Storyseeking: Interactive Fiction Competition

It's the thing
I’ve been taking a look at some of the games in the 17th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition and though I’m not going to refer to these as “the cream of the crop”, having not harvested the entire crop yet, they should fulfill a variety of your text-based needs. With storytelling in games high on the agenda today, it’s a particularly interesting moment to look at the different ways narrative can be explored through interactive prose. Far from fetch quests and attempts to second-guess a limited vocabulary, interactive fiction at its best can allow a reader-player to discover stories in all kinds of interesting ways. This way to words about words.

I’m going to talk about The Play first, which has been getting good press elsewhere and deservedly so. Casting the player as the director of a rather shambolic theatrical production, it’s a character piece that tasks you with handling a cast who are believable, amusing and frustrating. There’s no need to hammer away at your keyboard either because the whole thing takes place through hyperlinks. Told you there’s no need to second-guess the game’s vocabulary, not in this day and age, although admittedly you’ll be doing a bit of that with some of the later entries. Oh, and you can play it right in your browser by clicking here.

in this blatant console port you can only continue or start a new game; there are no options for keybinding or resolution adjustment

The Binary is another hyperlink-based entry and possibly my favourite of the ones I’ve played so far. I won’t say too much because understanding the way the story is uncovered is a large part of the enjoyment. It’s another you can play in your browser and there’s also a prequel, Vicious Cycles, which I’d recommend playing first. They are conceptually and narratively linked though not necessarily sequential, so there’s no harm in playing The Binary first but it’s a slicker experience than the earlier game and I always prefer to go from old to new so as not to deslick my experiences. Both games are short, mere glimpses really, but the nature of the telling acknowledges and defies the apparent brevity of the scenario. Clever.

To round off what I’ve enjoyed so far, two games that I’m going to loosely link to my favourite game of last week, The Binding of Isaac. First up, and the most traditional of the entries I’m going to discuss, is Cana According to Micah, a “translation” of the biblical story in which water was turned to wine in order to jolly along a wedding. Unlike The Binding of Isaac’s rather loose poo-besmirched take on Biblical events, this is accurate enough to be a study as well as a retelling of the Marriage at Cana. There’s some interesting character work and though there is jocularity it seems a faithful exploration.

He did not just bleed into the water

And then there’s Kerkerkruip, which goes and gets a load of roguelike in the interactive fiction pot. I can’t tell if it has potential for enjoyment or if it’s more of an experiment than an experience. I’d probably have to play a lot more. The developer has lots of detailed development diaries over here that are worth a look if you’re interested in seeing how something like this comes into being. It’s the only one you can’t play online, so you’ll need the .gblorb file from here and an interpreter from here. If you really want to get to grips with Kerkerkruip, you’re well-advised to look at this beginner’s guide as well.

So, we’re done here then? Not quite.

Look, it’s a link to Aisle, as well as Alec’s article about it from years ago. Still one of my favourite explorations of interactive storytelling, seemingly so simple yet capable of telling so many stories that are distorted and/or clarified by the nature of the medium.

And what about that Adam Cadre, eh? One of the masters of the form, he is. Go and play at least 9:05 if you haven’t already.


  1. Kdansky says:

    I’ve also written an engine for something like that, half-way between a real game engine and plain hyperlinks, but without fancy graphics. Still looking for a good writer though.

    link to

    Annoyingly, it’s in Adobe Air and requires installation, mostly due to the fact that it has an inbuilt editor which obviously needs file access.

  2. caddyB says:

    I stood there, looking at the woman in the aisle. I twiddled my thumbs, trying to find a way to put on my robe and wizard hat.

    It didn’t seem possible, so I picked up some pasta and moved on.

  3. Fede says:

    If you want some more thoughts on this year’s entries, try Emily Short’s blog.

    Also, some more nice IF: Emily Short’s Galatea (more info from RPS) and Adam Cadre’s Photopia (there are two articles about them on RPS too, can’t find them right now :( oh, here it is, found one of them, an awesome article by KG)

  4. FCA says:

    If the game “Kerkerkruip” is anywhere as interesting as its author is, I can heartily recommend it. And of course, I approve of giving it a proper Dutch name.

    • LTK says:

      The fact that the name is a word-for-word translation of the genre it occupies is all the more amusing.

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    Hodge says:

    I played 9:05 when Cobett did a Crapshoot on it a few weeks back and it’s well worth ten minutes of anyone’s time.

    Aisle is great too. If the standard of entrants is anywhere near those two then it’s probably worth playing the lot of them.

    And if anyone’s even remotely interested in writing this stuff, you owe it to yourself to check out Inform. Watch that demo, it will make you smile.

    • malkav11 says:

      I haven’t gotten into the last couple of comps because my interests have drifted, but the years I played the entries, there were usually a range from absolutely brilliant (the comp winners or the next one or two down, adjusting for taste) to the pretty much unplayable (often written in some sort of homebuilt DOS engine, often by the late Paul Allen Panks. If you’re judging a current competition, you get the luck of the draw. If you keep to old competitions, usually the first ten or so on the list are at least worth investigating, and past that, you takes your chances.

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    Hodge says:

    Oh, and if we’re all recommending games then I’ll throw Suveh Nux into the ring.

  7. Risingson says:

    I discovered current I-F thanks to the Home of the Underdogs. :’). Those were the times. I was innocent and virgin.

    Thanks for at least naming the competition and some of the competitors. Every time should be a great time to remember how only reading is enough for a great adventure.

    P.S. second time I use the word “virgin” in RPS boards today.

  8. Vandalbarg says:

    I’ve recently finished up Wyrd Sisters for the first time so a lot of my enjoyment of The Play is probably due to that. Still good fun though.

  9. Dervish says:

    A more visible link to Emily Short’s reviews:
    link to

    I like the IF Comp, but there’s a lot of chaff to separate from the wheat, particularly if you prefer good puzzles instead of artsy scribbling. I’m waiting for more reviews to roll in.

  10. Erlend M says:

    I think Photopia would be a very good introduction to interactive fiction, in addition to being a very good game. You can play it online here.

  11. tossrStu says:

    I can’t remember if I trotted this out the last time IFComp was mentioned, but I wrote and entered a game back in the 90s. It wasn’t very good, but I’m still weirdly proud of the fact that I hid lyrics from various late-90s Britpop songs in the game which would appear if you performed certain actions (even though the quote from “Babies” by Pulp — which was meant to be activated by OPEN WARDROBE / ENTER WARDROBE / CLOSE WARDROBE / SLEEP — never actually triggered due to a bug). It was a mildly comedic, straight-up puzzle game — complete with arbitrary logic problems and even an implementation of a Lights Out puzzle that you had to solve — with no story to speak of but I’m considering entering an artified “xth anniversary edition” in a future IFComp just for a laugh. Well, I say “a laugh”; if my current idea works out it’ll have pathos up the wazoo and you’ll be crying BUCKETS by the time you finish it.

  12. maudlinbone says:

    I reviewed Blue Lacuna about a year ago. link to

    You owe it to yourself to play it if you haven’t.

    • juliainleuven says:

      Blue Lacuna is the best out there. I finished it, cried, found the creator and showered him in (fairly insignifcant) money. Then I played Whom the telling changed, by the same creator, and now i’m not sure which is the best out there anymore.