On Interactive Fiction

11/14/2011 at 5:31 AM (Games, Interactive Fiction) (, , , , )

I know computer games are a big deal today but the ones I enjoy are almost obsolete in this day and age. What I refer to is a unique type of game known as a text adventure game or interactive fiction. You have no visuals except perhaps for a map occasionally and need to navigate your way through the game using words. I fell in love with this type of game after my parents bought me a CD titled 100 Educational Games, which had eight of them. These games are tough to play because you need to figure out the correct words to use (mostly verbs or nouns in the context of an instructive command) in order to progress forward. You also need to keep track of the directions in which you move because in some games, the wrong move can have your main character meet an unexpected death. Below I’ve reviewed three of them.

Anchorhead (Advanced to Expert Player)



I suggest you tackle this after you’ve played a few of the introductory level games because the choices you make can lead to unexpected consequences. The game story takes place across three days. There is no time limit in the first two days; each day ends when the player has completed a required task or tasks. From the third day onwards the game imposes limits on the number of turns a player can take to solve puzzles.

The game is set in the town of Anchorhead where the protagonist and her husband Michael moves to after inheriting the mansion of his  ancestral family. The protagonist begins the game exploring the town and meeting Anchorhead’s odd residents while her new husband becomes engrossed in researching the Verlac history. As he becomes more obsessed with his research, the protagonist begins her own investigation of her husband’s family and stumbles upon an obscene custom that has spanned generations of Verlacs.

If you want to literally participate in the shaping of a story, interactive fiction allows you to do so. Anchorhead created by Michael Gentry is one of the lengthier but more beautifully content rich text adventure games out there.

You can play it here.

The Dreamhold (Beginner to Average Player)

The Dreamhold - Andrew Plotkin

This is the game to play for those who are new to interactive fiction and wouldn’t know what to do straight off the bat. It’s difficult to get frustrated with text adventure games because often what you might type might not be understood by the game system and you get the response from the game “I don’t know how to do that”. The Dreamhold is a game that introduces the players to basic commands and has a built-in hint system (don’t get reliant on these or you’ll become dependent on walkthroughs – a help guide).

It begins with this basic premise: You don’t remember who you are. You are lying on a smooth cold stone floor in a small, unfurnished stone cell. You are carrying a quill pen, and a there’s a gap in the stone in the east wall. The objective is to remember how you came to be there in that cell. As you play the game and solve puzzles, you realise how you fell into that predicament through flashbacks.

This game by Andrew Plotkin can be played here.

Babel (Medium – Advanced Player)

Babel - Ian Finley

Babel is similar in premise to The Dreamhold in that it about a character who has lost his memory but the level of difficulty in this is higher than Anchorhead when it comes to figuring out puzzles. The amnesia or flashback device and reliance on backstory may be cliché but the story here is a different one to that of The Dreamhold. I mean you wouldn’t say The Notebook and 50 First Dates are the same movie, would you?

You wake up in an abandoned research station in the Arctic. The game begins with you not knowing anything about yourself: your name, where you are, or how you got here. As you explore by touching glowing objects, visions give you glimpses of the lives of four scientists who resided here and the tragedy that befell them. Before you can escape, you’ll need to learn your own history. While it’s a story-based game more than a puzzle solving game, its creator Ian Finley has masterfully crafted the twist at its culmination. It does take the unaware by surprise and only the unnecessary romantic subplot was a minor irritation. This is a game about piecing things together so if you are the type of player who likes to be dropped in the middle of the action, I suggest avoiding this and trying out Spider and Web instead.

You can download Babel here.

Note: The levels are just suggested recommendations after my experiences of playing interactive fiction.


  1. joe pereira said,

    Hi. I really liked the way the posts looks and your informative reviews of these IF games. I’ve started a blog on using IF for learning English, so will mostly stick to talking about less advanced games, but you’ve certainly chosen some good ones (Spider and Web is my current fave – and I’ve been playing these things for 25 years! I have yet to play Anchorhead though, so that may change…). http://www.theswanstation.com/wordpress


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