Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Making Interactive Fiction: Free Resources and Tips for Beginners

I'll be honest. My background is in writing – not computer programming, not graphic design, and definitely not music. But to create text-based interactive fiction games, I needed to learn a little of all of that  and I needed to do it on a tight budget. Now I want to share my favorite tools and resources. 

If you want to get started making your own text-based interactive fiction games, check out these resources. They're all free or have free options.

Game Creation Software

To create interactive fiction games, you need the right software. There are several options out there, but my favorite is Twine

Twine uses a hyperlink-based system of game play, which means it's really easy for anyone to play, even if they're not familiar with text-based games. You can still add text boxes and other features to make the game more interesting.

Twine also makes it really easy to start creating games. You don't need any computer programming skills to get started, although you will need to learn a few things if you want to add sound, music, and complexity to your games. 

Luckily, the Twine community is great, and a lot of people with programming knowledge have created tutorials for beginners. 

My favorite guides are from Adam Hammond –  they might not teach you everything you need to know, but they're definitely the best place to start.

Image Creation and Resources

Even if your interactive fiction game is mostly text, you'll probably want some visual elements. 

To make background images, covers, and other graphics that make your games look nice, you'll need image and photo editing software. I've tried a bunch of them, and my favorite is Paint.NET

Paint.NET is really easy to use even if you have absolutely no experience in graphic design, but it also has important features, like layers, to create more advanced effects. There are also a number of plugins you can download to add more advanced features, as well as a number of tutorials to help you learn how to create certain effects. I think it's perfect for creating elements like background images and cover art to go with a text-based interactive fiction game.

If you're not an artist, you'll need to find art you can use. One free way to do this is to use old art that is now in the public domain. There are a few sites that help you find old public domain art, but my two favorites are Old Book Illustrations and Reusable Art. Another fantastic source is Historical Anatomies on the Web from the National Library of Medicine. 

Sometimes you'll want something with a more modern feel. In that case, you should check out KennyOpen Game Art, and Game Art 2D. These sites also provide great resources for more visual (not text-based) games.

And don't forget about fonts. Google Fonts has fonts in every style you could possibly want. 

Getting the Right Sound

Music and sound effects can add a lot to an interactive fiction game.

My favorite source of music is Kevin MacLeod's Incompetech. He has a ton of short pieces that can set the right mood for your game. Another good source for music is FreePD

For sound effects, my favorite source is Zapsplat. They have some music, too.  

Distributing Your Game

Once you've finished your game, you'll probably want to share it. You can't just share a link, however, not if you have image and sound files that go with it. You need to arrange for file hosting. makes this very easy. It's a site for independent game makers and players. They'll host your files and give you a page so you can share your game. You can also get a widget that lets you distribute you game on your own website, like I've used on this site. is a great community for independent game makers. Definitely go there and check out some of the amazing games. 

Some Words of Caution

When using resources, make sure you're respecting the creator – and staying on the right side of the law.

  • Don't assume that you can use something in your game just because it's posted online. Make sure you have permission to use it in your game. Look for licensing agreements that allow commercial use. 
  • Many artists who provide their work for free require attribution – and, really, this is the least you can do. Make sure you know how and where to give credits.  
  • Many artists who provide their work for free also accept donations or tips. If you can afford to donate, please support them by doing so.
  • Many artists ask you not to hotlink to their images. Hotlinking is the practice of adding an image to your site or program by linking directly to another person's site. This can negatively impact the original owner's bandwidth, which is why hotlinking is sometimes called bandwidth stealing. It can also cause problems for your game if the owner removes the image or replaces it with something else. Don't do it! Adam Hammond's guides teach you how to use relative links instead. 
  • When using public domain art, double check that it really is in the public domain, and remember that laws vary from country to country. 

What are your favorite free or inexpensive resources for independent interactive fiction game makers? Share them in the comments! (Feel free to mention your own site if it fits that description!)


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