The Creator Of ADRIFT On The Future Of IF And More!

I have known about ADRIFT for a while now, a tool to create text adventures. I find it almost like the Engine 001 of the text adventure world and so that article sort of sprung to this. I was interested in hearing more about what is going on behind the lines though, so I contacted the creator, Campbell, for the story on ADRIFT and his thoughts on text adventures.

For people who don’t know, what is a text adventure (or interactive fiction)?

Text adventures (which are now more generally known as interactive fiction, although I still prefer the old term) are games where the player interacts with the computer by reading a story and inputting text commands. And one of the great things about text adventures is the only limits are your imagination, much like reading a book.

In a typical text adventure, you control the protagonist, wandering around an imaginary world, exploring, looking for clues and solving puzzles. Old-school adventures used to very much be a case of finding a key, opening doors, finding the treasure etc, but games have also moved on, and now tend to be more like interactive novels.

Tell us a bit about yourself (Campbell) and ADRIFT.

I’m 36, married, and live in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve been working on ADRIFT since 1997, about the time I left University. At the time, there weren’t any simple text adventure creation systems available that I was aware of, and I wanted to make a system that people with no programming experience could use, to create a game. The very first version was a simple command line application that constructed a game after asking a few questions. It wasn’t editable, but it did create the basis for playing a game with data, and I learned a lot from this. It evolved into a second DOS based version, which you can find on the ADRIFT website.

When I got Visual Basic for Windows, I started over again, removing many of the restrictions from the earlier version, and adding many new features. Once people started using the software, it evolved and eventually became version 4. This has been very successful due to how easy it is to use, but has been heavily criticised by members of the IF community.

I finally decided, that rather than try to correct the problems with version 4, I would start over from scratch again. This time, I used Visual Studio.Net, which opened doors to newer technology and portability. ADRIFT 5 was a very long time in the making, and a lot of ‘drifters (a term adopted by the ADRIFT community) began to think it was vaporware (software intended to be written, but never started) or abandonware (abandoned before it was completed). However, I pressed on and finally got a release out. Over the past couple of years I have slowly been adding functionality and removing bugs, and ADRIFT 5 is now getting to the point where it is a fully fledged IF system, capable of competing with the more-powerful-yet-harder-to-use systems. Also, recently I launched WebRunner, a game player that can run adventures through web browsers and mobile devices.

What makes the engine different from other engines?

ADRIFT is unique in that it allows everything to be written using the GUI. There is no underlying programming language that is generated, what you see in the front end is it. ADRIFT’s aim is to make creating a game as easy as possible, yet giving lots of flexibility should you need it. Because everything is available in drop-down menus and buttons, you don’t need to remember syntax or how to do things, you just pick what you want from the menus. This makes it very easy to create games rapidly that work first time.

Where do you see it going in the future?

It’s very difficult to tell. I think the number of people playing IF has remained fairly static over the past few years. However, part of the problem I believe is just letting people know about it, that people are still creating games, and that there are tools like ADRIFT for creating them.

That is what this is all about. Do you think IF could ever be successful commercially? Why or why not?

I don’t think it’s likely. More and more games and applications are free nowadays, so people tend to expect to get things for nothing. But IF isn’t really about the money – it’s about the enjoyment of creating and playing text games.

What makes IF so enduring and popular?

The great thing about IF is that anyone can make it. If you can write, you can create an IF game. This differs greatly from other types of games, where you generally need a whole team of people working together to create something. So the fact that you can do it all yourself, and end up with a game that your friends and family can play is pretty unique.

Do you ever make/play any IF games yourself? Do you have any favourites?

I tend to spend most of my spare time working on the engine rather than games themselves. However, I did write a few games myself when I first created ADRIFT. These are nothing to be proud of. To demonstrate what ADRIFT can do, I ported a couple of games. I found this good fun, as it meant I could create a full game, enjoying writing the different puzzles, yet not having to come up with a decent story. I would very much like to write another game myself, and I do have an idea for one, but it is more about finding the time at the moment.

In terms of playing games, I am sent a lot of works in progress, as people often have problems with their games that they need me to assist with. From time to time I have a play of the games, more so now that you can play the games online (especially good on the iPad whilst in bed!), but again it is mostly about finding the time.

Do you see anything different in the genre’s future?

Games have changed a little over time. People now expect more commands to be understood, and tend to want more things to be automated in games rather than having to instruct every individual thing (e.g. get the key, unlock the door, open it, walk through it vs just walking through it if you have the key). I think with the shift in hardware towards mobile devices then games may become more touch friendly, but I think the basics of the text adventure will always remain pretty much the same.

Anything else you want to say, Campbell?

Not really, just get out there and start creating games. And let me know how you get on! J

Official site:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nathan. He prefers his last name not to be known. He’s probably a high-class superspy, but we don’t mind. He is the editor of Indiegraph. He’s our point man for interviews, and occasionally he takes a blowtorch to a game to see whether it measures up to his standards.

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