Class Findings: Write vs. Play and Too Much Dialogue

For those curious, I had some interesting discussions with many of the participants of my previous and upcoming classes and one of those discussions centered on the following sentiment:

I delved into this quite a bit and what I found was that people most definitely were enjoying the challenge of figuring out how to tell a story and make that story have some compelling obstacles (read: “puzzles” in various guises) for the protagonist/player. But they found that when it came to playing interactive fiction, they were more often than not bored with it fairly quickly, although there were certainly exceptions. At a glance – and I don’t know if this is interesting or not – games that the textual IF community tends to applaud, like Galatea, Spider and Web, and Photopia, tended to do the worst, relatively speaking. Exceptions to this did exist, such as Slouching Towards Bedlam. Going back to the Infocom era, in most of my classes, Starcross tends to fare much better than Planetfall, which I think is opposite to the grain of the textual IF community. That being said, Anchorhead is always preferred over The Lurking Horror. A game that I often thought would be appealing to people, Plundered Hearts, tends to fare somewhat poorly. I mention all this just to give an idea of what some of the games looked at were.

I’m curious if any authors of textual IF here have felt that same way in terms of writing vs. playing? Is the writing for you more fun than the playing?

Here was another potentially interesting bit. Dialogue-heavy games or games with heavy NPC interaction were found to fare the worst among my participants, both in the class and in our volunteer player pool.

As many of you know, I have a lot of screenwriters in my classes and they reminded me of a quote by Alfred Hitchcock:

This lead to some interesting discussion where much of my class talked about the “cinematic” appeal they found in interactive fiction. We’re actually having a more full discussion of this topic, sometime after the new year, mainly because I need to better understand this focus. I realize we’re talking about crafting text as a visual image here, which is what books already do. The cinematic part for my screenwriters relies on the fact that, for them, textual IF is more like a film in that it’s “moving along,” carrying the protagonist and the “viewer/player” along as well.

The upshot was that games/stories that focused on heavy dialgoue choices or branching strategies based on conversational elements were found to be the most off-putting for my classes. Interested in this finding, I want back to my data from over a year ago where, as one part of a different class, we enlisted the help of volunteers to go through “play sessions” with various works of interactive fiction. And, sure enough, games that had at least more than a passing focus on dialogue or NPC interaction where that interaction focused on dialogue tended to fare the worst in terms of people’s reviews and stated enjoyment levels.

I’m curious if people here have the same reaction? The opposite reaction? A reaction somewhere in the middle based on some other element (such as game play mechanic used)?

I should note that my class was not responding to real or perceived limitations in what textual IF systems could do in terms of presenting dialogue. Rather, they simply felt that the dialogue more often than not “got in the way.”

Like I said, I’m going to be curious to pursue this further with the class. Since I’m doing freelance quality assurance work for the game industry lately, I’ve also been following up on discussions in the game community regarding fiction-reinforcing game mechanics (mentioned in a previous thread) and my curiousity was piqued when I realized that dialogue mechanics in games is currently undergoing major reconsideration. It seems two of the focal point techniques lately are time-pressured dialogue paths as well as change-motivation dialogue mechanics. I don’t know what research others have been doing into dialogue as part of textual IF, but if anyone has any pointers, I’m more than eager to follow up.

Other than that, not much to report. Just dropping by. I hope everyone had a good holiday and is gearing up for some fun new year celebrations!

Yes, but that feeling isn’t limited to IF. I used to write poetry, even though I literally never read it (past tense - I do read it sometimes now). I think it might be related to the difficulty of reading a particular kind of text, such as IF or poetry. If the effort required to read a text is nearly as high as the effort of writing your own, the creative satisfaction of writing your own might well be greater than the satisfaction of reading someone else’s.

For me, most puzzly IF takes a lot of mental effort to play - more so than programming. With programming, there’s a system to the “puzzles”, and I know that I can mess with the system until I figure it out some way of doing what I’m trying to do. With most IF puzzles, there’s a single solution, and I have no way of knowing whether what makes sense to the author will also make sense to me. So writing my own IF is actually easier than playing some IF…

Got in the way of what? I mean, what did your class feel were better techniques for telling a story in IF form, analogous to cinematic action?

In terms of “got in the way”, they meant got in the way of the story itself. The dialogue often felt like it was tacked on and players had to stumble through ASK ABOUT or TALK ABOUT elements just to hopefully get a little tidbit of information. That tidbit was often provided by NPCs that often had no other purpose or whose only purpose was allegedly to lend atmosphere and/or verisimilitude to the story itself. In other cases, they were simply presented with a clearly mechanical menu of choices that did much to remove any interest in the story since the conversation menus were felt to a destructuring element.

In terms of techniques, I should say that no one was so much contrasting cinematic technique with lack of dialogue except insofar as most cinematic storytelling courses will tell you that if you’re focusing on dialogue as a central element, you’re probably not focusing on the right thing. As far as some specifics, by way of example, people noted in textual IF that there was rarely incidental dialogue. Locational anchors are another example that are effective in cinema (as well as in novels) to focus dialogue. (These techniques have been used in some popular works of graphical IF and other game genres. See “Dragon Age: Origins” for a particularly relevant example.) Narrative causality is another technique that authors of textual IF have shied away from (either by choice or simply by not doing it). Even techniques that utilize dialogue as character revelation are given somewhat short shrift in textual IF, where it would seem to find a ready home. Dialogue to control pacing and atmosphere, used heavily in cinema and novels, is yet another technique that often seems to be missing.

So what people were responding to was not so much that there was “too much dialogue”, per se, but rather too much of one type of dialogue. (There was a thought that dialogue-heavy games just didn’t seem to work very well and this had nothing to do with quantity of text, but rather with the pacing of information and the mechanics of getting that information. Games like “The Longest Journey” – a work of graphical IF – were used by way of contrast, with how this can effectively be done. A counter-example was the game “Mission Critical” by Legend Entertainment, which is one of the games I often utilize in classes because it leads to a lot of discussion.)

Beyond the presentation of dialogue mechanics, many felt that textual IF could use visuals as a counterpoint to the narrative and thus the dialogue. Obviously they are referring here to static images, which some works of textual IF do utilize. But in most cases the images are just presented as such, without a technique like visual match-cuts used in games (see “Assassin’s Creed” or “The Force Unleashed”) or in film. In those games, notice how the dialogue elements are paced to occur with narrative points but that also take place very dynamically, with a minimum of stopping the action. This is where the picture works with the narrative, and that can include dialogue. Those images can, of course, use the cinematic techniques of camera position, such as close-ups, over the shoulder shots, high-angle, and so on. In other words, the image can change based upon the context of what’s occurring in the story and intercutting could be used to have a montage of images that appear based on dialogue. (This, of course, would mean you need someone who is capable of creating effective images and knowing how and when to utilize those in conjunction with narrative.) These techniques are certainly already being used in many games. A surprisingly good example of this was the game “Kane & Lynch” or, some would argue, “Grim Fandango.” Others have argued that “Indigo Prophecy” is a good example of the incorporation of various techniques that utilize dialogue without making the dialogue a mechanic.

All this being said, if people are aware of dialogue-heavy games or games that they feel very effectively utilize dialogue as part of the story, I would be more than happy to have those included in the classes for consideration. Often in these posts, I’m having to refer to graphical IF or various other forms of game, like first-person shooters. It would be good to have a focused set of textual IF where there was a clear attempt by the authors to utilize a certain technique for a certain purpose.

IF’s turn-based convention makes it harder to create such a set (as far as IF utilizing common cinematic or literary techniques). There is a realtime tag at IFDB but a lot of those are z-code abuses. You could add Facade to that list I guess and it might come closest to a useful example for this case.

I wonder if there’ve been any games that were turn-based but also had a realtime element?

For my own part, IF is too diverse for me to have a general opinion of it as a player. I “love IF” in general but in the details I don’t care for most of it, same as with anything … “I love novels” but in fact I love only a few novels … “I love listening to music” but I have broad, but still very specific, tastes in music. “I love movies” but the truth is, while I love a couple hundred movies, there are many thousands of movies I have no interest in or consider a waste of celluloid or megabytes. As far as I can see, that whole “90% of everything is crud” axiom just goes to show how kindhearted Sturgeon really was. Near as I can see, 99.99% of everything is crud (but the exceptions make it all worthwhile, and I love those). :slight_smile:

It sounds like my tastes are similar in some ways to those you’re describing for your class, especially when it comes to dialogue emphasis (when a game is dialogue-heavy, I tend to get eyelid-heavy).

On the other hand, I differ from your class in that I’m very fond of Plundered Hearts. I haven’t played Starcross yet so I can’t yet weigh in on that one :slight_smile:

Yes. I enjoy the writing process, and I feel guilty or just plain weird because I don’t enjoy playing nearly as much.

This winter I’m putting a lot more time into an entirely different type of hobbyist programming (experimental music with Csound), and the main reason is because it’s easy and natural for me to listen to and appreciate music.

Playing IF is easy and natural for the first 15 or 20 minutes after I try a new game. There’s an initial phase of fun and discovery … what kind of world am I in, what sort of problems do I have, what are the things I can try? But before too long the fun almost always gives way to the experience of being stuck, which is not fun at all.

It’s like reading a novel where some of the pages are glued together. A novel like that, I’d throw it across the room.

In theory, it may be possible to write a game that quietly notices when the player is stuck and alters the model world so as to make it easier for the player to move forward. Or one can do what Aaron Reed did in Blue Lacuna, and give the player a choice between story mode and puzzle mode.

I would speculate that the player’s willingness to bear down and keep trying when stuck may correlate with how fresh, involving, and well written the story is. IF is not unlike conventional fiction in this respect: If I care about what may happen to the protagonist (i.e., “me”) I’ll stick with it longer. That’s one factor – I’m sure there are others.

Opposite. Dialogue is “louder” in my mind than narrative, and in the book world I don’t think I’m alone in that. I’ve read in at least one writing book that dialogue counts as action. Perhaps dialogue is less special in visual mediums like movies & webcomics, where talking head syndrome is more of a worry and the camera should carry some of that meaning, but I prefer games with a heavy story component, and story needs dialogue.

It makes sense when you put it that way. I highly recommend Walker & Silhouette because its pick-a-keyword interface doesn’t distinguish between examining, talking about, or manipulating the chosen keyword, so the difference between interface vis-a-vis dialogue vs. physical action disappears.

Er, that sounds like they ran out of ideas and are falling back on what they know – visuals. Can they pull away from trying to apply cinematography to prose & parser? The moral premise stuff from scriptwriting was much more interesting.

I’m unfamiliar with later videogames – I can’t afford a system. What’s “change-motivation dialogue mechanics”?

or “locational anchors”?

or “narrative causality”?

Actually, good novelists – not just filmmakers – are very well versed in visuals. The trick is not to think in terms of cinematography. That’s different than a visual. Cinematography is a way of using visuals, yes. But text is a visual as well. And the image it builds in someone’s mind is a visual. Visual is not an either-or concept. I think applying visuals – or at least the thinking behind them – to the idea of prose and parser has a lot to say about effective textual IF. In fact, many novelists are often encouraged to think about scenes in their novels as if they had to film them. It’s a technique I’ve used quite a bit and it’s a very powerful one. I do think the same could be applied to textual IF.

As far as the terms I mentioned:

Change-motivation refers to, in part, having dialogue define character. As we all know, characters ideally change through a story. However, to do so, you need believable motivation. One way of indicating the change points, and thus the motivation, is via dialogue. This reveals character. Conversations with characters can reveal the personality of the character as well, by showing how they view the world around them. Conversational modes used by the protagonist – which may only be controlled by an indication of tone – can also reveal the protagonist. (This goes back to the whole debate about how conflated the player and the protagonist are in a game.) This is not just used in film, but also by novelists.

Beyond even change-motivation elements, dialgoue can convey individual traits of a character. That may be something like a stutter, an accent, or specific speech patterns that are regularly used by the characters. The way a character speaks can also reveal mood and emotion, which provides more impetus for motivation (why the character acts as they do). Again, this isn’t just in film but also in novels. The presentational mechanics, of course, are different but the thinking behind them is largely the same. I most certainly would think authors of textual IF could learn a lot from studying such elements and at least trying such techniques in their stories/games.

Locational anchors are used in novels, games, and film. They’re essentially a form of association. There are also situational anchors, which are a bit of a different thing. The latter case is where you associate an internal response of a character with some triggering event in the plot. That may be external or internal plot point. (In film, they’ll often use beats to indicate when a triggering event must occur.) The trick is then showing why this trigger led the character to act in a certain way. Dialogue can be part of the situational aspect since, as you mention, dialogue is a form of action. Locational anchors for their part utilize dialogue wherein you learn who someone is, where they are (relative to the surroundings), what they are doing, where they are going, and why the character is where they are. It may sound simple when put like that, but training yourself to “read” scenes that involve characters (whether in film, book, or game) will often tell you how effectively you feel you “understand” what’s going on around you (or, rather, the protagonist). This is even more important in textual IF where you often don’t have picture or moving image visuals to guide you. Your visual is often purely the text. (The most common criticism I’ve heard of characters in textual IF – and thus of any resulting dialogue – is that they just seem “put there” in order to be able to ask questions of them to force the story along a little bit.)

Narrative causality simply refers to how your dialogue conveys “why” and “what next” to the reader/viewer/player. It also leads to plot development because it focuses on consequences of actions taken during the plot that lead the plot to evolve in a certain way rather than another way. This term, incidentally, is often credited to Terry Pratchett but in fact the concept goes back to techniques of narrative coherence. The role of dialogue is not quite as central as many people sometimes assume. It’s often revealing for a class to go back to what they thought was a “dialogue-heavy” book or film and realize how much was done without actual dialogue of the extensive sort. Rather, dialogue was a prod and a goad to further action of a non-dialogue sort. That certainly seems to be relevant to textual IF, where there is a balance of different player interactions. (Specifically, for example, how much information a player has to “dig out” or “ferret out” of a NPC via a somewhat clumsy mechanism, versus how much the game interweaves dialogue without the player actually having to do much to make that dialogue take place.)

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that use of these techniques would magically make games or stories “better” in some sense. But I think it’s not too inaccurate to say that many of these techniques are not used at all by many textual IF authors. Beyond this community, I’ve found that people don’t respond very well to textual IF except as a novelty or one-off thing they might try for a bit. Retention becomes problematic and the return rate of players/readers is pretty bad. I’ve also found that when you distill the responses of why people don’t become as engaged with textual IF as they do with book, film or graphical IF, the reasons often come down to techniques of storytelling. That’s largely why I was curious to what extent people in the community found it more fun to create textual IF (for the thinking challenges, if not the authoring challenges) rather than play/read it.

I think dialogue is a good case in point. It seems that in some cases the thinking may go “I have to include NPCs otherwise my world is going to be pretty boring. But if I have NPCs, I have to have some dialogue. After all, what’s the point of having the NPC otherwise? So I guess I’ll have to somehow get the player to ‘talk’ with the NPCs and I guess I’ll have to choose between ASK/TELL or maybe a menu or something like that. And maybe to keep the unfruitful path level down, I can have ‘you can also ask about’ prompts to goad the player to ask about very specific things.” I would argue that with this kind of thinking, dialogue easily becomes no more than a mechanical element and, in fact, is not the action that you would find works so well in novel or film. It becomes “one more thing to do” rather than “an element to experience” or an integral part of guiding the story by revealing character intent and motivation and thus engaging the protagonist (and thus hopefully the player) in what’s actually going on and why it matters (beyond just “solving the game”).

Film, book, and graphical IF tend to provide an experience. I think textual IF can do that and I think has done that in some cases. (Babel and Slouching Towards Bedlam are two textual IF games that routinely score very high with outside groups that I work with.) But I think the fact that textual IF has little traction outside of one community is because while it can provide an experience, it often does not. My contention has been – and admittedly, it’s just a hypothesis – is that textual IF authors seem to be somewhat insulated from the wider world of storytelling techniques (via media like film, novel, and game). I could be very wrong, of course, but I’m judging this based upon the output I see, the responsiveness of people to that output, and the discussion of such techniques in general.

I’m not entirely sure at this point if this lack of cross-association with other techniques is because of one of the following:

  • The techniques are simply not known about at all and thus not practiced.
  • The techniques are known about, have been tried, but not felt to apply to textual IF.
  • The techniques are known about, have not been tried, but are assumed not to apply to textual IF.
  • The techniques are known about and felt could apply to textual IF, but it’s felt textual IF limits the ability to use the techniques.

Or perhaps there are other aspects that I’m not considering. As you can probably tell, I have the feeling that there are many who think “textual IF is its own unique thing, and thus other techniques from other media may not apply.” I don’t think textual IF is all that unique in that sense. I think it provides unique elements, yes. But so does film. So does novel. So does graphical IF. So when you say they “ran out of ideas and are falling back on what they know”, that’s actually not a bad thing. Falling back on what we know about good storytelling techniques is something I think could potentially benefit authors of textual IF.

I think there’s some sensitivity in the community because people often suggest things to fix IF that seem to run counter to what we love about it. I get a little anxious when there’s talk of removing the parser, even though I’ll readily admit there’s huge giant issues around it. (Judging by the fooferall last time the parser came up, I think I am Not Alone.) CYOA seems to occupy the same niche. “Visual elements” from an outside group suggests to me illustrations, sort of the first step towards Kings Quest 1-4, with a hybrid parser/graphic/text presentation. There’s a lot of identity in the current format, so vague suggestions are unsettling.

I, personally, don’t know formal elements of video/writing/games, although I do regularly look at other genres and see what I might pull. More cinematic IF might not be a bad thing, especially with regards to action/character. Film, books, and plays often have very effective cuts for when the action changes - the setup, the buildup, the change, the climax, the denouement. Sure, in a way it’s a formula, but I think it might help with the problem I keep experiencing in IF, where the work just ends and I’m left staring at my screen feeling bitter. (More rarely, I feel like I’ve gone through a story, and yet it keeps going.) I’d welcome discussions that are firmly based in concrete “how might one accomplish this”. The moral premise discussion was fascinating, and although I don’t completely agree with everything in there, it was definite food for thought.

As an author, I’m looking for techniques that don’t introduce complexity into the writing without giving a lot in return. (I come up with enough ideas for pointless complexity all by myself, thanks.) I’d love to see more change-motivation, but I’m not quite sure how to work it, and it potentially introduces a huge amount of complexity.

But then, yeah: I like writing IF (especially the design part) way more than playing it. Writing IF feels like an exercise in stretching your imagination and creating worlds; playing it often feels like you need to constrain yourself. The same is true for other games, too, but the constraints are all out on the table. When I sit down to play IF, I feel like I need to be well-fortified. Like Jim, getting stuck is near inevitable for me. But even beyond that, I rarely feel really connected with a story. That’s true for mainstream games, too, but there are backup mechanics. Bioshock 2 had a lousy “story” and I laughed a lot, but you still got to electrocute things. IF doesn’t have any backup awesome for me - it’s the story-world or bust. (Story, world, characters, etc.) Actually, that’s not quite true. I’d say Earl Gray had a mechanic I enjoyed despite the story.

D&D has somewhat of the same issue for me. I love all the workup, the character and world creation, the fleshing out of back stories, the drawing of maps, the provisioning of the main party. But when it comes to gameplay, 86 times out of 100, I’d rather be doing more work on the imaginary world/character. The rules seem constraining; the people are uncooperative; play often ends when everyone gets tired, rather than when the story reaches a natural break.

Well … playing Devil’s Advocate here, there is be a reason why the vast majority of the gaming community has “moved on” from text-only games. :slight_smile: While certainly there is a segment of game players that never liked the move to graphics, point-and-click, and so on, there is equal certainty that the vast majority of game players did move to those formats. Graphical IF still is very commercially successful.

That being said, no one in my groups have advocated getting rid of the parser necessarily since a text game without a parser would largely seem to relegate to a menu-based selection of some sort. (My classes have consistently disliked the “choose your own adventure” format in games, even though many of them have fond memories of the book series from their childhood.) But it does bring up a good point: if the parser is considered a limiting element, then when speaking of textual IF, you are essentially left with what is almost a book or short story. My classes feel that this is largely what Photopia, as just one example, is … nothing more than a short story that is made harder to read because you have to force it along.

Yeah, people I work with sort of express this as well. Not so much bitter but rather a sense of not really accomplishing anything but that also largely comes down to the fact that they feel they are writing for a very small audience (meaning, the current audience that actually plays textual IF) and an audience that doesn’t seem receptive to broadening the reach of textual IF. In other words and putting it bluntly: they just feel they wasted their time.

That’s largely been my goal in the textual IF community – throwing ideas out there and seeing if they lead to discussions or if they open people’s minds to other approaches. Even if people disagree, that’s more than fine with me. Disagreeing means people are at least thinking about it and coming to a conclusion based on their own thoughts about how and why textual IF can be effective.

Very true on all points. That’s why my classes largely take the form of “spec workshops.” The idea is we take the “specification” for a particular approach, idea, or technique. We then all agree to try out a limited subset of functionality that displays that technique in action. Everyone is free to implement the technique however they see fit and they are free to introduce as much surrounding context as they feel is necessary. These are timeboxed workshops, however. People have a deadline to get something in front of everyone. Then the techniques are displayed for the group and discussion takes place. The source code is provided so that people who want to tweak the technique can do so.

As you can see, the end result is not complete games or stories. The goal here is to focus on specific techniques and how complex it is to put those techniques in place. This way people can get focused experimentation done but without having to worry about producing a full game or story at the end. They then have a more informed opinion about what techniques do and do not seem to work and how complex they actually are to implement. Some things we thought would be “easy” were actually quite hard. And, of course, some things we thought would be incredibly difficult turned out not to be so bad.

Which is interesting because this is a sentiment I’ve found largely to be only in the textual IF gaming world. Those who create graphical IF or graphical games of other sorts, like shooters, rarely feel this dichotomy between creation and playing. They enjoy doing both equally. (Participants in the various AGS challenges often indicate this as do the many participants in Pyweek.) This mirrors novelists who feel it is equally important (and enjoyable) to read as well as write. This mirrors filmmakers who get as much enjoyment watching films as they do creating them. (This is particularly true with the home-brew or independent filmmakers.) Textual IF is one of the few communities I’ve found where the level of enjoyment in playing is often nowhere near the same as the level of enjoyment in creating.

Well said and this mirrors general findings with games overall. Even those games that have somewhat lackluster stories, there are good pacing elements that can at least keep the excitement level up and keep you engaged. I had talked about this in a previous thread when mentioning the “constant interaction points” that occur in graphical IF because a constant world presence is shown, which is not the case in textual IF. By way of example, even in static background games, like the old King’s Quest or Monkey Island games, even just standing around, you would hear sounds or have a constant visual picture image shown to you. That does matter in terms of how persistent people find the play state. The play state is continuous rather than discrete – even when the player is doing nothing – and that matters quite a bit.

All of that is a way of introducing another topic that has often come up in my classes and that perhaps you allude to: is the format that textual IF presents simply not workable for audiences. This doesn’t mean so much getting rid of the parser. But it does mean perhaps considering the way that a story/game presents itself. One example I had mentioned in a previous thread was the cognitive window, which we did explore via a spec workshop. Other examples had to do with the use of picture images that displayed more of the techniques used in cinema to heighten mood or showcase atmosphere. Yet another had to do with the idea of having any “spoken text” from NPCs literally be that: spoken. In other words, have voice acting in textual IF. Yet others had to do with not having the prompt simply appear as it does “inline with the text”, as it were, but via different mechanisms.

Ultimately, though, it is interesting because what you initially brought up was something I noticed as well: the changes that people started to eventually come up with had us going well beyond what traditional textual IF interfaces looked like. In some cases, the changes were enough to almost become something like the King’s Quest or Space Quest games that had parsers but persistent world images with moving characters. And, again, since the industry as a whole moved to that, it’s perhaps not surprising that this is the case.

For myself, it does make me wonder if there is any real future for textual IF beyond a hobbyist focus. I don’t mean to imply that would be a bad thing but, again speaking for myself, that would drastically lessen my interest in the genre.

I’d love to be able to include other elements in any games that I write. Unfortunately, I’m not a visual artist. For me, a big attraction of IF as a creative medium is that I can create an entire imaginary world using nothing but text.

If there are any great graphic designers out there who want to collaborate on a game, please – send me an email!


Again, rather than still. The form was virtually dead for a while there. CRPGs went through something similar, too.

Which is not to suggest that IF is somehow “due” for some kind of cyclical revival; I don’t think it works that way. :slight_smile:

I would argue that graphical IF has always been pretty strong. Even when graphical IF wasn’t very visible such as with series like King’s Quest, the games were alive and well consistently. As just one example of a list that shows from the mid 80s to roughly now: … ture_games

There actually wasn’t that much of a lull in graphical adventure games when you consider how long it can take to make some of the higher production games. And that list above is by no means comprehensive. Those are just so-called “notable games.” There were certainly periods where not as many games came out in a given time period, which could be considered a lull. But even at its worst moments, the lull for graphical adventures is nothing compared to what textual IF has experienced. And those lists don’t take into account the fan community output, which was quite large.

Even “traditional” series like Sam & Max, Broken Sword, and Monkey Island come out with new entries these days that do respectably from a commercial perspective. So it might depend on how you define “dead.”

As you wish.

I find this difficult to credit, even taking into account the responses in the thread. There are tens of thousands of active IF players, most of whom will never create a game, or even post on forums like this. By asking the question here or in your classes, you are sampling from a small pool of authors who almost by definition are more likely to privilege the creation process.

You could also ask the folks who design IF languages if they enjoy that as much as authoring or playing IF. I expect you would discover they enjoy it quite a bit more. But I don’t think that would have any bearing on whether IF as it presently exists is enjoyable for large numbers of players.

Dan Brown’s success demonstrates the effectiveness of pacing elements alone. Da Vinci Code is forgettable but it’s essentially just one scene multiplied across however many chapters, with minor differences in the twist/hook at the end of each. It works in the sense that the book is virtually impossible to put down, simply because he raises the stakes every time he presents the reader with the logical opportunity to close the book.

I like the way that King of Shreds and Patches handles pacing with its act break structure. (Likewise Shadow in the Cathedral.) Most IF is so short that breaking it down into chapters or acts would be silly, yet even a two hour game is far longer than any one commercial game level would be. As a player I really appreciate having a visible structure imposed on the game; chapters provide a natural stopping point, and if I resort to hints during a chapter, I only risk spoiling content up to the next milestone. At the other extreme is Curses, which I played for hours and eventually quit with no idea how far along I was, and no intention to ever return. I liked a lot of the puzzles but even the progress felt like floundering.

For your class, I wonder if it’s really a question of too much dialogue rather than simply too much of everything with no goal and no end in sight, which is the way a lot of IF feels to me. An NPC with too many topics is basically the same as a room with too many nouns: filled with irrelevant distractions. The latter has fallen out of favor and perhaps the former will in time.

Thanks for kicking off this discussion with your findingS. As a first-time IF author it is very helpful. Thank you also for defining the literary / storytelling terms. That said, I am unclear on “Location Anchors”. Can you give an example, perhaps from film, that would illustrate this?

My IF story is a murder mystery and while I’ve written a lot of Ask/Tell dialog with the NPCs, I recognize its hit or miss whether the play goes down those paths. So I am thinking of other mechanisms to move the story along with some timed events. So far, feedback from alpha testers has indicated they like these sort of cut-scenes to move things along. I’m also conscious of having the NPC responses (and their emotions and character traits) be influenced by the clues the player uncovers.
Thanks much

I don’t think I’d enjoy this at all. Even leaving aside the problem that you need to get really good voice actors for this to work, and that’ll increase the cost of your game by a factor of infinity, voice acting will just make the game even more static – because unless you’re writing to be heard rather than read (and you’d better be damn good at it), the player will just wind up drumming his/her fingers waiting for the dialogue to finish.

I’m thinking of poor Life Flashes By, a game I was eagerly awaiting, a game that I set aside an evening for when I had a lull in the end-of-term madness, and a game that I’ve currently abandoned less than a third of the way through, which is how far I got in that one evening. I kept wanting a skip button to hammer to get through the dialogue faster. It just seems like it was written to be read, not heard, and I’m not sure you can write dialogue that’ll work both ways. (I like this game because the chunks are much shorter. So is the game – maybe I just have a short attention span.)

I may be an outlier here; other people seem to love podcasts, and I hate the idea that people expect me to listen to them talk for ten minutes when in two minutes I could read the same thing. But it seems to me that if you’re writing IF you’re interested in the written word.

Also, voice-acted dialogue doesn’t give you anything to do when you’re not getting the voice-acted dialogue, so I don’t think it even solves the problem that’s presented here. I think a more promising way to give the player something ongoing of interest would be to use some background music, like in Digital: A Love Story (or every non-textual game ever), or some atmospheric non-plot critical visuals; which Alabaster does, but you could have something to watch. Or am I just proposing putting a screensaver behind your IF?

And some of us on the thread don’t buy in, either :slight_smile: As I said above, I love good IF. I play IF daily, almost without exception. I dislike bad IF, and play it as seldom as possible. Most IF happens to be bad; this is neither unusual nor unexpected nor at all limited to IF as compared to other forms. Fortunately, bad IF is usually pretty easy to spot (in the first thousand or two words of play, if not much sooner) and good IF is often very replayable, thus keeping me happily in my IF habit :slight_smile:

A wise notion.

Or clicking past it, if the game permits it.

Right now I’ve finally gotten around to playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. One of the “improvements” over Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is that all that NPC chatterboxing has voice-acting (and animated heads) where the prior game had only text. This amused me the first three or four conversations, but ever since then I’m just impatiently clicking through it, interrupting the voice acting to get on with it. I read a heck of a lot faster than the speed of speech, and the acting, while competent, simply isn’t compelling enough to sit there and listen to every line.

So for my gaming experience, that’s a lot of expense and time wasted.

Others’ mileage may vary, of course.

Fair enough. But, by definition, you can only ask the people who do the creating. If I don’t ask here or in classes where people are doing the creating … pray tell … where will I ask? I’m not interested in just the players any more than I would be interested in just readers. There are thousands and thousands of both groups, who will never become game authors or novelists. There’s tons of movie-goers who won’t become directors. So what? What I need are people who actively try both and come to a conclusion that one is more fun or more enjoyable than the other.

As it is, I have been conducting classes of various sorts, with different types of people, since late 2005. That’s given me a lot of data points and it does, in some sense, reflect a different community of people than this one. (It also was a community that didn’t come potentially predisposed to answer questions a certain way or to be letting too much of a nostalgia and/or hobbyist factor influence their responses, which I initially wanted to balance as separate variables.)

So, yeah, I realize, some of this is anecdotal. But with textual IF, there’s not a whole lot of data points except finding a community of people and asking or getting groups of people together, having them both play and create, and then see what they enjoy more. Then you do some sampling and at least come to provisional conclusions.

What I as more referring to is that you very rarely (if ever) hear even a hint of the same sentiment with game creators in other venues. (I’ve been working on and off in the game industry since 1989, mostly as quality assurance with a large part of my work being on focus groups on the one hand and testing with developers on the other. So I’ve had a lot of time to gather opinions, accumulate data and witness trends.) You also don’t even get a hint of this dichotomy with writers, who don’t hestitate to tell you they enjoy reading as much as writing. And, yes, I’m sure there are exceptions. I’m going for aggregate findings here because, for this high level of comparison, aggegrate is what matters if you are looking at these things beyond a hobbyist venture. Presumably if the community was interested in these data points, there would have been an operationally constructed poll at some point asking these very questions. I couldn’t find one so getting anything beyond aggregate information on textual IF is somewhat difficult.

All this being said, I could be totally and completely off-base here. Even if that provisional conclusion was totally wrong, and every data point I have is counter-indicative, it wouldn’t change some of the more fundamental issues I deal with in the classes. So this was more of a curiosity than a fundamental point for me. The fact that such a dichotomy was stated at all was more relevant to me than any actual numbers would have been.