Zoom: Entering Commands

Playing Interactive Fiction

Entering Commands


Most interactive fiction is played by typing in commands at a prompt, usually represented by a '>'. Commands are phrased in natural language, but stories are typically limited in their understanding to precise, imperative commands, so you'll find that 'GO NORTH' is easily understood, but 'STEALTHILY CREEP NORTH' is too much for the story.

This section will introduce you to some of the conventions of entering commands into interactive fiction stories.


By tradition interactive fiction uses a compass for navigating around the map; you move between rooms using commands such as 'GO NORTH' or just 'N' for short. Some modern games have explored alternative schemes: you may encounter games set in just a single room or where you are moved along by the narrative.


Almost every game will have at least one object that you can pick up and use in some way. The 'GET' command will allow you to pick an an object, and the 'EXAMINE' command (or 'X' for short) will tell you more about it. You can see what you are carrying using the 'INVENTORY' command ('I' for short), and leave behind what you don't need any more using 'DROP'.

Most stories will require you to be precise about how you use an object: 'USE ROPE WITH CAPSTAN' will probably not be understood, but 'WIND ROPE AROUND CAPSTAN' will have the desired effect.

Talking to characters

As you play through a story, you may encounter other characters. These are sometimes referred to as NPCs ('Non-Player Characters'). There are two ways that the story may let you communicate with them.

The traditional way is to give the character commands or ASK or TELL them about something. To give a character a command, the 'NPC, DO SOMETHING' syntax is used. For instance, 'NAVVY, WIND ROPE AROUND CAPSTAN' will order the navvy to wind his rope around a capstan, although he may have better things to do.

Some stories also allow conversations through a menu. In these cases, you typically just need to TALK to the characters to start a conversation, although sometimes the two methods are combined, so a menu might be shown when you ASK a character about something.


These are commands that occur outside the world of the story, generally to give the interpreter some instruction. The most important of these commands is 'SAVE', which will instruct the interpreter to save your progress through the story so far. 'RESTORE' will load a previously saved state back into the story. If you make a mistake, 'UNDO' will take back the last command you entered.