Transcripts as a way of reaching out to new IF players

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Greg Boettcher

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Jan 18, 2006, 3:36:27 PM1/18/06
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I've been thinking off and on about the thread "Why newbies don't like
IF" on rgif, and something occurred to me.

Back in the old days, how did Infocom get people to understand the
features and limitations of their parsers? They included transcripts
with their games. The transcripts were customized for each game, in
order to subtly and unspoilerishly clue players in on the types of
things they'd need to type to win that game. Beyond Zork, for instance,
had a transcript where you could learn about the game's unique "name"
verb, among many other things. It's such a simple idea, and it's easy
to forget how much it helped newcomers, because after you saw your
first transcript and played your first Infocom game, you probably
didn't pay much attention to such transcripts in the future. But now
that I think about it, I think the transcripts were really important.
In fact, back in the old days, I personally never would have figured
out the whole concept of typing commands of the form "BOB, GO NORTH"
without looking at Infocom's sample transcripts. That, or I would have
had to resort to a walkthrough.

Yes, there are games where you can type INSTRUCTIONS or get help from a
menu, or games can point people to Fredrik Ramsberg's web site or James
Mitchelhill's. But transcripts have a unique advantage, in that they
convey much of the same information within a very small space, and it
takes very little time to skim through them. It seems to me that any IF
work that aspires to reach out to newcomers would benefit from having a
sample transcript with it.

I was just thinking how this would apply to the most obvious case of
reaching out to newcomers, the IF Promotional CD. What if it had sample
transcripts?

It wouldn't be practical to have one transcript for each game on that
CD. (That'd be 40+ transcripts!) Likewise, in my opinion, just one
transcript for the whole CD wouldn't work so well, since no one sample
game would really do justice to the diversity of types of interaction
in IF games (since not all common types of interaction are compatible
with each other). But what if you had a single text file with, say,
transcripts from three sample games? No, it would not clue readers in
to unique verbs such as Varicella's "tone" verb, but between the three
transcripts, you could show most common types of interaction.

It's kind of presumptuous to suggest such an idea in a public forum,
without knowing what David Cornelson thinks of it. If he doesn't like
the idea, it's obviously moot. Anyway, I'm just mentioning it here as
an example.

What about in general, though? Now that I think about it, I might
include a "sample transcript" with my work in progress. I think it's
worth considering for anybody who aspires to achieve a wider audience
than just the people in this community.

Greg

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