Thoughts on Flash Games and Interactive Fiction


Flash games operate in a weird section of the casual gaming neighborhood.  When most people think of Flash games, they either think of corporate-sponsored ones on social networking sites like Mob Wars, or they might think of little “for fun” ones on Newgrounds like Toss the Turtle.  It might surprise a lot of people, even my fellow casual gamers, that there’s a lot more to them than that.

Flash games can actually be artistic and ponderous, just like their console “cousins”.  They can also just be different, unlike the myriad dress-up games or hunt-and-click games that usually spring to mind when talking about Flash games.

Take Rock ‘n’ Risk, for example.  A fast-paced rhythm game that is nowhere near a clone of Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution.  Then there’s Small Worlds, a game about exploring.  That’s not “a game that you explore”, but a game that looks at the very concept of exploring.

If those don’t tickle your fancy, there’s always Haunt the House, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  As a ghost, you have to creatively haunt a house.  It’s very engaging and asks you to think more laterally.  Then there’s Coma, where you control a little creature on the hunt for his sister.  During the game you’re asked to think a bit more, though in a more philosophical way.

For the just plain strange yet insightful we have The Majesty of Color, a game where you control a sea-monster-sort-of-thing.  Will you aid the humans or fight them?  We also have Aether which is—a game.  It’s very difficult to describe.  I think the author says it best: “Aether is an ‘Art Game’ about personal childhood feelings and experiences.”

Not bad for Flash games, hmm?

Then there’s the realm of text-based gaming, also known as Interactive Fiction (technically anything that isn’t “non-fiction” is, by definition, “fiction” regardless of whether it’s all text or all picture-based or anything in the middle—but if you don’t say anything, I won’t).  In that realm, the first game people generally think of is, of course, Zork.  So popular is it, there’s even a song about it.  It wasn’t the first, but it was arguably the one that made the concept more widely known.  So popular is it, Infocom (the developer) still has it and its two sequels available to download for free.

For me, though, it was Leather Goddesses of Phobos.  It was—weird, racy, different.  Most games of that era asked you outright for your sex, but Phobos started you off in a bar, having to use the restroom.  It asked which one you went into, and your answer determined your sex.  Innovative, that was.

You might have another favorite from your younger days.  The point is that they haven’t gone away.  In fact, they’ve arguably gotten better.  There are numerous sites devoted to the medium, in quite a variety.

There are people, right this moment, working on creating new text-based games.  At the most recent P.A.X. East, there was a “mini-con” of sorts held, and by all accounts it was packed (I wasn’t there, myself).  It’s a gaming medium that’s on the definite upswing.

There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be, either.  Similar to Flash games, Interactive Fiction is generally a labor of love, a task undertaken because of a genuine desire to create something interesting, with no worry given to financial recompense.  Further, unlike Flash games or their “cousins” the video games, being text-based they can and do focus on coherent and compelling storytelling.

That most definitely isn’t to say that video games and Flash games can’t have interesting stories; far from it.  There are games from both visual-based styles that are simply storytelling wonders to play.  The difference is that in any visual game, you’re focusing on the game itself—on the physics, on the world, possibly also on artificial intelligence for non-player characters—that takes a lot of mental effort.  Considering that most text-based and Flash games are developed by one or two people, it’s expected and excusable that, as a generalization, Interactive Fiction will be more “deep”, more cogent.

Think about it like this: In a visual game, if you want to have a car, you have to design its physics (how it interacts with the player and the world in general), and if it’s destructible, you have to design how much damage it can take, how much damage it takes from certain items or events, and so on and so on.

In a text-based environment, if you want to have a car, you type its description, which can be something simple like, “A four-door sedan, charcoal-grey in color, with Idaho license plates.” Compared to visual-based games, you input a modicum of coding (mainly something to the effect of it going where the player directs, and tells him what it “sees”, E.G. through the windshield).  It’s not easy to create text-based games, but it’s easier than creating visual-based games.  That leaves more mental energy for the story you’re trying to tell.

Both Interactive Fiction and Flash games are perfect for casual gamers.  Most of the Flash games I linked to up there can be beaten in fifteen minutes to a half-hour, and most if not all text-based games let you save your game.  Unlike most console video games, it’s easier to get back into the story; text-based games usually have some sort of inventory for the things you picked up along the way, which should spark enough of a memory to remember the story up to that point.  Some Flash games also allow you to save your game, but the story—if there is one—is usually different enough to be able to be remembered just by seeing the game load up.

Both are perfect for the casual gamer who only has as much time as their infant will nap or the time between loads of the washer.  Plus, unlike console video games, you don’t have to boot up the system, then load the game, then click through the introductory screens, then select your save file, then wait while the game loads—you already have the only thing you need, your computer, and it’s already up and going.  In mere moments you’re off on an adventure, or you’re zipping through clouds, or you’re immediately working out a puzzle, or whatever else.

There are numerous repositories for both, too.  From the Interactive Fiction repositories already linked to a collection on Newgrounds as well as a collection on IndieGames, and if neither of those tickle your fancy Jay is Games should be able to point you in a more agreeable direction.

As you can hopefully see, there’s more to Flash games than FarmVille, and there’s more to text-based games than pulling out an old copy of Zork.  Both mediums are brimming with innovation and creations more complex than one may assume at first glance.  Anyone interested in gaming, in stories, would be well-advised to dive into those worlds.

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One Response to “Thoughts on Flash Games and Interactive Fiction”

  1. the only types of games i play are flash games they are so fun love your blog dude great work got to share this one.

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