Parser Games in the IFComp

Have you played one of Porpentine’s games lately?

I played the one game that was noted by most people and caused the ruckus. I didn’t play it long and I’m personally not receptive to CYOA type games regardless of the level of skill in the author. I’ve always felt it was like telling the joke and the punch line at the same time. There’s a cadence missing.

David C.

Porpentine’s works require active interpretation from the reader; they don’t attempt to prove their own worth to skeptical readers.

Have you tried any of the longer interactive novels from Choice of Games? For example, “SLAMMED!” is a 250,000-word choice-based game; it certainly doesn’t shy away from complexity!

I don’t really know what kind of system you use for your CoG games, but I’ll go out on a limb and hazard a guess that it’s quite a bit more straightforward than something like TADS. And there’s the appeal. The easier a system is, the more popular it is because at heart the majority of us just aren’t programmers. Just look at ADRIFT in its heyday. It produced a huge amount of very bad games, and certainly had its fair share of flaws, but it was still churning out a lot more games per year than the systems which required you to a programmer to use.

People have become so impatient and complexity-averse in the last ten years that parser-based entries fell 50%? I don’t see it.

What I do see: people my age or younger rarely encounter parser games while growing up; those responsible for their 1995-2005 efflorescence mostly did. Indie gaming and smartphones have become things, which may have encouraged people who would otherwise have put parser games on the internet to make something actually marketable. There are many stories which benefit from interactivity; not all of them gain more than they lose from having a parser. Now that there are a number of artistically or commercially successful parserless text games, writers may be making more informed choices about interfaces and tools.

I don’t know how much, if anything, these things explain. But I think they take us further than narratives of moral and spiritual decline.

I almost think that no-frills parser fiction insomuch as “a plain text game that you type commands into to do things” has pretty much reached the apex of its development with the tools we have - Inform 7 and TADS (presumably) can be made to do nearly anything limited by an author’s coding skills and imagination. The development now is for multimedia add-ons, interpreters that do extra things such as make a game easy to play on a phone, things like Glimmr and Vorple which add multimedia features, and possibly simplify development such as how Quest is all form-based and allows clickable objects which suggest verbs. It would kind of make sense that the ‘big minds’ of IF (such as yourself) would move in some new directions.

I hope I’m wrong, though, and that whatever Graham Nelson comes up with next is revolutionary!

I wish I could actively participate to help increase the production of parser-based IF. My previous attempts were all rather abortive. It would greatly sadden me if indeed we were to move away from the parser IF. Sure, it has some issues, which have been discussed to death, but its immersiveness, flexibility and power is still, in my opinion, second to none.

Porpentine, to give a concrete example, is a fantastic author that harnesses the best of CYOA (if we can call it that anymore). Porpentine’s Twine games would not work in parser-IF. That’s fine, it’s great to have both worlds co-existing.

I wonder if we’re not over-reacting in this thread. Maybe instead of 100% of the community making parser IF (and, say, 50% producing not very good works because their games just weren’t suited for the parser), because there was really nothing much else, we now have 50% focused on making CYOA and 50% sticking to what they were always good at.

If the net result means that instead of 100% parser IF with mixed results we now have 50% parser and 50% non-parser with consistently good results, that’d be a good thing, wouldnnit?

…people writing interesting stories, rather than showing off new tech features in the parser or interpreter.

Then I stand corrected, and the subject is pretty much moot. A good author can write an interesting story in any format, whether web, choice, or parser-based.

True, but I, as a player, have never felt immersion in CYOA the way I do when playing parser-based.

I generally feel that way as well, but allow me to point you towards Porpentine’s games. [emote];)[/emote]

Actually I find the opposite true. There’s nothing more immersion-destroying than being hit with guess the verb.

I don’t really like to post every two posts like this, but I have to address your comment: being hit with guess the verb is just as bad as a CYOA where you hardly bother to read the text and just select one of two similar-looking hyperlinks, sometimes one clearly correct and the other one an insta-death, and other times both so similar as not to make a difference at all.

Bad game design destroys immersion, and guess the verb is bad design; not an intrinsic feature of the parser.

Both Inform and Twine are a delight to use, and I’m equally comfortable writing in either medium, but it’s a completely different experience.

Parser IF is infinitely harder to write, and I feel a much greater sense of satisfaction from completing one of those. But writing them is not as enjoyable as it used to be, partly because it’s very hard to get your game noticed, even in this community, and partly because the bar has been set so high; there’s a level of expectation amongst modern players that is difficult to match. What would have been a perfectly acceptable commercial game in 1988 would be torn to pieces today, and the level of polish expected these days substantially detracts from my level of enjoyment in constructing them.

With choice-based IF it’s all about the writing, and that’s attractive. There’s much less to get wrong. It also has the advantage of being much more widely recognised (when I talk about IF to anyone who’s not familiar with it, it’s always the Choose-Your-Own-Adventures they remember.*) and more accessible to new players (no rules to learn, and hence less frustration). The final clincher is that you can turn your choice-based game into something that can be downloaded and played on a Kindle or other e-reader, and hence can even provide a trickle of income.

Nonetheless I prefer parser-based IF, and I’d be sorry to see it become the Neanderthal or Betamax of IF. I don’t think it will ever reach a wider audience though, and will always be a niche thing.

*What’s more, they’re all back in the bookshops again.

Perfectly true, but guess the verb is an unfortunate problem with parser games; you don’t get the same issues with CYOA.

Need to disagree here. A good IF author can eliminate guess-the-verb problems. But I guess, intrinsically speaking, there is no guess-the-verb in CYOA at all, so yeah. What was I saying?

No, you get other issues, which was kinda my point. Different systems, different things that can go wrong. A good game is good in any system, and a bad game is bad either way.

I disagree with this (at least as far as Inform 7 goes; I’m not familiar with TADS). There’s things I’d theoretically like to do with Inform 7 that are pretty hard to do in I7 as it stands. For instance:

Write rules that dynamically generate new descriptions of objects based on a variety of factors. (Doable!) Allow the player to refer to the objects using those descriptions. (Less doable!

Have several NPCs in one location doing things. Report those actions in one summary paragraph, so that if Alice, Bob, and Casey are digging, the game prints “Alice, Bob, and Casey are digging.” This seems hard because it would essentially involve trapping every NPC action before it hits the report stage.

Routinely retain memory of the string a player typed to refer to an object, so that when doing action involving Lord Carnarvon we can have different things happen depending on whether the player typed “Lord Carnarvon” or “Carnarvon” or “That guy.” (Something over and above a simple test for whether the player’s command includes one of these strings.)

And maybe toss in this mishegas about Threaded Conversation – you can’t figure out who the first noun refers to and adjust your understanding of the second noun based on that, without a truly heroic parser hack.

Apparently big things are afoot for the next I7 update, mostly involving the handling of default text (which might help with my NPC reporting issue). And maybe Curveship would allow some of this, if anyone understood Curveship. But it doesn’t seem to me that the parser has reached its apex, or at least it’s not that I can’t think of anything more there is to be done, if I had infinite programming skill.

This rather fascinating and beautiful looking website highlights one of the problems with CYOA. It demonstrates graphically how the original CYOA books became increasingly linear:

I can remember this phenomena with the Fighting Fantasy series. They all had the same number of pages but some, like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and The Forest of Doom felt like enormous, ever branching worlds you could spend hours exploring, whereas with others, like Citadel of Chaos, it felt like no matter what choice you made, you were always set back on the same path. I disliked the latter kind as it never felt like I was in charge of the story. I feel the same way about very linear parser-based IF.

Wow! So it wasn’t just me. I remember thinking the number of endings seemed to be going slowly down, but I didn’t have the stats or know-how to determine either way. Thanks very much for that link. It has all kinds of crazy good stats.