Interactive text games write new chapter

  • Article by: CHRIS SUELLENTROP , New York Times
  • Updated: September 2, 2014 - 1:46 PM

An undated handout screenshot from “Device 6,” a blend of short story and puzzle that features music, sound effects and text. Interactive fiction, which once went by the name “text adventure,” is having a resurgence.

Photo: Simogo via New York Times,

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Interactive fiction, which once went by the name “text adventure,” is having a moment.

“Zork,” one of the earliest and best-known text adventures — released for personal computers in 1980 — was given a retrospective at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. “A Dark Room,” with sparse prose inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” hit the top of the iPhone game charts in April. “Device 6,” a thrilling blend of short story and puzzle that features music, sound effects and text that you follow by rotating your phone or tablet, received an Apple Design Award last month.

Even Twitter has joined the fun with the account YouAreCarrying, which generates a “Zork”-like list of items to any user who types the word “Inventory” at it.

The resurgence of the text game is not sudden. In 2012, Christine Love’s “Analogue: A Hate Story” smartly turned the epistolary novel into an interstellar interactive mystery to tell an allegory about Korean history. And online hypertext stories written with a tool called Twine have become increasingly popular. At the Independent Games Festival last year, designer Richard Hofmeier, after winning the festival’s grand prize for his game “Cart Life,” removed it from his booth and replaced it with the Twine story “Howling Dogs,” by the artist Porpentine.

A good Twine story like “Howling Dogs” can’t be translated properly into print. A Twine story might include branching narrative paths like a 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure book, yes, but it also might be merely nonlinear, with the order of the text determined by the highlighted words the reader clicks.

A more novel, even radical, form of digital storytelling with text arrived last month on the iPad in the form of “Blood & Laurels,” a pulpy story of Roman palace intrigue by Emily Short, an author of interactive fiction.

“Blood & Laurels” was written with a software engine called Versu, designed by Short and Richard Evans, who worked on the artificial intelligence aspects of games like “Black & White” and “The Sims 3.” At almost any time in “Blood & Laurels,” the reader can press the “Act Now” button to direct the main character to do something or press “More” to keep reading. You can try to get Marcus, the main character, to seduce almost any character, male or female, and he often succeeds.

Short says she wants the reader to have a conversational relationship with the story.

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  • An undated handout screenshot from “Blood & Laurels” by Emily Short. Interactive fiction, which once went by the name “text adventure,” is having a resurgence.

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