Crave old Infocom text adventures? Check out Inform 7

Text-based adventure games, known as “interactive fiction” in gamer’s parlance, are making a slow but steady comeback thanks to a Mac-friendly programming tool called Inform 7.

“It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.”

These words are bound to strike a chord of familiarity (and perhaps terror) in the heart of anyone who played computer games in the late 70s or early 80s — it’s the hallmark of Zork, a legendary text-based adventure game published by Infocom, back when computer game graphics were primitive and 3D acceleration was non-existent.

That gaming genre — interactive fiction — mostly went the way of the dodo once graphical adventure games came on the scene. Over the years, graphic complexity has increased in adventure games until we’re left today with titles like Feral Interactive’s forthcoming Mac conversion of Fable: The Lost Chapters. In recent years Zork has even resurfaced with a visual reincarnation: MacPlay’s Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Interactive fiction is making a comeback, thanks to Inform 7, billed as “a design system for interactive fiction.” Inform is now 13 years old, and its newest implementation, Inform 7, has been three years in development.

Unencumbered by complicated computer programming syntax, Inform 7 uses instead a natural English language-style interface. The free software, which runs natively in Mac OS X and Windows, uses a one-window interface. Inform creates and manages interactive fiction directly.

If you’re more interested in playing interactive fiction than writing it, it is published in files called “Blorbs.” These blorbs (a reference to a nonsense word found in some old Infocom games) can be played using Zoom, a “Z-Machine” designed to run text adventure games written in ZCode — the same format Infocom used to develop their own adventure games. The Zoom Web site also contains links to repositories of interactive fiction you can download.

This story, "Crave old Infocom text adventures? Check out Inform 7" was originally published by PCWorld.

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