Interactive Fiction


Some time ago for some reason the kids’ computer became subject to parent imposed use restrictions – ie booting to a command line. Initially this was done to simply restrict the my oldest son’s access to computer games. However, I soon softened this approach and showed him how to play “The Word Game”.

At first, he wasn’t all that interested in the word game, since reading is something of a newly acquired skill and The Word Game was somewhat taxing in this regard. But I helped a little and he got more and more interested in it. Especially when he started stumbling across treasure and magic! In next to no time he started showing the single mindedness of purpose with The Word Game – played through the command line remember – that he showed with the GUI based games. The fact that interacting with the game presupposed not only reading the text but correctly spelling inputs seemed to me to be not such a bad thing for someone learning how to read and write.

In the end he decided he wanted to make The Word Game the theme for his birthday party. For those who haven’t guessed, he is playing Colossal Cave, aka Adventure – the 350 point version with the original parser (which I first played on a Wang OIS in the early 80s, it not being available on the VS). I thought that there must have been strides forward in interaction over the past 30 ish years so went searching on the internet. Apparently adventure is now (and has been for some time) branded as “Interactive Fiction” or “IF”. There is even a (very much sort of) natural language compiler for interactive fiction (called Inform 7 or I7). I7 compiles to a thing called Z-code. If you have a z-code interpreter for your platform then a Z-code game is platform independent (there are a number of interpreters, but a command line one for Linux is frotz). Unfortunately both I7 and frotz must be compiled from source code. Fortunately, subject to downloading a lot of dependencies, that is uncomplicated. There is a z-code re-implementation of Colossal Cave, so I have downloaded and installed it and he now gets a slightly more powerful interface (eg a command history).

I have spent the last month or so writing a custom IF for my son. It’s called “Get Up and Get Got Up”. The point is for him to get out of bed and get dressed for school. I would guess that this has taken a good 20 or more hours (of which maybe 75% were devoted to trying to work out the I7 not-all-that-natural-language-when-you-really-think-about-it syntax). He looks like he will be finished it in two days. He came into my room yesterday morning clearly scared. He had jumped on his bed in the game (which causes the game to end in failure) and took it too much to heart. It was all we could do to make him feel better again.

Now I am faced with the prospect of writing a sequel.

3 Responses to “Interactive Fiction”


  1. 1 kooneiform 31 March 2008 at 8:02 am

    Hello Brendan, I found this post on WP’s tag surfer and really enjoyed it. I’m curious as to what age range your eldest is in? It’s really fantastic that he’s having fun with Adventure.

    regards, George

  2. 2 David Holbrook 6 December 2008 at 4:28 am

    I played Colossal Cave on a Wang Mini when in about 1980 myself when I was ten and loved it! It is what sparked my interest in computers and led me to my career in programming.


  1. 1 Benefits of FLOSS for the Kids PC « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 5 June 2008 at 9:04 am

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