Buttons in Games

Not just that (about scope of a room and how you don’t have to move explicitly to interact with things), but there’s a fact: if I ever made a game in which you have to type WALK AROUND THRONE to solve a puzzle, earth would open and I would be engulfed in the flames of a flaming audience. Amirite?

In IF history, all thrones have been there, fully examinable from all sides at once, and in the rare occasions in which you had to LOOK UNDER them you made people angry.

(I remember one of the first “puzzles” in my very first game was related to having to examine walls in a room that only had walls, and people complained a lot about it :slight_smile: )

Oddly enough, you have to look under a throne in a game I’m making at the moment, but it’s a choice-based game and the choice is just there.


One thing that I am quite sure would be a welcome addition to parsers: a clickable directional arrows button instead of NESW, with available directions clickable and unavailable directions greyed out (or something like that). If I ever learn to do anything fancy to my games, that will be the first thing. I’ve heard a lot of carping about navigation and many people, even parser lovers, hate it and are bad at it. There was a recent thread about the stunning number of people with E/W issues.

Getting rid of that and making navigation clickable would be a step toward meeting modern players in the middle.


In the spirit of analogies one may consider silent films:

  • Both text adventures and silent films were early industries using a new technology, and only existed in a major way for a brief time

  • They both had high production and profitable releases, before being almost entirely taken over by other media

  • Proponents of silent films and text adventures often point out qualities they feel have been lost in later movies/games

In contrast:

  • Many text adventures are still being made and consumed, whereas there are far fewer silent films, although there is a kind of category of silent animated films still being made

  • Silent films had visuals and music and were overtaken by media with dialogue; text adventures have dialogue but were overtaken by media with visuals and music

I’m not sure if there are any useful (or optimistic) lessons that can be taken from this analogy, historical, sociological, financial, artistic, or otherwise.


Check out Strand Games’ remakes of the classic Magnetic Scrolls games


I only checked out the some sample Gruescript games and it’s definitely on the right path, but ultimately, you compile to HTML almost as an afterthought. I have to go back to my earlier comment about embracing HTML/JS/CSS first. Presentation is everything. If you want to entice people who like to make things look pretty and go beyond “just text” (arguably, the kind of people that will make games that get noticed), you need to offer that kind of stuff in the heart of the engine itself (or allow access to JS natively). I think that’s why I’m attracted to Twine games as a concept so much. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, just embraced that it’s a web page from the get go and tried to stay out of the way as much as possible in that regard.

The most useful discussions I’ve found on the matter are actually on the Thimbleweed Park forums for classic point-and-click adventure interface design. Those guys had a couple of very deep conversations. I loved how one fellow just kept challenging people with his stubbornness to question the most basic fundamentals of verb + noun commands. It was a good debate and brought to light quite a few important concepts.

I gotta warn people though, if you’re not fascinated by this sort of stuff, it’ll put you to sleep. Don’t operate heavy machinery while reading those links. :wink:

I’ve started working on my own UI design for a “parserless parser” and even though I don’t use my phone for anything other than talking and Spotify, I’m focusing on mobile first. That means it will be a slightly weaker desktop experience, but a serviceable mobile one… I hope. :slight_smile:

In my project, I’ve thought about this situation as both a strength and annoyance in traditional parsers. In my project planning, I decided that looking at things will reveal more text about that object, then upon reading the description, the game might present something along the lines of “The throne is made of heavy oak. Under the cushion, you notice something metallic sticking out.” (Edit: Pretty much what JJ suggested.)

Now, the player can look under the cushion or deal with the metallic object. If the player leaves the room and comes back, they will have to re-examine the throne to reveal the cushion as something to interact with (I’m not a fan of listing all actionable nouns in the scene, that could be a lot of text). Now this isn’t something new to IF, a lot of Twine games offer this sort of “revealing prose”, but few do so with a verb interface. VIBAE is the closest I’ve seen to what I want to accomplish, but even then… it’s not close enough to the parser experience I want to achieve.

Check out the movie 3-Iron. It’s one of the few that embrace silence without being artsy.


Not for me, because this sort of analogy leans into that tired old argument “why would you read a book when you can watch the movie?” The answer is that very few movies based on books are better than the books they’re based on. It presupposes that a game that has graphics and sound is automatically better than a game that just has words, and this simply isn’t true. Would a graphical version of Counterfeit Monkey be better than the original? Would it even work? Text games are not “lesser than” graphical games, they’re just different.


(takes notes for their WIP engine)


Maybe not better, but certainly easier to consume.

I’m reminded of the scene in Pirates of Silicon Valley:
Steve Jobs:
We’re better than you are! We have better stuff.

Bill Gates:
You don’t get it, Steve. That doesn’t matter!

A book can be far better and still be easily overshadowed by a movie. There are simply more people willing to watch a movie than read a book. It’s easier and requires less commitment, both in time and effort.

But they do have the same disadvantage print has versus movies: Ease of consumption.


That’s very true. That’s why I keep emphasizing UI/UX and convenience.

Speaking of which, what do you guys think of the new HHGTTG UI as I posted above (Post#60)? It seems to me that it answers most people concern about parser games:

  1. Compass Rose
  2. Illustrated rooms
  3. Ever present inventory (in icons)
  4. Status screen (scores and stuff)
  5. On-screen keyboard.

What’s not to like? It’ll fit many parser games, and if someone can just build a standard template for it for Inform, that’d be great, IMO.


Off the top of my head the animated films I’m thinking of are Fantasia, The King and the Mockingbird, Fantastic Planet, WALL-E, Mad God, Bill Plympton. I can’t quite recall if they are all free of dialog, but there are many others.


I mostly mean lessons on being a successful silent film maker (and how that might transfer to making text adventures), not on giving up and making a different type of media. Nowhere did I even insinuate that movies are better than books so I’m not sure where you are getting this from. I can say with more certainty that there would have been useful lessons to be had by say an investor or developer in the waning days of commercial interactive fiction who saw which way the wind was blowing.


Nice idea, already implemented in the Legend and late Magnetic Scrolls interface; Personally I’m always looking at the underused (in IF) numeric keypad here…
1-4 and 6-9 for the cardinal and ordinal directions, - and + for up and down then / and * for in and out, 5 for look, ideas for 0 and . ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


0 and . could be ana and kata? (Joke)

More seriously: Those could remain free, and certain rooms could assign them extra directions as needed.


I think that sounds like learning a new system that’s more complicated than NEWS. If we want to keep everything typed, how about just arrow keys for cardinal directions, U/D… and I don’t know what to do about ordinals. Kicking that can down the road. Ordinals make life harder than they generally need to be in games.

My idea is more to meet players with what they’re used to, which is clicking an arrow to go left or right, forward or back. Completely eliminate NEWS and you’ve eliminated something that a lot of people hate, that breaks mimesis, and that requires a chunk of text in every room dedicated to describing directions. Also, you’re giving people a very simple graphic that could be very attractively designed. We don’t need to turn parser games into graphical games, but my hypothesis is that some very simple effects could go a long way.

Granted, this is a very incomplete idea and I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking through the details, but I think it’s worth an experiment, if I knew how to do any of that. Anyone else here is welcome to take the idea and run with it.


It’s a cool idea! (And don’t forget the F1-12 buttons…)


If you stop telling people where the exits are, then you have to have an automap that always shows the exits, and where the player is in relation to all the other rooms they’ve been in. Otherwise they will just be floating in a sea of isolated room descriptions. Also, how are we able to indicate something like “There’s a castle to the… (direction redacted)” if we won’t say the names of directions? NEWS has stayed because nobody has worked out anything better, but also, it’s quite decent.

Look at this video of Borrowed Time (1985 - almost 40 years, good grief). It’s got pretty much everything you @AmandaB have been talking about, and graphics to boot. And the cursor is even a smiley face. It has no automap, and sometimes it doesn’t describe the exits but (a) there’s not a lot of room for prose in that window and (b) often it’s linear and action-based. e.g. You leap to a window, then to a street.

The game was exciting at the time for all its tech, and was clearly driven in that mission by “What affordances are possible now”, but in the end it didn’t make playing a parser game inherently easier. There was a solid period of games coming out with this kind of presentation.

PS - I haven’t watched the whole walkthrough, but it looks like this player types everything!



0 is usually the biggest number key on numeric keypads, it has to be for XYZZY, obviously. . can be for LICK ALL to protect @rovarsson against RSI.


That “Borrowed Time” game looks quite good. For the time especially. I wonder what happened to them. Looks like they were still selling the same game but with better 16 bit graphics up to 1990. Maybe they couldn’t follow it up with a more evolved system.


Better UI doesn’t hurt, but can only go so far when the primary medium is still text. After all, these things aren’t new: Beyond Zork had a clickable map for navigation, while Zork Zero had a clickable compass rose. The end user effort required will always be higher for text.

As an analogy, consider Marvel: No matter what niceties you might theoretically add to their comic books, Marvel movies (even the bad ones) will still pull in orders of magnitude more people.

It doesn’t mean that text can’t be better than video, or provide unique experiences video can’t, but it does pretty much always mean fewer people will be willing to experience it.