Proxy Commands

Hey All–
I’m playing with an idea for a game with proxy commands (yes, again). If I have the command SENSE as a proxy for EXAMINE, and the player types X SOMETHING, is it better to:

1.) Disallow EXAMINE and say something like, “You can’t see things. You can SENSE them.”, and train the player to use the commands I want.

2.) Allow EXAMINE, but give a reply for the proxy verb, like “You SENSE the object, and it blah blah blah.”, since players are hardwired to type X.

As a player, which would you prefer? If I go with # 1, is there an immersion factor which overrides the irritation of having to use new commands? Or is it just too annoying to replace such a basic command?


I have to say, usually I’m cool with tweaking standard commands to get the player in the right mindset, but since I tend to examine everything, and the X THINGY syntax is hardwired into my fingers, I suspect I’d find it annoying to have to unlearn the habit. So I’d lean towards allowing X to work, while including the note that actually you’re SENSING rather than EXAMINING like a loser!


One possibility is that the descriptions themselves would make it clear that the protag is not looking at things, as opposed to the interface telling the player that they are not looking at things. The narrative voice might perform this work.

In Suspended, only one of the six controllable robots can “see,” but all respond to the command “examine.” Instead of saying they can’t see, their responses make it clear that they aren’t “looking” at the object. In this passage, four robots report on the same location:

FC: Full report from WALDO
WALDO: Internal map reference – Maintenance Access
I’ve reached the end of the eastern corridor. Before me, high overhead, is a strange combination of circular protuberances.
Sonar detects a circular object mounted on the wall high overhead, out of reach. A small spray is also detected, going upward through the ceiling.
In the room with me are Sensa, Auda, Poet and Whiz.
WALDO: My extensions grasp nothing.

FC: Full report from SENSA
SENSA: Internal map reference – Maintenance Access
Mechanical devices can be detected far out of range.
Sensory mechanisms can detect a low concentration of acid in the air. Its origin is directly overhead. Approximately 99.87 percent of these acid droplets are going up into the room above.
In the room with me are Waldo, Auda, Poet and Whiz.
SENSA: I cannot sense a thing in my grasping extensions.

FC: Full report from AUDA
AUDA: Internal map reference – Maintenance Access
I am in the Maintenance Access.
I can hear hissing coming from high overhead here.
In the room with me are Waldo, Sensa, Poet and Whiz.
AUDA: I can’t hear a thing in my extension.
Auditory circuits active.

FC: Full report from POET
POET: Internal map reference – Maintenance Access
Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.
The turning of the screw, like the delicate machinations of life, goes on far out of the reach of ordinary mortals.
In the room with me are Waldo, Sensa, Auda and Whiz.
POET: As far as I know, I’m Zen on inventory.
POET: Sensory pads detect no abnormal flow.


Thanks, guys. The people have spoken. I thought it was probably a mistake to disable EXAMINE, and so it is. Drew, I agree that some careful writing can make it clear what X is doing, and I can add SENSE as well in case people want to use that.


Examining stuff doesn’t necessarily mean you would be using your eyes. It’s something like “acquire more detailed information”. EXAMINE with a response that implies you’re sensing an object in some other way makes perfect sense…

Of course, if you do it this way, expect a transcript where I obsessively LOOK AT things. I’d want to see if you went the whole distance and disabled LOOK AT as a synonym for X.


Without any context, my gut feeling is that the player should still be able to EXAMINE (or X) things. Like @DeusIrae, X is hardwired into my brain, if not my fingers, and I get annoyed at games that don’t support it. If there is further information to be gleaned from SENSE, then the response to EXAMINE can hint towards that.

Remember that the human body is already supposed to have five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The adventure equivalents are EXAMINE, LISTEN, SMELL, TASTE and TOUCH respectively.

I once heard an interview on radio where a learned man of science reckoned we actually have 22 senses. He named and described a few of them and it all made sense (excuse the pun). One I remember was the ability to know where your hand is pointing or where your feet are located with respect to the rest of your body. Some of these other senses are more finely tuned in people with a disability in one or more of the conventional five senses.


Proprioception: Proprioception and motor control - Wikipedia

Really really cool once you stop and consciously pay attention to it.


Yep, that’s the one. Some of the other main ones include:

  • Thermoception - the sense of heat (there is some debate that the sense of cold may be a separate sense)
  • Nociception - the sense of pain
  • Equilibrioception - the sense of balance

Others relate to blood pressure, oxygen content, hunger, thirst, lung inflation, bladder stretch, fullness of stomach and so on. Then there’s all the psychic ones that feature in movies.




It definitely should be variant 2. It will be hard to educate players for a single game, breaking common mechanics. The most important factor for me is always this golden rule: a parser is about understanding, even when the command entered is not 100% correct, e.g.

You get on your horse and ride into the unknown. Countless generations 
from now on praise the moment the parser understood what you actually wanted.

It’s obvious that the player doesn’t want to put the horse into the pocket, instead the intention is to RIDE it.

Coming back to your example: we all know what the player wants to do in context of the game when typing X OBJECT, at least when you properly explained the mechanic prior in-game.


in a pair of works of mine I use SENSE as “using psychic perception”, but the idea of SENSE as “using all five sense (more or less) on an object in a coordinated and meaningful manner” (one don’t lick (TASTE) a furniture, for example…) IS an interesting one.

Thermoception is why I strongly disagree on considering TOUCH and FEEL as synonyms. one don’t touch a flatiron for checking if it’s on, but stretch his hands, feeling for heat, for a literally painfully obvious example.

OTOH, being an historian born in Rome the justapoxition of thermoception and nociception, naturally evokes Gaius Mucius Scævola…

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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I think the fact that each robot has its own “idiom” also helps to make a lot of the repetition that tends to creep into descriptions sound more natural. Writing room descriptions (for example) it’s easy to end up with a bunch of rooms that start with “You are in…”, “This is a…” or whatever, which can end up feeling stale and formulaic.

In Suspended Waldo tends to report descriptions with “sonar detects…” and Sensa likes “sensors indicate…” and so on, but this sounds “natural” because you’re frequently switching between the robots, and the stereotyped response formatting ends up being helpful for reminding the player which robot is providing the report (and therefore what kind of sense information it does…and doesn’t…include).

I also agree that any modern IF game really needs either to support >X FOO as a generic "tell me about the object FOO`` or have a very good reason for not doing so. Or I guess invent a clever new alternative syntax that can be universally adopted that’s even more straightforward, but I can’t imagine what that might look like.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that EXAMINE is frequently implemented interchangeably with LOOK AT and that LOOK is itself often handled as if it was a generic sense-agnostic report, particularly in room descriptions. I.e., going all the way back to the original Zork you have things like:

You are in the kitchen of the white house. A table seems to have been used recently for the preparation of food. A passage leads to the west and a dark staircase can be seen leading upward. A dark chimney leads down and to the east is a small window which is open.
On the table is an elongated brown sack, smelling of hot peppers.
A bottle is sitting on the table.
The glass bottle contains:
A quantity of water

…in which the player gets the smell of peppers out of looking at the room. Similarly:

Deep Canyon
You are on the south edge of a deep canyon. Passages lead off to the east, northwest and southwest. A stairway leads down. You can hear the sound of flowing water from below.

…which gives the player information about sounds.