General overview of IF (crosspost)

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Ron Hale-Evans

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Feb 9, 1994, 2:10:01 PM2/9/94
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Stuart Moulthrop writes on PYNCHON-L:
>TADS, as best I recall, is an authoring system for creating adventure-style
>fictions: narratives that unfold as you explore and manipulate a virtual
>space. A friend and former student of mine, Ron Hale-Evans, has been
>working with this system. He's ev...@binah.cc.brandeis.edu. He can tell
>you more.

That's me. TADS stands for "Text Adventure Development System" and is,
to my mind, the best software available for creating "text
adventure"-style interactive fiction. It is well-supported by the
publisher, High Energy Software, reasonably priced, extremely well
documented (once you pay the shareware fee), and has a large library
of functions that obviate the IF author's need to write code for
opening doors, picking up and dropping objects, movement, and so on.
It's very easy to use if you're familiar with object-oriented
programming, and it's very flexible. In fact, it's so flexible that I
think it fair to say one could implement a sort of hypertext system
with TADS code. It's also one of the few programs for which I've ever
thought it worth paying the shareware fee. You can download what you
need to get started with TADS by ftp from ftp.gmd.de, directory
/int-fiction or /pub/int-fiction or something like that (look around).

For those of you not familiar with this form, it began with Crowther
and Woods, who wrote the game _Adventure_ in the late 70s (hence the
moniker "text adventure"), was improved upon by _Zork_/_Dungeon_ in
the early 80s, and was commercially successful when the hackers who
wrote _Zork_ started a company called Infocom to publish text
adventures. What's most interesting about this sort of fiction is that
you "play" the protagonist; in other words, the fictions are written
in the second person, and you must give the program commands that
manipulate a sort of virtual puppet representing "you" inside the
virtual world of the text adventure.

Some people think the form reached its apex with Infocom's fictions,
in particular _A Mind Forever Voyaging_, a science fiction piece in
which you play an artificial intelligence inhabiting a virtual
reality, and _Trinity_, a fantasy piece in which you narrowly escape
World War III and travel throughout spacetime, eventually trying to
stop the Trinity Test in 1945 New Mexico. (In my opinion? The former's
prose is not as successful as the latter's (too sentimental, crummy
characterisation), but while I haven't finished _Trinity_, I'm rather
more impressed with the structure of _AMFV_ because it for the most
part goes beyond the typical puzzle-solving plot motivation of text
adventures.)

Since Infocom tried to branch out with a "straight" database product
and went under in the late 80s, there's been a bit of a vacuum of text
adventures. Most of the "adventures" now available are largely iconic
point-and-click things that do not challenge the participant.
Nevertheless, due largely to TADS, there has been a recent upswing in
the number of new text adventures available. One company that uses
TADS, Adventions, has been rather successful with their "Unnkulian"
series, which have been written up in glossy gaming mags, unusual for
shareware. People are experimenting with new genres; one TADS game
recently released, first of a trilogy, is called _Enhanced_ and is
probably the first "cyberpunk" text adventure. If you can read source
code, you'd probably be fascinated by a game developed for a contest
at MIT, called _GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit of the Mind._ It's very
abstruse, with computer-science-oriented puzzles, but what's most
interesting about it to me is the code for "non-player characters," of
which there is a large cast. (I've snarfed some of the game's code for
these for my own fiction; I'm hoping the authors will give me
permission to release it.)

My own piece, _Mad Venture_, is "interactive autobiography": a lightly
fictionalised account of my experiences with schizophrenia during my
junior year at Yale. So far most of the work has gone into
infrastructure, that is, code for the varied states of consciousness
of the protagonist, and so on. I foresee one more major coding push
until the point where writing the fiction becomes comparable in
complexity to writing other kinds of fiction.

I'm eager to hear from other people who are working with IF, whether
of the hypertextual or the text adventure kind. Let me refer
interested parties again to ftp.gmd.de, where there's a large archive
of about a year's worth of dicussions of IF, and the Usenet newsgroup
rec.arts.int-fiction, where discussion rages daily, and where I will
be cross-posting this message.

Ron Hale-Evans

"The Sea refuses no river; remember that when a beggar buys a round."
--Pete Townshend * * * * * Ron Hale-Evans ev...@binah.cc.brandeis.edu
PGP 2 public key: finger ev...@binah.cc.brandeis.edu

smeg...@castlebbs.com

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Feb 9, 1994, 10:58:17 PM2/9/94
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>I'm eager to hear from other people who are working with IF, whether
>of the hypertextual or the text adventure kind.

<eagerly raising hand> :)

I'm in the process of creating a text adventure (and registering TADS
before its distribution)... it's based on an RPG I used to run on a
local BBS. The game was sort of a science fiction send-up; when I
mentioned it to people they said it sounded a lot like Tales From the
Floating Vagabond. I cited most Douglas Adams literature (including his
Infocom HHGG) and Doctor Who as two of my major references. Since it
was a local game and not exactly commercial, I threw in a lot of stuff
from other sources... the Purple Tentacle from Maniac Mansion 2, the
Doctor from Doctor Who... etc.

Also, since the game was not dice-oriented, the players were pretty much
free to draw up their own characters, several of which (by permission)
are being incorporated into the game. The only difficulty I foresee is
that since the game's background is such an "in-joke" between myself and
the original cast of players, it might take a bit of extra documentation
outside the game to help the rest of the world catch what's going on.

Otherwise, I have a fair number of puzzles for a short but challenging
game... the trick, of course, is programming. :) I'm still in the
early stages of coding, and it's tricky getting everything in. I'm
fairly new to it, though, so I'll catch on eventually.

So there's my story... any others? :)

-K.C.
---
Fake .sig (a set of macros set up in my comm prog) courtesy of K.C.
Crill, at smeg...@castlebbs.com
"Fab-oo!" -Wakko // alt.tv.animaniacs or bust!

Leroy

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Feb 10, 1994, 3:33:11 AM2/10/94
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Ron Hale-Evans:

>What's most interesting about this sort of fiction is that
>you "play" the protagonist; in other words, the fictions are written
>in the second person, and you must give the program commands that
>manipulate a sort of virtual puppet representing "you" inside the
>virtual world of the text adventure.

I've been surprised, actually, that rec.arts.int-fiction rarely
debates the literary techniques in writing an adventure. Is it
Infocom's ubitiquity (or originally, Colossal's Cave's influence on Infocom)
that even new TADS games are written in present tense, second
person: "You can see <blah>. You feel <blah>" (Not to mention
having a status line and using ">" for the prompt :)

This isn't to say that, for example, Curses, Unnkullian etc aren't
excellent adventures. But why is the second person narrative seen
as ideal? (Yes, it's easier. But not so much so that nothing else could
be attempted.)

-- Grant Heinrich

Duncan Anker

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Feb 10, 1994, 6:40:35 PM2/10/94
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In article <1994Feb9.1...@news.cs.brandeis.edu> Ron Hale-Evans,

ev...@binah.cc.brandeis.edu writes:
>
>Since Infocom tried to branch out with a "straight" database product
>and went under in the late 80s, there's been a bit of a vacuum of text

I thought Infocom was set up originally as a database company, and they
wrote IF to finance it. The irony was the adventures made them rich and
famous :-), they should have stuck with them. Oh well, c'est la vie.
----
Duncan Anker dun...@newling2-00.une.edu.au

"What do you do for a living? You *are* living, aren't you?"

Michael Kinyon

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Feb 11, 1994, 10:52:06 AM2/11/94
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>I've been surprised, actually, that rec.arts.int-fiction rarely
>debates the literary techniques in writing an adventure.

I am surprised that you think so. Kevin Wilson (whizzard) regularly
submits posts on literary style and technique in I-F which usually
generate quite a bit of discussion. Graham Nelson once posted
a magnum opus on i-f which is currently an appendix in the Inform
manual (Note to Darwin: maybe that would be worth posting again,
signed Huxley)

>Is it
>Infocom's ubitiquity (or originally, Colossal's Cave's influence on Infocom)
>that even new TADS games are written in present tense, second

>person: "You can see <blah>. You feel <blah>". (Not to mention

>having a status line and using ">" for the prompt :)
>This isn't to say that, for example, Curses, Unnkullian etc aren't
>excellent adventures. But why is the second person narrative seen
>as ideal? (Yes, it's easier. But not so much so that nothing else could
>be attempted.)

This has also been discussed here and should continue to be. In my
own view, the second person present tense game is an obvious way
to involve the reader/player in the action of the game itself.
Remember that the idea behind interactive fiction is that the
player is part of the story. I do not wish to suggest that other
alternatives are not possible. But until I see a more viable
proposal, second person present tense is the only game in town
(pun intended).

In the meantime, I would strongly encourage all authors to experiment
with alternatives for the prompt. Perhaps some funding could be
obtained for research into this.

>-- Grant Heinrich


--
Michael Kinyon | mki...@peabody.iusb.indiana.edu
Dept of Mathematics & Comp. Sci. | "There is no quote in my .sig" -- M. Kinyon
Indiana University South Bend | Text-Adventure Betatesters Union (TABU)
South Bend, IN 46634 USA | *** Your score just went down ***

Stephen R. Granade

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Feb 11, 1994, 10:57:49 AM2/11/94
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In a previous article, le...@socs.uts.EDU.AU (Leroy) says:

>I've been surprised, actually, that rec.arts.int-fiction rarely
>debates the literary techniques in writing an adventure. Is it
>Infocom's ubitiquity (or originally, Colossal's Cave's influence on Infocom)
>that even new TADS games are written in present tense, second
>person: "You can see <blah>. You feel <blah>" (Not to mention
>having a status line and using ">" for the prompt :)
>
>This isn't to say that, for example, Curses, Unnkullian etc aren't
>excellent adventures. But why is the second person narrative seen
>as ideal? (Yes, it's easier. But not so much so that nothing else could
>be attempted.)

I think in part the second-person narrative is used to draw the player
into the game. Third-person, to me, is too remote to use for this sort
of game. It robs the game of its feel that it is happening "right
now." Yes, novels etc. use this quite successfully without being
too removed, but it still seems a lot like those "Choose-Your-Own-
Adventure" books.

First-person narrative? It is an interesting idea, one which (I believe)
was discussed here some time ago. You could be in charge of a spy
who is in contact with you via his two-way wrist radio, or some sort of
similar gadget. This would cause a lot of changes in the game, both
in the way it was written and in the way it would be played. While in
a lot of IF, the player has no compunction against throwing themselves
off a cliff in the spirit of experimentation, it seems that the other
person might be more reluctant.

For example,

--
>CUT OFF YOUR HAND WITH THE CHANISAW

There is a long pause, then, "Um, I'll pass, if you don't mind."
--

I wouldn't use third-person because it doesn't have the right feel
to me, but I might use first-person, if I had a scenario which would
fit into that style.

Personally, I'd like to force players to use adverbs in all of their
commands, such as "GET KEY CHEERFULLY" or "XYZZY SOFTLY." :)

As to why the status line and '>' prompt? The status line is an
easy way to depress the player ("Oh, man, only 7 points out of 3x10^16!").
The prompt...uh...channels your attention to the waiting cursor, much as
a funnel channels...um...fluids. Or maybe it's just tradition.

Stephen
--
_________________________________________________________________________
| Stephen Granade | "My research proposal involves reconstructing |
| | the Trinity test using tweezers and |
| sgra...@obu.arknet.edu | assistants with very good eyesight." |

Neil K. Guy

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Feb 11, 1994, 1:04:48 PM2/11/94
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le...@socs.uts.EDU.AU (Leroy) writes:

> [...] Is it

>Infocom's ubitiquity (or originally, Colossal's Cave's influence on Infocom)
>that even new TADS games are written in present tense, second
>person: "You can see <blah>. You feel <blah>" (Not to mention
>having a status line and using ">" for the prompt :)

As others have pointed out, I think second-person present tense
descriptions are popular because they're a reasonably effective way of
drawing the player in. Admittedly the way this is usually implemented
always seems a bit schizophrenic (to use the word in the popular, not
clinical, sense) but it does seem to generate a bit more player
involvement. Changing tense presents its own problems. Past tense
doesn't work too well as it doesn't fit the model. "The room was dark,
it looked like someone had to get out fast. What did you, the player,
do next?" :) Likewise future: "The alley will be slick with rain and
cold as a tomb. What will you want to do next?"

Perhaps also there's the feeling that with first and third person
narratives one gets the impression that the computer's a rather stupid
puppet. Somehow responding to "What would you like to do now?" feels a
bit better than "What should I do now?" or "What should Fred do now?"
At least I sort of start wondering, well, why *should* the computer
(or Fred) do what I tell 'em to? If I were them I wouldn't stand for
this sort of bossing around! This sort of tension might be less of a
problem if the story line was written specifically to deal with it,
though; maybe some operative taking orders over the radio is one
model. Infocom's "Suspended", with its six robots, handled this one
beautifully I think. Robots don't talk back and will gladly trundle
off to their own destruction without too many qualms.

As for the status line, are you referring to the turn counter with
the score in the upper right-hand corner or the player's current
location in the upper left? Personally I find the latter useful and
the former annoying, but that may just be me. :) My game has the time
of day instead of some turn counter, which I feel more comfortable
with. And as for the prompt, well, you need something. I guess the
Infocom > is something of a tradition. Adventure had ? which always
looks ugly to me. You could use the Apple // Applesoft ] prompt or the
* monitor prompt or the common UNIX % prompt. Or maybe a C:> prompt if
you want to be really ugly! :)

- Neil K.
--
49N 16' 123W 7' / Vancouver, BC, Canada / n_k...@sfu.ca

Gerry Kevin Wilson

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Feb 11, 1994, 4:23:19 PM2/11/94
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Few literary IF posts? Sheesh. It's not easy finding a different portion of
IF to look at every week or so. There HAS been a lot of discussion about
first person vs. second person vs. third person vs. more than one viewpoint.
I seem to have left that out of my authorship guide. I'll see about slipping
it in for version 1.1. As for prompts, play around with them, but keep it
to one character long. I once played a game where...

What do you do now?
LOOK

You are in a small room, that is rapidly shrinking even as you stop to look.

What do you do now?
DIE

Ok.

Drove me out of my mind seeing that cursed prompt every turn. So, like I
said, keep it short and sweet. Me, I happen to think that > is about the
best one character prompt around. The main point with it is not to distract
the player from your game, which is what he should be staring at.
--
<~~~~~E~~~G~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~|~~~~~~~>
< V R I O Software. We bring words to life! | ~~\ >
< T | /~\ | >
<_WATCH for Avalon in early '94!____wh...@uclink.berkeley.edu_|_\__/__>

smeg...@castlebbs.com

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Feb 11, 1994, 5:43:33 PM2/11/94
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This is partially replying to the issue of POV in adventure games (1st
person vs 2nd person vs 3rd person)... I personally feel that I am used
to the 2nd person standpoint (as in "It is pitch black. You are likely
to be eaten by a grue.") since it has been used in all the Sierra and
Infocom adventure games.

However, I'm sure all three have been tried. I know that the original
Scott Adams Adventure series used first person "I fall to my death...
thanks a lot!") as if the player were controlling a computerized
"puppet". This can certainly provide a humorous conflict between what
the user wants to do and what the computer 'puppet' is willing to do.
The viewpoint also attempted to make it seem less dangerous to the user,
while making him/her responsible for the health and safety of this
fictional protagonist.

Of course, Adams might not have been thinking this at all. :)

But it's certainly an interesting concept.

-K.C.
---
Fake .sig (a set of macros set up in my comm prog) courtesy of K.C.
Crill, at smeg...@castlebbs.com
"Fab-oo!" -Wakko // alt.tv.animaniacs or bust!

"Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left.." -King Arthur

David Baggett

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Feb 11, 1994, 10:55:47 PM2/11/94
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In article <2jcrg7$e...@charlie.socs.uts.EDU.AU> le...@socs.uts.EDU.AU (Leroy) writes:

>even new TADS games are written in present tense, second
>person: "You can see <blah>. You feel <blah>" (Not to mention
>having a status line and using ">" for the prompt :)

As I see it, the goal is to make the player feel as though s/he is part of
the game itself rather than a spectator. Second person is the most natural
voice for this. The > character is a good choice for denoting the prompt
for the same reason that a question mark is good for denoting a question:
it's the punctuation that readers are used to seeing there; hence it calls
no attention to itself. Generally you don't want to distract the player
from the prose with unconventional puncutation.

Dave Baggett
__
d...@ai.mit.edu Boot up, log in, drop out. MIT AI Lab
ADVENTIONS: We make Kuul text adventures! Email for a catalog of releases.
PO Box 851 Columbia, MD 21044 USA / CIS: 76440,2671 / GEnie: ADVENTIONS

David Baggett

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Feb 12, 1994, 6:11:29 PM2/12/94
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In article <2jg9tt$r...@usenet.ins.cwru.edu>,

Stephen R. Granade <bz...@cleveland.Freenet.Edu> wrote:

>Personally, I'd like to force players to use adverbs in all of their
>commands, such as "GET KEY CHEERFULLY" or "XYZZY SOFTLY." :)

No, *don't* start this thread again! This is like the piracy thread in the
other games groups -- a comet that returns every few months to torment the
dinosaurs.

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