Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Are IF Games?

So the more observant may have noticed that I've started linking to related works in the genre at the bottom of each post.  Well done.  Being observant is a pretty important skill, especially if the Zombie Apocalypse ever does come.*

The first will usually be fiction of some kind.  The second Interactive Fiction, or IF.  There are dozens of**  'What's IF?' essays on the internet already, so we hardly need another one.  Well, tough.

What's IF?

Feel free to skip this paragraph if you aren't over 30 and mildly geeky.
IF is an abbreviation of Interactive Fiction.**  Those of you over the age of 30 or so may remember them from the first time around.  You know, that time before computers had much in the way of graphics.  Infocom, one of the biggest games company coined the name, Interactive Fiction.  Before that they were called Text Adventures.  But, by whatever name you knew it you'd remember this input.

> N
Go North

*Insert fantastic description and fantabulous adventure here.*  You may slay a troll***, or find the meaning of life.****  Your aim may be to save the world, or conquer it.  You will get the girl.*****

What's more many of the best of these games are free, and available right now.  Many of the best games are speculative fiction.  So, you may ask, why haven't I heard of them?******  Well, because they're text based (I'm guessing) and in this age of photo-realism in games, text based games are thought of as old fashioned and uninteresting - kind of like Grandma's underwear.*******  But I'm here to introduce you to the best.  The silky black bras, garter-belt, boxer shorts, crotchless panties, hell, even grandma's panties if that's your thing (whatever floats your boat) of the gaming world.

Yes, it's text based.  But reading text (ie novels, short stories, poetry) didn't stop when TV was invented.  Of course there's more to IF than just reading text.  IF is a form of collaborative story-telling.  You and the creator tell the story together.  You decide what happens next - like Choose Your Own Adventure books (now called 'gaming books', but with more choice, and you know, one of those plot thingies.  You know, a story. Actually, multiple plots/stories, depending on your choices.

OK, you've sold me, how do I do this?

How to Play IF

The way I recommend is to begin playing one of the games with an in-built tutorial.  That way you get tips as you play.  Click the cheat-card >.> to go to the download page for a PDF that should give you the basic commands to get you started.

Of the games with an in-built tutorial my favourite is Bronze, a reimagining of Beauty and the Beast.  But Aotearoa is another (easier) choice for beginners (I haven't played it yet, but it sounds great).  You can get started straight away by clicking 'play online' (top right corner) or you can download the game to your computer (the Bronze.zblorb file just below it).

Now this game (zblorb) file is like an mp3 file, in that it's useless without a program to play it.  For mp3 files you might use Winamp or Windows Media Player in Windows, itunes on the mac, etc.  So, like you use a media player to play mp3 files, you use an interpreter to play zblorb files.  There is a list of all the interpreters but to make things easier I will recommend one for each system.  Windows users should use Gluxe********.  Mac users should use Zoom.  As should Linux users: Zoom.  Once you have the interpreter on your system use it to open Bronze (or whichever game/storyfile you wish to play).  In Windows you would do this by right clicking on the file, and using the 'open with' entry and choosing Gluxe.

There, the game is running.  As the cheat-sheet says typing about or help is a good way to get started.  If you do play Bronze or Aotearoa then the game will take it from here, and give you directions.  Good-luck!  If you get stuck please feel free to comment here, or contact the good folks over on the Interactive Fiction forums.  Good-luck!


Em Short has created a good IF how-to which can be found here. If my introduction doesn't work for you, please check it out.

*  I imagine it would also be useful in case of other kinds of apocalypse.~

**  Well yes, I know I've told you that already.  Be patient, it'll get better.

***  Dragons, or zombies, or some poor sod that doesn't deserve it.

****  Not always 42.

*****  Or guy, or otherworldly being.

******  Or you may very well be thinking, well, yes, of course (you idiot Tamsyn).  I've been playing Interactive Fiction for years.

*******  At least I hope you find Grandma's undies uninteresting.  You dirty, dirty man/woman/other.

********  Or another operating system.  Ha, just joking.~~

~  Although, I guess, only limited (survival orientated) usefulness if your observation is along the lines of 'Is that a missile headed this way?  Oh look, it has a nuclear warhead.'

~~  Wait, no I'm not.  =p

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