The Interactive Fiction SMS Text Based App I Never Built

I wondered if I could build a SMS/text-based interactive fiction (IF) app. This is a story of how I researched the problem, but ultimately failed to actually execute on making one.

I didn’t know what I was looking for or even if it existed, but I had the desire to play a game via SMS (simple message service) text message that would allow me to unravel a mystery – something that would tell me a story throughout the day as long as I kept interacting with it.

I was influenced by early childhood memories of reading “choose your own adventure” books and playing point-and-click adventure games like Shadowgate. In both cases the choices you made in the game affect the outcome and this interactivity with the story intrigued me (Note: I’ve written about games like Shadowgate before).

Cavern of the Evil Wizard

I did searches for “SMS games” and “text message games”, but couldn’t find anything. I eventually started searching for “text based games” which led me to discover the term “interactive fiction“. I immediately recognized it as the type of games portrayed in Tom Hanks’ Big (Cavern of the Evil Wizard) and the original Leisure Suit Larry.

A friend of mine had the 1987 MS-DOS game, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards and we would have to hide from his parents to play the game. In the game, Larry is controlled by a text parser that can interpret typed commands like “talk to woman”. You never knew exactly what to say or how the game would react.

It seemed the interactive fiction community was quite small by Internet standards as I kept running across one name: Andrew Plotkin, who also goes by Zarf. That lead me to download some IF apps on the iPhone and learn about some apps you can use to create your own IF games.

I looked into Twillio for the SMS gateway, but eventually I learned enough to realize I didn’t really want to make my own IF game. Sometimes I do that. I think I want to do something, like making furniture, designing an app, or designing games, and then once I know how, I stop. That happens sometimes.

Interactive Fiction Resources