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A critical approach to interactive fiction, as literature and game.Interactive fiction--the best-known form of which is the text game or text adventure--has not received as much critical attention as have such other forms of electronic literature as hypertext fiction and the conversational programs known as chatterbots. Twisty Little Passages (the title refers to a maze in A critical approach to interactive fiction, as literature and game.Interactive fiction--the best-known form of which is the text game or text adventure--has not received as much critical attention as have such other forms of electronic literature as hypertext fiction and the conversational programs known as chatterbots. Twisty Little Passages (the title refers to a maze in Adventure, the first interactive fiction) is the first book-length consideration of this form, examining it from gaming and literary perspectives. Nick Montfort, an interactive fiction author himself, offers both aficionados and first-time users a way to approach interactive fiction that will lead to a more pleasurable and meaningful experience of it. Twisty Little Passages looks at interactive fiction beginning with its most important literary ancestor, the riddle. Montfort then discusses Adventure and its precursors (including the I Ching and Dungeons and Dragons), and follows this with an examination of mainframe text games developed in response, focusing on the most influential work of that era, Zork. He then considers the introduction of commercial interactive fiction for home computers, particularly that produced by Infocom. Commercial works inspired an independent reaction, and Montfort describes the emergence of independent creators and the development of an online interactive fiction community in the 1990s. Finally, he considers the influence of interactive fiction on other literary and gaming forms. With Twisty Little Passages, Nick Montfort places interactive fiction in its computational and literary contexts, opening up this still-developing form to new consideration.


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A critical approach to interactive fiction, as literature and game.Interactive fiction--the best-known form of which is the text game or text adventure--has not received as much critical attention as have such other forms of electronic literature as hypertext fiction and the conversational programs known as chatterbots. Twisty Little Passages (the title refers to a maze in A critical approach to interactive fiction, as literature and game.Interactive fiction--the best-known form of which is the text game or text adventure--has not received as much critical attention as have such other forms of electronic literature as hypertext fiction and the conversational programs known as chatterbots. Twisty Little Passages (the title refers to a maze in Adventure, the first interactive fiction) is the first book-length consideration of this form, examining it from gaming and literary perspectives. Nick Montfort, an interactive fiction author himself, offers both aficionados and first-time users a way to approach interactive fiction that will lead to a more pleasurable and meaningful experience of it. Twisty Little Passages looks at interactive fiction beginning with its most important literary ancestor, the riddle. Montfort then discusses Adventure and its precursors (including the I Ching and Dungeons and Dragons), and follows this with an examination of mainframe text games developed in response, focusing on the most influential work of that era, Zork. He then considers the introduction of commercial interactive fiction for home computers, particularly that produced by Infocom. Commercial works inspired an independent reaction, and Montfort describes the emergence of independent creators and the development of an online interactive fiction community in the 1990s. Finally, he considers the influence of interactive fiction on other literary and gaming forms. With Twisty Little Passages, Nick Montfort places interactive fiction in its computational and literary contexts, opening up this still-developing form to new consideration.

30 review for Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aneel

    Sadly, I found this rather dull. It's literary criticism about Infocom-style text adventure games. Because this is a pretty new field (the games have been around for decades, but apparently nobody has given them a serious critical reading), the author spends a good deal of time just defining terms and providing a history of the genre. Montfort spends an early chapter arguing that text adventure games are descendants of riddles, a more established literary form. This seems to be the meaty idea in Sadly, I found this rather dull. It's literary criticism about Infocom-style text adventure games. Because this is a pretty new field (the games have been around for decades, but apparently nobody has given them a serious critical reading), the author spends a good deal of time just defining terms and providing a history of the genre. Montfort spends an early chapter arguing that text adventure games are descendants of riddles, a more established literary form. This seems to be the meaty idea in the book, but I felt it wasn't very well-developed. Perhaps I'm just not used to reading criticism, but it seemed like he was constantly telling the reader about the point he was about to make, rather than making the point. I'm tempted to play a bunch of the recent works he describes. I didn't get much more out of the book than that, though.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bond

    A well-researched book on a fascinating topic, "Twisty Little Passages" is still surprisingly leaden. I suspect the issue is organization. Telling the history of interactive gaming mainly as a historical development, with some academic overlay, obscures the reasons this form should be of more general interest. Organization by theme, or by problem/ controversy in the form, could have brought more life to the account. A well-researched book on a fascinating topic, "Twisty Little Passages" is still surprisingly leaden. I suspect the issue is organization. Telling the history of interactive gaming mainly as a historical development, with some academic overlay, obscures the reasons this form should be of more general interest. Organization by theme, or by problem/ controversy in the form, could have brought more life to the account.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    The subtitle to this book is "An approach to interactive fiction." I was expecting some suggestion on how to actually "approach" interactive fiction, either as a player or as a writer. Maybe some suggestions as to how best navigate a work. Or maybe some suggestion on how to approach interactive fiction from the point of writing a work (best practices, common pitfalls, etc). Either way, I would have been interested and appreciative. Instead, what this book really is is a very comprehensive histor The subtitle to this book is "An approach to interactive fiction." I was expecting some suggestion on how to actually "approach" interactive fiction, either as a player or as a writer. Maybe some suggestions as to how best navigate a work. Or maybe some suggestion on how to approach interactive fiction from the point of writing a work (best practices, common pitfalls, etc). Either way, I would have been interested and appreciative. Instead, what this book really is is a very comprehensive history of the form. As a historical lesson, this book is spot on. But I didn't need to read page after page after page of the author proving that interactive fiction is actually a new form of the riddle. While learning the history was nice, it's not what I was looking for, and the book read at times like a dry history book. For those looking for the history of interactive fiction, this book is for you. For those looking for some insight on how to actually use interactive fiction, as either a player or a designer, this one misses the mark.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Cosby

    I'm probably the only person other than Montfort's editor to read this twice, but it is weirdly comforting for me. Montfort takes text adventures (I like this term better than "interactive fiction") seriously, and his seriousness is what makes this book so special. Still a solid 4 stars. Like I said in my first review: not for everyone, but if you were as enchanted by the early text adventures as I was, you might like it. The first time (in 9th grade) when I typed in "look at book" or "open lock I'm probably the only person other than Montfort's editor to read this twice, but it is weirdly comforting for me. Montfort takes text adventures (I like this term better than "interactive fiction") seriously, and his seriousness is what makes this book so special. Still a solid 4 stars. Like I said in my first review: not for everyone, but if you were as enchanted by the early text adventures as I was, you might like it. The first time (in 9th grade) when I typed in "look at book" or "open lock with key" and the computer knew what I meant, I was blown away. I'm old now, and those bountiful feelings of endless possibilities are mostly gone, but this book does a good job taking me back to those wide-eyed days of yore. Old review: It wasn't until after I finished reading this that I realized it was actually classified as a textbook. Makes sense now. 95% of the population, hell, 99.9% of the population would hate this book. However, if you came of age in the early 80's and played Adventure and Zork, you will really appreciate this book. Very analytical, stretched some of the comparisons a bit, but all in all a pleasurable geek read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    thirtytwobirds

    I got about a quarter of the way into this and had to stop. It's just awful. I tried to give this one a fair shot. I really did. One of this author's other books, Racing the Beam, has enough technical content to make it worth wading through all the countless "I am smart so let me use lots of big-sounding words" pages. Another of his books, 10 PRINT, starts off painful but eventually starts talking about *actual things* instead of handwavey wankery. But this book never seems to evolve past the "let' I got about a quarter of the way into this and had to stop. It's just awful. I tried to give this one a fair shot. I really did. One of this author's other books, Racing the Beam, has enough technical content to make it worth wading through all the countless "I am smart so let me use lots of big-sounding words" pages. Another of his books, 10 PRINT, starts off painful but eventually starts talking about *actual things* instead of handwavey wankery. But this book never seems to evolve past the "let's define lots of impressive soundings words by referring to other impressive sounding words" stage. I had to stop. I couldn't take it. I'm sorry.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    A well-researched history of interactive fiction, but with problems holding my interest. There's little investigation into the substantive technical details of the IF platforms, and the insight into IF stories and their various elements is only skin-deep and that bit vastly over-analyzed. The one redeeming part is the chapter on Infocom's history and games. If that strikes your interest then skim it, otherwise skip it and try Jimmy Maher's book about the Amiga instead: The Future Was Here: The C A well-researched history of interactive fiction, but with problems holding my interest. There's little investigation into the substantive technical details of the IF platforms, and the insight into IF stories and their various elements is only skin-deep and that bit vastly over-analyzed. The one redeeming part is the chapter on Infocom's history and games. If that strikes your interest then skim it, otherwise skip it and try Jimmy Maher's book about the Amiga instead: The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Olivia Dunlap

    There is some really good information here, but I feel like it gets a bit lost in its own twisty passages. The sections seem to ramble, and a larger portion of the book simply presented history of the form than I expected. Overall, I do recommend it to anyone interested in interactive fiction at all, but to those who are already familiar with the format and its history, only a few chapters will be of much interest. Personally, I learned a lot and have many of pages bookmarked for future referenc There is some really good information here, but I feel like it gets a bit lost in its own twisty passages. The sections seem to ramble, and a larger portion of the book simply presented history of the form than I expected. Overall, I do recommend it to anyone interested in interactive fiction at all, but to those who are already familiar with the format and its history, only a few chapters will be of much interest. Personally, I learned a lot and have many of pages bookmarked for future reference/referral.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dustin George-Miller

    Those who poorly rate this book for it being "dry" or "academic" completely miss the point -- this is a textbook, an academic history of interactive fiction from its progenitors to its current state (at the time of this book's publication). In that sense, this book fits in perfectly with the genre. I was particularly interested in the chapters on Adventure, Zork, and Infocom as they are the main reasons I became interested in IF in the first place, and this book doesn't disappoint. It is good to Those who poorly rate this book for it being "dry" or "academic" completely miss the point -- this is a textbook, an academic history of interactive fiction from its progenitors to its current state (at the time of this book's publication). In that sense, this book fits in perfectly with the genre. I was particularly interested in the chapters on Adventure, Zork, and Infocom as they are the main reasons I became interested in IF in the first place, and this book doesn't disappoint. It is good to see an academic approach to this influential part of gaming history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Koosha Madani

    I am doing research on Interactive Fiction as a new genre of literature. This book really came to my help. Nick Montfort, the writer, gives a great insight about IF history and its fundamentals and proposed theories. The book is full of valuable references and it can open doors to alternative fields of study related to Interactive fiction and adventure gaming.

  10. 4 out of 5

    DeadWeight

    "Holy crap did he just take 32 pages to be upset about Adventure being unfairly maligned" Zork all day every day tho. "Holy crap did he just take 32 pages to be upset about Adventure being unfairly maligned" Zork all day every day tho.

  11. 4 out of 5

    S G-W

    A good resource, but the writing structure just totally breaks down in the final third. Feels like a victim of a “deadline.”

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Kennedy

    Great book about interactive fiction and text-based adventure games as an outgrowth of early rpgs. A little dry, yeah, but honestly for anyone who grew up with an Atari 800 or a TRS 80 this stuff is catnip. Great bit of pop culture history. Nothing else really like it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nick Carraway LLC

    1) "Works of interactive fiction also present simulated worlds: These are not merely the setting of the literature that is realized; they also, among other things, serve to constrain and define the operation of the narrative-generating program. IF worlds are reflected in, but not equivalent to, maps, object trees, and descriptive texts. The IF world is no less than the content plane of interactive fiction, just as the story is the content plane of a narrative." 2) "The riddle is not only the most 1) "Works of interactive fiction also present simulated worlds: These are not merely the setting of the literature that is realized; they also, among other things, serve to constrain and define the operation of the narrative-generating program. IF worlds are reflected in, but not equivalent to, maps, object trees, and descriptive texts. The IF world is no less than the content plane of interactive fiction, just as the story is the content plane of a narrative." 2) "The riddle is not only the most important early ancestor of interactive fiction but also an extremely valuable figure for understanding it, perhaps the most directly useful figure in considering the aesthetics and poetics of the form today." 3) "The writing of an IF work is not some surface feature to be applied at the last moment any more than the choice of words in a riddle can be done 'last.' Although structure as well as writing is important, the writing is intimately related to the workings of an IF world. The arrangement of challenges and the way in which the IF world can be experienced can be discussed with reference to the riddle. (An art such as architecture, which considers that people may take different courses through a space, also has advantages in considering this aspect.) To understand how language functions in interactive fiction and what the literary aspects of interactive fiction are, the best comparison seems to be not to the novel but to the form of poetry considered here, the riddle. The riddle, like an IF work, must express itself clearly enough to be solved, obliquely enough to be challenging, and beautifully enough to be compelling. These are all different aspects of the same goal; they are not in competition. An excellent interactive fiction work is no more 'a crossword at war with a narrative' [...] than a poem is sound at war with sense." 4) "'I'd set my theme, I'd set my locations, and I'd start putting items in and putting in puzzles. I'd get the game about two thirds done and then I would stop. The next one third of the game literally came from the people I gave to play the game. I'd watch how they played the game, I'd watch what they tried to do with the items that I never thought they might try to do.'" (Scott Adams, on process) 5) "Developing twenty implementations of the Z-machine and twenty IF works would result in four hundred saleable products. Mike Dornbrook, Infocom's director of marketing, said this cross-platform availability was important to the company's bottom line: no single computer platform ever accounted for more than 25 percent of Infocom's revenue in any quarter." 6) "As is the case for other forms of computer literature, while creative progress in interactive fiction is essential to the future of the form, such progress will be almost impossible, and will be for all practical purposes irrelevant, if the number of people with a deep interest in interactive fiction, worldwide, is only in the hundreds. The true popularity of computer literature---not its mass marketability or brazen promotion, but rather making works in the form available to those outside a narrow academic or newsgroup-based community---is an essential, not incidental, concern for all writers who use the computer as a medium for their work."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Twisty Little Passages considers interactive fiction (IF) -- text adventures -- and explores ideas of how to analyze and understand them as creative works. It also provides a short overview or history of significant IF works, and describes a little bit of how IF continues to be developed today. The text does a reasonable job of all those elements, but unfortunately it does a poor job of really delving into interesting ideas of how particular works were developed. The first few chapters focus more Twisty Little Passages considers interactive fiction (IF) -- text adventures -- and explores ideas of how to analyze and understand them as creative works. It also provides a short overview or history of significant IF works, and describes a little bit of how IF continues to be developed today. The text does a reasonable job of all those elements, but unfortunately it does a poor job of really delving into interesting ideas of how particular works were developed. The first few chapters focus more on considering how IF works fit into literature or other creative works, and focuses quite a bit on riddles. There's really not that much meat there; Montfort goes into a detailed history and categorization of riddles that isn't all that relevant to IF. The bulk of the work covers a number of significant IF works, and this was the section that I enjoyed the most in this book. I was hoping it would grip me in the same way that another of Montfort's books (Racing the Beam) did -- but, sadly, most works were only summarized. A few especially interesting interactive fiction works did get more attention, but I ended up feeling that only a small fraction of their interesting aspects were covered. The last part of Twisty Little Passages covers more current IF development. I was hoping that this book would explore deep aspects of how interaction fiction was created -- technical challenges, stories of how authors and companies approached them, and so on. Sadly, those topics were not explored to the depths I would have liked.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lightreads

    Okay, awesome. A historical/literary/narratological analysis of interactive fiction (computer games played entirely by text). I have a deep, long-standing affection for IF, so seeing someone's academic take on it was delightful. I mean, it's the intersection of the human/computer interface and the reader/literature interface; of course I think it's cool. Only disappointing in that Montfort missed the point a bit in his brief discussions of player character gender. Though these games are usually p Okay, awesome. A historical/literary/narratological analysis of interactive fiction (computer games played entirely by text). I have a deep, long-standing affection for IF, so seeing someone's academic take on it was delightful. I mean, it's the intersection of the human/computer interface and the reader/literature interface; of course I think it's cool. Only disappointing in that Montfort missed the point a bit in his brief discussions of player character gender. Though these games are usually played by personal avatar in a very intimate psychological sense, it's clear that the default assumption of most games is the male viewpoint, and Montfort does very little except gesture vaguely in that direction and wonder about a game that would allow the expression of gender and sexuality as different concepts. Also, his focus on the Inform gaming platform excludes some really interesting work done in TADS, to name the most important alternative. Montfort also excludes discussion of IF as a favored gaming medium for the blind community, which I personally think is a pretty stunning oversight. Someone really needs to start talking about IF as transformative works because, well, yes.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mjhancock

    Nick Montfort summarizes the field of the interactive fiction, computer fiction where the reader/user is required to input text in response to computer output. The book starts with a defining of terminology (command, directive, parser, interactor) and then goes into a discussion of the riddle, which is the rhetorical lenses Montfort chooses to examine interactive fiction. From there, he delivers an overview of the medium's history: its predecessors, its early days as mainframe text adventures, i Nick Montfort summarizes the field of the interactive fiction, computer fiction where the reader/user is required to input text in response to computer output. The book starts with a defining of terminology (command, directive, parser, interactor) and then goes into a discussion of the riddle, which is the rhetorical lenses Montfort chooses to examine interactive fiction. From there, he delivers an overview of the medium's history: its predecessors, its early days as mainframe text adventures, its commercial heyday with Infocom and other developers, and its current existence as a sort of indie form for creative works. Largely, the book is a set of tools for further studies; you have your collection of important works, a basic method for approaching these works, and a history of the form. But there's also a few in-depth analyses: Zork, Adventure, A Mind Forever Voyaging, and Pinsky's Mindwheel, for example. He rather studiously avoids lumping the interactive fiction with game studies (this isn't going to be a discussion on play, for example) and hypertext fiction. Basically, the book is an essential resource for anyone researching the field.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    Probably the only major work on interactive fiction (IF) that you will find on book shelves. I am big fan of IF and after planning to for some time, I finally got around to borrowing it from my University library. The author is a prominent academic who has even written IF himself, and was nice enough to email me back when I told him how much I enjoyed his book! It is a wonderful history and analysis of the IF from its early stages right up until the era of independent development today. Non IF fans Probably the only major work on interactive fiction (IF) that you will find on book shelves. I am big fan of IF and after planning to for some time, I finally got around to borrowing it from my University library. The author is a prominent academic who has even written IF himself, and was nice enough to email me back when I told him how much I enjoyed his book! It is a wonderful history and analysis of the IF from its early stages right up until the era of independent development today. Non IF fans will probably struggle to find an excuse to pick this book up, but if you do you won't be able to resist the urge to give IF a try. For existing fans, you will probably learn something new or enjoy the more scientific assessment of IF offered here. The only low point what the chapter on 'Riddles' which bored me to tears, but this is a minor criticism. Please give this book a go even if you have never heard of IF, you really won't regret it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Timothy

    While I found the first two chapters to be a bit tedious, this book turned out to be a comprehensive and inspired platform for bringing interactive fiction to a large audience. Montfort is well informed from a technical standpoint and takes a historical approach; he cites just enough literary theory to provide insight without losing focus. I could have done without his little attempts to be cute, but otherwise he writes in an accessible and polished tone that lives up to academic standards. This While I found the first two chapters to be a bit tedious, this book turned out to be a comprehensive and inspired platform for bringing interactive fiction to a large audience. Montfort is well informed from a technical standpoint and takes a historical approach; he cites just enough literary theory to provide insight without losing focus. I could have done without his little attempts to be cute, but otherwise he writes in an accessible and polished tone that lives up to academic standards. This is certainly a work of scholarship, but it also functions as effective IF evangelism: I found myself wanting to play the games covered in the book as well as to explore developments occurring in the near-decade since its publication. I'm now interested in Montfort's career, and I'm especially excited to experience this collaboration with Ian Bogost.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jason Lautzenheiser

    As an avid IF gamer going back to the 80s and sometimes author in the last 5 years, I really enjoyed this retrospective into IF history. There were times when the book got a little dry, but it held my interest because it brought back childhood memories when I was playing old Scott Adams games on my Vic20 and finally graduated to my first few Infocom games. It brought back memories of my neighbor and I trying to create our own text adventure and to this day he and I talk about those days more oft As an avid IF gamer going back to the 80s and sometimes author in the last 5 years, I really enjoyed this retrospective into IF history. There were times when the book got a little dry, but it held my interest because it brought back childhood memories when I was playing old Scott Adams games on my Vic20 and finally graduated to my first few Infocom games. It brought back memories of my neighbor and I trying to create our own text adventure and to this day he and I talk about those days more often than not. The book brought back those types of memories for me, so for that I rate it highly. If you're new to the genre, then perhaps it's a bit dry yet well researched work, but for those of us that perhaps have a long history with Interactive Fiction, it will bring back great memories.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jlawrence

    Remember text adventures? Infocom games of yore? 'Interactive fiction' is alive and well thanks to the efforts of a small but vibrant community of hobbyists who continue creating new games to this day. This book is an intriguing effort to apply scholarly analysis to interactive fiction efforts of past and present. I don't always agree with Montford's conclusions, and some of the history of the medium he gives is not much different from similar accounts available on the web, but a worthy read non Remember text adventures? Infocom games of yore? 'Interactive fiction' is alive and well thanks to the efforts of a small but vibrant community of hobbyists who continue creating new games to this day. This book is an intriguing effort to apply scholarly analysis to interactive fiction efforts of past and present. I don't always agree with Montford's conclusions, and some of the history of the medium he gives is not much different from similar accounts available on the web, but a worthy read nonetheless.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    I found this book in a search, because if it hadn't been written, I was going to write it. However, Montford, left no stone, literally (in IF), unturned on the topic. Super detailed and semantic. I just wanted to relive all of Infocom's games and find out what interactive fiction looks like nowadays. Also, best title ever. I found this book in a search, because if it hadn't been written, I was going to write it. However, Montford, left no stone, literally (in IF), unturned on the topic. Super detailed and semantic. I just wanted to relive all of Infocom's games and find out what interactive fiction looks like nowadays. Also, best title ever.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Cahhal

    Good, but not what I was expecting Warning, this is more of a history of interactive fiction than a tutorial of it, though I found it thoroughly interesting all the same. Interesting to hear about how all this got started,as well as how it could still grow given the right growth opportunities.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt Willem

    I loved this in large part due to my special enthusiasm for the subject matter: the original Adventure games. The book situates those (pure text) games in the literary tradition, and traces the story from their commercial heyday to the online hobbyist community still carrying the torch.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    I liked this book, but it is very academic. I would only recommend it to people interested in experimental narrative techniques (and the history thereof) or who are fans of interactive fiction.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    A really interesting overview of interactive fiction, from its earliest ancestor, the riddle, to the state of the genre today.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    An introduction to interactive fiction. Covers the early history of IF (mostly Adventure and Infocom), but looks at how the genre continues through the new millennium.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris Pimlott

    Skip the first few chapters unless you're really into dry academic analysis. It's much more interesting after that once it gets into the history of interactive fiction. Skip the first few chapters unless you're really into dry academic analysis. It's much more interesting after that once it gets into the history of interactive fiction.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Morbus Iff

    A little heavy, but an important read nonetheless.

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Tobias

    Gives a great insight into interactive fiction, a must read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Magnuson

    An interesting and inspiring look at a very under-treated form.

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