A Design System for Interactive Fiction
Just as film might be called a form of literature which needs technology to be
read (a cinema projector or a television set) and to be written (a camera),
interactive fiction is read with the aid of a computer. On this analogy, Inform
is a piece of software enabling any modern computer to be used as the camera, or
the film studio, to create works of interactive fiction. To read the resulting
works, you and your audience need only a simpler piece of software called an
In this genre of fiction, the computer describes a world and the player types
instructions like touch the mirror for the protagonist character to follow; the
computer responds by describing the result, and so on until a story is told.
Interactive fiction emerged from the old-style "adventure game" (c.1975) and
tends to be a playful genre, which must sometimes be teased out as though it were
a cryptic crossword puzzle. But this doesn't prevent it from being an artistic
medium, which has attracted (for instance) the former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert
Pinsky, and the novelists Thomas M. Disch and Michael Crichton. An interactive
fiction is not a child's puzzle-book, with a maze on one page and a rebus on the
next, but nor is it a novel. Neither pure interaction nor pure fiction, it lies
in a strange and still largely unexplored land in between.
Since its invention (by Graham Nelson in 1993), Inform has been used to design
some hundreds of works of interactive fiction, in eight languages, reviewed in
periodicals ranging in specialisation from XYZZYnews to The New York Times. It
accounts for around ten thousand postings per year to Internet newsgroups.
Commercially, Inform has been used as a multimedia games prototyping tool.
Academically, it has turned up in syllabuses and seminars from computer science
to theoretical architecture, and appears in books such as Cybertext: Perspectives
on Ergodic Literature (E. J. Aarseth, Johns Hopkins Press, 1997). Having started
as a revival of the then-disused Infocom adventure game format, the Z-Machine,
Inform came full circle when it produced Infocom's only text game of the 1990s:
Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, by Mike Berlyn and Marc Blank.