Jonathan Blow playing Hadean Lands


I wonder if anybody here say Jonathan Blow (author of Braid) playing Hadean Lands in his stream in twitch. He had trouble with the parser from the very start: he answered the very first question (“Have you played IF before?”) with an enthusiastic “Yes!”, and the parser could not digest the exclamation mark. I did not watch the whole thing, only the first 25 minutes or so, but the tone of what I saw was his struggle with the parser, and he became very frustrated. Things may have improved later for all I know, but it is concerning for parser IF that this guy had so much trouble with it.

I am returning to parser games after a long time, and my experience was different from his, probably because my expectations about the parser were very low. I remember the parser from two decades ago as being incredibly limited and inflexible, so I actually was pleasantly surprised by the improvements I found in modern games (especially in Hadean Lands, actually). I guess the root of the problem is that the prompt seems to suggest to the unwary user that you can type anything sensible and it will understand you, which is of course not the case.

In any case, I thought this could be an interesting topic here.

Inform’s issues with punctuation in the parser are a longstanding thing. I ran into it recently implementing a game where you read some email and realising that Inform seemingly has no easy way of dealing with “RE:” in a command…

I find it unreasonable to expect an exclamation mark be recognized in an initial “Have you played IF before?” query. It shows the person is not, in fact, familiar with IF. Zarf’s how-to-play-IF card is all you need to start playing parser games with little to no trouble. We don’t need to dumb-down the parser so that every asshole and his brother can play. It’s a genre meant for literates.

I wouldn’t say that recognizing punctuation is “dumbing down” the parser, though. If something like “Alice, pick up the red book then give it to me” is recognized, it’s reasonable for a new player to try “Alice, take the book!” or “Alice, please give me the book” or other such variants.

There’s an extension, or sets of extensions, that address this to some degree, isn’t there?

I’ve spoken about this at length in another forum, and if anyone wants to pop over and leave a contribution you’re welcome. I’m not going to risk ire or hostility by repeating it here.

I laughed so hard at this. Comedy gold.

Actually, there is one thing I can add to this discussion that I didn’t say elsewhere and is probably safe to say.

Hadean Lands seems to be gaining momentum - or rather, it never stopped getting it, although it now seems to have picked up some extra. The parser has not prevented that. So… I don’t see the problem.

I certainly flounder the first time I pick up a new, unusual (for me) type of game. I’d say it’s natural. If I pretend that I know how to play the game, it becomes a frustrating catastrophe. Same in parser IF as in an FPS or RPG or graphic adventure or strategy or any mixture of these.

Ironically, I put in an “after reading a command” rule to strip question marks and parentheses, but forgot exclamation marks.

Add to list for next release.

It’s always worth considering smoothing out parser issues.

(For further irony, the yes-or-no prompt doesn’t go through “after reading a command” so it wouldn’t have helped there. Will have to relocate that bit of code.)

Very politically correct answer, very well-rounded, very positive, very pleasing, very true, very agreeable. For a given value of “issue”. The quoted incident was indeed very funny and a big “whoops!” for the parser, but I wouldn’t call it an “issue”.

A transcript of Blow’s difficulties with the parser might be more helpful. As it is, all we’re talking about is the punctuation mark incident. I doubt that alone would incite 25 minutes of struggle with the parser, and it’s pretty unanimous that the exclamation mark thing is, indeed, a point where some improvement could be made (though if you educate the player early on that everything, every input is accepted, and possibly relevant, you’re setting up a potential disaster. IMHO. I’m an experienced IFer and I still “struggle” with a new game to see what I can expect it to accept, and even what sort of puzzles I’ll be facing, and what thought-process I should get into). What came after, though?

Do you need an account somewhere to view this video? It might prove interesting to see exactly what his struggles were.

This is also very true. And it makes the whole thing funnier.

“Politically correct” has no meaning here.

With regard to the exclamation mark thing: HL will ignore exclamation marks next time I update it. If you think that’s dumbing down the parser, I’m sorry. If you think that an answer of “YES!” should be taken as meaning “no, I am not familiar with IF” then I disagree.

With regard to the rest of his playthrough: I will probably look at it eventually. Don’t have time tonight.

Be sure to make the parser understand “Yes, I really, really know how to play IF” as an answer to the query, as well. To follow your logic, of course.

Jonathon Blow strikes me as bit of a crank (remember when he put amnesia in his supposedly groundbreaking adventure game?), so I have my doubts about his playthrough being in good faith. Still, good on you, Zarf, for taking some suggestions from it.


Call me crazy, but I fully support Zarf doing whatever he wants with his own game. And also take it TO THE BANK by broadening his reach to audiences unfamiliar with the parser. I hope to hear of even more mainstream praise!

It already does. The standard “player consents” test (YesOrNo in I6) looks at the first word only, and the comma is a word divider (rather than part of the first word).

BTW, Jon’s first comment (via twitter) was that Gargoyle is silly for not having a font-size control. (Or rather, it has a font-size control in a config file which the average Windows user will never find much less know how to modify.) Painfully true.

This was my main issue with Gargoyle when I used it. I like to change the fonts from time to time but messing around with a config file is more trouble than it’s worth. Why couldn’t the program have a built-in font control?

True. Poor choice of words. Ignore “PC”, then, the rest of the sentence should still hold up.

I don’t think that’s the issue. It’s more that if he really were familiar with IF he’d know that exclamation marks are rarely, if ever at all, used, and IF players are encouraged to eschew punctuation (exceptions being <.> and <,> and in some games <">). That’s what makes it funny. It’s like being asked “Sprachen sie Deutsch?” and answering “Oui!”.

I also personally happen to think that it’s a good way to educate a player. Instantly the player knows that “Yes!” is not recognised and should stick to the simpler “yes” or “yEs” or “YeS” or “y”. And bang - suddenly this person, who didn’t know this important part of playing IF, does know it. This person is less likely to get frustrated over punctuation problems when they’re playing the game proper.

Re the font issues, I’m surprised that it comes up as much as it does, because it’s an interpreter issue and not an HL issue… Personally, WinGit and WinGlulxe work wonders for me.

Ben was working on a gui options interface for gargoyle, but I guess it stalled.

Many IF advances are stalled. I’ve been seriously thinking about how to set up a Patreon – or something like it – so I can justify working on them.

It’s a funny game-moment, but it underscores a serious problem – I slacked off in the task of newbie-friendly-ifying HL. I put in effort, but not enough effort. E.g.: I wanted punctuation to be skipped, but I handled it inconsistently.

(I didn’t use Aaron Reed’s extensions because I was worried about slowdown. At one point I intended to go through them and import selected newbie-improvements by hand, but I never did that. Aarghhh.)

I originally intended to set up the Windows HL installer with WinGlulxe. Then I showed it to a Windows-using friend, and she said “What? No scrollbar?”

So I pointed to the little toolbar button that pops up the scrollback window, and she tried it, and then gave me a look of utter disgust. So I went back to Gargoyle.

(It’s like the old joke about vi. “It has two windows – one of them doesn’t scroll, and the other one doesn’t accept input.”)

(No offense to David Kinder, whose UI it is. I know the historical legacy of that decision and I don’t want to say that it’s wrong. But I think it’s a bad choice for putting HL outside the IF community. Gargoyle’s config setup is the lesser of two evils there.)

(And on the Mac side, Gargoyle’s config setup is less evil than Spatterlight’s age and Zoom’s habit of occasionally crashing or losing your game state. Sigh. Like I said, many IF advances and bug-fixes are stalled.)

Does that mean that HL will play on Zoom and the worst that will happen is that it occasionally crashes or loses your game state? Because I… might be more willing to deal with that than with what I remember of Gargoyle’s scrollback handling.