Help (Interactive Fiction)

Instructions For Play

Computer Lab
Manuals? Manuals? I don’t need no stinking manuals!

The games in this part of the website are works of Interactive Fiction (IF). In an interactive fiction, you play the main character of the story. You move the action along by typing in commands describing what your character does. Some IF games include graphics, but most do not. The imagery is provided by your imagination. On the other hand, in most IF games, you are free to explore, make mistakes, and work out the best course of action.

What to do with >

The > sign is where the game says: “Okay, what do you want to do now?” You respond by typing an instruction—usually an imperative verb, possibly followed by prepositions and objects.

For example:

You are in a park with a small pond. Some fish are swimming in the pond.

The fish swim shyly away as you stare at them.

The fish quickly swims out of reach.

Getting Started

The first thing you want to do when starting a game is acquaint yourself with your surroundings and get a sense of your goal. To this end, you should read the introductory text carefully. It contains clues to where you are, what you need to do, and where you can go.

Notice any mention of directions you can go, or what objects are described. If any of these seem interesting, you may want to EXAMINE them. (You can abbreviate the EXAMINE command as X but you have to specify the name of an object).

You might also want to examine yourself (LOOK AT ME or X ME) to see if there are any clues about your character or the object of the game. INVENTORY (or INV or just I) will tell you what you’re carrying as well.

Once you have your bearings, you can explore the game world by moving from place to place, checking out every location available.

Rooms & Travel

Every place you can travel to in an IF game is called a “room.” It’s a room even if it’s in the middle of a forest, or a pile of rocks in a gully, or a maze of twisty little passages, or even a room. When you go to a room, the game prints a description of what you can see there. The description should give you two vital pieces of information: things in the room you can interact with, and directions you can go from here. If you want to see the description again, just type LOOK (or L for short).

When you want to leave a location, you use compass directions (or whatever directions the game gave you). For example, a location might say you can go north, east or south. The command for that is GO [DIRECTION]. Most games let you skip the verb and just specify the direction (usually NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, WEST, NORTHEAST, SOUTHEAST, NORTHWEST, SOUTHWEST, UP or DOWN). Some games even let you use just an abbreviation (N, S, E, W, NE, SE, NW, SW, U or D). And, some games even recognize IN, OUT, ENTER or EXIT.


As you move from place to place there will be assorted objects you can interact with. Most importantly, you can TAKE or GET items, and when you are tired of them, DROP them again. Items you take are added to your inventory. Items you drop are removed from your inventory and usually remain where you dropped them.

Objects important enough to be included in the game can be used for various purposes. Depending on the type of object you might be able to OPEN, CLOSE, WEAR, EAT, LOCK and UNLOCK it. The game won’t stop you from trying something silly like WEAR EGGS or EAT SHOE.

Sometimes you will find that the game does not recognize the name of an object even though it has been described as being in the room with you. This is usually a sign that the item is scenery and not important enough to interact with.

Controlling the Game

There are a few simple commands for controlling the game itself:

  • SAVE saves a snapshot of the game as it is now.
  • RESTORE puts the game back to a previous saved state.
  • RESTART puts the game back to the way it was at the beginning.
  • QUIT ends the game.

How the World is Assembled

Most IF games are set in a world made up of rooms without internal division. A room can be small or large, but you don’t have to move around the room. For example, the game might describe a Lobby with an office door, through which is the Main Office. The game will expect you to ENTER OFFICE, but once inside the office you don’t need to WALK OVER TO THE DESK.

Some things in a room might be described as being high or out of reach. In this case you might have to stand on an object or climb a ladder. You only need to worry about this kind of activity if prompted by the game text. For example, the office description might tell you “the regulation manuals are neatly lined up on shelves far up near the ceiling.” If you say GET 1812 REGULATIONS the game might respond with:

You’ll need a ladder for that.


(Getting ladder)
You climb the ladder high up to the top shelf and retrieve the 1812 Regulation Manual.

The concept of containment is thoroughly modeled in most IF games. Things can be on or in a desk, under a desk, hanging on a hook, or folded neatly in an envelope, in a ledger, in a file, in the bottom drawer of the desk. The game keeps track of this, and many puzzles have to do with where things are—in the player’s possession, lying on the floor of the room, on a table, in a box, etc.

Types of Action

Most of the actions you can perform in the world of IF are brief and specific. WALK WEST or OPEN DOOR are likely to be provided. TAKE A JOURNEY or BUILD A TABLE are not. Things like GO TO THE HOTEL are on the borderline: some games allow them, but most do not. In general, abstract, multi-stage behavior usually has to be broken down in order for the game to understand it.

Other Characters

Other characters in IF games are sometimes rather limited. On the other hand, there are also games in which character interaction is the main point of the game. You should be able to get a feel early on for the characters—if they seem to respond to a lot of questions, remember what they’re told, move around on their own, etc., then they may be fairly important. If they have a lot of stock responses and don’t seem to have been the game designer’s main concern, then they are most likely present either as local color or to provide the solution to a specific puzzle or set of puzzles. Characters in very puzzle-oriented games often have to be bribed, threatened, or cajoled into doing something that the player cannot do—giving up a piece of information or an object, reaching something high, allowing the player into a restricted area, and so on.

If You Get Stuck


Examine every object and look at everything in your inventory. Open all the doors you can find, and go through them. Look inside all closed containers. Make sure you’ve exhausted all the options in your environment.

Try out all your senses. If the game mentions texture, odor, or sound, try touching, smelling, listening to, or tasting objects.

Be thorough. If you still can’t figure out what to do, try opening windows, looking under beds, etc. Sometimes objects are well-hidden.

Read Carefully

Reread. Look back at things you’ve already looked at. Sometimes this will trigger an idea you hadn’t thought of.

Take hints from the prose of the game. Things that are described in great detail are probably more important than things that are given one-liners. Play with those objects. If a machine is described as having component parts, look at the parts, and try manipulating them. Likewise, notice the verbs that the game itself uses. Try using those yourself. Games often include special verbs—the names of magic spells, or other special commands. There’s no harm in attempting something if the game mentions it.

Check the whole screen. Are there extra windows besides the main window? What’s going on in those? Check out the status window, if there is one—it may contain the name of the room you’re in, your score, the time of day, your character’s state of health, or some other important information. If there’s something up there, it’s worth paying attention to that, too. When and where does it change? Why is it significant? If the bar is describing your character’s health, you can bet there is probably a point at which that will be important.

Be Creative

Rephrase. If there’s something you want to do, but the game doesn’t seem to understand you, try alternative wordings.

Try variations. Sometimes an action doesn’t work, but does produce some kind of unusual result. These are often indications that you’re on the right track, even if you haven’t figured out quite the right approach yet. Pressing the red button alone may only cause a grinding noise from inside the wall, so perhaps pressing the blue and then the red will open the secret door.

Consider the genre of the game. Mysteries, romances, and thrillers all have their own types of action and motivation. What are you trying to do, and how do conventional characters go about doing that? What’s the right sort of behavior for a detective/romance heroine/spy?


Play with someone else. Two heads are often better than one. If that doesn’t work, try emailing the author or (better yet) posting a request for hints on the “Game Discussion, Hints and Reviews” forum at For best results, put the name of the game you want help with in the subject line and describe your problem as clearly as possible in your post. Enclose the problem in the available spoiler tags (highlight the text and click the “spoiler” button) so that no one will read about how you got to where you are in the game by accident. Someone on the forum will probably be able to tell you how to solve your problem or offer suggestions.