Choice-based IF vs Parser IF

Here’s some more broad/vague questions to think about between the two versions of IF and how they compare/contrast:

  1. What do you think differentiates the two from one another?

  2. What works really well for one and not the other?

  3. What version would/should you consider using, as a designer, when thinking about your next game?

  4. Which do you prefer, both as a player and as a designer?

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  1. I feel that the major difference between the two is that in parser games, your available options are hidden, requiring you to use memory or intuition to come up with the correct answer.

  2. I feel like puzzles work better in parser games; very hard puzzles definitely exist in choice-based games, but almost universally choice-based puzzles could be done as good or better in a parser (one exception is Choice of Games style challenges where you have to build stats to overcome challenges).

I feel like Twine is much better at conveying emotions and managing pace. Parsers ‘locally non-linear structure’ (i.e. you can almost always dally around examining stuff) and UNDO remove a lot of tension and emotion from the games. Adam Cadre’s parser games do a lot to overcome this lack of emotion (Photopia and Shrapnel come to mind). But Twine and other choice-style games are great for plot pacing and emotional gut reactions (My Father’s Long Long Legs and Howling Dogs come to mind).

  1. For some reason, Twine was really hard for me to use, so I abandoned my project in it very early on (a Twine reworking of the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle). So Inform 7 is it for me.

  2. I greatly prefer choice games when I’m just casually on the internet or want a quick game. It’s a nice hit of satisfaction, and it’s easy just to leave the browser window up and come back. I like parser games better when I have more time. Due to their greater depth, my absolute favorite games are parser-based, but I’d rather play a bad choice game than a bad parser game.

Ooh, the Bartok one?

Yes, I thought it would work really well. You can open each of the first five doors in any order, and if you do the link to them changes color to red, orange, etc. The background color lightens. Then, at the end, it gets darker. The last few pages are things like Bluebeard saying “I met the last at midnight…” and your link says “No…”, and so on.

But I couldn’t figure out Twine, or how to adapt the text without just copying the translated libretto.

I’d love to see someone do it, if anyone is reading this.

I’m doing choice based in a parser game.

I find it offers serious advantages if I’m willing to do the coding.

You’ll see when the first ‘Warm Heart’* is released. :slight_smile: [size=1]*provisional title[/size]

Someone, I think was HanonO, said “the parser can reject the player’s input”. I think this is an extraordinarily elegant and concise way of putting it and I love it and am totally going to rip it off and use it here. I’m also going to use mulleholandaise’s comparison of IF to Improv. I see parser IF as communication, a back-and-forth between author and game. When the parser rejects a player’s input, it has the potential to be a “no, and” or a “no, but” situation - you can get hints on what you should have done instead, or an easter egg. Or you can just be denied your action, sure. But it’s communication, and it really helps that you’re speaking to the program in a similar way that you’d speak to a person.

Choice-based has other strengths, to be sure. Jon Ingold pointed out that the parser was great for small decisions (get out of bed, take a shower, brush teeth) whereas choices were great for big decisions (go to work, make uneasy alliances, invade small countries, betray big countries).

That said… both mediums can be bent to their designer’s whims so well that, in the end, the medium matters far less than the actual game. There is still obviously interest in the parser, and that’s a huge relief for players like me.

As a player, I prefer first and foremost an excellent game, regardless of choice system.

…but when you get past that, I’m totally for the parser. It’s the communication thing that absolutely nails it for me. It feels so natural to communicate with the game. In choice based games, I’m scouring the screen for hyperlinks - mechanically, that’s what it is. In parser IF, I’m mechanically entering commands in a format similar to the one I use for communaicting with human beings, and giving instructions - some of them totally unprompted - on what I wish to try. The keyboard disappears - I’m not typing, I’m communicating my intent and mentally parsing what’s interactive or not myself.

Compared to that, the choice game’s mechanic of clicking the words that are lit up really tend to lose my interest. (I’m one of those people who thought last year’s Enigma should be a parser game and not CYOA. I also thought Coloratura as parser IF was way too awesome, and the CYOA version was, while an interesting study, a pale imitation).

But again - the quality of the game/story comes first.

I would actually quite enjoy a game where the gameplay alternated between choice and parser (if the parser were a good one, not a homebrew). It’s a merging of both worlds that might be illuminating. I mean, use the parser for the small choices and scenes and the CYOA for the big ones! Or use it to reflect something about the PC at that specific point in time!

We kinda already do this with talk menus and travel menus and even disambiguation with a certain extension in I7. Logical next step!

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I would really like to see it. Not a new type of IF, but a slightly different take.

I’m not switching from CYOA to Parser and back again. I’m doing both at the same time. You’ll see.

In fact, I’m pretty sure someone’s already thought of this and has by now done what I’m doing better.
The options you’re throwing out the window by separating them…
If anyone wants spoilers, there’s a button to send me a private message at the bottom of this box.

It’s hard to think of ten parser games with neither UNDO nor SAVE, but perhaps the majority of hypertext games are set in an experiential present.

For me, the second person (You do this) works better in parser games because they usually have finer granularity of actions. If an action/choice covers hours then a long sequence of (unchosen) second person actions undermines agency. Also second person feelings (you feel sad) can cause rejection if the player doesn’t feel them. This is a drawback to the common use of emotional language (in the second person) in hypertext works.

Games which have a world model (typically parser games) can be more interactive - e.g. supporting more or less sophisticated roleplaying - because actions change the world model, not just visit a preset node. The stats in Choice of Games works are a rudimentary world model, often character focussed.

Because they’re made of words, hypertext games tend to be more fluid - the designer doesn’t have to commit to a rigid set of rules (or only a small set like activate links to make choices) like a normal parser game. It’s simpler to make a hypertext game if you don’t need a complex world model.

The voice of the parser can be intrusive especially if you are aiming for a literary text. Because parser games are traditionally puzzle games (don’t solve[spoil] the puzzle/game for the player - don’t even help the player!) the parser is obtuse and unhelpful by default.

Most hypertext games look like a web page with regular hypertext links. It’s easy to play them.

I like to play them on my e-reader where reading is easy and typing is slower. I like to play parser games on a computer where typing is fast and it’s easy to look up hints online.

Another difference I’ve noticed, though this might just reflect my taste in games, is that parser games more often have logical and predictable systems (which may or may not be tied to the world model) which the player can figure out, while choice games more often have “one-offs” used only once or coded separately each time. (This ties in somewhat with the small-choices vs large-choices thing; I can reasonably try to GO NORTH in many different places and expect similar results, BREAK ALLIANCE WITH PRUSSIA less so.)

Consider a choice-based adaptation of Suveh Nux or Counterfeit Monkey or Savoir Faire. A lot would be lost, since those games revolve around experimenting and learning to control the new systems in a way that a list of explicit choices can’t really replicate. And I think that’s a big part of the parser-game experience, going back to the switch from keyword navigation to compass navigation once you get underground in Adventure.

EDIT: TANGENT: Also, it’s weird, now that I think of it Duke Bluebeard’s Castle does feel a lot like a modern Twine with the psychological themes, heavy symbolism, seven “doors” each leading to a different facet of his mind, central “node” which slowly changes based on the player’s choices…but I don’t know how well it would work without Bartok’s music, and I’m certainly not the one to adapt it.

As a parser-game newbie, I frequently find myself frustrated with them. The interface throws me out of the story every time I try to take a logical action and it doesn’t understand my command. Worse, if the person who designed the game was not being particularly thoughtful about wrong commands, it can lead to endless moments of confusion where you “look at the thing” and it tells you “that doesn’t seem important” whereas if you had typed “EXAMINE THE THING” it would have solved the stupid puzzle.


But, ok, I recognize that my failings are not the genre’s.

I think by and large, parser games are best at exploring external/physical spaces. You’re in a room, you can wander around that room and pick up objects, look at them, hold onto them for later, roam around.

Choice games are often at their best when exploring internal/emotional spaces. You can examine memories or thoughts and clicking links feels, at its best, like stumbling upon a secret.

Another thing that Choice does really well is manage a story’s pacing. Even taking a piece of static fiction and breaking it into smaller chunks and progressing by clicking links can transform the story and, for the right story, make it more effective – more like oral storytelling than the written word.

I think by and large parser feels more like a game – it feels like the text equivalent of, idk, Amnesia, or basically any point-and-click adventure. Which to me (a person who did not grow up with parser and has no nostalgia for the medium) makes it a little less appealing as a medium. I have yet to figure out what you get from the parser experience that you don’t get from playing a regular videogame (though if I find the right parser game that shows me what I’m missing, I’ll change my mind.)

Choice, meanwhile, feels like a different thing. It doesn’t feel like a game so much as an enhanced storytelling format, a way to deliver stories differently than they could otherwise be consumed. And I think that’s why I like them, as a reader and as a writer.

But that’s bad design. It can happen in many mediums, and I grant that it’s easier to happen in parser IF, but the example you just gave would be panned by pretty much every gamer - rightly so. Firstly, “look at” and “examine” should be synonimous. Secondly, if another verb WAS necessary - like the infamous SEARCH verb - the game should somehow make it clear, at some point, that just “examining” stuff won’t do. This can be done in many ways: a note in the ABOUT text, the response to “examining” making it clear that it was merely a cursory examination, another character hinting that a more thorough search is necessary…

So it’s neither your failings nor the genre’s, in this case and similar cases. :slight_smile: It could be that the game was poorly designed. Or, it was well designed but the author had a blind spot as far as this particular puzzle was concerned.

You could try Photopia, Ramseses, Counterfeit Monkey, Nord and Bert, Ad Verbum. The last three are wordplay games, the first two are purely stories. Also try, maybe, Constraints (the Martin Bays one,

I’m not trying to convert you, but since you were so specific, I thought I’d take the bait. :slight_smile:

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Thanks :slight_smile:

I am very interested in exploring the medium, tbh, and I’ll never turn down recommendations. /adds to stack

Yeah, if you get the right one, you’ll might realize what’s good about them. You probably won’t go wrong with any of the non-advanced Emily Short pieces - Try BRONZE as well. Counterfeit Monkey is gargantuan and sprawling, but has a map and Emily rarely leaves unimplemented cracks in her games.

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Here’s a parser IF ported into choice-based:

If the author wants, it can reject the player’s input. But on this screenshot, the input is already filtered. It’s up to the author.

  • Choice-based IF presents you with a number choices from the start. Parser IF expects you to guess all of them.
  • Choice-based IF can have a wildly different UI. Parser IF is usually just a parser window and maybe some additional panels: a map, a notebook, a status bar. It reflects on the games too: choice-based games can have a LOT of customization options.
  • Choice-based works can have a big red button “HELP ME”. The parser cannot help the player if the player doesn’t know how to say he needs help.
  • Well, for starters, choice-based IF can be translated easily; parser translation is a great feat in itself.
  • The infamous “guess the verb” puzzles are strictly a parser trope. It’s forever tied to the medium.
  • The standard set of parser verbs locks you in a single character’s head. You can jump, but you cannot fly or order close formation. If you want to have someone else as the protagonist, you’ll need to teach the player the new verbs or think of something for the standard ones. That’s not a problem for choice-based IF.
  • The “USE” verb, which can mean every action imaginable, is more prominent in choice-based works.
  • For some reason visual effects are strictly CYOA-style thing.
  • Again, for some reason, sound effects are almost non-existent in parser games.

What REALLY separates them, though, are player expectations. For choice-based works, the players expect to have a wildly branching tight story and maybe some light puzzles. For parser games they expect a lot of hard puzzles, a world so vast you definitely need a map for it and maybe some linear plot.

The pacing also works differently. For choice-based works, the players tend to click everything and move on without reading. Parser players are reading every word. That’s why choice-based UIs can be very unwieldly (find a single link in a ton of text) where parser game can simply say “Press space to continue”.

I’m writing in Russian, so I have to use only choice-based platforms. I think every implementation of parser for Russian is awful. Believe me, I tried.

But I still have a vast selection of UIs and approaches. Do I want an online game or offline? What interface do I choose? What visual effects do I need? Do I need an explorable world and complex AIs? There are many engines for many styles.

As a player, I prefer choice-based works because I don’t have to fight the interface so much. I want to play the game, not guess what must I do next to play the game. That said, most of choice-based UIs suck. Searching for hyperlinks on FullHD filled with text is no fun.

As a player, I prefer to have savegames and not UNDOs instead of them. Limited saves are fine but no saving at all is cruel.

As a designer, I prefer story-driven and exploration games with light or no puzzles. No randomizing the plot because save scumming, lots of randomizing the world details because it has to shimmer with life. No real-time events, strictly step-based. No meaningless choices except for “Continue” links.

It’s not really the same thing. In CYOA, sure, the author can set up choices that they’re going to reject. In parser IF, the game can reject input that the player thought up by themselves. It’s a very big difference. The art of rejecting the player’s input in parser IF is to then redirect the player towards the correct input, towards the puzzle solution, rather than away from it. And to reject the input means something other than “You can’t do that,” or “I don’t recognise that verb.” It means “You can’t do that, and here’s why”. It means the author has foreseen that you would try this. This is not the bit where the player throws their hands into the air, in frustration that their solution hasn’t been implemented; instead, it’s the bit where the player is so impressed that the author thought of their solution, and implemented a proper response to prevent it with a proper reason, that they start to trust that the game will not pull dirty tricks on them, like ridiculous puzzles or guess-the-verb.

I often suspect that the reason some people don’t like parser IF is that they’ve been playing mostly bad parser IF… the usual complaints (see the rest of this post) are really to do with design, not the medium.

Good parser IF clues you a lot on the choices you need to use.

The inverse is true. The vast majority of the CYOA games out there are just vanilla Twine. Author lazyness is no reflection on the medium.

A lot of parser IF starts with “First time players shout type ABOUT”, and recognise the word “help”.

It’s not a problem in a well-designed parser IF, either.

Authorial choice. Check out the Spanish games, they’re REALLY into multimedia.

I think I didn’t explain myself clearly enough (and made a couple of generalization errors, yes). I think choice-based medium has more UI potential. It is less constricted by the interface, it can use keyboard, mouse, gamepad or whatever input device you can think of - it doesn’t even need to have buttons.

That’s the thing, there is only one line - at the start of the game. I’ve seen how players who skip it get stuck later on. You’ll have to really invent something radical to have a welcome sign “HELP CENTER” all the time in a screen corner.

[UPD:] And now I’ve realised that the ability to put buttons outside of the main story panel is a trait of choice IF designed for mouse control because CYOA-style Inform games are also a thing. Sorry.

I agree on the practical side, I disagree with the word “potential”. :slight_smile: But I’m happy to agree to disagree here, because it’s nit-picking. Parser IF has the same potential, if not more (because of the possibility of a solid world model underneath the visuals), it’s just rarely used. But Narcolepsy, Colder Light, Lock & Key demonstrate that the possibilities are there.

By its nature, parser IF does eschew a lot of this, yes; it’s so focused on the back-and-forth between author and player that all those frills may end up being distracting. So in practical terms, yes, the vast majority of parser IF is like that… but it has as much potential as CYOA. :slight_smile:

Re the help thing, there has been some discussion about tutorials, and how to clue in the player. Personally, I think that a player who misses the line “First time players should type ABOUT”, which appears either right after the title (which is in bold) or, if the author wants it that way, just before the command prompt… may not be a player that should be playing IF.

Also, some games ask right at the outset - Is this your first time playing IF? Right before the game starts.

Again, the potential is there. :slight_smile:

Not really. You could put “For help, type HELP” in the status bar, or in a persistent sidebar window, or something like that. You could use bg’s Common Commands sidebar extension to do it. There’s a lot of existing tech that makes this pretty easy, if you’re not playing on ClubFloyd (or using a screenreader, I guess–alas).

Parser games are more like video games rather than just a written story. Choice-based “games” are putting away the illusion of freedom of a normal text adventure (figuring out what you can and can’t do, and exploring unimportant details.) They leave the core story exposed.

Choice-based games don’t work at all for me. I hate them :mrgreen:

Parser-based games. The game-mechanics of Choice-based IF feels extremely bland and boring to me. They’re for Filthy Casuals :slight_smile:

This thread is not for the offhand waving around of contempt for IF players. Or for casual game players, for that matter. Even with a smiley.

Don’t go there.