Fiction is a Three-Edged Sword

Fiction, interactive fiction and narrative

Top 50 IF games – or 13, at least

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Over on the int.fiction forum, Victor Gijsbers has started a thread asking for people’s list of the best IF games ever. It’s quite a fun trip down memory lane and makes me long for the days when text-games were an unexplored terrain rich with possibilities…

For those who are interested, here’s my list, also posted on the forum.

Curses cover art1. Curses – While I don’t think I would ever really recommend this to anyone else, I had such an enjoyable time playing it that it has to be top of my list. I don’t think anyone has topped Graham here for his ability to turn interactivity into a conversation between player and game, with the successful solver providing the punch-line to so many jokes and having so many moments of real, intuitive insight. The puzzle of the romantic poetry book and the hedge maze are gems, that no-one would be allowed to get away with in the “real” world of games. Magnificent.

2. So Far – Plotkin has always had a wizard-like ability to turn code into world; so that even though So Far is brutally difficult and so easy to break, it never feels inert. From the (unnecessary?) pole-licking to the monster-fight in the arena, So Far felt like a living breathing world in which I was the ghost, drifting from place to place. And the ending of this was alive. Wonderful — but again, very hard, and very hard to truly recommend!

The Witness cover art3. The Witness – Of all the Infocom games, this one was my favourite, because I actually found clues, I actually followed them up, formed hypotheses and eventually cracked the case. It took a lot of replay and a fair amount of luck, and when I played Deadline later I found it impossible, unforgiving, and over-wrought. But The Witness seemed just right to me – simple enough to be accessible, responsive enough to provide a narrative. A great game.

4. Rimworld – (I think was the name.) In the early days of the internet, a few text adventures floated around, that have been largely lost. This one was a standard collection of plastic-purple-squares and plastic-purple-slots, but back when I played it, there were no walkthroughs, no forums, and no authors emails; so I wandered, alone and without help, through an empty alien world, and every discovery was my own. Games will never feel like that again.

5. Ribbons – one of the Art Show pieces, full of connections that might or might not be meaningful. This one was great for me because it made me realise, finally, that interactivity is what happens inside the player’s head, and that what happens in the game-code to enable this interactivity is merely academic.


Shrapnel cover art6. Shrapnel – bonkers, devastating, and Cadre at the height of his powers, creating a seamless experience bristling with meaning and consequence. This game for me marked the absolute heyday of the indie community; when games were quick, dirty, but wickedly effective.

7. Spider and Web – this almost doesn’t feature because, in truth, I didn’t enjoy playing one little bit. But the twist was fantastic, and the conversation system instructive, inspiring and, oh, yeah, really cool.

Lost Pig cover art8. Lost Pig – Lost Pig was great.


LASH cover art9. LASH – I like all of Paul’s work, but this one felt the most solidly built and meaningfully executed.


The Weapon cover art10. The Weapon – great sci-fi story, with a tight design and great pacing.


Starcross cover art11. Starcross – a masterpiece of puzzle design on a budget.


12. Christminster – this one seems to get forgotten about, but looking back I feel like Rees’ invented an entire genre of pacing here: the game is so graceful in ensuring that your scope is always small enough to be playable, but your involvement just gets deeper and deeper. I like to think of The Shadow in the Cathedral as something of a design homage.

Plundered Hearts cover art13. Plundered Hearts – while not as tightly designed as some of its successors, Plundered Hearts managed to tell a real story and not let its puzzles get in the way, and that was a novelty in the Infocom games. And it was a great romp.


Honourable mentions: Deep Space Drifter, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, 9:05, Dangerous Curves, Slouching Towards Bedlam.


Author: joningold

Jon Ingold is a writer and games designer from Cambridge, UK. He is co-founder of inkle, a company specialising in interactive narrative for mobile devices. He has written prose, plays, short films as well as interactive fiction, both in hypertext and parser-based systems. His short stories have appeared in Interzone magazine and his IF works have won competitions and awards.

One thought on “Top 50 IF games – or 13, at least

  1. Good list. There is something nice about having personal favorites that you would have second thoughts about recommending to anyone else (I have a few myself). I agree that Christminster deserves to be remembered more than it is. Perhaps the fact that the worst part of the game is the very beginning has something to do with it.

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