IF Authoring FAQ [960402] Parte Spiritual

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Julian Arnold

Apr 2, 1996, 3:00:00 AM4/2/96
====Interactive Fiction Authoring: Answers to Frequently-Asked Questions====
=============================( Parte Spiritual )=============================
==============================( update 960402 )==============================

This file of answers to questions on the topic of interactive fiction (IF)
authoring is intended as a convenient informational document for the Usenet
newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction. While primarily for both new and more
experienced authors and prospective authors, it is also aimed at those who
just have an interest in the field. The FAQ is maintained by Julian Arnold
<rai...@arnod.demon.co.uk>, and will be updated at least once a month, and
possibly more often if circumstances allow and warrant doing so. Comments
and suggestions on any aspect of the FAQ are encouraged; if you see something
you don't like or if you don't see something you do like e-mail me and tell
me about it.

This FAQ is posted weekly to rec.arts.int-fiction, and monthly to

The latest update is available via anonymous FTP, as

--- oOo ---

CONTENTS-- ( Parte Spiritual )

New since last update (960304) and news flashes. ++

1) The rec.arts.int-fiction newsgroup.
1.1) What is the purpose of this newsgroup?
1.2) What topics are appropriate here?
1.3) ...and what topics are not appropriate?
2) Interactive fiction.
2.1) What is IF anyway? What _are_ you people talking about?
2.2) Can I make money by writing IF?
2.3) How are IF authors affected by legalities such as copyright law?
How can I protect my work?
2.4) What IF competitions exist? ++
2.5) Glossary.

CONTENTS-- ( Parte Corporeal )

3) IF-related material.
3.1) Are there FTP sites? ++
3.2) Are there WWW sites?
3.3) What references and papers are available?
3.4) Are there spoilers available for specific games?
4) Authoring systems.
4.1) What systems are available? ++
4.2) I have this great idea for a game! but I can't program. If I write
the text can I collaborate with a programmer?
4.3) Is it possible to convert a game from one format to another? Can I
disassemble games? Are there specific utilities which do this?

Acknowledgements and credits.

NOTE: Sections or sub-sections marked ** are new to this update, and those
marked ++ have had their content altered since the last update.

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I hope this latest FAQ is up-to-date and complete. I've had to rush it out
this month, but I think everything's ok. Enjoy. Lots of new uploads:

- Canadian if-archive mirror: Internex Online is now mirroring the
if-archive. The mirror will be updated daily. Comments and questions go
to <ftpa...@io.org>.
- TXD for the Macintosh: Mark Howell's Z-Code disassembler, TXD, compiled
for the Macintosh.
- PC port of GINAS: 386 version 0.4 (beta). This version contains only a
DOS executable. You still need the main GINAS archive to get the sample
games and library, which are not quite complete yet. Keep in mind that you
need at least a 386 to run this executable, which was compiled with DJGPP
using the excellent extended memory management of GO32.
- WinWord 6.0 document of all the Inform examples at the if-archive:
- Inform 5.5 (1502/a) for 386+ with DOS: FAST & SMALL Inform 386 5.5
(1502a). This version of Inform 386 is a mere 283k (vs 402k) and in tests
compiles Inform source in about 75% of the time it takes the old Inform 386
compiler. It uses the DJGPP 2.6.3 and GO32 1.12maint3.
- scenery.tar.Z: Includable header in two parts. Scenery non-objects to
provide verbose descriptions, reworked from "A Scenic View" release 1.
- CAECHO: Creador de Aventuras de Errata CHOft (v2.1): Spanish text
adventure development system for DOS. Compiler, linker, interpreter, font
creator, documentation, and two example games (Apache and Cascada), all in
Spanish, in a self-extracting archive.
- SINTAC: Sistema Integrado de creacion de Aventuras Conversacionales (vG3):
Spanish text adventure development system for DOS. Compiler,
interpreter/debugger, linker, font and music generators, graphics
converter, documentation, and a sample game (El secreto de Castronegro),
all in Spanish, in a self-extracting archive.
- Hugo Programming Manual (AmigaGuide format): Exactly what it says.
- EXTEND.T: An Extension Set for TADS: A collection of modifications to the
basic TADS library (ADV.T). Included are many new verbs, a couple of new
object classes, some useful functions, and fixes for a couple of parser
- The Infoclues Utility: Program to convert a file of hints written in UHS
(Universal Hints System) format to an Inform include file which produces
these hints in a hierarchy of menus.
- Inform Designer's Manual, Second Edition (Word 6.0 for Windows format):
Guess what.
- Documentation for ALAN 2.6.0 (Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format):
- Linux port of the ALAN interpreter package (v2.6.1):
- NM Parser (v5.0): Un creador de aventuras conversacionales para los
sistemas PC y compatibles: Spanish development system for illustrated text
adventures with sound in a self-extracting archive for DOS.
- UnQuill (v0.3):

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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 alike.

The two groups, rec.arts.int-fiction and 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 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

The very-nearly-complete and unabridged archives of posts to the newsgroup
are stored, and are available for public scrutiny, at


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.

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 and get a taste of the flavour of the group before
spicing things up with your first post don't lurk too long. We do want
to hear from you...


Topics related to interactive fiction design, theory, and implementation
are appropriate, as is the discussion of IF implementation languages.
Ideas on applying popular technologies (object oriented programming,
incremental compilers, etc.) to problems in interactive fiction
development (environment 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]", "[TADS]"), as this
allows people who do not wish to read about particular systems to
maintain effective killfiles. 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
forgranted. If you intend to post "giftware" please consider uploading
your code to the if-archive (see below) instead. This way your
contribution will be given a permanent home on the Internet and will also
help to build a large literature library for the authoring system you
have chosen.

Controversial viewpoints are sometimes posted here 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.


Please don't post questions about specific adventure game puzzles to this
newsgroup, as it was set up only 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 to either
newsgroup. The game's author would no doubt welcome a private e-mail
though (and you usually get your name in the credits of the next
release :).

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.).

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 games such as NetHack, Angband, etc. should be posted to

--- oOo ---


IF is the subject of this FAQ, and of the two rec.*.int-fiction newsgroups,
yet precisely what IF is is not always apparent to the uninitiated (indeed,
if you've witnessed any of the discussions on a definition of IF on r.a.i-f
you'll realise that even the "experts" rarely agree).


"Oh, geez. Here we go again. Well, I'll sum up what we've learned so far:
it is fiction and it's interactive and it may be art, but then again it
may not be. Or, more accurately, it can be art but it doesn't have to be
because it can still be a game, although it doesn't have to be a game
since there's nothing to prevent it having a serious purpose or even just
being a book. Well, not a book really, since it's not on paper, but you
could print it out and then it would be a book--but it wouldn't be
interactive then, would it? On the other hand, it could be both a game
and serious and still fall short of being art, but not necessarily, just
as not every artful book is a game and likewise the other way around."
-- Jim Newland <76461...@compuserve.com>

Well, as the above quote implies interactive fiction (IF) could be
defined as being difficult to define; it does not sit easily with any
one, strict definition. At least part of this problem stems from the
fact that, as an artistic form, IF is still in its infancy. The first
work of computer-based IF was a story-game called "Adventure", written
circa 1977. To this day, games of this type are called adventure games,
named after the original instance.

Such adventure games are an example of _subjective_ IF. That is, the
player has an influence on the plot of the story and can influence events
via his choices about what to do next, the ordering of his actions, etc.
In _objective_ IF on the other hand, the player has some influence on the
presentation of the story, but not the content; consider a hypertext
story, where you can ask for more information on a given person or plot
event, but you cannot influence the flow of events. Infocomics are an
example of objective interactive fiction.

All forms of IF have in common that the player is allowed some degree of
interaction with the story. A traditional book or film, then, is not
interactive-- you just read or watch it from beginning to end, with the
same sequence of events every time.

There are many forms of interactive fiction. Perhaps the lowest form of
IF is pick-a-path books, where the player reads a short numbered section
describing the current situation and then chooses what to do next from a
list of a few options, each of which corresponds to another numbered
section. Role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, perhaps offer
the greatest potential for interactive fiction. In such games one person
takes the part of gamesmaster and describes an imaginary world to the
other players, who each play a character in this world.

As it is the primary concern of this newsgroup I shall limit the
remainder of this discussion to computer-based IF, in general the
adventure games mentioned above.

IF offers great potential, but since its appearance in the late '70s its
growth has been plagued by two problems: how to develop the computer
technology required to support a work of interactive fiction, and how to
develop stories that exploit this new genre.

IF differs from traditional "static" or "passive" fiction in that the
author gives up much of the control of the flow of the story. This is
because the player is allowed to participate to some degree in the
shaping of the plot through his role as a character in the action. Since
the player will be making decisions about what he will do next, the
author must allow for multiple paths through a set of plot potentials.
The most primitive way of doing this is through plot branching:
presenting the reader with a small set of fixed choices, each set
corresponding to a branch in a fixed set of potential plot paths,
although these choices and plot paths are not explicitly mentioned by the
author, thus giving the illusion of unlimited opportunities.

Another approach would be to create a rich set of plot fragments and
character behaviors which may be assembled by the computer to allow the
creation of new stories each time the program is used. In the finished
product, the individual elements of the story can combine in new and
wonderful ways not anticipated by the author or programmer. The Wisdom
Project (see below) is an attempt to compile this sort of a database.


"Can you make money by writing IF? Hahahaha! That's an interesting
-- C.A. McCarthy <mlk...@students.wisc.edu>
(author of "The Light: Shelby's Addendum")

This probably sums up the general response to this question (indeed it
was the first response I got when I posted the question to rai-f for the
purposes of this FAQ). Interactive fiction is not nowadays written for
profit. Hopefully, this situation may change in the not-too-distant
future, but at the moment a net profit of around $100-150 is probably the
best that can be hoped for.

Now you may be quite happy with $100-150 (this figure can vary a great
deal, both higher and lower, why? I have no idea). You should bear in
mind though that an IF game will require a lot of hard work, and may take
anything from several weeks to several years to write. Even after this,
profits are not always immediate, and your $100 income may be spread over
a two- or three-year period.


Well, copyright laws will certainly affect your game. Under the terms of
the Universal Copyright Convention, often referred to as the Berne
Copyright Convention, anything you write is automatically considered to
be copyrighted. Most Western countries adhere to this convention,
including the USA, Canada, the UK, most European countries, and

A notice of copyright, although not strictly necessary, is certainly
recommended. This should be in the format "Copyright <dates> by
<author/owner>". Although the c-in-a-circle symbol ("©" if your computer
can display it) can be used in place of the word "copyright", "(C)" or
"(c)" has never been given legal force. Including a copyright notice
makes it somewhat easier to collect damages if someone does breach your
copyright (i.e., if there is no copyright notice, the copier can claim
"innocent infringement", that he did not realise, and had no reason to
believe, that his acts constituted an infringement).

In the USA, at least, in order to sue for infringement, with some
exceptions, your work must be registered with the Copyright Office. You
may register after the infringement occurs, as long as it's before filing
your lawsuit, but registering beforehand allows you to collect monies
beyond simple damages.

Of course, these laws apply the other way too. For instance, if you
write a game set in the Zork(tm) universe where the player must explore
the Great Underground Empire and avoid the Grues, you may well be
infringeing someone's copyright. You are certainly infringeing a
trademark. If you really want to write a game based on somebody else's
work, you should find out who holds the copyright, and ask for
permission. They may or may not say yes, and they may or may not charge
you for the privilege and/or impose certain terms or restrictions if they
do say yes. If you cannot get permission, or do not bother, you could
still release your game, but to do so would be illegal and make it
possible for the copyright-holders to sue you, and obviously I do not
endorse this behaviour in any way :). Whether your game is freeware,
shareware, commercial, or whatever has no relevance if you are
infringeing a copyright-- you may still be sued. Perhaps the simplest
thing would be to avoid the issue altogether, and write something

Several recent IF games and tools have been released under the GNU
General Public Licence, copies of which are widely available.

A NOTE ON PUBLIC DOMAIN: Nothing is in the public domain anymore unless
the author/owner explicitly puts it in the public domain, by attaching a
notice such as, "I grant this to the public domain." Copyright
expires on most works of literature, music, etc., and they become public
domain, 75 years after the death of the author.

For more information on copyright, good starting points are Brad
Templeton's "Copyright Myths FAQ", <ftp::/rtfm.mit.edu/pub/
or Terry Carroll's much more detailed and heavy-going "Copyright Law FAQ"
(six parts),

Also, the complete text of the Berne Copyright Convention is available as


At the time of writing I know of two.

The Second Annual Text Adventure Authorship Competition
- [ADMINISTRATOR] Gerry Kevin Wilson <whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu>.
- [BLURB] Text adventures live on. If you want to write a text
adventure like the late great Zork or Planetfall, then this contest is
for you. All you need is an idea, and some way to make it a game.
- [RULES] (1) The text adventure you enter must be winnable in under two
hours. Judges will be asked to rate it after playing for
that long.
(2) The entry may be written in any programming language,
including any of the text adventure creation utilities
available (such as TADS, Inform, AGT, or Alan, to name a
few.) If your game is unplayable, then it won't receive
enough votes to be eligible for prizes. (See [JUDGING].)
(3) This year, do NOT post your entries ahead of time.
Jumping the gun is punishable by disqualification.
Instead, you will need to send your entries privately to
the administrator, either through e-mail (as a uuencoded
file) or some other arrangement that you will have to work
out with me.
(4) Entries will be sent by the administrator to ftp.gmd.de on
1 October 1996. Only entries uploaded by the
administrator will be eligible.
(5) If you want your entry to be anonymous, then leave your
name off it and email me that it's your entry. I advise a
secret command that pops up the author and copyright
message. Anonymity is not required, and I hope to be able
to continue to do this in the future.
(6) Speaking of copyright, all games must be entirely your own
creations. You may parody established works, but you may
not, for example, write a game based on Sherlock Holmes.
This avoids the entire issue of copyright and the ethics
(7) All entries MUST be freeware or public domain. So don't
enter a game you've worked on for 2 years if you don't
want to give it away. No shareware, no donorware, no
commercial products, etc. Only clear and free games.
(8) Lastly, and this is a NEW rule, somewhat controversial at
that. All entries must include some sort of walkthrough.
This only means that somewhere in the game package there
must be explicit directions on how to play the game from
beginning to end, and that this info must be available to
the player from the very start of the game. A walkthrough
is fine, as is a hint system that progresses all the way
to blatant spoilers. If you like, you could even have an
NPC take over for the PC if enough time has been spent on
a single puzzle. It doesn't matter how you do it, but do
it. Any entry without something of this nature will be
returned to its author, and the author will be asked to
rectify the oversight.
- [JUDGING] (1) The judging will be a "People's Choice Awards" type deal
for the most part. Everyone is able to vote. All you
have to do is play every game that you are able to (you
are bound on your honor to play as many as possible and
give each of them an equal chance.) and then rate each
game on a scale of 1 to 10, no decimal places please.
The site to mail votes to will be announced later on
this year, but it will not be the administrator, who
would appreciate receiving no votes, please.
(2) Any game that does not receive at least 10 votes is
removed from prize consideration. Authors and official
betatesters may not vote.
(3) The winner will be the game with the highest average
score. Each winner will have a draft pick to choose a
prize of his/her choice until there are no longer any
prizes left.
- [PRIZES] (1) $75.00 cash, donated by Martin Braun.
(2) "Creating Adventure Games on Your Computer", by Tim
Hartnell. Copyright 1984. Offered anonymously.
(3) Andrew C. Plotkin (Last Year's Inform Winner) offers the
awardee's choice of EITHER a dinner at a (pretty) fine
restaurant in the Washington, DC area, with his good
self, plus hours of fine conversation on the art of
interactive fiction or other topics as desired OR $20.00
cash (US), plus he'll email you some of my old posts from
(4) The original sketch of the "Path to Fortune" map, donated
by Christopher E. Forman.
(5) Assuming that there are at least 20 entries in the
competition (ie, 20 valid, on-time, non-disqualified
entries), and that at least five of the entries are done
by female authors then Christopher will also award five
free registrations of Circle of Armageddon, Volume 2 of
The Windhall Chronicles.
- [DEADLINES] If you are entering and want to use their services to test
your game, the first tests will be run on 1 April 1996. At or around
that time you will need to get a copy of your entry to me. The
betatesters will play your game and report bugs they find therein. The
entries must be received by 30 September 1996. No entries will be
accepted after this date. Votes will begin to be taken on 15 October
1996, and must be in by 31 October. Shortly thereafter, results will
be announced, and prizes will begin to be distributed to the winners.
- [NOTES] More prizes are still needed. If you have something you can
donate, then by all means, e-mail the administrator with your pledges.
He would like to have around 10-15 prizes lined up this year, as I
prefer that everyone who enters gets something to show for their
effort. Enough official betatesters have been found.

The Grand Acorn User Interactive Fiction Competition
- [ADMINISTRATOR] Steve Mumford <sjp...@unix.york.ac.uk>.
- [BLURB] To coincide with Graham Nelson's new column in "Acorn User",
the magazine is running an interactive fiction competition - no
financial rewards as such, but the authors of the best entries will be
able to feel justifiably proud in the knowledge that their creations
will be enjoyed by numerous players all over the world...
- [RULES] (1) Entries should be short text-only adventure games, in any
style or genre; we're looking for games that show plenty
of originality as well as creating a good atmosphere and
being fun to play.
(2) Your game must be playable on an Acorn machine under Risc
OS; sending an Inform-compiled story file is fine, as is
submitting a stand-alone program that can be clicked on
to run. Unfortunately, because of the current lack of
some of the other popular compilers and interpreters for
the Acorn, it means we can't accept entries in TADS or the
like. Unless, of course, someone out there feels like
writing an interpreter to go with their entry... they'd
get a special mention... ;-)
(3) "Short" might mean having 10 to 20 locations and something
to do in each of them. A good player ought to be able to
win through in one rainy Sunday afternoon.
(4) Please don't use characters or situations from books still
in copyright, or from films or television - a parody is
legal if you change all the proper nouns.
(5) Along with your entry, please send a text file containing
a full solution - an actual list of commands that will
complete the game if entered.
(6) You retain copyright on your work, but grant Acorn User
permission to include it on a future cover disc or CD ROM.
If you've used a commercial adventure creator, please
check that you're allowed to distribute the run-time code
in this way.
- [JUDGING] The competition will be judged by Graham Nelson.
- [PRIZES] The best entries will be discussed and included on a future
cover disc or CD ROM, and may subsequently be uploaded to the
- [DEADLINES] Entries must be received by 1 July 1996.
- [NOTES] Send your entries as uuencoded archives to
<auc...@idg.co.uk>. Put "IF Competition" in the subject line and
ensure you include your full name and physical address. If snailmail
is your preference, post them to the IF Competition, Game Show, Acorn
User, IDG Media, Media House, Adlington Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire,
SK10 4NP (United Kingdom).


- BROWSE AROUND: The player wanders and explores a simulated
- CHARACTER MODELING: The system simulates characters with whom the
player may interact. Characters may generate goals, actions, and
emotions. Character modeling may be broken down into intelligence
modeling and emotion modeling.
- COMPUTER ADAPTED STORY TELLING: A presentation of different but
consistent experiences of the same story. Could be achieved through
point of view shift, browse around, or plot branching.
- DRAMATIC MODELING: The system has a representation for dramatic
elements (plot fragments) and a "plot calculus" (a set of rules for
manipulating the symbols representing plot fragments). This allows the
system to do plot generation on the fly, while still taking into
account the actions of the player character.
- EMOTION MODELING: Representation of emotions as data, and rules for
processing that data to derive behaviours consistent with a character's
perceived personality. Emotion modeling is typically focused on the
feelings associated with interpersonal interaction.
- INTELLIGENCE MODELING: Rules for simulating intelligent behaviour by
characters. This may include setting goals and making plans to achieve
them. Since intelligence modeling is typically focused on problems of
logistics, it is tightly coupled with physical modeling.
- INTERACTIVE FANTASY: A first person dramatic experience. Achieved
through a combination of physical modeling, character modeling, and
dramatic modeling. (Consider the Star Trek Holodeck as a vision of a
future Interactive Fantasy platform).
- INTERACTIVE FICTION: Narrative based experiences that tend to be
either puzzle solving or plot branching. This term is usually applied
to the "first generation" Adventure games-- those developed in the last
decade. The second generation of IF is moving towards the development
of Interactive Fantasy as a new genre.
- PHYSICAL MODELING: The system simulates a physical universe with which
the player may interact.
- PLOT BRANCHING: A tree or network of fixed content.
- POINT OF VIEW SHIFT: The first-person viewpoint moves between
- PROGRESSIVE DISCLOSURE: Content is fixed, but exposure to the content
- USER PACED SEQUENCE: A linear sequence of fixed content.

--- oOo ---

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------------Frequently-Asked Questions-----------\_/-------------------------
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