Analysis of 72 Newbie Transcripts

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Aaron A. Reed

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Jan 29, 2006, 1:57:23 PM1/29/06
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Recently my IF piece "Whom the Telling Changed" was displayed for 4
days at the Slamdance Film Festival. When the dust cleared, I gathered
the transcripts from everyone who played during this time and wrote-up
an analysis which may be of interest in light of the recent (and
ongoing) discussion on new players and interactive fiction. The full
report is at the link below:

http://aaronareed.net/wttc/transcripts.html

As I explain, the circumstances of the game and venue are different
enough that these stats may be completely different than reactions to,
say, "Zork." But briefly, only half of players read the instructions,
about 20% of commands longer than one word are not understood by the
game, and the average time till a "not understood" message is received
is about 8 moves. The average player who didn't finish the game stuck
with it for 28 moves.

I'd love for anyone with reactions to post them here!

David Whyld

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Jan 29, 2006, 3:34:50 PM1/29/06
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Aaron A. Reed wrote:
> Recently my IF piece "Whom the Telling Changed" was displayed for 4
> days at the Slamdance Film Festival. When the dust cleared, I gathered
> the transcripts from everyone who played during this time and wrote-up
> an analysis which may be of interest in light of the recent (and
> ongoing) discussion on new players and interactive fiction. The full
> report is at the link below:
>
> http://aaronareed.net/wttc/transcripts.html
>

It's interesting seeing the commands that some of the people who have
never played IF before tried. At first glance, some of them seem just
plain silly and you wonder if they're playing the games for a laugh or
something. But read a little further and a lot of the commands do
actually seem like commands that people who don't know much about IF
would try. Going on how many of them ran into problems, and how quickly
they ran into problems, might explain just why IF isn't more widely
popular: it's just too difficult to get to grips with.

And, you'll probably hate me for saying this, but I don't think "Whom
The Telling Changed" was the right game for this kind of thing.
Ideally, a nice and simple straightforward game was needed, a game with
clear goals that are obvious from the start. I've been playing IF for
years yet this game confused me at first. If I'd never played an IF
game before, and had no real idea what I was doing, I'd have probably
lasted about as long as some of the people whose transcripts you
selected lasted.

ems...@mindspring.com

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Jan 29, 2006, 5:30:37 PM1/29/06
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Aaron A. Reed wrote:
> Recently my IF piece "Whom the Telling Changed" was displayed for 4
> days at the Slamdance Film Festival. When the dust cleared, I gathered
> the transcripts from everyone who played during this time and wrote-up
> an analysis which may be of interest in light of the recent (and
> ongoing) discussion on new players and interactive fiction. The full
> report is at the link below:
>
> http://aaronareed.net/wttc/transcripts.html

First of all, thank you very much for doing this. Much appreciated.

I'm not sure what I think about the idea of snipping out extraneous
material from a command and interpreting only the sensible bits; it
seems that this would produce absolute nonsense quite a lot of the
time, especially if the player tried to use negations, adverbs, and
that sort of thing. But we won't know for sure until someone tries it,
I imagine.

ems...@mindspring.com

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Jan 29, 2006, 6:53:34 PM1/29/06
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ems...@mindspring.com wrote:
> Aaron A. Reed wrote:
> > Recently my IF piece "Whom the Telling Changed" was displayed for 4
> > days at the Slamdance Film Festival. When the dust cleared, I gathered
> > the transcripts from everyone who played during this time and wrote-up
> > an analysis which may be of interest in light of the recent (and
> > ongoing) discussion on new players and interactive fiction. The full
> > report is at the link below:
> >
> > http://aaronareed.net/wttc/transcripts.html

A couple of other observations after looking over this more: if over a
quarter of type three errors are typos, that seems like a good reason
to consider some kind of automated typo-correction, either built into
the interpreter (I believe Nitfol offers this) or built into the game.
Cedric Knight's mistype.h does this for Inform, and when I've included
it in a project I have found that it makes life noticeably easier even
for me replaying my own work.

The next place to improve the standard libraries is obviously (a) to
provide more synonyms for standard actions and (b) to design more
error-catching mechanisms for the very common types of mistake. GO
actions were a major trouble-spot in the phpZork logs I looked at, a
couple of years ago: players typed a lot of GO TO [thing in room], GO
BACK, LEAVE TENT, etc., and your transcripts seem to confirm that. So a
wide range of error-catching in that field may be particularly useful.
Catching sentences that start with a question word also seems a good
way to sift for errors.

Another nice trick might be to identify and excise common problem
phrases from commands, wherever they may appear -- PLEASE, very common
adverbs, and phrases like WITH MY HEAD or WITH MY FIST. This is a
watered down version of the thing you suggest (ignoring all input that
isn't understood), but with the advantage that the author can be sure
what he's ignoring and offer instructive feedback at the same time;
e.g., "(Adverbs are not recognized by [game], so I am ignoring that
part of your input.)"

I also had the impression that many people got confused at the point
where you require the player to choose a professional symbol. I though
that was a cool feature of the game, but the refusal to disambiguate
when players typed X SYMBOL looks like it threw at least a few people
off track.

This is not meant as a criticism of the game at all, but it does
suggest that one needs to be extra-careful about any ambiguous
situation when dealing with novice players.

Another thing that struck me (compared with the phpZork logs) was how
much of the input was civil/cooperative: there wasn't a huge amount of
swearing, snarking at the game, or deliberately trying to break the
parser. Presumably this has a bit to do with the context in which this
was presented, but it does suggest that these transcripts generally
represent a good-faith effort on the part of players. So Slamdance may
have been a good venue for experimentation in that respect, even if it
also presented distractions that kept many people from playing to
completion.

-- Emily

Aaron A. Reed

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Jan 29, 2006, 7:08:43 PM1/29/06
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emshort wrote:
>A couple of other observations after looking over this more: if over a
>quarter of type three errors are typos, that seems like a good reason
>to consider some kind of automated typo-correction, either built into
>the interpreter (I believe Nitfol offers this) or built into the game.
>Cedric Knight's mistype.h does this for Inform, and when I've included
>it in a project I have found that it makes life noticeably easier even
>for me replaying my own work.

mistype.h is great and works well, but I've always found when I've
played around with it that it has a tendency to disambiguate to objects
I don't want the player to know about yet. I haven't looked at the
source code but this would probably be a fairly trivial fix.

>I also had the impression that many people got confused at the point
>where you require the player to choose a professional symbol. I though
>that was a cool feature of the game, but the refusal to disambiguate
>when players typed X SYMBOL looks like it threw at least a few people
>off track.

In some ways, this was a trick that requires knowledge of IF to
completely make sense. If you're familiar with the concept of a
disambiguation question, you sort of realize what the game is asking
you here. If you aren't, however, it definitely can be a source of
frustration, and wasn't the ideal thing for newbies to be seeing a few
moves into the game.

>I'm not sure what I think about the idea of snipping out extraneous
>material from a command and interpreting only the sensible bits; it
>seems that this would produce absolute nonsense quite a lot of the
>time, especially if the player tried to use negations, adverbs, and
>that sort of thing. But we won't know for sure until someone tries it,
>I imagine.

I'm working on it... :grIn:

Aaron A. Reed

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Jan 29, 2006, 7:10:54 PM1/29/06
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David Whyld wrote:
>And, you'll probably hate me for saying this, but I don't think "Whom
>The Telling Changed" was the right game for this kind of thing.
>Ideally, a nice and simple straightforward game was needed, a game with
>clear goals that are obvious from the start. I've been playing IF for
>years yet this game confused me at first. If I'd never played an IF
>game before, and had no real idea what I was doing, I'd have probably
>lasted about as long as some of the people whose transcripts you
>selected lasted.

I actually agree---but I thought less than ideal data would at least be
of some interest, since the community has very little data at all to
work with!

Jim Aikin

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Jan 29, 2006, 7:54:02 PM1/29/06
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> e.g., "(Adverbs are not recognized by [game], so I am ignoring that
> part of your input.)"

...and you're assuming that the average high-school graduate in the U.S.
will remember what an adverb is?

The questions raised in this thread are all excellent -- I'm not quibbling.
I'm just suggesting that when instructing the player, it might be helpful to
think about what the player's knowledge set is likely to be:

"You don't need to say how you'd do something (quickly, gently, hard, soft,
etc.). Just say what action you want to take (for instance, 'knock on
door')."

--JA


Jim Aikin

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Jan 29, 2006, 8:04:04 PM1/29/06
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From the posted essay:

> ASK ABOUT ENEMIES (the parser expects ASK CHARACTER ABOUT TOPIC).

This is probably a change that could be made in the verb grammar (or perhaps
the library) without too much pain. If the player is in a location where
there is exactly one NPC, the grammar for 'ask', 'tell', 'show', and 'give'
ought to be understood as having an implicit direct object.

I wouldn't know how to implement it in Inform, but I'll bet Andrew would.

--JA


ems...@mindspring.com

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Jan 29, 2006, 8:36:44 PM1/29/06
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Jim Aikin wrote:
> > e.g., "(Adverbs are not recognized by [game], so I am ignoring that
> > part of your input.)"
>
> ...and you're assuming that the average high-school graduate in the U.S.
> will remember what an adverb is?

Not quite. I was assuming the average member of the target audience of
IF would know what an adverb is.

On consulting a few people, I discover that I am wrong. Well, supply
your own error message.

Samwyse

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Jan 29, 2006, 9:35:56 PM1/29/06
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Aaron A. Reed wrote:

> I'd love for anyone with reactions to post them here!

Most excellent. Your analysis seems to agree with Emily Short's
analysis of on-line games. She produced two extensions (IIRC,
NewbieGrammar and ExpertGrammar) which might have helped at Slamdance.
Still, I see several avenues for futher improvements based on your analysis.

One point that I feel is important is the number of people who typed
full commands where abbreviations would do ("yes" instead of "y", etc).
The original FORTRAN version of Adventure kept track of how many times
the word "west" was used; on the fifth usage or so, it printed out help
text about common abbreviations. Someone (i.e. myself, most likely)
needs to see how hard it would be to fit something like that into the
Inform parser. The compass directions should be fairly easy since they
are special cases already, the real trick would be catching where the
player could use I, X, Y, N, Z, etc.

Samwyse

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Jan 29, 2006, 9:42:46 PM1/29/06
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TADS goes even futher by remembering the last person spoken to and
assuming that all conversation is directed there. I'm half trying to do
something similar in Inform.

ems...@mindspring.com

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Jan 29, 2006, 10:41:27 PM1/29/06
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Jim Aikin wrote:
> From the posted essay:
>
> > ASK ABOUT ENEMIES (the parser expects ASK CHARACTER ABOUT TOPIC).
>
> This is probably a change that could be made in the verb grammar (or perhaps
> the library) without too much pain. If the player is in a location where
> there is exactly one NPC, the grammar for 'ask', 'tell', 'show', and 'give'
> ought to be understood as having an implicit direct object.

This is not hard, no. Several of my games follow this logic:

if no person is specified in an ask/tell/give/show command, then
address the last person spoken to;
if that person isn't around or there is no previous interlocutor, look
for a logical replacement;
-- if there's only one person visible, that person becomes the new
interlocutor;
-- if there's no one visible, say that the person last spoken to is no
longer available;
-- if there are multiple people visible, request a more specific
command.

Then, because ASK ABOUT and TELL ABOUT are a bit long to type out as IF
commands go, abbreviate those as A and T.

This requires some additions to both the grammar and the verb set, but
it's not too bad.

Samwyse

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Jan 29, 2006, 11:51:26 PM1/29/06
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Samwyse wrote:

> One point that I feel is important is the number of people who typed
> full commands where abbreviations would do ("yes" instead of "y", etc).
> The original FORTRAN version of Adventure kept track of how many times
> the word "west" was used; on the fifth usage or so, it printed out help
> text about common abbreviations. Someone (i.e. myself, most likely)
> needs to see how hard it would be to fit something like that into the
> Inform parser. The compass directions should be fairly easy since they
> are special cases already, the real trick would be catching where the
> player could use I, X, Y, N, Z, etc.

OK, compass directions are fairly easy. Add a global variable called
'long_direction' and change parserm from this:
if (l ~= 0) {
results-->0 = ##Go;
to this:
if (l ~= 0) {
! We don't want to trap 'out' or 'exit', so look for words
! that are more than 4 characters in length.
if (WordLength(verb_wordnum) > 4) {
if (long_direction++ > 3)
print "(If you prefer, you can type one or two
letter abbreviations for directions.)^";
}
results-->0 = ##Go;

Aaron A. Reed

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Jan 30, 2006, 12:03:07 AM1/30/06
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Samwyse wrote:
>One point that I feel is important is the number of people who typed
>full commands where abbreviations would do ("yes" instead of "y", etc).
> The original FORTRAN version of Adventure kept track of how many times
>the word "west" was used; on the fifth usage or so, it printed out help
>text about common abbreviations. Someone (i.e. myself, most likely)
>needs to see how hard it would be to fit something like that into the
>Inform parser. The compass directions should be fairly easy since they
>are special cases already, the real trick would be catching where the
>player could use I, X, Y, N, Z, etc.

This is a great idea, and on a broader scope, there are a number of
things like this that could be helpful to new players. Most new
players, for example, don't realize that when they're asked a question
like "Which do you mean, the red one or the blue one?" they can just
type "red" or "blue" rather than having to retype the whole command.
The first time a disambiguation question is asked, a helpful text like
"You may simply type red or blue" might be ammended to teach the player
this mechanic.

I had seen Emily Short's two Grammar extensions previously, and thought
they were great. In some ways it's a better solution to the
problem---if you try to get players to enter their input in the correct
format, it's a skill that will carry over to other works of IF they try
as well. It's more backwards compatible, if you will. But I also think
it's a shame to reject player input when the capability to understand
it exists and is easily implemented.

I've always thought this was a bit of an inconsistancy in Inform's
design philosophy. To quote the DM4 as regards to parsing nouns:

>...the parser normally recognises any
>arrangement of some or all of the name words of an object as a noun which
>refers to it: and the more words, the better the match is considered to be.
>Thus ''fried green tomato'' is a better match than ''fried tomato'' or ''green
>tomato'' but all three are considered to match. On the other hand, so is ''fried
>green'', and ''green green tomato green fried green'' is considered a very good
>match indeed. The method is quick and good at understanding a wide variety
>of sensible texts, though poor at throwing out foolish ones. (An example of
>the parser's strategy of being generous rather than strict.)

This makes perfect sense, but the philosophy does not get applied to
the rest of the player's input. There's no good reason LOOK BAG should
fail, just as there's no good reason PLEASE STUDY THE BAG MORE CLOSELY
should fail---it's trivial to extract the underlying meaning X BAG out
of both of these commands. The only danger in allowing a wider range of
commands is that the player will get sloppier with his command
structure and pass the point of easy recognition--but the above passage
does not worry about this being a problem for the recognition of nouns.

Steve Evans

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Jan 30, 2006, 4:36:02 AM1/30/06
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On 29 Jan 2006 14:30:37 -0800, "ems...@mindspring.com"
<ems...@mindspring.com> wrote:

>
>> http://aaronareed.net/wttc/transcripts.html
>
>First of all, thank you very much for doing this. Much appreciated.
>
>I'm not sure what I think about the idea of snipping out extraneous
>material from a command and interpreting only the sensible bits; it
>seems that this would produce absolute nonsense quite a lot of the
>time, especially if the player tried to use negations, adverbs, and
>that sort of thing. But we won't know for sure until someone tries it,
>I imagine.

As I recall it, Synapse adopted such an approach with the BTZ (Better
Than Zork) parser used in their mid-1980's Electronic Novels series
(Mindwheel, Breakers, etc.)

I remember (all those years ago) being very impressed by the BTZ
parser's attempts at disambiguating my input. Although, when the
parser got my commands wrong it would occasionally get them *very*
wrong, making it apparent that it was not nearly as clever as it
pretended to be.

Still, I've often wondered why modern parsers haven't moved, to some
degree, along that path towards a more flexible approach to user
input.

--Steve

Daryl McCullough

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Jan 30, 2006, 10:46:21 AM1/30/06
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ems...@mindspring.com says...

>I'm not sure what I think about the idea of snipping out extraneous
>material from a command and interpreting only the sensible bits; it
>seems that this would produce absolute nonsense quite a lot of the
>time, especially if the player tried to use negations, adverbs, and
>that sort of thing.

I wonder whether it would be useful in such cases to paraphrase
the command back to the player to ask if that's what he/she meant.

For instance:

>Kick the guard hard in the shin
[Understood as: "Attack the guard". Is that what you meant (yes/no)?]

--
Daryl McCullough
Ithaca, NY

Andrew Plotkin

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Jan 30, 2006, 11:45:55 AM1/30/06
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Here, Aaron A. Reed <aar...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> This makes perfect sense, but the philosophy does not get applied to
> the rest of the player's input. There's no good reason LOOK BAG should
> fail, just as there's no good reason PLEASE STUDY THE BAG MORE CLOSELY
> should fail---it's trivial to extract the underlying meaning X BAG out
> of both of these commands. The only danger in allowing a wider range of
> commands is that the player will get sloppier with his command
> structure and pass the point of easy recognition--but the above passage
> does not worry about this being a problem for the recognition of nouns.

I've always felt this was not so much a design philosophy, as just
punting the problem of rejecting "green green fried green tomatoes".
(Rejecting that would be a fair amount of extra code.)

More seriously: the two input spaces are fairly different. There is
rarely anything else that the player could have meant by a string of
nouns and adjectives that describe a single object.[*] The wordy verb
examples are not so tractable -- I think they have more ways for the
parser to genuinely misconstrue the player's intent.

[* Except in a case like "door" and "door bell" -- and in that case we
*do* go to great effort to prevent "push door" from matching
<push door_bell>.]

"Look bag" remains a bit of a blivet. I don't deny that it carries a
lingering historical arrogance: "Our parser is smart enough to know
what prepositions are! And you're going to like it!"

However, there is a little more to it than that. "Look bag" may be
the first mistake that the player hits, *particularly* if he has not
gotten the idea of prepositional phrases. If it is accepted, it may be
bad training for more than just the "look" command.

In other words, I'm not so worried about someone learning "look bag"
and then failing to realize that "look in bag" or "look behind bag"
are possible. I'm worried about someone learning "look bag" and then
having no idea how to put a stone into the bag.

(I would be all for a game that took "look bag" and responded "Try
'look at bag'." In fact, I should have thought of that for Dreamhold.)

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
If the Bush administration hasn't shipped you to Syria for interrogation, it's
for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because of the Eighth Amendment.

Mike Roberts

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Jan 30, 2006, 3:13:14 PM1/30/06
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"Steve Evans" <ybo...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
> Still, I've often wondered why modern parsers haven't moved, to
> some degree, along that path towards a more flexible approach to
> user input.

I can't speak for any modern parsers but the ones I've written, but for my
part, it's a deliberate design decision. Basically, I think it's better for
newbies if the parser is comprehensible than if it's flexible.

The metric I see as important in the learning curve is the amount of time it
takes for a new user to internalize the parser's model. The simpler the
parser's model, and the more straightforwardly the parser exposes the model
to the user, the more quickly a new user will learn exactly what that model
is. (Taken by itself, and taken to its logical extreme, this principle that
simpler is better would lead directly to CYOA-type interfaces. But if you
combine it with the opposing goal of expressiveness, so that the goal is the
simplest parser that lets you express everything you can do in the world
model, I think you arrive at something close to the current state of the
art.)

The BTZ parsers were predicated on an entirely different philosophy. That
philosophy is that the user shouldn't have to learn how to use the parser at
all, ever - that it's the parser's job to understand what the user already
knows about communicating in English (or other natural language). With that
philosophy, the learning curve metric that's important is to maximize the
comprehension percentage of commands typed by uninstructed new users.

The "flexible" philosophy is much better than the "comprehensible"
philosophy in an ideal world where computers behave like they do on Star
Trek. If the computer *can* be programmed to understand what uninstructed
new users type, then it should be. The practical problem, at least for the
moment, is that it can't. People who write BTZ-style parsers compensate for
this by allowing themselves to become confused about the learning curve
metric - in particular, they tend to substitute "acceptance" for
"comprehension" in the percentage figure they're trying to maximize.
(They're not the same; if the parser accepts a command but interprets it to
mean something other than what the user intended, the parser has failed even
worse than it would have by rejecting the command.) This confusion leads to
"cheap AI" tricks like discarding unknown words, and, in my experience,
leads to confused users. New users are occasionally delighted that random
things they try actually work, but just as often they're confused by the
parser's strange misinterpretation of something simple they tried, and over
time they find it difficult to assemble a coherent picture of how the parser
will interpret any particular input; so even experienced users stay fuzzy on
exactly how to express a given intention.

Looking at Aaron's figures, the conclusion I come to is that it would pay
the biggest dividends to improve the parser's diagnostics rather than to try
to make the parser more flexible per se. It's pretty clear that users won't
read instructions (I suspect that most of the 53% of Aaron's users who said
"yes" to receiving the instructions skimmed them at best), but I think
that's largely just because people these days are accustomed to learning new
software by trial and error. The standard modern parser is really pretty
simple from the user's perspective, so if we make the trials and errors
maximally instructive, a newbie should be able to work out the big picture
in not too many turns. For example, I'd suggest that rather than dropping
noise words like "please," the parser might simply scan for common noise
words and offer some customized advice if it finds them ("You don't need to
use words like 'please' with this game").

--Mike
mjr underscore at hotmail dot com


Urbatain

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Jan 31, 2006, 5:19:18 AM1/31/06
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A lot time ago we throw away that idea in the spanish IF community. An
autocorrect tool could issue errors in the parsing routine from the
real input the player gives. Think that maybe a sentence could not be
wrong, really the parser or game dictionary doesn't understand the
sentence, but it is gramatically correct.

So I think the good idea is to give advice, something like google:
"search for "candyes" You meant to say: candies." Something like this
is quite better.

In our games something like: Maybe you type wrong that word or I didn't
understand "candyes". Do you wanna correct that?" Or something like
that.

See you.

Urbatain.

Urbatain

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Jan 31, 2006, 5:24:08 AM1/31/06
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You must think that a game is a game, and a game have a limited amount
of commands, and must have a detailed instructions set. So I think the
way to go is to tell the player what is legal and what is illegal to
type. To tell what words the parser don't understand, what things are
irrelevant, and what kind of phrases the parses expect to receive,
exaclty the same when a player press F1 to see the keys to play Quake.

Urbatain.

Brian Wh.

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Jan 31, 2006, 7:47:57 AM1/31/06
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YES! YES! I've wanted this for years!

Full disclosure! [1]

A simple, enumerated command set, completey disclosed to the player, no
synonyms!

Way to go, spanish IF community!

[1] ...and a map, too.

Stephen Bond

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Jan 31, 2006, 9:42:24 AM1/31/06
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Urbatain wrote:
> You must think that a game is a game, and a game have a limited amount
> of commands,

So a live RPG is not a game?

Some games have a limited set of commands. Not everyone thinks
IF should be that sort of game.

Stephen.

Brian Wh.

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Jan 31, 2006, 9:58:10 AM1/31/06
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"Some games have a limited set of commands. Not everyone thinks
IF should be that sort of game. "

Regardless of what "not everyone" thinks IF should be, IF _has_ a
limited set of commands.
A limited set of verbs. Some authours think it improves the game to
conceal some of the commands
from the player.

Stephen Bond

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Jan 31, 2006, 10:07:10 AM1/31/06
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Brian Wh. wrote:
> "Some games have a limited set of commands. Not everyone thinks
> IF should be that sort of game. "
>
> Regardless of what "not everyone" thinks IF should be, IF _has_ a
> limited set of commands.

In practice, yes. But the player is not usually aware of the
limits of this set. So it appears essentially unlimited.

> A limited set of verbs. Some authours think it improves the game to
> conceal some of the commands
> from the player.

And often for good reason.

Stephen.

Brian Wh.

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Jan 31, 2006, 1:52:55 PM1/31/06
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"> Regardless of what "not everyone" thinks IF should be, IF _has_ a
> limited set of commands.

In practice, yes. But the player is not usually aware of the
limits of this set. So it appears essentially unlimited. "

Rubbish. To me it appears essentially broken-- the vast majority of
possible inputs elicit error messages.
Judging from the transcripts, most newbies share this opinion with me."

"Some authours think it improves the game to
> conceal some of the commands
> from the player.

And often for good reason."

Rubbish. If an IF only works if the author conceals the commands, it is
rubbish.
I don't want to play it. And neither would most newbies.

Greg Boettcher

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Jan 31, 2006, 2:49:03 PM1/31/06
to
Brian Wh. wrote:
> > > Some authours think it improves the game to
> > > conceal some of the commands
> > > from the player.
> >
> > And often for good reason.
>
> Rubbish. If an IF only works if the author conceals the commands, it is
> rubbish.
> I don't want to play it. And neither would most newbies.

I agree that it's a good idea to try to empathize more with newbies and
try to help them.

However, could it be that you're throwing the baby out with the bath
water here? As mentioned in that other thread, "Why Newbies Don't Like
IF," there certain moments, including one scene in Photopia, that a lot
of people think would be less interesting if its verb/action were
revealed up front. It would be more interesting to hear your position
on this after playing that game and commenting on that scene.

I think it would be quite helpful for newbies to get a list of actions.
But you're saying a *complete* list would *always* be good, and I can't
agree there.

Or, hold on, there is one other alternative. Giving a complete list of
verbs wouldn't necessarily hurt Photopia that much, if the list was,
say, 200 verbs long, and included a lot of red herrings; i.e.
completely unnecessary verbs. Legend Entertainment games did that, and
it never bothered me.

Greg

Stephen Bond

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 3:35:43 PM1/31/06
to
Brian Wh. wrote:
> "> Regardless of what "not everyone" thinks IF should be, IF _has_ a
> > limited set of commands.
>
> In practice, yes. But the player is not usually aware of the
> limits of this set. So it appears essentially unlimited. "
>
> Rubbish. To me it appears essentially broken-- the vast majority of
> possible inputs elicit error messages.

That arbitrary possible inputs, such as >SDFGKFJD, elicit error
messages is of no concern. What matters are the inputs one
would expect to work, such as sensible natural language commands
in a given context. In the transcripts, "something like 20%" of
the inputs produced error messages. A lot, but not the majority,
and certainly not the "vast majority".

> Judging from the transcripts, most newbies share this opinion with me."

I think IF authors would be wise not to put too much stock in
newbie opinion. While it's desirable up to a point to cater to new
players, it's never good to pander to them. And "full disclosure" of
the command set compromises the medium to an extent that
amounts to pandering.

Newbies are by definition fairly ignorant of the nuances of an art
form. As a newbie, I had much the same opinion of the IF command
set -- but the games I played soon changed my mind.

> "Some authours think it improves the game to
> > conceal some of the commands
> > from the player.
>
> And often for good reason."
>
> Rubbish. If an IF only works if the author conceals the commands, it is
> rubbish.

Did you read the other thread? Do you think _Spider and Web_ or
_Photopia_ would have worked if the authors had presented all
available commands?

Many IF games -- in my opinion, the best IF games -- exploit the
open-endedness of the command set in ingenious ways. To
dismiss all such games as "rubbish" is rather blinkered, to
say the least.

Stephen.

Andrew Plotkin

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Jan 31, 2006, 3:40:36 PM1/31/06
to
Here, Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
>
> I think IF authors would be wise not to put too much stock in
> newbie opinion. While it's desirable up to a point to cater to new
> players, it's never good to pander to them.

While I generally share your position about the principles of IF, I
wouldn't put it *that* strongly. It is entirely desirable to cater to
new players -- in order to turn them into *experienced* players. It is
undesirable to give them less interesting, less enjoyable games on the
pretext of being newbie-friendly. "Pandering" doesn't come into it,
either way.

Rubes

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 3:55:26 PM1/31/06
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> While I generally share your position about the principles of IF, I
> wouldn't put it *that* strongly. It is entirely desirable to cater to
> new players -- in order to turn them into *experienced* players. It is
> undesirable to give them less interesting, less enjoyable games on the
> pretext of being newbie-friendly. "Pandering" doesn't come into it,
> either way.

I agree with that. I think the goal, overall, is to try and get players
hooked. That requires some measure of hand-holding, but there are
certainly limits.

What about a system that recognizes that a user has received an error
on, say, 3 consecutive command entries, upon which it produces a
message like "Would you like some assistance?"

Then it could just give a few basic examples of typical IF commands. It
doesn't have to show every available verb, but some of the most common
ones. And it could then encourage creativity by the player as well.

Stephen Bond

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 4:12:30 PM1/31/06
to
Andrew Plotkin wrote:
> Here, Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
> >
> > I think IF authors would be wise not to put too much stock in
> > newbie opinion. While it's desirable up to a point to cater to new
> > players, it's never good to pander to them.
>
> While I generally share your position about the principles of IF, I
> wouldn't put it *that* strongly. It is entirely desirable to cater to
> new players -- in order to turn them into *experienced* players. It is
> undesirable to give them less interesting, less enjoyable games on the
> pretext of being newbie-friendly. "Pandering" doesn't come into it,
> either way.

Hmm. I'd count the latter as pandering, in the sense of catering to
some perceived lowest common denominator. I don't mean that to
criticise the motives of the authors, which are almost certainly not
those of the various media companies that pander, but to
criticise its effects on the games.

Stephen.

Kevin Forchione

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 4:32:11 PM1/31/06
to
"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message
news:droi04$pfb$1...@reader2.panix.com...

> Here, Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
>>
>> I think IF authors would be wise not to put too much stock in
>> newbie opinion. While it's desirable up to a point to cater to new
>> players, it's never good to pander to them.
>
> While I generally share your position about the principles of IF, I
> wouldn't put it *that* strongly. It is entirely desirable to cater to
> new players -- in order to turn them into *experienced* players. It is
> undesirable to give them less interesting, less enjoyable games on the
> pretext of being newbie-friendly. "Pandering" doesn't come into it,
> either way.

One shouldn't undervalue the importance of motivation here. Games have
rules, and certainly one doesn't "dumb-down" something like bridge or chess
in order to make the games more palatable for the newcomer. Instead one
lures them in with peer excitement. Give IF a celeb, and the unwashed masses
will come knocking down the doors in droves.

--Kevin


Brian Wh.

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 4:27:32 PM1/31/06
to
"Many IF games -- in my opinion, the best IF games -- exploit the
open-endedness of the command set in ingenious ways."

Guys, give me specific examples. Don't worry about spoilers,
I can handle it. Don't just mention a game, give at least one
_specific_ example.

Specific examples of where letting the player know what
commands are available is deleterious to the player's
gameplay experience.

Brian Wh.

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 4:32:44 PM1/31/06
to
"Giving a complete list of
verbs wouldn't necessarily hurt Photopia that much, if the list was,
say, 200 verbs long, and included a lot of red herrings; i.e.
completely unnecessary verbs. "

Why stop at only 200 <g>?

I'm not against "red herrings" in a verb list. But I want a _complete_
, inclusive list.

By the way, it was amazing at how many verbs Legend implemented and
_used_! So much effort!

Stephen Bond

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 4:53:03 PM1/31/06
to

I gave two spoiler-laden specific examples (for _A Change in
the Weather_ and _Rameses_) in the "Why Newbies
Don't Like IF" thread on rgif a few weeks ago. Still available
on Google Groups.

Here's another for _Photopia_, which has been alluded to in this
thread.

[SPOILERS]
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

In the colour sections of _Photopia_, you play a young girl who
is having a story told to her by her babysitter. One such section
is a blue crystal maze. For a while, you wander around the maze
using compass directions as usual, and there appears to be no
way out. But gradually, the storyteller clues you into the fact
that you have wings. You can soar above the maze!
You can >FLY! This is a moment of realisation that captures
something of the childlike wonder of the protagonist, a peak
of intimacy between her and her babysitter -- and also
a realisation that the game world has been imagined in three
dimensions, that it has *depth* -- figuratively and literally -- as
well as breadth. A realisation that would have been considerably
damped if >FLY was listed as one of twenty or thirty or even
a hundred available commands.

If anyone is interested, I've written a short essay about the
brilliance of a another concealed action (in the CYOA gamebook
_Creature of Havoc_, of all places) here:
http://www.plover.net/~bonds/creatureofhavoc.html

Stephen.

Daryl McCullough

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 5:18:14 PM1/31/06
to
Brian Wh. says...

In a work of interactive fiction, potentially <i>every</i>
verb phrase could be a possible command. Telling the player
which ones, out of the hundreds of thousands of possible
verb phrase, actually do something may be giving away information
that the player would enjoy discovering by playing the game.

For instance, there could be a strange device of unknown purpose
in a game with a science-fiction setting. Through piecing together
various clues, the player may discover that it is a teleportation
machine, or a mind-swapping machine. Now, if the author includes
a list of commands

teleport to X
swap minds with Y

that would give away the secret purpose of the machine. It would
spoil part of the fun (at least, some people think that figuring
things out can be fun).

Adam Thornton

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Jan 31, 2006, 6:56:57 PM1/31/06
to
In article <1138733575.5...@g44g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,

Brian Wh. <bri...@sympatico.ca> wrote:
>Rubbish. To me it appears essentially broken-- the vast majority of
>possible inputs elicit error messages.
>Judging from the transcripts, most newbies share this opinion with me."

The vast majority of possible inputs, when used in actual conversation
with actual human beings, elicit error messages.

Adam

Adam Thornton

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 6:58:56 PM1/31/06
to
In article <fCQDf.18196$sA3.89@fed1read02>,

Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:
>One shouldn't undervalue the importance of motivation here. Games have
>rules, and certainly one doesn't "dumb-down" something like bridge

Spades?

>or chess

Checkers? OK, that one's a stretch.

>in order to make the games more palatable for the newcomer. Instead one
>lures them in with peer excitement. Give IF a celeb, and the unwashed masses
>will come knocking down the doors in droves.

Maybe we could get Tom Cruise, as long as we didn't say anything nasty
about Scientology.

Adam

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 6:33:29 PM1/31/06
to
"Stephen Bond" <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:

> Brian Wh. wrote:
>> If an IF only works if the author conceals the commands, it is
>> rubbish.
>
> Did you read the other thread? Do you think _Spider and Web_
> or _Photopia_ would have worked if the authors had presented
> all available commands?

I can't speak for "Brian Wh.", of course, but I can give my own answer. I
know which magic command you're talking about in Photopia, and you'll be sad
to hear that my reaction to that was: oh, guess-the-verb. And yet I still
liked Photopia; the gtv puzzle was just a ding in an otherwise well-designed
game.

As I've pointed out before, the extent to which concealed-verb puzzles are
pleasing is a matter of taste. It's not something everyone likes, and it's
not even something that everyone who likes IF likes. The former point is
obvious, given the number of people still interested in IF; but it's the
latter point that makes me chime in whenever this comes up, because a lot of
people around here don't seem to believe it. And that disbelief makes me
wonder: isn't there anything else about IF to like, apart from the concealed
verbs? Isn't there anything equally essential?

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 6:33:29 PM1/31/06
to
"Stephen Bond" <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
> Some games have a limited set of commands. Not everyone
> thinks IF should be that sort of game.

Not everyone doesn't, either, though - hopefully there's room for the
occasional variation.

Samwyse

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 7:58:37 PM1/31/06
to
Mike Roberts wrote:

> I can't speak for "Brian Wh.", of course, but I can give my own answer. I
> know which magic command you're talking about in Photopia, and you'll be sad
> to hear that my reaction to that was: oh, guess-the-verb. And yet I still
> liked Photopia; the gtv puzzle was just a ding in an otherwise well-designed
> game.

I'm rather stunned by that statement. I thought that it was a masterful
bit of linguistic sleight-of-hand, rather like those magic tricks where
the magician reveals that the dollar bill that you've been gripping
tightly is really a playing card.

> As I've pointed out before, the extent to which concealed-verb puzzles are
> pleasing is a matter of taste. It's not something everyone likes, and it's
> not even something that everyone who likes IF likes. The former point is
> obvious, given the number of people still interested in IF; but it's the
> latter point that makes me chime in whenever this comes up, because a lot of
> people around here don't seem to believe it. And that disbelief makes me
> wonder: isn't there anything else about IF to like, apart from the concealed
> verbs? Isn't there anything equally essential?

First, I think that everyone will readily concede that 90%, maybe even
99%, of all guess-the-verb situations are due to authorial errors, and
many of the rest shouldn't have been attempted. Nevertheless, there are
cases where it is successfully done, and those occasions invoke a
feeling of awe when I encounter them. I'd hate to eliminate any chance
of puzzles like those ever being written again.

Puzzles, I think, are essential. Some games feature puzzles that are
fiendishly subtle and/or complicated, and some people decide that
puzzle-less games are the way to go. But even those games feature
simple, almost invisible puzzles that are used to pace the game.

Maps are almost essential, but I say that as someone who wrote a very
traditional underground adventure set in a single room. That game also
broke a few of the other rules of "good" I-F, since I wrote it with the
goal of maximizing the number of times the player had to start over
after getting killed.

I'd guess that there are a handful of ingredients for a good game, but
any one or two of them can be completely omitted if the rest are used well.

Mike Roberts

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 9:51:41 PM1/31/06
to
"Samwyse" <sam...@gmail.com> wrote:

> Mike Roberts wrote:
>> I know which magic command you're talking about in Photopia, and you'll
>> be sad to hear that my reaction to that was: oh, guess-
>> the-verb.
>
> I'm rather stunned by that statement.

As I said:

>> [...] it's not even something that everyone who likes IF likes [and] a

>> lot of people around here don't seem to believe it.

Believe it. :)

> Nevertheless, there are cases where it is successfully done, and those
> occasions invoke a feeling of awe when I encounter them.

So you like that sort of thing. The thing is, for me they all feel
basically derivative of the primordial meta-UI puzzle in Adventure. (Know
the one I'm talking about? Now *that* was a proper guess-the-verb puzzle.)
It was highly surprising and amusing the first time I encountered that sort
of thing; somewhat less so the second time; and at this point, sorry to say,
I can't work up much awe when I encounter it.

> I'd hate to eliminate any chance of puzzles like those ever being written
> again.

Who said anything about eliminating chances? Not me. My point isn't that
*you* shouldn't like this sort of thing; it's that some people do and some
people don't, and those who number themselves in one camp shouldn't be
baffled and amazed at the existence of the other group, and shouldn't think
the other group must just be missing something. I mean, surely everyone by
now understands how futile it is to try to persuade someone who doesn't like
brussels sprouts that they just haven't had really good brussels sprouts,
right?

>> And that disbelief makes me wonder: isn't there anything else about IF to
>> like, apart from the concealed verbs?
>

> I'd guess that there are a handful of ingredients for a good game, but any
> one or two of them can be completely omitted if the rest are used well.

So my follow-up question is this: if you take the concealed verbs out, and
keep those other good ingredients, is it still possible for it to be IF?
And is it still possible for a concealed-verb-enjoyer to enjoy the result?
Or are concealed verbs a necessary condition of enjoyable IF for
concealed-verb-enjoyers?

The Photopia example that keeps coming up as an example of why concealed
verbs are so wonderful is interesting to me in that, from my perspective,
the game overall would actually have been slightly improved without the
concealed verb in that particular scene. But that's my perspective as a
non-concealed-verb-enjoyer. Concealed-verb supporters keep saying what a
great scene they think it is, but that doesn't seem to me to prove that
concealed verbs are necessary, just that maybe they're sufficient in some
sense for some people. So what about the necessity question? That is,
would Photopia have been ruined for concealed-verb-enjoyers without that
scene? Is that aspect of that scene what makes the whole game work for
CVEs?

steve....@gmail.com

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Jan 31, 2006, 10:01:35 PM1/31/06
to
Samwyse wrote:
> I'm rather stunned by [Mike's statement that the "magic command"
> in Photopia was a mere gtv puzzle]. I thought that it was a masterful

> bit of linguistic sleight-of-hand, rather like those magic tricks where
> the magician reveals that the dollar bill that you've been gripping
> tightly is really a playing card.

Don't be stunned. I'm a huge fan of Adam's writing, but I thought that
one was a cheap parlour trick at best (to develop your analogy). "Think
outside the box" was as terrible a cliche in 1998 as it is today, and
therefore an uninteresting contradiction. You can consider this part of
the game a stroke of genius, but don't be surprised if someone else can
think of it as trite pap. In any case, this example is not the best one
for our discussion, because it is in fact controversial (as stunning as
that may be).

But what sort of example are we looking for, and why? Authors will
continue to take advantage of the incomplete disclosure of the command
interface. Nobody can intelligently argue against that in principle.

Aaron A. Reed

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Jan 31, 2006, 10:48:12 PM1/31/06
to
Mike Roberts wrote:
>And that disbelief makes me
>wonder: isn't there anything else about IF to like, apart from the concealed
>verbs? Isn't there anything equally essential?

I think there's an important distinction here. A properly-clued use of
a verb that might not otherwise have been tried (like the wings in
Photopia) is not really a guess-the-verb puzzle, unless the author has
picked an unusual verb, because the game is practically telling you to
try it. This is fine. The problem arises when the author expects the
player to use a verb hitherto unimplemented, without clueing the player
in that this is possible. If I'm supposed to ACCUSE SUSPECT and the
game hasn't told me ACCUSE is a valid verb, I might be trying things
like TELL INSPECTOR ABOUT SUSPECT, ASK SUSPECT ABOUT DUBIOUS ALIBI,
etc., etc.... which in a good game should also be implemented. The joy
of the undefined vocabulary comes when words work that you didn't
expect to; if the ones you expected to work fail you, the author has
created a problem.

As to what's essential about IF: to me, it's the fact that you're
combining all the imagination-sparking allure of good fiction with the
powerful device of actually getting to BE the main character. The
undefined command set is sometimes a plus, but isn't essential to the
experience. There is certainly IF with basic commands that's still
engrossing or interesting. It's really all about the writing,
storytelling, and implementation; the parser is just the front end to
the experience.

Samwyse

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 10:55:24 PM1/31/06
to
Mike Roberts wrote:

> So you like that sort of thing. The thing is, for me they all feel
> basically derivative of the primordial meta-UI puzzle in Adventure. (Know
> the one I'm talking about? Now *that* was a proper guess-the-verb puzzle.)
> It was highly surprising and amusing the first time I encountered that sort
> of thing; somewhat less so the second time; and at this point, sorry to say,
> I can't work up much awe when I encounter it.

I'll assume you mean "THERE IS SOMETHING STRANGE ABOUT THIS PLACE, SUCH
THAT ONE OF THE WORDS I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN NOW HAS A NEW EFFECT."

> So my follow-up question is this: if you take the concealed verbs out, and
> keep those other good ingredients, is it still possible for it to be IF?
> And is it still possible for a concealed-verb-enjoyer to enjoy the result?
> Or are concealed verbs a necessary condition of enjoyable IF for
> concealed-verb-enjoyers?

That's my point. Many games have problems with unintentional "guess the
verb" situations (I hesitate to call them puzzles, they're usually a
sort of bug). They would all be improved by eliminating the problem.
The people who like those puzzles I suspect like them because they are
so rarely done.

> The Photopia example that keeps coming up as an example of why concealed
> verbs are so wonderful is interesting to me in that, from my perspective,
> the game overall would actually have been slightly improved without the
> concealed verb in that particular scene. But that's my perspective as a
> non-concealed-verb-enjoyer. Concealed-verb supporters keep saying what a
> great scene they think it is, but that doesn't seem to me to prove that
> concealed verbs are necessary, just that maybe they're sufficient in some
> sense for some people. So what about the necessity question? That is,
> would Photopia have been ruined for concealed-verb-enjoyers without that
> scene? Is that aspect of that scene what makes the whole game work for
> CVEs?

What can I say? I can't see how the scene could have been written to
achieve the desired effect without concealed verb. The events leading
up to the surprise set up a level of frustration, the game effectively
forced you into taking an action that revealed that another action was
possible that you hadn't previously considered, and the dramatic tension
was suddenly resolved. It's been a few years, but I think my reaction
was, "What the heck? Oh. Wow!"

fiziwig

unread,
Jan 31, 2006, 11:21:02 PM1/31/06
to
>> In other words, I'm not so worried about someone learning "look bag"
>> and then failing to realize that "look in bag" or "look behind bag"
>> are possible. I'm worried about someone learning "look bag" and then
>> having no idea how to put a stone into the bag.

>> (I would be all for a game that took "look bag" and responded "Try
>> 'look at bag'." In fact, I should have thought of that for Dreamhold.)

As a pretty newbie player myself I'd rather have the response be
something like:

Do you want to look AT the bag or look IN the bag? That trains the
player in the proper usage of the verb.

--gary

Kevin Forchione

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Jan 31, 2006, 11:54:42 PM1/31/06
to
"Mike Roberts" <mj...@hotmail.com> wrote in message
news:1nVDf.21380$Jd....@newssvr25.news.prodigy.net...

> The Photopia example that keeps coming up as an example of why concealed
> verbs are so wonderful is interesting to me in that, from my perspective,
> the game overall would actually have been slightly improved without the
> concealed verb in that particular scene. But that's my perspective as a
> non-concealed-verb-enjoyer. Concealed-verb supporters keep saying what a
> great scene they think it is, but that doesn't seem to me to prove that
> concealed verbs are necessary, just that maybe they're sufficient in some
> sense for some people. So what about the necessity question? That is,
> would Photopia have been ruined for concealed-verb-enjoyers without that
> scene? Is that aspect of that scene what makes the whole game work for
> CVEs?

And one has to ask, would it be possible for a game to determine, to some
small degree, the psychology of the player, and to then provide, based on
that determination, a subtle shift in style so that perhaps the CVE would
receive the scene played out one way, while the non-CVE would receive it
another? That is to say, could one determine the psychology of the player
from their command choices? Is there a statistical pattern to the CVE?

--Kevin


Samwyse

unread,
Feb 1, 2006, 12:26:04 AM2/1/06
to
fiziwig wrote:

> As a pretty newbie player myself I'd rather have the response be
> something like:
>
> Do you want to look AT the bag or look IN the bag? That trains the
> player in the proper usage of the verb.

Verb 'look'
* noun -> VagueLook;

[ VagueLookSub ;
print "Do you want to LOOK AT ", (the)noun;
if (noun has supporter) print " or LOOK ON ", (the)noun;
if (noun has container) print " or LOOK IN ", (the)noun;
"?";
];

The only problem is that the player might reply with just the
preposition. I can't speak for TADS, but the Inform library lacks tools
to let the author constructively interfere with the parser in this sort
of situation.

Brian Wh.

unread,
Feb 1, 2006, 12:34:46 AM2/1/06
to
"Here's another for _Photopia_, which has been alluded to in this
thread.


[SPOILERS] "


Stephen,

Thanks very much for the example. I will check it out and get back to
this thread.
It may take me a week or so.

Thanks again,
Brian

Brian Wh.

unread,
Feb 1, 2006, 12:42:10 AM2/1/06
to
Daryl McCullough said:

"In a work of interactive fiction, potentially <i>every</i>
verb phrase could be a possible command. "

Actually, when I say command list, I mean a complete list of verbs,
(not verb phrases) and the syntax for using them.

I agree that a list of all _verb phrases_ would not be helpful or
productive.

I wonder if other posters got the same wrong impression...? ooops.

Kevin Forchione

unread,
Feb 1, 2006, 2:48:30 AM2/1/06
to
"Brian Wh." <bri...@sympatico.ca> wrote in message
news:1138772530....@g44g2000cwa.googlegroups.com...

Nope. A list of all possible commands would be impractical. But it would be
trivial to create a <<verbs>> player command that produced a list of all
verbs within a given game. I doubt very much that such a list would give
very much away. It would seem more likely for objects to be unknown to
players than for verbs to be, and more prone to "spoiling" a puzzle.

I believe that more pleasure is to be derived out of the sophisticated use
of drama, mystery, and suspense than by simply withholding information from
the player without due motivation. And more pleasure seems to be derived
from resolving a problem through the juxtaposition of common objects and
common actions where such objects and actions are not normally paired
together, rather than the introduction of an exotic action into the game.

One must regard the psychology of the player in this respect: there is far
more likelihood of a satisfying experience of immersion if the actions are
an organic part of the world, and their patterns deduced rather than
guessed. Stories must obey the laws of narrative causality, and when such is
not the case then what one experiences at best is a shifting of player
consciousness from story-immersion to meta-story fascination, and at worst
the psychological breach results in non-participation.

--Kevin


Urbatain

unread,
Feb 1, 2006, 4:49:29 AM2/1/06
to
ey ey! I love IF because has more interactive potential than any other
genre in the games world (or fiction world). You see, a graphical
game... you have an very reduced asset of commands, so when you hit a
good action and solve a puzzle, you get some satisfaction, but some of
the puzzle "way" is spoiled by the limited set of actions (you can
take, or use, or take, or use, it's easy enough). But here in IF the
player may think that the interface is infinite, and maybe, sometimes,
almost for every puzzle the solutions comes without spoilers from your
pretty chovinist mind (this for laugh about spanish), so IF has the
perfect interactivity.

But, natural language being undestood by parsers is an utopia, and drop
a game in free fall with that ideas is a bad one when a newbie is
playing... the frutration allways will be more powerfull than the full
interactive experience that IF can gives. So the way to go is add
instructions, or hints to the newbie to know where to go with her
parser typings.

Understandme, no at all a very reduced amount of actions with an
instruction set, but not at all the illusion of a infinite perfect
parser.

And, every luminarie here use full instructions set within their games,
Emily, Adam (along with a reduced set of actions compared with the
standard inform libnrary, Plotkin, Paul O'B, etc) in their recent
works. This means something.

See you.

Urbatain.

Urbatain

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Feb 1, 2006, 4:53:20 AM2/1/06
to
Every live RPG have some limited set of rules. And every infinite
posible action that the human parser can generate, in a RPG module it
will be a default kind response like: "that's not important" :)

But you see... livbe RPG with human master is the perfect IF. We must
abandon inform, tads, hugo and every non human tool, and return to our
origins :)

I have a new game to play, the parser is Urbatain, you can play one by
one in the IF MUD from 9:00 to 13:00 spanish hour!

See you.

Urbatain.

Urbatain

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Feb 1, 2006, 5:07:08 AM2/1/06
to
Yeah! that's the kind of actions that makes our interactive works
highly superior to every other kind of interface. That "Eureka!" only
exists here in IF.

Of course, to reveal that actions in a instruction set will be a stupid
spoiler, but I really mean about the "standards" of the model world.
The newbie player must be issued about something like "win the game,
search for the gold cup and share it with my friends to celebrate my
victory" it's no a legal action in the game. Or that containers must me
aproach with put in, take from, etc.

Ummmmmm... old tecniques about guessing the parser with PAW games or
level9 ones is a very good practice for learning a new genre for a
newbie. To tell the player that THAT phrase is not understood because
the parser doens't know that verb, or that kind of word is in the
vocabulary, but that object "is not important for winning the game", is
another good idea to teach a new player about our standards. This is
what I name "negative feedback". Feedback of the parser about wrong
phrases or wrong actions, or illegal ones.

See you.

Urbatain.

Urbatain

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Feb 1, 2006, 5:16:39 AM2/1/06
to
Sometimes a concealed verb or action that is rarely used in the game is
a guess the verb problem. I can think in the "register" action for a
game that never used it at all in all its lenght less the end. Or for
example "A bear's night out", the sucessive look into that gives
successives objects, is a guess the feature problem. It's allways a
good idea, if your game requires a rarerly used verb at one point, to
allow the player to experiment that verb earlier.

But in Photopía that's not the case, because Photopía gives very well
clever clues about that magic word. So Photopía is perfect in that, is
very clever hinted.

See you.

Urbatain.

Samwyse

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Feb 1, 2006, 7:29:01 AM2/1/06
to
Samwyse wrote:

> Verb 'look'
> * noun -> VagueLook;
>
> [ VagueLookSub ;
> print "Do you want to LOOK AT ", (the)noun;
> if (noun has supporter) print " or LOOK ON ", (the)noun;
> if (noun has container) print " or LOOK IN ", (the)noun;
> "?";
> ];
>
> The only problem is that the player might reply with just the
> preposition. I can't speak for TADS, but the Inform library lacks tools
> to let the author constructively interfere with the parser in this sort
> of situation.

After sleeping on the preceding, I have a couple more ideas. They boil
down to the fact that action routines need a way to communicate problems
back to the parser.

Right now, most if not all such routines return true; a different value
could be used to tell the parser that an error occurred. If the grammar
lines denote possible errors could be marked somehow, then only the
small number of action routines so noted would have to be changed. This
marking could be done via the 'meta' flag, or the compiler could be
patched to allow a new flag such as 'vague'.

On the other hand, more than a single value may need to be communicated
back to the parser. VagueLookSub apparently needs to tell the parser
two things, both that a preposition is missing, and where in the line it
was expected. The parser already keeps a couple of extra copies of the
player's input around for the 'oops' command and disambiguation replies,
these could be used to insert a bare preposition into a command.

The fact that it's a preposition that is missing can be inferred in the
above example, so just returning an insertion point may handle
everything that's needed. On the other hand, I can see other instances
where something similar could be useful, just not in English.

The Russian language has no word for 'go'; speakers have to always say
either 'walk' or 'ride'. Logically, using these verbs in a game could
lead to implied ##Board and ##Disembark actions. Using a bare compass
direction as an action in English implies ##Go, but in a Russian game
one might logically see a disambiguation question if you're in a
location with a vehicle. For example:

> LOOK
You are in the town square. A tavern sits to the north, and beyond
it are the steppes. Your horse grazes nearby.
> NORTH
Do you mean to walk or to ride?
> RIDE
(First getting onto the horse.)
You ride north for several miles across the steppes...

Pulling off the above would require a reworking of the way the library
handles room objects (replacing the x_dir properties with walk_x and
ride_x ones), but for some languages such an effort might make sense.

The point of the above digression is to note that the compass object has
an implied action associated with it. Currently, that action is built
into the parser, but it could easily be separated out as a property of
the compass itself. In a non-Engish game that property might point to a
fake WalkOrRide action that in turn might need to trigger a
disambiguation question.

Stephen Bond

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Feb 1, 2006, 7:45:34 AM2/1/06
to
Mike Roberts wrote:

> I can't speak for "Brian Wh.", of course, but I can give my own answer. I
> know which magic command you're talking about in Photopia, and you'll be sad
> to hear that my reaction to that was: oh, guess-the-verb. And yet I still
> liked Photopia; the gtv puzzle was just a ding in an otherwise well-designed
> game.

Guess-the-verb is more usefully applied to puzzles where you know
the solution, and know how to phrase it in natural language, but
don't know the phrasing the parser expects. This is usually
considered a design flaw. At that moment in Photopia, once you
know what to do, there's never any doubt about what verb the
parser expects.

> As I've pointed out before, the extent to which concealed-verb puzzles are
> pleasing is a matter of taste.

And as I've replied before, that's a fairly obvious and uninteresting
observation. We can't measure the quality of the concealed-verb
experience in SI units. We're arguing personal taste here. (And
concealing the full verb set isn't just about puzzles.)

> And that disbelief makes me
> wonder: isn't there anything else about IF to like, apart from the concealed
> verbs? Isn't there anything equally essential?

What I like about IF varies from game to game (and I don't like most
IF games), but if I was to abstract it all to one common element, it
would be the enjoyment of interacting with a richly realised world.
The open-endedness of the verb set contributes to the illusion of
richness -- I'd even say it was essential for establishing it. As I've
said before, giving the player a limited set of verbs makes the
world seem more like a contrivance.

Of course, other things like good writing and good game design are
essential too, and much harder to come by.

> So my follow-up question is this: if you take the concealed verbs out, and
> keep those other good ingredients, is it still possible for it to be IF?
> And is it still possible for a concealed-verb-enjoyer to enjoy the result?

I suspect I'd answer no to both of those questions, but this is very
hypothetical. I'd have to see the game. Certainly, I don't think the
games I've played with up-front verb sets (such as the LA adventures
or most CYOA books, much as I liked them) truly succeed as IF.

> So what about the necessity question? That is,
> would Photopia have been ruined for concealed-verb-enjoyers without that
> scene? Is that aspect of that scene what makes the whole game work for
> CVEs?

No one is arguing that that part of the scene makes the whole game
work. But again, I suspect that if _Photopia_ had been accompanied by
an LA-style menu with N possible verbs, my enjoyment of the game
would have been considerably diminished. Alley says "Let's tell a
story together" and not "Let's tell a story together, except you're
only allowed to say >PULL and >PUSH and >PICK UP".

Stephen.

David Thornley

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Feb 1, 2006, 9:01:28 AM2/1/06
to
In article <1138797934.2...@g14g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,

Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
>Mike Roberts wrote:
>
>> I can't speak for "Brian Wh.", of course, but I can give my own answer. I
>> know which magic command you're talking about in Photopia, and you'll be sad
>> to hear that my reaction to that was: oh, guess-the-verb. And yet I still
>> liked Photopia; the gtv puzzle was just a ding in an otherwise well-designed
>> game.
>
>Guess-the-verb is more usefully applied to puzzles where you know
>the solution, and know how to phrase it in natural language, but
>don't know the phrasing the parser expects. This is usually
>considered a design flaw. At that moment in Photopia, once you
>know what to do, there's never any doubt about what verb the
>parser expects.
>
There can be doubt, but who cares? (IIRC, I never used the verb
in question, but a very standard IF verb instead.) As long as the
parser recognizes all reasonable verbs, it isn't guess-the-verb.
This means, BTW, that a list of verbs could be supplied that would
be enough to get through that puzzle without giving it away.
Would people be happier about it if there was a VERBS response
that excluded that particular three-letter word?

IF is, I believe, enriched by the fact that some puzzles require
non-obvious actions, and some non-obvious actions require special
verbs. As long as the parser recognizes enough ways to specify
the action, I don't think that's a problem.

The real world is surprising; that's one of its characteristic features.
If the IF world is predictably limited, that takes away much of the charm.

>> And that disbelief makes me
>> wonder: isn't there anything else about IF to like, apart from the concealed
>> verbs? Isn't there anything equally essential?
>
>What I like about IF varies from game to game (and I don't like most
>IF games), but if I was to abstract it all to one common element, it
>would be the enjoyment of interacting with a richly realised world.
>The open-endedness of the verb set contributes to the illusion of
>richness -- I'd even say it was essential for establishing it. As I've
>said before, giving the player a limited set of verbs makes the
>world seem more like a contrivance.
>

It looks to me like some people find "I don't know what you're talking
about" messages a turn-off, and other people love the illusion that
a large and indefinite set of verbs gives.

>> So my follow-up question is this: if you take the concealed verbs out, and
>> keep those other good ingredients, is it still possible for it to be IF?
>> And is it still possible for a concealed-verb-enjoyer to enjoy the result?
>
>I suspect I'd answer no to both of those questions, but this is very
>hypothetical. I'd have to see the game. Certainly, I don't think the
>games I've played with up-front verb sets (such as the LA adventures
>or most CYOA books, much as I liked them) truly succeed as IF.
>

I would say that it depends on the game. Rameses, for example, would
probably not be hurt at all by a VERBS command. Photopia, if my
memory is correct, would not be hurt by a VERBS command that gave
all necessary verbs but not all the ones the game actually accepts.

It may be possible to find a middle ground. Have a list of standard
IF verbs, along with all others that are introduced by the opening
help that most people don't read. As the game goes along, add
verbs that the player uses successfully, as well as others that
are introduced:

Congratulations! You have just finished the Gulliver Foyle class.
You can now <b>jaunt</b> or <b>teleport</b> to locations you are
familiar with.

Let that list be produced with a VERBS command, and make a reference
to that in the very basic opening help.

If you are new to IF, you can get help at any time by typing HELP,
or a list of verbs that may be useful by typing VERBS.

And, ideally, set up all actions so they can be done with the listed
verbs, if possible.

--
David H. Thornley | If you want my opinion, ask.
da...@thornley.net | If you don't, flee.
http://www.thornley.net/~thornley/david/ | O-

Stephen Bond

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Feb 1, 2006, 2:07:58 PM2/1/06
to
David Thornley wrote:
> In article <1138797934.2...@g14g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,
> Stephen Bond <steph...@ireland.com> wrote:
> >
> >Guess-the-verb is more usefully applied to puzzles where you know
> >the solution, and know how to phrase it in natural language, but
> >don't know the phrasing the parser expects. This is usually
> >considered a design flaw. At that moment in Photopia, once you
> >know what to do, there's never any doubt about what verb the
> >parser expects.
> >
> There can be doubt, but who cares? (IIRC, I never used the verb
> in question, but a very standard IF verb instead.) As long as the
> parser recognizes all reasonable verbs, it isn't guess-the-verb.

I'm arguing that it isn't guess-the-verb, not attempting to
give a precise definition of guess-the-verb.

> This means, BTW, that a list of verbs could be supplied that would
> be enough to get through that puzzle without giving it away.
> Would people be happier about it if there was a VERBS response
> that excluded that particular three-letter word?

I've no problem with a verb list, as long as it's obviously a partial
list and not 'full disclosure'. (Though I think any obvious synonym
of that three-letter-word would be a spoiler in this case.)

> The real world is surprising; that's one of its characteristic features.
> If the IF world is predictably limited, that takes away much of the charm.

Yup, agreed.

> >I suspect I'd answer no to both of those questions, but this is very
> >hypothetical. I'd have to see the game. Certainly, I don't think the
> >games I've played with up-front verb sets (such as the LA adventures
> >or most CYOA books, much as I liked them) truly succeed as IF.
> >
> I would say that it depends on the game. Rameses, for example, would
> probably not be hurt at all by a VERBS command.

It wouldn't be hurt by a partial verb list, but definitely would by a
complete verb list, as I've argued in the other thread. It's the
difference between not doing actions A,B or C and not doing
*anything*.

Stephen.

Andrew Plotkin

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Feb 1, 2006, 2:16:30 PM2/1/06
to
Here, Kevin Forchione <ke...@lysseus.com> wrote:

> [...] A list of all possible commands would be impractical. But it would be

> trivial to create a <<verbs>> player command that produced a list of all
> verbs within a given game. I doubt very much that such a list would give
> very much away. It would seem more likely for objects to be unknown to
> players than for verbs to be, and more prone to "spoiling" a puzzle.

*In principle*, a list of objects in the game is exactly the same kind
of spoiler as a list of actions.

And in practice, every game presents some explicit documentation and
some implicit clues. Nobody is saying that _Enchanter_ was degraded as
a game because the docs explained the "learn spell" action.

> I believe that more pleasure is to be derived out of the
> sophisticated use of drama, mystery, and suspense than by simply
> withholding information from the player without due motivation.

That's begging the question. Of course a simplistic, unmotivated use
of a technique will work out badly.

When I withhold information -- about the story, the characters, the
world, or the protagonist's choices -- I am doing it in support of
drama, mystery, and suspense.

And note the focus there. The point is not, and never has been, to
"conceal a verb". That phrase is a fallacy. The goal is for an
*action* to be *discoverable*: you realize *what you want to do*.
("In the game world", to reuse the phrase I frequently reuse.)
Figuring out the *command to type* should, after that revelation, be
a simple and obvious step to take.

Yes, people sometimes trip on that step. Authors sometimes fail to
make it an obvious one. But don't confuse that failure with the goal
of the exercise, and don't try to solve it by eliminating the goal.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
If the Bush administration hasn't shipped you to Syria for interrogation, it's
for one reason: they don't feel like it. Not because you're innocent.

ems...@mindspring.com

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Feb 1, 2006, 3:48:27 PM2/1/06
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David Thornley wrote:
> In article <1138797934.2...@g14g2000cwa.googlegroups.com>,
> I would say that it depends on the game. Rameses, for example, would
> probably not be hurt at all by a VERBS command.

I'm pretty sure it would -- at least, I remember that one or two of the
game's best moments (for me) came when I tried a command completely
outside the usual IF command set, but in keeping with my PC's
characterization, and had it *work*. These commands weren't necessary
to finish the game, and I would have been far less entertained by them
if I'd read them on the list of possible verbs at the beginning.

Something similar is true of several other games that turn on the
player getting into the role of the PC and learning to think and act
like him: "Kissing Bandit" and "Act of Misdirection" come immediately
to mind.

But I agree with your assessment that this depends on the game. If
giving instructions at all (which I didn't in my first few games
because I didn't anticipate an audience outside the IF community), I
list all the commands that the player will need to complete a
playthrough; if any are left out it is because, as Zarf says, they
represent *actions* that the player won't discover until partway
through the game. In that case, I try to make sure that the right
commands to use are strongly hinted at the moment that the new ability
is introduced.

Kevin Forchione

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Feb 1, 2006, 4:09:26 PM2/1/06