Brass Lantern
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Magic Words: Interactive Fiction in the 21st Century

by Andrew Vestal and Nich Maragos. Illustrations by Erin Mehlos.

What to Play

At first glance, the existing IF community might seem exclusive and forbidding. Most of its members have, after all, been around for years, and you might feel like they won't want to waste their time on newcomers. However, little could be further from the truth. There are several websites maintained by the unofficial caretakers of modern IF designed to help you make sense of it all, and they're meant to be used.

The second most important website for newcomers to the IF world is the Interactive Fiction Archive. Here, you'll find every public domain game for any conceivable scripting language. (Most old Infocom games are still owned by Activision and not free to download.) The IF Archive has games written in TADS, GAGS, Inform, Glulx ... if you don't understand what any of that means, don't worry: the IF Archive also hosts the software and documentation necessary to play games in any or all of these formats on almost any platform under the sun.

Best of IF So why is the IF Archive only the second most important site? As a straight, no-frills repository of hardly-sorted files with intimidatingly obscure names, it can be a bit daunting to the newcomer. Hence the need for the single most important site: Baf's Guide to the IF Archive. Here, you'll find all the user-friendliness and accessibility missing from the official guide. Baf's annotated site links directly to relevant files in the actual IF Archive, making it the vastly preferable way to browse for those who don't know exactly what they're looking for.

Especially useful are the reviews hosted by Baf's guide. As he himself notes in the site intro, "although the if-archive contains many good games, it contains many more bad games." A range of reviewers tackles just about every game in the archive, offering at the least pithy comments and a starred rating. For many titles, reviewers provide a detailed description of what they liked and why they'd recommend it.

Baf's Guide also has links and information on the various competitions and awards in the field. The oldest and biggest is the aforementioned IF Competition, which is held once a year. Results for the IF Competition are a straightforward ranking of titles from best to worst, as judged by reader scoring. If you're looking for something specific in your IF, the annual XYZZY Awards present a number of more detailed prizes, such as Best Individual NPC to Best Puzzles.

The IF Archive and Baf's Guide to same are important, but they needn't be your only stops. has a small but worthwhile section of IF reviews, while Emily Short has compiled and annotated a list of recommended games based on the different kinds of experiences they offer. As a matter of fact, browsing her site is probably as good a way as any to get a grasp on the IF world. Read on to hear her comments about modern IF in the first of our creator interviews.

This article copyright © 2004, Andrew Vestal and Nich Maragos. Illustrations copyright © 2004, Erin Mehlos. This article originally published at Reprinted with permission.

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