CYOA and MCA are not the same gametypes! MUST READ!!

Hi folks.

I know this may sound obvious or somebody may say “I told you all the time but you didn’t get it”, but I just realized that CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) and MCA (Multiple Choice Adventure) are not the same gametypes!

I also realized that because of that I mislabelled all of my IFComp games (Project Delta, Trap Cave, Dead Hotel) in the past years 2008 to 2011. They are not CYOA, but MCA actually! I don’t know why I made that silly little mistake which caused such big confusion in this community, but I can only assume I mixed up something myself or it simply didn’t occur to me at that time, for whatever reason. However, I like to clarify those things now and also give it as a tip/hint to other authors and programmers, so they can avoid making the same mistake and avoid mislabelling their games and thus confusing and even pissing off gamers unintentionally, as I did.

Ok, let’s get to the bottom of it… You will see, it will all make sense…

Now from what I know there are actually 3 types or classifications of text adventure games, not 2 as previously assumed! There is also a 4th type which is the GUI-based (Graphics User Interface) text adventure or so-called “Visual Novel” (text adventure using graphics/images), but I will leave out that type in here, because it’s not important in this case. And the classification has to do with the type of player input and game output each gametype uses. This may also come as a surprise and revelation to some of you newbie authors here who are just starting to get into Interactive Fiction game design. If you also get the “A-haaa! Ofcourse! Stupid me! I didn’t see THAT before!” effect then you know what I mean and how I currently feel after having discovered that.

The actual 3 types…

Gametype 1 : Parser
Command-based player input and usually simple text output by the game. The standard type which is regarded as “Interactive Fiction” (IF). Doesn’t require any further description, because everyone here knows very well what this gametype is. Although some people, including me, may argue that CYOA and MCA are also Interactive Fiction, because “Interactive Fiction” actually is a more sophisticated or prettier sounding name for “Text Adventure Game”. That’s all it is. But this is a whole discussion of its own and I won’t go into any further detail or argument here.

Gametype 2 : CYOA
Choice-based player input, usually 2 to 3 choices per so-called “page”. It is called a page, because the first CYOA games were not computer games but were released as books in which the reader took the role of the player who could turn to different pages in the book, based on his/her prefered choices which were given to him/her at the end of each page in the book. THAT is true CYOA! The output of CYOA is long, detailed and well-written text which usually resembles a novel. The emphasis is on NOVEL! Yes, true CYOA has to be written like a novel book by a very good writer/author. Otherwise it is not CYOA. As a CYOA author you should be aware of that important fact! If you don’t know that then your “CYOA games” will get the same negative feedback as mine did, especially in a place like the IFComp.

For true CYOA go to!

And now comes the “BIG” revelation… and some of you may laugh about it and say “Haha, you didn’t know that?! I knew it all along”! Yeah, YOU knew. But it simply didn’t occur to me. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before, but I see it now and can laugh about it myself.

So here it comes… drumroll

Gametype 3 : MCA
In short: Choice-based text adventure mimicing parser-based text adventure (Type 1)!
In detail: Choice-based player input. The choices resemble parser-based commands. For instance, “(1) examine yourself, (2) look around”. The game output is mostly simple short text but can also be longer and more descriptive text, just like in a usual parser-based text game. The emphasis is on SIMPLE text! Yes, simple text. Not a Pulitzer-type novel, not a screenplay, not a 1000-pages CYOA-book, just simple descriptive text of the current game situation. For example, output “You opened the door.” for player’s choice-based input “Open the door.” As simple as that.

BOOM! That’s it. :slight_smile:

You see, now that you and I know that there is a significant difference between CYOA and MCA all starts to make sense. For example, I understand now why IFComp reviewers hated my games all the time, gave me bad reviews or none at all, or gave me a bad score in the IFComp. It’s not because they hate CYOA. And it’s not because I write very short or sometimes incomplete stories. It’s not that I code own game systems in Microsoft Windows (see Node-X) either.

No no, CYOA is actually very appreciated in this community. Everyone is talking about CYOA now and actually loves it. The IFComp proved it itself when a CYOA entry “The Play by Deirdra Kiai” scored Place 3 in the IFComp 2011! Why did it score that high? Because it was written like a true CYOA. It was a screenplay in Deirdra Kiai’s case. It was not technically advanced from a programmer’s point of view. I can tell you that. And I can make that bold statement as a good programmer which I certainly am. The Play used a simple web-based interface. That’s not advanced. But the actual story was novel-like, it was long, it had detailed text. You can say it was academically well-written like a professional book you can buy in book stores, although I exaggerate here to just demonstrate that this game has what is required if you ever want your game to ever appear in the TOP 10 of the IFComp. Because that’s what the IFComp gamers and reviewers obviously prefer. And it doesn’t matter if you make a parser-based (gametype 1) or choice-based (gametype 2) game.

So no, gamers in this IF Community don’t hate CYOA (see gametype 2), as I falsly assumed and claimed in the previous years. But I did that, because I thought I was writing CYOA when in reality I was writing MCA. So all I can do is apologize for my claims and pointing fingers at people.

What the IF community really hates is MCA (see gametype 3)!

And you know what, they are right. MCA sucks. MCA is mostly a bad type of text adventure game. I can even admit that. And many gamers have bad experiences with it. Not just with my MCA games, but with others aswell. I mean why would anyone want to play some sort of choice-based text adventure game which mimics parser-based games? It confuses the hell out of people. It makes no sense to those people. And that’s why I got reviews like “Why didn’t Emilian Kowalewski write his games in TADS or Z-Code or any other existing proved system?? Why did he create his own system?? Why did he code it in Windows??”

Yeah, I did all that, because I came here as a MCA author. I write MCA games, not CYOA games! That’s my point and revelation. And because I know that MCA sucks. And that’s because I programmed Node-X to end the suckage of that gametype, so to speak. To give it some advancement and even coolness by adding features of parser-based adventures and CYOA. So I’m not a CYOA author! I don’t write novels. I don’t write screenplays. I don’t even read books. I actually hate CYOA (the novel-aspect of it), to be honest. True CYOA that is, now that it’s clear that CYOA and MCA are very different from each other.

You see… But the problem is: I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know that. Or who confused MCA with CYOA or the other way around. And reviewers often make the same mistake unintentionally. The reason for it is that MCA can also mimic CYOA! MCA can mimic many gametypes of text adventure games. And that’s why it is so confusing and hard for reviewers and gamers alike to pinpoint games like these. If reviewers communicated with me directly and told me “Emilian, your games are not CYOA! They are MCA! Think about it first and then come back…” then I would have come to that revelation much earlier and spared you and me much of the bullshit which was going on in between the years 2008 and 2012 here. But don’t get me wrong here. I don’t blame any reviewers at all, because most of them probably didn’t even know themselves that CYOA and MCA are different and that I mislabeled my MCA games as “CYOA”.

Shit happens. :mrgreen:

So how does a typical MCA look like and how does it differ from CYOA?

An example:

[code]MCA Example Game

You are in a basement room. There is a door to the East and a window to the South.

(1) examine yourself
(2) examine room
(3) go east
(4) go south

Enter choice number…


You stand in front of the door. It is closed.

(1) unlock door
(2) examine room
(3) examine yourself
(4) go south


You don’t have a key to unlock the door.

(1) kick the door
(2) examine room
(3) examine yourself
(4) go south


See, that’s why some of my IFComp reviewers wrote stuff like “The use of directions (North, South, West, East) seems pointless to me in a menu-based game.” (By the way, “menu-based” is just another description for “choice-based” which some people are used to say.) Yeah, it sure is pointless if you assume that you are dealing with a CYOA game which doesn’t require commands and can use colorful language and is written like a complex novel or screenplay. But it’s not. You are actually dealing with simple MCA which poses as a parser-based adventure, as I wrote before. And location directions make perfect sense in a parser-based game and system (TADS, Z-Code), don’t they.

So this is one of the first differences which will strike gamers. And I can perfectly understand why many gamers are confused by it and don’t like that kind of game. They think it sucks. Those gamers usually back off and ask themselves the obvious question: “Why have a choice-based game and not a parser-based game in the first place when it tries to be like one?”

You know the answer? Here’s the simple answer: Because Emilian likes the classic parser-based text adventures actually, but he hates to guess and type commands. And because he thinks it’s way cooler and more practical to give the player all the available commands beforehand (for only the current situation ofcourse) in a nicely written menu. In other words, screw command-guessing. :smiley:

That doesn’t mean that the game has to be worse than a true parser-based game. It can also be as complex and challenging. And also you shouldn’t call it a “page”. There are no pages of text here. There are only descriptions of current game situations or states, like you are used to have in parser-based games. This is the second difference which will strike gamers. You don’t have actual pages in MCA like you have in CYOA, even tough you jump from one supposed “page” to another in MCA. It’s just a clearscreen command actually. I use it, because it looks clean. Other MCA programmers don’t have to use it. They can dump the text as it goes scrolling down, like in parser-based systems. :slight_smile:

Some gamers/reviewers may say: “Okay. Well… I can live with that. It’s possible to write enjoyable text adventures when you give the commands beforehand, so the player doesn’t have to guess and type them. But why program an own seperate system for that, such as Node-X, when it can easily be done in existing TADS or Z-Code?”

You know the answer to that? I bet you don’t. So here it is: Because there is a twist in there! MCA can not only pose as parser-based but also pose as true CYOA! It can also use colorful or poetic novel-type command options such as “(1) think about the sense of life” which is very hard to implement in a true parser-based system, as you all know. Not so in CYOA and MCA. There you just write it and anything goes.

So that’s the third difference which will strike gamers. MCA can pose as both, parser-based and CYOA. You know, in some of my written MCA games I make that transition between the parser-based game mode and the CYOA novel-based game mode in a such subtle way that many gamers don’t notice it. Or make it in a very harsh way, so that some gamers notice that something is not right. Or so it seems. And then they are confused and wonder what the hell is going on. First they got command-type options and short text descriptions. Now suddenly games plays as if it was a CYOA novel book. “What the hell is this?!” those gamers ask themselves. It confuses them and they don’t like it. I would say they are just not used to it. That’s all.

See, this is the reason why you need to program a seperate system, such as Node-X. Because all the existing popular parser-based systems, such as TADS, Z-Code and Glulx, can’t give you a full blend/mix between parser and true CYOA. You can implement menu-based choices in those system, but it’s not the same.

Yeah and that’s the fourth difference which strikes gamers: MCA authors like me program their own systems to have any desired feature from parser to true CYOA to even visual graphics-based novel. The point is to have everything at the same time at your disposal as an author and as a player as well. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a system with which you could design any type of text adventure game you want? I think it would be awesome. That was the whole reason behind the creation of Node-X.

So there you have it. MCA can be seen as a gametype of its own. It’s not parser, it’s not CYOA, it’s anything it wants to be. The only definition and requirement is: It has to use a choice-based interface where the player can usually type numbers to make the next move in the game. Letters can also be used.

Imagine if you didn’t have to think in categories. You could just write whatever you want, however you want, and then judge the results purely on the basis of ‘fun’.

Unfortunately, we absolutely have to think in categories and therefore we must expend endless energy figuring out what category we are in or argue for our exclusion or inclusion from categories, because…

… well I admit I don’t know why we have to do any of that at all, but a whole lot of people seem to feel that way.

P.S. I wrote a game like that once, it was the first (no wait – second) game I ever wrote. I didn’t see how to make it more fun without moving to a different interface method (parser) so that is what I did, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make that type of game more fun; it may, however, be extremely difficult. It plays a lot like ‘Dragon’s Lair’ without the video. Ever heard of that old 80s laserdisc arcade game?

I actually tried to play Dragon’s Lair, gameboy version (seriously!), on a phone running a gameboy emulator.

Didn’t really work, of course. But it ran, so that’s something, I guess.

Yeah, we think in categories a lot. I do it too. Especially as a programmer you have to classify everything. In programming languages you deal with classes, functions and commands which all belong to their own categories. Categories and names for categories everywhere.

Sure I know Dragon’s Lair. You are talking with a guy like me who is over 30 years old and played many arcade games in his childhood on Commodore 64, Atari, Amiga. You name it. I actually liked Dragon’s Lair! It had some sucky elements, because the programming was a bit buggy, but it had its own flair. :slight_smile:

I also liked to play Zak McKracken and Maniac Mansion on C64. Graphical point’n’click adventures which use commands are something which I’d like to program aswell. That’s a nice programming challenge!

I think it probably is largely this. Most people don’t like incomplete or partly translated stories, and there is a sizable group who don’t like homebrew systems almost on principle.

“MUST READ!!” is never a good sign for a post.

‘Runs only in Windows’ is the blackest mark a homebrew system can have, bar none. It rises to level of ‘oh what’s the damn point’. But this wouldn’t really affect my assessment of the game itself.

Okay, leaving behind my snark about forum etiquette… (And the fact that I, too, lack a Windows machine these days.)

I think your basic point is correct: the choice-based interface does not match up well with the Zork-style game design – which I will summarize as objects that must be manipulated in medium-level, regular ways. It worked poorly in 1990 in Spellcasting 101, and it has continued to work poorly every time someone has “invented” it for the past twenty years.

Like Paul, I don’t care about the category labels. Forget splitting a set of games into “CYOA” and “MCA”; I am interested in what the game is trying to do and what tools it uses to accomplish it. Figuring out that you can slide a newspaper under a door and then put a letter-opener into the keyhole (think Zork 2, before it was an IF cliche) is an interesting realization with a parser interface(*). With a menu interface it is just a matter of working through the hoops until you are done. So don’t do that.

(* If you are conversant enough with the parser that “put X in Y” and “put X under Y” are obvious commands to type! Tangent to familiar discussion.)

I was the one who said immediately previously that I wouldn’t play it because I don’t have Windows but then I deleted that (thus the orphaned reference) b/c I became uncertain about whether being authored in Windows meant it had to be played in Windows. (I have not actually tried any of the OP’s games.)

Yes, due to floundering expectations, which is almost always to be avoided. However, the ‘working through the hoops’ thing is the basis of the alternate endings approach that is popular with even a lot of short parser games. Many times I feel like I am simply running through hoops with comp entries, which, while not exactly CYOA/multiple choice style, often seem like they might as well be.

And you know what? This is isn’t always a bad thing even for a ostensibly parsered game. It really depends on what I was led to believe I would be doing with my keystrokes. It really just depends.


Did you play Clod’s Quest back when it was up? It’s very much MCA, by your definition, but the Undum version got a good response from everyone who played it. The only complaint I remember was that the game was very short.

(The site that I’d put it on previously went down; does anybody know a good place to host it?)

The Binary is also close to MCA; the commands aren’t quite like parser commands but it’s very much about moving around a space and manipulating objects to solve puzzles. And I think “Vicious Cycles,” to which it’s a sequel, was a parser game before it got a multiple-choice port. It’s also in a homebrew system and was fairly well received.

No. If you think that that is the problem, you’re mistaken.

Forget the labels. Your entries were partly unfinished. They were, for most people, not a lot of fun to play. They, were, in other words bad games. If you had explained the difference between MCA and CYOA beforehand, they would still have been bad games. I’m not saying this to be unkind, but “The Play” succeeded not because the “IF community” loves CYOA and hates MCA, but because it was a good game – it had good characters, a memorable setting and well-written prose. Which strikes me as good things to have in a text-only game.

If you want to build your games around minimalist prose, no plot (what you call “novel”-like) and a DOS-looking interface, that’s fine too, if they have some other awesome gameplay feature; emerging plot like Dwarf Fortress, maybe, or a great tactical combat system.

The Windows-only thing didn’t help, of course.


Well, there are some people in this IF community who have a general problem with Microsoft Windows, because they are either Linux or Apple Macintosh (Mac OS X) fanboys and fangirls. We Windows users and programmers have discovered this over the years.

And we always say to those people: Stop complaining if you don’t have Windows and use WINE instead to run our games!

WINE (WINdows Emulator) is well-known, even in this community, and can almost run any Windows application on Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux, and can even run Windows Apps on Mac OS X to some extent.

For more info, read here:

And don’t forget to download your latest copy of WINE at


Uh… make me? You see, what happens when you get confrontational and make demands, is that the person who is most willing to walk away, always wins.

Just out of curiosity, why is it a black mark that a homebrew system only runs on the most widely used operating system on the planet?

It’s not a black mark for a homebrew game, but for a homebrew system it’s pretty bad. Anything that purports to be a universal system for only certain machines, I assign a black mark. I am agnostic as to platform in this regard. However, I do admit to disliking being forced to install Windows with a little extra venom, so I am not impartial in that case and my mark is a little blacker. 8) No offence, Windows-ies. I don’t think universal IF systems that only work on one platform can really be taken seriously. I certainly would not invest any time in learning them, even if they ran on my favourite platform. (An exception is if I could author in my platform, but publish to every platform. I’d still hold a bit of a grudge, I just would give it a slightly less black black mark.)

I have a way higher standard of openness for systems than for individual games, essentially. I do this in my own self-interest. I only want to support stuff that allows me the maximum freedom of choice in my future decision-making.

It’s a black mark because it won’t run on iPhone, iPad, or Android. Windows lost its majority status in 2011, and it will never recover.

Computers look different now.

I use Windows and won’t run homebrew systems. Web, Gargoyle, or goodbye.