Text Adventures Live On With Inform Programming Language

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Remember those old text adventures, like Zork and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? You may think that the text adventure is deader than disco, what with the advances in graphical technology that allow the creation of more and more realistic games, but you would be wrong. Thanks to a host of quality tools for the creation of interactive fiction, sites like the Interactive Fiction Archive are still receiving submissions of new games. But maybe you're like me, and you're looking for a greater challenge than trying to figure out how not to get eaten by a Grue.

In that case, you might try your hand at writing some interactive fiction yourself. It's a surprisingly simple process to pick up–you can try your hand at it without staring down a bunch of difficult syntax. Your first step is going to be picking up a program called Inform. It's a cross-platform development environment for all things interactive fiction. The neat thing about Inform is that you can create a game without having to know programming syntax–all you need is a functional knowledge of the English language.

Click for larger.
Inform is a programming language built on English, so that when I say "The PCWorld Lab is a room," the interpreter creates a room called the PCWorld Lab for me to fill with stuff like people and things. For a basic idea of how this works, look at the screenshot above. Of course, that's an incredibly simple example, but the same principle holds. Most of the games you play are simply a bunch of connected rooms.

If interactive fiction authorship is something that intrigues you, I'd encourage you to delve deep into the documentation provided inside Inform. In addition, there are a bunch of great resources out there for people interested in creating a text adventure. My personal favorite is the "Writers" section of brasslantern.org, but I'd also recommend playing as much interactive fiction as you can get your paws on so you can learn not only what works well, but what you want to avoid. A good place to look is the aforementioned IF Archive, but if that's a bit much for you, you might consider Baf's Guide to the IF Archive, which includes reviews and other good links.

Blair Hanley Frank is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. His favorite diet is adventurers, but his insatiable appetite is tempered by his fear of light.

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