Tag Archives: Interactive Fiction

MST3K Presents “Detective”

Author: C.E. Forman, Graeme Cree, and Stuart Moore
Year: 1995
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Merciful
Length of Play: 30 Minutes

My Rating: 7

One of the few games that has made me legit laugh out loud, Detective was the perfect game to get the MSTK3 treatment. It was a seriously earnest mystery written by a 12-year old Matt Barringer and he made nearly every possible mistake one could make–instant death rooms, unimplemented objects, doors that only go one-way, etc.–but since there are really no puzzles, the game can be won in a short time.

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At Wit’s End

Author: Mike Sousa
Year: 2000
Development System: TADS
Cruelty Rating: Cruel
Length of Play: 3-4 Hours

My Rating: 4

I really wanted to love this game. Thrown into the middle of an at-bat during the American League Championship Series, it has one of the better hooks I’ve seen, and I honestly would have played an entire baseball game coded by Sousa. Ultimately, however, this game can’t decide what it wants to be and it left me deeply frustrated.

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Tapestry

Author: Daniel Ravipinto
Year: 1996
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Merciful
Length of Play: 2 hours

My Rating: 5

Awards: Best Story — 1996 XYZZY Awards

Tapestry was one of those games that was pretty revolutionary when it was released. Replaying parts of one’s life wasn’t a new concept by any means, but the storytelling device was ripe for the interactive-fiction treatment. As such it wooed me at the time, but replaying it all these years later I mostly just see the flaws.

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Babel

Author: Ian Finley
Year: 1997
Development System: TADS
Cruelty Rating: Polite
Length of Play: 3-5 hours

My Rating: 10

Awards: Best Writing — 1997 XYZZY Awards

In 1999 I discovered the IF Archive and the first game I played was not Babel. It was Heist, by Andy Phillips. While I was terrible at it, I was impressed by the parser since the last new text adventure I had played was Bureaucracy. The second game I decided to try was Babel, and I was simply blown away.

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Galatea

Author: Emily Short
Year: 2000
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Merciful
Length of Play: 15 minutes

My Rating: 6

Awards: Best Individual NPC — 2000 XYZZY Awards

Galatea is an impressive piece of coding of an art critic interacting with a statue. Around the turn of the century there were many games that tried to create incredibly in-depth characters that would respond to anything, not to mention Scribblenauts, which tried to allow for a near infinite amount of actions. Of all in this genre I’ve tried, Galatea is the most successful at being interesting; yet, the shine wears off quickly and I stopped caring quicker than I thought possible.

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Anchorhead

Author: Michael Gentry
Year: 1998
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Cruel
Length of Play: 5-10 hours

My Rating: 10

Awards: Best Setting — 1998 XYZZY Awards

My introduction to H.P. Lovecraft, and frankly, well-written horror, Anchorhead remains one of my favorite games ever made twenty years later. While the free version stands on its own, the 20th anniversary edition is well worth the ten dollar price tag on Steam if you liked the original or are a fan of thriller/horror games.

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A Day For Soft Food

Author: Tod Levi
Year: 1999
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Nasty
Length of Play: 3-4 hours

My Rating: 5

When I first discovered interactive fiction in the late 90’s and learned that the public now had tools to develop their own games, my first story idea was to design a game where the player controlled a cat. I gave up on the idea when I realized I had a hard time coming up with a good story with good puzzles that made sense.

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Fallacy of Dawn

Author: Robb Sherwin
Year: 2001
Development System: Hugo
Cruelty Rating: Tough (save frequently and you’re fine)
Length Of Play: 3-4 hours

My Rating: 9

Awards: Best Writing and Best Individual NPC — 2001 XYZZY Awards

Fallacy of Dawn won the XYZZY award for best writing; if you play for five minutes and don’t immediately agree, then save yourself some headaches as this game might be the buggiest to ever win an award. If you do enjoy the writing, then you’re in for a treat that is Sherwin’s fascinating and demented brain space.

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Aisle

Author: Sam Barlow
Year: 1999
Development System: Inform
Cruelty Rating: Merciful
Length Of Play: One-Move Game

My Rating: 7

Awards: Best Use of Medium — 1999 XYZZY Awards

Perhaps the first serious game that would automatically end after one move. The premise is quite simple as you play an ordinary man in an ordinary supermarket who has stopped in the pasta aisle next to a woman who is also shopping. There are exactly 136 possible moves you can make that produce 136 separate endings. There is neither a puzzle nor a plot, and one would be hard pressed to say this is even a character study, as some of the endings’ portrayal of your character’s history contradict each other.

I do wish there was something more here to unravel, but as it stands this is quite a pleasant diversion thanks to the imagination and quality writing of Sam Barlow. More importantly, Aisle inspired many future authors in experimenting with the genre, including a few entertaining games that mimic this one.

I still come back and play Aisle about every five years. There’s just something about the protagonist’s world view that makes me smile.