The Browser's Bookweb
Interactive Fiction Shelf

Standing next to the Interactive Fiction Shelf
The long rows of dusty volumes have disappeared. Instead, you find yourself in an underground cavern next to a bank of blinking computer screens. A phosphorescent green moss clings to the screens, while a dry mist obscures the cavern walls.

Pretty ordinary computers. They're a lot like the one you're using, in fact. Each has a keyboard, a mouse, and a screen filled with text.

You lean over. You can see fragments of it...*

...The platypus crawls into a semi-hidden pit and disappears...
...Under the pillow on your bed is the magical stone, Wishbringer...
...The article ends with a reminder that everyone over the age of 55 has two weeks to report to a Euthanasia Center...
..."Oh, you're a customer." He seems surprised. You wish you hadn't worn blue jeans...

Suddenly, the moss begins glowing even more brightly. It flickers, pulsating with red, blue, violet, yellow, and a thousand other hues. A moment later, a flash of light fills the cavern.

In the bookweb
You are once again standing in one of the bookweb's twisting aisles. There is a sign on the shelf in front of you.


Welcome to the world of interactive fiction.

IF is a minor obsession of mine — I got hooked about a decade ago when my dad brought home a copy of A Mind Forever Voyaging, which is still my all-time favourite computer game. So what's IF? Mmm. It's easier to experience than explain. One of the best websites on the genre used to be Stephen Granade's site, but that disappeared in a round of corporate evil. A replacement site is in the works. The epicenter of the IF community, though, is the (for players) and (for game creators) newsgroups. So c'mon over and lurk a bit :)

Some of the games linked here are freeware, some are shareware, and some are commercial games from Infocom's heyday (which are now available way cheap). A word on playability: it takes a wee bit of effort to get set up for IF adventuring. Most games now available are written in either the Inform or TADS programming language, and each language requires a different interpreter to run its files. To figure out which TADS interpreter you'll need for your system, check out the Playing TADS Games FAQ (if you're using a fairly standard Win 9x machine, WinTADS should do the trick. For Mac users, there's MaxTADS). Inform files run on Frotz. Here's where it gets tricky: Wintel machines can use WinFrotz for most everything, except Photopia, which will only run in colour under DosFrotz. DosFrotz, however, does some mucky things to italics, which rather screws up several games, including Spider And Web. My suggestion? Download both, and use whichever is recommended by the game author in the game's readme file. Mac users are best with MaxZip, which, unfortunately, as far as I know, doesn't do colour. If you're on a Mac and wanna play, email me and I'll Deja some answers from the newsgroup archives. You can also play IF games on everything from an Apple II to a Palm Pilot. It's just a matter of finding the right interpreter.

Whew! OK, I'll shut up now...on with the games.

* Actually, I cheated a bit. All the quotes on the screens are from Infocom's sample transcripts, not actual games.

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Photopia by Adam Cadre

"'All the settings from that story came from these weird dreams I've been having lately,' she says. 'But there's one more, one I haven't told you about... are you sure you want to hear about this?'"

There's a reason I'm listing Photopia first. Actually, two. It's the best "puzzleless" IF story ever written, which makes it a great game for newbies who are learning the genre. It's the only IF story I know of where it is actually impossible to get really stuck. The other reason it's first is that I think it's also the best piece of IF ever created, period. It's amazingly well programmed (you can interact with virtually every object in the story), and the writing is deceptively smooth. Photopia, which won the 1998 IF short game competition, pushed the genre's boundaries and did things many of us long thought impossible. It's also one of the first pieces of IF that's more a story than a game.

OK, so what's it about? Well, the narrative structure is a bit like Pulp Fiction's and the storyline is evocative of The Sweet Hereafter. To find out more, you gotta download the game. Trust me, you'll be very glad you did.

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Spider And Web by Andrew Plotkin (aka Zarf)

"You blink away memory. The dim room comes again into focus."

    A vacation in our lovely country! See the ethnic charms of the countryside, the historic grandeur of the capital city. Taste our traditional cuisine; smell the flowers of the Old Tree. And all without leaving your own armchair!

After about three moves, you realize that Zarf's jacket text is about as straightforward as everything else in his games. Spider And Web is a thriller with some interesting mindtwisters, many of which are still being debated (like the damned wooden magnet thing). Zarf's occasional comments like "not everyone agrees on who the protagonist of Spider And Web is" are not helping these debates along, either. But we love him for his utter incomprehensibility (that, and all the Mac ports he does), and S&W is a hell of a ride.

You can download the game file for S&W, and you can also play it online through a Java version. It's buggy and slow and everything else you expect Web-based Java to be, but it's also a great way to check out IF before downloading interpreters and mucking around with 'em.

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A Bear's Night Out by David Dyte

"Moonlight plays through the window, softly illuminating the bedroom, full of comfortable memories."

    Some nights, when people are fast asleep, teddy bears are just waking up.
    And some nights, those teddy bears make mischief.
    And some nights, things somehow turn out for the best...

This is the sweetest story imaginable. Since I still can't get to sleep without my teddy cat, it's not surprising I love a tale about what those stuffed animals of ours do at night. Winner of the 1997 XYZZY award for Best Setting and of 5th place in 1997's IF Competition, Bear's Night is especially wonderful for anyone who can still sing along with "If you go into the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise..."