FYI, my review of Nick Montfort's "Twisty Little Passages"...

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John Miles

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Apr 16, 2004, 4:25:01 PM4/16/04
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... is up on Slashdot, for any interested parties who haven't read the
book yet.

http://books.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/04/14/0137208&mode=thread

-- jm

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Andrew Plotkin

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Apr 17, 2004, 12:16:04 PM4/17/04
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Here, John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
> ... is up on Slashdot, for any interested parties who haven't read the
> book yet.
>
> http://books.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=04/04/14/0137208&mode=thread

Nifty article. Thanks. (Also thanks for mentioning me. :)

However, I want to take up your argument.

Montfort's defintion of IF: A text-accepting, text-generating computer
program; a potential narrative; a simulated world; a game with a goal.

John Miles wrote (on slashdot):

> Works which do not include each of these elements are deliberately
> excluded, among them "hypertext fiction," most graphical computer
> games, and numerous experimental titles. In this respect, Montfort
> perhaps misses an opportunity to reflect upon the true extent of
> IF's influence over the rest of the entertainment software world.
> With a reported 30,000 lines of text in Deus Ex 2 - more than any
> Infocom game ever boasted - I'd argue that the historical text-only
> criterion is becoming more questionable all the time.

First, I would say that Montfort has defined *textual* interactive
fiction. I include graphical adventure games as "IF". Now, that's an
argument about terminology, so maybe it's not worth bringing up. But
when you put it in those terms, it highlights the (unquestionable)
influence of _Adventure_/_Zork_ on _Myst_ and _The Seventh Guest_, and
the influence of *those* games on modern hybrid action/adventures like
_Deus Ex_ and _Silent Hill_.

However, I *don't* see that influence in a simplistic comparison of
"lines of text". _The Joy of Cooking_ has more than 30000 lines of
text, but it's not a text adventure. (Or an adventure game, or a game,
or fiction.)

I haven't played _Deus Ex 2_, so I'll fall back to _Deus Ex_. It has a
lot of dialogue, much of which is interactive -- you have menus of
response choices, which can affect the course of the game at both high
and low levels. (A common interface in modern text adventures,
although not one that Infocom used. Mmm, except for _Journey_.)

Now this aspect of _DX_ is adventure-like, but in the manner of a
choose-your-own-adventure book. You have a small list of known
options. So it's possible to try every option available to you; if you
take advantage of quick-save and quick-load options, you can try
*every* option in a dialogue without much trouble. This is a basically
mechanical approach to playing the game, which (IMHO) is antithetical
to adventure gaming.

The "text-accepting" interface is so suited to IF because the range of
possible inputs is practically unlimited; the range of *reasonable*
inputs is huge, but still understandable, without being *completely*
understandable. That's why Montfort was correct to include it as an
essential criterion. (Note that this is my analysis, not his.)

It's also true that this dialogue system, though a critical part of
_DX_, is not the *majority* of _DX_. Most of what you do in the game
is maneuver an avatar around a 3D environment populated by enemies.
Your interactions with them are based on line of sight, proximity,
health and damage statistics, awareness AI, 3D positioning for weapon
use. In other words, _DX_ is primarily a shooter/stealther action
game.

The fact that it has an adventure (or CYOA-like) dialogue system,
written in prose, is an adventure *element*. We can recognize this
without loosening the criteria of interactive fiction. In fact, we
*shouldn't* loosen them. If you keep loosening the criteria of various
game types, as games hybridize, you eventually can say nothing but
"Well, that's a game." Which is true -- but it prevents you from
discussing *how* the game incorporates various elements of design.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

John Miles

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Apr 17, 2004, 10:30:25 PM4/17/04
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In article <c5rl84$1nk$1...@reader2.panix.com>, erky...@eblong.com says...

> Nifty article. Thanks. (Also thanks for mentioning me. :)
>

Thanks for the feedback! The review was way too long, but I couldn't
stand to leave out any relevant topics or links. (I wish I'd run across
Nick's own site at www.nickm.com in time to include it, too.)

I see that /. just greenlighted Stephen's announcement of Comp '04. The
comp announcement didn't even make the front page last year, so it's
good to see two leading IF-related stories posted so close together.

> However, I want to take up your argument.
>
> Montfort's defintion of IF: A text-accepting, text-generating computer
> program; a potential narrative; a simulated world; a game with a goal.
>
> John Miles wrote (on slashdot):
>
> > Works which do not include each of these elements are deliberately
> > excluded, among them "hypertext fiction," most graphical computer
> > games, and numerous experimental titles. In this respect, Montfort
> > perhaps misses an opportunity to reflect upon the true extent of
> > IF's influence over the rest of the entertainment software world.
> > With a reported 30,000 lines of text in Deus Ex 2 - more than any
> > Infocom game ever boasted - I'd argue that the historical text-only
> > criterion is becoming more questionable all the time.
>

> (snip)


> However, I *don't* see that influence in a simplistic comparison of
> "lines of text". _The Joy of Cooking_ has more than 30000 lines of
> text, but it's not a text adventure. (Or an adventure game, or a game,
> or fiction.)

I'll buy that... the quantity of text in question doesn't tell you
anything useful.



> I haven't played _Deus Ex 2_, so I'll fall back to _Deus Ex_. It has a
> lot of dialogue, much of which is interactive -- you have menus of
> response choices, which can affect the course of the game at both high
> and low levels. (A common interface in modern text adventures,
> although not one that Infocom used. Mmm, except for _Journey_.)
>
> Now this aspect of _DX_ is adventure-like, but in the manner of a
> choose-your-own-adventure book. You have a small list of known
> options. So it's possible to try every option available to you; if you
> take advantage of quick-save and quick-load options, you can try
> *every* option in a dialogue without much trouble. This is a basically
> mechanical approach to playing the game, which (IMHO) is antithetical
> to adventure gaming.

Perhaps, but the same argument could've been applied to the Legend
titles, which could be either verbally- or menu- driven (if you left the
lame-o verb menus enabled, that is).

The wide-open possibility space of a > prompt is certainly a memorable
part of the historical IF experience for most of us, but really, if you
want to cite "text" as a defining characteristic of IF, I believe the
text that issues from the game to the player is more important than the
player's textual input.

The textual/graphical UI dichotomy in IF was a bit of a troll-ish thing
for me to add to the review, but I couldn't resist. I spent a lot of
time thinking about asymmetrical textual interfaces at Origin Systems
back in the late Eighties, when I was trying to sell them on the idea of
doing a graphical IF title. Fast-forwarding fifteen years, I have an
(unannounced) project under way that may bring the issue to a head
before long. :)

Stephen Granade

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Apr 18, 2004, 11:09:40 AM4/18/04
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John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> writes:

> In article <c5rl84$1nk$1...@reader2.panix.com>, erky...@eblong.com says...
> > Nifty article. Thanks. (Also thanks for mentioning me. :)
>
> Thanks for the feedback! The review was way too long, but I couldn't
> stand to leave out any relevant topics or links. (I wish I'd run across
> Nick's own site at www.nickm.com in time to include it, too.)

I was also impressed how your review sparked some actual interesting
conversations rather than merely reviews of your review.

> I see that /. just greenlighted Stephen's announcement of Comp '04. The
> comp announcement didn't even make the front page last year, so it's
> good to see two leading IF-related stories posted so close together.

Indeed. I was actually surprised to see both of them make the front
page, rather than being relegated to one of the sub-pages.

Stephen

--
Stephen Granade
ste...@granades.com

Andrew Plotkin

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Apr 18, 2004, 10:19:05 PM4/18/04
to
Here, John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
> In article <c5rl84$1nk$1...@reader2.panix.com>, erky...@eblong.com says...
>
> > I haven't played _Deus Ex 2_, so I'll fall back to _Deus Ex_. It has a
> > lot of dialogue, much of which is interactive -- you have menus of
> > response choices, which can affect the course of the game at both high
> > and low levels. (A common interface in modern text adventures,
> > although not one that Infocom used. Mmm, except for _Journey_.)
> >
> > Now this aspect of _DX_ is adventure-like, but in the manner of a
> > choose-your-own-adventure book. You have a small list of known
> > options. So it's possible to try every option available to you; if you
> > take advantage of quick-save and quick-load options, you can try
> > *every* option in a dialogue without much trouble. This is a basically
> > mechanical approach to playing the game, which (IMHO) is antithetical
> > to adventure gaming.
>
> Perhaps, but the same argument could've been applied to the Legend
> titles, which could be either verbally- or menu- driven (if you left the
> lame-o verb menus enabled, that is).

And I *do* apply it to those games. That's what makes the menus lame;
they flatten a critical part of the game experience.

> The wide-open possibility space of a > prompt is certainly a memorable
> part of the historical IF experience for most of us, but really, if you
> want to cite "text" as a defining characteristic of IF, I believe the
> text that issues from the game to the player is more important than the
> player's textual input.

Why?

Changing (say) a cut-scene from video to animation to textual prose is
a shallow change. It's a stylistic difference, but it doesn't change
the way the game plays out.

Changing the input form of a game goes right down to the bottom. It
forces you to redesign choices, scenes, pacing, puzzles. You wind up
with a different game.

John Miles

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Apr 18, 2004, 11:19:29 PM4/18/04
to
In article <c5vcup$4v4$1...@reader2.panix.com>, erky...@eblong.com says...

> And I *do* apply it to those games. That's what makes the menus lame;
> they flatten a critical part of the game experience.

OK, that's fine, but you're not going to convince many people that the
Legend titles shouldn't be considered "IF" because their verbs were
explicitly revealed to the player and made available for point-and-click
selection.

> > The wide-open possibility space of a > prompt is certainly a memorable
> > part of the historical IF experience for most of us, but really, if you
> > want to cite "text" as a defining characteristic of IF, I believe the
> > text that issues from the game to the player is more important than the
> > player's textual input.
>
> Why?

Because the creative impulse principally flows in one direction, from
author to reader. Games have that in common with books, movies, music,
Vogon poetry, you name it. To the extent the player is required to
exercise creativity to advance an IF story, the mechanism through which
that creativity is expressed seems to me the least important of all.

> Changing (say) a cut-scene from video to animation to textual prose is
> a shallow change. It's a stylistic difference, but it doesn't change
> the way the game plays out.
>
> Changing the input form of a game goes right down to the bottom. It
> forces you to redesign choices, scenes, pacing, puzzles. You wind up
> with a different game.

At the species level, perhaps, but if there's a taxonomy of
entertainment media, with music, film, games, and printed fiction at the
"kingdom" level and Legend and Infocom games duking it out at the
"species" level, I think of IF as a "family." It's not a leaf, in other
words, but a branch. And a bigger one than most people think.

Andrew Plotkin

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Apr 20, 2004, 5:55:20 PM4/20/04
to
Here, John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
> In article <c5vcup$4v4$1...@reader2.panix.com>, erky...@eblong.com says...
> > And I *do* apply it to those games. That's what makes the menus lame;
> > they flatten a critical part of the game experience.
>
> OK, that's fine, but you're not going to convince many people that the
> Legend titles shouldn't be considered "IF" because their verbs were
> explicitly revealed to the player and made available for point-and-click
> selection.

I'm saying that it's close to IF, but falls short -- in the same way
that CYOA books do -- possibly not as *far* short, because there are
more menu options than a CYOA has. This is my account of why the menus
are lame, and the games are better if you turn them off. I think it's
a good account.



> > > The wide-open possibility space of a > prompt is certainly a memorable
> > > part of the historical IF experience for most of us, but really, if you
> > > want to cite "text" as a defining characteristic of IF, I believe the
> > > text that issues from the game to the player is more important than the
> > > player's textual input.
> >
> > Why?
>
> Because the creative impulse principally flows in one direction, from
> author to reader. Games have that in common with books, movies, music,
> Vogon poetry, you name it. To the extent the player is required to
> exercise creativity to advance an IF story, the mechanism through which
> that creativity is expressed seems to me the least important of all.

Then I just have to disagree.

Perhaps over the scope of "important". Important for what? I'm saying
that the mechanism of interactivity is the most important aspect when
you're trying to define the *game genre*.

It probably isn't the most important aspect for conveying, say, the
story or setting of a game. If I wanted to know whether the game was a
Western or a zombie-horror piece, the input mechanism wouldn't tell me
much. But when I want to know whether the game is adventure, shooter,
stealther, platformer, tactical combat, etc -- the categories that we
think of as "game genres" -- it's all about how the interactivity
works.

> > Changing (say) a cut-scene from video to animation to textual prose is
> > a shallow change. It's a stylistic difference, but it doesn't change
> > the way the game plays out.
> >
> > Changing the input form of a game goes right down to the bottom. It
> > forces you to redesign choices, scenes, pacing, puzzles. You wind up
> > with a different game.
>
> At the species level, perhaps, but if there's a taxonomy of
> entertainment media, with music, film, games, and printed fiction at the
> "kingdom" level and Legend and Infocom games duking it out at the
> "species" level, I think of IF as a "family." It's not a leaf, in other
> words, but a branch.

I'm not sure how this analogy helps. By giving several criteria for
IF, I'm already slicing finer than a single-inheritance tree can
represent -- just because a game can fulfil one criterion but not
another. Or fulfil one fully, and another only partially.

Bennett Standeven

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Apr 21, 2004, 11:20:50 PM4/21/04
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message news:<c64688$mj1$1...@reader2.panix.com>...

> Here, John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
> > In article <c5vcup$4v4$1...@reader2.panix.com>, erky...@eblong.com says...
> > > And I *do* apply it to those games. That's what makes the menus lame;
> > > they flatten a critical part of the game experience.
> >
> > OK, that's fine, but you're not going to convince many people that the
> > Legend titles shouldn't be considered "IF" because their verbs were
> > explicitly revealed to the player and made available for point-and-click
> > selection.
>
> I'm saying that it's close to IF, but falls short -- in the same way
> that CYOA books do -- possibly not as *far* short, because there are
> more menu options than a CYOA has. This is my account of why the menus
> are lame, and the games are better if you turn them off. I think it's
> a good account.

Turning the menus off doesn't increase the number of choices any,
though. It only makes them less obvious. To get a true "IF", you would
need to have an extensible vocabulary, or the like.

Andrew Plotkin

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Apr 22, 2004, 8:55:23 PM4/22/04
to

Any given text adventure has a fixed vocabulary. It's all *about* how
obvious the choices are. (Okay, that and how many of them there are.)

Nick Montfort

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Apr 26, 2004, 10:46:02 PM4/26/04
to
Sorry for coming into the thread so late here. I read the messages
here soon after they were posted, but was out of town (talking about
interactive fiction, pleasantly) and unable to collect my thoughts to
reply.

First, John, thanks for your detailed and thoughtful review.

As is probably evident from my book, I am most interested in
text-based or all-text IF. Whether or not something like Myst or Deus
Ex should be considered IF, I don't find them as interesting as things
like Shade, Varicella, Bad Machine, Savoir-Faire, etc., and I think
this is because those IF works offer a very pleasing symmetry: the
program gives you text, and you give it text in return. Also, I like
the combination of literature and game, and I see that in a lot of
text-based IF - maybe even in things that don't seem literary to most
people - but not in purely graphical games.

Like zarf, I generally think that menus are lame. I've liked some
things that use conversation menus, but I think it was despite the
menus, not because of them.

John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote in message news:<MPG.1aece51d3...@news-central.giganews.com>...


> Because the creative impulse principally flows in one direction, from

> author to reader. Games have that in common with books, movies, [...]

I don't think the creative impulse flows only from Lego designer to
the person who plays with Legos, or from the designer of a magnetic
poetry kit to the person who assembles poetry from it, or from the
architect of a building to the people who decide how to live and work
in it, and similarly, I don't think the author of IF actually has to
do everything that is creative.

But instead of trying to locate the creativity somewhere, in the
author or in the interactor, it seems more productive to look at what
is interesting about IF and see what interface facilitates that
interesting type of activity. Even if the author is the only
"creative" one, I think a good bit of interesting IF is like a
literary riddle in some ways, and the textual exchange works well to
let someone solve the riddle of some particular piece of IF. Better, I
think, than if you did the sort of clicking around that is needed in
Myst or The 7th Guest.

Also, I'm a fan of looking at simple and fundamental things first
before trying to understand more complex things. If you look at
all-text IF, there's no danger of confusing some effect of
"multimedia" with some effect of "interactivity," since there is no
multimedia. If you look at Combat or Air-Sea Battle before you look at
Tomb Raider and Half-Life, you're less likely to think that film
theory can explain everything about video games.

-nm http://nickm.com
(Please contact me at my nickm.com address, username nickm.)

John Miles

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Apr 28, 2004, 8:09:47 PM4/28/04
to
In article <e3f3cf29.04042...@posting.google.com>,
nickmo...@yahoo.com says...

> Sorry for coming into the thread so late here. I read the messages
> here soon after they were posted, but was out of town (talking about
> interactive fiction, pleasantly) and unable to collect my thoughts to
> reply.
>
> First, John, thanks for your detailed and thoughtful review.

My pleasure, Nick -- I really enjoyed the book. Ended up buying two
copies, actually. I left my first one in the Kansas City airport after
reading all but the final chapter. I'm sure some other weary traveller
has become engrossed in it by now. :)



> As is probably evident from my book, I am most interested in
> text-based or all-text IF. Whether or not something like Myst or Deus
> Ex should be considered IF, I don't find them as interesting as things
> like Shade, Varicella, Bad Machine, Savoir-Faire, etc., and I think
> this is because those IF works offer a very pleasing symmetry: the
> program gives you text, and you give it text in return. Also, I like
> the combination of literature and game, and I see that in a lot of
> text-based IF - maybe even in things that don't seem literary to most
> people - but not in purely graphical games.

I don't really disagree; to the extent that we've defined a leopard as
an animal with spots, it doesn't make sense to point at a house cat and
call it a leopard. I was mostly trying to point out that classical IF
games no longer hold a monopoly on high-quality interactive narration,
and I'm not sure the IF community as a whole appreciates that yet.

> I don't think the creative impulse flows only from Lego designer to
> the person who plays with Legos, or from the designer of a magnetic
> poetry kit to the person who assembles poetry from it, or from the
> architect of a building to the people who decide how to live and work
> in it, and similarly, I don't think the author of IF actually has to
> do everything that is creative.

Legos and magnetic poetry aren't IF, though. (If they are, I'm damned
sure going to re-submit Half-Life and Deus Ex for inclusion.) The best
exception to the one-way creativity axiom I can think of is the passage
from Mindwheel that you quoted, where a player managed to elicit a
response from the game that made sense in context while transcending
Pinsky's creative intent. Apart from isolated examples like that, IF
games that force the player to think beyond the author's creative intent
are usually bad ones in my experience.

When I fire up WinFrotz, I'm saying the same thing ("Tell me a story!")
as I am when I put in a DVD, launch a single-player game of Half-Life,
or pick up a novel. (Other IF fans may be not be so easy to please;
they may be asking for something entirely different, and I shouldn't
presume to speak for them.)

> See what interface facilitates that


> interesting type of activity. Even if the author is the only
> "creative" one, I think a good bit of interesting IF is like a
> literary riddle in some ways, and the textual exchange works well to
> let someone solve the riddle of some particular piece of IF. Better, I
> think, than if you did the sort of clicking around that is needed in
> Myst or The 7th Guest.

Perhaps, but 4,000,000+ Myst players are telling us otherwise.
(Personally, I think what they're telling us is that the play's the
thing, and not the stage it's performed upon... as long as the price of
admission isn't too steep.)


> Also, I'm a fan of looking at simple and fundamental things first
> before trying to understand more complex things. If you look at
> all-text IF, there's no danger of confusing some effect of
> "multimedia" with some effect of "interactivity," since there is no
> multimedia. If you look at Combat or Air-Sea Battle before you look at
> Tomb Raider and Half-Life, you're less likely to think that film
> theory can explain everything about video games.

Well, that's another can of worms altogether, worthy of another book
(shelf) of speculation in itself. I won't touch it.

The subject of "effects" of literary forms is an interesting one,
though. It may be the only question that really matters. For my part,
if you were to conduct brain-activity scans while I'm engaging in each
of the "tell me a story" activities I mentioned above, I'll bet they'd
be almost indistinguishable, apart from some extra firing of the
"frustration" cells when playing classical-IF and other interactive
games. All good stories have a transporting effect, regardless of the
vehicle. They impart a sense of place, and that's really about all I
ask from them.

I think it was Jaron Lanier who said, "Virtual reality is where you are
when you're on the telephone." I'd say that he pretty much nailed the
nature of storytelling in general when he said that, even if he didn't
mean to. It seems unnecessary to devote so much attention to the
putative differences between IF and other forms of computer games when
their effects on us (or at least, on me :) are so similar.

Alexandre Owen Muniz

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Apr 29, 2004, 1:14:38 AM4/29/04
to
John Miles wrote:

> I think it was Jaron Lanier who said, "Virtual reality is where you are
> when you're on the telephone." I'd say that he pretty much nailed the

It was John Perry Barlow, and it was "cyberspace", not "virtual reality".

> nature of storytelling in general when he said that, even if he didn't
> mean to.

Um, okay.

**Owen

Nick Montfort

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Apr 29, 2004, 12:48:09 PM4/29/04
to
Regarding creativity, and what makes IF different...

John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote in message news:<MPG.1af9e7a34...@news-central.giganews.com>...


> > I don't think the creative impulse flows only from Lego designer to
> > the person who plays with Legos, or from the designer of a magnetic
> > poetry kit to the person who assembles poetry from it,

> Legos and magnetic poetry aren't IF, though. (If they are, I'm damned

> sure going to re-submit Half-Life and Deus Ex for inclusion.)

Well, this was in reply to this statement of yours, which I quoted:

> > Because the creative impulse principally flows in one direction, from
> > author to reader. Games have that in common with books, movies, [...]

You're right that Legos and magnetic poetry aren't IF; book and movies
also aren't IF. My point was that IF has something in common with Legos
and magnetic poetry - the ability to be reassembled in different ways,
under certain restrictions (the shapes of the building blocks are given, the
words in the kit are given). I do think that books and movies are pretty
relevant to understanding IF and what it can do, but I think it's worthwhile
to remember that other media exist which provide for a combination of
designer creativity and user creativity. Maybe IF can do that, although I
agree that the examples of interesting things along these lines so far are
quite isolated.

> When I fire up WinFrotz, I'm saying the same thing ("Tell me a story!")
> as I am when I put in a DVD, launch a single-player game of Half-Life,
> or pick up a novel.

I can't say that I'm looking for the same thing when I start Varicella, Bad
Machine, or Savoir-Faire as when I watch a movie, play Tempest 2000,
or read a novel. And I'm not looking for the same thing in those last three
cases, either. I'm not asking Tempest 2000 to tell me a story, certainly.

There are points of comparison, but it's worth thinking about what makes
the experiences different. If Adam, Dan, and Emily didn't think about that,
they wouldn't have written IF that was so good.

> > I think a good bit of interesting IF is like a
> > literary riddle in some ways, and the textual exchange works well to
> > let someone solve the riddle of some particular piece of IF. Better, I
> > think, than if you did the sort of clicking around that is needed in
> > Myst or The 7th Guest.
>
> Perhaps, but 4,000,000+ Myst players are telling us otherwise.

More than four million people may have bought the flying toasters
screensaver, too. Neither of these market events would persuade me that
clicking is better than typing for experiencing and solving something that
is like a literary riddle.

I agree that we should look at what different games (and different literary
works) have in common, but we should remember the differences, too. What
if we only looked at what movies and books had in common, and we didn't
notice that movies presented moving images that could be beautiful, that
they had shots framed by a camera, and that they could be edited from the
way in which they are originally shot - while books presented a series of
words that can each resonate against the English language in some way?

Mike Roberts

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Apr 29, 2004, 1:51:36 PM4/29/04
to
"John Miles" <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
> I was mostly trying to point out that classical IF games no
> longer hold a monopoly on high-quality interactive narration,
> and I'm not sure the IF community as a whole appreciates
> that yet.

I don't think it's a matter of "yet" - the question of what exactly can be
considered IF has been debated here for years, and it's not as though most
raif'ers haven't ever seen a modern graphical adventure, or hypertext
fiction, or RTS, or FPS, etc. And anyway, it's not as though the IF
community as a whole has a single opinion on this question - I don't even
think there's a clear majority who feel that way. I'd guess there's a
subset of us who hold the strictly-text view, a subset who see IF as broadly
inclusive, and a majority who either don't much care one way or the other,
or who see the whole question as silly definitional lawyering, or both.

So it's really not that the IF community as a whole is all that doctrinaire
about what constitues IF. It's more that the group has self-selected for
people who simply like the text-based kind, as a matter of taste.

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com

Mike Roberts

unread,
Apr 29, 2004, 2:32:43 PM4/29/04
to
"Nick Montfort" <nickmo...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> John Miles <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
> > NM again:

> > > I think a good bit of interesting IF is like a literary riddle
> > > in some ways, and the textual exchange works well to
> > > let someone solve the riddle of some particular piece of IF.
> > > Better, I think, than if you did the sort of clicking around
> > > that is needed in Myst or The 7th Guest.
> >
> > Perhaps, but 4,000,000+ Myst players are telling us otherwise.
>
> More than four million people may have bought the flying toasters
> screensaver, too. Neither of these market events would persuade
> me that clicking is better than typing for experiencing and solving
> something that is like a literary riddle.

Your logic is impeccable, but I think you dismiss Myst et al too lightly.
I'll grant that popularity and official software publisher category
identification are no basis for equating graphical games with text IF.
However, subjectively speaking, I've had entirely satisfying IF player
experiences while playing graphical adventure games. That is, whatever I'm
personally looking for in an IF experience, I've gotten that thing,
undiluted, from graphical games.

From this, I have to draw one of two conclusions about your conclusions: (1)
if the IF-as-riddle model is sufficient to describe what I want from IF,
then command lines must not be uniquely suited for implementing
computer-mediated riddles; (2) if it's true that command lines are uniquely
suited for implementing computer-mediated riddles, then the IF-as-riddle
model must not describe what I want from and value in IF.

I tend to think (1) is more likely. Maybe the question of whether the
command-line interface is uniquely suited for riddle implementation is a
matter of taste in riddles. The command-line might be especially good for
the kind of lateral-thinking puzzle of the stereotypical children's riddle,
where the point is to come up with the surprise secret word; clearly,
choosing the surprise secret word from a menu defeats the purpose. But it
seems to me that the notion of a riddle can be extended to all sorts of
other puzzles as well - puzzles of deductive reasoning, geometry,
arithmetic, inductive logic, and so on. Even the earliest adventure games
had a lot more of these than wordplay puzzles, and many of these are readily
presentable in graphic form.

5parrow

unread,
Apr 29, 2004, 3:55:49 PM4/29/04
to
Mike Roberts wrote:
> "John Miles" <jmi...@pop.removethistomailme.net> wrote:
>
>>I was mostly trying to point out that classical IF games no
>>longer hold a monopoly on high-quality interactive narration,
>>and I'm not sure the IF community as a whole appreciates
>>that yet.
>
> I'd guess there's a
> subset of us who hold the strictly-text view, a subset who see IF as broadly
> inclusive, and a majority who either don't much care one way or the other,
> or who see the whole question as silly definitional lawyering, or both.

One could argue that the term "fiction" is more often applied to textual
media (books, stories in text form, etc) than to visual media (comics,
movies, etc). Then it would be appropriate to define "interactive
fiction" as being limited to textual media, even though the experiential
properties of IF may be shared by some visual games.

I suggest that the term "interactive /narrative/" be applied to the set
of interactive media works (usu. games) which share experiential
properties with IF. Then IF would be a subset of IN, and certain
graphical games would also fall under the IN ambit.

This is, of course, semantics. However, without semantics, the world
would be a much less pleasant place (IMO).

For my part, I don't find 'storyless' games such as Adventure or Zork to
be compelling at all, certainly not in the ["literary" or "narrative"]
way that many modern IFs are. If you must include them, then I would
venture that a great number of graphical games would fall into similar
categories, including Quake and its ilk.

--
- 5parrowhawk (to email, please rearrange for the mail server at
Georgia Institute of Technology).

() ascii ribbon campaign | what "yaoi" really
/\ - against html e-mail | stands for:
- against M$ attachments | "yamete, oshiri itai".

ems...@mindspring.com

unread,
Apr 29, 2004, 8:01:17 PM4/29/04
to
nickmo...@yahoo.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<e3f3cf29.04042...@posting.google.com>...

> As is probably evident from my book, I am most interested in
> text-based or all-text IF. Whether or not something like Myst or Deus
> Ex should be considered IF, I don't find them as interesting as things
> like Shade, Varicella, Bad Machine, Savoir-Faire, etc., and I think
> this is because those IF works offer a very pleasing symmetry: the
> program gives you text, and you give it text in return.

I know we've had this conversation before, but I'm still not entirely
convinced that that symmetry is as simple as it seems, at least in
terms of allowing the player to express himself or creating a
literature authored by two people.

The experience of writing IF commands is quite a lot different from
the experience of writing IF room and object descriptions; it's maybe
a little closer to *programming*, since you're using a very restricted
vocabulary and syntax and trying to communicate with a computer. But
coauthorship? Ability to exert a creative influence through the
particular phrasing of commands? No, I don't see that as much.
Sometimes I get frustrated and take it out on the game, but usually
that comes in the form of me typing >KICK POTTED PLANT and the game
spitting out errors. Not a lot of creative collaboration there.

[Except when beta-testing. When I test, I keep a transcript, and I
type my comments into the game as I go along; so then I *am*
communicating with the author via the means of what I type, and
possibly even having some effect on future forms of the game. Then
the wacky commands, plant-kicking, etc., have a purpose: to tell the
author I'm getting frustrated, confused, or bored, or that I want the
world model to work a different way. Judging from the transcripts I
receive, at least some other testers look at it a bit the same way.]

Anyway, since we first discussed this issue, I've given a fair amount
of thought to how one might allow player commands to affect the
expression of an IF piece. There are a few bits in CoS where a given
description or action response will carefully echo the exact verb the
player has used. That was fun to program and sort of an amusing toy
to play with when I got bored testing other aspects of the game, but
it didn't affect anything at more than a surface level, and I'm not
sure how interesting it really is. Everything you can do that
actually affects the story has to do with making choices among several
options offered by the world model, and have to be expressed in the
usual IFfy ways. I could imagine many, if not all, of these choices
transferred into a graphical medium, with the player just as
meaningfully a coauthor as he is in the original. Though arguably the
answer in both cases would be "not very": the player is still
constrained to one of a finite number of possible paths based on a
finite number of choices I've written into the model.

So, leaving aside for a moment games with branches and multiple
endings, there's also a possible player relationship with the game
that I think of less as co-authorship and more as performance. Though
later parts felt relatively railroaded to me, the first scene of "The
Act of Misdirection" comes to mind. After playing it through once to
get the hang of things, I was able to go through again doing the scene
*in a different style* -- the same puzzle solutions, but with more
flair -- and what is amazing and wonderful is that it worked. The
game understood what I was doing and why, and it let me be more suave,
polished, and clever than I'd been the first time. (Pretty cool for
those of us who are rarely suave in real life.)

But none of these things really relies on the textual nature of the
medium, and I'm still not convinced it's possible to make the player's
textual input as expressive and authorial as the game's textual
output. (There is, obviously, that small class of word-game IF that
includes "Ad Verbum", but even there, I wonder -- there are solutions
and non-solutions based on word choice, but to what degree is it
meaningful to call that co-authorship, any more than any other kind of
puzzle-solving is?)

Nick Montfort

unread,
Apr 29, 2004, 11:52:31 PM4/29/04
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote in message news:<h0ckc.25$Ok1...@news.oracle.com>...

> I think you dismiss Myst et al too lightly.

I didn't mean to dismiss Myst, or graphical adventures in general,
which I also like. I was trying to point out that large numbers of
people making a certain purchase isn't really relevant to a discussion
of artistic or literary or gaming possibilities.

> I've had entirely satisfying IF player experiences while playing

> graphical adventure games. ... From this, I have to draw one of two


> conclusions about your conclusions: (1) if the IF-as-riddle model is
> sufficient to describe what I want from IF, then command lines must
> not be uniquely suited for implementing computer-mediated riddles;
> (2) if it's true that command lines are uniquely suited for
> implementing computer-mediated riddles, then the IF-as-riddle model
> must not describe what I want from and value in IF.

I think the discussion here is getting a bit too absolute and general
to be useful. I'm not claiming that the riddle concept explains
everything about IF, nor am I claiming that text input and text output
is the only way to do things that are riddle-like or the only way to
create interest adventure games or piece of electronic literature.

I am saying that there's something special, and worthy of attention,
about a symmetric textual exchange, a situation like conversation.
Figuring out a riddle-like world as you type text in reply to text
seems particularly (if not uniquely) interesting. Concretely, the
three games I mentioned accomplish interesting things along these
lines, using the special capabilities of a text in/text out type of
system.

I'm also thinking of the riddle -- the literary riddle, specifically
-- as a way of understanding the whole experience of a particular
piece of interactive fiction, not particular puzzles. I've tried to
relate this to literary riddles such as ones by May Swenson, Emily
Dickinson, and the poet or poets of the Exeter Book, an early
Anglo-Saxon collection of poems. I'm hoping that this provides a
useful way to integrate the "game" and "literature" aspects of IF
overall, rather than just explaining how to develop better individual
puzzles.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 1:19:08 AM4/30/04
to
"Nick Montfort" <nickmo...@yahoo.com> wrote:
> I'm not claiming that the riddle concept explains everything
> about IF, nor am I claiming that text input and text output is the
> only way to do things that are riddle-like or the only way to
> create interest adventure games or piece of electronic literature.
>
> I am saying that there's something special, and worthy of attention,
> about a symmetric textual exchange, a situation like conversation.

I have no argument with that, certainly. My observation was merely that,
for my own part, in terms of my own appreciation of IF, the essence of IF
can't be in the text input. I haven't quite put my finger on what that
essential element is, so I was looking at your model as a possible piece of
that puzzle, but maybe that's stretching it too far.

Richard Bos

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 2:20:22 PM4/30/04
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:

> From this, I have to draw one of two conclusions about your conclusions: (1)
> if the IF-as-riddle model is sufficient to describe what I want from IF,
> then command lines must not be uniquely suited for implementing
> computer-mediated riddles; (2) if it's true that command lines are uniquely
> suited for implementing computer-mediated riddles, then the IF-as-riddle
> model must not describe what I want from and value in IF.
>
> I tend to think (1) is more likely.

True enough, but neither what you want from IF nor what I want from IF
defines IF all by itself. You want riddles; some others want story-
telling; yet others want a world to explore. Text adventures with
command lines can do all those and more; graphical adventures cannot.
Graphical adventures _show_ the story, they don't tell it. It's related,
but it's not the same thing. Simplistically put, graphical adventures
are to IF as films are to books.

Richard

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 2:31:58 PM4/30/04
to
Here, Richard Bos <r...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
> "Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
> > From this, I have to draw one of two conclusions about your conclusions: (1)
> > if the IF-as-riddle model is sufficient to describe what I want from IF,
> > then command lines must not be uniquely suited for implementing
> > computer-mediated riddles; (2) if it's true that command lines are uniquely
> > suited for implementing computer-mediated riddles, then the IF-as-riddle
> > model must not describe what I want from and value in IF.
> >
> > I tend to think (1) is more likely.
>
> True enough, but neither what you want from IF nor what I want from IF
> defines IF all by itself. You want riddles; some others want story-
> telling; yet others want a world to explore. Text adventures with
> command lines can do all those and more; graphical adventures cannot.
> Graphical adventures _show_ the story, they don't tell it.

This is word-flibbling. I might as well say that books can't *tell*
stories; only a human voice can; and therefore someone who wants
"storytelling" must listen to books-on-tape.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 2:39:56 PM4/30/04
to
"Richard Bos" <r...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
> Text adventures with command lines can do all those and
> more; graphical adventures cannot. Graphical adventures
> _show_ the story, they don't tell it. It's related, but it's not
> the same thing.

Sure - and that's a big part of what I like about text IF. But I'd hasten
to point out that "with command lines" has nothing to do with that part of
it. As Emily Short pointed out earlier in the thread, the command line is
only superficially related to the prose output. You could in principal
create a text adventure without a command line, and still get most or all of
the benefits of the text output part.

Nick Montfort

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 4:48:11 PM4/30/04
to
Again, sorry for the delay in replying...

ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:


> I know we've had this conversation before, but I'm still not entirely
> convinced that that symmetry is as simple as it seems, at least in
> terms of allowing the player to express himself or creating a
> literature authored by two people.

I wasn't trying to have the same conversation -- I haven't been using
the term "co-authorship" for the past three years or so with regard to
playing IF, and I don't think it's a very useful perspective.
(Although if anyone gets it working, great.) I just think there are
other nice aspects of a symmetrical interface. People are, if not
co-authoring, at least co-writing, and "ASK THE LIBRARIAN ABOUT THE
FREEWAY" or "SYS AWARE HIGH" or "TRANSFER ALL MONIES TO MY ACCOUNT"
actually becomes part of the text in an integral way, such that it
doesn't make any sense to read a transcript without it.

> The experience of writing IF commands is quite a lot different from
> the experience of writing IF room and object descriptions; it's maybe
> a little closer to *programming*

That's a much-mentioned idea that deserves further discussion. But we
know very little about why people enjoy programming, as opposed to why
they enjoy reading and writing, so even if we figure out that playing
IF is like programming (or is, in fact, programming in an interpreted
language) we would still have a lot to do to try to figure out why
people enjoy it or not.

> So, leaving aside for a moment games with branches and multiple
> endings, there's also a possible player relationship with the game
> that I think of less as co-authorship and more as performance.

Performance is an interesting way to think of it, too. The problem
with that is that people aren't actually on a stage performing IF for
other people -- most of the time.

Anyway, I'm not looking to write IF that can be "co-authored" in a
meaningful sense by interactors, although maybe nudging things in that
direction, when we can, will be interesting. The riddle is a different
way of thinking about things that seems to me to be more productive
and helpful, and describes how someone can participate in IF in way
that *isn't* co-authorship but is still quite different than reading a
book or a non-riddle poem.

Also, one of my sentences fell apart somehow when I was repling to
Mike -- it was supposed to end "... create interesting adventure games
or pieces of electronic literature."

Richard Bos

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 6:00:46 PM4/30/04
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Here, Richard Bos <r...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
> > True enough, but neither what you want from IF nor what I want from IF
> > defines IF all by itself. You want riddles; some others want story-
> > telling; yet others want a world to explore. Text adventures with
> > command lines can do all those and more; graphical adventures cannot.
> > Graphical adventures _show_ the story, they don't tell it.
>
> This is word-flibbling.

Erm... no, I don't think it is.

> I might as well say that books can't *tell*
> stories; only a human voice can; and therefore someone who wants
> "storytelling" must listen to books-on-tape.

Now, that _is_ a trick with words. You know as well as I do that for
many people - and those people include yours truly - a story in verbal
form is very different from that same story in images. Indeed, there is
some difference between the words on paper and the words read aloud, but
that difference is a lot smaller indeed than the difference between
words and pictures - if only because, in my own case, I have an auditive
imagination, and often "hear" the words in my head anyway, when I read a
story.

Richard

Richard Bos

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 6:00:47 PM4/30/04
to
"Mike Roberts" <mjrUND...@hotmail.com> wrote:

Well, I can only say that I'd like to see you do it. CYOA games are an
attempt, but they don't quite cut the mustard, AFAIAC. I'm not sure why,
but possibly it has something to do with the strictly limited,
pre-determined number of both options and possible outputs.

All the same, I agree that command line input is less strict a demand
for IF than textual output, which, IMO, is quite required.

Richard

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Apr 30, 2004, 9:45:34 PM4/30/04
to
Here, Richard Bos <r...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>
> > Here, Richard Bos <r...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
> > > True enough, but neither what you want from IF nor what I want from IF
> > > defines IF all by itself. You want riddles; some others want story-
> > > telling; yet others want a world to explore. Text adventures with
> > > command lines can do all those and more; graphical adventures cannot.
> > > Graphical adventures _show_ the story, they don't tell it.
> >
> > This is word-flibbling.
>
> Erm... no, I don't think it is.

The sense of "storytelling" which includes books but excludes movies
is obscure to me.

(And now, if you'll pardon me, I have to go watch "Stargate SG1". :)

ems...@mindspring.com

unread,
May 1, 2004, 4:01:19 AM5/1/04
to
nickmo...@yahoo.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<e3f3cf29.04043...@posting.google.com>...

> Again, sorry for the delay in replying...
>
> ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:
> > I know we've had this conversation before, but I'm still not entirely
> > convinced that that symmetry is as simple as it seems, at least in
> > terms of allowing the player to express himself or creating a
> > literature authored by two people.
>
> I wasn't trying to have the same conversation -- I haven't been using
> the term "co-authorship" for the past three years or so with regard to
> playing IF, and I don't think it's a very useful perspective.

In other words, I have missed the point entirely? Okay, fair enough.
I was, I guess, thinking of this paradigm mostly because I couldn't
understand your emphasis on the text-in/text-out symmetry otherwise.
Understanding IF by analogy with riddles doesn't mean the answers
necessarily have to be in text form. (I think, anyway.)


> > So, leaving aside for a moment games with branches and multiple
> > endings, there's also a possible player relationship with the game
> > that I think of less as co-authorship and more as performance.
>
> Performance is an interesting way to think of it, too. The problem
> with that is that people aren't actually on a stage performing IF for
> other people -- most of the time.

Well, sure. I wasn't thinking about the audience aspect of
performance, just about the relationship that the pianist has with the
music and the composer even if no one else is in the room when he
plays. I would use a different word if I could think of one that made
sense and seemed useful.

But I'm aware that this is a flawed and extremely limited analogy. I
mostly brought it up to try to explain what was happening in "Act"
(and a few other games that attempt similar things) that's different
and interesting.

-- Emily

L. Ross Raszewski

unread,
May 1, 2004, 10:15:06 AM5/1/04
to
On Fri, 30 Apr 2004 22:00:46 GMT, Richard Bos
<r...@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
>Now, that _is_ a trick with words. You know as well as I do that for
>many people - and those people include yours truly - a story in verbal
>form is very different from that same story in images. Indeed, there is
>some difference between the words on paper and the words read aloud, but
>that difference is a lot smaller indeed than the difference between
>words and pictures - if only because, in my own case, I have an auditive
>imagination, and often "hear" the words in my head anyway, when I read a
>story.

And I have a textual imagination and can "hear" a verbal discription
in my head when I look at something.

Nick Montfort

unread,
May 2, 2004, 12:23:43 AM5/2/04
to
ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:<a69830de.04043...@posting.google.com>...

> I was, I guess, thinking of this paradigm [co-authorship] mostly because

> I couldn't understand your emphasis on the text-in/text-out symmetry
> otherwise. Understanding IF by analogy with riddles doesn't mean the
> answers necessarily have to be in text form. (I think, anyway.)

Well, a literary riddle is something made of words that has a word or
phrase as its answer. So I think the symmetry is there in the riddle.
It's true, answering in some other form -- clicking on things so as to
indicate an understanding, for instance -- also would be consistent
with the riddle idea in a broad sense, but the symmetry is part of the
essential idea of a literary riddle.

I don't think there's a very simple way in which textual exchange makes
IF interesting, but I think there are ways that it facilitates shared
expression -- I don't have to guess what a blob of a few pixels is in
order to type its name, as in King's Quest, nor do I have try to be
expressive and indicate a complex action with a mouse click. And there
are more interesting things that aren't as easy to say as "we're
telling a story together" but involve the ability of the player to
write in response to text that is being output. Ad Verbum, Nord and
Bert, and, say, Flowers for Algernon may not employ these in the most
sophisticated possible way, but I think there may be potential there
along those lines and along other lines.

Anyway, I think considering interacting with IF as performance and as
programming are quite interesting directions; of the many puzzling and
hopefully productive ways to look at what the interactor is doing in
IF, I'm just most interested, right now, in riddle-solving, co-writing,
and play, in a few different senses of play. But I think those other
ways of looking at it will also be important pieces of the puzzle, so
to speak.

ems...@mindspring.com

unread,
May 2, 2004, 8:11:22 PM5/2/04
to
nickmo...@yahoo.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<e3f3cf29.04050...@posting.google.com>...

> ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:<a69830de.04043...@posting.google.com>...
>
> > I was, I guess, thinking of this paradigm [co-authorship] mostly because
> > I couldn't understand your emphasis on the text-in/text-out symmetry
> > otherwise. Understanding IF by analogy with riddles doesn't mean the
> > answers necessarily have to be in text form. (I think, anyway.)
>
> Well, a literary riddle is something made of words that has a word or
> phrase as its answer. So I think the symmetry is there in the riddle.
> It's true, answering in some other form -- clicking on things so as to
> indicate an understanding, for instance -- also would be consistent
> with the riddle idea in a broad sense, but the symmetry is part of the
> essential idea of a literary riddle.

True.

It seems to me that this is a way in which your analogy breaks down,
though, rather than a way in which it especially fits IF. The answer,
in IF, is usually not a word, or a series of words, or even one of a
set of synonyms. It's usually a series of actions performed on the
world model which could be expressed via any of a number of different
phrases. As you say, the answer to a riddle might also have many
acceptable synonym forms; the distinction between signified and
signifier is not what I'm getting at, though. What I'm concerned with
is the distinction between an object (the answer to a riddle) and a
process (the solution to an IF puzzle).

Rereading the relevant chapter of TLP, I notice that you say

---
Merely stating the answer to the riddle is not enough for a
solution--this is worth emphasizing. The riddlee who has truly reached
a solution should be able to completely explain the riddle-question
and how each of the metaphorical clues operates. (47)
---

and at first I wondered whether the process of understanding clues
should be considered equivalent to the process of actions on the world
model needed to solve an IF puzzle.

I still think there's a difference, though. There are clues to
understand in IF, too (usually), but understanding the clues and
envisioning your goal is not the only task. What's more, the sequence
of actions taken need not even be the same each time; the solution can
be *any* set of actions leading to the goal state, even if there are a
number of alternative actions that would also work. It seems dubious
at best to say that

>THROW HAT AT BALL (to get it to roll off a high shelf onto the
ground)

is a synonym for

>DROP CHAIR. STAND ON CHAIR. GET BALL.

Not only are these describing actions that are quite different in the
real world, but they do not even have exactly the same effect on the
world model, and can't be considered functionally equivalent in that
context either.

I suppose that you could say each of these solutions corresponds to
only one riddle answer, and that a puzzle with multiple solutions is
like a riddle with the answers "fish", "anger", and "tomorrow". But
such a riddle (in my opinion) would be a bit disappointing and
unsatisfactory, whereas it's often considered a good thing for an IF
puzzle to have more than one solution. So it seems to me that riddle
answers and IF answers are different in kind, and that IF answers
often consist of interactions with a world model that could viably be
expressed in other formats without losing their character.

Anyway. I don't mean the symmetry isn't interesting, or that there
isn't cool stuff to be done with the text layer that we haven't yet
explored, or that the riddle model isn't useful (I think it is). I
just still don't quite see that model explaining the importance of the
text/text symmetry.


> I don't think there's a very simple way in which textual exchange makes
> IF interesting, but I think there are ways that it facilitates shared
> expression -- I don't have to guess what a blob of a few pixels is in
> order to type its name, as in King's Quest, nor do I have try to be
> expressive and indicate a complex action with a mouse click.

Yes, certainly. I would say that one of the main reasons I prefer IF
is that it allows the player a much larger range of interaction with
the world model than most other interfaces I've met.

-- Emily

Nick Montfort

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May 3, 2004, 4:17:53 PM5/3/04
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ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:<a69830de.04050...@posting.google.com>...

> The answer, in IF, is usually not a word, or a series of words, or
> even one of a set of synonyms. It's usually a series of actions
> performed on the world model which could be expressed via any of a
> number of different phrases.

Yes, I see how this could be construed to throw an andouille into the
works in a certain way. I think there is a useful mapping here, though.
So I'll reply as best I can ... sorry to take your comments out of
order ...

> It seems dubious at best to say that
>
> >THROW HAT AT BALL (to get it to roll off a high shelf onto the
> ground)
>
> is a synonym for
>
> >DROP CHAIR. STAND ON CHAIR. GET BALL.

I don't think they are synonymous. They do both explain something
consistent: you can get the ball by doing the same sort of thing you
might do in our "real world," as an ordinary person, to get a ball that
is out of reach. So if these two were the only ways to solve a puzzle,
that would make for a different systematic world than if commands like
">BALL, DOWN" and ">POINT SUPER HIGH POWERED VACUUM CLEANER AT BALL"
and ">GNUSTO BALL" were also ways to solve the puzzle.

The real strength of the riddle idea, I think, is not so much in
explaining individual puzzles. I think it's better at explaining why
there is a washing-machine-like contraption in the coal mine in Zork
and why there is also an immense underground flood control dam, and how
the solutions to these two puzzles relate to each other. The mechanics
of specific puzzles are only part of this.

A world in which puzzles have more than one solution is a different
sort of world than one in which they each have a single solution; the
riddle could be a way to explain the consistency between different
solutions of a single puzzle or between different puzzles within a
world.

As an IF author, the riddle would suggest to me that I ask the
following about a ball that could be obtained both by throwing a hat at
it and by standing on a chair: is it perfect for both solutions to be
allowed? Or should there be more? Or only one? Is the player performing
a different understanding of the system of the IF world by solving the
puzzle in different ways? It's okay either way, but it influences the
way the world works. I would say that different solutions do perform a
different understanding in Wishbringer, maybe not so much in
Savoir-Faire (but maybe I haven't solved things the hard way and found
out).

> What I'm concerned with is the distinction between an object (the
> answer to a riddle) and a process (the solution to an IF puzzle).

I would consider a complete walkthrough or "solve" to be the analog of
an answer to a riddle, and an understanding of the complete game to be
analogous to really understanding the solution to a riddle. Puzzles are
little ways to figure out things about the system of the IF world, and
chances to verify that you're understanding aspects of the world
correctly.

> at first I wondered whether the process of understanding clues
> should be considered equivalent to the process of actions on the world
> model needed to solve an IF puzzle.

Of course, a person playing IF types commands for at least two reasons:
to figure out what the system of the world is, but also to perform an
understanding of it in order to solve the game. I think of the former
process as the way I might go through a literary riddle asking, as I
looked at each line and each figure, "could X be the answer?" The
latter might be explaining my guess to someone else. But I'm not sure
whether or not this analogy, at this level of detail, is of any real
use; it just comes to mind.

> I suppose that you could say each of these solutions corresponds to
> only one riddle answer, and that a puzzle with multiple solutions is
> like a riddle with the answers "fish", "anger", and "tomorrow". But
> such a riddle (in my opinion) would be a bit disappointing and
> unsatisfactory

I have one of this sort that I find rather satisfactory, actually, but
that's another matter. The poetics of the riddle doesn't suggest to me
that puzzles all have to have a single solution, but that they should
have the right number of solutions, and that no solutions, or puzzles,
or anything else about the IF should be extraneous. And it suggests
more, providing guidance for how puzzles might fit together in the
world.

Daniel Barkalow

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May 4, 2004, 2:43:30 AM5/4/04
to
On 30 Apr 2004, Nick Montfort wrote:

> Again, sorry for the delay in replying...
>
> ems...@mindspring.com (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote in message news:
> > I know we've had this conversation before, but I'm still not entirely
> > convinced that that symmetry is as simple as it seems, at least in
> > terms of allowing the player to express himself or creating a
> > literature authored by two people.
>
> I wasn't trying to have the same conversation -- I haven't been using
> the term "co-authorship" for the past three years or so with regard to
> playing IF, and I don't think it's a very useful perspective.
> (Although if anyone gets it working, great.) I just think there are
> other nice aspects of a symmetrical interface. People are, if not
> co-authoring, at least co-writing, and "ASK THE LIBRARIAN ABOUT THE
> FREEWAY" or "SYS AWARE HIGH" or "TRANSFER ALL MONIES TO MY ACCOUNT"
> actually becomes part of the text in an integral way, such that it
> doesn't make any sense to read a transcript without it.

It may just be because I was just doing so earlier today, but I think
there is a good parallel in reading a script aloud. The reader doesn't
produce all of the text, and the text the reader does produce has
mostly been already produced by the author. The reader's contribution is
essentially to read the provided text with pauses and emphasis falling in
the right places to, with understanding of the author's intent, make the
story have feeling.

Of course, IF has a substantially different mechanism, where the reader
may be given the chance to affect the story, either in presentation or in
actuality, and the reader may have to figure out things during the
interaction. But the lowest-level interaction between the author and the
player in a textual work, I think, is the same as with script-reading, and
different from graphical works, due to the way the reader confirms, with
text, the author's implied text.

-Iabervon
*This .sig unintentionally changed*

ems...@mindspring.com

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May 11, 2004, 6:57:59 PM5/11/04
to
Sorry for the belated answer, but I did want to make a couple of
responses to this.

nickmo...@yahoo.com (Nick Montfort) wrote in message news:<e3f3cf29.04050...@posting.google.com>...

> The real strength of the riddle idea, I think, is not so much in
> explaining individual puzzles. I think it's better at explaining why
> there is a washing-machine-like contraption in the coal mine in Zork
> and why there is also an immense underground flood control dam, and how
> the solutions to these two puzzles relate to each other. The mechanics
> of specific puzzles are only part of this.

This I think I can agree with.

I tend to think about puzzle design with the idea that puzzles are to
educate the player in the world model. They're like exercises of
increasing difficulty; if a new feature of the world model is
introduced, the player should have a chance to do some simple things
with it before having to use it in a complicated solution. Combining
different complex aspects of the world model comes later still.

Which I think fits reasonably well with what you just said.

> As an IF author, the riddle would suggest to me that I ask the
> following about a ball that could be obtained both by throwing a hat at
> it and by standing on a chair: is it perfect for both solutions to be
> allowed? Or should there be more? Or only one? Is the player performing
> a different understanding of the system of the IF world by solving the
> puzzle in different ways? It's okay either way, but it influences the
> way the world works. I would say that different solutions do perform a
> different understanding in Wishbringer, maybe not so much in
> Savoir-Faire (but maybe I haven't solved things the hard way and found
> out).

No, there's pretty much one consistent *kind* of solution in
Savoir-Faire. The Wishbringer example is interesting: I don't know of
very many other games that not only have multiple solutions to puzzles
but whole distinct *types* of solution.


There does seem to be more of a trend recently (by which I mean that I
can think of three or four examples from the last couple of years and
0 examples previous to that) for IF with multiple difficulty levels,
where setting the game to a harder form means that the puzzles are
more complex. (If I'm missing examples -- recent or older -- I'd be
happy to hear about them: I've made a category for this on my IF
literacy page and would be interested to know if there are others that
should go on there.)

Anyway, the difficulty-level thing introduces a whole new set of
possible design challenges that I think are not as well understood as
basic puzzle design (because you have to design puzzles twice or three
times over, and how do you make sure that the world model seems to
work "sensibly" for all variations? how do you avoid having stuff
around that's only necessary in one of the possible difficulty levels
but a useless red herring in others? etc.).

> > I suppose that you could say each of these solutions corresponds to
> > only one riddle answer, and that a puzzle with multiple solutions is
> > like a riddle with the answers "fish", "anger", and "tomorrow". But
> > such a riddle (in my opinion) would be a bit disappointing and
> > unsatisfactory
>
> I have one of this sort that I find rather satisfactory, actually, but
> that's another matter. The poetics of the riddle doesn't suggest to me
> that puzzles all have to have a single solution, but that they should
> have the right number of solutions, and that no solutions, or puzzles,
> or anything else about the IF should be extraneous.

Weell. Hm. This is an aesthetically pleasing principle, but you
probably won't get people to agree on how to define "extraneous". One
of the IF Ratings reviews of Savoir-Faire complains about the presence
of "many many objects which are useless". But Savoir-Faire was so
close to the memory limit that I took out every object that I didn't
consider absolutely necessary, and one or two little touches that I
rather liked (including several cheeses) -- so that all of the objects
in there are, in my opinion, required for the story or useful in a
puzzle or both. (It's true that on a given playthrough you may not
encounter all the uses of a given object because of the various
solutions, but most objects are useful for *something*. I suspect
that the person writing that comment didn't find any of the uses of a
few items, or thought the game should have been more compactly
designed to involve juggling fewer objects. Perhaps a valid
complaint.)

Then of course there's the story, if the game has one, and deciding
what's extraneous to the narrative is often a subjective call as well.

Having the puzzles and the story shed light on the *same*
riddle-answer (ie, the same answer to the question "What is going on
here, anyway, and how does it all work?") strikes me as a kind of holy
grail of good design. Spider and Web does that in a few places;
Edifice's great award-winning puzzle, maybe; perhaps a few others.

Boluc Papuccuoglu

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May 12, 2004, 4:32:48 AM5/12/04
to
On 11 May 2004 15:57:59 -0700, ems...@mindspring.com
(ems...@mindspring.com) wrote:

Last year's Scavenger did that with optional items. And of course, the
whole point of The Erudition Chamber was also that. There are a lot of
alternate solutions in Magnetic Scrolls' Jinxter, too

ems...@mindspring.com

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May 12, 2004, 5:50:37 PM5/12/04
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Boluc Papuccuoglu <bolucPERIOD...@REMOVETHISaknet.com.tr> wrote in message news:<6ao3a0t545mb6vi8l...@4ax.com>...

Ahh. Of course, I should've remembered Erudition Chamber.

I didn't replay Scavenger from the beginning with different items, but
from conversation with other people it seemed like mostly the objects
you chose affected a few puzzles but not all of them -- so not the
whole approach to the game, so much. But it's a good partway example.

Jinxter I have not looked at. I'll have to add that to my list of
stuff to track down and try.

Thanks!

Boluc Papuccuoglu

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May 13, 2004, 2:59:47 AM5/13/04
to
On 12 May 2004 14:50:37 -0700, ems...@mindspring.com
(ems...@mindspring.com) wrote:

And of course, Slouching towards Bedlam uses alternate solutions (in a
way) to change the actual outcome of the story. I don't remember
another game doing that. It does that on two levels: One is the
traditional level (ie faced with a problem you choose which approach
to use (you can decypher the wall writing or simply use Triage to do
it for you) ), and the other is actually deciding which aspects of the
game are puzzles. A player who opts for the broadcast ending is not
too bothered about figuring out how to stop the infected people from
spreading the "disease". Vice versa, a player who opts to end the
logos threat will not go to all the trouble to find and assemble the
radio equipment.

Quintin Stone

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May 13, 2004, 9:31:32 AM5/13/04
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On Wed, 12 May 2004, ems...@mindspring.com wrote:

> Boluc Papuccuoglu <bolucPERIOD...@REMOVETHISaknet.com.tr> wrote in message news:<6ao3a0t545mb6vi8l...@4ax.com>...
> > On 11 May 2004 15:57:59 -0700, ems...@mindspring.com
> > (ems...@mindspring.com) wrote:
> > >The Wishbringer example is interesting: I don't know of very many
> > >other games that not only have multiple solutions to puzzles but
> > >whole distinct *types* of solution.
> >
> > Last year's Scavenger did that with optional items. And of course, the
> > whole point of The Erudition Chamber was also that. There are a lot of
> > alternate solutions in Magnetic Scrolls' Jinxter, too
>
> Ahh. Of course, I should've remembered Erudition Chamber.
>
> I didn't replay Scavenger from the beginning with different items, but
> from conversation with other people it seemed like mostly the objects
> you chose affected a few puzzles but not all of them -- so not the
> whole approach to the game, so much. But it's a good partway example.

That's true. A better example, IMO, was Moments Out of Time where your
initial choice of items had a much more drastic effect on how you explore
your environment and collect information.

/====================================================================\
|| Quintin Stone O- > "You speak of necessary evil? One ||
|| Code Monkey < of those necessities is that if ||
|| Rebel Programmers Society > innocents must suffer, the guilty must ||
|| st...@rps.net < suffer more." -- Mackenzie Calhoun ||
|| http://www.rps.net/QS/ > "Once Burned" by Peter David ||
\====================================================================/

vpwb...@search26.com

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Dec 7, 2004, 5:18:38 AM12/7/04
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