Do multimedia and hyperlinks/buttons/etc really make parser IF more accessible or improve it as an art form in any way?

I’ve been seeing people singing the praises of Vorple and saying adding graphics, sound effects, and UI elements to parser interactive fiction is the future and will make parser IF more fun/accessible for people, so I’ve been considering switching to TADS 3 Web UI a lot lately, so that I can craft a cohesive themed experience for my text adventure, with custom text styling, ambient background sounds, background images, hyperlinks to examine objects, buttons to do various actions, an automatic map, character portraits, etc. Like what Vorple does for Inform.

However, the more I think about it, the less I feel like graphics and UI elements really do anything to enhance parser IF artistically, or increase its accessibility to people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in the medium. I’m not sure what images really add to text descriptions, for instance, except for ruining the reader’s freedom to fill in the blanks of a description and imagine things how they want to, subtly contradicting or distracting from the text, and/or replacing text that can communicate far more about atmosphere and themes and subtext than a picture can. (A thousand words are worth ten-thousand pictures, or about 40 seconds of video!). Sound effects I sort of get. As for adding UI elements, I don’t think adding action buttons, or a menu of options for actions based on what objects you select, or making object names clickable to inspect them, really adds much either. Those UI elements are entirely superfluous add-ons, peripheral to the core game mechanics and interaction loop of parser IF, which doesn’t change, so if someone already isn’t interested in parser interactive fiction, I can’t help but feel that it won’t fundamentally change anything for them. It feels like all of these changes are just set dressing that fails to either improve the medium for those who like it, or make it actually, practically more accessible to those who don’t.

The other thing is, one of the magical parts of parser interactive fiction is that you need a much smaller set of skills, and a much smaller investment of time and resources, to produce a parser interactive fiction game than a graphical video game of a similar size and detail. This frees parser interactive fiction authors to be far more ambitious than they could otherwise be in another medium, and enables them to work alone to produce ambitious works. Adding on all this other stuff detracts from that substantially.

Additionally, speaking of accessibility, isn’t the fact that parser IF is basically presentation-agnostic, so the player can choose for themselves how things look, from font and font size to foreground and background colors, a huge benefit? It means people can choose what’s legible for them, which is great for visually impaired people and people who struggle with eye strain or visual processing problems. It’s kind of nice that parser IF works like ebooks, you know?

Anyway, am I missing something here?

Edit: this is not meant to come off hostile to those who use/like Vorple, I just write that way >.<


Vorple is ten years old. It is not the future. It is a well-attested model that IF games can adopt today if they want.

Vorple is a tradeoff: your game is web-only, but you have full web design capability if you want it. Some games go this way. If it’s transformed the way people see IF, look at how those games have been received.


A lot could be addressed by acknowledging that different people like different things (I think this has severely hindered the development of an IF grand theory of everything),but it is hard to say something is better without an agreed-upon good.

A thousand words can only equal an image if these are standard units of measurement. Before Spring Thing, I was having trouble with getting images to publish with a web page, and I said, sincerely, that I would pull Repeat the Ending from the festival if I couldn’t get them to display. I really would have!

E: In the case of RTE, there were 10 images and 87k (a crude estimate!) words of printed output.


Yeah, it’s ultimately going to end up being subjective as far as which is better, so maybe that part of my question was ill-advised, but I still wonder about the “more accessible” part. Do images and such really make parser IF more attractive to people who usually aren’t interested?


I don’t object to images in my parser games, but I agree that the whole idea of parser games is to let the text create the world. If there’s a need for an image, use it. For instance, in TALP, which is geared toward making parser games accessible to kids and newbies, graphics can really help people make the transition, so it’s a good idea to have some. I used images of words in specific fonts for a game I wrote because I really felt the game needed it. And I adore good ASCII and have used that when it was appropriate.

But really it comes down to what you as the author feel like the game needs. If it doesn’t need images and you’re just slapping in them in there in the hope of attracting more players, don’t.

As to sound-- I am in a minority here, but I almost never have sound on in any game I play. Like with images, if a few well-placed sound effects really fit with the game, great. Otherwise, why bother?


I think that the answer to “does IF need multimedia elements?” is exactly the same as “do books need illustrations?”: no, but some are enhanced by them and some are specifically designed to include them and would not work without, and all of that is perfectly fine and doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a text based medium or threaten the existence of text-only works.

About accessibility: it’s not a binary, or even a spectrum. Yes, text-only works are obviously more accessible to visually impaired people. Meanwhile, there are people who find it easier to get into works with visual elements for a variety of reasons. The answer to “is thing A more accessible than thing B?” is almost always going to be “depends on who you’re talking to”.

(And those things aren’t mutually exclusive! It’s possible to allow the player to customize text while still including multimedia elements, or include things like alt text or accessibility options like text-only modes.)


All this is valid and I agree. Just as film and TV have not usurped and supplanted print books, fully graphical video games perhaps have taken a good deal of attention away from text narrative, but we’re still chugging along here. And as everything comes around, many indie games and small developers come back to rely on text (or graphical adventure systems and tropes) such as conversation trees as a major element of their games, if not the primary focus.

IMO, a good parser games does not require flashy whiz-bang graphics and presentation. Those are cool, and a well-presented and attractive narrative text is a goal - just as you might enjoy a leather-bound, creamy-heavyweight gilt-edged paper collectors edition of a book, but you can get the same exact story out of it as a used $2 mass market paperback edition. Sort of like the BBC web-presentation of HHGTTG - that game was a classic way before they added some graphics to it, but the presentation probably made it more discoverable to people who’d never even heard the word “Zork”.

Like book illustrations, it’s neat occasionally in parser to get a “feelie” like a map or an image of a scribbled note or a found photograph. Purists of course hope feelies are not necessary for accessibility, but sometimes they can add a bit of immersion to a story.

I’m a big fan of adding music to my games, despite nobody else really sharing my views. Many of my games have developmentally been pushed forward by the exact right bit of inspirational music and I will often build a soundtrack specifically to write a game to for the right mood and feel. When writing a haunted house parser game, I included a low subtle droning at a certain point and got feedback from a tester that he was surprised how much actual dread it inspired in him. Unfortunately parser games are really difficult to get the audio experience consistent, so I don’t do that anymore. But I love adding occasional images.

With choice games media is a bit better fit. Since the player isn’t concerned with typing and is already “exploring” the screen hands-on with the mouse directly, it makes more sense and is viscerally satisfying to present a keypad with numbers to punch in with a satisfying boop when the code is accepted, or a clickable map with hyperlinks to navigate by.

What I’ve found is I really do not want to switch back and forth. I want to keep my hands on the keyboard and type, or I want to stay on the mouse and click. That little switch between finding the home row and fumbling for the mouse to me is a tiny immersion-breaker, and the more it happens, the less I enjoy a game.


In that sense of accessible, I really can’t say. My persepective is that learning the rhetoric of parser IF is the bar to entry. I know smart people that don’t get it, or don’t like it. I don’t think it’s a problem of making a better or perfect tutorial, and I don’t think in-game links or images will change that, either.

That isn’t to say that these things won’t make good IF, whether it attracts new players or not. I don’t think any artist should bear the burden of “growing the audience of parser IF” whenever they sit down to write.

Speaking for myself, I did not put images in my game to appeal to people who don’t play parser games. I did try to write a story that might appeal to them, and I think it worked for some people. I was aware that the menu-driven “guide” inside the game might be easy for some players to latch onto, and I liked that. I think it is as large as it is because I saw it as a way for players to take a break from gameplay yet remain in the story. & I liked writing it, of course. & it helped me achieve my artistic goals! Sometimes, things just fall together in the right way.

I don’t know how true it is that players control the appearance of their play session. IFDB sort of stovepipes players to, and I think this method only allows for browser-related configs (zoom and light/dark mode on my system). Another piece of the accessibility puzzle is that players ought to be able to follow a path of least resistance and still have a definitive playing experience. There’s an accepted practice of directing players to download binaries or else play an inferior version, etc etc.

Note! I like the play online feature. It’s great. Don’t get me wrong!


Not sure what you mean by “stovepipe”. I went to IFDB and checked a few games, and IMHO the download links are much more prominent than the “Play On-line” button.


Yeah, this is definitely a factor for me as well.


transitive verb. : to transmit (information) to a higher level in an organization through an isolated and narrow channel of communication .

I believe the inference is that installing a standalone interpreter program to play a game is for some an insurmountable first step. I agree - I consistently nope out of a game that asks me to install a peripheral app. The “play online” is a workaround for that which to people who’ve customized their ideal interpreter presentation and display might seem less ideal since it can’t be customized, but that’s the hurdle.


In UI design (I think it’s called UX now?) the interface should never distract, it must compliment the content and facilitate a better experience for the end-user. If elements of a UI go against that mantra, it’s not a good thing. For example, if the UI has some ornate designs that elicit a certain theme that fits the content, that can be a boon.

Switch what I’m saying to graphics and audio complimenting the story’s text now. Does this graphic enhance the story? Does it add to what the words are describing with additional, important information? Then the graphics are adding to the experience. It’s why a lot of those visual novels show facial expressions and body language with the characters swapping in and out as dialog is displayed. The dialog doesn’t typically describe the mood of the characters. Nor are the environments described in many cases. The graphics carry that load.

Also, as you pointed out, extra media is extra work. Is the quality of the music/graphics you’re adding consistent? If not, the game is hurt by the inclusion of it. Inconsistency can be jarring to most and takes people out of the moment.

Lastly, if you remove something, how does it affect the story? If it doesn’t change much of anything, it’s not needed. You need to be your own editor all the time, even beyond the written word.

The only benefit of purely eye-catching things is for marketing. A title graphic does the trick. Anything beyond that has to have real purpose.

Speaking about marketing, you also asked if additional media would attract more players. If it’s of high quality, of course it will. People see more ways to engage with the game, but it doesn’t guarantee the game is better for it. Sometimes a movie trailer is better than the movie it promotes. Expectations can impact a person’s enjoyment too. If your goal is to make money, then yes, media could help greatly.

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer, just your own artistic vision… balanced with reasonable editing. Don’t screw up! :wink:


Speaking as a new player to parser games but know a lot about visual novels, I’m not so sure. While there aren’t that many visual novels with text input, I do think it’s important to bring up graphics aren’t everything. They don’t get players as well as a good story would.

And there’s a huge problem with visual novels having illustrations that don’t match the text or are frankly unnecessary. I’ve played visual novels where I sincerely believed the omission of images would actually improve the experience.

… Which leads me to my interest in text adventure games. Emphasizing text over other elements means a host of new strengths and weaknesses. I concur with people here that letting the imagination run wild in text parser games is great. There are many tricks in text adventure games that can’t be replicated in visual novels and elsewhere. The IF works I really enjoy are the ones that exploit this text-only medium and this includes works with images.

Drew Cook has already mentioned their lovely Repeat the Ending, but Everybody Dies is another game that uses illustrations to supplement their story. Emily Short in her review brought up how the ambiguity of these illustrations adds to the game – and I think that’s only possible in mediums that emphasize the text. They aren’t for getting newbies to play these games; they’re there to add something to the interactive fiction experience.

I don’t think parser games that have multimedia elements are going to grab prospective players. Same with hyperlinks and buttons. If added poorly, they might be seen as extraneous elements and could give a bad first impression to players. There’s really no general rule of thumb in getting anyone interested in IF in general.

I entered the world of parser games because I wanted something different and unique: a simulation where my text input changes the world. Others may get into the scene for different reasons and there’s going to be a section that will never get into this scene; I know people who are just turned off by the idea of reading a text-only game, despite being massive bookworms themselves.

And in regards to the Play Online feature, I think I speak for some folks that I got into IF because of this. Even I recognized then I’d probably get a subpar experience, but I wasn’t sure how invested I would be in this scene. It’s a really useful feature to get people to try IF out without asking them to download Gargoyle!


I agree with a lot of the earlier points.

For me, multimedia can work well, and can even be breathtaking; I remember a Pseudavid twine game that had no special elements but at the end had a paint splash cover the screen; it was awesome.

But in general, the ‘evolution of parser games’ already happened. Graphics and Clickable links led to adventure games, deeper graphical immersion led to Myst, and the end goal of most ‘add UI and graphics elements to a text game’ is just a regular video game, which is of course a very popular genre.

So I think adding graphics and helpful UI elements is a good idea, it’s just a good idea that’s already a several-billion dollar industry.

Peripherally off-topic VN asset discussion

I am not widely versed in VNs, but from understanding the production process I see how there can be resource/budget limitations. Even professional VNs have a limited stock number of backgrounds and paper-doll character illustrations, so if there’s, say, a one-off story element where a character gets a black eye, it might be prohibitive to create a custom element to show the player that. So you get lots of conversation “what happened to your eye” and since the player is used to things being displayed visually, they’re like yeah, what’s wrong with this character’s eye? and it all falls back to text description and suspension of disbelief. If there’s no background art for a room that’s seldom used, you might get just an overview exterior image of the location and talking heads like “Hey, your rec room is really nice! Look at the foosball table!” there is no foosball table nor rec room on screen.

And some independent VNs might have one illustration of a character that never changes - that’s their whole character budget, or they can get a friend to make them one rendering but can’t ask for too much if they’re not paying.

I remember in the Game Grumps Let’s Play of DDLC, they’re like “Oh we’re sitting over here now? There’s no illustration for that? Okay!” …so often a deficit of visual resources is made up in text narration! Which as stated is one of the main draws of prose IF - you can have an “unlimited budget” for set and special effects if it’s only described and not visually illustrated. The reader’s imagination can exceed anything the best CG artists can create

I think some VNs deal with resource limits by employing very strategic layering - “paper doll” isn’t just a casual term - they often have characters with “tinker toy” elements - if you need the arm up, you paste on a different arm which is specifically designed to always hook to where the shoulder coordinates are expected to be. And you can layer different outfits over a character if you know they only can be in six basic poses. They might do the layering live in the engine, or have the illustrator do multiple faces and arms and legs that can be positioned “paper doll” fashion and saved as needed - similar to how South Park streamlines the animation with stock shapes and facial expressions to do it fast and within budget.

Off-topic VN Talk

I’d like to write up something for this forum someday about my thoughts on visual novels versus interactive fiction, but I’d need to get deeper into IF theory first.

But yeah, I don’t want to be too harsh on visual novels. I write VNs after all! Once you commissioned graphics (and voice acting) to be made, you are stuck with this. There are actually visual novels where the production schedule was so messed up that the game got voice acting first. The writer had to edit in such a way it wouldn’t conflict with the already recorded lines.

The paper doll element can actually be explored further. I think visual novels are best understood as “theatrical plays for your computer”. Much like how we see stage props that are repeatedly used on the stage, we can willingly suspend our disbelief and assume that a character portrait bouncing up and down is actually movement. There’s something powerful about using these limited and stock assets in creative ways, especially if you’ve seen this portrait used forever but there’s a different variation on it.

It’s also entirely possible to use this approach with backgrounds: I was part of a project where, recognizing a million original backgrounds was not feasible, the team decided to commission assets like trees and rocks; you can then rearrange each scene with these assets, thus making new but familiar backgrounds for each scene. The way we can toy around with audiovisual assets and make something new out of remixing them is really interesting.

And I can talk about this aspect of presentation forever, like how arranging specific portraits can make for cinematic battle scenes. If you’re familiar with manga paneling, people have actually done that in visual novels. That’s the kind of stuff that I enjoy: people exploiting the strengths of the medium to tell something that wouldn’t be possible in other places.


Are you peeps playing with whatever settings offers to you? How archaic! :grin:

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this sounds snarkier than I want it to, but “everybody knows how to do this obvious technical thing” has yet to solve any problems of accessibility in IF, even if it’s been a thing for years.


My response comes from the experience of writing According to Cain, which offers graphics and music as part of the game. (Some of what follows comes from my talk at NarraScope a few weeks ago on that subject.)

Also, I’m not trying to be combative. Hopefully it doesn’t come out like that.

First off, almost every IF game released these days has digital cover art; I do think a good cover enhances the experience by suggesting the game’s tone and subject matter (just like a good book cover). So, there’s one example how graphics may add to a game.

For accessibility, I agree. I permitted the user to decide whether to include them or not at the start of Cain. Graphics and music are not required to play.

Why add in-game graphics, then? To add some polish to the experience. To help set a mood. To suggest a setting. I did not use images as illustrations, in the way illustrations in a children’s book show what’s written on the page. Rather, the graphics I used (slices of paintings depicting Cain’s world, as I envisioned it) were set in a sidebar and between chapter breaks. Again, I viewed it all as polish, not replacing text. Think of the flourishes in an illuminated manuscript.

Regarding sound, I didn’t use sound effects, but I did assemble a soundtrack and matched music to locations and events within the game. Again, I made this optional from the get-go for the user, and again, I regarded it as polish, not an essential part of the game.

I know full well some players turned off the music, while others simply didn’t know it existed (because they played with an interpreter that didn’t support it). That’s okay. I’m just happy they’re playing, even it’s over a TTY.

But I also know from reviews that some people enjoyed the soundtrack. Cain even got some praise on how well the music meshed with the game (and some surprise that the music wasn’t commissioned explicitly for it).

Sure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t incorporate other media, so long as your game can “degrade” (UX term, not mine) for interpreters or users that want or need more control over presentation.

(It helps that TADS’ multimedia features, while dated, were designed with this “degradation” in mind.)

Lots of IF elements are superfluous—being able to open multiple games in multiple windows is a dreamy, futuristic world, if you played text adventures in the early 1980s. The status bar is not really necessary for most IF. Even parser features, like being able to refer to an object as IT after referring to it earlier, or implicit open/unlock actions, are superfluous. How many text games written today could be made to work with two-word parsers? Quite a few, I bet.

These are quality-of-life features. If I’m presented with a numbered menu in IF, but the choices are also hyperlinked, it seems to me that’s okay.

One more thing…believe it or not, adding media to Cain helped me improve the game’s text and design. I listened to my soundtrack incessantly while coding it; the music put me into the world while I built it. Much of the prose describing Cain’s world comes from studying the paintings of the Hudson River School, and I wanted to share that with players.

So, while I describe the additional media as “polish,” the experience of adding it actually fueled my creativity while writing the game.

It’s hard to explain, but looking back, I would not have done it differently.


This was a very helpful reply, thank you!