Every year video game graphics become more and more realistic. Unfortunately, this often means that the story takes a back seat to the impressive graphics. On the flip side is interactive fiction, which puts the story before anything else.
While it was popular back in the early days of computing, interactive fiction has also seen a resurgence of popularity in recent years.
Here are five open-source tools that you can use to create your own interactive fiction. But before that, let me tell you what interactive fiction is.
What is Interactive Fiction?
Interactive Fiction (or IF) is a term for computer games that allow players to control the game’s main character through a series of text commands. One of the most well-known text adventure games is Zork.
There is a more graphically rich version of IF called gamebooks. Gamebooks allow you to click your way through the game as well, but graphics and images still do not make up much of the game. The focus is on text and story. A good example of gamebooks is the Choose Your Own Adventure series.
You can find IF games to play here and here.
Best open source tools for creating Interactive Fiction
Earlier I showed you how to create eBooks in Linux. Today, I’ll show you some tools that you can use to create Interactive Fiction on Linux. The following programs are not listed in any particular order.
Twine is an easy to use program that allows you to create an IF game without knowing how to code. All you have to do is create a series of passages and connect them. Twine gives you the option to see a map of how all your passages are connected and how they flow from one to the next.
Twine is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. It is licensed under GPL v3.
Quest is another option that allows you to create IF without knowing how to program. This application comes with a visual script editor that allow you to pick commands from a list, so you don’t have to memorize commands. Quest allows the creation of both text adventures and gamebooks.
The latest downloadable version is 5.7.0 for Windows. If you have Linux or Mac, you can use the online editor. It’s licensed under MIT and you can check out the source code here.
The most recent release of Squiffy is 5.0. It can be run on Linux, Mac, and Windows. You can also use it in the browser. It’s licensed under MIT and you can check out the source code here.
TADS is by far one of the most complicated entries on this list. I’m not sure what license it uses, but according to their website any IF game created with it can be distributed or sold without restriction.
Ren’Py is a graphic novel creator. I almost didn’t include it in this article, but it looked too neat to ignore. According to its website, Ren’Py is a “free and cross-platform engine for digital storytelling. It makes it easy to combine words, images, and sounds to create visual novels and life simulation games.”
Like several of the entries on this list, Ren’Py comes with its own language but also supports the Python scripting language. Ren’Py offers support for Linux, Windows, and Mac. Games created with it can also be played on iOS or Android. You can even create a version to upload to Steam. Most of Ren’Py is licensed as MIT. You can take a look at the source code here. The most recent release of Ren’Py is 6.99.12.
Inform (not open source)
Just like the previous entry, Inform is more than a simple program for creating IF. Inform is an entire “design system for interactive fiction based on natural language.” The wide range of tools included allow you to create “adventure games, historical simulations, gripping stories or experimental digital art.” The finished source code “reads like English sentences, making it uniquely accessible to non-programmers”.
Inform has a library of user-created extensions to add features to your IF story. The creators or Inform also wrote an ebook entitled Writing with Inform to help writers get started. Inform can run on Linux, Mac, and Windows. The Linux version uses the GNOME framework. The most recent release of Inform is 7.0.
Interactive Fiction was one of the first ways that early programmers created and played games. Today, they are still quite relevant because they can be played anywhere and the tools keep improving.
When I was younger, I used to read a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books, so I can see the attraction to these games. As a fiction author, I have played around with the idea of creating my own but was always too busy. I plan to take another crack at it soon. The nice thing is that there are so many tools and options to choose from.
Have you ever played or created Interactive Fiction? What is your favorite IF? What IF tools did I miss? Please let me know in the comments below.
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