An Open-Source Tutorial for all Parser Authors?

I just wanted to mention that there is an extension for Inform 7 by Emily Short which implements a tutorial mode (it’s not a separate tutorial room, but rather follows the method of integrating it into the first few moves of the respective story): extensions/Emily Short/Tutorial Mode-v5.i7x at 10.1 · i7/extensions · GitHub

Not trying to curb any new ideas, just wanted to make sure that effort is not duplicated unnecessarily, if someone decides to do a similar approach.

Here’s a success story of @tomasb implementing a tutorial mode in TADS: Tutorial mode for TADS 3? - #3 by tomasb

Around 35 messages carefully arranged through the prologue guided the player from the first message explaining something like “you can examine any object mentioned in a room description, try typing EXAMINE T-SHIRT now” through explaining basic actions when player examined different objects (how you can open a box, wear clothes, navigate through rooms, etc., how you can communicate with NPC (in several steps) […].

My game was a special challenge in a puzzle hunt game for children aged approx. 11-14 years old and in the end it was successfully finished by more than fifty teams of (up to) five members who previously not even heard about the existence of text adventure games.

Ryan Veeder’s tutorial game could be helpful: So, You've Never Played a Text Adventure Before, Huh?

For people with a lot of time, here’s a long previous thread on the topic: Can we make a better parser tutorial?

The main rules of thumb that would have to be conveyed in a tutorial:

  • it’s not a conversation with the parser, and there’s no AI or chatbot behind this (so, don’t input: “where am I” or “describe the room, please”)

  • some important one-word commands are L(OOK), I(NVENTORY), and the movement commands (N(ORTH), …, U(P), D(OWN))

  • many actions will be expressed as simple two-word commands consisting of a verb and a noun: EXAMINE DESK, OPEN DRAWER

  • sometimes you’ll need commands with a second noun, try to express these as simple as possible: UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY, CUT BREAD WITH KNIFE, PUT COIN IN SLOT

  • more complex input than that will usually not be necessary

  • generally, try to refer only to things that are mentioned in the text


EDIT: Sorry, forgot the IFTF link when I first posted.

Well, if we have a look at the IFTF’s Accessibility Testing Report (2019) (i.e. testing the accessibility of the medium of IF) which draws heavily on the Accessible Player Experiences (APX) project by AbleGamers from 2018, we find that it actually advocates the creation / use of the kind of standalone tutorial you’re talking about.

Search the word ‘tutorial’ on the report’s non-secure webpage (tsk tsk!.. thought it’s just that page, not the whole site) you’ll find the section “Parser IF should offer a separate “training ground” for new players”

You’re probably aware of Emily Short’s general purpose tutorial extension for Inform. I think its general-purposeishness is why it hasn’t taken off in its own right, though it’s a great demo of ways to program a tutorial. You and anyone else who’s painstakingly rolled their own tutorial has realised that a tutorial has to be specific and sensitive to its host game in order to feel good and work.

I think if you did a good job in the thankless task of creating a good tutorial, you would be thanked. My brain sort of screams at the idea. If I personally can’t stand non-TALK communication in parser games, would I advocate teaching it in a tutorial? It feels like I’d have to. And TALK as well? Such thorny questions already make me lose interest in me approaching that task.

I don’t know if you tried my Andromeda Acolytes demo but it has a tutorial which is both basic mechanics, and that is probably trying to outline more of the contract the player has with the parser in the context of my game.

That’s kind of subtle, and probably overlaps the site of Rovarsson’s ‘devil’s advocate’ type stuff. If a traditional problem with the parser is people expecting it to understand anything typed in any format (will expectations set by chatGPT sink parser games? new horrible tangent…) do you have to just let people have at it and work this out eventually? My tute’s in a half’n’half place where I think it’s giving above average guidance on that front but not writing out an essay about it.



In second-language teaching there’s the idea of writing books with “sheltered” vocabulary but unsheltered grammar. A book might use only a few hundred words of vocab, but there wouldn’t be any attempt to limit the grammar. You could compare to a gated tutorial area with freedom of action, but with content limited in a way that guides the player.


Some good ideas there. I was also thinking of targeting primary schools as kids often want to play games instead of reading. Playing IF is a good way to learn reading and thinking about parser commands may extend their vocabulary. I think that Chris Ainsley ( @adventuron ) did something like that at some point though I don’t quite remember.


I’d also like to mention Aaron Reeds’ Smarter Parser extension for I7, which focuses more on explaining how to phrase a command in a way that the game is likely to understand. (E.g. telling the player to skip “please” or “I want to”.)


What’s the point? Do you want more players or more writers?

If you want more players, you want to be specific in only targeting those who don’t mind typing. That would be writers forums.

If you want more writers, then you need to have creators mindset. Target schools, preferably grade schools. Start with either ScottKit or Adventuron, then graduate to Inform/TADS.

My 2 cents.


If we get more dedicated players I think a portion of them would want to make their own game. You don’t have to be a great writer to make a good game. Those who love to write will probably make very verbose games whereas those who primarily like the game element will focus on puzzles and other mechanics.

In all this I am thinking parser because I am pretty sure that choice based games are going to survive long term. I am less sure about parser games though as long as choice games and parser games have common comps and forums a percentage of choice gamers will give parser games a chance and see that they can be great once you get the hang of it. But it is my impression that the majority of parser players played parser games in either the 80s or 90s.


FYI, I made an Inform extension inspired by the play IF card. It shows common commands on the side of the screen for reference. You can see what it looks like in this game (if you are playing on a screen wide enough–I don’t think the sidebar will show up on mobile).


Oh, this sidebar’s really cool! Reminds me of the last Balderstone, which had a layout I really liked.

I don’t really know how the “most verbs do not work” and “do not be discouraged” would be received by somebody who’s playing it as their first parser game, but I do like that it admits that things often will not work, which parser games generally don’t, but that seems important to point out.

e: relevant to tutorials, I honestly think a built-in cheat sheet with examples would probably be more helpful in most cases, especially because it’s a lot easier for authors and doesn’t impact pacing and everything.


What events do y’all run? There’s the IFComp awards stream and NarraScope, but I’m not aware of any others.


IFComp is an event. We have wanted more voters for it for years.

Spring Thing, ParserComp, IntroComp etc are not IFTF-run events but it would serve our mission to draw more public attention to them.


@fos1 and I would be very happy to put your spare $11,000 to good use - just pop the cheque in the post and we’ll do the rest.

I believe that Adventuron was originally conceived as a coding course aimed at school children (hence the ‘classroom’ branding), but failed as schools weren’t convinced of the value of teaching pupils to make games that felt and played like they were from the 1980s! The aesthetics were all wrong, but the idea is sound and I’ve seen others report some success in teaching e.g. Inform to kids in the classroom.

Effective marketing feels like the obvious way to get more players interested in the medium, but it seems like a dark art about which I know little. Are there any marketing professionals involved in this community? Perhaps marketing professionals are just not the sort of people that are interested in IF, which would provide a nice circular explanation of the genre’s low (practically subliminal) profile. I’m toying with the idea of trying to get some UK press interest, off the back of ParserComp. Most wouldn’t be interested but some of the more culturally inquisitive might think it quirky and retro enough to give it a mention; The Guardian newspaper has taken an occasional interest, but not for several years:

Perhaps it’s time to remind them that we’re all still here!


That would be great. However, it is understandable if a big newspaper is sceptical about this as a comp like ParserComp “only” had 308 ratings for 18 games corresponding to 17 votes per game. Perhaps distribute the effort evenly on retro stuff (e.g. most of ParserComp) and new stuff (e.g. most of IF Comp). EDIT: In contrast the IFComp winner got 85 votes.


That’s true, but I’m not sure my hypothetical whimsical journalist with column inches to fill would really care about such granularities, beyond mild amusement and curiosity that people are still tinkering with this stuff in their back rooms and garden sheds.


Writing an in-game tutorial is very hard to do. I wrote two games with tutorials in PunyInform. They use the same framework. @fredrik suggested that I write an extension, but I couldn’t see how to do that in a generic way.

I’m glad to see that there is still interest in tutorials. Watch out for an announcement for Text Adventure Literacy Jam 2023 very soon.


Colossal Cave - Modern “graphic” version.

Within the last six months, a graphic version of Colossal Cave was released by Ken and Roberta Williams. I was release on most modern consoles. The game was somewhat promoted in the main stream due to its nostalgic status.

The only sales statistic I could find was on Steam. They aren’t very good. I wonder how the sales for other platforms faired?

Quick stats as of today - 3/26/2023

5 active players (71 min ago)
6 active players (24h peak)
90.7% positive reviews
$45,458 gross revenue
1,620 units sold

That is not a large sales volume. It must have taken quite a bit of development for the graphic version vs. the text version?


Yeah, Ken Williams did a followup interview whose overall tone was “Yeah, that didn’t sell very well. Oh well.”


I’m sure that with Colossal Cave being freely available for years in numerous different versions probably didn’t help its sales on Steam.


I’m sure that makes no difference to the sales of the graphical version, honestly. To a rough approximation, zero percent of Steam users have played the text version.

(And I, a Steam user who has played the text version, bought the graphical version immediately just to see what it was like.)


About the original question of this thread: I think it’s a good idea. And it would be changeable because the source is available.

I think the advantage would be that new IF players would be able to choose from a pool of games with this built-in tutorial for their first IF-steps :slight_smile:


I have precisely none of the relevant experience requested here, but I do oversee a comms department and have hired comms consultants so what the hey, I’ll weigh in, on the perhaps-dubious assumptions that the world I know (nonprofit political and policy advocacy) isn’t too too radically different.

First, my sense from these questions, and the fact that a marketing effort would be starting from scratch AFAIK, is that it might be a good idea to try to use some of that money in the bank to hire someone to work with IFTF on an outreach strategy. My experience working with communications consultants is that they can actually do a lot to help an organization build its capacity in this area – identify key audiences, figure out which channels speak to those audiences, build a media/outreach list, and train staff and volunteers to implement the strategy.

The caveat is that $11k is probably not much money to do something like this. But 1) many comms firms have nonprofit rates, and it might be possible to negotiate a reduced price from someone who thinks the work is cool or important; 2) doing a bunch of outreach without a strategy and understanding of the landscape is probably not going to be an especially effective use of funds; and 3) hiring a consultant to actually run an outreach campaign is generally quite expensive, so making an investment to help IFTF itself do the outreach is probably the best way to leverage your resources.

(Actually, does IFTF do any grantseeking? While again my experience is not at all in the same field, I’ve worked with a lot of foundations and written a lot of grants, and naively, “our one-of-a-kind nonprofit, which has sustained itself through individual donations and sponsorships for the past seven years, seeks a one-time $30k grant to permanently improve our communications and outreach capacity” seems like a compelling pitch to a variety of arts and tech focused foundations).

(On a similar note, “our one of a kind etc. seeks a one-time $30k grant to permanently improve our fund development and grantseeking efforts” also seems like a compelling pitch to me. Of course you need some knowledge and expertise to even write that grant in the first place, which is a bit of a chicken and egg issue… I do have a reasonable amount of development experience and my wife is an actual development professional – though again, both of us in primarily in the advocacy world – so glad to help out with whatever skills or knowledge I’ve got if that seems at all useful!)