Clickable Links in Parser Games

How do people feel about including clickable hyperlinks in a parser game? The links would do two things – examine objects in the room, or cause travel in some direction.

The game I’m working on is quite large, so adding an average of five or six links to every room would be an exhausting labor. I know it would be a courtesy, and would make the game look a tiny bit more modern, but would the result repay the added labor?

I also worry a bit that it would be misleading here or there. If players get used to examining stuff by clicking the links, they might easily miss something that the author has deliberately disguised as a throw-away bit of room description when it’s actually a vital clue. I kind of dislike the “lawn mower effect,” where if you click on all the links you can be confident you’ve covered all the options that the game has.

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Unless a person designed the whole game to accommodate it from the start, I usually think it’s a detraction and a distraction. i.e. As an add-on, I give it thumbs down.

I stop typing, I go pick up the mouse, I click something, I go back to typing. I’m not sure which way is best when I can do it either way. It sets up multiple mental input streams, and equivalencies (or a lack of them, or a lack the player has to work out themselves.)

For the author, it’s potentially a nuisance to program. I can’t be sure of that, but none of the ‘How do I add hyperlinks to Inform game’ topics of recent times have been especially happy ones.

PS re last point: I know this is a general discussion, not an Inform one, but I also know Jim has an Inform game in the oven.

-Wade

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I’m not sure I’d it’s an Inform one or a TADS one, with the amount of TADS traffic Jim is creating (great for me - I’m trying to learn TADS).

Anyway - I also don’t love having to switch between keyboard and mouse to deal with clickable links. I suppose it would work better on mobile, but do many people play Z-machine type games on mobile? To be honest, I’m not convinced it would be worth the mammoth effort to add it into your already humongous game.

Four years ago I did a game in Spanish based in H.P.Lovecraft “Celephäis” short story.

It was created for a Narrative Jam, with all kinds of games, from Visual Novels to 3D point and click ones (all very cool), where many people never played a parser game, so perhaps my story can be helpful here.

I develop it using my own tool Parser Commander, where doing this kind of things was not too difficult, so perhaps the relation “effort required/profit” can change in your case.

It was developed having in mind from the start that needed to be a parser game, but that allows clicking.

At the beginning of the game, H.P.Lovecraft itself talks to you explaining a bit what a parser game is and that you would find links that will not make fly the joy of writing.

The game included three different types of clickable elements:

1 – Buttons at the end of sections: In some cases, with more than one button like choose your own adventure, and others more in the line of “read more” functionality.

2 – Clickable words in the main text, that once clicked they immediately performed the action, acting as “inline buttons”, in the way I saw in many other games.

3- Similar to the previous one, there was a third kind of clickable words in main text, but in that case the action was not performed immediately, but the prompt was filled with the command for that option, let’s say, “Examine sand”. You needed to explicitly press enter if you wanted to perform that action. But this text links allowed you to click again, to get more successive options, as “Take sand”.
The use of this last kind of buttons regarding to game design had a double purpose:

  • a) To guide payers that never played before a parser game to understand the different kind of actions they could type.

  • b) Show bizarre actions that you would perhaps never type no matter if you were experienced or not, like “Pry to the sand” for example, for a genius of the dessert take form and guide the adventure in a new direction.
    In this case, this purpose is like the “click to continue” one, but embedded in text, and allowing you to perform many other actions in between, before continuing the adventure.

In the case of my game, the time for the Jam goes by quickly, and I was noticing that the full game would not be available on time, so I decide to use parser as far as I can and implement the remaining of the story taking advantage of that mechanics, with just text and clickable links, for example to freely walk trough “Celephaïs” city, enjoying the feeling of that world.

When you finish the game, there was a proposal of further enhance the game with other authors contributions and make it grow as a community project, so some of this link navigable areas could lead to new parser ones created by other people, but unfortunately the idea has not many successes, with only one or two people interested that finally did not take form. That’s life : )

I hope this experience can help you to take the decision. I’m very happy with the result, and although the “just clickable” net of locations mixed with parser born because the lack of time at that jam, is a combination that people told me mainly that liked very much, and something that I will probably do again in future games as a design criterion.

By the way, unexpectedly that game gets the first place in that Jam, and fighting against all kind of games, parser one won! : D

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The way you describe it, within “regular parser gameplay” (traveling by direction, examining/taking objects, and so on), I probably wouldn’t use links.

However, if a game has, say, a menu-based conversation system, I would appreciate the ability to click on choices rather than navigating by keyboard or typing in numbers. (E.g., I think I would enjoy Skybreak even more if I could click on the choices rather than needing to type their number.)

Another example of subtle using “clickable” items can be found in the game I submit to ParserComp 2022, “Gent Stickman vs Evil Meat Hand”:

image

It’s a full parser game without clickable elements during game (uses mainly simple hand drawing graphics instead of output text to communicate with the user, that still types commands as usual).

Little spoiler here, so don’t read this if you didn’t play it at least a bit:

During in-game play, you can press space to skip image sequences you already saw, or that you are not interested on, so no need to move your hands from keyboard to type and advance.

However, when you die (it’s the kind of funny stupid short game with some dead here and there) you are asked to “click to restart”. The player will probably not notice the subtle difference in the gameplay flow, but this will create a little discomfort when he dies, requiring put his hands away from keyboard to mouse, making (I hope) the dead a bit undesirable and a little (very, very little) pain.

Not sure if this work as expected, but I have been watching people playing that game in front of me, and getting sad when they die, looking at the screen and searching the mouse with their hand without looking at the mouse, so my think is that this little trick does not “bring them out” of the game experience, while creating a comic situation for me watching them searching the mouse just with their evil meat hand.

Based on personal experience and comments I’ve read here and elsewhere, I would advise against it. The rationale is twofold:

  1. You have to distinguish the links in some way, typically underlining and/or different coloured text. This distracts from the smooth flow of the text. I’ve found that with games with different coloured words in the text, you tend to just concentrate on those words and don’t read all the text, possibly missing important hints or the story itself.
  2. Rather than speeding up the game, it becomes a choppy alternation between two input methods that slows the game down.
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I’m all for it. As long as it’s really clear what is clickable and what is not, I have really enjoyed games that allow me to bop back and forth between typing and clicking, like The Box, from this year’s Spring Thing.

I think if done well, it could be an excellent way to adapt IF that requires a lot of typing.

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Clickable links are essential for modern IF, and especially important for mobile devices.

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I like the idea of having links in the text for objects, characters and whatever is probably clickable.

In my game “Phoney Island” (which is only German so far (sorry about that) and still not finished yet) links in the text can be used to directly navigate to other rooms and open Multiple Choice menus for potential actions. Technically this works fine, but
a) It is a hell of work to mark all the clickable stuff in the text
b) It is definitely not helpful for text’s readability and lecturing work
c) In the first attempt this results in way too many click options for the players, make them feel lost.

Then again it’s fully playable by multiple choice AND parser input, which supports different type of players.

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On the subject of authoring clickable links in IF, i thought it might be helpful to mention my discoveries for this.

Firstly, it’s important the IF development system help out with this work, otherwise it’s enormous.

Since my IF text is written in markdown, it seemed natural that clickable links use the same syntax as for links. eg the [cat]() sat on the [mat](). where the bit inside the parentheses contains the game command rather than an HTTP link.

So,

the [cat](x cat) sat on the [mat](x mat).

The next thing is that, as mentioned earlier, you don’t always want x it, sometimes maybe get and others. Clearly, the link syntax isn’t going to know this, so this is achieved by introducing an internal verb, which in my case is “be”.

So,

the [cat](be cat) sat on the [mat](be mat).

The “be” verb will map to the most appropriate command verb. Which of course may change with context.

The next bit is the editing the text itself. Now since it all follows the same syntax, this might be possible automatically.

Thus, i experimented with “auto links”. This is the pre-processing of the game text to automatically insert “links” of the above form. It worked by looking up words from the text in the game dictionary.

So hey, it would all be for free!

That’s what i thought, until i hit two annoying problems:

  1. Often sections of text will mention the same object several times. This leads to a rather ugly proliferation of links in the text which look untidy, since just one is sufficient.

  2. Homographs: words spelt the same with different meanings.

eg.

Below you is a 100 foot drop into darkness.

Click on “foot” to get

Your feet are size 9.

:slight_smile:

The New Way:

SO instead of auto links, which required manual editing to remove the wrong ones, i now prefer manual minimal markup.

So, i write the [cat] sat on the [mat] and the system takes care of expanding the link syntax. And of course, i don’t mark the “foot” word in the above.

Conclusion:

It’s not much work to mark the words in question, providing the authoring system does the rest of the work. It also means the link words can be manually chosen whenever there are multiple mentions.

Thanks for the comments, everyone! It’s true that tappable links would be all but essential on a phone, but I’m not sure there’s a good TADS interpreter for the phone ecosystem.

I think maybe what I’ll do is make it a strictly type-the-command game for the Comp release, and then later perhaps work out a full implementation of click/tap that the player can turn on or off as desired. It’s going to be enough work getting this game in shape for IFComp without I spend three or four days adding links.

I was inspired to start working on this long-languishing project by the announcement of the new Inform release, so I’m grateful for that! But after only four days I remembered why I dislike Inform, so I switched back to TADS. Your mileage may vary.

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I realize this is mainly about Jim’s I7 game, but Dialog is a newer parser engine that incorporates clickable links out of the box.

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It’s a T3/adv3Lite game. I tried moving it over to I7 but gave up after four days.

I’m curious about Dialog, but I’m not planning to deviate from T3 at this late stage. Maybe I’ll give it a try this fall.

I also realise this is mainly about Jim’s T3 game, but if we are pimping our systems, Quest 5 and QuestJS both support clickable links; Quest 5 it is on by default, QuestJS just adding a single line to add a library.

My personal view is that hyperlinks are great, but either you use links OR you use a parser; I would never have both in a game.

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