Richard Cobbett [R.C.]: What is the aim of the annual IFComp?
Stephen Granade [S.G.]: To promote the creation of interactive fiction, specifically short IF. Competition games are supposed to be winnable in two hours or less. This has led to a lot of experimentation within the competition -- people enter unusual games in an effort to push the genre's envelope.
R.C.: Devil's Advocate time. We've got graphics cards capable of pulling almost any trick out there. Why are you still messing around with text?
S.G.: For the same reason people are still writing books now that movies are available. Text is very different from graphics. A graphic adventure game is not just a text adventure with pretty pictures, any more than a movie is exactly a filmed book.
Text adventures are also easy to experiment with. If I want to write a text adventure by myself, I can do so in six months to a year. If I wanted to write a game with graphics, I'd need an illustrator or computer artist, a composer, and more.
R.C.: Do you see anyone making money from IF in this day and age?
S.G.: Not at this point. If interactive fiction becomes a more widely-recognized art form, I could see people making some money from IF, the same way some people make money from poetry.
R.C.: Is there something that IF does well that you would most like to see carried across into commercial titles?
S.G.: Since text adventures died commercially, amateurs like me have been able to try new and wacky things without worrying whether the resulting game would sell or not. I'd like to see some of the more successful experiments tried in commercial games, such as not telling a story in linear fashion, or using an unreliable narrator, or even just trying a game that was more heavy on story and light on puzzles.
R.C.: Does the IFComp draw any attention from professional designers?
S.G.: We've had some. A couple of designers from Looking Glass Studios have written games -- Sean Barrett and Dan Schmidt (who was the producer of Terra Nova, a criminally-overlooked squad tactics game).
R.C.: How is the IF community as a group?
S.G.: Friendly and helpful for the most part, though the community can be staid and protectionist from time to time. There are a lot of topics within the community that have been beaten to death, such as the question of abandonware, or which IF design system is the best. When someone new comes into the community and restarts an old discussion, or holds forth loudly on how we've all been doing IF wrong, and if we'll just do what they want us to do... well, folks can be a little snappish. But the community readily offers help and advice to new IF authors.
R.C.: Is there one particular IF game that really made you sit up and take notice over the past few years?
S.G.: Several, actually, though for various reasons. Photopia for the storytelling. Spider and Web for its complete structure. Galatea for its astounding non-player character. Worlds Apart, for its evocation of an entire world.
Oh, and all of mine, of course.
R.C.: IF. Why should the general public care?
S.G.: For the same reason they should care about any nascent art form. You could just as soon ask why the general public should care about poetry, or theatre, or books.
Plus IF can be fun.
R.C.: What would you say to a new designer looking to break into IF?
S.G.: First off, play a lot of games, especially the new ones. See what's been done before, and in what general direction the community's moving. Start dissecting the games you play. What makes this puzzle work? Why didn't you like that room description? Also start following the community's newsgroups at rec.arts.int-fiction (for writing IF) and rec.games.int-fiction (for playing IF).
Then pick a design system. TADS, Inform, and Hugo are some of the more popular ones. Write a small game using it, and -- this is very important -- throw that game away. Don't show it to anyone besides a few of your friends. Chances are you'll make a lot of mistakes in writing that game. If you think you haven't, get a few people from the community to test your game and tell you what they think of it. That'll let you know if you really have created a masterpiece or merely Yet Another Game Set in the Author's College, High School, or House.
Once you've done that, you'll be better equipped to write your magnum opus.
An extract from this interview was printed in PC Gamer UK, issue 118 (Jan 2003). Reprinted with permission.