Long, long ago (the precise date is unclear, but as far as much of my audience is concerned "back in the days when Jesus battled the dinosaurs" is a fair estimate), a man named William Crowther wrote a little program called Adventure. Adventure wasn't much by today's high standards of gaming. It ran on computers that had little to no graphical capabilities and was rendered entirely in text descriptions, and the only way to accomplish anything was to type simple, imperative commands like "GO WEST" or "TAKE AXE" at a prompt and hope that it understood what you were trying to do. The object of the game was to explore a textual simulation of a massive Kentucky cave system—a slightly embellished simulation, unless it was in fact possible to find angry dwarves and giant snakes in Kentucky in the '70's—and collect as much treasure as you could get your hands on without falling into a pit and smashing your head open. Navigation was confusing, puzzles could be tricky, there were two sprawling mazes to get lost in and the aforementioned pits were distressingly commonplace. But people played it, and they loved it, and the genre of games known as "text adventures" was born.

For a while, text adventures were predominantly commercial affairs, made by companies like Infocom and Level 9 that produced stories and adventures in all sorts of genres–the best known, even to those unfamiliar with this genre, are probably Infocom's Zork games, the ones responsible for introducing the world to the man-eating, light-fearing grues and a few other things that have slipped into common fantasy parody parlance. They dominated the gaming market, people spent hours staring at command prompts and trying to guess what to type to open a locker or catch a Babel fish, and a good time was had by all. But then graphical adventures (like LucasArts's or Sierra's point and click games) found their way into the limelight, followed by games that focused less on complex puzzle-solving and more on other aspects of gaming. Computers got better and better and became relatively inexpensive, and people were no longer satisfied with simple text when the aforementioned graphical games looked more and more inviting and sparkly by the minute. The market for text adventures dwindled, most of the companies that produced it were bought out or went out of business, and the text adventure genre faded into obscurity.

But text adventures didn't just die. Many of the players who loved them so continued to play them, continued to enjoy them because they still exercised a few gaming muscles that the graphics-dependent games of the day never seemed to bother with. There was still something exciting about trying to stumble one's way out of the dark before being eaten by a grue. Gaming companies weren't making text adventures any longer, but its original fans still wanted more–and if they couldn't purchase them, they'd just have to make them themselves.

Nowadays there are online repositories and archives full of amateur-made text adventures, or "interactive fiction" as it's generally called today, and a wide variety of IF authoring systems that make it possible to create IF of your own without having to reinvent the wheel, all available for free download (though there are some commercial works available, and at least one well-known member of the IF community recently quit his dayjob to make commercial IF full-time). Playing IF also usually requires downloading an interpreter, the virtual machine software necessary to play games made in a specific format, though you only need one interpreter to play any and all games in the corresponding format. The interpreter loads the game and displays that infamous, intimidating ">" command prompt, just waiting for you to type your first command and take your first foray into the author's world. It all seems deceptively simple, but a quick look behind the scenes at any decent authoring system will reveal a pretty powerful engine, and taking a few games for a test run can show you some complex, involved games that, when made well, require quite a bit of creative thought to solve–or, in the case of some "non-game" titles, perform feats you wouldn't expect from programs the likes of Adventure. I've only just started dabbling in these sorts of things, and let me tell you, man, mind blown.

Why do I mention this here, you ask? Well, because it strikes me as odd that almost no one seems to have thought of creating interactive fanfiction. Certainly no one I've ever heard of, anyway (and boy am I going to feel stupid if it turns out there's some closet group in PokéCommunity or someplace that's been doing this for years). A quick Googling of terms like "pokemon ‘interactive fiction'" shows a few results that tell me people have attempted Pokémon-related material in this format, though nothing much seems to have come of it and I don't know exactly what sort of works they were as most no longer seem to be available.

I guess it isn't actually that surprising if I stop to think about it, though. The interactive fiction community is apparently a relatively large one—I have yet to check out rec.games.int-fiction and rec.arts.int-fiction, their main newsgroups, to see for myself—but a quiet one in the grand scheme of Internet, lost in the tidal wave of fancy MMOs and nth-generation console games with graphics so amazing they liquefy your unworthy eyeballs with their glorious radiance. Most of the IF community is a little older than the usual "gamer" set, consisting of folks who grew up with text adventures like Adventure and Zork, and they've been around long enough to realize that those games can actually be entertaining where most kids these days would scoff at the distinct lack of shiny and move on. I've seen mentions here and there of efforts to attract a larger audience, including a few younger players. I'm not sure that some newcomer to the field saying "hey you gaiz we should totes write interactive Pokémon fic lol" is entirely what they had in mind. Oh, well.

Surely, though, there must be some fandom members who would be interested in this sort of thing in one way or another. After all, it is the sort of game that ultimately inspired the likes of MS Paint Adventures (warning: do not click if you ever want to get anything constructive done ever again *shakes fist at Negrek*) and similar, and those sorts of things are very popular and often imitated.  So why not try and really bring this to the attention of the fans? Pokémon in particular has such an expansive world that it provides an untold number of possible stories and games to try and work with, and I would imagine that something like, say, WoW would be similar; other fandoms may not be quite so free in that sense, but there should still be plenty of opportunities for amazing interactive fanfiction ("IFF", let's call it). The Ace Attorney games already draw heavily from the point-and-click graphical adventures that were the direct successors of commercial interactive fiction, so if nothing else I'd bet that that series would lend itself to the IFF format pretty well.

The authoring system I've been spending the most time with is called Inform, currently on its seventh version and apparently one of the two most popular IF systems available today, TADS being the other. I kind of hemmed and hawed about which one I wanted to use to get my feet wet; I settled on Inform because there are ways to play Inform games in a browser, which was pretty important seeing as I doubted too many Pokéfans would download a whole interpreter just to try out one weird text game they'd never seen the likes of before. It was totally not because the natural-English programming language and syntax looked like the most hilariously amazing thing ever for lazy people like me. Nope. Not at all. I like real code, man. Give me tangles of mismatched brackets and cryptic variables and scoping errors any day. (Then I found out that there are publicly available ways to play TADS games online, even if they aren't quite as nice as Parchment and Quixe, but too late! Already halfway through the Inform manual, not starting another one anytime soon.) There are plenty of other authoring systems out there, some of which also produce games that can be played online, though I'm not sure how some of those more tightly-controlled repositories would feel about their IF authors yoinking the intellectual property of others.

...TADS is probably not all that complex or hard to learn, by the way. At least, I don't remember that being the case when I took a peek at it sometime last year. I'm sure I'd be right at home with it. And Inform is still technically programming, even if it looks deceptively like an easy way out. Still, I imagine that most budding IFF creators would opt for Inform anyway, just because omg brackets brackets mean programming programming is Satan do I look like the IT department to you aaaaaa

I'm still reading up on the subject, slogging through the manuals and trying to decide whether writing interactive fiction is really going to hold my interest for as long as my brain is currently insisting it will, so I don't have any IFF of my own to show off to you yet and probably won't for a little while. I do have a few ideas bouncing around, though, most of which should prove to be pretty interesting if I can figure out how to pull them off. One is a short, simple and criminally stupid Pokémon game that I am nevertheless enjoying envisioning: it involves mudkipz and golden tickets and the Seventeen Divine Flavors of Arcandeus, to give you a little taste of how awful it's going to be. It would be built so that it used only the most basic, default commands unless absolutely necessary, and none of the puzzles would be too insanely challenging, so it would be far from the IFF epic I'd like to produce one day. Still, I figure it would be the best way for me to begin learning, and it would be a good introduction to the basics of IF and IFF for those who are completely unfamiliar with it, so even if it isn't the best demonstration of IF's capabilities or of my storytelling/puzzle-making genius it should still be a very effective proof of concept. Another, in a nutshell, is less a work of fiction and more a glorified personality quiz, but said glorification and the IF format should make it plenty interesting to take a few times.

And if those take off, well. Some of my planned fanfics, like Renaissance and At Liberty, have plenty of interesting potential spin-off material that would work well as IFF. There's this crazy idea about a dethroned Serperior monarch or something like that (though in my delusions about how awesome that would be I may have already introduced several unfair puzzles and "guess the verb" problems). Golden Sun sounds like a pretty fun fandom to try this with, and maybe it would be a good springboard for actually getting some Ace Attorney fancrap done as mentioned above. I am also interested in trying several original IF works, of course, but that's not relevant to this blog so I'll leave it at that.

(There is even a very small part of me that wants to turn my 2009 NaNovel, ToS AUparodycrackidon'tevenknowfic Incarnadine Harvest, into interactive fanfiction. The biggest problem here is that I'm not entirely convinced I'd want to write the regular fic and make it IFF, because that's an awful lot of work, and it just feels wrong knowing that reading/playing one would spoil the other and most people wouldn't bother doing both. I could release it only as IFF, but in these early days that would be so dangerously experimental that it would alienate more people than it would probably attract. And the story's structure and the fates of its characters are such that IH doesn't lend itself to sequels and prequels, so those aren't looking like valid options for IFF, either. In the end I guess I'm just going to have to resign myself to the fact that >GENIS, SET LLOYD ON FIRE will never be a persuasion command anyone actually gets to enter at a prompt. Le sigh. Epic 30- to 45-player Incarnadine Harvest mafia game, on the other hand... one day, man, one day...)

I really have no idea whether this is something that fan communities would be terribly interested in as a whole, but hell with it, man, I'm mentioning it anyway. As I said, I'm still playing some already-published games and poking around the Inform manual myself; in the end, I may decide that this isn't something I want to sink a lot of my time into after all. But who knows? Even if I don't pursue it myself, now that the idea is out there maybe someone somewhere will give it a shot. It might end up catching on and producing many entertaining works of interactive fanfiction for years to come; we could even hold fandom equivalents of Speed-IF competitions or the XYZZY awards if a large enough community sprang up around it. Or it might end up yet another section of fan communities that is drowned by thousands upon thousands of morons who produce irredeemable garbage, and as I and other more discriminating people waste days sifting through that garbage in a vain attempt to find a diamond in the rough I will curse the day I ever mentioned this to anyone and so brought this abomination into the world. Maybe, as is probably most likely, no one will give a crap about this at all.

Such is fandom, though; such is life. It still sounds pretty damn cool. So! Who wants to write some IFF with me? :D

...oh, and self. By the way. No, it is not a good idea for you to keep thinking about the best way to implement a Pokémon battle system extension with type charts and different moves and everything. No, not even if magic systems/stat systems/HP systems for IF have already been done, and not even if you keep telling yourself that it would be "simplified" and can't possibly be that hard if you're not shooting for a direct recreation of the damage formula, and also not even if twenty minutes of reading the middle chapters of the Inform 7 manual have convinced you that you'd understand the code/logic necessary and could totally figure it out on your own. Stop, okay? Just stop.

Interactive Fiction-Related Links You Can Click for Fun and Profit

  • A Beginner's Guide to Interactive Fiction on Brass Lantern – as good a starting point as any (though a few of the offsite links are, unfortunately, out of date). Brass Lantern in general looks like a pretty interesting IF resource for both would-be players and authors; some of its articles could stand updating, but I like what I've seen there so far.
  • A Beginner's Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction by Fredrik Ramsberg – more geared toward players than future authors, and perhaps a bit simpler; also includes a list of recommended games, and you can Ctrl/Cmd+F to find some geared specifically toward beginners.
  • Starters on IFWiki – general collection of helpful links for IF newbies, including that cheat-sheet card over there on the right. You may want to check out the rest of the wiki if you don't mind the ever-present danger of drowning in an endless chain of shiny blue wiki links.
  • Interpreters – a list of interpreter software by operating system. I use Gargoyle on Windows and Linux because it's able to run games made in multiple formats; there's also a multi-format Mac interpreter, and then quite a few more that only play specific formats if for whatever reason you don't download games in any others.
  • Authoring Systems – ‘nother list, this one of authoring systems used to write IF. Most of these are probably not worth bothering with as they are underpowered or stagnant, and it might be hard for your potential players to find interpreters/browser interpreters for the less common ones, but if IF/IFF sounds like something you'd like to try then you'll want to look at these and see which system you're most comfortable writing with.
  • possibly more stuff later when I can think of it!