[rec.arts.int-fiction] Interactive Fiction Authorship FAQ (1/3)

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David Glasser

Apr 18, 1999, 3:00:00 AM4/18/99
Archive-name: games/interactive-fiction/authoring/part1
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 1998/09/27
URL: http://onramp.uscom.com/~glasser/raiffaq/
Copyright: (c) 1998 David Glasser

[rec.arts.int-fiction] Interactive Fiction Authorship FAQ (1/3)
Maintained by David Glasser (gla...@uscom.com)
This posting contains parts 1-3 of the raif FAQ.


PART 1: Meta-FAQ information

1.1: Recent Changes

Thursday, 14th January 1999
Major look-and-feel overdo: biggest change is the addition of numbered
topics. Many tiny changes and section movements. There is really
nothing in raifsfaq.txt that is not in the FAQ now.
Updated Inform.
Added ifMUD.
Added a "Quick Pros and Cons" to the Tier (i) authoring systems.
Added visual authoring system from raifsfaq.
Added TADS and Inform graphics and sound from raifsfaq.
Added objectloop errors under VILE 0 ERRORS FROM HELL.
Monday, 2nd November 1998
Updated URLs and email for Johns Holder and Elliott.
Updated Hugo section; thanks, Kent!
Monday, 16th November 1998
Added Inform BeOS.
Changed John Holder's web page summary.
Added "What is Glk?"
Saturday, 5th December 1998
Added abbreviations.
Sunday, 18th October 1998
David Glasser (gla...@uscom.com) takes over maintenance of the FAQ
from Julian Arnold, and many, many things are updated.

1.2: Contents

PART 1: Meta-FAQ information
1.1: Recent Changes
1.2: Contents
1.3: What is the FAQ for and where do I get it from?
1.4: How is the FAQ composed?
1.5: Acknowledgements and Copyright Notice

PART 2: About the newsgroup
2.1: What is the purpose of rec.arts.int-fiction?
2.2: What topics are appropriate here...
2.3: ...and what topics are not appropriate?
2.4: Is there an archive of newsgroup postings?
2.5: What abbreviations will I find on the newsgroups and in the FAQ?
2.6: What sort of events does IF community do?
2.7: What is "mimesis"?

PART 3: General Interactive Fiction information
3.1: What is interactive fiction?

PART 4: Programming IF
4.1: How do I become an IF author?
4.2: Who's going to appreciate my work; who cares about IF anyway?
4.3: What about copyright; how can I protect my work?
4.4: What authoring systems are available?
Tier (i)
Tier (ii)
Tier (iii)
4.5: What is Glk?
4.6: What are VILE 0 ERRORS FROM HELL, and how should I avoid them in Inform?
4.7: What tools and utilities are available?
4.8: Wouldn't a visual system be great for writing IF in?
4.9: What support does Inform offer for graphics and sounds?
4.10:What support does TADS offer for graphics and sounds?
4.11:What support does Hugo offer for graphics and sounds?

PART 5: Writing IF
What has been written on the subject...
5.1: in general?
5.2: of the art of writing NPCs?
5.3: of parsing?
5.4: of plot/story in interactive fiction?
5.5: of the educational value of interactive fiction?

PART 6: Internet Index
6.1: What is the IF-Archive?
What resources are available on...
6.2: FTP?
6.3: the World Wide Web?
6.4: real-time discussion fora (ifMUD)?
6.5: mailing lists?
6.6: Usenet

1.3: What is the FAQ for and where do I get it from?

This document is intended to serve as both a list of answers to
frequently-asked questions (FAQ) for the newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction,
and as a source of more general information for those interested in
interactive fiction authorship and/or theory.

The FAQ has been split into six parts. Each part will be updated as and
when the maintainer feels it is necessary and has the time. The Recent
Changes section (1.1) will detail major changes to the FAQ. These parts
are split into three chunks: chunk 1 contains parts 1-3, chunk 2 contains
part 4, and chunk three contains parts 5 and 6.

The maintenance of it was recently (October 1998) taken over by
David Glasser (DSG). I am in the process of updating it. Many URLs
may be dead, for example. If you see any problems with the FAQ,
or have any suggestions, email me at gla...@uscom.com. If your
email address is in it and you have concerns about spammers, I'll
be glad to obfuscate it in some way.

The FAQ will be posted to rec.arts.int-fiction, rec.games.int-fiction,
rec.answers, and news.answers on the 18th of each month.

To get the most recent version of the FAQ, steer your web browser towards

For now and the foreseeable future, this points to

From this site, you can retrieve the FAQ as its three separate chunks;
concatenated together as one file; or as a somewhat-HTMLified page.

The six parts, in a single text file, may be downloaded via anonymous
FTP from the if-archive. Point your FTP client or WWW browser to:


The above is updated every month or so, by hand. Updated each month
(on the nineteenth or so) automatically are part1, part2, and part3 in
These can be retrieved with quite nice HTMLization from

However, as I said earlier, the most recent copy is on my website.

1.4: How is the FAQ composed?

The FAQ has been split into six separate parts.

You are now reading part 1 (Meta-FAQ information). This answers
questions specifically on the FAQ, such as its availability and layout.
There is also a full part-by-part contents (1.2).

Part 2 (About the newsgroup) describes rec.arts.int-fiction.

Part 3 (General Interactive Fiction information) answers questions asked
by people new to the newsgroup or interactive fiction in general. It
does not cover writing IF.

Part 4 (Programming IF) will be of interest to the (prospective)
interactive fiction author. It includes details of the major authoring
systems and other tools. It is mostly focused on the programming
side of IF.

Part 5 (Writing IF) contains an informal bibliography of Internet
documents on interactive fiction theory, and information on the major
discussions to be found in the rec.arts.int-fiction archives. It is
mostly focused on the writing side of IF.

Finally, part 6 (Internet Index) contains brief descriptions and URLs of
FTP and WWW sites and other Internet resources mentioned elsewhere in
the FAQ.

It is recommended that those new to rec.arts.int-fiction read part 1
first (to get a feel for the FAQ), followed by part 3 (if you don't know
much about IF) and then part 2 (to learn about the newsgroup, with parts
4 and 5 last, though only if you wish to write IF. Part 6 should be
referred to as needed. Please read part 2 *before* posting *anything* to
the newsgroup: it'll make it easier on everyone.

For the most part URLs of FTP and WWW sites are not mentioned in the
main body of the FAQ. This is for reasons of both readability and
length. To find the URL of a site mentioned by name only use your text
viewer's search facility for the site name in part 6.

1.5: Acknowledgements and Copyright Notice

The FAQ is maintained by David Glasser (gla...@uscom.com). Much of the
writing of it is was done by Julian Arnold.

Many people have contributed to this document, so thanks to them. In
particular, shiny stars to Adam Cadre, Volker Blasius, John Elliott,
Julian Fleetwood, LucFrench (he did help, really), Stephen Granade,
Neil K. Guy, John Holder, Graham Nelson, Bob Newell, Thomas Nilsson,
Andrew Plotkin, Mike Roberts, Kent Tessman, Alex Warren, Roger Burton
West, and John Wood. And special thanks to Doug Harter for his efforts
in scouring the newsgroup archives (which sadly came to nought, but there
you go).

Previous editions were maintained by Julian Arnold (hippo...@kwic.com),
Jorn Barger (jo...@mcs.com) and David A. Graves (d...@cup.hp.com).

This FAQ is copyright 1998 by David Glasser. Please feel free to
quote from this document, but you *must* acknowledge this source. The
FAQ, or individual parts of it, may be freely distributed by any means.
However, no charge may be made for the distribution (save for the cost
of the media itself) and part 1, in its entirety and including this
copyright notice and details of how to obtain the full FAQ, must be
included with any and all distributions.

I would consider it courteous to be informed by anyone wishing to quote
from (well, in anything other than a Usenet post or email or whatever)
or redistribute the FAQ.

As this document is supplied gratis, with no demand or request for
payment or other recompense, the maintainer is hereby pleased to
announce that in no event whatsoever will he be held liable in any way
for any loss of data, loss of earnings, loss of savings, general
disappointment or other unhappiness resulting from the use of or abuse
of or inability to use any and all information or misinformation within
or indeed without this document, or from any admission or omission
therein or thereof which either directly or indirectly causes any one,
or any combination of two or more, of the aforementioned unpleasantries.
On the other hand, feel free to attribute any good things which happen
to you or those around you to this document in general, and to me in


PART 2: About the newsgroup

2.1: What is the purpose of rec.arts.int-fiction?

rec.arts.int-fiction is a reasonably low volume, high signal-to-noise
newsgroup for the discussion of interactive fiction. Many threads are
relevant to, and can be followed by, programmers and non-programmers

In this newsgroup, we discuss the technical and artistic aspects of
interactive fiction, as well as the actual processes of and tools for
writing it. While we do mention actual IF games, it is typically in the
context of comparing and contrasting their structure or artistic merit--
with emphasis on the development of IF as a literary genre and/or a form
of computer-based art/entertainment.

The two groups, rec.arts.int-fiction and its sister-group
rec.games.int-fiction, as you might imagine, complement each other
rather nicely. They are however distinct from one another and you
should bear in mind their particular charter before sending a post.
Posting to more than one group is generally not a good idea. Select the
appropriate newsgroup and post only to that one. Just as you would not
post questions about how to solve a specific game in this group, please
refrain from posting questions on IF design and implementation in

Remember, rec.arts.int-fiction is a discussion group, and will only
function if people contribute to it. So, while you ought to just read
for a week or two to get a taste of the flavor of the group before
spicing things up with your first post, don't lurk too long. We do want
to hear from you...

One must also realize that rec.games.int-fiction never discusses food in
its off-topic posts. This is left up to raif.

2.1: What topics are appropriate here?

Topics related to interactive fiction design, theory, and implementation
are appropriate, as is the discussion of IF implementation languages
(authoring systems). Ideas on applying popular technologies (object
oriented programming, incremental compilers, etc.) to problems in
interactive fiction development (knowledge representation, natural
language parsing, etc.) are welcomed. There are many pleas of a "how do
I do this...?" nature with reference to the nuts'n'bolts of particular
authoring systems (very nearly 100% of which are answered). It is
helpful if you put the name of the authoring system, enclosed in square
brackets, at the beginning of the subject line of your post (e.g.,
"[Inform]", "[Hugo]", "[TADS]", etc.), as this allows people who do not
wish to read about particular systems to maintain effective kill-files.
It also often helps if you post a short code example. Please try to
keep your examples succinct and relevant. Do not post very long or
irrelevant pieces of code.

Sometimes people post "giftware", clever pieces of code which solve a
particular problem. These, too, should be kept as concise as possible.
"Giftware" is usually placed in the public domain, but don't take this
for granted. If you intend to post "giftware" please consider uploading
your code to the IF-Archive (see 6.1) instead. This way your contribution
will be given a permanent home on the Internet and will help to build a
large literature library for the authoring system you have chosen.

Posts on authoring Web-based hyperfiction are not inappropriate on
rec.arts.int-fiction, though it is true that there is not much of an
audience on the newsgroup for this sort of thing.

Reviews of interactive fiction games are gladly received on either
newsgroup. The nature of a review may be such that it is relevant to
both the interactive fiction newsgroups. This is an exception to the
cross-posting rule. Whenever you do cross-post, whether it be for
reviews or other purposes, please set your Followup-To: header to one
or the other; this makes any followups be posted only to the most
appropriate group.

The other major exception to this rule, is requests for playtesters for
games. Such requests may appear on either, or both, of the newsgroups.
However, please *do not* post replies to the newsgroups. Send your
reply to the author via private e-mail. Otherwise, the resulting glut
of "me too!" posts is extremely annoying to the other readers of the
newsgroup. Many authors will in fact *ignore* such replies to the
newsgroups, and will only respond to those sent by e-mail. If you are
an author posting for beta-testers, you should set your Followup-To:
news header to the word 'poster' (no quotes).

Controversial viewpoints are sometimes posted and indeed are to be
encouraged; when you post a dissenting view remember to attack the idea,
not the person. Let us debate, not battle. raif has been very good
as it comes to that; most fights have been misunderstandings that
were soon fixed. Our flamewars rarely last a week, and there usually
are only a handful per year: quite good for a newsgroup.

2.3: ...and what topics are not appropriate?

Please don't post questions about specific adventure game puzzles to
this newsgroup, as it was set up for discussion of interactive fiction
from the point of view of the *author*, not the *player*. Please post
these queries to the newsgroup rec.games.int-fiction, not here. Also,
it is usually considered impolite to post bug reports for games or other
software (including authoring systems) to either newsgroup. The
software's author/maintainer would no doubt welcome a private e-mail
though (and you usually get your name in the credits of the next
release). Bugs may be reported on the newsgroup(s) if it is a bug which
can reasonably be assumed to detrimentally affect other users of the
software and/or can be easily avoided or remedied. (Bugs in the old
Infocom games are commonly reported on rgif, especially when they
are humorous.)

When discussing specific games, please be careful not to give them away
to readers who may not have played them. You have a few choices:
+simply do not post the "spoilers"
+encode them using rot13, a simple "encryption" scheme found on any decent
newsreader (some silly programs call it Unscramble. Sheesh).
If you can't find a rot13 descrambler, all you have to do is turn each
a into an m, each b into an n, and so on.
+put a "spoiler character" in your post right before the spoilers, with
a warning like "SPOILERS FOR BAD GUYS AHEAD". A spoiler character is
a control-L character (formfeed), and any good newsreader has a set
of keys to push or a menu item to insert the character. When somebody
reads the message, the newsreader should pause at the character to
allow the rest of the message to be skipped.
+put a lot of blank lines in front of your spoiler

This is not a newsgroup for the discussion of traditional "static" or
"passive" fiction. Literary magazines, advertisements for writers, and
other general fiction topics should be posted to the appropriate
newsgroup (alt.prose, misc.writing, rec.arts.books, rec.arts.poems,
rec.arts.prose, etc.). However, this confusion has come up in the
past (newbies believing the group name means "International Fiction",
for example), and a polite pointer is better than a "get this junk
off the newsgroup" flame.

Discussions of MUDs (multi-user dungeons) belong on rec.games.mud.misc,
although discussion of multi-player IF theory is certainly appropriate
here. Information on LARPs (live-action role playing games) and FRPs
(fantasy role playing games) can be found in rec.games.frp.misc.
Questions about the various "roguelike" games, such as "NetHack,"
"Angband," etc. should be posted to rec.games.roguelike.misc.

You should of course follow basic netiquette conventions such as:
+Don't spam.
+you also should avoid putting everything in lower-case
+Don't flame others, you bastard!
+Don't spam.
+Well speling and gramer is good.
+Don't flame people because they're spelling or grammar sucks.
+Don't spam.

2.4: Is there an archive of newsgroup postings?

The very-nearly-complete and unabridged archives of posts to both
interactive fiction newsgroups up until January 1997 are stored,
and are available for public scrutiny, in the appropriate directory
of the IF-Archive (/rec.arts.int-fiction for this group). The
rec.arts.int-fiction archives have been converted to HTML, and are
on the Web, fully indexed and linked by date and by thread, at:

However, these archives only include posts before January 1997. If you
are looking for more recent posts, check out:

This does not go as far back as the rec.arts.int-fiction archive, but it
is up-to-date.

Postings to rec.games.int-fiction are similarly archived in the
if-archive, in the directory "rec.games.int-fiction/". They have not
been HTMLized, though they are available from DejaNews.

2.5: What abbreviations will I find on the newsgroups and in the FAQ?

IF == Interactive Fiction, the subject of this FAQ
raif == rec.arts.int-fiction, the newsgroup about writing IF
rgif == rec.games.int-fiction, the newsgroup about playing IF
r*if == either of the above newsgroups
ifMUD == Interactive Fiction Multi-User Dungeon, or some such (see 6.4)

Also, I refer to some people as Foo "Bar" Baz. This means that Foo
Baz goes by the name Bar on ifMUD. For example, I would be David
"DGlasser" Glasser.

The FAQ often refers to files on the IF-Archive; see 6.1 for more
information on that.

2.6: What sort of events does IF community do?

Two annual IF traditions are the IF Competition and the XYZZY awards.

The Annual I-F Competition, currently concluding its fourth year, is open
to all authors of interactive fiction. Entrant's games can be written
in any language (i.e., BASIC, C, dedicated authoring system, etc.). The
competition is administered by Stephen Granade (sgra...@phy.duke.edu).
More information about the IF Competition is available at

The XYZZY awards, hosted by Eileen Mullin of XYZZYnews, are
an Oscar-style award ceremony each February on ifMUD, giving honor
(and trophies!) to the best IF of the previous year. Anyone can vote
on the numerous categories by going to

2.7: What is "mimesis"?

mimesis (mi-me'sis, mi-) n.
1. The imitation or representation of aspects of the sensible world,
especially human actions, in literature and art.

[the following is stolen from a post to raif by Adam Cadre]
> In brief, there are generally two different things people on this group use
> the word "mimesis" to refer to:
> (1) The extent to which the player feels like she's experiencing what
> the game tells her she is, rather than experiencing the sensation of
> typing on a keyboard and watching words scroll by on a screen;
> (2) The extent to which stuff in the game seems to work the way things
> work in real life, or at least the extent to which it maintains a degree
> of internal consistency.

The idea of mimesis with regard to IF was started by Roger Giner-Sorolla
in his "Crimes Against Mimesis" postings some time back on raif. You can
find a copy of it at

More recently, Adam "Bruce" Thornton wrote a very funny in-joke game
called "Sins Against Mimesis".

PART 3: General Interactive Fiction information

3.1: What is interactive fiction?

"Interactive fiction" is a catch-all name for many forms of
story-telling. Most forms are text-based (but see below) and feature
some degree of reader, or player, participation, beyond the act of, say,
turning the page of a book to read the next one.

In the context of rec.arts.int-fiction the name is most commonly used to
refer to just one type: computer-based text adventures. These games
involve the player entering textual commands in response to the game's
output. In turn, this output is influenced by the player's input. An
extremely simple example of this interplay between player input and game
output (from "Zork") is:
West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a
boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.

Opening the small mailbox reveals a leaflet.



ZORK is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will
explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals. No
computer should be without one!"

Although interactive fiction, in the sense of text adventures, is
usually text-only there has always been limited interest on
rec.arts.int-fiction in graphics and sound. It is widely considered
that the most important, if not the defining, element of interactive
fiction is the text-based user interface and the parser (that part of
the program which analyzes and acts upon the player's input), and as
long as this is kept there is no particular reason why the game's output
cannot include, or consist entirely of, graphics (static or animated)
and/or sound. A not insignificant number of "purists" would refute
this, however. Recent updates to the major IF languages have simplified
creation of graphical and aural IF.

"Interactive fiction" is also used to refer to (Web-based) hyperfiction,
where the reader selects links to progress though the story; "Choose
Your Own Adventure" (CYOA) books, which are a sort of non-computer
hyperfiction; multiple author, or contributory, fiction, where multiple
authors write a story by each contributing, say, one chapter; and MUDs
and MUSHes, which may loosely be described as multi-player text
adventures. It has also been suggested that Role Playing Games (RPGs),
such as "Dungeons & Dragons", present the ultimate in interactive

Interactive movies have also been mentioned on the newsgroup from time
to time. This is a rather poorly defined genre of film-making.
Interactive movies seem to be the cinematic equivalent of CYOA books,
rather than text adventures.

Though the non-text adventure forms of IF are rarely discussed on the
group, one must always keep in mind that the group was created
(by famous Mac guru Adam C. Engst, in 1992) without the intention
of text adventures in mind. Though you may not, many people enjoy
discussion of non-text adventure IF on the newsgroup, and so
flaming newcomers with a "that's not what raif is for!" is not
a good idea.

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