New to IF Instructions

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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Ohhh! :slight_smile: A bit late for this year’s IFComp, but a great idea to keep in mind for my next game.

Here’s my version of the new to parser IF instructions, which borrow heavily from @AmandaB’s (thank you! :slight_smile: ). Everybody should feel free to reuse it as well.

This game is played by reading the story and typing simple imperative (i.e. VERB object(s)) commands. For example you can type:
examine the cannon
open the powder keg
get the eyepatch
wear it
walk to the west
give the black mark to the mutineer
ask the buccaneer about tides

Some frequently used commands have abbreviations: instead of take inventory you can simply type i, to move around you can type the first letter(s) of the direction (e.g. nw instead of go northwest, in, up, …), the look command (which redisplays the current room) can be abbreviated to l, and, most importantly, to examine an item you can type x item.

You almost never have to type the full object description or use articles. 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 to examine it.

Generally, you begin by examining objects around you, examining yourself (x me), and seeing what, if anything, you are carrying.

Edited to add look command.


I’d add “look” to this list. It’s not an intuitive command for folks, I think, and it’s a really useful one.

Edit- I swear that half the replies I make to specific people don’t actually reply to that person, or aren’t showing it in the thread even though they show it if I hit “edit.” This is to @nilsf .

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I think when a reply directly follows the post it’s replying to, it doesn’t show as a reply. Just one of Discourse’s quirks.


Good idea.

That happened to me all the time too. I think that happens when you quote the entire last post of a thread.

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Amanda, your game is auto explainable, DON’T spoil it in instructions. Don’t remark verbs. Players only have to read directions of exits and few more to start playing.

I ALWAYS use about, help and credits. You can figure out what has happened to me lask week when I started to play Hadean Lands without type in that commands: I was lost before playing at all.

By the way I think your game will be a “trend toppic” inmediattly after releasing at ifcomp.

You’re probably right. I’ll edit it down to be less spoiler-y.

Thanks for saying it. I’ll be thrilled if it’s playable and people aren’t too mean about it, though!

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Type “HELP” for instructions on how to play.
Type “HINT” if you’re stuck on a puzzle.
Type “SOLUTION” for a walkthrough.

Also list of VERB and NOUN is appreciated.

The command VERBS bringing up a list of necessary verbs to complete the game I can understand. This can double as a gentle hint system.
I don’t see how NOUN would work though. A list of nouns/objects/characters that can be interacted with? But those should all be in the text. It’s up to the player to do the work and scan the text for important nouns, is it not?

I mean, that’s the whole appeal of parser IF, figuring out how to interact with a collection of nouns/objects that are revealed to you by exploring a world, using a limited set of verbs.

This reminds me of the three laws of IF (which I formulated for myself to remember when I get stuck):

  • READ
  • READ

Yes. I also have a “TAKE A BREAK” rule. When I am tired and frustrated, instead of hints or a walkthrough, I need to put it down. Most of the time, when I come back fresh, I can figure it out.

This is really hard when I’m really loving a game and don’t want to leave it.

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FWIW, I like the idea here, and I’ve often appreciated pre-game instructions in games that have them. (The ABOUT text of Hunter in Darkness clarifies that no mapping is necessary, so players know right away that they’re not supposed to exhaustively explore the enormous maze. That could conceivably function as an unwanted hint or mild spoiler, but I think it was a good idea to put it in.) The problem is that the newbies who most need these instructions are least likely to read them. Authors can beg players to type ABOUT all they want, but many people will assume this is akin to reading the preface of a book, i.e. distinctly optional. Creating truly inviting parser interfaces requires respecting and working around that fact.

There’s been some discussion about a “tutorial mode” to teach basic interactions like examining, taking, looking, etc. Making the tutorial discoverable for newbies, unintrusive for experienced players, and not overly burdensome on authors is a problem that requires some thought. I’ve toyed with the idea of tracking the frequency of parser errors, and offering the tutorial if the player seems to be flailing around. But I’m afraid that might come across as condescending, or generate angry Clippy references in reviews.

The basic principle for a parser interface is: Everything that’s not a puzzle should be effortless and seamless. Parser game culture needs to internalize this to a greater degree than it has. Wasting the player’s time on “Sorry, you can’t go through this unlocked door because it’s closed” or “You can’t read that book because it’s on the desk in front of you instead of in your hands” should never happen. When the player walks into a room with Joe, SAY HELLO, SAY HI, SAY GOOD MORNING, GREET JOE, and WAVE AT JOE should all work.

At this point I’ve strayed away from the original question, and none of this necessarily applies to @AmandaB’s game. I’d just say kudos to you for asking questions like this, because that’s the kind of thinking we need more of.