An Open-Source Tutorial for all Parser Authors?

Since a discussion was started at the end of this thread about tutorials for new players, I’m thinking about trying to design a short, effective parser tutorial and making it freely available. Someone could code it in each language and then authors could stick it as an extension in their games, modify it to their needs, and ask if new players want to play a parser tutorial before starting the game.

I’ve made an extensive tutorial (for The Lonely Troll), and it’s really hard. For instance, let’s say you tell the player to examine the platinum box, and they don’t do it. Instead, their eye is caught by the ruby statue and they start futzing with that. Do you nanny them, saying “Not yet-- let’s examine the platinum box first”? There’s a rough order to learning commands: X KEY, GET KEY, UNLOCK BOX WITH KEY, but how strictly should one keep the player on those rails, and how do you know when to give the next tutorial section if the player is going to zing off on their own (which they will)? Do you attach tutorial text to actions? To number of moves?

One of the pleasures of parser IF is the freedom of exploration it allows. Tutorials almost necessarily will dampen that, and if you have a brand-new player, the tutorial needs to be really well-designed and enjoyable to make them want to continue on and play the game.

So what are everyone’s thoughts on designing a standard-issue tutorial mini game for public use?

Edit: If a mod wants to split those posts into this topic, go for it. @HanonO


No. Not nanny. You go all Gunnery Sergeant Hartman on them and then drop them in the middle of @bjbest60’s The Magic Word without warning.


I prefer to have the tutorial adapt. Have it always recommend an appropriate action that they haven’t already tried.


So I come from the visual game medium, and this is something that I was talking about with both one of my friends (who does game testing) and my partners (who more or less study game design).

(Also sorry that this is so long. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Also sorry if this sounds like a child trying to explain solutions to tax law.)

Visual Game Implementations

In visual games, tutorials are a bit of a touchy subject. The ideal is to set up a game that naturally grows from nothing to the full suite of game mechanics. The only downside is this approach can often make the entire game feel like one giant tutorial. Some people might not consider this to be a downside, though.

Some games just gives you occasional pop ups, which (theoretically) are unobtrusive for experienced players, but in practice are ineffective for new players and annoying for experienced players.

Other games have a dedicated tutorial mode, which lets experienced players jump straight into the full game, and let new players learn and practice. Arma 3, for example, also divides its tutorial into multiple individual missions, which allows a player to review skills they might be rusty on. The downside of this method, though, is you inevitably get players who refuse to play tutorials on principle, and expect all games to cater to their current skillset and knowledgebase. However, if we have the “let skaters skate” policy, then we should not set up the game to force players to go through a tutorial. If the player chooses to jump in and willfully skip the tutorial, then the experience they get is what they asked for. Not all games should be required to copy all the other games they have played, and games should be allowed to stretch beyond a constant state of tutorial.

Parser Implementations

So, if it isn’t clear from my (biased) tone, I prefer having a tutorial mode.

I feel like (in my opinion) the IF parser medium tends to amplify the factors of these methods. Everything is conveyed through text, which means simple graphical menus can become a lot more time-costly and verbose, when they must be conveyed through a text parser. (I’m assuming games which only use text, here, as I imagine screen-reader players would like tutorials as well.)

I imagine quite a lot of (puzzler) IF is a slowly-expanding tutorial, by nature of puzzle game design often arriving at this structure. However, I think the actual subject here is that the basics of parser IF is what needs a tutorial, so I’ll admit that this is not accurate to say these games are truly a “full” tutorial.

We also have seen games that have in-game popups, but these have to be reduced down to their smallest forms, as to not fill portions of the screen. The systems also need to be very intelligently-designed, as to not fall behind the boundless curiosity and power of the player. I feel like The Dreamhold does this rather well, as it uses a combination of map design and strategic popups to be as effective and unobtrusive as possible.

We also have seen games which have menu systems to learn the mechanics, before the player applies them in the full game. I think Kerkerkruip does this? I have a rather long to-play list, and this game is on it, and SpringThing has taken over my life for the past couple of months.

A Possible Solution From Conversation

So after talking about this with my tester friend and partners, we came to a conclusion. It might be admittedly-naïve (as we largely studied visual game design and theory), but is something I would like to put to the test. I’d happily volunteer as a guinea pig, at least.

IF has a history of feelies, and this medium is unique in that we come to these games to read, in some capacity. In the visual game space, “reading” is almost a derogatory word, and so a lot of visual game design theory tries to avoid it, whenever possible. This is something I’ve had to seriously unlearn while entering the IF space. However, I think we can leverage this for tutorials.

How would a stylized feelie handbook be received? It would be structured for fast reference and learn-as-necessary skimming and reading. It could be written in a way to be match the style of the game world, or try to approach it as close as possible. An example in visual games would be the Drone Operator’s Manual from Duskers, or literally any of the feelies from Zachtronics games.

In addition to such a document, the game could also offer a “mode select menu”, where the player could choose a practice version of the game (either toned-down or separate from the rest of the game), where they can try out what they learned in the document. Once they feel like they understand, they can play the primary game mode. The main goal of a “practice space” is to give some players the option to jump into the game world once they’re certain they can smoothly operate in it. If you are skilled in the usual mechanics and tropes of IF, you tend to enter new games with this level of confidence by default. Brand-new players might want a way to get to this point first.

If a player feels like they need help, the document is set up to be a reference. IF is turn-based anyway, so a player has time to look at quick notes. If the document is stylized to fit the game world then it won’t really break immersion too much (hopefully).

I’m not asserting any of this as fact, of course, because I still have a lot to learn in the IF sphere. However, this subject has been plaguing me a lot lately, so it’s kinda funny to see this thread appear when it did.


I’m gonna jump in as devil’s advocate on this one.

Games that have a new puzzle-solving mechanic should include a sort of training level where the player acquaints herself with the spells or the recipes or… The Fair in the beginning of Counterfeit Monkey is a prime example.

Providing a tutorial for basic commands found in the IF postcard is a waste of time. People who won’t push through that first stage of parser-awkwardness are not likely to enjoy parser games, especially not more complicated ones. I have a strong feeling that the majority of those who even start up a parser game are already in that small subset of people willing to do just that: push through a stage of parser wrestling to find out what it does and doesn’t accept.

I certainly don’t believe that widespread tutorials are going to open the gates to parser IF for the masses who are now playing graphic games.

That said, I do think that a free-standing tutorial module that can be added to any parser game would be a good idea, if only for the few people who want/need/enjoy it. Authors would definitely benefit from it, as it could become an interactive version of the IF postcard that could just be slotted in with every game without further effort and loss of development time.

So, if authors want to include a tutorial, by all means, do so. If a ready-to-add tutorial module would be available to save those authors sweat,blood and tears, all the better.
I’m just very pessimistic about tutorials somehow broadening the appeal of parser IF.

(That was quite mild, for an advocate of the Devil, no?)


To be fair, I’ve been telling my friends about SpringThing, and most of them didn’t even know that parser games existed, and all them are looking for at least a brief written guide of the expected commands, and are fine stumbling through the rest.

I think it’s easy to think of it as just “parser awkwardness”, but I think a lot of players have forgotten the slow addition of trends, changes, and meta, which form the modern understanding of experienced players.

If you have no idea about any of this community-known information, the possibilities of the parser are a vast unknown. Teaching yourself what works and what doesn’t is a minor scientific endeavor, and you’ll still miss things that the rest of us take for granted as “common expectation”.

For instance, the apparently-strong feelings around the SEARCH command would be completely unknown to new players, and that would help inform what to expect in various games.

Additionally, I didn’t know until last month that I could use OPEN CABINET, followed by CLOSE IT, and expect the parser to know that “it” meant “the cabinet”.

I didn’t know until a few months ago that TAKE ALL was even a command. And I’ve been poking at parser games for many years, but disconnected from any kind of community.


UPDATE: My partner would like to add that some larger studios are starting to do this, apparently to the appreciation of their audiences. Certain games offer a categorized how-to-play reference in the pause menu.

(I imagine their audiences are growing into adulthood, and the player base appreciates a reference guide to refresh themselves on certain mechanics each weekend.)

I admittedly don’t keep up with recent trends as much as my partners do, so I thought this was something unique to the indie scene.


In a tutorial like this I wouldn’t have the ruby statue in play, just the box. I just have the bare minimum of objects available for the action I’m trying to teach at the time, and then other objects can magically appear and disappear as necessary.

I think it’s also important to let the player quit out of the tutorial at any point, so that if they’re feeling like URGH YES I GET IT ALREADY they can just hit a button and get on with the proper game.

I quite like designing tutorials, and I think it’s important that there are games with tutorials available (big fan of TALP!) for the players who do need them - and also that those players know where to find them. Some games aren’t necessarily tutorial-appropriate, though, so I don’t think they should be expected in every game.


Sorry, I keep thinking of new stuff around this topic. I find tutorials fascinating.

This is similar to how modern FPS games like Deep Rock Galactic still tell you to move with W A S and D, despite visual FPS games being so incredibly widespread. These developers are realizing that new gamers are being born ever year, and that their game might be the first one these brand-new players pick up. Additionally, some older people might start getting into games, and would like a way to catch up to the communal knowledge that frequent FPS gamers take for granted.


Many Adventuron games, particularly those for some of the competitions aimed at newcomers, include some nice tutorials.


I don’t either! But I’ve recently had several reviews that have mentioned how much the player appreciated the “New player” info I gave, and several that were indeed new to parser IF. Everybody who is going to play one starts somewhere (however few people that is), and it would be nice to have a short tutorial available for games in which that’s appropriate, if the author wishes. It could also be modified-- if the author wants people to LOOK UNDER things they can add that, or if it’s a one-room game where directions aren’t important, remove that.

I just think it would be a nice thing to have available for people who want it. I want it, so I’ll collect opinions, design it, and share it.


Maybe (a few) more than you think. After dropping out of college, the response to parser games went from “Oh, that old thing?” to “Oh! What’s that? I’ve never heard of that before! Omg that’s so cool! Where do I find more??”

Yes, the games industry and popular culture relegated parsers to “extinct”, but while I don’t think parsers will rise above “niche”, I am getting the feeling that the audience is as small as it is because nobody talks about it outside the community, and there aren’t really a lot of pathways into this medium.

My dad, for example, had difficulty getting into parsers in college (I suspect his friends didn’t really make an effort to include him), so it wasn’t something he ever talked about. I found them on accident when teaching myself BASIC. I recently talked to my sister about SpringThing and the authors who are signed up, and I learned that she had never heard of parser games (or even choice-based games!), despite being born around the same time as them. When I explained what they were, she seemed really excited, and wanted to learn more, so I showed her the Parchment terp and some games to try.

So I do agree that it’s probably “few people” (comparatively), but maybe not quite as few as I think we have all assumed, up to this point. A lot of time has passed since Infocom. I’m not saying the playerbase would see a 20x growth or anything, but I really do think a lot of people are out there who would love parsers, and simply never heard of them before, and there might even be those who know about them, but don’t know how to start playing.

Honestly, I probably just posted a more verbose version of this, but idk how else to say that I really really really agree with you!


If this is true, then push comps! IFComp and Spring Thing are intended to be outward-facing, or as outward-facing as we’ve figured out how to be.

(This is turning into a different thread, but:) Where should we talk about these events that we aren’t already?


My first thought is… how would this be different than the feelie that already exists for this purpose and that a bunch of people bundle with their parser games?

I’m not making value judgements about whether this is good or bad or could be better, just as a reference point…


I didn’t know this existed! Now I know what to send my sister (and other friends who learned about parsers this month lol) :grin:


This is what I was trying to get at in the other thread - not that tutorials aren’t worthwhile, because as Amanda’s experience shows they certainly can be, but that the outreach/evangelization side of things IMO is as big or bigger of a deal. Mainstream video game sites used to cover IF Comp and Emily Short had a Rock Paper Shotgun column - would be nice to figure out how to get some of that kind of attention again!


I have never minded a derail in any of my threads and I don’t mind this one now, because it’s a very, very VERY important question.

Frankly, I think we ought to pool money and pay for ads pimping IF/comps on major platforms.


There’s at least one slightly bigger guide, too, but I was posting while I was in the middle of putting supper on the table and didn’t stop to go find it. Looks like IFComp lists several things, under “Short Guides (for new parser jockeys).”

Or, if you like bearded white dudes being goofy about one of their passions, Bogus Meat Factory did a longer video of text adventure tips recently.


Speaking as the IFTF Treasurer, we have about $11000 in the bank that we literally don’t know what to do with.

Okay, we’re actively working on finding ways to put that money to work: see this early announcement. But marketing for our events is an absolutely legitimate suggestion.

Does anybody here have experience with web marketing for indie games events? What platforms are major platforms? Are we talking Facebook/Google/Twitter or targeted to game journalism sites? Please come talk to us!


The long-form option gave me a 404 :slightly_frowning_face:

Did anyone happen to archive it elsewhere?