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The Magic Word: A Definitive Interactive Fiction Compilation

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shafer sephiroth

Joined: 04 Dec 2006

PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:19 am    Post subject: The Magic Word: A Definitive Interactive Fiction Compilation    Reply with quote

In early 2007, I found out about Inform 7 and thought it was just about the coolest thing I had ever come across. I started scouting out the interactive fiction scene, becoming more and more interested in that medium, and before long I was familiar with all of the major websites and found myself reading the newsgroups everyday. A collection of text adventures quickly took shape on my hard drive, and I decided one day to take it all the way: I wanted to put together an IF collection that felt to me definitive (you can read below about how I chose what was worthwhile and what wasn't). Now, in my absorptive internet behavior I pretty much always feel the need to collect things, but this was the first time that I was able to focus upon a finite area of interest and actually complete such a task.

Once I had everything I wanted, I started to think about how often people say that they don't know how to get started with interactive fiction or something similar. So I kept going: I brought together all of the software that anyone would ever need to read/play the different formats; I collected all kinds of literature, from practical introductions to theoretical papers; and I organized the entire thing and slapped it onto a CD-R. I called it "The Magic Word" (a reference to xyzzy) and labeled it a celebration of interactive fiction's 30th anniversary (Advent in 1976 through the releases of 2006). I gave it to a friend, and I don't think he ever tried it out. Oh, well! I figure it's about time that I share it more widely. That's what I'm doing here!

I honestly think I did a very tight job with this project. Now that I've revised it, this package is everything IF-related that anyone could possibly want, covering from 1966 through 2008. The main library containing the games is organized chronologically. I did extensive research to determine what was worth including, and I'm very confident about the results. The documents are pretty impressive, too, I think. They are organized into Analysis & Criticism; History; Interviews; Introductory Material; and Making-Of reports by authors of well-known games.

Please bear in mind that most (excepting free releases) of the Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls catalogs are omitted from this collection because they both fall under active commercial licenses. Activision owns the Infocom classics (very much worth seeking out) and does produce collections, though they don't live up to the legacy of the original releases complete with lovingly crafted fictional documents and items known as "feelies." Magnetic Scrolls games are not in print at all to my knowledge. It's not hard to find them online, but the legality of doing so is unclear.


For those of you who don't want to read all of the following, here is the link to the mediafire folder containing the zip file, which is split into five parts. The whole thing is about 450 MB. If you just want to dive in, go ahead and click that link. Otherwise, read on for step-by-step instructions.

1) [optional] Get yourself a download manager of some kind, like jdownloader. This will make it more convenient to get all five parts of the zip archive from mediafire because you can just queue them up instead of managing them one at a time.

2) Download the five zip parts in this folder. If you prefer, here are direct links to the files: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5.

3) Unzip the package by opening with an unzipping utility such as 7-Zip.

4) The first thing you should do now is open and read Info.txt at the package root. I am also going to reprint this text file below.

5) Open the Interpreters directory. If you are on a Windows platform, install Gargoyle; if you use a Mac, go with Zoom.

6) Once you have completed your installation, you should be able to open almost any of the files within the Main Library and Projects directories without issue. The Info.txt file includes an explanation of the different file formats so that you can find the appropriate application within the Interpreters folder in those rare cases when Gargoyle or Zoom can't handle the job.

That's it! Play and have fun! A lot of the files in the Documents directory are in .html and .pdf formats; if you don't have a .pdf reader, I recommend Foxit for Windows.


A lot of people who are new or relatively new to interactive fiction wonder where to start or how to find out what to play. First of all, you should explore IFDB, which is the Amazon of interactive fiction and has tons of reader reviews, polls and lists, etc. If you are just starting out, I strongly recommend The Dreamhold (2004) and Mrs. Pepper's Nasty Secret (2008). Both are designed to introduce new players of interactive fiction with important commands and common game devices of the medium. Another good early game in my opinion, especially if you are coming from videogames, is Gun Mute (2008).

Beyond that, I can offer you this list of the games that I personally intend to play at the very least. Let me be clear: This list is something that I made for myself and reflects my own taste, as opposed to my attempts at putting together the collection. Also, there are many more worthwhile titles than I have happened to put down on the list; in fact, as I was updating and revising the compilation for this post I was surprised by some of the names missing from my own list. Anyway, keeping all that in mind, this is a list of IF that I am definitely excited about or interested in, so I think that your chances are good if you choose something here, as long as you consider its date of release. This is arranged by chronological first and then alphabetical order, except when a title has sequels:

I, Damiano (1985)
The Golden Fleece (1989)
Unnkulian Underworld (1990)
Unnkulian Unventure II (1991)
Unnkulia 1/2 (1993)
Unnkulia 0 (1993)
The Legend Lives (1994)
CosmoServe (1991)
The Multi-Dimensional Thief (1991)
The Sanity Clause (1991)
Shades of Gray (1992)
The Gorreven Papers (1992)
The Horror of Rylvania (1993)
Balances (1994)
Curses! (1994)
Klaustrophobia (1994)
A Change in the Weather (1995)
Christminster (1995)
Jigsaw (1995)
MST3K - Detective (1995)
Theatre (1995)
Toonesia (1995)
Aayela (1996)
Alien Abduction (1996)
Delusions (1996)
Kissing the Buddha's Feet (1996)
The Meteor, The Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet (1996)
Lost New York (1996)
Maiden of the Moonlight (1996)
So Far (1996)
Spiritwrak (1996)
Tapestry (1996)
Babel (1997)
Everybody Loves a Parade (1997)
Glowgrass (1997)
I-0 (1997)
Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit (1997)
Poor Zefron's Almanac (1997)
robotfindskitten (1997)
She's Got a Thing for Spring (1997)
Spider and Web (1997)
Sunset Over Savannah (1997)
The Edifice (1997)
The Space Under the WIndow (1997)
The Tempest (1997)
Zero Sum Game (1997)
Zork - The Undiscovered Underground (1997)
Anchorhead (1998)
Bad Machine (1998)
Enlightenment (1998)
Little Blue Men (1998)
Muse - An Autumn Romance (1998)
Photopia (1998)
9-05 (1999)
Aisle (1999)
Chicks Dig Jerks (1999)
Coke Is It (1999)
Exhibition (1999)
For a Change (1999)
Hunter, in Darkness (1999)
Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina (1999)
The Mulldoon Legacy (1999)
The Mulldoon Murders (2002)
Varicella (1999)
Winchester's Nightmare (1999)
Winter Wonderland (1999)
Worlds Apart (1999)
Ad Verbum (2000)
Augmented Fourth (2000)
Being Andrew Plotkin (2000)
Dangerous Curves (2000)
Galatea (2000)
Kaged (2000)
LASH (2000)
Rameses (2000)
Rematch (2000)
Shade (2000)
Shrapnel (2000)
The Best Man (2000)
All Roads (2001)
Earth and Sky (2001)
Earth and Sky 2 - Another Earth, Another SKy (2002)
Earth and Sky 3 - Luminous Horizon (2004)
Fallacy of Dawn (2001)
The Gostak (2001)
1893 - A World's Fair Mystery (2002)
Lock-and-Key (2002)
Savoir-Faire (2002)
Damnatio Memoriae (2006)
Till Death Makes a Monk-Fish Out of Me (2002)
Gourmet (2003)
City of Secrets (2003)
Narcolepsy (2003)
Risorgimento Represso (2003)
Slouching Towards Bedlam (2003)
The Erudition Chamber (2003)
The Recruit (2003)
To Hell in a Hamper (2003)
All Things Devours (2004)
Blue Chairs (2004)
Necrotic Drift (2004)
Sting of the Wasp (2004)
The Dreamhold (2004)
Bolivia By Night (2005)
Book and Volume (2005)
The Reliques of Tolti-Aph (2005)
Vespers (2005)
Whom the Telling Changed (2005)
De Baron (2006)
Delightful Wallpaper (2006)
Floatpoint (2006)
Tales of the Traveling Swordsman (2006)
The Elysium Enigma (2006)
The Primrose Path (2006)
An Act of Murder (2007)
Dead Cities (2007)
Deadline Enchanter (2007)
Ecdysis (2007)
Fate (2007)
Lost Pig and Place Under Ground (2007)
Orevore Courier (2007)
Slap that Fish (2007)
Suveh Nux (2007)
Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom (2007)
Afflicted (2008)
Bedtime Story (2008)
Blue Lacuna (2008)
Cry Wolf (2008)
Everybody Dies (2008)
Gun Mute (2008)
Nightfall (2008)
Pascal's Wager (2008)
Piracy 2.0 (2008)
Violet (2008)


Finally, I will reprint here the contents of Info.txt, which provides more information about this package and my considerations as I assembled it. In closing, let me say that I am planning on playing a lot more interactive fiction over the next few months and generally this year than I have been lately, and I hope that you'll join me so that we can discuss some of this brilliant stuff.

The Magic Word: Celebrating Thirty Years Since the Advent of Interactive Fiction

The compilation within this package includes a thorough selected catalogue of interactive fiction (IF) titles, all of the tools necessary to access them on a PC (and hopefully a Mac), relevant documentation, and a wide range of miscellany exploring the boundaries of the medium. IF refers to a form of literature borne of the 1980s text adventure boom, but modern, non-commercial works exhibit a sophistication and artistry that bears only a passing resemblance to even the greatest of those classics.

There are many fine introductions to the IF medium. The Documents folder contains numerous writings of varying length, style, import, and purpose; while some serve as practical, historical, or academic overviews, others offer theoretical and critical insights. Also included are articles pertaining to authorship of IF using the Inform system. In addition, the IF community enjoys a loose but highly functional organization, and there is much to profit from exploring both communal sites and those of individual authors and theorists. A brief list of helpful websites follows, all active at the time of this writing:

Many of the IF titles contained within the Main Library have at one time or another been recommended as good starting points for the casual novice, but I feel compelled to mention two works in particular by Infocom and Andrew Plotkin, respectively: Wishbringer (1985) and The Dreamhold (2004) were designed specifically to introduce new IF readers to the traditional conventions of the medium. Separated as they are by nearly twenty years of history and innovation, the actual forms introduced by each are quite different, and thus the two serve as introductions to their individual eras and make for an informative contrast. Although the new reader might first enjoy dabbling in the roots of IF with titles such as Adventure (1976) and Zork (1981), Wishbringer and The Dreamhold are strongly suggested as the initial serious undertakings.

IF has been authored using a wide variety of languages and development systems, and each of these requires the use of a specific interpreter. The reader will find everything necessary just inside the Interpreters folder. A multi-interpreter frontend for Windows called Gargoyle and one for Mac called Zoom are included and are able to open nearly all titles in this compilation, but individual language-specific interpreters have been included as well because Gargoyle will sometimes run into problems. Each of these small programs pertains to a different set of IF file types, corresponding as listed below:

ADRIFT ------------------------------ .taf
Adventure Book ---------------------- .adv
Alan -------------------------------- .acd
Archetype ---------------------------- .acx
Glulx ------------------------------- .ulx; .blb; .blorb; .glb; .gblorb
Hugo -------------------------------- .hex
Level 9 ----------------------------- .sna
Magnetic Scrolls -------------------- .mag
Text Adventure Development System --- .gam; .t#
The Adventure Game Toolkit ---------- .d$$
Z-Code ------------------------------ .z#

Some of these interpreters, including Gargoyle, once installed, will immediately run any relevant IF file automatically when it is selected in Windows Explorer, although it may be necessary to set it as the default application for each file type. This means that browsing the contents of this package is a very simple and painless task after a quick installation, despite appearances. A number of IF files are standalone executables, as well.

It is important to note that Gargoyle, although a beautiful and versatile application, will not always handle well particularly lively or multimedia works, such as those employing color, moving text, etc. It seems that their instructions conflict with the presentation of Gargoyle, and I recommend that a more specific interpreter be attempted as a secondary program whenever the reader comes across glitchy appearances or indications that an IF title should be exhibiting color in ways that it is not. Formatting problems such as a distinct lack of paragraph breaks may be another sign to watch for. If troubleshooting is required, guides and other resources can be found fairly easily through the websites listed above. It is also my suggestion that the reader keep the full contents of this package on hard disk in order to facilitate the writing of save files directly into the relevant IF title's directory.

The Main Library of this compilation, representing a selected accumulation of IF written over the past thirty years, is organized according to the date of a work's original release. My criteria for choosing which titles to assemble here were loose, though careful. Since I collected all of it during a protracted period of exploring the web presence of the modern community, reading various articles and reviews, and otherwise educating myself broadly about IF and its history, the inclusion of a piece in the Library is based primarily on the opinions of others rather than my own. Additionally, I have endeavored to include not only every important and/or high-quality work available, but also a lighter quantity of average and even poor titles for comparison, amusement, and perverse pleasure.

I have come across a number of bizarre pieces that cannot strictly be called IF yet use the tools and techniques established by the medium for other means, such as recreations of classic games like Tetris. These are typically described as "abuses" of their development language, but such characterization cannot clearly be applied to some other applications, including various tutorial programs. A small group of works that exist at the edges of IF's domain and make unusual use of its development tools can be found in the Abuses directory.

One such unusual application of an IF development language is the digital porting of Infocom's Invisiclues from the '80s, which use z-machine code to implement a menu tree designed to provide the player with sequences of gradually more revealing hints to specific puzzles in the company's titles. In general, I have made it a point not to include walkthroughs and solutions in this compilation, as their ready availability tends to undermine the overall experience of many If works. However, I have made exceptions for hint sets that are unusually visual, considerate, or otherwise curious. These few are to be found alongside the titles for which they were meant to aid. Should the reader become thoroughly stumped by any challenges for which solutions are not here provided, walkthroughs are often easily found alongside their title's other files online.

I am obliged to mention to the uninitiated reader that authors of IF are by-and-large also fans of IF, and so the medium is rife with in-joking and parody. Many later genre pieces revel in their cliche, and it is not uncommon for titles to directly reference and play on those that came before nor to intentionally embrace the most ill-advised of poor design patterns, celebrating the IF medium through the fine art of self-deprecation. Without a survey of this compilation in chronological order by initial release date, a good deal of this entrenched humor may not immediately open itself to the reader's enjoyment.

For example, there are three works of IF included here that are done in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000, existing solely to poke fun at and heap insult upon specific earlier titles; I have been sure to include all of their subjects in the Library, regardless of their individual merits. These three titles are Detective (1993), A Fable (1985), and Stiffy Makane (1997). The reader's appreciation for comedy such as these MST3K pieces will be furthered by first perusing the butts of their jokes. In general, my advice is not to worry much about it, however. When the reader comes across such a reference, the work will most likely make it explicitly clear, just as a sequel would naturally advertise its predecessor, at which point the title in question can be sought out. Many pieces offer up such information upon the reader's prompting with the ABOUT, INFO, or HELP command. In any case, there is a great deal more comedy of a general nature to appreciate, and these jokes will become more meaningful with a greater familiarity of the broad sweep of the medium.

Modern IF is strongly driven by a few large annual events in which authors new and old compete for the artistic appreciation of the community at large. The results of the Annual IF Competition and the XYZZY Awards provided me with one of the most straightforward criterion on which to base my selection for the included catalogue, but although the full body of their entrants' work has not been collected here, there are many smaller, irregular events and projects whose full rosters are presented.

Many small competitions require authors to abide by outright absurd rules such as the following from the premise of Speed-IF Orange: "You are preparing to either win or escape the attentions of a Significant Other. However, one or more of the following obstructs your efforts: God, Pythagoras, Punch and Judy, schizophrenia or mistaken identity. Extra points for including killer molluscs, Carl Jung, an oil rig, Tezcatlipoca, the strappado, or the devil's chequebook." And such a title must be written in two hours! Although many events are founded on bizarre parameters of this ilk, it would be a huge error to write them off altogether as mere amusements in favor of the works organized by date in the Main Library. The larger annual competitions that inspire and challenge the modern community's authors have their own restrictions, and many of these smaller events prove stimulating and produce impressive work of all flavors. In organizing this compilation I have sought for the most part to avoid redundancy when exceptional pieces come out of such events -- except for cases in which the Library release differs greatly from the competition version -- and so the reader is strongly encouraged not to overlook the Projects and Competitions folder in exclusive favor of the Library.

The thirty-year anniversary of IF coincides with a revolutionary event: the release of the first natural-language design system, called Inform 7. Considered together with authors' steady output of sophisticated and often ingenious titles year after year, which shows no signs of slowing, the free availability of this incredible tool may very well signal an unprecedented flowering of the medium. There could be no better time to become involved. Should the reader have even the smallest interest in authoring an original work, I highly recommend a visit to the Inform 7 website for an enticing glimpse of the ease with which writing IF has become possible. It is my hope that this compilation, in addition to serving as a competent catalogue and introduction to the medium, will prove helpful in inspiring such an interest.

Skye Nathaniel Schiefer

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 1:08 pm        Reply with quote

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Intentionally Wrong

Joined: 05 Dec 2006

PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 10:29 pm        Reply with quote

A tip of the hat to you, sir. This is extensively researched and documented.

A little surprised that, in your list of links, you didn't include a direct link to Paul O'Brian's reviews.
JSNLV is frequently and intentionally wrong.
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shafer sephiroth

Joined: 04 Dec 2006

PostPosted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 10:46 pm        Reply with quote

Thanks! I quite like O'Brian and his reviews, but there are so many personal sites of IF authors that are equally good that I had to cut myself off. Emily Short's blog is there because her theory and development articles are just brilliant and essential reading, but I didn't include a lot of great websites, like Zarf's, Victor Gijsberg's blog, etc. I didn't want the list to grow too long and lose focus as an unintimidating set of starting points for beginners.

After all, I didn't need to tell you about O'Brian's site. Anyone who reads sufficiently into the community will come across these many other gems.

Go "like" it on my facebook Jason =P Semi-seriously: I am hoping that people who don't really know about IF or maybe even videogames might be taken in by the ease of this sort of package deal.
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Intentionally Wrong

Joined: 05 Dec 2006

PostPosted: Sat Mar 28, 2009 5:31 am        Reply with quote

You got it, man.

Incidentally, is there any chance you'll enter IFcomp this year? I think I'm going to force myself to do it.
JSNLV is frequently and intentionally wrong.
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shafer sephiroth

Joined: 04 Dec 2006

PostPosted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 5:22 am        Reply with quote

Intentionally Wrong wrote:
Incidentally, is there any chance you'll enter IFcomp this year? I think I'm going to force myself to do it.

Oh, god. I've been wanting to learn Inform 7 and make something for well over a year, but I keep putting it off because I want to seriously commit to it. I have notes for a game, but they aren't complete enough for me to start in on it yet. It's ambitious, but the scope isn't very wide. It would be perfect for a Comp game.

I guess I'm scared to really try because I have basically zero experience both writing fiction (especially dialogue) and programming. But at the same time that makes me really excited to actually try.

Another thing is that I feel I should play a lot of older games to really learn from what people have done before. That's a timesink in itself!

I might make an effort to have something for this years competition, but I can see myself endlessly tweaking and perfecting in the final phase of work and then putting off entry until the next year. It would be nice, though!

Are you actually working on a game already, or are you just planning to like me?
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shafer sephiroth

Joined: 04 Dec 2006

PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 6:40 pm        Reply with quote

Along with the latest build of Inform 7, a brand new website has been launched with some impressive additions. Here is Emily Short's blog post about the site:

Emily Short wrote:
Inform build 5Z71 is now out, hosted on a new website, which features, among other things, a new section on education with Inform and reports from teachers in the field; a new introductory screencast by Aaron Reed showing off some of the features of the IDE and how to get your game started; and a revised handling of the extensions allowing authors to view extension documentation online before downloading.

View the post on her blog for direct links to these individual site features.

I'm surprised to find that I have developed some sentimental attachment to the pictures of that blank book on the old site, however.
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 5:39 am        Reply with quote

What must i study to become an interpreter? i've been studying arabic for sometime now and wanted to know if i could become an interpreter. But wat do i have study to in college to be an interpreter. Should i study interpreter education, general studies or what?
market samurai ~ marketsamurai ~

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 1:37 pm        Reply with quote

swarnakshi wrote:

swarnakshi wrote:
market samurai ~ marketsamurai ~
♪ x x x ♫ x x x ♫ x ♫ ♫
glitch wrote:
52 skeleton weeks a year

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Vic Torious

Joined: 14 May 2010

PostPosted: Sun Jun 20, 2010 12:07 pm        Reply with quote

I wrote a 6300-word IF for another website using Inform 7 once but I don't think you guys would like it.

Also, Coke is It! is evil. Seriously. If I hadn't played that game Coca-Cola Co. would be at least a couple hundred dollars poorer.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 8:46 pm        Reply with quote

Any chance someone could reupload parts 2 & 4?
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:55 pm        Reply with quote

Hey internisus, beyond the recommended three introductory IF games, what's a good dirty dozen best-of from that list to play first?
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:42 pm        Reply with quote

For some reason I always mentally associate the U.S. box art for Phalanx with Zork. I can't help it!
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