New to IF Instructions

I’m wrestling with my “new to IF” instructions for the Comp. Frankly, I’ve never seen a new player be helped much by instructions in a game; it seems to take guidance by a more experienced player to get them going.
I’m posting them here in hopes someone with more experience writing games can tell me whether or not these are adequate.

Parser-based Interactive Fiction, like this game, is played by reading the story and typing responses. Generally, you begin by examining objects around you, examining yourself, and seeing what, if anything, you are carrying. To examine an object, type ‘examine hat’ or simply ‘x hat.’ To examine yourself, type ‘x me.’

You almost never have to type the full object description. For instance, if the game tells you there is a shiny white diamond here, you can type ‘x shiny,’ or ‘x white,’ or ‘x diamond.’ As long as there aren’t any other diamonds, or shiny objects, or white objects, the game will know that you mean the diamond.

In most games, you can ‘take’ or ‘get’ objects, and type ‘i’ for ‘inventory’ to see what you are carrying. In this game, however, you cannot take anything and you will have no inventory.

You can move in the directions the game indicates by typing directions like ‘n’ for ‘north,’ or ‘u’ for ‘up’, etc.

In most games, you can use other verbs, and you may need to experiment to know what works in each game, like ‘open box,’ ‘close door’, ‘listen,’ ‘talk to princess,’ etc. Very few standard verbs will work in this game other than ‘examine’, ‘look’ (to see the full room description again), and directional commands. The game will teach you what verbs you can use, and you can always type VERBS to see what verbs you currently know how to use.

Playing through an IF game usually requires careful reading and attention to detail. Examine everything, make a map of the game, and experiment to find out what you can and cannot do.

A very good primer for playing IF can be found at

Have fun!

The game asks at the beginning if you are new to IF (y/n) and brings this up. Is that annoying to the target audience of more experienced players?

Anything unclear or poorly phrased here for new players? Is anything important missing? I ran it by a few people who are totally unwilling to play IF at all (almost everyone I know), and they weren’t very helpful since they aren’t going to play the game.

If you like these instructions, feel free to take and modify them.


Is this a requisite to enter a game in IFComp, Or more of a suggestion?

Personally, I found it exhilarating to find out which commands would work and which not. The IF-card is a great recapitulation of things to do/try at any moment in a game, but it’s mostly the game-text itself which should suggest what to do outside of the most obvious verbs.

I’d go with something like:

  • Read text. Pick out nouns. Examine (X) those nouns. Do what needs to be done. (Use brain)
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I don’t think you have to. But I worry that IF is dying, and I want to make it as accessible as possible to newcomers.

It’s astonishing to me how unintuitive IF can be to even very smart people.

Thank you for sharing! Writing new player instructions is one of those todo list items I’ve been procrastinating on for too long.

I find that kind of prompt very mildly annoying but the benefits almost certainly outweigh the inconvenience. The approach I’m thinking of trying with my game is to have a message on the first turn along the lines of Players new to parser interactive fiction might want to type HELP for instructions.

I’m not sure you should include help about inventory and other verbs since you can’t use them in your game.


I have played the game and really think that actual instructions are fine FOR THIS GAME. There are a few working intructions which you explains in the intro if requiered. Perhaps instructions must be always shown.
An experienced player would type about or help but a novice one will need to see instructions to play and enjoy this game.
I say this from my own experience playing the game.

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I’ve been writing IF for nearly 20 years and throughout that time people have always worried that IF is dying. And yet the number of IFComp entries grows year after year!


Yeah, this is one of the things I’m wrestling with. If my game happens to be the first one somebody plays, I’d like to give them an idea of what more standard games look like. But it might be too much info. Just not sure how to handle that.

I am absolutely in line with las post. IF is reliving a golden age. 500+ games listed in XYZZY awards plus commercial CYOA games.
I like more parser than choice games. Parser titles stays on the run as choice ones are rising.

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Parser IF has been dying since the late 80s. Somehow a dedicated group of people have been keeping it alive as a hobby, a calling, a nostalgic effort to resurrect the glorious golden days from the past or a heroic effort to push the medium into the future.

Wonderful! This means I found a gaming and storytelling medium more than fifteen years ago that suits my tastes perfectly.

However, any newcomers are probably already going to be intrigued enough to bite through the parser-bullet once they find their way to parser IF in the first place.

The whole welcoming-new-players thing has been going on for ages with not much to show for it. (Data/statistics anyone?) Parser IF is a niche medium. I mean, you have to read entire screens of text and figure out what to type. I don’t mean this jokingly. Parser IF is weird and hard to get into, and I suppose you have to have a certain mindset to even be open to the possibilities.

Of course any effort to make it accessible to new players is fine. I just don’t think that an in-game tutorial will do the trick. Or anything else than keep on writing great games and spreading the word.

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I won’t do an inventory. This learning is a powerful divertiment. Perhaps you could mention this learning skill in the intro of the game, but no more.
Additionally, it is supposed that a instruction wont work untill discovered, it will be twisty knowing without having learned.

The way it’s currently set up is:

The first thing you see after the cover art is:

Would you like to read some helpful information before starting the game?>

If you answer yes, it gives helpful commands (VERBS, EXITS, HINT, etc) and last asks:

Are you new to Interactive Fiction?>

So hopefully this is the least irritating way for experienced players, but not sure.

This is what I generally think. But the last person I met who recently started to play IF had no idea about shorthand (x, i, l, etc) and apparently had never seen these instructions anywhere. So maybe shorten it to include only stuff like this, that isn’t immediately obvious?

Good to know. I wonder how many of these writers are new blood? And how many, like me, are old dogs who have played IF forever but only recently started writing?

Yeah, sure. Include a short list of instructions and common abbreviations. Many games will have special commands that could be mentioned here too, or left to the player (ànd the in-game text) to figure out.

Just don’t jump to the conclusion that this will bring more than a handful of new people to parser IF, most of whom will already be interested enough to endure the frustration that comes with it. (Not only in first encountering parser games, but as an integral part of the medium, especially in puzzle oriented games.)

I can’t get anyone to play IF. I can’t get my own husband to play my game. The kids I know would rather wash dishes than play IF. If good instructions brought even a handful of people into the fold, I would be ecstatic. But as you say, it’s unlikely this will help anyone. Yet I feel the need to put it there, just in case.

I know, right!? No one in my circle of loved ones, friends, acquaintances, distant relatives or post office clerks will see any attraction in this strange thing I try to show them. Most of those are fairly intelligent, literate and inquisitive people. People who read books as a hobby. People who go out and pay for real life escape games. People who play Dungeons and Dragons, People who play graphic adventure games and rave about the remake of KIng’s Quest. People who spend evenings leveling up in their favourite RPG. People who write theater-scripts. People who…

Apparently, it still takes a particular blend of character-traits to feel the magnetic pull of parser IF.


IMO, if you’re working in Inform, the biggest thing you can do for newbies is to highlight objects and exits in the text in bold.

It is wise to ask players at the start of the game if they’re new to interactive fiction. When players self-identify as newbies, start by teaching them to “look.” (Just don’t display the description of the first room, and instead display a suggestion that the player type “look.”) Then, when they “look,” include a suggestion to “examine” one of the highlighted objects.

When they examine a carryable object, suggest that they “take” the object, and suggest “verbs” to display a list of verbs. (Ideally “take” will be their first verb.) When they take their first object, teach them to use the “inventory” command.

When they examine an exit, suggest “go”.

If you want to have an extremely newbie friendly game, use Aaron Reed’s Keyword Interface extension. Here’s an example, an excerpt from Blue Lacuna.

The next big thing to offer to help newbies is a map. A PNG map outside the game is fine; be sure to mention the map in your in-game help. I recommend designing your map in Trizbort or

And the last thing to offer is gradual “invisiclues” hints, not just a walkthrough. The very best version is an in-game hint system that automatically provides context-sensitive hints when the player types “HINT,” but that’s a lot of work. Much easier, and almost as good, is a link to a forum post here on the forum with [spoiler] tags. We discussed this here: IFComp walkthrough best practices - #19 by dfabulich


That hasn’t been my experience, particularly when I suggest making an activity out of it. “We’re going to sit together, you’re going to type, and I’ll read and do voices, and help you if you get stuck.”

I’ve done and enjoyed that both with grownups and with kids, but I’ve normally done it with parser IF games with a very strong “voice,” like Violet and Lost Pig, where I can do a funny voice/accent the whole time.


I’ve managed to persuade most of my close friends to play my IF*. One or two have even contributed to collaborative projects like Excalibur and Escape from the Crazy Place (the latter of which began as a collaboration with an old schoolfriend, Loz Etheridge. We’re still writing short stories together 35 years later.) One friend has organised “launch parties” for two of my games; but she is always looking for reasons to organise a party. My girlfriend has played To Hell in a Hamper, though her berserker approach to solving puzzles meant she didn’t get very far. My ten year old nephew asks if we can play To Hell in a Hamper and Robin Johnson’s Draculaland nearly every time I see him. (I’ve tried to get him to play other games, but he always comes back to those two.) With the exception of my nephew, none of them grew up with IF, so it can be done!

*I don’t have a lot of friends, just a few very close (and very patient) ones!

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All sound suggestions. I don’t think the structure of my game is particularly friendly to newbies (nonstandard commands, some difficult puzzles), but I’d like to try to make it more accessible.

I generally find that too much help at the beginning, like bolding things, is annoying to me as an experienced player. I don’t want that kind of help. I suppose the best way would be to have two modes: normal and beginner. I don’t think I want to try to do that with IFComp breathing down my neck, but for my second game, I think I’ll try that.

Also, I love making my own maps. It’s one of the thrills of starting a new game for me. I love getting a fresh sheet of paper and mapping a big game. Maybe I’m weird about that, though.


That is fun, once you know how to make a map (boxes and lines, compass directions, etc.), and more importantly you need to know that you need to do it. As a result, newbies benefit from having the map provided, if only so that they know what the full map looks like.

Newbies frequently overlook objects and exits in the written description, which makes the game effectively unplayable when you can’t find a room.

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