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How to play Interactive Fiction and Text Adventure Games
(on MS Windows PC's)


Playing text adventure games (often referred to as "Interactive Fiction") is a fascinating hobby. There are many good "IF" games available for free download from the Internet.

Most modern "IF" games are packaged in a form called a game-file. Each game-file contains an individual game which you can download and then play using a game-reader program called an "interpreter." There are several different formats of game-file. I'll mention the two most popular ones here - "TADS" and "Inform." (If you wish, you can investigate using some of the other formats later once you're familiar with the Big Two. After you've been playing TADS and Inform games for a while, come back to this page and check out some of the links at the bottom of the page for information about other IF game formats.)

text adventure screenshot
Playing an 'IF' Game
(click pic to enlarge)

Installing the Game Reader Software

Most IF games are produced in either the TADS or the Inform formats. A different 'interpreter' program is needed to read each type. The "HTML TADS" interpreter plays TADS games while "WinFrotz" plays Inform games. Download and install both the following programs so that you can play games made in both formats.
HTML TADS screenshot

  • Download the HTML TADS Player's Kit,
  • double-click on the downloaded file to install it (if the install doesn't start automatically on your PC.)
  • Say Yes when prompted to create 'file associations'. (Creating 'file associations' will mean you can play TADS games simply by double-clicking on a file containing a TADS game. The names of TADS-format game-files end in ".gam". So now if you double-click on any file on your PC with ".gam" at the end of its name, the HTML TADS program will open up and run the game.)
    WinFrotz screenshot

  • Now download WinFrotz.
  • (The WinFrotz program is stored in a "Zipped" compressed file. You've probably already got software on your PC to uncompress Zip files. If not download and install PKZip for Windows from PK Ware.)
  • Double-click on the downloaded WinFrotz file to uncompress it into a new disk folder such as "c:\program files\winfrotz".
  • Now double-click on My Computer, navigate to your new Winfrotz folder and double-click on the file advent.z5,
  • Windows will pop up a dialog box asking what program you want to use to open this file.
  • Type in a description in the 'Description' box such as "Inform Game"
  • WinFrotz won't be listed in the available programs list, so click the "Other" button at the bottom right of the dialog box.
  • an 'Open with...' dialog box will appear which should be displaying the name winfrotz.exe. That's the right program so double-click on "winfrotz.exe". (If winfrotz.exe is not displayed, navigate within the 'open with.." dialog box to the folder where you installed WinFrotz (eg: c:\program files\winfrotz) where you should see the winfrotz.exe file and then double-click on that filename.)
  • Then click OK to close the dialog box and you're all done. The 'Adventure' game will now start playing. You can have a go at playing it or type quit to exit from the game then select File Exit from the WinFrotz menu to close WinFrotz. (By the way, Adventure is an Inform'ised version of the first text adventure game--written in the late 1970's, I think. Its not the easiest IF game to play first but I suggest coming back to it after playing some other games to give you an idea where the text adventure genre came from.)
  • (Some big Inform games have a name ending in ".z8" rather than ".z5" so when you download your first ".z8" game you'll have to repeat the process of creating a File Type association. This time, though, the process will be simpler because WinFrotz will be listed as one of the available programs so just type in a 'Description' (eg: "Inform Game" again) and then select WinFrotz from near the bottom of the list of available programs. Then click OK.

  • Downloading IF Games

    Now with the 'interpreters' installed you can download some interactive fiction games and easily play them as your PC will "know" how to open and run them.

    I suggest creating a folder on your Desktop to hold the IF games you download. You can do this by right-clicking on an empty piece of your PC's Windows Desktop. Then select New and then Folder from the pop-up menu that appears. Name your new folder "Text Adventures" or "IF Games".

    There is a heap of games to choose from. It can be hard to know where to start. So I recommend starting with a few of the suggestions at a site called "The Best of IF" which is maintained by Suzanne Britton. This "Best of..." list is Suzanne's opinion, you may not like all her picks but you're sure to find some that you really enjoy. Choose a game that sounds interesting, double-click on the downloadable game-file -- which will be labelled either TADS or Inform -- and save the file into your new "IF Games" folder on your desktop. Play the game by opening your "IF Games" folder and then double-clicking on the game file.

    Here's a few games picked from Suzanne's list which I think are particularly suitable for beginners:

  • "The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet" by Graham Nelson (great game in traditional adventure-game genre, good built-in hints)
  • "Glowgrass" by Nate Cull (sci-fi)
  • "Uncle Zebulon's Will" by Magnus Olsson (fantasy)
  • "The Plant" by Michael J. Roberts ('conspiracy theory' genre)
  • "Arrival" by Stephen Granade (sci-fi)
  • "Dowtown Tokyo, Present Day" by Digby McWiggle ('monster movie?!')
  • "Photopia" by Adam Cadre (hmmm, fine-art IF?) (A tip: on WinFrotz menu select View | Display Options and turn on 'Use Full Color" as Photopia makes use of various bits of coloured text.)
  • If you haven't played text adventure games before then you'll probably find Adam Cadre's "Getting Started" guide to playing IF games helpful.

    Some useful links

  • IFaq - answers to frequently asked Interactive Fiction questions
  • beginners' guides and tutorials from "Brass Lantern"
  • The rec.games.int-fiction newsgroup discusses playing IF. You can ask for game hints here.
  • (If you don't have a 'Usenet newsreader' set up on your PC, use the Web-based access to rec.games.int-fiction at Google.com instead)
  • Baf's Guide - a guide to the games at the Interactive Fiction Archive
  • The huge, and daunting, Interactive Fiction Archive itself
  • Jonadab's Guide and the "playgame" FAQ offer more information about playing the various types of IF games

    Last update (v8) 20th July 2003
    Please email any comments or corrections to Stephen Griffiths (stephen.griffiths "AT" xtra.co.nz)