15 Years!

Tools of the Trade: Inform 7

One of the earliest computer game genres was the text adventure. Perhaps the best-known text adventure game is Zork, which was published in 1980 by Infocom. Text adventure games are pretty much exactly what they sound like – adventure games featuring puzzles that consit entirely of a text parser.

Players would enter simple sentences such as, “open mailbox,” and, “read leaflet,” or even, “hit the orc with the Elvish sword,” and the game would respond with ways in which the world changed as a result of your action. Understandably, these games only understood the nouns and verbs needed for the game and don’t recognize a full range of English input.

The text adventure is alive and well today, although the community of developers and gamers who play them prefer the term _interactive fiction_ or IF for short. There are several languages and platforms for programming IF and one of the most interesting is Inform 7.

Rather than requriing you to learn a programming languauge, Inform 7 allows you to describe your game using the same language that your players will use to enjoy it – English. This doesn’t mean you can type in your short story and hope Inform 7 can figure it out. Inform 7 requires you to follow some very exacting standards so that it can interpret what you write.

Inform 7 also supports extensions, which allows you to download complex items that other people have written – such as vehicles and locks – and include them in your games.

Inform 7 runs on Linux, OSX, and Windows. It’s free to download and use and comes with very comprehensive documentation that walks you through everything you need to make your own interactive fiction game.

Inform 7 makes it possible to create engaging and dynamic game environments, even if you aren’t a programmer or an artist, and yet it still teaches you to think logically and use a more demanding language structure, hinting at what it’s like to write in a programming language.

If you’re a team with excellent writing skills, a great idea for a game, but no art or programming skills, consider being the first OGPC team to submit an interactive fiction game!