Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction Edit
In Twisty Little Passages, Nick Montfort attempts a formal exploration of "interactive fiction", or more specifically, text-based adventure games. The subjects of this analysis are highly canonical, beginning with Adventure and occupying entire chapters devoted to both Zork and the rest of the Infocom ouvre. In chosing his texts, Montfort uses some measure of aesthetic value to delineate what does and doesn't fall into the boundaries of his work (Sierra games are repeatedly referenced as primitive, awkward, and surprising in their success compared to the more literary-inclined Infocom games).
Montfort's goals in this book are two-fold:
- Make a claim for the literary merit of a body of computer programs that have common characteristics.
- Produce a history for his formulation of "interactive fiction"
In this text, Montfort lays out his frame for defining interactive fiction (23):
- a text-accepting, text-generating computer program (parser based)
- a potential narrative, that is, a system that produces narrative during interaction
- a simulation of an environment or world
- a structure of rules within which an outcome is sought, also known as a game
Interactive fiction, then, in Montfort's estimate, is game with an active world, potential narrative, and by which language is the primary motivator of narrative progress. First Montfort examines the riddle as a primary ancestor of IF, in which "the literary and puzzling aspects of the form are hardly inherently antagonistic, but rather must work together for the effect of certain IF works to be achieved" (63). Following this, his third chapter offers a three-pronged history for the IF object:
- as a literary object (seen through the lens of literary machines--I-Ching, Cent mille milliard de poemes, Choose Your Own Adventure [Montfort doesn't explore this example, likely because he wants to insist on "literary" merit)
- as a gamerly object (through the lens of D&D and early computer games)
- as a computational object (through the lens of MIT's early computer games and natural language processors--Spacewar!, chess automatons, ELIZA, SHRDLU)
After perusing the genealogy of IF, Montfort explores Adventure, the first proper piece of IF. The game was programmed and made available on ARPANet in 1976 by William Crowther. Crowther, an experienced caver, developed the game for his children following a divorce. In an bit of network collaboration now made infamous as part of the "official story" of Adventure, Don Woods found an instance of the game on ARPANet while working at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Woods found Crowther via electronic mail, and used Crowther's source code to produce an expanded, less buggy version of the game. Important aspects of Adventure include:
- the game's collaborative origins
- text-based game interface
- "close reading" the adventure game
- discovery and exploration rather than speed and agility in gameplay
Zork, Infocom and the IF CommunityEdit
The following two chapters focus on a close reading of Zork, and then a chronological history of Infocom's work--basically several page summaries and critiques of individual or group works. Montfort does acknowledge the move toward image through the work of Sierra and other companies, but outrightly describes Infocom as "the most important American company" (169) and considers the only work comparable to what Infocom did to be done abroad. Montfort then pursues independent IF, exploring the now indy community of IF authors who have little market for their work (they are mostly organized through Usenet listservs). Montfort closes heralding the vibrancy of IF and electronic fiction in general, and his work is one among a body attempting to substantiate this work in academia.