Text adventure or interactive fiction (IF for short) is the oldest genre of computer games, with a relatively small but devoted fan base these days. They are usually freely available, use a negligible amount of processing power, and, best of all, you can create such a game without having to learn programming skills.
Part 1 of 3: Choosing software
Step 1. Try Inform 7
Inform 7 is a popular and feature-rich tool for creating text-based games (more commonly referred to as interactive fiction). Its programming language is designed in the form of ordinary English sentences while providing full functionality. Inform 7 is free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux systems.
Step 2. Use Adrift to easily create a game on Windows
Adrift is another popular, simple language and compiler for interactive fiction. Because it relies on a graphical interface rather than coding, it can be easily used by people unfamiliar with programming. Adrift is free and available only for Windows systems, although games created with it can be run on any operating system or even in a browser.
Step 3. If you are familiar with the basics of programming, try to master TADS 3
- Windows version of TADS 3 (and only it) comes with the add-on "Workbench", thanks to which the program has become even more accessible to people who are not knowledgeable in programming, and in general, more convenient to use.
- Programmers might be interested in this detailed comparison of Inform 7 and TADS 3.
Step 4. Check out other options
The above toolkit is the most popular, but there are other programs that have found acceptance in the online fiction community. If none of the listed programs interests you or you want to explore other options, try the following analogs:
Step 5. Try the browser-based option
You can get started right away without preloading using one of the following tools:
- Quest (analogous to the IF toolkit presented above)
- Twine (easy-to-use graphics editor)
- StoryNexus (the player chooses one of the provided options, instead of guessing the text to enter; StoryNexus puts your game online; has monetization tools available)
Part 2 of 3: Getting Started
Step 1. Become familiar with text commands
In most text games, you need to enter a command to advance further. People who have played interactive fiction before will expect your game to have specific commands, such as "explore (object)" and "take (object)".
- The technical documentation or help for the selected software should introduce you to these commands and how to add them to the game.
- Often in the game there are additional unique commands, ranging from "twirl the club" and ending with "mow the lawn". Such actions should be obvious to the players, unless you insert them as jokes or Easter eggs that do not affect the progress of the game in any way.
Step 2. Plan the map and / or player movement
The most common form of interactive fiction is the exploration of various locations, commonly referred to as “rooms,” even if they are outdoors. For a start, it would be nice to create one or two rooms for the player to study, then a couple more rooms, getting into which will require a simple search or solving a puzzle, and a big puzzle, over which you will have to sweat and thoroughly study everything.
In addition, you can create a project in which the player's choice will play the main role, rather than the puzzles they solve. It can be an emotional story based on the player's relationship with other characters, or a story campaign where the player will make many decisions in order to see their consequences in later scenes. You can use a geographic map or "rooms" to act as events, and the player will progress through several scenes describing what is happening
Step 3. Get help with syntax
If your first room does not work the way you want it to, or you simply don’t know how to achieve the desired result in an existing program, look for the “instructions” or “help” menu, as well as the “Read Me” file in the program folder. If that's not enough, post your question on the forum of the site where you downloaded the software or on the general forum for interactive fiction.
Step 4. Create an introduction and first room
Once you have a basic layout for your game, write a short introduction to describe the game, explain unusual commands and warn about an age limit, if any. Then write a description of the first room. Try to make the setting as interesting as possible, as most players will quit when they see an empty room. Here are some examples of what players should see first when starting a game (labeled for convenience):
For this yacht, you had to redeem your entire collection of free pudding coupons and is now taking it out to sea. God clearly hates you. I should go and see if Lucy is okay after the storm. It seems that at that time she was in the engine room.
Logistics and content warning.
Welcome to Yacht Charter. Enter "check coupons" to see your collection. Use the command "redeem (coupon name)" to take advantage of these mysterious items. Attention: the game contains scenes of violence and cannibalism.
Description of the room.
You are standing in an oak-paneled cockpit. An iron bunk bed toppled over in the storm, and the only mattress, torn and wet, lies under the minibar. There is a closed door on the north side of the room.
Step 5. Create commands for the first room
Think of how the player can interact with each object you mention. At the very least, they should be able to "study" or "study" every subject. Here are some examples of commands that the player can use and the text displayed as a result of their actions:
- examine the mattress - Stuffed with top quality goose feathers, most of which are currently floating around the room. Wet and smells like booze.
- study yourself - You are tired and dressed only in a torn pink robe, pulled on a moment before the storm broke. The robe has a pocket and a cotton belt.
- open the door - the door handle turns, but the door does not lend itself. It looks like something heavy is holding the door on the other side.
Step 6. Turn the first room into a simple puzzle
According to the classic beginning, the player must find a way out of the room. The puzzle doesn't have to be hard, just an example of what your game is about. She must also teach the player to read the description carefully and look for clues. For example, after entering commands, the player must do the following:
- lift the mattress - In the same second, a strong smell of tequila hit you in the nose. Now you can see why the mattress was wet … you threw it aside and wiped your hands on the robe.
- explore the room - You are standing in the oak-paneled cockpit. An iron bunk bed toppled over in a storm, and the only mattress, torn and wet, lies to the side. There is a mini-bar in the corner. There is a closed door on the north side of the room. There is a broken bottle on the floor.
- raise the bottle - You pick up a broken tequila bottle. You never know what might come in handy.
- study pocket - Your wallet is in place. Yoo-hu!
study wallet “Even though you gave away the free pudding coupons, there are still emergency coupons in your wallet. Now you have in stock scrap coupon and whistle coupon.
- pay off a crowbar “You picked up the scrap coupon and cleared your throat. The coupon rushes away, and a second later, a heavy crowbar falls into your hands.
- open the door with a crowbar - You inserted the crowbar into the slot in the door frame and pressed hard. You were startled by a sudden growl on the other side of the door. One more effort and you will open the door, but by then it is better to have your weapon ready.
- open the door with a crowbar - This time the door no longer held. It swung open effortlessly, opening the way for a huge gray wolf watching you! Think fast - you can only choose one option.
- hit the wolf with a bottle - You hit the wolf in the nose with a broken bottle. He whined and ran away. The path to the north is now open.
Part 3 of 3: Sanding and Finishing the Game
Step 1. Verbs and nouns should be obvious
As a creator, you will be so familiar with the terms that you memorize them. Other people will have to be guided by just a couple of phrases. Whenever you add a new team or object, especially if it is important for progressing through the game, be sure to make it obvious and easy to use.
- Always use valid item names in room descriptions. For example, if a player enters a room and sees a description of a “painting”, the term for this object must be “painting”. If you inadvertently use the term "image", players will have to wonder how to interact with it.
- Allow the use of synonyms for verbs. Consider how the player will try to use the object. For example, a button must respond to both "pushing the button" and "pushing the button". In the case of the enemy, then it can be "attacked", "hit", "cut", and also "used (any item that can be used as a weapon) on (name of the enemy)".
Step 2. Make the puzzles realistic
Don't let your carefully crafted puzzle disrupt the reader's satting immersion. Let's say you outdone yourself and come up with a puzzle that includes a Viking helmet, a dynamite stick and a bee hive, but these items are unrealistic to find on a spaceship or in a school classroom. Thus, you break the logic of the setting, and outlandish objects will directly shout: "Use me for the puzzle."
- Creating multiple solutions to the same puzzle makes them more realistic, as does using the same subject in multiple puzzles or in different ways.
- Puzzles must be appropriate. Your character should feel the need to solve this or that riddle.
- Avoid artificial puzzles like the towers of Hanoi, mazes and logic puzzles.
Step 3. Be honest with the players
Old school adventure games are famous for their brutal results, like “You took a pebble, thereby causing an avalanche that buries you beneath you. End of the game". Players these days want their skills to be rewarded. Aside from the need to avoid accidental player deaths, here are a few design decisions to keep in mind:
- Important events should not lead to accidental deaths. For the most part, once a player has figured out what to do, they should be successful 100% of the time.
- Scatter hints for tricky puzzles and don't add more than two imaginary ways to solve the problem.
- Do not add puzzles that cannot be solved on the first playthrough, for example, if it requires exploring the next area or puzzles with consequences that, if solved incorrectly, will lead to death.
- There is nothing wrong with permanently blocking some area during the game, if the player is warned before that. If some choice leads to the impossibility of completing the game, the player must know about this, and the game must end immediately so that the player leaves all attempts without hope of winning.
Step 4. Add endings
Take some time to make each ending interesting. If the player loses, a significant piece of text should still appear in front of him, describing what happened and urging him to try again. If the player wins, write a long, triumphant ending and let him do a couple of extra actions while savoring the victory in a special final room.
Step 5. Seek advice and inspiration
There are dozens if not hundreds of articles on Brass Lantern, Interactive Fiction Database, and IFWiki where you can hone your skills on specialized topics on how to create a believable character or how to program objects with complex relationships. Perhaps more important is the large collection of text games on the IF Archive, where you can find the games you like and play them personally. Here are a few sites to start with:
- Collection of quotes at IF Gems collection.
- IF Theory Book
- Craft of adventure
Step 6. Beta test
Once you've finished creating the game, play it a few times. Try to cover all possible forks in the game, as well as doing things in a "strange" sequence that you did not plan. After you fix any bugs that you see, get your friends, family, or online fiction players online to test your game as well. Have them share their thoughts on tricky or boring parts of the game, and think about making changes or including additional solutions.
Save often or use the undo command if available so you can try different paths without having to start over each time
Step 7. Exit the game
Some text game programs have an online platform that you can download the game to. A more common option is to upload the game to the IF Archive and post the description to the IFDB.
- For feedback, post a link to your game on social media and online fiction forums.
- The vast majority of text games are distributed free of charge. You can pay for it, but if this is your first project and you don't have a fan base, don't expect a lot of hype.