My first computer was a Kaypro II portable. It was about the size of a suitcase and ran on a version of the CP/M Operating System. I carried that thing from Juneau, AK to Cardiff Wales, Cape Cod and Buffalo New York. I was still using it in 1991. One of the best pieces of software I had for it was the Infocom Interactive Fiction games. I had all three Zorks, Infidel (which I never did finish), Deadline and Suspect. The games still sit on the shelf above me.
A few years ago I discovered that, although Infocom had long ago been purchased by Activision and shut down, Interactive Fiction (IF) was still being written and that there were several tools available for creating it. Inform 7 is the one I’ve worked with the most, but TADS3 and Adrift are also out there. My preference is Inform 7 because I like having the programming right up front, while at the same time I like the pseudo-code nature of the Inform 7 language.
Every year for the past 15 years or more a competition has been held for best IF of the year, the annual Interactive Fiction Competition; in 2009 there were 24 entries, which suggests that the medium or genre or however it should be designated continues to hold an audience. Recent versions of IF have found ways to include sound and images, thereby creating more of a multimedia story environment while maintaining the textual bias of the works. In Japan a variation of IF, Visual Novels (composed using software like Ren’py or Blade), allow simpler narratives with a strong visual element, but still programmed and interactive.
Despite this, there seems to be very little academic interest in these fictions. The Electronic Literature Directory only includes one (that I could find easily) from 1999, Winchester’s Nightmare. A quick search of Google Scholar helped me locate about 10 articles written since the mid 1980s.
During the next few months I plan to do my little bit to raise the profile of IF. I will be working through some of the winners of the most recent IF Competitions, adding them into the ELO as I go and attempting to tie them into the heritage of IF. The most successful Infocom games were the Zork adventures, but there were also science fictions and murder mysteries that pushed the medium further. I am interested to see how it has developed over the years, and how the programmatic nature of these stories/games is exploited in the writing.