Examine is evil!

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Phil Goetz

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Feb 20, 1994, 9:48:13 PM2/20/94
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Interactive fiction should do away with the verb "examine"!

We've all suffered from abuses of "examine" and its variants,
like having to "look behind the machine" or "look under the bed"
when neither "search machine" nor "search bed" gives you any clue
to do so. Just as bad are requiring the player to search something
two or three times. But I claim that "examine" itself, that favorite
way of introducing clues and hidden objects, should be done away with.

As long as we require the player to examine every object, we have
only two choices:

1. Put her in an impoverished world with few objects.

2. Submit her to the tedium of examining everything.

If we ever want to advance beyond Scott Adams, to where we can
have rich room descriptions and an interesting environment, we
have to write games in which the player can act like someone actually
would in that environment -- namely, he would not pick up and
scrutinize every useless pencil, search every pile of litter in the city,
or look under every bed. The important things should be apparent,
or the player should be able to figure out what to look for or look at.
Obviously I'm going to want to examine the Cray Z supercomputer
[weren't you disappointed when they wimped out and called it the Cray 3?]
or the Cursed Violin of Incredibly Bad Music, but not "the grass" or
"the tree". But "examine violin" should be implicit in any
command such as "get violin", "play violin", or "burn violin",
so there's no need for "examine".

--
Phil go...@cs.buffalo.edu

For my part, I think it very imprudent for man, who is commonly deceived in
actual and immediate everyday affairs, and who is constantly surprised by the
unexpected in things most familiar, to seek to limit the possible and judge
the future.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, _Democracy in America_, 1835

The Grim Reaper

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Feb 20, 1994, 10:58:14 PM2/20/94
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In article <CLJzs...@acsu.buffalo.edu>,

Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
> Interactive fiction should do away with the verb "examine"!
>
> We've all suffered from abuses of "examine" and its variants,
>like having to "look behind the machine" or "look under the bed"
>when neither "search machine" nor "search bed" gives you any clue
>to do so. Just as bad are requiring the player to search something
>two or three times. But I claim that "examine" itself, that favorite
I'd have to agree with this part, at least. I recall one game where it
could not be won unless you repeatedly tried to go north from the starting
room. However, there was no message that you could go north in the room
description, and worse yet, each time you tried to go north, it told you
"There's nothing there! Don't go that way!" Ugh.

>way of introducing clues and hidden objects, should be done away with.
>
> As long as we require the player to examine every object, we have
>only two choices:
>
>1. Put her in an impoverished world with few objects.
>
>2. Submit her to the tedium of examining everything.
>
> If we ever want to advance beyond Scott Adams, to where we can
>have rich room descriptions and an interesting environment, we
>have to write games in which the player can act like someone actually
>would in that environment -- namely, he would not pick up and
>scrutinize every useless pencil, search every pile of litter in the city,
>or look under every bed. The important things should be apparent,
>or the player should be able to figure out what to look for or look at.
>Obviously I'm going to want to examine the Cray Z supercomputer
>[weren't you disappointed when they wimped out and called it the Cray 3?]
>or the Cursed Violin of Incredibly Bad Music, but not "the grass" or
>"the tree". But "examine violin" should be implicit in any
>command such as "get violin", "play violin", or "burn violin",
>so there's no need for "examine".

I would have to disagree. The difference between rl and if is that in rl,
we can filter out useless information, and we're picking up a lot more of it.
But in if, we have to read everything, and so if we get a description whenever
we manipulate something, we're going to be flooded. Making examine
unnecessary might be a better way to go about it, if you can think how.
But as it is, if requires an examine verb. There's no way to handle the fact
that we look at every single object in the room when we enter it, without
pages and pages of text. Or telling the player what's important, which
gives the game away.

>--
>Phil go...@cs.buffalo.edu
>
>For my part, I think it very imprudent for man, who is commonly deceived in
>actual and immediate everyday affairs, and who is constantly surprised by the
>unexpected in things most familiar, to seek to limit the possible and judge
>the future.
> - Alexis de Tocqueville, _Democracy in America_, 1835

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Richard Forster

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Feb 21, 1994, 5:00:11 AM2/21/94
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Phil Goetz (go...@cs.buffalo.edu) wrote:
: Interactive fiction should do away with the verb "examine"!


Not all adventure games use examine. I can remember talking to
Peter Killworth - author of some of the classic Acornsoft/Topologika
adventures such as 'Countdown to Doom' and 'Philosopohers Quest', who
had pretty much the same view.


On the other hand, personally, I'm quite a fan of 'examine', although I'll
agree it's unfair to hide objects in such a way that examine reveals them -
but that's because I feel hiding objects is a copout as a puzzle. Sometimes
you want to say a lot about a given object, either to give a subtle clue
towards a possible use, or even to add to the atmosphere and humor of the
game. If you tried to do this with the objects 'short' descriptions, you
could end up with pages full of text when you enter a location. Alternatively
if you reveal the messages when you take an object (or similar) it makes it
that much more inconvienient for the player to re-read that message.


Richard Forster

Goatboy

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Feb 21, 1994, 10:36:18 AM2/21/94
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Regarding the recent discussion of the evils of 'examine' (I don't want to
quote several pages of text): Why not allow the player to decide what
level of scrutiny they want to examine their environment with. The game
could have a command similar to verbose/regular/brief that controls
whether or not the game spits out a detailed description of all the
items in a room.
This may not answer the question of the validity of puzzles that
require you to search a seemingly nondescript object for no apparent
reason, but it would solve the problem of different players desiring
different levels of description. This may work better if many of the
descriptions were not puzzle related, but rather story-related. If we
view IF as a player exploring a foreign environment, we should certainly
allow them to explore the things they find interesting in more detail
and to ignore those things that don't interest them.
IMHO, puzzles should be based upon either plot-driven events/
interactions with NPCs, or properties of unique and interesting items
that any player would be bound to WANT to examine, rather than hidden
keys under doormats, etc etc....

Then again, my opinions may change tomorrow depending on what sort of
mood I'm in.

Whizzard: As far as your observation that not too many people are
posting in response to your discussions about writing unique IF, I think
that a great many people are probably lurking on this newsgroup,
attempting to write a good IF game that everyone on this group will love
and that will raise IF back to its former glory, and that they don't
want to post until they finish the game for fear that until they do so,
people won't lend any credibility to their statements about writing IF.
Damn, that was one hell of a run-on sentence. Anyway, I certainly don't
think that these fears are justified (in fact I may be misreading the
situation and maybe I'm the only person who feels this way), but if you
look around this newsgroup you'll notice that the majority of postings
are by people who have released successful shareware IF games or are
conducting extensive research into natural language processing/AI/etc...

While reading these posts is interesting, and often provides valuable
assistance for the struggling game writer, perhaps people don't feel
that they have very much to add (for either lack of technical expertise
or because they haven't yet finished their "master project" and
therefore don't know what worked and didn't work yet).

Ok. This post is long enough. I just wanted to let you know that we ARE
out here, and that as soon as we finish the games that we're writing,
I'm sure you'll hear a lot more from us.

--Vince

Denis A. Parnovsky

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Feb 22, 1994, 9:06:19 AM2/22/94
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In article <CLJzs...@acsu.buffalo.edu>,
Phil Goetz <go...@cs.buffalo.edu> wrote:
> Interactive fiction should do away with the verb "examine"!
> We've all suffered from abuses of "examine" and its variants,
>like having to "look behind the machine" or "look under the bed"
>when neither "search machine" nor "search bed" gives you any clue
>to do so. Just as bad are requiring the player to search something
>two or three times. But I claim that "examine" itself, that favorite
>way of introducing clues and hidden objects, should be done away with.
> As long as we require the player to examine every object, we have
>only two choices:
>1. Put her in an impoverished world with few objects.
>2. Submit her to the tedium of examining everything.
[ ... skipped ... ]
>........... But "examine violin" should be implicit in any

>command such as "get violin", "play violin", or "burn violin",
>so there's no need for "examine".

In article <2k9bgm$j...@news.u.washington.edu>,


The Grim Reaper <scy...@u.washington.edu> wrote:
>I would have to disagree. The difference between rl and if is that in rl,
>we can filter out useless information, and we're picking up a lot more of it.
>But in if, we have to read everything, and so if we get a description whenever
>we manipulate something, we're going to be flooded. Making examine
>unnecessary might be a better way to go about it, if you can think how.

I'm agree with Phil that supplying some clues only when noun is examined
is a way to 'examine everything'. Also I'm agree that effect of 'examine'
must be added to any action with noun but in REASONABLE cases. 'REASONABLE'
considers that effect of 'look' must appear only when information can be
obtained by protagonist/actor by naked eye with no special efforts in that
very moment when he/her pays attention to noun. In other case player have
to do something to see the clue. So sorry, Phil, but 'look under the bed'
is not the case :). You can't see what is under the bed when you 'get in
the bed', 'jump on the bed' and may be even 'search the bed'(I think in
this case you can find what lies under the pillow anyway). The problem of
'information overflow' can be solved if noun gives its description only
first time of 'paying attention' (of course if it is not changing!) and
then subsides until the player uses that very 'look' verb.

>But as it is, if requires an examine verb. There's no way to handle the fact
>that we look at every single object in the room when we enter it, without
>pages and pages of text. Or telling the player what's important, which
>gives the game away.

Again you can get description of all objects only first time.

Oh, yea, got it! The key words for this problem is 'already' and 'yet'.
For example, if you just enter a room with trash bay you 'already' see
this three-letter word on its side. And if you looking a room with map
on the table you not see 'yet' what is on the map and have to 'look' on
it. This rule includes all objects like 'books', 'notes' and 'engravings'.
So you not get pages of detailed descriptions of all maps, books and
notes but read descriptions of objects you can see an once. I suppose
that is an optimal way to do.
---
Sincerely yours
(H...@brokinvest.msk.su)
----------------------------------------------------------
As you read the scroll it vanishes! It is identify scroll!

Erik Max Francis

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Feb 22, 1994, 10:07:06 PM2/22/94
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tr9...@black.ox.ac.uk (Richard Forster) writes:

> Sometimes
> you want to say a lot about a given object, either to give a subtle clue
> towards a possible use, or even to add to the atmosphere and humor of the
> game. If you tried to do this with the objects 'short' descriptions, you
> could end up with pages full of text when you enter a location.

I couldn't agree more. Using EXAMINE as a puzzle for its own sake is
pointless, but boycotting examine would require obnoxiously long basic
descriptions of objects to keep the atmosphere going.


Erik Max Francis, &tSftDotIotE ...!uuwest!alcyone!max m...@alcyone.darkside.com
USMail: 1070 Oakmont Dr. #1 San Jose, CA 95117 ICBM: 37 20 N 121 53 W __
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"Omnia quia sunt, lumina sunt." (All things that are, are lights.) \__/

Matthew Amster

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Feb 23, 1994, 11:56:06 AM2/23/94
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In article <2kakdi$n...@portal.gmu.edu>, vlav...@mason1.gmu.edu (Goatboy)
writes:

>Whizzard: As far as your observation that not too many people are
>posting in response to your discussions about writing unique IF, I think
>that a great many people are probably lurking on this newsgroup,
>attempting to write a good IF game that everyone on this group will love
>and that will raise IF back to its former glory, and that they don't
>want to post until they finish the game for fear that until they do so,
>people won't lend any credibility to their statements about writing IF.

I know for a fact that you are right. A friend of mine doesn't even *read*
r.a.i-f, though I've told him about it several times. He says he'd be
intimidated to read a newsgroup full of "real" authors. In the meantime, he has
registered TADS and, with no prior programming experience, is designing a game
that so far is playable, interesting, and truly funny. Some designers are, I
suppose, "rugged individualist" types. I did make my friend promise, however,
that as soon as his game is out of beta-test, it's going to ftp.gmd.de. I'll
let you all know when he's done (probably another couple of months).

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matthew Amster Pomona College mam...@pomona.claremont.edu
"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." -Audre Lorde

Thomas Nilsson

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Feb 23, 1994, 11:59:36 AM2/23/94
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go...@cs.buffalo.edu (Phil Goetz) writes:

> Interactive fiction should do away with the verb "examine"!

I don't think I agree exactly, but doing what you imply would
certainly bring IF forward. I *do* hate these 'examine this'/'examine
that' type of games.

Not until we stop designing the games as puzzles in which you must
hinder the player in every possible way, will there be Fiction!!

/Thomas
--
Little languages go a long way...
(ThoNi of ThoNi&GorFo Adventure Factories in 1985)
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Stenbrotsgatan 57 Phone Nat.: 013 - 12 11 67
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Neil K. Guy

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Feb 23, 1994, 7:34:48 PM2/23/94
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vlav...@mason1.gmu.edu (Goatboy) writes:

>Regarding the recent discussion of the evils of 'examine' (I don't want to
>quote several pages of text): Why not allow the player to decide what
>level of scrutiny they want to examine their environment with. The game
>could have a command similar to verbose/regular/brief that controls
>whether or not the game spits out a detailed description of all the
>items in a room.

For what it's worth, my game in progress has this feature. The game
has the option to display the "examine" description of every object
you pick up, assuming you've never looked at it before. If this annoys
you you can turn it off. Also, "examine all" displays the descriptions
for all takeable objects and any fixed items I consider worthwhile.

I agree that having to "examine" everything gets tedious rapidly
(worst of all with games that don't support "x" as a synonym, forcing
the user to type "look at" or "examine" all the time) but likewise
sitting through reams of text is no fun either. I hope my game offers
a marginally better balance. Simulating convincingly through text a
world that most of us see visually isn't an easy thing to do.

> [...] I think


>that a great many people are probably lurking on this newsgroup,
>attempting to write a good IF game that everyone on this group will love
>and that will raise IF back to its former glory, and that they don't
>want to post until they finish the game for fear that until they do so,
>people won't lend any credibility to their statements about writing IF.

Or they don't want their ideas ripped off by posting them in a public
forum. :) I think you have a point here. I've posted my fair share of
stupid and occasionally interesting posts to this group, but I haven't
talked much about my own game in progress, though it has been at that
state for over two years. I think there are many people not posting
for reasons like my own: not wanting ideas ripped off, not interested
in tiresome self-promotion and trumpeting vapourware, and so on.

>Ok. This post is long enough. I just wanted to let you know that we ARE
>out here, and that as soon as we finish the games that we're writing,
>I'm sure you'll hear a lot more from us.

Agreed! :) As soon as my game is ready for release, perhaps I too
will contribute more. Of course, I don't know if that's necessarily a
good thing. I've noticed that my more impulsive posts tend to be
embarrassingly stupid on re-reading. Kind of like a dramatic
monologue, you know?

- Neil K.

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