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Magic Words: Interactive Fiction in the 21st Century

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


Adam Cadre writes experimental IF that's largely story-driven -- most famously Photopia, but also Lock and Key and Shrapnel. He's also a published novelist; Ready, Okay! is available from

1UP: You're a published writer in traditional prose, so what do you like about interactive fiction that keeps you coming back to it?

Cadre: I guess it's the same sort of thing that leads basketball players to play golf in the offseason - it allows me to use the same set of skills I've honed in my main line of work, but is still a very different activity.

1UP: What are the difficulties in writing interactive fiction that you don't see in writing regular fiction?

Cadre: Well, programming bugs, for one. Then there's the matter of accounting for what the player is going to do. I once likened the difference between straight prose and interactive fiction to the difference between painting a picture of a house and actually building a house... of cards. The latter gives you the ability to wander around and get different perspectives on the represented world, but a little pressure in the wrong place and it falls apart.

Adam Cadre 1UP: You seem hesitant to call most of your works "games" when describing them. Why is that? What would you say makes a piece of IF a game and not a story?

Cadre: Well, most of my IF pieces can't be "won" or "lost"... as Paul O'Brian put it, there's no battle of wits between me and the player. They're worlds to explore, with toys to play with and people to meet. You can't "solve" them or "beat" them; there's nothing to beat.

1UP: Why do you prefer to write stories instead of "games?"

Cadre: I write the sort of thing I'd like to play. I generally have no patience for and little interest in figuring out puzzles and such... as I've said in the past, I just want to wander around in someone else's world and knock over the vases while I'm there. So for my own stuff I like to present the player with an interactive world where the responses to input are always rewarding in some way: funny, or interesting, or emotionally affecting... it's all about the conversation between the author and the player.

1UP: How much of an audience do you estimate your IF has?

Cadre: Oh, I dunno. Looking at my web site stats, I see that about 200 people a month download Photopia, which is now over five years old... I imagine a few thousand people have played it by now. Some of my other titles have similar levels of exposure, others less.

1UP: Do you wish it was bigger, or are you comfortable with what you have now?

Cadre: That's rather personal.

1UP: Do you find much of a crossover between players of video games, whether on PC or console or whatever, and players of IF?

Cadre: Do I personally find one? No, because I haven't really looked into it at all.

1UP: Do you play many video games yourself?

Cadre: None at all, not these days. Unless Europa Universalis II counts.

1UP: Some people say that the advantage of interactive storytelling is nonlinearity or multlinearity. Yet most of your works, apart from I-0, tend to be linear, while still offering something you can't get in traditional narrative. What niche or space in IF do you think you're filling with your stories?

Cadre: If most of my output to date is linear, it is because such projects tend to be much more easily completed than are the sprawling multilinear ones I've been slowly working on since 1997. Varicella and Narcolepsy are much more representative of the sort of IF I'm interested in creating than is something like Photopia. But Photopia took six weeks and it was done. Varicella took eight months, working on it like a full-time job, and Narcolepsy took fourteen. The really ambitious projects will take many more years to complete.

1UP: What prose authors have influenced you and your work? In what ways?

Cadre: Well, I'm sure everyone I've ever read has influenced my writing in some way. The answer to this question could be arbitrarily long.

1UP: What piece of your own IF would you most recommend for newcomers to the field? What work of others?

Cadre: That depends on the newcomer. A while back I happened across a livejournal post by someone asking for recommendations: books, movies, albums and so forth. I started to fill in my favorites for each category, but then thought, "Hey, wait - I barely know this person, and from what little I do know, we have almost diametrically opposite tastes." I much prefer to tailor my recommendations to the individual.

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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