A (Mostly Recentish) IF List, For Breadth

At the London IF Meetup this week, several people mentioned that they’d like to get a better sense of the range of what IF can do. This is a list I’ve put together to suggest the variety of what is out there — different types of play, different ideas about how interactive storytelling could possibly work. Notice that this list includes fiction and nonfiction, many different genres, and many different target audiences.

I’ve also leaned especially toward work that is by people who are part of the meetup group — starred pieces are by people you might run into at one of our meetings.

18 Cadence, by Aaron Reed. Play with snippets of story, construct your own, share with other people. A physically beautiful work that touches on themes of oppression and civil rights, grief and change, love and growth, without being particularly heavy-handed about any of it. Instead, it leaves a space for you to discover your own strands of meaning — and it also happens to include some cool procedural text reworking.

howling dogs, by Porpentine. A sometimes disorienting but powerful sequence of vignettes; it is difficult to explain this one in advance, but this is one of the pieces that really got people paying attention to Twine.

* Aisle, by Sam Barlow. A one-move parser-based game that allows you to type any of many, many different commands in order to discover what to do next. This is one of the older pieces on the list here, but Aisle functions so well as an introduction to what’s fun about parser IF that I’m including it anyway.

* Fallen London, Failbetter Games. A massive sprawling browser-based exploration of a world in which Victorian London has been stolen and taken underground by space bats. (Sort of.) Free to play; lots of lovely prose; many small plot arcs within a very long ongoing world exploration.

Solarium, Alan deNiro. A gripping Twine piece about the madness of the Cold War.

maybe make some change, Aaron Reed. IF augmented with video and audio effects, about a true war-time event. It uses the mechanic of player-typed commands to express fundamental points about the actions that we’ve learned and the terminology with which we think about people and situation.

My Father’s Long Long Legs, by Michael Lutz. A very linear, tightly focused piece of Twine horror that explores how effective it can be to make the player responsible for moving forward through the story, even when there are very few choices.

* Black Crown, Rob Sherman. Uses similar underlying mechanics to Fallen London, but to tell a more focused and darker story. Body horror and strange smells abound.

Choice of the Deathless, from the long-running Choice of Games line. This one is about a magic-using, demon-contract-making law firm. In general, games in this series do a lot with player character customization, providing lots of ways to experience similar issues and problems. Choice of the Deathless has an especially strong premise and setting. Choice of the Deathless is for pay; Choice of Games also offers some freebie experiences, though in my opinion they are a bit less good.

Conversations with My Mother, Merritt Kopas. A reflection on interpersonal relationships in the context of a trans experience, with links outward to actual tweets and real-world documents.

Analogue: A Hate Story, Christine Love. An illustrated science fiction puzzle-story about piecing together what happened aboard a damaged generation ship.

* First Draft of the Revolution, Emily Short, Liza Daly, and inkle. An interactive epistolary story where you play in the juncture between what people want to say to one another, and what they actually dare to say. The player’s role is to revise the letters being sent between characters.

* Moquette, Alex Warren. A somewhat melancholy slice of life story about a dissatisfied man riding the Underground. Features some neat procedural effects for creating the stops on the journey and the characters who get on and off the train.

Lost Pig, by Admiral Jota. A light-hearted, deeply implemented parser game about a lost orc called Grunk.

* Sorcery!, Steve Jackson and inkle. An old-style gamebook updated as a modern app, and one that has gotten very widespread appreciation.

* Bee, Emily Short. A real-life story about a homeschooled girl training for a national spelling bee. It’s built on the Varytale system, which means that the player gets to select which snippets of the story to read next, then make choices within each subchapter.

* Frankenstein, Dave Morris and inkle. A modern retelling of the Frankenstein story that explores what was going through the minds of all the major characters.

Kerkerkruip, Victor Gijsbers et al. A highly randomized dungeon-crawl story with rogue-like mechanics, but textual descriptions of events. Illustrated with a map and other colorful features.

Edited to add: in case it’s of interest, here is an old post, with screenshots, listing text-based games of various kinds. Some are interactive stories; some are interactive poems or other types of games that happen to use text.

21 thoughts on “A (Mostly Recentish) IF List, For Breadth

    • Versu I’m not listing here because there isn’t currently anything that people can pick up and try: Linden is no longer supporting it, has not released Blood and Laurels, and has taken down the older Versu app. I am investigating whether there is a way for me to regain ownership of the IP and carry the project forward on my own, but I don’t have concrete information to share about that at the moment. I made a pitch for Linden to open source the project as it currently stands, but did not succeed.

      Device 6… hrm. On the pro list, it’s very successful commercially and it looks stylish. On the con list, I’m not actually all that enthused by its writing, story, or puzzles.

  1. What about the things that IF does or makes that have not been noticed or studied or talked about — as yet?

    Maybe now that literariness has arrived, a review of how IF has altered the concepts and practice of literature and literary theory would be in order.

    For instance, would it be possible to discuss how IF’s I – YOU relational structure changes literary theories of narrative and narrative voice, which cannot adequately address interaction as a human-computer mode of relation? Or to consider how IF helped produce what is becoming a dominant mode of modern subjectivity — the human-computer partnership/symbiosis/coupling? Or how IF is nearly the ONLY form of fiction/literature that has both figured and played (for decades!) out this culturally significant I – YOU relation? Or how IF plys out this relation against various game world landscapes that reflect and refigure the social and political figures of the home, the nation, the community, or democracy? And this is just the tip of the iceberg, the opening of the cave, the threshold of the house, the ADVENT of what has already arrived. The technical and mechanical structures of IF’s input/output — gameworld structure have been well studied and theorized, but the import of this I/O – world literary form as a significant cultural phenonenmon has been occluded by worries about clunky prose, puzzle-narrative ratios, and emergent charactization. IF has built an open-plan, open-play literary stage for the discursive production and ongoing alteration of what is perhaps the most influential mode of subjectivity of this era: the symbiotic or recursive or post-human human-computer partnership. Additionally, IF’s play has, since 1976, reiterated and recast the possible epistemologies and combinatory ontologies that produce, support, and refigure this subjectivity.

    In my view, IF has not yet come to terms with its radical literary, social, and political significance, in part, because of its reliance on recognizable or established models of narrative, literature, and literariness that ironically, IF texts and practice have rendered out-of-date. While I support efforts to record and preserve the theoretical and material work of earlier IF communities and the efforts to expand the literary possibilities of IF (through continued innovations in programming and prosody) this archival and literary work might best be undertaken alongside a reinvestigation of IF’s cultural import and innovations — many of which may not be readily apparent or perceptible when approached through established literary or linguistic criteria. Otherwise, much of IF’s cultural significance and productive force may remain unnoted, for now.

    • Phew! I’m with you, but that’s a lot to live up to… I think one of the quirks with IF is how it became a dominant medium for such a short space of time… novels had centuries… within about a decade of IF hitting computers and being sold commercially, graphics were taking over – computer haven’t really looked back since then. We live in an increasingly ‘visulate’ rather than ‘literate’ culture. I love IF and think that it represents a wonderful way to potentially bridge the gap between generations in terms of reading / playing. However, most people under the age of 25 have no idea what IF even is…

      I think that education could provide a great growth area for IF in the way that it fuses literacy and coding/logical-mathematical processing – two of the great white whales for Western democracies as they fret over their PISA scores etc, However, I’d much rather see young people enjoying the games and then making their own than writing intellectual treatises about them.

      PS Emily, thanks for Counterfeit Monkey – currently on/in the car!

    • There’s a lot of interesting questions here and a lot of potential theorising that can be done. When you say, “IF’s cultural significance and productive force may remain unnoted”, unnoted by whom?

    • If pushed for a phrase, I’d go for ‘ludic collusion’.

      Collusion between the reader and author is a part of fiction too of course and an author has to establish ‘the rules’ within his or her novel and an interest in its perspective(s).

      But IF pronounces the interplay to a more explicit level of connection. A story writer has to keep us reading. An IF writer has to keep us ‘playing’…

      This may not sound quite as profound a product as ‘interiority’ at first glance, but I reckon that it does capture something about the shifts in Western culture over the last 30-40 years which makes sense to me…

    • As you know, I’m not convinced that interiority is off the table in IF and games.

      But maybe: complicity. Shared responsibility for the unfolding of the story. A requirement that the player at least for the duration of the game accept and follow the game’s own internal rules. I could read an Ayn Rand novel while mentally objecting to her whole philosophy. I can’t play Rendition without commanding the protagonist to commit acts of torture. I was able to finish Fountainhead; I wasn’t able, or inclined, to finish Rendition.

      • Agreed. I think that IF often feeds from a certain edginess in the identification between the player and the protagonist as well. It’s a positive to feel a little queasy about what the protagonist is about do whether it’s just in terms of ridiculousness / farce (Violet / Taco Fiction etc) or morality (Make It Good etc).

        The problem with Rendition was that the sophistication was sorely missing, in my opinion. It was just a mindless torture simulation – it didn’t probe any of the moral quandaries in terms of the dangers of terrorism and “enhanced interrogation”. I would be hooked playing a game which genuinely explored the latter. There’s a Jung quote that the popularity of cinema is due in part to how it “… makes it possible to experience without danger all the excitement, passion and desirousness which must be repressed in a humanitarian ordering of life…” IF’s strength as a high-brow medium might in terms of probing our moral boundaries in a similarly ‘safe’ environment…

        Looking at this year’s comp entries, a lot of people liked the winner Coloratura because it put them in an unfamiliar and morally complex position. The potential to enter >KILL HUMANS in the first few turns of the game could be argued to have a similar cathartic excitement to whatever some people got out of Rendition was. However, Glasser’s presentation of a alien intelligence with skill and a healthy slice of irony makes this somehow a much more permissible complicity to me.

  2. Pingback: Emily Short Wants Versu » Ciaran Laval

  3. parser IF shyness through

    really, a one-move,a roguelike and a cavemen-lingo as best of breed parser-based IF? I know you may be shy of your past efforts in the field, but really: they are far better than these ones

  4. What is the significance of the small number of titles written with traditional dev platforms (3 Inform; 0 TADS)? Are the old tools inadequate for the new styles/mechanics/genres? Are all the Kool Kids just using the new tools?

  5. This isn’t at all an attempt to cover the parser canon (we have loads of lists for that, such as PR-IF’s overview or the best-of selections on IFDB; I also posted some of those lists to the Oxford/London meetup site.) Here I’m specifically trying to point out things from different traditions, and for people who are not necessarily familiar or comfortable with parser IF. For relatively novice players, Aisle and Lost Pig have a great track record of accessibility and interest value.

    • And now that I’ve thought about this another few hours: I do have a pretty hard time thinking of any parser IF that meets all of these criteria:

      (a) written in the last three or so years
      (b) conceptually groundbreaking
      (c) reasonably accessible to people who have never played parser IF before

      For high-quality, recent, conceptually unusual stuff, I think of Coloratura, Make It Good, and Endless, Nameless — but they all in different ways demand pre-existing IF literacy. In the case of Endless, Nameless, a lot of pre-existing IF literacy, and in the case of Make It Good, a huge amount of effort — it’s just a really, REALLY hard game.

      Maaaaybe The Warbler’s Nest? Maybe The Colder Light or Guilded Youth, though both of those are accessible precisely because they are prettier and less parser-focused?

      • Counterfeit Monkey? New players probably might not be able to finish it without help, but it’s got a tutorial and there’s a lot of stuff to do in the beginning and it shows off things you can do in IF (and only in parser IF, in this case).

        Is The Statue Got Me High conceptually unusual? It might not be newbie-friendly enough either, IIRC there’s no tutorial.

        I had pretty good luck trying a newbie out on Cold Iron once. She got pretty far without nudges about how to format the commands. The part that really flummoxed her were the compass directions.

      • Monkey takes a lot of work to set up the right interpreter, though. And also I’m trying not to overload the page with my own stuff. Not sure about Statue Got Me High — I enjoyed it, but I felt (as I feel with a lot of Veeder’s stuff) that the amusement value came particularly from having your IF-related expectations tweaked. I have no idea what a novice player would make of it. Cold Iron I didn’t find memorable enough in and of itself to come into consideration, though possibly that’s also unfair?

  6. Pingback: Emily Short revisits Kerkerkruip | Kerkerkruip

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