> cut corpse with scalpel
You carefully peel aside skin and muscle while simultaneously shifting protrusive organs into neighboring cavities. In this manner, the proper bones are revealed.
The crowd roars. "LET THE BONEJACKING BEGIN!"
> take bread basket with tongs
Done.
A little girl in the front row bellows with rage. "The body requires additional plundering! Continue!"
> put bread basket in bone vat
You drop the bread basket into the bone vat, eliciting a hoarse cry from the gallery. "WE ARE PLEASED. ANOTHER!"

- from "Operate! An interactive adaptation of the popular parlor game", one of the Textfire demos

The interactive fiction community has long had April Fools' Day pranks - ranging from the "announcement" of raifPOOL in 1996, a dream language featuring such options as "GITO (graphics in, text out--lets you create a text adventure game without typing a single word) and TIGO (text in, graphics out--lets you create a fully rendered immersive world without drawing a single pixel)",1 to Emily Short's recent (2002) release of Savoir-Faire, whose original "teaser" boasted such things as a "Deluxe edition (available only from the refrigerated case of your participating software retailer)" offering half-pound samples of each of the cheeses mentioned in the game.2 But by far the most elaborate of these pranks was the Textfire hoax pulled off in 1998, a hoax involving more than a dozen participants and over a month of preparation.

On April 1, 1998, those who frequented the IF Archive became aware of a new arrival to the archives: a "12-pack"3 of game demos allegedly produced by Textfire, Inc., a company dedicated to producing commercial interactive fiction. As commercial IF had more-or-less died out over a decade before, Textfire was, at least for some, suspicious from the very beginning. Their suspicions were confirmed - or, at least, encouraged - by the nature of the "demos": very few of them appeared to have any potential as a full-length game. Many of them - such as "Operate!" (quoted above) - had premises which were more than a bit silly. Others - such as "Bad Guys", a Dungeon Keeper-style game - promised the impossible, with Herculean programming challenges that would make even the most experienced IF authors blanch. To complicate matters even further, no one in the interactive fiction community had ever heard of any of the authors. Newcomers to the community were not exactly rare, but for fourteen new authors to appear together was unheard of (outside of the IF Competition, that is). And the supplied biographies didn’t help anything. One of the authors (“Deborah Keyes”) claimed to be author Daniel Keyes’ niece. Another (“Shishi M. Hayashi”) claimed to have acted as “a clown in ‘Send in the Clowns’ and the pie in ‘American Pie’.”4 Something very strange was going on.

Within a few days, r*i-f5 had organized an impromptu investigation, scouring Deja.com's Usenet archives and performing web searches for any possible signs of the Textfire authors' existences, disassembling the games in hopes of finding clues in their codes, and attempting to find anagrams of known IF authors' names in the names of the Textfire authors. One person even wrote Daniel Keyes to ask him if he had an IF-writing niece!6 But none of the investigations turned up anything of substance – though some would argue that the fact that none of the Textfire authors had a Usenet presence suggested that they were actually fabricated.

Having failed to discover any clues which might identify the perpetrators, the IF community resorted to finger-pointing. Over the course of the “investigation”, nearly every known IF author was accused of participating in the conspiracy. Among others, Graham Nelson was a popular candidate for being the “man behind the curtain”, as was Adam Cadre. But all denied any participation in Textfire.

The hoax began to be revealed on April 17, when Masta.gam, a Mastermind-like game which could be used to connect each Textfire game to its true author, was uploaded to the IF Archive. Several days later, on April 21, Cody Sandifer admitted that Textfire was a hoax, thus putting an end to the prank.

As a result of the hoax, Textfire became an IF in-joke. The domain name “Textfire.com” was registered by members of the IF community, and it became the official website of the IF Competition. (Unfortunately, the website no longer exists, as the name was purchased by a casino search engine.) In the world of IF, the term “Textfire product” is used to refer to any game or related service which is a hoax – thus (to return to an example given above), when Emily Short released her teaser for “Savoir-Faire”, she claimed that the game was part of the “Textfire Classic line”.

Sources and Related Links (in no particular order):

  • I made extensive use of Google's Usenet archives, especially in describing the initial reactions of the IF community to Textfire.
  • Suzanne Britton's Textfire webpage, at http://www.igs.net/~tril/if/humor/textfire/, was also useful.
  • Textfire Forever! tells the story of the Textfire hoax from an insider's perspective, at http://yekrats.com/textfire/.
  • Finally, the Textfire games are available at the IF Archive at http://ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXgamesXdemosXtextfire.html.6

Footnotes:

1.) The complete post is available at http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/programming/RAIF-POOL.announce, among other places.
2.) The teaser is available at Emily Short's webpage at http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/textfire/OldSchool.htm.
3.) There were, as it turned out, actually sixteen games in the pack.
4.) For a complete list of the bios, see http://www.igs.net/~tril/if/humor/textfire/bios.html.
5.) That is, the combined members of the newsgroups rec.arts.int-fiction and rec.games.int-fiction.
6.) "Not that I know of," he replied. See Adam Cadre’s account of the Textfire hoax at http://yekrats.com/textfire/personal.html#AC.
7.) You will need to download the relevant interpreters to play the games. If you have a Mac or a PC, the easiest way to do this is to download the file "C00MacInterps.sea.bin" or "WinInterpreters.exe" from the 2000 IFComp at http://ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXgamesXcompetition2000.html. The rest of you will have to download the Inform, TADS, and Hugo interpreters separately. They are available at (respectively) http://ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXinfocomXinterpreters.html, http://ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXprogrammingXtads3Xexecutables.html, and http://ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXprogrammingXhugoXexecutables.html.

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