A fundamental problem - non-expert perspective

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Transit

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Jul 3, 2002, 9:44:32 AM7/3/02
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Hi. I'm a complete newbie to this group. If this is an issue that comes up
regularly (though I doubt such is the case, for various reasons) I apologize.
If I break some obvious conventions, I apologize. I'm posting anyway, because
I want to get this off my chest.

Yesterday, while searching the-underdogs.org for something else, I came across
Galatea and downloaded it. Wow. Very interesting. So I picked up all the
stuff Underdogs tagged as related, and ended up getting the whole
"SmoochieComp" zipfile from Emily Short's webpage to try them out. And I found
my enthusiasm for IF suddenly on the wane again.

The problem with these games is the problem with every single piece of IF or
pure-text adventure game I've ever run into in the past - complete
non-intuitiveness. "Pytho's Mask" I actually managed to complete. At least I
think I completed. I ended up having saved the King, sitting in a 'Sitting
Room' with the prince staring at me, and no actions or topics of conversation
available whatsoever. I declared victory and quit, because that's the only
command that was still doing anything, but an official "The End" would've been
nice, and I rather suspect there is one hidden somewhere, but I'm not going to
spend a few hours racking my brain or trying random English words to find it
when perfectly normal actions and commands lead nowhere. "August" was
fascinating and - screw the reviewers' opinions - well written, but there comes
a point where you're left wondering 'what the hell do I do now?' and as part of
this, I was left with the distinct impression that there is only one ending.
With "Voices" - the Jeanne d'Arc one - I never got past the first three rooms.
What the hell am I supposed to do? What commands are there? What actions are
available? I tried various things that seemed reasonable and didn't work, I
tried various random commands that didn't work, I got very frustrated and moved
on to the next one. This isn't a game, this is crap. "Sparrow's Song" was
somewhat better, if only because there are lots of obvious things to do for a
while, but once you fly away on the Pegasus and land in the glade with the
nymph ... uh, ok, now what? I can't go anywhere because the woods are scary, I
can't do anything, I don't have anything to get me out of here, talking to the
nymph gets me nowhere ... this is a waste of time, quit and move on to the next
one. "Kissing Bandit" and "1981" both got laughs out of me, and in both cases
I was able to play them through without problems. "Dead of Winter" - I move
ONE SINGLE ROOM and am completely stuck. The only thing I can find to do is
talk with the Ice Queen, and anything I try to say gets me the comment that
either the verb doesn't work or I'm not going to be ordering her around. Not
only that, "help" doesn't work! What in the world am I supposed to do? What
kind of idiot goes and makes a game without a "help" command? Seriously, what
kind of total moron does that? (Yes, this gets me a little worked up.)

I didn't try "Bantam" because I don't know what interpreter is needed to run it
and wasn't going to bother digging for it right then. Or, probably, ever, to
be honest.

So out of the "SmoochieComp" group, two thirds left me completely stymied at
some point for no good reason - not because of a puzzle I wasn't figuring out,
but because of blatant and glaring defects in implementation. I find this is
generally a good guideline for what most IF does.

Several years ago, I got and played "Jigsaw". It is an excellent story. It is
however not an excellent game. I only got through it because I had the
walkthrough - I don't think I was even able to figure out how to get into the
statue in Century Park without it. I've played "Humbug". I got a reasonable
distance into that - to the point where the grandpa gets up and wanders off
into the Victorian England part of things (can't describe it in more detail
than that, because I long ago got frustrated with the game and stopped). "The
Legend Lives" is excellent but got me stuck at several points, even after I
resorted to the hint system (I still haven't finished it). I've played a few
other IF pieces. My experiences tend to all fall along the same lines: sooner
or later I'll get stuck on something where the solution is hidden and
non-intuitive.

Even going back to Galatea - which is THE single piece where a *reasonable*
selection of actions are readily apparent to the user - after I went to the
webpage and looked over some of the walkthroughs, I saw that there were tons of
possible actions that simply would never have occurred to me to try, because
there was no reason to think that that sort of interactivity would have been
implemented.

In some ways I am hobbled by preset expectations of what I should be able to do
in these games - I will easily grant that. It didn't occur to me to think of
Galatea's facing one way or another as something I could directly affect
because that's not what I think of as 'NPC interaction' - NPC interaction
defines itself to me as conversation, nothing more. I didn't think to tell
Galatea anything because NPCs, in my experience, aren't capable of learning
anything - or, more importantly, understanding what they learn. The point of
Galatea of course is to break such conventions, but this isn't too useful if it
never becomes apparent to the user just what conventions have been broken that
they never would've thought of questioning.

In short, interactive fiction is something I find fascinating but horribly,
horribly implemented, completely non-intuitive, unbelievably limited,
invariably hobbled by total lack of foresight on the designer's part as to what
a reasonable person might think they should be doing.

And before you dismiss me as simply not having the appropriate mental
adjustment to this kind of thing, let me point out that games I've played and
didn't need a walkthrough for include Outcast, Fallout, Mission Critical, Deus
Ex, Gateway, Thief - ok, I won't go through the whole list, but the
puzzle-solving mentality isn't something I'm alien to. And beyond that, I
played for a long time (and now am an admin) on a MUD, where a significant
portion of the quests are very IF-style. The difference between the good and
bad IF-style quests is invariably one of available commands - the bad quests
are the ones where people get stuck at a spot where they KNOW what they need to
do but the author of the quest coded it to use one specific verb that just
isn't obvious to them. The good quests are the ones where a half-dozen
different commands have been provided for any given action, the player types
something that seems reasonable to them, and the code allows them to do what
they're trying to do.

In reading the reviews of the SmoochieComp games, I saw various comments on bad
prose and poor NPC interaction, and not one about the real problem: these
aren't games, these are telepathy experiments! Any flaws in prose and NPC
interaction are hardly noticeable compared to that.

Where am I going with this? Mainly I wanted to vent. But I also wanted to do
my venting in a public place. IF is something made by a lot of different
people and there's no one person I can complain to to get this problem fixed.
I'd really like to see awareness of this issue raised somewhat, so this
amateurish problem becomes less of an issue - it is absolutely limiting your
audience to a very significant degree right now. And it's limiting my
enjoyment.

PS: I just took a look at the "playing IF games" FAQ. I notice that it has
tons of technical info about how to get the games to run but NOT ONE WORD about
how to *think* about playing them. This is a glaring omission, given the
current state of the art.


Matthew Murray

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Jul 3, 2002, 10:15:10 AM7/3/02
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On 3 Jul 2002, Transit wrote:

> PS: I just took a look at the "playing IF games" FAQ. I notice that it has
> tons of technical info about how to get the games to run but NOT ONE WORD about
> how to *think* about playing them. This is a glaring omission, given the
> current state of the art.

This sums up your entire message very well, I think. No one
should have to tell you how to think about playing a game, anymore than
one should have to tell you how to think about reading a book or think
about watching a television show. You should just be able to apply
whatever you know about the genre to the activity and have no problems
with it.
But you admit early on that your experience with IF or text
adventures is rather limited, so it's possible that you're expecting there
to be barriers where none actually exist. I found Galatea remarkably
intuitive, personally, and received a number of different endings before
realizing walkthroughs existed for any one of them. Then again, I
recognized that so much of Galatea was designed as an intimate, emotional
experience, it just made sense to me that if she couldn't see me, certain
things wouldn't happen. (Other messages in the game, things like, "You
can't see her face from here," probably also clued me in.) With many
games, especially the larger, more complex ones by the well-established
authors of the genre, you shouldn't limit yourself in what you're willing
to try. That's what your message said to me--you didn't think you had
available the options you did, so you weren't willing to try them. That
suggests, to me, that the comments about poor prose or bad dialogue in the
SmoochieComp games may have not been far off--if you weren't really
immersed in the games' worlds, why would it occur to you to try actions
that might really make sense in that world? Why would you care?
All I can suggest is that you don't give up on games of this
nature so easily. There are plenty of fine games out there, beautifully
and intuitively implemented, with engrossing stories and complex
structures. Yes, there are bad games, too, but even from the bad ones you
can learn quite a bit about how to play. I'm not sure the text
adventure/interactive fiction genre has ever been as well developed as it
is now, and I do urge you to give it another chance, a chance I feel it
richly deserves.

Matthew A. Murray
matthe...@mindspring.com
http://www.matthewmurray.net
----------------------------


Andrew Plotkin

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Jul 3, 2002, 10:56:48 AM7/3/02
to
Here, Transit <kes...@aol.com> wrote:
> Hi. I'm a complete newbie to this group. If this is an issue that comes up
> regularly (though I doubt such is the case, for various reasons) I apologize.
> If I break some obvious conventions, I apologize. I'm posting anyway, because
> I want to get this off my chest.

> Yesterday, while searching the-underdogs.org for something else, I
> came across Galatea and downloaded it. Wow. Very interesting. So I
> picked up all the stuff Underdogs tagged as related, and ended up
> getting the whole "SmoochieComp" zipfile from Emily Short's webpage
> to try them out. And I found my enthusiasm for IF suddenly on the
> wane again.

> The problem with these games is the problem with every single piece
> of IF or pure-text adventure game I've ever run into in the past -
> complete non-intuitiveness.

> [...]

> What the hell am I supposed to do? What commands are there? What
> actions are available? I tried various things that seemed reasonable
> and didn't work, I tried various random commands that didn't work, I
> got very frustrated and moved on to the next one.

> [...]

> And before you dismiss me as simply not having the appropriate
> mental adjustment to this kind of thing, let me point out that games
> I've played and didn't need a walkthrough for include Outcast,
> Fallout, Mission Critical, Deus Ex, Gateway, Thief - ok, I won't go
> through the whole list, but the puzzle-solving mentality isn't
> something I'm alien to. And beyond that, I played for a long time
> (and now am an admin) on a MUD, where a significant portion of the
> quests are very IF-style. The difference between the good and bad
> IF-style quests is invariably one of available commands - the bad
> quests are the ones where people get stuck at a spot where they KNOW
> what they need to do but the author of the quest coded it to use one
> specific verb that just isn't obvious to them.

(Headnote: I haven't played the SmoochieComp games, but I have played
_Galatea_ and _Jigsaw_.)

The standard response here (for as long as I've been reading these
newsgroups) is that nearly all text IF games assume the *same* set of
default possible actions. You don't know every possible command (see
my "definition of IF" post from a couple of weeks ago) but you do have
a basic range of action which is very well standardized. It really
hasn't changed much since the mid-80s Infocom games.

(This basis is described in several FAQs that have been written over
the years; some games also include it as "help" material. See, oh,

<http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/info/guidadv1.txt>

<http://brasslantern.org/beginners/playta1.html> and
<http://brasslantern.org/beginners/playta2.html>

<http://adamcadre.ac/content/if.txt>

and other places.)

_Galatea_ is a strong exception here, because most of the action in
that game is dialogue, and uses just a couple of command-forms. It's
not the typical text IF interface.

It is certainly not a great situation that you (or anyone) can get
into their first text adventure without having read that
documentation. It is unquestionably a frustrating experience, and it's
*not* (speaking as an author) what we have in mind for you as you play
our games.

However, the fact that we (speaking as a member of the community) take
all this stuff for granted *does* underscore that it's a *common*
basis. Each of us learned it once, and have taken the knowledge for
granted ever since. It's not something that gets revised frequently.
If you've internalized the common commands from _Jigsaw_, you're
pretty much set for all the games since then.

(In fact, _Jigsaw_ expects a rather wider range of common commands
than is common nowadays. _Jigsaw_ is from 1996, which is very early in
the development of modern IF.[*] The convention of "stay mostly within
the common command set" has grown stronger since then. I wouldn't
recommend _Jigsaw_ or _Curses_ (same author, even earlier) as
someone's very first IF game.)

[* I know, 1996 is several years after the first TADS game. I'm
counting "very early" by number of games released, not by years. A
*lot* more text games postdate _Jigsaw_ than predate it.]

Now, you allude to an important point, which is that this "common
knowledge" isn't just a list of verb forms -- it's a way of thinking
about the game. How to notice what objects are available; how to
notice how it makes sense to combine them.

I don't know how to teach that, except by example. I would be very
interested to read a document "How to think about IF", but it's
unclear how to write it. Hm. Interesting question.

I'm very familiar, trust me, with the "ow! ow!" mindset. Where you
find something that doesn't make sense, you look at a walkthrough, you
think "I'd never have thought of that", and then you stop trusting the
game -- stop trusting the author -- so that *nothing* after that seems
to make sense. You are looking at a walkthrough as soon as you
encounter any obstacle, so you never think of *any* solution before
you read it. One bad crunch can ruin the playing experience of an
entire game.

I am just as familiar with this in graphical adventures as in text
adventures, actually. The extremely simple mouse-click interface of
graphical IF *does not solve* this problem, because graphical IF has
*different* ways to present a subtle, complex range of action.

> PS: I just took a look at the "playing IF games" FAQ. I notice that
> it has tons of technical info about how to get the games to run but
> NOT ONE WORD about how to *think* about playing them. This is a
> glaring omission, given the current state of the art.

This is arguably a bug in the title of that FAQ, rather than the
contents. :-) But I agree it would make sense to include links to the
sort of thing you're describing.

--Z

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

Aris Katsaris

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Jul 3, 2002, 11:06:49 AM7/3/02
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"Transit" <kes...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:20020703094432...@mb-bj.aol.com...

> With "Voices" - the Jeanne d'Arc one - I never got past the first three rooms.
> What the hell am I supposed to do? What commands are there? What actions are
> available? I tried various things that seemed reasonable and didn't work, I
> tried various random commands that didn't work, I got very frustrated and
moved
> on to the next one. This isn't a game, this is crap.

<shrug> I did include a walkthrough into the game. That doesn't excuse me,
of course, for any non-intuitiveness to the commands and gameplay, but I don't
think you should have gotten as frustrated as it seems you did, since you could
always resort to it, if you wished...

Aris Katsaris


Eric Mayer

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Jul 3, 2002, 11:14:58 AM7/3/02
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"Why would you care?" There's the problem I think.

I have a love/hate relationship with IF. I love the concept but often
hate the actual games. Well, "hate" is too strong a word -- let's say I
seldom finish games. The reason is not, I think, because the games are
poorly written but simply because most don't engage me sufficiently to
convince me to put in the time and effort to complete them. I don't
"care" enough. A book that leaves me lukewarm can still be dutifully
and easily finished, but not so a game.

It is amazing how much my puzzle solving ability improves when I really
want to find out what happens next. Although I haven't finsihed any
epics, games like Dangerous Curves, Fallacy of Dawn, Babel, Djinni or
Guilty Bastards seemed so much easier than games that just bored me at
the start and I managed to finish them with relatively little help.

However this is not meant as a cricism of IF. I probably try more than
half the games that are released just because they have been released.
If I were to walk into a bookstore or library and begin to randomly
sample anything that had been put on the shelves, probably only a small
percentage would interest me. Mostly, the games tell me very quickly
whether they're ones that happen to appeal to me personally. If they
don't, I move on.


Eric

Lucian P. Smith

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Jul 3, 2002, 12:13:47 PM7/3/02
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Transit <kes...@aol.com> wrote in <20020703094432...@mb-bj.aol.com>:
: Hi. I'm a complete newbie to this group. If this is an issue that comes up

: regularly (though I doubt such is the case, for various reasons) I apologize.
: If I break some obvious conventions, I apologize. I'm posting anyway, because
: I want to get this off my chest.

No, no problem posting this at all. It is an issue that is recognized,
but not one that is particularly solved ;-)

I agree with a lot of what Andrew Plotkin said in response to this (that
once you get the basics down, you've learned how to play most IF), but I
also have this to add: Part of learning how to play IF is learning when
you need a hint. Since this is highly individualized, nobody can teach
you how to do this (though better-written hint systems would help). I say
this because I was one of the judges for the smoochicomp games, and I got
stuck exactly where you did, most of the time. Some specifics:

<note: spoilers ahoy for the smoochicomp games>


: "Pytho's Mask" I actually managed to complete. At least I


: think I completed. I ended up having saved the King, sitting in a 'Sitting
: Room' with the prince staring at me, and no actions or topics of conversation
: available whatsoever.

This was a bug noted on the newsgroups just a couple weeks ago. I think
you have to wait twice in a row without going back to the conversation in
the middle.

: "August" was


: fascinating and - screw the reviewers' opinions - well written, but there comes
: a point where you're left wondering 'what the hell do I do now?' and as part of
: this, I was left with the distinct impression that there is only one ending.

Yup, got there myself. And where did I say it wasn't well written?
"Amazingly, though there are bugs and wacky puzzle design (see
aforementioned need for walkthrough), everything that can be good about
writing a game this quickly--the raw emotion, the stirring
evocativeness--came through as well."

: "Sparrow's Song" was


: somewhat better, if only because there are lots of obvious things to do for a
: while, but once you fly away on the Pegasus and land in the glade with the
: nymph ... uh, ok, now what?

And again, this is exactly where I myself got stuck. "There are puzzles
here, one of which (the nymph) completely stymied me to where I had to ask
for hints from a fellow judge."

: So out of the "SmoochieComp" group, two thirds left me completely stymied at


: some point for no good reason - not because of a puzzle I wasn't figuring out,
: but because of blatant and glaring defects in implementation. I find this is
: generally a good guideline for what most IF does.

No, see, it *was* because of puzzles you weren't figuring out. Likewise...

: Several years ago, I got and played "Jigsaw". It is an excellent story. It is


: however not an excellent game. I only got through it because I had the
: walkthrough - I don't think I was even able to figure out how to get into the
: statue in Century Park without it.

Again, puzzles.

: In short, interactive fiction is something I find fascinating but horribly,


: horribly implemented, completely non-intuitive, unbelievably limited,
: invariably hobbled by total lack of foresight on the designer's part as to what
: a reasonable person might think they should be doing.

I'm not convinced your problem is with IF in general, or you wouldn't have
been able to get through Pytho or even Galatea.

: In reading the reviews of the SmoochieComp games, I saw various comments on bad


: prose and poor NPC interaction, and not one about the real problem: these
: aren't games, these are telepathy experiments! Any flaws in prose and NPC
: interaction are hardly noticeable compared to that.

I think you're confusing the forest for the trees, here. The bad prose
and poor NPC interactions are precisely the reason you got stuck! In
"August", you got stuck navigating a particular conversation (not that you
should have known that at the time). Hence, "poor NPC interactions". In
Sparrow, it was a badly-implemented puzzle, as a direct result of the bad
prose. OK, so getting stuck at the end of Pytho was a bug. But besides
that, it's no coincidence that the NPC interaction and prose quality were
top-notch. It's attention to these kinds of things that can get a player
through the game.

Jigsaw is a different kettle of fish, to some extent, but it also doesn't
fit into your overall argument ('the problem with IF is that I can't
figure out how to phrase what to do'). The problem with Jigsaw is that
it's fiendishly difficult/obscure to figure out what to do in the first
place. Once you figure that out, the game's pretty forgiving in how you
phrase it. There are places where it breaks down ('>SWING', he says to
the peanut gallery), but overall it's OK. (Well, OK insofar as the bits
I've actually completed; maybe half the game.)

: Where am I going with this? Mainly I wanted to vent. But I also wanted to do


: my venting in a public place. IF is something made by a lot of different
: people and there's no one person I can complain to to get this problem fixed.
: I'd really like to see awareness of this issue raised somewhat, so this
: amateurish problem becomes less of an issue - it is absolutely limiting your
: audience to a very significant degree right now. And it's limiting my
: enjoyment.

There's no doubt that your situation is frustrating. But don't think that
everyone else here just breezes through the places you have trouble
with--you seem pretty par for the course to me. The reviews might not say
things the way you were expecting, but I think once you get the community
lingo, you'll end up agreeing more often than not. And you'll learn when
and where to get hints.

-Lucian Smith

Stephen Bond

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Jul 3, 2002, 12:55:57 PM7/3/02
to
Transit wrote:

> The problem with these games is the problem with every single piece of IF or
> pure-text adventure game I've ever run into in the past - complete
> non-intuitiveness.

[...]


> And before you dismiss me as simply not having the appropriate mental
> adjustment to this kind of thing, let me point out that games I've played and
> didn't need a walkthrough for include Outcast, Fallout, Mission Critical, Deus
> Ex, Gateway, Thief - ok, I won't go through the whole list, but the
> puzzle-solving mentality isn't something I'm alien to.

One of the design mantras of DEUS EX (the only one of the above games
I've played) was 'problems, not puzzles'. 'Puzzles', in this sense, require
study, experimentation or ingenuity to solve, while 'problems' require
simple intuition. It could be (and correct me if I'm wrong) that one of
your main complaints with the IF you've played is the emphasis on
puzzles. JIGSAW and HUMBUG, which you mentioned, are pretty hardcore puzzle
games: it takes a few leaps of insight and a lot of patience to get
anywhere in them. Getting past obstacles in DEUS EX, on the other hand, is
just a matter of common sense.

Puzzles are certainly one of *my* major, er, problems with IF. If a game
must present me with obstacles at all, I'd prefer them to be the kind of
real-world obstacles I can surmount in intuitive and obvious ways, rather
than puzzles which force me to sit back and do some abstract reasoning.
Not that I'm against abstract reasoning per se; it's just that it kind of
gets in the way when I want to read a story. I usually hit the walkthrough
as soon as I see the first puzzle.

Fortunately, there are some IF games that have 'problems, not puzzles',
or at least have very easy puzzles that don't slow things down too much.
Off the top of my head, I can think of MY ANGEL and ALL ROADS by Jon
Ingold, I-O and PHOTOPIA by Adam Cadre, HUNTER, IN DARKNESS by Andrew
Plotkin and BABEL by Ian Finley. If you haven't already, you should
certainly try playing these.

Stephen.
http://www.maths.tcd.ie/~bonds

A.P. Hill

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Jul 3, 2002, 3:33:08 PM7/3/02
to
The answer lies in the game "Amissville" my friend. Yes..
Amissville.

I too arrived just a year ago, and experienced the same route of
uselessness amongst the games that stood before me. A crowded airport
smoking section with no room to stand.

But alas, the Sun has shined upon the land of R.A.I.F. in the form of
Amissville. The savior of all IF games. Yes, though Amissville may
have a few minor bugs from being created in havoc pace to save the
world, you will still see, it shines as a beacon of hope that the
world of IF is not dead. It can remain. Amissville.

Located at http://www.ifarchive.org/games/tads/amissville.gam
Brought to you by Santoonie Corporation, not affiliated with Tor-Mor
productions. An equal opportunity employer.

A.P. Hill

Emily Short

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Jul 3, 2002, 4:32:08 PM7/3/02
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In article <20020703094432...@mb-bj.aol.com>, kes...@aol.com
(Transit) wrote:

> Hi. I'm a complete newbie to this group. If this is an issue that comes up
> regularly (though I doubt such is the case, for various reasons) I apologize.
> If I break some obvious conventions, I apologize. I'm posting anyway, because
> I want to get this off my chest.

> The problem with these games is the problem with every single piece of IF or


> pure-text adventure game I've ever run into in the past - complete
> non-intuitiveness. "Pytho's Mask" I actually managed to complete. At least I
> think I completed.

No, you didn't complete it unless you got an ending. And if you got stuck
here, then yes, it was a bug. Out of curiosity, were you playing the
version included in the SmoochieComp package, or had you downloaded the
latest version (version 3 for z-machine or 4 for Glulx)? There's no real
excuse for this, but version 1 was written in about two weeks and (*she
clears her throat self-consciously*) should have been more thoroughly
tested.

In any case, this was not the *intended* experience, and if you got all
the way there, you did figure out almost all of the game. Nothing past
that point was supposed to be especially brain-wracking... in any case,
it's not fair to hold this instance of my programming incompetence against
IF as a genre.



> Even going back to Galatea - which is THE single piece where a *reasonable*
> selection of actions are readily apparent to the user - after I went to the
> webpage and looked over some of the walkthroughs, I saw that there were
tons of
> possible actions that simply would never have occurred to me to try, because
> there was no reason to think that that sort of interactivity would have been
> implemented.

There are a lot of things in Galatea that I think almost no one tried,
which is perfectly fine with me. What I was trying for was the feeling
that *anything* you felt like doing would produce a sensible response.
Obviously impossible to achieve, but whatever.

In the specific cases you mention, there are some clues -- if you read the
about material, for instance, it tells you that you can TELL her things,
and gives you an abbreviation to use to do so, which might tip you off
that this is important enough to have deserved special implementation.
Likewise, the direction she faces is indicated in the status bar, and
things in the status bar usually mean something.

> In short, interactive fiction is something I find fascinating but horribly,
> horribly implemented,

Er, well. Some of it is. But I agree with zarf, here: a lot of this has
to do with conventions. A chessboard might seem unintuitive and badly
implemented too, if you didn't know the rules and all you had was an
opponent who kept saying, "Nope, you can't move the knight like that. No,
not like that either..."

> completely non-intuitive,

See above.

> unbelievably limited,

Well, yes, limited. But all games are limited. In Myst, you can't do
anything that you can't express to the game by clicking on the screen!
Does that mean it sucks? Not necessarily; it's the nature of games to
have a limited range of possible actions. Once you understand the
conventions that pertain, this actually makes it *easier* to play, not
harder -- because you know all the things that you can rule out as being
irrelevant here. There's no point in typing >HAVE EMOTIONAL CRISIS in IF,
no point in trying to get Myst to let you talk to Atrus, no point in
trying to turn your character away from a life of violence in Doom.
That's just not part of the game universe.

> invariably hobbled by total lack of foresight on the designer's part as
to what
> a reasonable person might think they should be doing.

Yes. Possibly. And an inability to parse some of the things a reasonable
person might do. Again, this is a case where convention converges with
the message given you by the game. On the one hand, an experienced IF
player (never mind how you become one; that's another question) knows what
the typical range of action is. On the other, the game will often make
suggestions. If you got through Kissing Bandit, it's probably because you
picked up on clues embedded in the game -- lots of people (perhaps not
you) picked up the suggestion in the text to try >TWIRL MOUSTACHE. Would
I have tried that in Jigsaw? Of course not. But the text of a game often
offers hints about what things you can do.

> The good quests are the ones where a half-dozen
> different commands have been provided for any given action, the player types
> something that seems reasonable to them, and the code allows them to do what
> they're trying to do.

Yes -- most of standard IF does, in fact, attempt to provide multiple
verbs for an action.

> there's no one person I can complain to to get this problem fixed.
> I'd really like to see awareness of this issue raised somewhat, so this
> amateurish problem becomes less of an issue - it is absolutely limiting your
> audience to a very significant degree right now.

This gets into another whole kettle of fish, namely that I would write
differently if I were writing for people who are not already IF players.
But never mind that for now.

> PS: I just took a look at the "playing IF games" FAQ. I notice that it has
> tons of technical info about how to get the games to run but NOT ONE
WORD about
> how to *think* about playing them. This is a glaring omission, given the
> current state of the art.

Okay. As it happens, I'm trying to write more or less such a document
right now. Here are the principles I've come up with so far; feel free to
critique.

********

BEFORE YOU START
Make sure that you have the most up-to-date version of the game/work
available. Playing an older version may mean that you'll run into more
bugs and design flaws. The reason is that even though authors try to
create the most solid game they can, a lot of things become visible only
after the public gets its hands on something. This is especially likely
to be an issue if you are playing a game that was submitted into a
competition and that you downloaded as part of the competition package.

To find out whether you've got the latest version, check the game's
website (if it has one) or Baf's Guide to Interactive Fiction
(www.wurb.com/if). Baf's Guide lists the most recent versions of every
game available on the IF archive, with links to them.


GETTING STARTED
There are various kinds of IF in the world. Some of them put more
emphasis on solving puzzles; some want to move you through a coherent plot
of some kind; some want to offer you something to explore.

In games with a lot of challenging puzzles, you can expect to spend a fair
amount of time wandering around trying to figure out what you should do
next; this is part of the fun. (If you like that sort of thing, anyway.)
When you start a game, you can usually get a sense fairly early on of what
kind of game it is and what the author expects you to do. Read the
opening text carefully: it may tell you things about the character you are
playing, your goals within the game, and so on.

If the game tells you to type ABOUT or INFO the first time you play, you
should always do so: this information may include special commands or
other material without which you won't be able to finish. This is like
the game manual in a commercial game, so don't ignore it.


HOW THE WORLD IS ASSEMBLED
Space: Most IF games are set in a world made up of rooms without internal
division. Movement between rooms is possible; movement within a room does
not always amount to anything. >WALK OVER TO <foo> is rarely a useful
sort of command. The chief exception is that, if something is described
as being high or out of reach, it is sometimes relevant to stand on an
object to bolster your height. This kind of activity tends to be
important only if prompted by the game text.

Containment: One thing that IF does tend to model thoroughly is
containment. Is something in or on something else? The game keeps track
of this, and many puzzles have to do with where things are -- in the
player's possession, lying on the floor of the room, on a table, in a box,
etc.

Types of Action: Most of the actions you can perform in the world of IF
are brief and specific. >WALK WEST or >OPEN DOOR are likely to be
provided. >TAKE A JOURNEY or >BUILD A TABLE are not. Things like >GO TO
THE HOTEL are on the borderline: some games allow them, but most do not.
In general, abstract, multi-stage behavior usually has to be broken down
in order for the game to understand it.

Other Characters: Other characters in IF games are sometimes rather
limited. On the other hand, there are also games in which character
interaction is the main point of the game. You should be able to get a
feel early on for the characters -- if they seem to respond to a lot of
questions, remember what they're told, move around on their own, etc.,
then they may be fairly important. If they have a lot of stock responses
and don't seem to have been the game designer's main concern, then they
are most likely present either as local color or to provide the solution
to a specific puzzle or set of puzzles. Characters in very
puzzle-oriented games often have to be bribed, threatened, or cajoled into
doing something that the player cannot do -- giving up a piece of
information or an object, reaching something high, allowing the player
into a restricted area, and so on.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET STUCK
Explore. Examine every object mentioned in room descriptions, and
everything in your inventory. Look inside all closed containers. Open
all doors and go through them. If anything is locked, that's probably a
puzzle, and you should try to get it unlocked.

Be thorough. If you *still* can't figure out what to do, try opening
windows, looking under beds, etc. Sometimes objects are well-hidden.

Reread. Look back at things you've already seen; sometimes this will
trigger an idea you hadn't thought of.

Take hints from the prose of the game. Things that are described in great
detail are probably more important than things that are given one-liners.
Play with those objects. If a machine is described as having component
parts, look at the parts, and try manipulating them. Likewise, notice
the verbs that the game itself uses. Try using those yourself. Games
often include special verbs -- the names of magic spells, or other special
commands. There's no harm in attempting something if the game mentions
it.

Rephrase. If you have something in mind that you want to do, but can't
get the game to respond, try alternative wordings. Often synonyms are
provided. Game designers usually try to anticipate all the synonyms you
are likely to come up with, but they may not have thought of yours.

Try variations. Sometimes an action doesn't work, but *does* produce some
kind of unusual result. These are often indications that you're on the
right track, even if you haven't figured out quite the right approach
yet. Pressing the red button alone may only cause a grinding noise from
inside the wall, so perhaps pressing the blue and *then* the red will open
the secret door.

Try to understand the game's internal logic. Sometimes there is a system
in play that does not operate in the normal world -- a kind of magic, for
instance, or technology we don't have on modern-day earth. If you've been
introduced to such a system in the game, ask yourself how you might apply
it to the situations that are still causing you problems.

Check the *whole* screen. Are there extra windows besides the main
window? What's going on in those? Check out the status bar, if there is
one -- it may contain the name of the room you're in, your score, the time
of day, your character's state of health, or some other important
information. If there's something up there, it's worth paying attention
to that, too. When and where does it change? Why is it significant? If
the bar is describing your character's health, you can bet there is
probably a point at which that will be important.

Consider the genre of the game. Mysteries, romances, and thrillers all
have their own types of action and motivation. What are you trying to do,
and how do conventional characters go about doing that? What's the right
sort of behavior for a detective/romance heroine/spy?

Play with someone else. Two heads are usually better than one.

Try typing HINT, HELP, INFO, ABOUT: one or more of these are often
implemented as a source of suggestions about how to get past difficult
spots. If that doesn't work, try emailing the author or (better yet)
posting a request for hints on the newsgroup rec.games.int-fiction. For
best results, put the name of the game you want help with in the subject
line; then leave a page or so of blank "spoiler space" (so that no one
will read about where you got to in the game unless they've already played
it), and describe your problem as clearly as possible. Someone will
probably be able to tell you how to get around it.

If you're stuck somewhere that just makes no sense at all, it's possible
that you're facing a bug. If you think you are, you should email the
author (politely) to report the problem and ask for a way around it.


WHAT TO DO IF YOU DO NOT *WANT* TO GET STUCK
If games in which you can get stuck are not your thing, try asking around
on rec.games.int-fiction for recommendations of works that are more
narrative-oriented or geared towards exploration. You may in particular
wish to try Photopia, Galatea, Rameses, Masquerade, the Kissing Bandit, My
Angel, All Roads... [other stuff people have suggested].

********

I don't know; would any of that have helped at all? Do you have things
you would have added?

ES

PS. I couldn't finish Sparrow's Song either.

--
Emily Short
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/index.htm

Tom Kenyon

unread,
Jul 3, 2002, 5:08:51 PM7/3/02
to

>
> In short, interactive fiction is something I find fascinating but horribly,
> horribly implemented, completely non-intuitive, unbelievably limited,
> invariably hobbled by total lack of foresight on the designer's part as to what
> a reasonable person might think they should be doing.

I'm tempted to say life is non-intutitive and unbelievably
limited....You don't state exactly how far these games should go? And if
they do suffer from the problems you state and to the extreme level you
imply then why do people solve them all?

>
> And before you dismiss me as simply not having the appropriate mental
> adjustment to this kind of thing, let me point out that games I've played and
> didn't need a walkthrough for include Outcast, Fallout, Mission Critical, Deus
> Ex, Gateway, Thief

(Never played, can't comment)

>The good quests are the ones where a half-dozen
> different commands have been provided for any given action, the player types
> something that seems reasonable to them, and the code allows them to do what
> they're trying to do.
>

So you are suggesting that the solution to the problem is by creating
hundreds of
synonyms for the commands, just in case?

>
> these aren't games, these are telepathy experiments!
>


Perhaps there is another point here. Have we as a community become to
enclosed? In my mind many of the games that are written today are
written for the audience of IF players that we have and they are tested
by the same players. Is there not a real danger that by doing this we
are blocking out any new players by not producing an IF way of thinking
but a community way of thinking? Perhaps the games are not the same to
us because 'we know the routine'.

> amateurish problem becomes less of an issue - it is absolutely limiting your
> audience to a very significant degree right now. And it's limiting my
> enjoyment.


It amazes me how you can take such a large 'issue' and call it
amateurish...if it were so amateurish then some bright spark would have
come up with an ideal solution (and the people how have responded so far
are by no mean amateurs).

Adam Cadre

unread,
Jul 3, 2002, 5:20:39 PM7/3/02
to
> If you got through Kissing Bandit, it's probably because you picked up
> on clues embedded in the game -- lots of people (perhaps not you) picked
> up the suggestion in the text to try >TWIRL MOUSTACHE. Would I have
> tried that in Jigsaw? Of course not.

Did you try it in Varicella?

-----
Adam Cadre, Holyoke, MA
http://adamcadre.ac

Walter Sandsquish

unread,
Jul 3, 2002, 6:14:25 PM7/3/02
to
kes...@aol.com (Transit) wrote in message news:<20020703094432...@mb-bj.aol.com>...

<< The problem with these games is the problem with every single piece of IF
or pure-text adventure game I've ever run into in the past - complete non-
intuitiveness. >>

I don't think this is true. There are some well-know implementation gaffs
associated with text-adventure games, and some of the members of r.a.i-f do
have a tendency to ignore these things, but there are also many well
designed and thoroughly tested games on the IF-Archive.

I think the problem here is partially one of context and partially one, as
you pointed out, of poor implementation.

<< In reading the reviews of the SmoochieComp games, I saw various comments
on bad prose and poor NPC interaction, and not one about the real problem:
these aren't games, these are telepathy experiments! Any flaws in prose and
NPC interaction are hardly noticeable compared to that. >>

This is a contextual problem. We don't expect mini-comp games to be
wonderful. They are usually written in a couple of months and they are
rarely thoroughly tested and rarely very well designed. Reviewers know
this and don't apply the same standards to these games as they would to
an IF-Comp game or a regular non-IF-Comp release. I think reviewers should
say this, though, so people who are unfamiliar with the community won't
mistake a good review of a mini-comp game as a sign that the game itself
is very good. It's usually only good in the context of other
mini-comp games.

<< Yesterday, while searching the-underdogs.org for something else, I

[...] ended up getting the whole "SmoochieComp" zipfile [...] I found

my enthusiasm for IF suddenly on the wane again. >>

I think this, also, is a contextual problem. I was startled to hear that
r.a.i-f games were on The Home of the Underdogs. I had thought this was
an abandonware site. But, I just looked and there are a LOT of r.a.i-f
games there, including mini-comp games and even a few speedIF games. This
is NOT good news. I don't know if game authors are submitting games to
The Underdogs or if one of the site's maintainers is a r.a.i-f fan, but
either way, I think it would be wiser for whoever is putting these games
up there to be a little more selective. People outside of this community
will, quite reasonably, compare some of these one-joke or hurriedly designed
mini-comp games with Infocom's work. These people will, understandably, be
very disappointed and may decide that this is ...

<< [...] what most IF does. [...] In short, interactive fiction is something

I find fascinating but horribly, horribly implemented, completely
non-intuitive, unbelievably limited, invariably hobbled by total lack
of foresight on the designer's part as to what a reasonable person might
think they should be doing. >>

And some of it is, especially mini-comp games. Presumably, for "regular"
releases, authors pay more attention to some of the problems you point out.

<< The difference between the good and bad IF-style quests is invariably
one of available commands - the bad quests are the ones where people get
stuck at a spot where they KNOW what they need to do but the author of the
quest coded it to use one specific verb that just isn't obvious to them. >>

This is a well-know implementation flaw. We call it the "guess the verb"
problem. Most authors who release games that have this problem probably
haven't had their games play-tested or just ignored the play-testers
suggestions.

<< What the hell am I supposed to do? [...] What in the world am I supposed
to do? >>

This is also a well-known design gaff. The player-character, and indirectly,
the player, should always have a motive or an objective. Games that leave
the player wandering around with no purpose are usually designed with the
assumption that all players like to roam around and turn over rocks, look
under beds and mess with odd gizmos for no reason. Some players do like
this, but I think this it's, generally, bad storytelling and sloppy design.

On the other hand, some pretty well designed games have some segments where
it's not clear that the player can do something to advance the story.
Someone around here refers to minor instances of this problem as "poorly
cued puzzles." In other words, the game designer hasn't cued the player in
to the problem that needs to be solved at this point in the game.

<< [...] sooner or later I'll get stuck on something where the solution is
hidden and non-intuitive. >>

This is also a well-know design fault. The problem is that the designer
didn't provide any clues to the solution to the problem. Part of the fun
of these games involves solving "difficult" puzzles. Of course, if the
puzzles are difficult enough to challenge us, they're also difficult enough
for us to need some hints to solve them. The game's text should provide
players with some hints, "clues" or nudges in the right direction.

<< The good quests are the ones where [...] the player types something

that seems reasonable to them, and the code allows them to do what they're
trying to do. >>

This is a more complex problem. It's sometimes referred to as the
"combinatorial explosion" problem. The more portable objects a game
includes, the more ways a player can use them with each other and with
non-portable objects in the game.

"Molly the Mage" said, long ago, that it was a problem of "authorial
omnipotence." He argued that while designers should account for what a
player may do, they should not allow all reasonable actions to succeed,
because doing so may throw the story too far off-course or say conflicting
things about the player-character. Part of IF is storytelling, and the
designer does have a right to determine who the player-character is and
what path, in general, the story will take.

On the other hand, a good game will also allow a reasonable number of
"alternative" solutions to puzzles and allow different players to take
somewhat different paths through the game.

<< What kind of idiot goes and makes a game without a "help" command? >>

Good question. Many games do have a help command. The people who are
releasing games without them are probably assuming that only r.*.i-f
regulars will be playing the games. Evidently, someone forgot to tell them
that their games are also being distributed via The Home of the Underdogs.

LoneCleric

unread,
Jul 3, 2002, 9:45:07 PM7/3/02
to
I pondered for a while as to whether or not I should "step in the
defense" of HotU, considering that 1) I am not affiliated with them in
any way, and 2) I don't necessarily agree with the whole of their
opinions or with everything they do.

But nevertheless, since your post seemed to imply that the website has
its share of responsibility in Transit's predicament, I felt compelled
to point some things out.

Walter Sandsquish wrote:

> I think this, also, is a contextual problem. I was startled to hear that
> r.a.i-f games were on The Home of the Underdogs. I had thought this was
> an abandonware site.


Well, according to their own "About" section:

"Home of the Underdogs is a non-profit site dedicated to the
preservation and promotion of underrated PC games (and a few non-PC
games) of all ages: good games that deserve a second chance after dismal
sales or critical reviews that we feel are unwarranted."
[...]
"Home of the Underdogs, while not an abandonware site per se (since our
aim is to pay tribute to all underdogs, both new and old), supports the
abandonware idea."

So yes, they're an abandonware site, but they strive to be much more
than that.

> But, I just looked and there are a LOT of r.a.i-f
> games there, including mini-comp games and even a few speedIF games. This
> is NOT good news.


I believe it is quite the opposite. Here's a website which proclaims
that several recent freeware games and as good (or better) than many
commercial games of the 80s. Sounds pretty good to me. Also note that
it's thanks to this site that Transit got to take a look at some recent
IF pieces. Maybe he didn't enjoy them, but at least he got aware of
their existence.

> I don't know if game authors are submitting games to
> The Underdogs or if one of the site's maintainers is a r.a.i-f fan,


The later. I remember one of the maintainer showing up of ifMud once in
a while, too.

> but either way, I think it would be wiser for whoever is putting these games
> up there to be a little more selective.


Well, the "Underdogs" are mentioning games they've played an enjoyed.
You can disagree with them, but everyone's entitled to their own
opinions, right?

> People outside of this community
> will, quite reasonably, compare some of these one-joke or hurriedly designed
> mini-comp games with Infocom's work. These people will, understandably, be
> very disappointed and may decide that this is ...


Hmm, which games are you talking about here? I just had a glance at the
list and most of those seem like pretty nice games to me.

Transit's disappointment seemed to have occur when he downloaded the
SmoochieComp's package from Emily's webpage. Maybe he assumed that
they'd all be as good as Pytho's Mask (which is the only one mentioned
on HotU). Like you said, it's a contextual problem.


> Good question. Many games do have a help command. The people who are
> releasing games without them are probably assuming that only r.*.i-f
> regulars will be playing the games.


I'm not so sure they assume such a thing, but if they do, they're quite
wrong. Although they share several individuals, The "r*if" community
differs from the "ifMud" community, which differs from the people who
gave up on both long ago and rely solely on IFArchive.org and
Brasslantern.org to keep in touch with the world of IF.

> Evidently, someone forgot to tell them
> that their games are also being distributed via The Home of the Underdogs.


HotU isn't "distributing" the games. Each of the "featured" game has a
page with a nice review and a link to the Archive. Which is pretty much
what Baf's guide also does.


Hoping the above was more informative than annoying,
LC

J. D. Berry

unread,
Jul 3, 2002, 10:05:40 PM7/3/02
to
ems...@mindspring.com (Emily Short) wrote in message news:<emshort-0307...@1cust104.tnt3.redmond.wa.da.uu.net>...

> In article <20020703094432...@mb-bj.aol.com>, kes...@aol.com
> (Transit) wrote:
>
> PS. I couldn't finish Sparrow's Song either.

I do apologize for that lame nymph puzzle and other flaws with the game.

A little background. I think I started the game after Christmas
and it was due in early February. I had thought Smoochie comp to be, well,
not a complete lark, but at least a lighthearted time. Not quite Speed-IF,
but not Spring Comp's requirements, either. So, I worked on it a few
weekends and didn't beta test.

The judges took it for what is was worth, had a reasonably
OK time with it for an hour, and moved on. My only intention.

Much to my surprise when a few critics (not the official judges)
blasted it. Um, yes, I'm quite aware it isn't Jigsaw.

Anyway, lessons learned.

Transit, as many of the others here suggest, find the list of
games that are fully developed which will be the ones generally
acknowledged as enjoyable. See Baf's guide (listed elsewhere on this
thread) and check the 4 and 5 star games.

Practice. Have fun. Don't judge an author by a throw-away game ;)

Jim

Walter Sandsquish

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 1:01:15 AM7/4/02
to
Tom Kenyon <t...@kenyonfs.fsnet.co.uk> wrote in message news:<3D2367E3...@kenyonfs.fsnet.co.uk>...

<< Perhaps there is another point here. Have we as a community become to
enclosed? In my mind many of the games that are written today are written
for the audience of IF players that we have and they are tested by the
same players. Is there not a real danger that by doing this we are blocking
out any new players by not producing an IF way of thinking but a community
way of thinking? Perhaps the games are not the same to us because 'we know
the routine'. >>

I think this needs to be discussed. I have played only a, very, few of the
games that have been released after the 2000 Comp, but even then, it was
evident that there was a small, but strong, trend for IF designers to
imitate whatever game got the most attention in last year's Comp. Usually,
the games that garnered the most attention were also the games that did
the oddest things in the most palatable way.

I can understand why someone might want to imitate a game that got a lot of
attention, and I can understand why it's more interesting to talk about an
unusual game than a "standard" game, so it's easy to see why "experimental"
games get talked about and mimicked a lot.

But, unfortunately, the imitations are rarely as interesting as the
"experiments." The imitators often don't seem to have the same grounding
in the basics as the people who wrote, say, "Photopia," "Metamorphoses" or
"Shade." What I end up seeing are things that make me ask: "What's the
point of this game?" "Why are Gopher-style menus popping up in a
command-prompt game?" "Did the author really think that a one-verb game
would interest me?" and "What's so funny about bananas and cheese?"

Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls marketed their games, very successfully, to
a mass market. Consumers had to be able to pick up any one of their games
and understand and enjoy it. It may be that r.a.i-f is becoming so
self-referential that it might be useful for authors to tell a potential
player which other r.a.i-f games he will need to play first so that he
will be able to "get" the game he just downloaded. Worse, there appear
to be an increasing number of games that refer to IF-MUD inside jokes.
Honestly, how many more variations of "Pick up the Phone Booth and [insert
a word here]" are going to get dumped on the IF-Archive?

I think Transit's post is evidence that people outside this community are
going to run across and play r.a.i-f games. It would be nice if these people
didn't need to know the history of the IF-Comp or have transcripts of IF-MUD
conversations or have a list of TADS or Inform standard-library verb stubs
memorized before they could play a r.a.i-f game.

I think I should say that the majority of games that are released aren't
guilty of all of this. (At least, before 2000, this was true. I don't
know about now.) Most games are mainly guilty of not being play-tested enough.

Scott Lawrenz

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 3:00:06 AM7/4/02
to
"Tom Kenyon" <t...@kenyonfs.fsnet.co.uk> wrote in message
news:3D2367E3...@kenyonfs.fsnet.co.uk...
> Perhaps there is another point here. Have we as a community become to
> enclosed? In my mind many of the games that are written today are
> written for the audience of IF players that we have and they are tested
> by the same players. Is there not a real danger that by doing this we
> are blocking out any new players by not producing an IF way of thinking
> but a community way of thinking? Perhaps the games are not the same to
> us because 'we know the routine'.
>

I was reading through these posts and reached much the same conclusion.
Heavens knows this isn't the first time I've heard this sort of complaint
about IF.

I think there is a real danger if authors follow the trend of writing only
for the established community. Now granted, it's going to be the
established community that plays most of the games, but IF is a growing
genre of literature. It's surprising how far its influence has spread. That
such games are being placed on a site like the Underdogs, which is a pretty
active site as far as I can tell, just goes to understate that there are
going to be a lot of people who AREN'T familiar with IF playing IF games.

If it reasonable to expect them to understand how IF works, or pick up on
the trends and concepts of parser and problem solving that every experianced
IF player or community member is used to? I don't think it is.

I think the IF genre might be in a danger zone at the moment. As the
community follows a trend of looking inward (becoming inbred?), allowing
itself write only for the IF community and assumes that every player playing
their games knows what they're doing, it begins to actively discourage
potential IF fans and writers from investigating the genre. That's both
dangerous and harmful the community.

New blood is a good thing, because it keeps the established status quo from
getting too rigid and entering into stagnation. Unfortunately, I don't know
if there's any easy solution to this problem other than that authors be more
careful and try to be more intuitive. Inertia is incredibly powerful.

It might not be a bad idea to seek non-IF playing friends to beta-test games
before they are released, if only to help authors learn to be more intuitive
and watch out for the way new players, or non-experianced players think. I
don't know if much... or any of this type of beta-testing is ever done. It
might not be a bad idea.

If experianced players can think one way and that way can be learned, maybe
there's another way non experianced players think, that also can be learned.
I don't know if this is something that has been explored in any depth, but
maybe it should be.

Ok, that's my two cents worth.

Scott

Joachim Froholt

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 6:30:41 AM7/4/02
to

Emily Short wrote:

8<

>
> ********
>
> I don't know; would any of that have helped at all? Do you have things
> you would have added?

_Very_ good stuff. Are you going to allow people to bundle the finished text with
their games?

Maybe you could spend some more time on syntax? How normal IF games expect you to
build your commands and stuff like that (backed up with some more complex examples).
And maybe you could add information about other handy documents for newbies, such as
the "how to play IF" text mentioned in this thread.

Joachim

Marnie Parker

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 12:20:26 PM7/4/02
to
>Subject: A fundamental problem - non-expert perspective
>From: kes...@aol.com (Transit)
>Date: 7/3/2002 6:44 AM Pacific

>In short, interactive fiction is something I find fascinating but horribly,
>horribly implemented, completely non-intuitive, unbelievably limited,
>invariably hobbled by total lack of foresight on the designer's part as to
>what
>a reasonable person might think they should be doing.

In short, I tend to agree with you. I have finished very few "modern IF" games.

I think the problem has two major causes. One, we are hobbyists, and unlike
Infocom we do not have paid betatesters playtesting games for months. We may
have other hobbyists playtest our games but not, usually, for a very long
period (it may only be days in most cases -- or not at all). Extensive
playtesting tends to reveal when some "puzzle" is not really unintuitive.
Another factor, maybe a whole other point, is that constructing puzzles is the
hardest part of writing IF.

Two, the trend in modern IF over the last umpteen years has been toward better
story telling, not better game playing. The emphasis has been more on writing,
rather than on the total game experience. Basically this ends up with "games"
that may be intriquing because of the plot/characters/prose but are actually
quite hard to play. There are exceptions to this, we the author has
concentrated very much on playability, but I feel they are just that,
exceptions.

In fact, on the whole, a lot of the modern IF community tends to be a bit
disdainful about creating "games". Sniff -- nose in air -- we are creating art
-- ;-). So the end result is often what you have been finding.

Doe :-) (Ducking.)


doea...@aol.com
IF http://members.aol.com/doepage/intfict.htm
(An Iffy Theory | Glulx/Glk for Duncies | unglklib | Inform Primer)
IF Art Gallery http://members.aol.com/iffyart/
IF Review Conspiracy http://zork.plover.net/~textfire/conspiracy/

Marnie Parker

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 12:40:23 PM7/4/02
to
I am going to add a P.S.

Galatea was originally released as IF Art, so I do not feel it ever needed to
meet a "game" format. It can stand alone as a successful and intriquing IF
dialogue.

http://members.aol.com/iffyart/

Three games I suggest you try: Theatre (includes hints, and is very much a
"game" game), Edifice by Lucian P. Smith, and Hunter in Darkness by Andrew
Plotkin.

Both Lucian and Zarf do a good job in those games of anticipating what a player
may try, create intuitive puzzles, and have steer-you-in-the right responses
for when you try something that isn't going to work in the long run.

I might be able to think of more but those two games and Theatre sprang
immediately to mind as concentrating more on the game experience. I.E. They
give the player quite a bit to do and are also intuitive when they do so.

Doe

Walter Sandsquish

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 1:14:20 PM7/4/02
to
LoneCleric <lonec...@notreally.sympatico.ca> wrote in message news:<3D23A8A3...@notreally.sympatico.ca>...

<< Well, the "Underdogs" are mentioning games they've played an enjoyed.
You can disagree with them, but everyone's entitled to their own opinions,
right? [...] I just had a glance at the list and most of those seem like pretty
nice games to me. >>

You're right. I overreacted. These are some of the titles that jumped out at
me at first glance, "Bugged," "The Knapsack Problem," "Pick up the Phone
Booth and Die," "Shrapnel," "Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country,"
"Ribbons."

But I read your post and went back. I didn't see any speedIF games this
time and most of the games there are reasonably good. Some of the ones
I've played I remember as being buggy, but most of them are, at least,
interesting.

Still, I think there may be a problem with games becoming too IF-Comp
or IF-MUD-referential and it is possible people are putting things on
the IF-Archive without considering the fact that the general public also
has access to them. The author of "Detective" stuck his game on a local BBS
for his virtual buddies to play with. He had no idea it would end up on a
public FTP site on the Internet. Whoever stuck "Pass the Banana" on the
archive should realize that someone like Transit will, eventually, end up
with it.

I can remember when it was all the rage to jump on AGT games for having
few synonyms, many guess the verb problems, lots of unclued obstacles
and little to no beta-testing.

Are we heading back in that direction?

Adam Cadre

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 4:24:42 PM7/4/02
to
> "The Knapsack Problem," "Pick up the Phone Booth and Die," "Shrapnel,"

Ouch.

(Ah well. Could've been worse. "Kallisti, Amissville, Varicella,"
anyone?)

Eytan Zweig

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 5:41:53 PM7/4/02
to

"Adam Cadre" <gri...@drizzle.com> wrote in message
news:ag2aua$oh0$1...@drizzle.com...

> > "The Knapsack Problem," "Pick up the Phone Booth and Die," "Shrapnel,"
>
> Ouch.
>
> (Ah well. Could've been worse. "Kallisti, Amissville, Varicella,"
> anyone?)
>

Three games which are united by a single common denominator - the double 'l'
in their title.

Eytan

Eric Mayer

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 7:41:08 PM7/4/02
to
J. D. Berry wrote:
> ems...@mindspring.com (Emily Short) wrote in message news:<emshort-0307...@1cust104.tnt3.redmond.wa.da.uu.net>...
>
>>In article <20020703094432...@mb-bj.aol.com>, kes...@aol.com
>>(Transit) wrote:
>>
>>PS. I couldn't finish Sparrow's Song either.
>
>
> I do apologize for that lame nymph puzzle and other flaws with the game.
>
> A little background. I think I started the game after Christmas
> and it was due in early February. I had thought Smoochie comp to be, well,
> not a complete lark, but at least a lighthearted time. Not quite Speed-IF,
> but not Spring Comp's requirements, either.

Well, I took it to be a complete lark --- or at least a complete chicken
comp -- so lucky my "Bantam" was unplayable. (Did I insult chicken comp?
Sorry)

But I liked Sparrow's song. And most of the other Smoochie comp
entries were very accomplished.

Hey, where are the frivolous mini-comps?

Signed Hardly Any Time to Code


Transit

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 10:06:34 PM7/4/02
to
> This sums up your entire message very well, I think. No one
>should have to tell you how to think about playing a game, anymore than
>one should have to tell you how to think about reading a book or think
>about watching a television show. You should just be able to apply
>whatever you know about the genre to the activity and have no problems
>with it.
>

In an ideal world, with ideally implemented games, you would be absolutely
right. This is not the case with IF right now.

Ideally, the interface would be practically invisible. You'd type an english
word or phrase that makes perfect sense to another english speaker, and the
game would take it and run with it. This doesn't happen right now. That IF
games follow certain conventions is a valid excuse but not a good reason: there
are too many seemingly-reasonable things to do that just produce error messages
in too many cases.

In the case of puzzles, there are certain conventions with how to think about
them that are equally frustrating. The monkey has a key? No you can't shoot
the monkey, you can't hit the monkey with a baseball bat, you can't scare the
monkey - you have to go dig up a banana somewhere for the monkey. From an IF
perspective, this makes perfect sense. From an everyday common-sense
perspective, it's ridiculously arcane. This isn't a question of good or bad,
it's an example of why a certain mentality is absolutely critical to being able
to solve these games.

Transit

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 10:13:06 PM7/4/02
to
>The standard response here (for as long as I've been reading these
>newsgroups) is that nearly all text IF games assume the *same* set of
>default possible actions. You don't know every possible command (see
>my "definition of IF" post from a couple of weeks ago) but you do have
>a basic range of action which is very well standardized. It really
>hasn't changed much since the mid-80s Infocom games.
>

That's what I was half-expecting. In several of the SmoochieComp games though
there were cases where things like 'ask about' didn't work, and this was
EXTREMELY frustrating. It is of course probably due to (as I now know) their
being generally rather hurried products ...

>I am just as familiar with this in graphical adventures as in text
>adventures, actually. The extremely simple mouse-click interface of
>graphical IF *does not solve* this problem, because graphical IF has
>*different* ways to present a subtle, complex range of action.

This hasn't been my experience. Possibly I'm just more visually oriented, but
being able to _see_ things makes it much clearer to me what my options are, and
makes it much clearer to come up with something that makes sense. Even in The
Longest Journey (which I'm not to keen on due to some nonsensical
object-specific puzzles), I made good progress through most of the game because
I could see at a glance what was possible.

Transit

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 10:16:34 PM7/4/02
to
><shrug> I did include a walkthrough into the game. That doesn't excuse me,
>of course, for any non-intuitiveness to the commands and gameplay, but I
>don't
>think you should have gotten as frustrated as it seems you did, since you
>could
>always resort to it, if you wished...

It wasn't included in the zipfile I got. I could have gone looking for one,
but I wasn't hooked enough for that level of effort.

As for commands, here's what I ran into:
First room: a tree. Can't do anything obvious with it.
Second room: Pierre. Can't talk to him.
Third room: church. Can't do anything obvious. (*Now* it occurs to me
that I could have tried 'pray', but it didn't then.)

Now what? Think. Bounce against walls. Exit game and go looking for
something
clearer.

Perhaps I missed something obvious. At the very least, please keep this in
mind as an example of what some people might experience.

Transit

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 10:20:07 PM7/4/02
to
>I think you're confusing the forest for the trees, here. The bad prose
>and poor NPC interactions are precisely the reason you got stuck!

I'm going to have to think about this for a while, though it does sound valid
at first glance.

Transit

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 10:28:00 PM7/4/02
to
>It might not be a bad idea to seek non-IF playing friends to beta-test games
>before they are released, if only to help authors learn to be more intuitive
>and watch out for the way new players, or non-experianced players think. I
>don't know if much... or any of this type of beta-testing is ever done. It
>might not be a bad idea.
>
>If experianced players can think one way and that way can be learned, maybe
>there's another way non experianced players think, that also can be learned.
>I don't know if this is something that has been explored in any depth, but
>maybe it should be.

I very strongly believe this is a key idea.

I spent some time (before the dot-bomb) working in QA for a computer game
company. It was an extremely enlightening experience. One of the things the
studio did about halfway through the development of one of the games was to
borrow a classroom from a local university, set up the game for play for free,
and set up a video camera, and just record for the whole day. Afterwards, the
designers reviewed the video to see what common problems complete strangers to
the game encountered in trying it out, and change the interface based on that.
There were other, similar tests, but the common thread was seeing how someone
with zero prior exposure to the game and/or genre reacted to it, and what kinds
of things they would trip over in trying to figure out how to play it. The
resulting improvements were tremendous.

Transit

unread,
Jul 4, 2002, 10:36:56 PM7/4/02
to
>"Molly the Mage" said, long ago, that it was a problem of "authorial
>omnipotence." He argued that while designers should account for what a
>player may do, they should not allow all reasonable actions to succeed,
>because doing so may throw the story too far off-course or say conflicting
>things about the player-character.

I'm by no means suggesting that any action should succeed However, when you
type something reasonable like THROW CHAIR AT MONKEY or HARANGUE THE PEASANTS,
you ought to get a sensible error message politely explaining that that isn't
something you're supposed to be doing in this game, that ideally nudges the
player in the direction of things they ARE supposed to be doing. This doesn't
require implementing new actions and consequences, and it cuts down on the
frustration factor.

Penner Theologius Pott

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 3:49:42 AM7/5/02
to
"Scott Lawrenz" <Removethi...@removethistoo.thesurf.removethis.com> wrote in message news:<ui7se8m...@corp.supernews.com>...

> I think there is a real danger if authors follow the trend of writing only
> for the established community. Now granted, it's going to be the
> established community that plays most of the games, but IF is a growing
> genre of literature. It's surprising how far its influence has spread. That
> such games are being placed on a site like the Underdogs, which is a pretty
> active site as far as I can tell, just goes to understate that there are
> going to be a lot of people who AREN'T familiar with IF playing IF games.

On the other hand...

I remember there was some talk about this when "Being Andrew Plotkin"
was first released: the concern that yes, it was clever, and
well-written, but also hopelessly "in-jokey." And there was concern
that if this became a trend, it would drive away potential players.

But at the same time, I took it as a sign that the community had grown
significantly enough that such a game CAN be written. Within
Hollywood, one the largest money-making machines in the country, we
have dozens of movies devoted solely to homages and spoofs of other
existing works. And they succeed, because their source material is
widely known enough to be accessible.

Not that I would like to see a majority of games going down this path.
I agree with pretty much all of your points: but I also worry about
the urge to make our work "accessible." We should tell the stories
that we're compelled to tell, and I feel like at this point there is
enough variety of work out there that we don't need to start -- heh --
for lack of a better term, "selling out" to a wider audience.

Which would be absurd, since money isn't even involved.

Christiane Schwind

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 4:43:41 AM7/5/02
to
I don't know most of the games you mentioned, but I did play _Voices_,
which I remember as a fascinating game, unusual in some respects but
_not_ hard to play.

> [A walkthrough] wasn't included in the zipfile I got. I could have

> gone looking for one, but I wasn't hooked enough for that level of effort.

It's _in_ the game; it tells you so in the beginning.

> As for commands, here's what I ran into:
> First room: a tree. Can't do anything obvious with it.

OK, nothing to get stuck over, though. (I took it as a symbolic thing,
seeing the context.)

> Second room: Pierre. Can't talk to him.

>TALK TO PIERRE
(If you try the familiar ASK X ABOUT Y syntax, you'll be told this,
too.)

> Third room: church. Can't do anything obvious. (*Now* it occurs to me
> that I could have tried 'pray', but it didn't then.)

Not so very far-fetched, is it?

> Now what? Think. Bounce against walls. Exit game and go looking for

> something clearer... Perhaps I missed something obvious. At the very

> least, please keep this in mind as an example of what some people might
> experience.

If they're not ready to be involved. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot
in what you say that can I agree with (you got heaps of responses of
that kind, so I'll not repeat). But in this case, my impression is
that you weren't paying too much attention (you said you went
through all those games in two days, didn't you? Heroic...) I agree
with Eric Mayer; you're far more likely to enjoy a game if you
genuinely _want_ to find out about it (same with all things in life, I
suppose..).


Christiane

Aris Katsaris

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 4:40:43 AM7/5/02
to

"Transit" <kes...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:20020704221634...@mb-bd.aol.com...

> ><shrug> I did include a walkthrough into the game. That doesn't excuse me,
> >of course, for any non-intuitiveness to the commands and gameplay, but I
> >don't
> >think you should have gotten as frustrated as it seems you did, since you
> >could
> >always resort to it, if you wished...
>
> It wasn't included in the zipfile I got.

*Inside* the game. The very first screen said: "if needed type
'WALKTHRU'). Give it a glance again. And the 2nd release
changes that with a request for first-time players to type
"ABOUT" which gives you a bit more info.

> Second room: Pierre. Can't talk to him.

As a sidenote how did you try to talk to him? Because TALK TO
PIERRE definitely works, while "ASK PIERRE ABOUT <something>"
or "TELL PIERRE ABOUT <something>" tells the player how to use
the correct syntax.

Why couldn't you talk to him?

Aris Katsaris


Christiane Schwind

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 4:46:23 AM7/5/02
to
On 05 Jul 2002 02:16:34 GMT, Transit wrote:
(see quotes below)


I don't know most of the games you mentioned, but I did play _Voices_,
which I remember as a fascinating game, unusual in some respects but
_not_ hard to play.

> [A walkthrough] wasn't included in the zipfile I got. I could have

> gone looking for one, but I wasn't hooked enough for that level of effort.

It's _in_ the game; it tells you so in the beginning.

> As for commands, here's what I ran into:

> First room: a tree. Can't do anything obvious with it.

OK, nothing to get stuck over, though. (I took it as a symbolic thing,
seeing the context.)

> Second room: Pierre. Can't talk to him.

>TALK TO PIERRE


(If you try the familiar ASK X ABOUT Y syntax, you'll be told this,
too.)

> Third room: church. Can't do anything obvious. (*Now* it occurs to me


> that I could have tried 'pray', but it didn't then.)

Not so very far-fetched, is it?

> Now what? Think. Bounce against walls. Exit game and go looking for
> something clearer... Perhaps I missed something obvious. At the very

> least, please keep this in mind as an example of what some people might
> experience.

If they're not ready to be involved. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot

Richard Bos

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 4:50:22 AM7/5/02
to
kes...@aol.com (Transit) wrote:

> > This sums up your entire message very well, I think. No one
> >should have to tell you how to think about playing a game, anymore than
> >one should have to tell you how to think about reading a book or think
> >about watching a television show. You should just be able to apply
> >whatever you know about the genre to the activity and have no problems
> >with it.
>
> In an ideal world, with ideally implemented games, you would be absolutely
> right. This is not the case with IF right now.
>
> Ideally, the interface would be practically invisible. You'd type an english
> word or phrase that makes perfect sense to another english speaker, and the
> game would take it and run with it.

Erm. You mean parsing general, natural English? That's an AI-complete
problem. The solution isn't going to come along for years. "Plant the
pot plant in the plant pot with the trowel" is only the first of your
worries. Basically, humans can come up with incredibly perverse ways to
bend a language's grammar and vocabulary; expecting a computer to
understand us is unrealistic, _unless_ we keep to a strictly defined
subset of the language. And that is exactly what IF does.

> In the case of puzzles, there are certain conventions with how to think about
> them that are equally frustrating. The monkey has a key? No you can't shoot
> the monkey, you can't hit the monkey with a baseball bat, you can't scare the
> monkey - you have to go dig up a banana somewhere for the monkey. From an IF
> perspective, this makes perfect sense. From an everyday common-sense
> perspective, it's ridiculously arcane.

Is it? In everyday life, if a monkey has something you want, do _you_ go
and hit the poor beast with a baseball bat?

Richard

Emily Short

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 4:27:24 AM7/5/02
to
In article <3D241950...@c2i.net>, Joachim Froholt <jfro...@c2i.net>
wrote:

> Emily Short wrote:
>
> 8<
>
> >
> > ********
> >
> > I don't know; would any of that have helped at all? Do you have things
> > you would have added?
>
> _Very_ good stuff. Are you going to allow people to bundle the finished
text with
> their games?
>
> Maybe you could spend some more time on syntax? How normal IF games
expect you to
> build your commands and stuff like that (backed up with some more
complex examples).

I meant it as a supplement to a normal introduction to standard commands.
A number of those exist already.

> And maybe you could add information about other handy documents for
newbies, such as
> the "how to play IF" text mentioned in this thread.

Yeah, there are a lot of such resources out there.

--
Emily Short
http://emshort.home.mindspring.com/index.htm

D. Jacob Wildstrom

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 10:15:49 AM7/5/02
to
In article <20020704220634...@mb-bd.aol.com>,

Transit <kes...@aol.com> wrote:
>In the case of puzzles, there are certain conventions with how to think about
>them that are equally frustrating. The monkey has a key? No you can't shoot
>the monkey, you can't hit the monkey with a baseball bat, you can't scare the
>monkey - you have to go dig up a banana somewhere for the monkey. From an IF
>perspective, this makes perfect sense. From an everyday common-sense
>perspective, it's ridiculously arcane. This isn't a question of good or bad,
>it's an example of why a certain mentality is absolutely critical to being able
>to solve these games.

Well, that there is poor writing. It's good to have, if nothing else,
a fairly complete implementation of the core verbset, and in every
language I know of, "attack" is a core verb. I'd contend that in a
good IF, every animate, for instance, should have some non-default
response to all the basic NPC-interaction verbs (in Inform, they're
Attack, Kiss, ThrowAt, Give, Show, Ask, Tell, Answer, and Order;
WakeOther is another standard NPC interaction verb, except the default
answer usually is appropriate).

For instance, attacking other NPCs in IF is almost never productive,
but it should be unproductive in a logical way. There are two easy
outs, especially for violence, depending on who the character is: give
them moral qualms or a code of conduct which precludes such actions
("The code of chivalry forbids that you harm the innocent.") or make
it simply physically impossible, due to superior strength ("The troll
pushes you back contemptuously.") or superior agility ("The monkey
easily evades your clumsy attack and scurries to a higher branch.").

The former methosd works well when the latter two don't work, since
those of inferior strength and agility are easy subjects for pity. For
instance, yes, a sufficiently unpleasant character might kick a
cripple to steal his crutch, but if your character is at all
sympathetic, you should be able to plausibly deny them this option
(for unpleasant characters, you might be able to forbid it as a matter
of pure advantage, e.g. "That would bring the police down on your head
in an instant." See also why Primo Varicella won't kill Charlotte:

There is little profit in knocking off someone who isn't a rival to
the throne, and Princess Charlotte scarcely qualifies. Not because
she's mad -- half the monarchs in the League could stand to benefit
from some electroconvulsive therapy. And, true, she is royalty and
you, as yet, are not. But she's female. End of story.

).

+------Archbishop, First Church of Mystical Agnosticism------+
| A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into |
| theorems. -Alfred Renyi |
+------------------------------------------------------------+
| Jake Wildstrom |
+------------------------------------------------------------+

Dan Shiovitz

unread,
Jul 5, 2002, 11:55:23 PM7/5/02
to
In article <20020704122026...@mb-cs.aol.com>,

Marnie Parker <doea...@aol.com> wrote:
>>Subject: A fundamental problem - non-expert perspective
>>From: kes...@aol.com (Transit)
>>Date: 7/3/2002 6:44 AM Pacific
>
>>In short, interactive fiction is something I find fascinating but horribly,
>>horribly implemented, completely non-intuitive, unbelievably limited,
[..]

>In short, I tend to agree with you. I have finished very few "modern IF" games.
>
>I think the problem has two major causes. One, we are hobbyists, and unlike
>Infocom we do not have paid betatesters playtesting games for months. We may
>have other hobbyists playtest our games but not, usually, for a very long
>period (it may only be days in most cases -- or not at all). Extensive
>playtesting tends to reveal when some "puzzle" is not really unintuitive.
>Another factor, maybe a whole other point, is that constructing puzzles is the
>hardest part of writing IF.

These are all true.

>Two, the trend in modern IF over the last umpteen years has been toward better
>story telling, not better game playing. The emphasis has been more on writing,
>rather than on the total game experience. Basically this ends up with "games"
>that may be intriquing because of the plot/characters/prose but are actually
>quite hard to play. There are exceptions to this, we the author has
>concentrated very much on playability, but I feel they are just that,
>exceptions.

[..]

This, however, I think is not true at all, and in fact the trend has
been in the complete opposite direction from what you say. Games today
are much *more* playable and accessible than they were in previous
years. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, library maturity; although like you say above, we don't have
the beta-testing resources of Infocom or Level 9, we have still, as a
community, worked with the TADS (and Inform and Hugo and so on)
libraries for years, fixing bugs and adding new default verbs and
improvements.

Second, gamefile expanstion. Even z8 games are pretty big, and glulx
allows even more room; TADS games have never had any real size
limit. More size = more room to add in objects mentioned in the room
description, more responses to possible actions and that kind of
thing. If you look at an old Infocom game, they're generally very
sparse in terms of what's actually implemented. Surely more
implementation of objects is going to feel more playable, and adding
more responses is going to improve the user experience.

Third, interface maturity. Many old games don't have "X" or "G". 'Nuff
said there, I think. (But if not, consider the other things -- we have
fairly standardized verb sets, established ways to address NPCs or to
put multiple commands on the same line, etc).

Lastly, community maturity, or at least community direction. As you
mention, the emphasis has been on writing. But what goes along with
that? Smoother integration of puzzles and stories. Photopia is of
course the standard example here -- it has no real puzzles, just
situations that crop up naturally in the story. In addition to this,
it's gotten rid of the then-standard ask/tell conversation system for
a menu interface, which is much easier and more accessible (whatever
its flaws) for players.

The only trend I see in modern years that has worked against
playability is the large number of games. The result of this, of
course, is that any particular game has to be extra-playable or else
we get bored and go on to the next one, because, hey, there's always
another game to try. But it's hard to argue that this wealth of games
is really a bad thing, and in any case, it only makes games *seem* to
be less playable (or, rather, raises our standards), not make them
actually less playable.

Now, what you may have intended to argue is that the focus on
IF-as-experience has obscured the idea of IF-as-puzzlebox, and there's
something in that. But even there, games like Savoir-Faire, Mulldoon,
and The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet are still
carrying on the fine tradition, and I expect to see more like them as
long as there's still demand (and I, for one, will be demanding).

The IF revival is now, folks: it's glorious and only going to get better.

--
Dan Shiovitz :: d...@cs.wisc.edu :: http://www.drizzle.com/~dans
"He settled down to dictate a letter to the Consolidated Nailfile and
Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation of Scranton, Pa., which would make them
realize that life is stern and earnest and Nailfile and Eyebrow Tweezer
Corporations are not put in this world for pleasure alone." -PGW

Lucian P. Smith

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 1:37:58 AM7/6/02
to
Scott Lawrenz <Removethi...@removethistoo.thesurf.removethis.com> wrote in <ui7se8m...@corp.supernews.com>:

: I think the IF genre might be in a danger zone at the moment. As the


: community follows a trend of looking inward (becoming inbred?), allowing
: itself write only for the IF community and assumes that every player playing
: their games knows what they're doing, it begins to actively discourage
: potential IF fans and writers from investigating the genre. That's both
: dangerous and harmful the community.

Is it? Aren't there a variety of art movements out there that did exactly
this, and thrived because of it?

Not saying it's necessarily the best choice, or even where I'd like to
see IF go, but I do think we should keep a little perspective, here.

-Lucian

Marnie Parker

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 8:13:39 AM7/6/02
to
>This, however, I think is not true at all, and in fact the trend has
>been in the complete opposite direction from what you say. Games today
>are much *more* playable and accessible than they were in previous
>years.

I wasn't comparing modern IF to modern IF of a few years ago or modern IF of
any era, really. I was saying that the concentration has not been on a better
game playing experience, but on better writing. The focus has been more in one
direction than in multiple or several directions.

I, personally, find most modern IF very hard to play. I rarely finish games
without a lot of hints and/or a walkthru -- the ones I bother to do that with
are, of course, the ones that intrique me. But there is much modern IF I have
never finished because I got seriously "hung up" and lost interest in going
further at that date or a later date. A great many games, actually.

Many people who finish a lot of comp games, for instance, are using hints right
and left, getting assistance from friends right and left, or txding game files.

The above sort of thing tends to seriously intefer with my playing enjoyment. I
prefer figuring out games myself.

I also support IF as Art. But, hey, I also like playable games. There should be
able to be a happy medium somewhere.

That does not say it isn't an explosion or that modern IF isn't interesting,
but I would not tell a newbie, someone completely new to IF -- say even someone
not highly computer literate -- to play some of the more intriguing and, ergo,
much more difficult stuff that is around. I wouldn't want to turn them off IF.

The games you mention, are naturally, the cream of the crop. But frankly, most
modern IF simply does not meet commericial standards -- something that would
sell, because it is both playable and enjoyable by a wide audience. I realize
being honest enough to say this is not a popular stance.

When a group pats is insular, it can tend to lose the wider picture.

Marnie Parker

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 8:29:54 AM7/6/02
to
>When a group pats is insular, it can tend to lose the wider picture.

When a group starts to become insular, it can tend to lose the wider picture.

Or something like that, not sure what I meant by pats -- typo.

Marnie Parker

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 9:43:41 AM7/6/02
to
I'm going to add a few thoughts, then shut up. I tend to get "in trouble" when
I post to r*if. I got extremely tired of the repeated trouble I got into the
past, so I've posted less and less over the years as a way to avoid it. This is
my first real attempt to say something serious in several years.

I could use examples to illustrate what I mean, but I prefer not to name games
by name. Or authors. I am very uncomfortable doing that.

I will only mention that Muldoon's Legacy, Lash, Cycles, and Heroes (and some
others I cannot remember the names of off hand) did explore puzzles and
interactivity rather than just writing. So some people are. But, despite that,
the concentration has been heavily slanted toward better prose for some time.
Increasingly. In the last couple of years, some things I feel would not have
done as well in a wider community, have done very well here simply because the
the writing was good. But the game play may not actually have been very
satisfying. That is the point I prefer not to illustrate.

I have found the trend distrubing and I hope/wish for more IF fronts to be
explored in the future.

What I really wanted to add, is...

I think stifling dissent and/or disagreement, fewer and fewer people talking,
and lots of self-congratulatory pats on the back are symptoms of group
insularity.

And unless I have missed something, and it's quite possible that I have because
I only read r*if on an intermittant basis now, it seems to me that those
symptoms have been increasing in r*if. Especially over the last two years or
year.

Doe Also, as an artist, I am never totally satisfied with my work. I may feel
some is good, but I am also always trying for better. Not all criticism is
bashing.

Adam Cadre

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 9:56:47 AM7/6/02
to
Marnie Parker wrote:
> The games you mention, are naturally, the cream of the crop.

I think that was part of Dan's point. The situation is a bit
like this (and before anyone jumps on the numbers --they are purely
for illustrative purposes):

1980s: 4 commercial-quality games released per year; 0 lesser-quality
games released per year (since they wouldn't make it to stores
if Infocom etc. thought they really sucked)

today: 10 commercial-quality games released per year; 200 lesser-
quality games released per year (since all you have to do is
upload to the archive and, hey, you're "published")

In which period are we better off? The 80s may *look* better because
there's less chaff to sort through, but no one's forcing anyone to do
the sorting herself. There are all kinds of resources available to
steer players toward the good stuff... including this newsgroup. And
nowadays there's more good stuff to be steered towards.

Tarage

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 12:33:48 PM7/6/02
to
In article <ag5vnm$o9v$1...@joe.rice.edu>, "Lucian P. Smith"
<lps...@rice.edu> wrote:

I don't think IF is doing this at all. I'd been out of IF for years...back
when I first started playing IF, it was just me and my friends hacking
away at Zork in a cold basement for hours on end. When I started to get
back into classic computing, I found out that you could write your own IF
games! I started listening to the newsgroups, then posting, then
downloading the software, and now I'm working on my very own
project...granted it's slow going, but I hope to have it done in time for
the spring contest...

It's been very easy to contribute to the IF community -- the newsgroups
are helpful, the IDG and other source books are free, and there's a wealth
of newbie help, from Roger Firth's pages outwards.

I don't think the IF community is inward-looking and discouraging new
blood AT ALL.

~Tarage

Christiane Schwind

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 2:15:33 PM7/6/02
to
On Sat, 06 Jul 2002 11:33:48 -0500, Tarage wrote:

> I don't think IF is doing this at all. I'd been out of IF for years...back
> when I first started playing IF, it was just me and my friends hacking
> away at Zork in a cold basement for hours on end. When I started to get
> back into classic computing, I found out that you could write your own IF
> games! I started listening to the newsgroups, then posting, then
> downloading the software, and now I'm working on my very own
> project...granted it's slow going, but I hope to have it done in time for
> the spring contest...
>
> It's been very easy to contribute to the IF community -- the newsgroups
> are helpful, the IDG and other source books are free, and there's a wealth
> of newbie help, from Roger Firth's pages outwards.
>
> I don't think the IF community is inward-looking and discouraging new
> blood AT ALL.


Could be my story. However, Transit obviously _didn't_ find the newbie
help resources. Perhaps links could be put in more places, like the
_Underdogs_, or wherever IF games are around. In a prominent place on
each of the if-archive's games pages, as well.

Christiane

SteveG

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 4:27:07 PM7/6/02
to
On Wed, 3 Jul 2002 14:56:48 +0000 (UTC), Andrew Plotkin
<erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>Here, Transit <kes...@aol.com> wrote:
[snippidy snip]
>> PS: I just took a look at the "playing IF games" FAQ. I notice that
>> it has tons of technical info about how to get the games to run but
>> NOT ONE WORD about how to *think* about playing them. This is a
>> glaring omission, given the current state of the art.
>
>This is arguably a bug in the title of that FAQ, rather than the
>contents. :-) But I agree it would make sense to include links to the
>sort of thing you're describing.

Yeah, the 'playing IF games' FAQ which I post to rgif was written as a
response to technical questions such as "I've downloaded this '.z5'
file, how do I open it?' (Such questions aren't very frequent these
days so perhaps the FAQ is doing its job?? :-)

Anyway, because of that history, I've never thought to highlight any
direct pointers to tips on playing techniques. It's a good idea so
I'll add some.

Any suggestions?

I know of pages at Stephen Granade, Dennis Jerz and Adam Cadre's web
pages:

http://www.brasslantern.org/beginners/

http://www.uwec.edu/Academic/Curric/jerzdg/orr/articles/IF/online/help.html

http://adamcadre.ac/content/if.txt


-- SteveG
remove _X_ from my address to send me email

Aris Katsaris

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Jul 6, 2002, 7:06:39 PM7/6/02
to

"Marco Thorek" <marco....@infocom-if.org> wrote in message
news:3D276B42...@infocom-if.org...
> X-No-Archive: yes

>
> > I will only mention that Muldoon's Legacy, Lash, Cycles, and Heroes (and
some
> > others I cannot remember the names of off hand) did explore puzzles and
> > interactivity rather than just writing. So some people are. But, despite
that,
> > the concentration has been heavily slanted toward better prose for some
time.
> > Increasingly. In the last couple of years, some things I feel would not
have
> > done as well in a wider community, have done very well here simply because
the
> > the writing was good. But the game play may not actually have been very
> > satisfying. That is the point I prefer not to illustrate.
>
> As you said in your other post, the IF community has a tendency to be
> insular, even within itself, as we saw with the introduction of a
> foreign language game into the IF Comp earlier this year.
>
> The games are written for a small target audience, instead of making
> them playable and understandable to a wider public.

You are being self-contradictory here. The complain against the German
language game was that people *couldn't* play it. That it *wasn't*
understandable or playable by the majority of the possible players.

What do you want exactly? To have a game be playable or have it
not be so? Your example contradicts the very ideas of your post.

Aris Katsaris


Eytan Zweig

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Jul 6, 2002, 8:41:30 PM7/6/02
to

"Marco Thorek" <marco....@infocom-if.org> wrote in message
news:3D276B42...@infocom-if.org...
> X-No-Archive: yes
>
> Marnie Parker wrote:
> >
> > I'm going to add a few thoughts, then shut up. I tend to get "in
trouble" when
> > I post to r*if. I got extremely tired of the repeated trouble I got into
the
> > past, so I've posted less and less over the years as a way to avoid it.
This is
> > my first real attempt to say something serious in several years.
>
> Contrary points of view are not really appreciated around here.
>

I disagree!

Eytan


L. Ross Raszewski

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 8:15:24 PM7/6/02
to
On Sun, 07 Jul 2002 00:22:15 +0200, Marco Thorek
<marco....@infocom-if.org> wrote:
>X-No-Archive: yes

>
>Adam Cadre wrote:
>>
>> Marnie Parker wrote:
>> > The games you mention, are naturally, the cream of the crop.
>>
>> I think that was part of Dan's point. The situation is a bit
>> like this (and before anyone jumps on the numbers --they are purely
>> for illustrative purposes):
>>
>> 1980s: 4 commercial-quality games released per year; 0 lesser-quality
>> games released per year (since they wouldn't make it to stores
>> if Infocom etc. thought they really sucked)
>
>During the mid-80s twenty to thirty adventures were released per year:
>
>http://www.mobygames.com/browse/games/b,1986/c,2/?o=2a3

>
>> today: 10 commercial-quality games released per year; 200 lesser-
>> quality games released per year (since all you have to do is
>> upload to the archive and, hey, you're "published")
>
>If there are 10 commercial quality games per year now, why don't they
>appeal to anyone beyond the usual IF scene?

You're fishing. The claim implicit here is "Because we're insular and
gangenous and aren't attracting new players". But this is also false.

It's *because they don't have graphics*. We can make IF as "inviting"
to new players as we like, 99.9% of the gaming audience *doesn't give
a damn about text games*, and *won't*.

The only way we're going to make IF "friendly" to "as large an
audience as possible" is to get rid of that parser thing -- it's too
hard!! you have to *type*, then get rid of all that text -- You expect
me to *read* Booo-ring -- and put in some cutting edge 3d
graphics. Oh, and we'll have to add in some guns -- lots of guns --
and monsters to shoot.

Eric Mayer

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 9:01:32 PM7/6/02
to

I entirely agree with this. Let's face it, when the general public is
faced with easy and hard alternatives, the easy one always wins. And I'm
not really being derogatory. Given the hours a lot of people have to
work and the stress of life these days is it surprising people maybe
just want to *relax*.

Another example. I have done some recreational running and also
orienteering. In orienteering you have to run through the woods,
navigating with a map. I find it fascinating. More interesting than
just running a marked course along a road. But few runners will even
try orienteering and from what I've observed, what it boils down to, is
it is just too complicated as compared to just running.

Mind you, when I keep playing text games, most of which are too hard for
me to figure out, I sometimes wonder how bright of a choice that is.

Eric


Adam Cadre

unread,
Jul 6, 2002, 10:21:36 PM7/6/02
to
Marco Thorek wrote:
> During the mid-80s twenty to thirty adventures were released per year:
>
> http://www.mobygames.com/browse/games/b,1986/c,2/?o=2a3

(1) How many of these achieved significant recognition by the computer
gaming public at the time? I was way more in touch with the computer game
scene in 1986 than I am now, and I recognize fewer than 10 of these
titles. This is sort of a key point given that we're talking about
perception here.

(2) One title that I sure as heck do recognize is Starflight, it being
the granddaddy of the game I've been working on for the past three years.
It's a wonderful game -- but a text adventure it ain't. This is also
sort of a key point given that the initial post's focus on prose style
would tend to suggest that text adventures and not computer adventure
games in general were the topic of discussion here.

> If there are 10 commercial quality games per year now, why don't they
> appeal to anyone beyond the usual IF scene?

Release "Trinity" today and see if it attracts the sort of audience it
did in 1986.

Alternatively, put "Spider and Web" in a gray box and put it on store
shelves in 1986 and see if it doesn't outsell "Trinity".

Text IF succeeded commercially in the 1980s to the extent it did because
it had commercial distribution and promotion, because other types of
computer games were not significantly more impressive at first glance,
and because the demographics of the computer-using public were tilted
in favor of the literate. Today we have no distribution or promotion
other than what we stick on the web for free; computer graphics are no
longer so crude as to lose a side-by-side wow-contest with a paragraph;
and the demographics of the computer-using public are tilted in favor
of those who think the second-person pronoun in English is "u".

But we have better games.

MFischer5

unread,
Jul 7, 2002, 1:20:03 AM7/7/02
to
From: doea...@aol.com (Marnie Parker)

>The games you mention, are naturally, the cream of the crop. But frankly,
>most modern IF simply does not meet commericial standards -- something
>that would sell, because it is both playable and enjoyable by a wide audience.


Things playable and enjoyable by a wide audience often manage to do so by
catering to the norm (ie, looking like all that has gone before) or to the
lowest common denominator. Big game companies have to do that to sell lots of
games to all sorts of people. Since IF doesn't sell no matter what we do,
authors are free to try all sorts of things. Some are successes, many are not,
and what is successful often depends on who you talk to. <shrug> Is that really
a bad thing?

I write what I write because I enjoy writing it. I hope someone enjoys playing
it. If just 20 people enjoy it I have have cornered 10% of the entire voting
comp voting population of IF. I bet there are video games that have sold tens
of thousands of copies that can't claim 10% of the video gaming population.
Everything is relative.

If IF *was* commercialy viable, and authors knew that "big daddy" could at any
moment pluck their work from obscurity, shove it into a box, and fill BestBuy's
shelves with it, I bet the IF released here would become MUCH more playable and
enjoyable by a much wider audience, but would that really make the games
produced BETTER?

Kathleen - just my $.02 of course - and yes, I realize your comments were
focused on newbies and my response was not, but I personally choose to ignore
that :) Chess is hard, Hockey is hard, Crosswords are hard, heck READING can
be hard, depending on the author. There is nothing wrong with a learning curve,
so long as the curve is well documented and conventions are followed unless
there are reasons to deviate. I'd rather have hard than dull any day.

-- Prized Posession (Comp 2001):
http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/possess
-- Masquerade (Comp 2000):
http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Mask.z5
-- The Cove (Art Show 2000):
http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Cove.z5

Dennis G Jerz

unread,
Jul 7, 2002, 2:31:52 AM7/7/02
to
stev_...@actrix.gen.nz (SteveG) wrote in message news:<3d274cf3...@news.actrix.co.nz>...

> Yeah, the 'playing IF games' FAQ which I post to rgif was written as a
> response to technical questions such as "I've downloaded this '.z5'
> file, how do I open it?' (Such questions aren't very frequent these
> days so perhaps the FAQ is doing its job?? :-)
>
> Anyway, because of that history, I've never thought to highlight any
> direct pointers to tips on playing techniques. It's a good idea so
> I'll add some.
>
> Any suggestions?
>
> I know of pages at Stephen Granade, Dennis Jerz and Adam Cadre's web
> pages:
>
> http://www.brasslantern.org/beginners/
>
> http://www.uwec.edu/Academic/Curric/jerzdg/orr/articles/IF/online/help.html

You are welcome to use/modify/excerpt this page or the very similar
version that appears in Fine Tuned, if you think it will be useful. I
find that my students particularly appreciate Adam Cadre's list of
verbs... I generally leave it up on the screen at the front of the
room while they are playing IF for the first time.

Permit me to direct your attention to one of the appendixes from Roger
Firth's and Sonja Kesserich's Inform Beginner's Guide... I forget
which appendix it is, but it should be obvious which one I mean.
Roger has once again used his talent for getting a lot of information
into a small space, and the result is a nifty intro to IF that fits
neatly on a two-sided piece of paper. You can find the IBG here:

http://www.inform-fiction.org/manual/download_ibg.html

Dennis

Adam Cadre

unread,
Jul 7, 2002, 10:55:07 AM7/7/02
to
Marco Thorek wrote:
> Actually you said that 0 lesser quality games were published per year
> back then.

I did not. In fact, I explicitly told people not to jump on the numbers
because I was *making them up* to *illustrate a point*.

> Yep, Starflight doesn't belong there. But I think you understood my
> point.

And King's Quest 3? How many on that list do you know to be text games?

> Right now we are discussing why the IF scene is so, to use the term
> again, insular and I think Marnie has quite a couple of good arguments
> there.

I was responding to the assertion that "most modern IF simply does not
meet commercial standards." The essence of my reply was that this may
be true, but that if the best modern IF is better than the best
commercial IF (and it is), then it doesn't matter that the worst modern
IF is worse than the worst commercial IF. Topics from elsewhere in the
thread should be addressed elsewhere in the thread, not in response to
me; I'm only addressing a couple of specific points.

> Sure, there is no marketing machine to promote these games, but other
> ways of getting publicity can be found. Editors of gaming mags and sites
> could be contacted to run an article, software publishers could be asked
> to include an IF compilation as freebie with their next release.

Yeah, maybe, but the idea of spending time on this kind of promotion
appeals to me not in the least. I'm a writer, not an agent.

> I do find it a little offensive if you say, "the demographics of the


> computer-using public were tilted in favor of the literate"

Why?

L. Ross Raszewski

unread,
Jul 7, 2002, 11:27:22 AM7/7/02
to
On Sun, 07 Jul 2002 13:33:06 +0200, Marco Thorek

<marco....@infocom-if.org> wrote:
>X-No-Archive: yes
>
>Adam Cadre wrote:
>>
>> (1) How many of these achieved significant recognition by the computer
>> gaming public at the time? I was way more in touch with the computer game
>> scene in 1986 than I am now, and I recognize fewer than 10 of these
>> titles. This is sort of a key point given that we're talking about
>> perception here.
>
>Actually you said that 0 lesser quality games were published per year
>back then.
>

Yes, right after he said "I'm making these numbers up"


>> (2) One title that I sure as heck do recognize is Starflight, it being
>> the granddaddy of the game I've been working on for the past three years.
>

>Yep, Starflight doesn't belong there. But I think you understood my
>point.

How many other games on that list aren't IF?

>> > If there are 10 commercial quality games per year now, why don't they
>> > appeal to anyone beyond the usual IF scene?
>>
>> Release "Trinity" today and see if it attracts the sort of audience it
>> did in 1986.
>

>That would indeed be an interesting experiment. Take a text adventure,
>give it the marketing budget of Max Payne and see what happens. How many
>people would discover that there actually are text adventures?
>

A fair number. But they still wouldn't play it.


>> Alternatively, put "Spider and Web" in a gray box and put it on store
>> shelves in 1986 and see if it doesn't outsell "Trinity".
>

>Perhaps it would, if it went through the same quality assurance as
>Trinity.
>

Almost certainly.
Wait, huh?
No one would know aboutthe level of QA that went into producing S&W
(And I find it *very* offensive that you suggest, as you do, that
th'one is less assured in its quality than th'other)

I think what Adam's getting at here is that *the computer owning
market is a lot bigger now*. In fact, I'm wonderign whether or not
there are *more* IF players now than back in the commercial era -- if,
say (and I'm making these numbers up), 99% of computer owners in 1982
played IF, whereas 1% of computer owners now play IF, but in 1982
there were 1000 personal computers, and now there's 1000000, then
that's *still more people*.

>
>Sure, there is no marketing machine to promote these games, but other
>ways of getting publicity can be found. Editors of gaming mags and sites
>could be contacted to run an article, software publishers could be asked
>to include an IF compilation as freebie with their next release.

You miss the point. One major reason commercial IF succeeded was that
*it was not signifigantly behind the state-of-the-art*

>
>I do find it a little offensive if you say, "the demographics of the
>computer-using public were tilted in favor of the literate" and I think
>it very well illustrates the stance this community takes at the rest of
>the world.

I don't understand why you'd find a fairly simple fact like that
offensive. There's no value judgmenet there, it's just a True
Statement About The Way Reality Was. In the mid eighties, if you owned
a computer, you were almost without exception relatively wealthy,
college educated, and, if you prefer a word with the other kind of
emotional slant, a nerd.

If you own a computer today, you're *almost anyone*, and it is a
further fact that, when considering the population as a whole, the
interests which make IF enjoyable -- reading, solving logic puzzles,
that sort of thing -- just aren't things that people consider fun.

Eytan Zweig