Real Time in Parser IF

I thought it might be interesting to crowd-source a compilation of uses for real-time functionality in parser IF. Please feel free to include examples from published works, technical demos, or just ideas!

I’ll start in the next post.

Text Effects - Animation
a) Linear text animations: Effects that add a timed element to otherwise standard printing. The well-known typewriter or teletype effect is one example. Text can also be printed line for line, e.g. to emphasis lines in poetry or exchanges in a conversation. Scrolling could also be timed, i.e. by delaying before printing each in a series of newlines.

b) Grid or full-screen text animations: By printing to the screen and then clearing it numerous times in succession, or by printing to individual character coordinates in grid windows (such as Glk text-grid windows). This technique could be used, e.g., to animate ASCII art or to provide real-time meters for in-game timing.

Both the “typewriter” effect and the screen-clearing technique can be seen in this demo. (Screen-clearing animation is used for the visual timer on the right side of the status line.)

Multimedia Effects - Animation
IF platforms that don’t include explicit graphics animation functionality can nevertheless be made to support some animation by drawing to the screen on a timed basis. Actually, this is not much different from the full-screen text animation technique above, except that it uses graphics rather than text. Examples: Version 9 of Kerkerkruip. I think Future Boy included animations as well. I’m sure there are others, but can’t bring them to mind.

Gameplay - Hinting
This one is an idea that, as far as I know, has never been implemented (please let me know if I’m wrong!) Building on a system like Aaron Reed’s Intelligent Hinting, we could jump in to offer a hint when the player has spent too much time bumbling. For example, we might allow five minutes of failure to advance in solving a puzzle before asking whether the player needs a hint. (This could be made pretty sophisticated by also pausing the timer when the player has failed to enter a command for more than, say, a minute–on the assumption that the player has set the game aside for a time to do something else.)

For games that have changing times of day as a feature of the setting, it might be interesting to tie those to real time rather than number of turns, since that might correlate better with the player’s intuitive sense of how much time has passed.

There can be certain, time-sensitive puzzles. Or even nail-biting scenes of suspense where real-time action matters.

[rant]For what it’s worth. I find IF with real-time causes me great anxiety. It would be like reading a book that has auto-turning pages on a quick timer.[/rant]

That’s an interesting one, Emily. Brings to mind a couple of things that I’ve tried in demos/experiments, but don’t know whether they might exist in actual games:

Gameplay - Atmospheric Effects
Atmospheric text (or potentially sounds or graphics, if the game has those elements) could be added on a real-time basis. Having non-game-critical text interrupt play at (randomized) intervals could potentially provide a greater sense of dynamism in the world, without incurring most of the negatives that real-time gameplay-critical events can bring. Are there any released games that do this?

Gameplay - Travel Time
To try to provide a sense of space, we might “extend” the player’s movement between rooms by inserting atmospheric and travel texts on a real-time basis. There are probably better ways to do this than real-time (see A New Life), but there’s a demo and discussion/responses.

I agree, at least to a great extent. Any situation where the player’s reading speed is key to critical game events, or to simply being able to take in the writing, is probably best avoided. Hence:

General Technique - Turn-based event triggered in real time
Sarah Morayati’s Basic Real Time extension, released a few years back, implemented real time triggers for regular turn-based events. For example, given Emily’s idea above of having time of day pass on a real-time basis, Sarah’s extension would have been silent when the real-time event fired, waiting until after the player’s next turn to implement the triggered event. This behavior has caused a lot of head-scratching among potential users of the extension–myself included, at first–but it’s actually a very elegant way to implement at least some classes of real-time game events without sacrificing the turn-based UI.

EDIT: But I think we should still try to catalog stuff that maybe isn’t a good idea! If anyone remembers exactly how real-time was used in Border Zone, for example…

I recently played through a bit of Border Zone. I actually found the use of real-time events in this chapter pretty effective at generating tension. The setup is that you are trying to smuggle some information across the Iron Curtain, and have only a few minutes before the police knock on your train compartment to question you. The real-time dynamic actually rescued all the 80s fiddly stuff that we usually try to eliminate nowadays, e.g. all the “you’ll need to open the bag before you take that out of it” kind of stuff. With the time pressure, those usually annoying messages play out like (for example) the fumblings for keys that generate tension in film getaways.

That said, to really be ideal, this chapter should have clued things much better. As it is, you really need to lose once or twice to have a good idea of the parameters you’re working within.

I played only a few minutes of Chapter 2, but it doesn’t seem to work nearly as well. It is much more exploratory than Chapter 1, with what seems to be a large landscape to deal with and even fewer cues to direct you. In that situation, the real-time mechanic seems simply annoying and unfair.

So maybe there are limited situations where real time works well for critical game events, but good writing, signposting, and pacing seems key to pulling it off. Also, there are probably a lot of issues around reading and typing speeds to be considered before trying it. All in all, my impression is still that it will be best to use real time for things other than critical plot events. And I think that’s the modern consensus. But I also think that there might some good uses for timers in ancillary effects or non-critical events (atmosphere, time of day changes, etc.)

In chapter two, did you actually get to the point where you have to cross the border? It’s a different use of real-time, you’ll probably like at least seeing it even if you don’t enjoy playing it.

I felt Chapter 3 was the one in which real time was the least effective. In chapter 1 it was A New Thing, a gimmick, and it was new and exciting. Chapter 2 used it in new ways (again, you really have to get to the border to see how. I think it’s worth it). In chapter 3 it’s just more of the same.

Also: it’d be interesting to see Blue Lacuna’s day/night system in real-time.

Not in this session, but I do vaguely remember crossing the border from my last playthrough (2002 maybe). I remember it being basically a minigame that would, as you intimate, probably merit listing as a separate technique here. I do plan on playing through the chapter when I can find the time!

I’m not sure if you know or not, but some of the very first adventure games were real-time: … video_game