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Introduction to Interactive Fiction

Introduction to Interactive Fiction

By Felicity Banks

I write both novels and interactive novels. Other people find interactive fiction via the gaming community, so there are usually elements of gameplay, e.g. skill bonuses that are tested later in the game. You can “read” an interactive “book” or “play” an interactive “game”. I use the terms interchangeably.

Within interactive fiction, there are two main forms: Choice-based interactive fiction (the reader makes choices from set options) and Parser interactive fiction (the reader types commands to move the story forward and/or solve puzzles). I’m strictly on the choice-based side, which is definitely more accessible for newbies. The list below will make it immediately obvious that I was drawn to interactive fiction via Choice of Games. It’s not a bad place to start. This is what games always look like on the inside:

ScarletSails_Screencap1You pick one of the options, and click next. Easy!

Interactive fiction is almost always digital (the obvious exceptions are Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and the Windhammer Prize), and almost always released as a phone app on the iTunes and Android stores (and more, for Choice of Games).

If you’re curious about interactive fiction (IF), here are some good places to start learning more:



To learn by playing

Interactive Fiction Data Base.This link takes you directly to my page, which has links to all of my games. My games are usually accessible to newbies, since I am one myself. There are a LOT of games and reviews on IFDB, and you can find lists such as “Games for new players” to sort through the mountain of stories.

The Interactive Fiction Comp is hugely popular, and all the games are free to play. Judging season is in October and the first half of November each year. Usually about half the games are Parser games. Some games are a lot easier to download than others, so if you get stuck just move on.

Birdland came fourth in the IF Comp 2015, and is a funny game using Twine. Free.

Choice of Games (CoG) is an extremely successful company with a clear in-house style.

Choice of Broadsides is a short CoG game that’s a perfect introduction. 

Choice of Robots is an excellent scifi CoG story.

Community College Hero is an excellent teen superhero CoG story (Pt 1). It’s not an official CoG game, but is released through their Hosted Games label.

Creatures Such as We has a more literary style than most CoG games. It’s also free, and placed second the IF Comp in 2014.

IF_ClockworkArmy1My own CoG Hosted Games (I’m not associated or affiliated with CoG in any way) are the Australian steampunk adventure Attack of the Clockwork Army, the piratical romp Scarlet Sailswhich placed 7th in the IF Comp 2015 (this version was improved after the competition which is why it’s not free like the original version). I also wrote and edited for the retro scifi comedy Starship Adventures, which has a bunch of behind-the-scenes special features.

Cape is a beautifully written superhero origin story, where you can add detail by choice. It’s a hypertext story, meaning that you click on bolded words rather than choosing choices from a list. It placed fifth in the 2015 IF Comp, and is free.

Tin Man Games releases what they call Gamebook Adventures. They range from the mostly-text scifi serial story Choices: And The Sun Went Out app on iTunes or Android, the European steampunk tale Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten (the second story inside that app; I’m a co-writer on #1 and writer on #2) to the Warlock of Firetop Mountain which takes the famous Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone novel and turns it into a video game, including a fight system. They are an internationally respected Australian company.

To learn by reading the blogs of reviewers (who also write games and talk about stuff)

Emily Short

Sibyl Moon

Jason Dyer

Sam Kobo Ashwell

To learn by joining a community

Be aware that the IF community is a small, welcoming, diverse, and kind group. Don’t be a troll. Don’t write when someone has made you feel angry, especially if it is a reviewer who is adding to the community with their comments and not getting paid for it. Embrace different genders, sexualities, abilities, and nationalities. The Interactive Fiction Forum is very lively during IF Comp season in October and November.

To learn by writing

ScarletSails1Twine is certainly the easiest. It actually automatically builds an adjustable map for you. It takes about thirty seconds to learn, or ten minutes on your own.  An excellent book on Twine and writing, pitched for beginners to both is Melissa Ford’s Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine. There are LOTS of online resources, including lists here and here about finding the authoring tool that works for you. You certainly don’t need to be a computer programmer!

To get paid

Choice of Games pays advances of up to $10,000 for novel-length stories based on an approved outline and written with their tool, ChoiceScript. I know from personal experience that a story written for their less-exclusive “Hosted Games” label earns a respectable amount purely through royalties. Mine have earned around $1000 each, but there are no guarantees – and no limits!

Sub-Q magazine pays for short fiction. They can be quite literary.

Contests pay a little (often not in money) but are hugely important to the community and to gaming companies, who sometimes even approach entrants to offer paid work. All the contests are publicly reviewed and judged, which is an intense emotional experience for any writer. Don’t ever interact with reviewers until after the competition is finished. And even then, always thank them regardless of what they said—every review is a precious gift, and the harsh ones are often the most useful. Your stories must not be published, and they must be publicly available after the contest for free. Although the judging is public, they are NOT popularity contests, but based on judges being as neutral as possible in their ratings.

IF Comp is the biggest and best, but it’s NOT for beginners. Reviewers can be harsh in order to be more entertaining, or due to assuming you’re trolling the contest.

Windhammer is printable (and short, and Australian) and high-status. First prize is $300, within runner-up prizes of $50. Not bad for a short story that doesn’t require learning a new tool!  I won the Windhammer Prize in 2015, and my publisher Odyssey Books included that story with my novel, Heart of Brass.

IntroComp, for games that aren’t even finished.

Spring Thing (called the Fall Fooferal if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) is particularly welcoming to newbies, including a “Back Garden” where you can indicate that you’re new and reviewers should take that into account. It’s deliberately placed in a part of the year when the IF Comp is far away.

FelicityBanks5Felicity Banks is an Australian writer of young adult adventure fantasy and steampunk books, including interactive fiction. Her debut novel, Heart of Brass, is the beginning of the Antipodean Queen series and is available in print and digital formats. Her interactive fiction is all listed at ifdb.tads.org under “Felicity Banks“. An earlier version of this story first appeared on Felicity’s blog, which you can read here.

Games vs Play would like to acknowledge Choice of Games as the owner of the screen capture image from Scarlet Sails. All other images appear courtesy of Felicity Banks. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!

About Martin

Martin is a writer and blogger based in Melbourne, Australia. You can read more about Martin by clicking here.