Are text games male oriented?

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Bob Newell

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Nov 6, 1993, 6:21:04 PM11/6/93
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In the interests of stimulating some discussion, I would like to pass
along some remarks made by a female collaborator on a TADS game just now
in the design stages, which will be a sequel to my highly unsuccesful
"Pesach Adventure." It's another Jewish religious school children's game...

My collaborator is not a programmer and is not at all experienced in the
adventure game genre, either as author or player. She is, however, a
superb prose writer, with an instinct for atmosphere and detail. She tried
out some text games, and immediately observed that it is clear (to her, at
any rate) that they are written by males, for males. Here are some of her
remarks (the context of part of this is the game we are designing):
-----------------------------------------------------------
I'm the last person to wish for simplicity, but I find these
interactive fiction games geared almost exclusively to the male psyche, and
(regardless of whatever literary affectation) really boring. The
author of T-Zero has a grandoise premise, but his game is dull,
slow-moving, and non-visual. The 'end' is the result, not the getting
there as enjoyment. I am familiar with most of T.S. Eliot's The Waste
Land, Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, etc., but I am not interested in
those bare bones descriptions that, unbelievably have about 2 nouns per
description that ARE NOT RECOGNIZED. Yes, I can believe the softwares
for interaction have an 'AI' problem, but I think narratives can have
atmosphere, with directional clues in the last paragraph (this could be
stipulated in the directions). To me, T-Zero has all the excitement of
a 40,000th game of Super Mario.

In working on this, I saw Dave Baggett's AI complete problem as far as
software is concerned, but my over-writing was dictated by two factors:
- if this is a collaborative effort (to some extent, anyway), then how
would you ever know what I 'see' in the game unless I document it.

- To me, a game predicated in a home with a family as the protagonists
requires that the players get to know the protagonists, especially if
part of the game is USE hints (not send $10 to the programmer to GET
them as in T-Zero). To me, a girl player would push to solve the mystery,
if the getting there was funny and interesting. Because the context IS a
family, and an ethnic one at that, errors in tone, objects, etc. are
glaring (especially to a child) who relies on visual and aural clues in
REAL life. Boy players cut to the chase, but girls would yawn, yawn,
yawn and lost interest in contrived mileu. For that reason, I would
like to add a smidgin of romance.

Of course you can post my comments (hmmm...what did I say?), if indeed,
few women program (or play) these games. To me, its obvious three guys
sat around with an artificial premise and abstracted it into a puzzle and
then put a bare-bones framework out there for competitive, right-brain
boys to decipher and solve. It has all the charm of a glass of flat
Coke.

Ground-breaking...well, let me say this: I won't be interested in a
game that says "You see a graceful ibis drinking in a pool" and when you
type, STEP ACROSS POOL, the parser doesn't recognize 'pool.' To me, I
could CARE LESS about the ibis or the pool. But I would care about
characters and OBJECTS that logically relate to characters AND
structure. This is a very visual, aural, and sensual logic which I have
not seen much evidence of in the interactive fiction you sent or
designed.
-----------------------------------------------
These are very interesting remarks; I'm not even sure if I agree with them.
It ignores the games which ARE written by women, some of them such as
Oklib's Revenge and others being quite outstanding. But I am sure these
comments will provoke some reactions!

BNE...@DELPHI.COM (I'll pass along any remarks which require a reply.)

Jamieson Norrish

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Nov 7, 1993, 8:36:33 AM11/7/93
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In article <9311061819591...@delphi.com> bne...@delphi.com
(Bob Newell) writes:

[Comments by a woman about IF obviously being written by men for men
deleted.]

These are very interesting remarks; I'm not even sure if I agree
with them. It ignores the games which ARE written by women, some of
them such as Oklib's Revenge and others being quite outstanding.
But I am sure these comments will provoke some reactions!

I agree with the criticisms of games she put forward. I too would like
to see emphasis on story and character rather than puzzle-solving. I
also dislike generalisations; I am male, and I wouldn't write a game
like that, nor would I wish to play one particularly - although I
certainly do like seeing particular parts which work well.

I think that although it could be generalised to say that men write
certain types of games, and women enjoy different types of games, it
would be far more correct to express things on a more individual
level.

Jamie

Gerry Kevin Wilson

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Nov 6, 1993, 7:51:05 PM11/6/93
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Well. Reading her post, I notice that her primary point is that the room
descriptions in T-Zero are less than desired. She then states that male
players ignore this and play the game for the puzzles, while a female player
would be turned off and quit the game. (At least that's what I think she
meant, but then I think Spam's really neat too.) Well, I have to say that
T-Zero was lacking in certain respects, but, on the whole, it was better than
many of the IF games I have seen. I agree that atmosphere is vital for any
game, and T-Zero, while pretty good, did not project a unified feel. It felt
more like several puzzles pasted together in an artificial manner. However,
I don't feel that it is fair or proper to judge all text adventures by an
initial reaction. I am trying to produce a game called Avalon that may or
may not appeal to the 'female psyche' (if indeed the concepts of male and
female archetypes have any validity in a world of such diversity as our owm).
You see, I'm a big believer in atmosphere, and I TRY to pervade my game with
it. If I am unsuccessful, I try again. That's the way I write. However,
this isn't an easy task, and you must realize that many authors don't have
the benefits of TADS or another text adventure design system and must deal
with the very earthy aspect of programming as well as the higher calling of
writing (Again, many feel just the opposite). It's rather hard to juggle the
two. Finally, if she hasn't already done so, I would suggest that she play
A Mind Forever Voyaging, Trinity, and Plundered Hearts (The last because it
supposedly geared towards 'feminine appeal' and the main character is indeed
a woman). I feel that these games will belie her initial reaction, and if
not, I'd be interested in hearing more about what appeals to her in an IF
game. I'm sure my own games would benefit from such an insight. Thank you
for your time.

--
*=== If there's one thing I've learned in this silly old thing called ===*
*=== Life, it's....umm....oh Hell, I've forgotten. ===*
*=== whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu ===*
*=== Disclaimer: I am insane. Deal with it. ===*

David Baggett

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Nov 6, 1993, 7:50:19 PM11/6/93
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In article <9311061819591...@delphi.com> bne...@delphi.com (Bob Newell) writes:

>Here are some of her remarks (the context of part of this is the game we
>are designing):
>

>I'm the last person to wish for simplicity, but I find these
>interactive fiction games geared almost exclusively to the male psyche, and
>(regardless of whatever literary affectation) really boring. The
>author of T-Zero has a grandoise premise, but his game is dull,
>slow-moving, and non-visual.

It seems that part of the problem here is that she's basing her opinions of
the genre on a few examples. T-Zero has problems, many of which she
alluded to, but it's also (as far as I know) a first IF effort for the
author and hardly typical of text games in general. (It's also shareware!)

We all have our own personal likes and dislikes; I'd be interested to see
some of her prose to see how her style matches up to her criterion of
"non-maleness". It seems to me like a lot of the "inherent maleness" of
the games comes from the fact that they run on computers, which women as a
whole seem to despise as a source of entertainment. (See
rec.games.programer for an endless debate on this topic.)

>I am familiar with most of T.S. Eliot's The Waste
>Land, Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, etc., but I am not interested in
>those bare bones descriptions that, unbelievably have about 2 nouns per
>description that ARE NOT RECOGNIZED.

Again, not necessarily typical of all games. We do "noun checks" during
playtesting to make sure that we cover the reasonable ones. Earlier (e.g.,
Infocom) games omitted some decorations because the games had to fit on
single-sided disks. I.e., this is a flaw with the early medium, not with
the artists.

>but I think narratives can have
>atmosphere, with directional clues in the last paragraph (this could be
>stipulated in the directions). To me, T-Zero has all the excitement of
>a 40,000th game of Super Mario.

Again specific to T-Zero. Give her Trinity or (dare I say it) Plundered
Hearts.

>In working on this, I saw Dave Baggett's AI complete problem as far as
>software is concerned, but my over-writing was dictated by two factors:

This confuses me. "AI-complete" just means "you would have to solve all
the problems of AI to solve the problem". IF games are AI-complete in the
limit because people want to be able to type any sentence and have the
computer intelligently respond. This requires the computer to have as much
knowledge of the world as the player, if not more.

>- To me, a game predicated in a home with a family as the protagonists
> requires that the players get to know the protagonists

Actors are hard to do well, yep. Having lots of them that you must
interact with only makes things worse, unless you expend incredible energy
on special case code.

> especially if
> part of the game is USE hints (not send $10 to the programmer to GET
> them as in T-Zero).

Jeez, she really didn't like T-Zero, did she? She has to realize that
shareware is bad enough (in terms of generating revenue) as it is for these
games without the author just giving everything away. The hints for $10
are just a last desperate attempt to get a few more registrations. If you
don't do something like that, you won't get any registrations -- that's a
basic fact that's been shown to be true again and again for games of all
kinds.

> if the getting there was funny and interesting. Because the context IS a
> family, and an ethnic one at that, errors in tone, objects, etc. are
> glaring (especially to a child) who relies on visual and aural clues in
> REAL life.

I think you're asking for trouble if you make the game world as narrow as
you are here. I understand the impetus, but it seems very confining, and
the technology is already very confining as it is. Half the battle in
writing a good IF game is not writing a game around a great idea, but in
coming up with an idea that can be done well as an IF game. You have to
avoid certain types of situations and interactions (and hence, game
concepts) because they're just not implementable in a way that will make
the player suspend his disbelief.

> To me, its obvious three guys
> sat around with an artificial premise and abstracted it into a puzzle and
> then put a bare-bones framework out there for competitive, right-brain
> boys to decipher and solve. It has all the charm of a glass of flat
> Coke.

OK, smarty, post your prose and we'll rip YOU to shreds! :) I don't take
criticism that's this severe too seriously until I see evidence of a
reasonable understanding of the genre as a whole, and I don't see that
here. She only talks about one game. She doesn't contrast T-Zero's
lameness (her opinion) with, for example, Planetfall (an arguably male, but
good, game) or Plundered Hearts. This is like saying "rock music sucks --
I heard Motley Crue and have decided rock music is male-oriented". Perhaps
you (Bob) can give us more context here?

Furthermore, I don't see much factual content in this argument. *What*
kinds of puzzles are so "right brained" and "male"? *What* kinds of
puzzles could she envision that wouldn't be that way? Is the very idea of
solving puzzles in a text game context perhaps too "right-brained"? What
particular passages were especially coke-flat?

> Ground-breaking...well, let me say this: I won't be interested in a
> game that says "You see a graceful ibis drinking in a pool" and when you
> type, STEP ACROSS POOL, the parser doesn't recognize 'pool.' To me, I
> could CARE LESS about the ibis or the pool. But I would care about
> characters and OBJECTS that logically relate to characters AND
> structure. This is a very visual, aural, and sensual logic which I have
> not seen much evidence of in the interactive fiction you sent or
> designed.

What else did you send her, Bob? She's awfully hung up on the noun thing.

It's interesting, given her opinion, that text games are often cited as
examples of computer games that women like.

Dave Baggett
__
d...@ai.mit.edu Boot up, log in, drop out. MIT AI Lab
ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Ask about Unnkulian 1, 2, 0, 1/2
PO Box 851 Columbia, MD 21044 USA / CIS: 76440,2671 / GEnie: ADVENTIONS

MONIKA

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Nov 7, 1993, 12:53:25 PM11/7/93
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Yup. They are, but I really don't mind most of the time. The only thing
that annoys me (I said annoys, not upsets) is when you read a description
that states that your persona is reacting in a completely male manner.
For example, say you read something like, 'You see a buxom blonde in a
thong bikini which makes your pulse pound faster than a Porsche on the
Autobahn'. For the typical female, this is the equivillent of ' You see
a tanned young jock whose lean quadriceps make you doubt your
hetrosexuality'. Oh, not all games are guilty of this type of player
sterotyping, in fact very few are! But some otherwise excellent games
such as Gateway, should at least warn you that 1. Your persona is male
2. Your persona is not apathetic towards scantly clad women. The Leather
Goddesses of Phobos has less of a story to it, but is much more fun (and
much more naughty!)
My point is, don't worry about the yin-yang ratio of your games, but do
worry about turning people off. Not everyone out there is 22 year old
male virgin in rut. Game companies still target (dare I say it) nerds and
moan that they aren't gaining many converts. Computers are now cool and
so are the people who can use them!

Jorn Barger

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Nov 7, 1993, 2:44:23 PM11/7/93
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In article <1727...@MVB.SAIC.COM>, MONIKA <Wei...@Fwva.Saic.Com> wrote:
> My point is, don't worry about the yin-yang ratio of your games, but do
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Well put! :^)

Someone mentioned a long thread on rec.games.programmer about female
programmers and programming as an art. It was too long for me to
read closely, but it looked pretty intelligent to me!


/~)\
\(_/ jorn

Mark 'Mark' Sachs

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Nov 7, 1993, 4:34:09 PM11/7/93
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In article <1727...@MVB.SAIC.COM>, Wei...@Fwva.Saic.Com (MONIKA) says:

> Yup. They are, but I really don't mind most of the time. The only thing
>that annoys me (I said annoys, not upsets) is when you read a description
>that states that your persona is reacting in a completely male manner.

I see where you're coming from... I think we can expand this though,
to not just a generalization as MALE problem, but a generalization, period
problem.

A major attraction of text adventures to me is that _I_ personally get to
be the main character. Playing T-Zero or Stationfall or whatever, I
imagine myself as the protagonist, and I would submit that most players
see it that way, imagining themselves in the title role of spy or knight or
detective or Ensign 9th Class in the Stellar Patrol. When the game
proceeds to arbitrarily hand you an identity, it's jarring, and really
damages the suspension of disbelief. I suspect that if I were female,
I'd be jarred out of many more games for precisely that reason.

"You can't expect me to play a game with weird zoning laws, can you?"
[Your blood pressure just went up.] Mark Sachs, aka mbs...@psuvm.psu.edu
DISCLAIMER: Penn State cares about my money, not my opinions.

Bob Newell

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Nov 7, 1993, 9:55:04 PM11/7/93
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Further clarification to my initial posting:
1. The female collaborator who made these remarks has seen a few other text
games, but not the Infocom classics, especially not Plundered Hearts. But I
am sure she would shriek about the opening scene. I will have to ask her to
look at it...
2. Her comments about AI completeness were exactly as in David Baggett's
response on this thread; she understands that a parser/game system cannot
understand all human language in every conceivable context.
3. Some of our collaboration broke down when she insisted on about three
screens of description for each room. We cannot reach good agreement on
playability vs. prose content and quantity.
4. We've been using Tads.
5. Her premises reduce to:
5.1 Puzzles are boring if presented outside of some larger context and if
not made sufficiently interesting by a well-described, sensually
complete setting.
5.2 Boys/men are competitive/concrete and girls/women are
creative/abstract in thought processes (WOW is this a broad generalization).
5.3 (Here is where I-F and static fiction diverge, of course) I-F should
complete in its descriptions of objects and settings; the prose should
be similar to that in a novel; and the plot should have a variety of
interests to appeal to a wide range of players/readers.

I'll pass this thread along to her ... thanks to all who responded!
Bob Newell
BNE...@DELPHI.COM

David Baggett

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Nov 7, 1993, 11:02:36 PM11/7/93
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In article <9311072152592...@delphi.com> bne...@delphi.com (Bob Newell) writes:
>1. The female collaborator who made these remarks has seen a few other text
>games, but not the Infocom classics, especially not Plundered Hearts. But I
>am sure she would shriek about the opening scene. I will have to ask her to
>look at it...

I know this is tooting my own horn (sort of), but get the Rylvania demo
from ftp.gmd.de and have her play through it. Your character is male, but
I don't think it's any more male-oriented than (say) an Anne Rice novel.
If she does, I'd find that interesting.

Although the Unnkulian games are standard puzzle games, Leary tried to do
something more interesting with Rylvania. Perhaps it will satisfy her
demands for more setting and plot.

>3. Some of our collaboration broke down when she insisted on about three
>screens of description for each room. We cannot reach good agreement on
>playability vs. prose content and quantity.

Hmmm. Sounds like she's trying to write an interactive novel rather than a
game. There's a big difference. People like to play games. They don't
care dipsquat about an interactive novel. The reason is perhaps that the
medium is inherently annyoing -- it's just not as nice to read text off a
glowing CRT than it is off a printed page. People will only put up with it
if there's some additional payback. I think this is why many people object
to long descriptions -- it's just annoying to read them on the screen.
Rememeber, it has to be fun, not just interesting. There are plenty of
more interesting and better written works of fiction out there already.
Someone should tell William Gibson that before he writes another
<snicker> Agrippa. :)

> 5.1 Puzzles are boring if presented outside of some larger context and if
> not made sufficiently interesting by a well-described, sensually
> complete setting.

Sounds like a good rule of thumb. I think there are plenty of IF games
that strike a decent balance in this regard.

>5.2 Boys/men are competitive/concrete and girls/women are

>creative/abstract in thought process [...]

There *are* trends here. There are games that women don't like that men do
like. I'm not sure anyone's made a game yet that men don't like that women
do like, however. In any case, I still don't see what's so "male" about
text games. The issues of competitiveness and problem solving apply to
*any* game. Is she willing to say that text games are as male-oriented as
checkers and "go fish"? If so, then she'll get no argument from me. If
not, why are text games more male-oriented? I'm talking about the genre as
a whole here, not isolated examples (like Meretzky's Cheezcasting games).

Adam Justin Thornton

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Nov 8, 1993, 12:10:55 AM11/8/93
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In article <2bkgcs...@life.ai.mit.edu> d...@ai.mit.edu writes:
>I know this is tooting my own horn (sort of), but get the Rylvania demo
>from ftp.gmd.de and have her play through it. Your character is male, but
>I don't think it's any more male-oriented than (say) an Anne Rice novel.
>If she does, I'd find that interesting.

Hunh. I've played _Rylvania_ all the way through, and I never _could_ tell
which sex I was supposed to be. I figured it had been left deliberately
ambiguous. Dave, where does it ever say--or imply--that you are male in
the game. (there may have been clues I just missed)

Adam
--
ad...@rice.edu | These are not Rice's opinions. Nor are they those of IS,
the Honor Council, Tony Gorry, God, or Kibo. They're mine. Got it? Good.
"The object of life is to make sure you die a weird death."--Thomas Pynchon
Save the Choad! | Keep electronic privacy legal; support EFF. | 64,928 | Fnord

David Baggett

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Nov 8, 1993, 12:42:02 AM11/8/93
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In article <CG5qE...@rice.edu> ad...@owlnet.rice.edu (Adam Justin Thornton) writes:
>Hunh. I've played _Rylvania_ all the way through, and I never _could_ tell
>which sex I was supposed to be. I figured it had been left deliberately
>ambiguous. Dave, where does it ever say--or imply--that you are male in
>the game. (there may have been clues I just missed)

Heh. You're right -- I always thought that Carolyn was your true love, or
something of the sort. But it doesn't say that; in fact it just says
you're close friends. I guess I'm a hopeless romantic. (Anyways, more
personal bias is showing here since being in love with Carolyn wouldn't
necessarily make you male anyway...) Hey, the main character was male when
*I* played, OK? :)

Now that I think about it, I seem to remember Leary mentioning that he did
deliberately make the gender ambiguous in Rylvania. In fact (it's all
coming back to me now) we had a discussion along these very lines, and in
reply to my comment that the main character was obviously male in UU1, he
answered that only the Acme product labels ever assume male gender, not the
"narrator's" text. So Acme is politically incorrect as well as incompetent.

(What a weasel.)

Mathematical Institute, (0865) 2-73525

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Nov 8, 1993, 6:28:34 AM11/8/93
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It's interesting to see this discussed.

I think you have to say that most of the people who read this
group, and who play such games, are male. Only about 1% of the
people who've written to me about "Curses" (which, by the way,
is free, and whatever else its faults does have a fair stock of
nouns) were women.

Perhaps the distinction between "male" and "female" styles
of puzzle is this. Male types of puzzle are amazing machines,
contraptions, levers to pull, complicated problems about
shuffling light sources around, and so on. The adventure game
as crossword, in fact. Female types of puzzle are to do with
people, and motivations, and not being confronted with a troll
on a footbridge without some explanation of what it's there for
and why it's so intransigent.

Of course, the former kind of puzzle is much easier to code,
and also much easier to make fair (so that the solution is
reasonably guessable).

I try for a mixture of these. "Curses" has its fair share of
foolish turn-the-wheel-and-something-moves puzzles, but it also
has, for instance, an aunt who is upset with you because you're
not taking her on holiday. There probably aren't enough people
in "Curses" (the game I am currently, rather slowly, putting
together is much more populated) but I have tried to draw them
as characters rather than elaborate pieces of scenery.

Romance is difficult. It presupposes attitudes all the time.
One might imagine, for instance, a scene after a party when
somebody who is a bit drunk makes an unexpected pass at the the
player's character. Now, people react to this in different
ways, and may well be annoyed by a message reading "Next morning,
as X makes a dreadful breakfast, ...".

Graham Nelson
Oxford, UK

David Baggett

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Nov 8, 1993, 12:11:09 PM11/8/93
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In article <1993Nov8.1...@vax.oxford.ac.uk> nel...@vax.oxford.ac.uk (Mathematical Institute, (0865) 2-73525) writes:
>I think you have to say that most of the people who read this
>group, [...] are male.

True, but that's true of most Usenet groups, and especially true
of the computer groups.

>and who play such games, are male.

Again true, but perhaps the question we should be asking is "how does the
male/female ratio for IF compare to the male/female ratio for computer
games as a whole"? If IF games are no more male-oriented than computer
games in general, then it's sort of pointless to worry about it IMHO.

>Only about 1% of the people who've written to me about "Curses" (which, by
>the way, is free, and whatever else its faults does have a fair stock of
>nouns) were women.

This got me curious enough to check the UU2 registrations. Out of 55 total
registrations, there are 10 people with obviously female names. There may
be some other women in there too (Chris's, for example). So UU2's audience
at least 18% percent female, if we are to judge from this sample.

Philip Stephens

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Nov 8, 1993, 5:08:08 PM11/8/93
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Bob Newell writes:

>Further clarification to my initial posting:

>3. Some of our collaboration broke down when she insisted on about three
>screens of description for each room. We cannot reach good agreement on
>playability vs. prose content and quantity.

I can see that three screens of description for each room would be a bit
much, even for a book (!), but I for one would enjoy playing a text adventure
whose room descriptions were more than a couple of lines each. I remember
when I first played Zork: the description of the cliff top near the rainbow
was quite breath-taking and majestic. If all rooms had been described like
that, it would have added another dimension to the game.
This is particularly relevant when you consider how many of Infocom's games
had lots of rooms that served no purpose other than decoration--wouldn't it
have been better if they were more interesting to look at on your way through
the first time? I've always felt so. With the extra memory available for
the new breed of IF games, why not take the opportunity to add the extra
detail?
I know some people don't like reading lots of text when playing an IF game,
but I for one do :-)

>5. Her premises reduce to:

> 5.1 Puzzles are boring if presented outside of some larger context and if
> not made sufficiently interesting by a well-described, sensually
> complete setting.

I agree with this premise. Puzzles can appear sterile without the addition
of some atmosphere. Not only is the setting important, but the responses you
get from your initial probing for a solution. For instance, if you have a
door to open, instead of just saying "The door is locked" when you first try
to open it, the game ought to say something like "You pull and tug until
you're almost blue in the face, but finally it becomes obvious that nothing
as simple as opening the door is going to work. You feel rather foolish and
wonder what kind of lock the door has". Anything to spark the interest of
the player to actually try and solve the puzzle.
(For us seasoned adventurers, it would seem unnecessary to bother with this
kind of response, but for the novice may make the game more intriguing).

> 5.3 (Here is where I-F and static fiction diverge, of course) I-F should
> complete in its descriptions of objects and settings; the prose should
> be similar to that in a novel; and the plot should have a variety of
> interests to appeal to a wide range of players/readers.

I think this is a direction that IF should be taking. I'm currently working
my way through the Lost Treasures collection, and I have to say that the games
I've enjoyed the most are the ones that have paid a lot of attention to detail
and atmosphere. The opening scenes of _Moonmist_, for instance, are far more
impressive than the opening of _Zork_ ("You are standing next to a white house
in a field").

Another point she made which I thought was very true was the fact that most
IF games don't recognise all of the nouns appearing in a room description.
This has been a source of annoyance to me since I started playing IF games:
often there will be an object or two tucked away in the room description which
is important to the game, but the only way to find this out is to examine
everything in the room, and getting lots of "I don't know the word 'book'" or
"That is not important, leave it alone" messages destroys the illusion of
being in a virtual reality.
Okay, so originally the Infocom games had to fit in 128K and hence objects
that weren't important were ignored. But today, there is really no excuse for
_any_ object to be ignored. If nothing else, they should be examinable and
perhaps even takable, and if possible be used for something (however
inconsequential).
A side effect of doing this is that future adventurers will not be fooled
into thinking that every object that can be examined is actually important to
the game, and hence won't get so annoyed at "red herrings" (I fell into that
trap myself when playing _Planetfall_!). And let's face it, it only requires
e little bit more effort to ensure that every noun found in a room description
has a corresponding object!

Anyway, that's my contribution to this discussion :-)
--
| Philip Stephens, Systems Programmer. | "Many views yield the truth. |
| Address: 43 Malcolm Road, Braeside, | Therefore, be not alone." |
| Victoria, 3195, AUSTRALIA. | |
| Internet: phi...@labtam.labtam.oz.au | -- Prime Song of the Viggies |

Greg Knauss

unread,
Nov 8, 1993, 5:16:39 PM11/8/93
to
d...@min.ai.mit.edu (David Baggett) writes:

>Furthermore, I don't see much factual content in this argument. *What*
>kinds of puzzles are so "right brained" and "male"? *What* kinds of
>puzzles could she envision that wouldn't be that way? Is the very idea of
>solving puzzles in a text game context perhaps too "right-brained"? What
>particular passages were especially coke-flat?

The way I read her complaints, she's not so much interested in factual
content, in games or her criticisms. That's not necessarily a bad thing
-- just blowing off emotional opinions can open up a lot of doors and
express frustrations that aren't "logical," "right-brained," or (heh)
"male."
But just doing so is going to drive logical, right-brained male
IF authors nuts. There's nothing to grasp as an "OK, I can implement
that" improvement.
What I think she wants isn't so much a game to solve, but a game
to experience. Trinity and Plundered Hearts have been mentioned, but I
think A Mind Forever Voyaging suits what she's talking about (in terms of
content, ignoring the Noun Problem) much better. It's IF in the strictest
sense, in that it's fiction that's interactive. There's a few puzzles
thrown in, but it's the most story-based game I know of. With a pretty
big wad of emotion, to boot. I don't think she's interested in
non-right-brained puzzles, but in non-puzzled-based IF.
I haven't used T-Zero, but if it's like most of the IF I've
played (and written), then it's almost totally devoid of emotional content
-- there's nothing beyond solving puzzles in the context of the story.
Which, again, is fine. I, personally, enjoy that, just like I enjoy
explosion-messy-head-wound-snappy-one-liner movies.
The problem I think she's trying to express, though, is that almost
all IF is of that genre and it frustrates her. (Or it would if she ever
gets around to playing something beyond T-Zero -- I'm extrapolating here.)
Hollywood manages to put out a "Joy Luck Club" or "Ruby in Paradise" for
each "Demolition Man" or "Die Hard" and the choice allows a lot more people
to go to the movies. Turns out to be a good thing for everybody involved.
What I think she's talking about aren't "OK, I can implement
that" changes to what currently exists, but a re-thinking of the way
games are written. Why must IF be puzzle-based? Why must it have a
goal?
The short answer is because that's what the people who write the
games enjoy. The slightly less short answer is because that's what's
succeded historically. The long answer is, "No reason," and authors just
haven't gotten around to exploring the boundries yet.
--
Greg Knauss (gr...@quotron.com) "Llamas, dammit! Llamas!"

Gerry Kevin Wilson

unread,
Nov 8, 1993, 6:52:01 PM11/8/93
to

I found your long answer to why must IF be puzzle based rather interesting.
"No reason", he smugly replied. I'll give you several damn good reasons why
we make IF puzzle-based. One, it cuts down your workload by acres and acres.
If you were just going to make a VR environment (as one alternative to puzzles)
wherein you wander around on a sort of tour with no set goals, no real
discernible (sp?) purpose, then you must make every item, setting, creature,
verb, and adjective that applies to the setting functional. Now, admittedly,
this is a goal for IF programmers, but the puzzles, goals, and plotlines are
there to help gloss over the fact that we can't think of every possible
physical interaction for an object. Players don't mind so much when the game
responds with 'You can't do that.' if you have produced a quality story for
them to probe and explore. (and solve, games need a goal, or they cease to be
a game, and they become a simulation) Two, I really don't believe that such a
product would be worthwhile in terms of time investment vs. player enjoyment.
I mean, I can't really think of anything that would interest me in the slightest
without SOME sort of purpose to it. But, if you can let me know, I'd be
interested in something like that, even if I do doubt that you could sell it
to the computing masses. (Hell, you can barely sell traditional IF to the
computing masses anymore. They don't want to read, they want to be spoonfed
everything with these gorgeous pictures, and could care less about story,
characterization, or anything else associated with writing.)

Paulie

unread,
Nov 8, 1993, 9:44:29 PM11/8/93
to

When I pick up an object in an adventure that really has me stumped,
"You can't do that" is sometimes a welcome message.
--
---- -------
----- Paul Bobby ------
------ -----

Greg Ewing

unread,
Nov 9, 1993, 12:59:24 AM11/9/93
to
In article <2bkm7a...@life.ai.mit.edu>, d...@rice-chex.ai.mit.edu

(David Baggett) writes:
|> in
|> reply to my comment that the main character was obviously male in UU1, he
|> answered that only the Acme product labels ever assume male gender, not the
|> "narrator's" text.

Actually, there *is* a slight gender bias in UU1 (or was it UU2?)
Try "rub rod" sometime...

|>
|> Dave Baggett
|> __
|> d...@ai.mit.edu Boot up, log in, drop out. MIT
AI Lab
|> ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Ask about Unnkulian 1, 2, 0, 1/2
|> PO Box 851 Columbia, MD 21044 USA / CIS: 76440,2671 / GEnie: ADVENTIONS

Greg Ewing, Computer Science Dept, +--------------------------------------+
University of Canterbury, | A citizen of NewZealandCorp, a |
Christchurch, New Zealand | wholly-owned subsidiary of Japan Inc.|
gr...@cosc.canterbury.ac.nz +--------------------------------------+

Oliver Rothe

unread,
Nov 9, 1993, 6:00:56 AM11/9/93
to
David Baggett (d...@case.ai.mit.edu) wrote:
> [...]

> This got me curious enough to check the UU2 registrations. Out of 55 total
---------------------------------------------------------------------^^------

> registrations, there are 10 people with obviously female names. There may
> [...]

I am very surprised about this number. Given the quality of the Unnkulian
games series, I expected the number of registrations to be at least in the
three-digit range.

This makes me curious: what is the corresponding number for UU1?

And, by the way:
How many copies of Unnkulia Zero were you able to sell?
Hopefully, I wasn't the only one to order a copy (actually, I ordered 2
copies; a friend of mine wanted one, too)!!

I've never seen any such number, and it would be very interesting to learn
something about the size of the "IF market".

Or are these numbers trade secrets? :-)

Oliver

-------------------------------------------------------------------
Oliver Rothe is...@ztivax.zfe.siemens.com
also reachable via: 10026...@compuserve.com


David Baggett

unread,
Nov 9, 1993, 10:14:28 AM11/9/93
to
In article <CG819...@ztivax.zfe.siemens.de> is...@ztivax.zfe.siemens.de
(Oliver Rothe) writes:

>I am very surprised about this number [55]. Given the quality of the


>Unnkulian games series, I expected the number of registrations to be at
>least in the three-digit range.

Don't I wish!

>This makes me curious: what is the corresponding number for UU1?

I think it's something like 70 or 80.

>How many copies of Unnkulia Zero were you able to sell?
>Hopefully, I wasn't the only one to order a copy (actually, I ordered 2
>copies; a friend of mine wanted one, too)!!

You certainly weren't the only one, but we're not in the triple-digit range
with Zero either at the moment...

>I've never seen any such number, and it would be very interesting to learn
>something about the size of the "IF market".

Small.

Gerry Kevin Wilson

unread,
Nov 9, 1993, 2:43:22 PM11/9/93
to

Well, what sort of marketing strategies are you using? Have you sent any of
your games to a game magazine to be reviewed? What sort of incentives do you
offer to register? I need to know this stuff because I'd like to hit the 3 or
hell, even 4 digit range with some of my Vertigo games. Have you tried
contacting a rack distributor? (Those racks in some stores with a bunch
of shareware on them) I've heard that those are the hottest sales area for
shareware these days. I dunno how bad you want to push your games, but if you
do, drop me a line, and maybe we can discuss methods of getting more sales.
Michael Roberts suggested to me that I should use the trilogy technique, where
they register the first part of your game, and then get the other parts. Does
this appeal to anyone? I'd hate to have to write 3 games to get 1 lousy
registration. There's GOT to be a better method. Crippleware sucks too though.
Maybe if we just disabled the frills of the TADS adventures until registered,
like, take out the UNDO command... Or how about offering a package like
Infocom used to...a nice box with full color cover art, a back write-up, and
a little 'kit' of stuff inside to help set the mood. Myself, I'm kinda leaning
towards the 100 move limit right now, even though I despise that method. But
55 and 70-80 are too little for a good game. I felt that UU1 and UU2 were both
quality games, and if I'd cared more for the Zork-style game, I would've
registered. Really, the only one I ever got anywhere in was UU1/2. I think I
will register Rylvania though, I liked what I saw.

David Baggett

unread,
Nov 10, 1993, 9:16:10 AM11/10/93
to
In article <2borsq$q...@agate.berkeley.edu> whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu (Gerry Kevin Wilson) writes:
>
>Well, what sort of marketing strategies are you using? Have you sent any of
>your games to a game magazine to be reviewed? What sort of incentives do you
>offer to register?

We did get reviewed by a major magazine, but they pulled the review at the
last minute (literally) to interview Darryl Gates about Police Quest XVIII.
I thought this situation made much better dark comedy than we could have
ever come up with ourselve. :)

The shareware games are fully playable. We make them reasonably hard as an
incentive to get hints and maps from us, though many many people solve them
without contacting us. (This may be because people are smart, or it may be
because there are walkthroughs for them on the archives. :)

We're working on improving our distribution and marketing, though we don't
have much capital to invest.

>I need to know this stuff because I'd like to hit the 3 or hell, even 4
>digit range with some of my Vertigo games.

Unless you think we are doing something radically incompetent, I wouldn't
expect to see anywhere near those numbers. As text games go, the
Unnkulians are pretty well known; probably thousands have played them, if
we are to judge from download numbers on ftp sites. (Not necessarily a
good measure, true.)

>Michael Roberts suggested to me that I should use the trilogy technique,
>where they register the first part of your game, and then get the other
>parts. Does this appeal to anyone?

It's a good idea, but it requires a huge time investment. Writing three
"Commander Keen" games is not much harder than writing one, if you first
design some generality into the system you use. Unfortunately, writing
three IF games in a trilogy is as hard as, well, writing three separate IF
games. That's why we haven't done that -- we still only have two shareware
games out as it is.

The most frustrating thing is not the pathetic shareware returns (we
entirely expected that because shareware almost never works for games,
especially not off-beat ones), but the fact that we're spending vast
amounts of time on games that almost no one will ever even see. It seems
unworkable to put thousands of hours into profitless shareware, but on the
other hand it's fairly unsatisfying to spend three years on a game that
only 30 people besides the playtesters will ever see.

It's not clear that there is a commercial market for text games, and since
we haven't really invested any significant time or money in marketing
(yet), our efforts don't necessarily make the water less muddy. We
still have high hopes.

>Or how about offering a package like Infocom used to...a nice box with
>full color cover art, a back write-up, and a little 'kit' of stuff inside
>to help set the mood.

Yeah, sink $5000 into getting little plastic widgets and color boxes made
when you're only going to sell 50 copies! We do have nice little manuals
for the commericial ones -- they're just like the ones that come with "real
games" and they're in the same amusing spirit as earlier commerical text
game manuals. But you can't expect there to be a market for
expensively-packaged text games until you start getting thousands of sales.

It's certainly not over -- the jury's still out. We don't have incredible
amounts of free time in which to make more things happen right now, but
we're working at improving things slowly.

>Really, the only one I ever got anywhere in was UU1/2.

A lot of people say that Unnkulia 1/2 is their favorite one, but,
ironically, it seems to have failed dismally at its marketing purpose,
which was to get people to buy Zero.

Paulie

unread,
Nov 10, 1993, 10:39:32 AM11/10/93
to

Well at this time I am using tads as a vehicle towards programming
smart looking adventures. Once done, I'll turn my eyes towards the bbs
market. I am a sysop of a 24 node bbs running MajorBBS, and the one
thing on there is multi-user gaming that people really like. If there
was ever market for IF games, it's on a multi-user bbs system like
mine.

Well, there I go....letting out my trade secrets....

Greg Knauss

unread,
Nov 10, 1993, 7:45:40 PM11/10/93
to
whiz...@uclink.berkeley.edu (Gerry Kevin Wilson) writes:

>I found your long answer to why must IF be puzzle based rather interesting.
>"No reason", he smugly replied.

I wasn't trying to be smug. I was trying to say that there's no reason for
IF to be as constraining as it has been. Why did writing move beyond
recording business transactions? Because there was no reason for it not
to. IF has the same potential.

>I'll give you several damn good reasons why
>we make IF puzzle-based. One, it cuts down your workload by acres and acres.

But is ease-of-implementation an excuse for not exploring boundries? IF,
near as I can see, is trying to be an art, and art rarely reaches its
potential by being easy.
Forget practial matters for a second and imagine IF without
technical limitations. Is it still puzzle-based? Why?

>Two, I really don't believe that such a
>product would be worthwhile in terms of time investment vs. player enjoyment.

But a product like that already exists -- a few, in fact; A Mind Forever
Voyaging being the one that I'm most familiar with. It's only got one or
two puzzles and is largely an exercise (an _experience_) in exploring. It
breaks out of a lot of the typical adventure game stereotypes. It doesn't
succeed fully, no, but it takes a couple of good shots.
AMFV was an experiment, and I think there should be more like it.

>(Hell, you can barely sell traditional IF to the
>computing masses anymore. They don't want to read, they want to be spoonfed
>everything with these gorgeous pictures, and could care less about story,
>characterization, or anything else associated with writing.)

True, unfortunately. But I'm speaking largely towards theory here, not
the real world. Where _can_ IF go? Is there anything in its foundation
that says it must be puzzle-based/right-brained/logical?
I don't think so, just like writing (or movie-making or painting
or whatever) doesn't have to be.
If I were going to write a commercial (or shareware -- hi, Dave)
game today, I'd sure make it puzzle-based. It's what the market wants.
But that's not going to stop me from wonder what else the form _could_
produce.

Mathematical Institute, (0865) 2-73525

unread,
Nov 11, 1993, 6:01:19 AM11/11/93
to

The trouble with registrations is that you have to choose between
being paid and being played.

Since I only write for fun, I prefer the latter. But actually I
suspect the number of players of shareware games is quite a lot
larger than the number of honest ones.

Graham Nelson

David Baggett

unread,
Nov 11, 1993, 12:54:09 PM11/11/93
to
In article <CGAy4...@quotron.com> gr...@duke.quotron.com (Greg Knauss) writes:
>IF, near as I can see, is trying to be an art, and art rarely reaches its
>potential by being easy.

I don't know if IF is really trying to be an art. No one who is trying
seems to be succeeding at making artistic IF, except perhaps for Moriarty.
(Yes, Planetfall and Zork are fun, but art they ain't.)

The way I see it, most IF like pop music -- some IF is very artistic and
interesting, but this is secondary to the primary goals, which are
accessibility and entertainment.

T-Zero was an overt attempt at "artistic" IF. Most people seem to find the
author's "literary leanings" (as he puts it) annoying rather than art- or
fun-producing.

Part of the problem is this: if you look at all the IF that's out there
(free, shareware, commerical) it's painfully obvious that there's a general
lack of basic *craft* -- just the basic ability to put words on the screen
that say what the author really wants them to say. It is possible to have
art without craft, but it's much less likely.

The book world has many hoops to jump through before the novelist gets
published. There are no such barriers for IF, because IF is not a popular
medium right now. In this free-for-all period anyone can write IF and
distribute it widely. This has good and bad points. (Mainly: good for
authors, bad for consumers.)

Jessica Weissman

unread,
Nov 9, 1993, 6:43:11 PM11/9/93
to
In a msg on <Nov0923:43, David Baggett of 1:109/716 writes:
{lotsa quoted stuff left out}

DB> Hmmm. Sounds like she's trying to write an interactive novel
DB> rather than a game. There's a big difference. People like
DB> to play games. They don't care dipsquat about an interactive
DB> novel. The reason is perhaps that the medium is inherently
DB> annyoing -- it's just not as nice to read text off a glowing
DB> CRT than it is off a printed page. People will only put up
DB> with it if there's some additional payback. I think this is
DB> why many people object to long descriptions -- it's just
DB> annoying to read them on the screen. Rememeber, it has to be
DB> fun, not just interesting.

When you say stuff like "people like to play games" and "they don't care
dipsquat about an interactive novel" you are speaking from your point of view.


Lots of "people" care a whole lot about interactive novels, and write them,
and read them. They just aren't precisely the same people who like games. I
agree that mixing the genres doesn't work, but that's no reason to ignore the
large and enthusiastic group of interactive novel people.

I think one can get into real trouble by saying and thinking things about
"people" in general based on one's own point of view and one's friends or
others who share one's interests. I suspect it would be unusual for someone
to have friends who constituted a good enough random sample to make a poll of
them a good indicator of what "people" in general want or like. The most any
of us can do, I think, is figure out what people like us want.


Travers Naran

unread,
Nov 15, 1993, 12:31:51 AM11/15/93
to
jessica....@his.com (Jessica Weissman) writes:

>Lots of "people" care a whole lot about interactive novels, and write them,
>and read them. They just aren't precisely the same people who like games. I
>agree that mixing the genres doesn't work, but that's no reason to ignore the
>large and enthusiastic group of interactive novel people.

What exactly IS an interactive Novel? Is it where the reader can interact with
the plot and characters or just a HyperText form of a novel?

--
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Travers Naran | "We fear
Mail address: na...@fraser.sfu.ca or na...@sfu.ca | change. WHACK!
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada | WHACK! WHACK!"
Cmpt. Science student wanna-be | -Garth
Trekker, Leaper, Red Dwarf'er, Prober, etc. | "Wayne's World"
--------------------------------------------------------------------------

David Baggett

unread,
Nov 15, 1993, 5:57:12 PM11/15/93
to
In article <75331534...@Clone.his.com> jessica....@his.com (Jessica Weissman) writes:
>When you say stuff like "people like to play games" and "they don't care
>dipsquat about an interactive novel" you are speaking from your point of
>view.

I didn't mean to offend anyone. But no, it's not even necessarily my
personal feeling. I'm saying it based on what the market is collectively
telling computer entertainment authors -- and that is, "we won't buy that
kind of stuff."

>Lots of "people" care a whole lot about interactive novels, and write them,
>and read them. They just aren't precisely the same people who like games. I
>agree that mixing the genres doesn't work, but that's no reason to ignore the
>large and enthusiastic group of interactive novel people.

Uh, who are these people, and who are they giving their money to? Until
there's some economic incentive for writing these kinds of things, they'll
never be really widespread or well-known in a largely capitalist world.
(The same basically applies to text games right now, though the future is
not perfectly clear.)

Also, don't you think you're exaggerating a bit when you say "large and
enthusiastic"? You mean "large" like a couple hundred people, I assume.
When you're talking about selling entertainment software -- stuff that's
accessible enough to be widely played -- you're talking about tens or
hundreds of thousands. Pure text IF games certainly aren't that popular
either, but you'll find more people who know and like text games than
people who have even tried a hypertext novel.

Finally, if there's such a large and enthusiastic supporting audience,
where are they on the net? Is there another group that this stuff is
discussed in? Except for Jorn's posts along these lines I can't think of
many relevant posts here. (This is a serious question.)

Mathematical Institute, (0865) 2-73525

unread,
Nov 16, 1993, 4:43:56 AM11/16/93
to
In article <2btu81...@life.ai.mit.edu>, d...@min.ai.mit.edu (David Baggett) writes:
>
> I don't know if IF is really trying to be an art. No one who is trying
> seems to be succeeding at making artistic IF, except perhaps for Moriarty.
> (Yes, Planetfall and Zork are fun, but art they ain't.)
>
> The way I see it, most IF like pop music -- some IF is very artistic and
> interesting, but this is secondary to the primary goals, which are
> accessibility and entertainment.
>

Well... I think this may be taking too high-brow a definition of "art",
myself. IF is obviously more of an art than a craft (whereas, for
instance, crossword puzzle compiling is the other way around) but the
artistic element consists mainly of building atmosphere. Even plot is,
I think, secondary to this.

In that sense I think "The Lurking Horror", for instance, qualifies
admirably. An unpretentious game but worth playing. Even (and this is
stretching a point!) "Leather Goddesses of Phobos" has a case (though
I think Mr Meretzky is over-rated).

Graham Nelson
Oxford, UK

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