Before the days of high-definition gaming and 3D environments, many games took on the form of interactive fiction (IF). Also known as text adventures, these games rely entirely on the written word to give and take instruction using a console and a command line.
Anyone who has ever found themselves absorbed in a good book is likely to enjoy interactive fiction, and iOS has found itself home to some of the best the genre has to offer.
Frotz hasn’t been updated since October 2012, which was well before iOS 7 landed. For this reason, it’s pretty rough around the edges, very utilitarian in nature and surprisingly still the best way to enjoy IF on your iPad or iPhone. Yes, despite its ageing nature, Frotz is a completely free must-have app for IF enthusiasts or anyone looking to explore the genre.
The app comes packed with free stories to play through straight away, and allows you to find and download more using the inbuilt Interactive Fiction Database (IFDB) browser. There’s a huge amount of text adventure to work your way through here, and Frotz is able to play any interactive titles in the Z-Machine format. It even comes with a pre-Infocom version of Zork that was written in MIT.
As you would expect from any IF engine, there’s plenty of options for customising how the stories appear on-screen. You can also import existing Z-Machine apps and data using a web-based file transfer, and backup your progress to Dropbox to automatically sync between multiple devices (perfect if you have an iPhone and iPad). If you have even a passing interest in IF, don’t hesitate in downloading Frotz.
The Lost Treasures of Infocom (Free, in-App Purchases)
When you hear the word “text adventure”, you probably picture one specific text adventure — Zork. This particular text adventure was incredibly advanced for the time, introducing the notion of prepositions and conjunctions to commands and though it has its roots in MIT’s Dynamic Modelling Group, the game was eventually published commercially by a company called Infocom.
Infocom soon became masters of interactive fiction, building up an impressive catalogue of titles and loyal customers for ten years between 1979 and 1989. Activision bought the company in 1986 and shut the division down in 1989, so releasing this collection of 27 Infocom classics is probably the best thing the company has done since its acquisition.
Featuring the original Zork as a free download, the rest of the collection can be unlocked for $9.99, or you can take the more expensive route and buy smaller collections of games for $2.99.
The Dreamhold (Free)
If you’ve never experienced interactive fiction before, you might want to start with The Dreamhold. Not only is this a completely free text adventure, it has been designed for people who have never played a text adventure before. The app will introduce the player to frequently-used commands and the general ethos of text adventures without overwhelming the player.
Of course, even if you are familiar with IF there’s probably enjoyment to be had here. The Dreamhold is a full-length adventure and features several side-quests and hidden engines. There are tutorials and hints that can be disabled, and an expert mode if you relish a challenge. The game features a dynamic map, a pop-up panel for common commands and there’s not an advertisement in sight.
Meanwhile is an interactive comic book from the same developer responsible for The Dreamhold. Unlike traditional interactive fiction, Meanwhile doesn’t provide you with a command line but instead invites you to pick your own adventure by making key decisions that split the story off into literally thousands of different adventures.
Originally a book, Meanwhile has been completely redesigned for iOS and takes the reader on a variety of exciting adventures — most of which will end in disaster. It might not be as deep as traditional IF, but it’s an interesting visual spin on the concept.
Blood & Laurels ($2.99, iPad-only)
In February 2013, Linden Lab, the company behind alternate-reality game Second Life, purchased a company called Little Text People. A few weeks later, Versu was announced as a platform on which to create character-driven interactive fiction. Blood & Laurels is the first adventure to use Versu, with a follow-up called Bramble House apparently under development.
The story itself is set in ancient Rome and puts you in charge of the fate of a poet called Marcus, who you must guide through conspiracies, prophecies, politics, and love. You control whether he lives or dies, where his loyalties lie, and how he interacts with AI characters who respond dynamically based on your inputs.
Blood & Laurels offers a refreshing spin on the IF genre, one that focuses on decisions and characters rather than physical actions or observation. The replay value is high too, with an average play-through only revealing 20% of the possible text.
Life of a Wizard ($2.99)
Much like Blood & Laurels, Life of a Wizard offers a slightly different take on the IF genre of gaming. For a change, you’ll be enjoying IF in the past tense as Life of a Wizard has you recounting your life’s story as an archmage. You must write your 130,000 word autobiography, providing input to fill in the missing details over the last 80-years of your life.
This isn’t a standard IF adventure either, as it relies on multiple choice selections to determine how the story proceeds — straddling the line between gamebooks and interactive fiction. As you make your decisions, statistics can help determine how good or evil you are, as well as various other attributes like fame and willpower. Will you have a wife and children? Or maybe you’ll end up as a member of the undead?
What Are Your Favourites?
These are just some of the best IF apps on the App Store — there’s bound to be more that we’ve missed and we’re always interested in your favourite apps. If you’re going to be playing a lot of these on your iPad, a Bluetooth keyboard might be a good idea.
What are your favourite interactive fiction experiences on iOS? You can add anything we missed in the comments below.