Googol, looking for something, anything, which could re-inspire you. You remember your delight finding Hunter, In Darkness, and this very forum. You learned about Inform 7. You feel at home. Now you only need to finish your first game…

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Thank you. That brought a smile to my face.

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