CYOA and IF

So there’s been a bit of a discussion regarding “Zombie Exodus”, a CYOA (that went, I daresay, mostly unnoticed by most IFers, though I could be wrong) that got tons of votes for the XYZZYs. The discussion is in the appropriate thread, in the appropriate board.

Out of that discussion arose another - the status of CYOA and whether it can be placed alongside traditional IF, and therefore whether it even has a place here in this forum, in this forum’s activities, in this community’s awards.

It might be time to discuss the issue in full. I don’t know if it has been discussed before - if so, then it was surely quite awhile back. I’m also not sure whether there is much interest in this discussion, because for all practical reasons there is little real interference - occasionally we have CYOA games being nominated for IF awards, and little else.

If there is interest in this discussion, then I’ll cast the first stone. I believe CYOA is a form of IF - much less complex, offering more limited options to the user, often focusing more on the storyline and characters than on any actual puzzles. The system is the same: the computer textually describes the situation and asks for your input, which it will then use to further the story. The difference is that it limits your command to a few choices, thus losing one of the key charms in IF, surely - but still IF, much like Myst is as much a graphic adventure as the ones with tons of verb-icons, and Loom is a graphic adventure as much as any game with inventory management.

I will refrain from posting any replies for a while now. I don’t want to start a dialog between me and someone else - I’d like to start a discussion, and that’s another thing I’d like this thread to measure: whether there’s even enough interest in this issue to generate a discussion.

I don’t think that’s right. IF and CYOA are both forms of text game, and that you can easily spin the disadvantages you list into advantages doesn’t say much for either judgement. CYOA offers affordances integrally tied into the game world, helping to make the player experience smoother and more immersive. By limiting your commands to a few choices, you make the experience less frustrating and at the same time easier to implement on devices where typing is less enjoyable.

If a moderator could move the relevant posts from the XYZZY thread to this one, that would be awesome.

And that makes them different. Whether they’re better or not is subjective. But they’re different enough to need their own classification and rules.

CYOA[1] is definitely Interactive Fiction. It is interactive: you have to make choices which have meaningful consequences for the story. It is fiction: not in the sense of it necessarily being ‘made up’ (after all, you can have nonfiction interactive fiction), but in the literary sense of the word: a hyperlink game is a textual medium written with the intent to afford someone a fictive experience; to tell them a story.

Of course, a hyperlink game isn’t a parser-based text game, but I think they’re sufficiently similar to be judged by much the same standards. Just like Maniac Mansion, a parser-based graphical adventure, can be compared to the entirely point-and-click Day of the Tentacle.

  1. Or hyperlink games, as I prefer to call them- CYOA is a brand name, and like ‘text adventure’ can be a little misleading.

You cannot use the literal meaning of the term here. Because then I’m going to object that Doom is also Interactive Fiction because it’s both interactive and fiction. Or I can attempt the same joke I did in another thread: the New York Times is interactive fiction too, because their website is interactive and it’s also mostly fiction. So there.

Maniac Mansion, parser-based? I never played a parser version of it… though obviously I understand what you mean, and will mentally translate to “Space quest I-III --> Space Quest IV-VI” (or any of the Sierra Quest games).

I’m sorry you misunderstand me; you are equivocating here: there are different senses of the word ‘fiction’. You are using it in the sense of ‘an invented idea or narrative; an imaginary thing’, and I am using it in the more specific sense of literature: i.e. text-based stories. The Play, Zork and Lost Pig are all interactive text based stories; Doom and arguably the New York Times are not.

I might have recalled incorrectly, but I’m pretty sure that while there were verb buttons, the whole thing was built over a parser-engine and you could type commands. But yeah, I’m sure Sierra presents a clearer example.

But you used the term “Interactive Fiction”, not “Interactive Literary Fiction”. Therefore, by following your own logic, Doom is a piece of IF.

This is what my whole point is. “Interactive Fiction” doesn’t explicitly mention written text. And it also doesn’t mention a parser. But it still uses text as a central medium, as well as a parser.

Joey, while I agree with you, I’ll have to ask you to remember that, if we go the literal way, any game can be a RPG in that it involves playing a role, usually the role of the player character. “Interactive Fiction” is too broad a term to be applied literally - “text adventure” might be best used in this scenario.

A term which, I must say, can also encompass CYOA.

If it really could, CYOA wouldn’t be called CYOA. They came up with that name because they know it’s a different thing. Different enough to have its own name.

Again, you misunderstand me. The word fiction, by my dictionary at least, has four senses of the word. I was taking the ‘fiction’ in ‘interactive fiction’ to mean one of those senses. You’re insisting on taking it by another sense of the word. If I say ‘my hobbies include fiction’, you won’t (just) think that I mean my hobbies include reading fabrications and imaginary things: you’ll think my hobbies include reading a textual medium (e.g. novels, short stories). When I say to my friends ‘I play interactive fiction’, they always think I mean that I play CYOA game books.

I’m not saying we should stick religiously to a certain definition of ‘interactive fiction’, I was merely suggesting that the term itself easily leant to including parser and nonparser text games. I take the point about RPGs (coincidentally, I was thinking on exactly that matter the other day). An ‘RPG’ has a set of expectations about it- connotations not literally described by the words ‘role-playing game’. ‘Interactive fiction’ of course has its own connotations.

This is difficult in part because there’s more of a continuum than people tend to acknowledge, both on the “world model” and on the “input type” axes.

– Cave of Time and other CYOA books in which there is no world state modeling beyond the page number you’re on

– Fighting Fantasy books and other CYOA books where the player is supposed to keep track of inventory, stats, or other features.

– ChoiceScript, Undum, etc. projects that track qualities under the hood. (Varytale will be of this ilk also.) These typically do not have a fully-expressed concept of rooms and objects, but can be sophisticated in the narrative structures they create, nonetheless. Ren’Py games do similar things, just with the addition of graphics as a significant feature. Conceptually, Echo Bazaar is also a relative of this material; so is One Week, which is about how a high school student apportions time during the week prior to the SATs and prom, with resource-management puzzles that affect social, financial, and academic outcomes.

– The Binary and the new Quest front-ends, as well as The Colder Light – these have most or all of an IF world model going on but present it through a graphical front end in various ways.

– Walker and Silhouette, Starborn, etc., all the way up through Blue Lacuna, which are using standard or even enhanced, super-simulational IF world models, but are offering clickable or typed-keyword shortcuts for some or all actions. And there’s Ferrous Ring, which allows several interaction modes from standard parsed input through more-hinted stuff down to “just run me through the walkthrough, please.”

– Pale Blue Light, which uses a standard IF model in some cases but not in others, and treats typed input in different ways during different parts of the game. (Worth trying, for those who haven’t.)

– Space Under the Window, Threading the Labyrinth, and interactive poetry projects that take keywords or typed input but do not use a standard world model and are doing something radically different with the words typed.

– Ad Verbum is also kind of a relative to these, since there are world models and puzzles, but the precise wording of the player’s command has a significance that it usually does not. Likewise maybe make some change is absolutely a meditation on the particular verbs available to the player and the mental (not world) model that that implies.

I am happy saying that there are neat artistic and narrative things to be done in all of these forms, and I also strongly feel that they’re close enough relatives to one another to foster interesting discussion. I don’t think that doing so puts us on a slippery slope to forgetting all about parser games and talking only about the latest AAA console projects, because there are still some important formal connections between these styles: they’re all about text output, and a reader/player whose engagement is primarily an engagement with and through the words.

Probably there are some IF authors who are doing IF because they don’t have the resources to put together a graphical game (the sentiment Jim Aikin expressed elsewhere), but that’s not the case for everyone; some of us work on other types of games as well, but still see a lot of continuing interest in what can be done in a primarily text-focused field.

I also think that it has strongly been to the good of IF for the community to engage more with the surrounding indie community; if there were people who were (for instance) offended by the presence of non-parser works at the IF Demo Fair, no one expressed that feeling to me, whereas a number of people expressed a positive reaction.

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I always loved reading posts by Emily Short. :slight_smile:

Expecially because they are extremely… Short. :slight_smile:
But she catches the problem. The whole thing is NOT a matter of parser vs cyoa. It’s about a number of “overenthusiastic” votes spoling the awards. There are games which deserve an award and other which must go crowdsourcing. That’s why i strongly deprecate popular judgement. To use a very old and tired example: in year 33AD people choose Barabba (or how do you call him) over Jesus Christ.

I personally want CYOA in the if community, to answer the post, btw.

Of course it is. I can’t imagine how this could even be in question.

I’m going to copy-paste a comment I made in the other thread (the “you” in it is RealNC), with one addition:

My view is that IF, like most genres (if not concepts!), is a Wittgensteinian family resemblance concept. It doesn’t have a single essence; what makes something IF is that it’s like other works of IF, which are in turn like other works of IF, etc. So any two works of IF might not have one particular thing in common, but if you look at the totality of IF you’ll find an overlapping network of criss-crossed similarities, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. [Addition: As wonderfully illustrated in Emily’s comment.]

Which also means that what gets counted as IF is contingent, and may be a judgment call. It’s because IF evolved in a particular way that we count the things we do as IF. If people who play IF start to play and write ChoiceScript games and see them as part of the same thing, then that’s a good reason to say they’re IF. If not, not. Which is somewhat to say that ChoiceScript counts as IF because people enter ChoiceScript games in IF competitions. (And also perhaps because IF people have been doing other CYOAs for a while.)

(But can’t we say that IF involves interacting by typing words? Well, that would be a decision you’d made, and anyway there are always counterexamples.)

Which is a long-winded way of saying, if you want to decide that IF has to have typed commands, that’s fine. You can make your decision that that’s the essence of IF. But other people may have a legitimate disagreement with you on that front.

I think it’s important to have a short and sweet term that does exclude hypertext/CYOAs and all other non-parser works. I don’t think “parser-based IF” is good enough for the long run.

I agree with Joey’s comment on the first page of this thread that “hyperlink” is a good description for web-based CYOAs. I like duality of “interactive fiction” and “hypertext fiction.” One solution would be to keep “interactive fiction” for games that are clearly closer to the parser side of the spectrum, while leaving “hypertext fiction” for games that are clearly choice-based. Because IF and “HF” (using this hypothetical terminology) are clearly related to each other, a new parent term would have to be invented to describe the whole family of text-based computer fiction games.

However, it seems more likely that the community is going to include CYOAs in the definition of “interactive fiction.” If that’s the case, we really need a new term to describe only parser games and exclude hypertext/choice, within the parent category of IF.

What’s wrong with “parser IF”?

Maybe nothing, but I feel that the differences between parser and choice-based IF – without denying the fact that they also have much in common – are great enough that a clear distinction should be made. After all, I feel that someone in the community who may want to (for example) run a mini-comp for only one or the other category should be able to do so without having to explain his or her criteria to separate the two at length.

There are definitely benefits to discussing parser-IF and choice-IF together (I guess those are the terms I’ll use for this post :wink:). However, I believe there is also good cause to discuss them separately at times. It’s probably true that parser-IF and choice-IF are not apples and oranges. They may both be apples, but they are different kinds of apples. Some times it’s good to discuss all the different varieties of apples together, but sometimes you just want a Red Delicious and you don’t care about Crispins.