Flathead's Big Ol' Rant

Let me just start off by saying that I’m sorry if I posted this in the wrong forum, or if I offend anyone.

I have been playing IF since 2006. I have played works from 1976 (the original Adventure) to 2016 (I recently started playing Midnight Swordfight). I have seen Glulx go from “That new fandangled platform that’s slowly catching up in popularity” to “another one of those widely used platforms”. What’s my point? I have seen the evolution of the medium (and art form) of interactive fiction (some of it first-hand).

the mo easy, the mo bad games:
I started playing IF just before Inform 7 came out. At the time, I had an understanding that “People can make these games, but only via programming languages like Inform (or systems like ADRIFT).” Once I started playing games written with ADRIFT, ALAN, Quest, ETC (and eventually Inform 7), I started to realize something. An easy authoring system is all well and good. However, if the author’s of said games don’t work at designing a game, it’s likely that the game will not be as good (E.G. “Coming out of the Closet” vs “Frenetic Five”). (Well, I take that back. If the author has at least a few ideas, he/she can make a decent game. “CC”, another game by Vuorinen, is a great example of a game where a single idea–a puzzle idea, in this case-- can be used to create a pretty good game.)
Don’t get me wrong–people can write bad games in any language. However, most new authors, confronted with an easier system, will be tempted to jump right in and start coding immediately. That’s why the DM4 (Inform 6 Designer’s manual), the TADS manual, and even the ALAN manual suggest designing games first.
(Now that I think about it, the british IF community experienced a similar thing in the 80’s–after “the Quill” was released.)

Just what is IF:
In the more recent years, I’ve seen the definition of “interactive fiction” change. To be more specific, I’ve seen the “choose your own adventure” or “Hypertext Gamebook” community and the IF community merge. (I think this really started when authors started entering web-based games into the IFComp.) To me, Interactive Fiction means “A text-based game with a parser”, not a “choose your own adventure”. (I do play CYOA games from time to time. I’ve even considered making them.) Imho, I think IF and CYOA are two different things. CYOA games are ok. In fact, the folks over at “Choice of Games” have CYOA games down to a science. IMHO, mixing traditional IF and CYOA don’t mix (like Doom and Super Mario Bros).
In conclusion:
Game design is important.
CYOA and IF are two different things IMHO.
And a mustachioed plumber shooting at monsters is not a good idea.

This is not a contentious statement. :slight_smile:

However, an easy-to-use authoring system is still a good thing.

Of course.

You don’t have to change, but you recognize that the majority has. That’s fine.

And if they are putting a chunk of their energy into wrassling an obtuse authoring system that could have gone towards designing a good game, the game will not be as good.

If there are more games you don’t like these days, don’t play 'em. Nobody’s lost anything.

I’m sorry, I can’t quite hear you over this obvious creative and commercial peak IF is experiencing right now.

I’ll beg to differ, and with considerable enthusiasm and optimism for the future. Several intelligent people (most notably Ingold and Maher) have thought about the differences between CYOA and parser-IF, and especially thought about their strengths. CYOA is good for one thing; parser-IF is good for another.

When it was pointed out in a discussion that the usage of conversation trees in parser-IF was actually a CYOA mechanic being used in a part of the game where it made more sense than a parser, I realised that that was probably where the future lied.

Recently we’ve had “Brain Guzzlers”, a game which successfully blended CYOA and parser-IF. Its core is parser-IF, giving it a complete world model, and in the instances where the parser was not up to the task - maybe because of pacing, maybe because of the difficulties in getting the player to type a command, maybe just to try something new - the game briefly switched over to CYOA.

They are quite different, yes. They lend themselves to different narratives and experiences, yes. But that they don’t mix? I am very happy to say that I believe they do, and the proper merging of the both may be the best thing that’s ever happened to IF. If you’re
decorating and you’re alternately screwing and hammering something in, you won’t use the screwdriver to do both jobs, I hope! You’ll switch tools, because one is best for a certain purpose, until you’ve finished the whole thing to your satisfaction.

This is a good time to be an IFer. :slight_smile: And all of this is coming from an unabashed parser lover.

I’m not sure how CYOA wouldn’t be considered interactive fiction. Is it interactive? Yes. Is it fiction? Yes. It is different in format from parser? Of course, but parser doesn’t get to claim to be the only form of interactive fiction out there. Just as there are dozens of types of board games, from chess to Life, there are dozens of types of interactive fiction.

Does the board game community make statements like the original statement in this thread? Do the chess players look at the Life players – both of whom are playing their game on a board… hence the term: board game – and say, “You’re not playing a board game?” If they did, it would sound a little bizarre because… you know… the board.

I’ve been playing interactive fiction since 1982. I owned and played every Infocom release as it was published, and I’m still playing interactive fiction today. Frankly, I’m thrilled that games like 80 Days or Lifeline or Choice of Games exist. Not only are they fun to play, but they bring more variety to the umbrella topic of interactive fiction.

It is harder, now, for the average game-seeking person to not be able to find an interactive fiction title that appeals to them. That is a good thing. Don’t like parser? Try a choice-based game. Don’t like choice-based? Try a parser. Just as I wouldn’t want every IF game to only cover one writing genre – for instance, science fiction – I wouldn’t want every IF game to perform in the same manner. If that were the case, the audience would be limited to those who like that one particular format.

But the IF world right now? There really is something for everyone. Except people who hate to read or make any sort of decision. But… you know… can’t please everyone.

By the same definition, pretty much every game out there could be considered interactive fiction. Grand Theft Auto 5 is interactive and it’s a work of fiction, but you don’t have people calling it interactive fiction.

Why shouldn’t a mustachioed plumber shoot at monsters?

As David says, this kind of literal-minded definition is not illuminating. You can wave dictionary definitions around but it’s not how genre terms are used in real life.

The argument that CYOA is IF is… you know what? It’s not worth getting into. IF has been a broader term than parser-text-games for years now. This argument isn’t getting any fresher.

I don’t post here very often but I thought I’d share my 2c on the OP’s message. The whole “Are CYOA part of IF or is that just for parsers” debate is pretty irrelevant to me. IF is just a label. Let’s suppose that everyone in the community came together and decided that CYOA can’t be called interactive fiction anymore. Okay, now what? CYOAs are still going to exist and be created and submitted to the Comp etc. Everything’s going to be the same, we’d just be using a different name for it. I really don’t get why this is such a frequent topic here.

I can see both sides of the easier-creates-worse argument. That’s been true for my personal design experience. I did my first 3 games in Twine and I always felt very stifled by the simplicity and limitations of the system. I had to design my games around what Twine would let me do (let me do without a massive amount of work changing the structure). I built my own javascript engine for my last game and I felt it came out much, much better because I could customize it however I wanted. This let me add in new elements that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And, as I was designing it, new ideas would develop along the way. I found creating and using my own (much more complicated) engine to be very inspiring and it helped my creative process immensely. Don’t get me wrong, I think Twine is a great system, it just wasn’t the right fit for me personally.

However, I think many people would have the opposite reaction. I have a strong programming background. If I didn’t, I think I would have spent the majority of my time struggling with basic implementation. The plot, structure, puzzles, everything would have suffered because all my effort would have been spent just trying to get things to appear on the screen. Being a good programmer and being a good designer are two separate skill sets. Some people have both, but for others having a simple and easy system enables them to make better games because they don’t have to struggle with the technical elements.

That brings me to the OP’s point about easier authoring system = worse games. Easier authoring enables more people to make games. This means there are more first-time authors and, honestly, most people’s first game kinda sucks. I know my first game was embarrassingly bad. Practice makes perfect and it took me 4 tries before I made a game that I think is actually good. So I don’t think there’s an overall trend of games becoming worse, just more first tries are showing up and many of these are a little raw.

I guess the general message of my post is to encourage authors, no matter what system, to keep at it. Make whatever style of game you want to, and then shop around to find the right audience for it. Remember that the IF community here (this board, the Comp, ifdb, etc) makes up just the tiniest portion of the overall gaming community online. There are tons of indie gaming sites around as well as the big hitters like Android and Amazon. If the IF community here doesn’t care for your game that much try it somewhere else and you may just find the right target audience who loves it the way it is.

+1. And then +2, +3 and +4.

You can archive this rant and repeat it after the next wave of styles and movements will arise. I imagine the F2P cybertextual illustrated MUD games stirring quite a scene.

psyCUBE-based Hyperstories are not Cybertext okay???

Wow, I did not expect this thread to become as active as it is. Yes, more games are a good thing, as are easier authoring system. As are CYOA and parser games… and a plumber shooting at monsters is a bit absurd imho. I have not played brain guzzlers… perhaps I best go play it now.
Maybe I’m a bit of a traditional IF purist… but I’m open to new forms of IF. Yes, as someone said, it’s a good time to be an IFer… and the medium (parser games and CYOA, easy authoring systems and harder ones) are continually evolving. The future’s so bright… we might just have to start wearing VR goggles to get our IF fix.

Shooting with a gun or with a magical flower?

Well, any kind of shooting is just plain wrong. The best way to dispatch your enemies is obviously falling on top of them from a height, any height.

If you’re blue and spiky, you get an advantage, but really, pretty much anyone can do that. Nothing absurd about it.

Plus, there’s tons of situations where corpses vanish into the ether. All aboard the Decomposition Express!

Thanks peter. You just gave me an idea for a new game. “It’s me, Mario! Le’ts go shoot sonic the hedgehog!” BTW, plumbers don’t use guns… They use flower thingies.

Of course not. Only black hedgehogs use guns.

Proof. vgcats.com/comics/?strip_id=140