Spring Thing Thoughts and Thanks

springthing
#1

I’ve been very happy to take part in this year’s Spring Thing, the first time I have participated (as a player, or anything really) in an interactive fiction festival. It indicates that IF has a creative and inclusive community with an impressive variety of expressions and people with enough dedication to make great things happen.

Already at the announcement of the games, I set myself the goal of playing through every one of them and, with the exception of Do I Date? which consistently crashed on me some way in, I have now managed just that. I also nominated my favourites for some nice ribbons!

At this point, I must admit that I’m still not very fond of choice-based games. I guess I’m in it for the puzzles, really, though I do appreciate a good story to go with them. As such I have reviewed all the parser games but none of the choice-based ones. I would like to mention, however, that Dashiell Hamlett was really funny, and The Ballroom was really cool.

This leads me to ask the question, which I’m sure must have been debated much in the past: Does parser IF and choice-based IF have largely the same, or largely different, audiences? If the latter, wouldn’t it make sense to separate them for the purpose of voting, so that one audience does not overshadow the other? Or is this simply impossible due to boundaries between them being constantly erased and redrawn?

In any case, I’d like to say a big thanks to the organisers and authors that made Spring Thing 2019 happen!

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(J. J. Guest) #2

There was much discussion about the relative merits of choice and parser based IF after IFComp last year, and it got somewhat… heated! Personally I like to play both types of game, and I’ve written both. I suspect that the audience for choice-based games is much larger, because the parser is a barrier to entry for some players. I’m working on two choice-based games at the moment, and whilst I’d say that writing parser games is more difficult, there’s a lot more to writing choice-based games than some of its detractors realise.

Have a look at last year’s thread: IFcomp 2018 reviews

It raises the same question about separating the voting. Have a read, and you’ll see what a contentious issue it is!

I’ll add my thanks and congratulations to the Spring Thing entrants and organisers!

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(Liza Daly) #3

I couldn’t say it better, and I also play and write both forms!

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#4

Wow, two replies and I have played a game by each of you! The IF world is certainly intimate :slight_smile:

@J_J_Guest I see what you mean. Although, as far as flamewars go, this was actually one of the more civilised I have read, at least if we ignore the grumpy old man who was banned (which I’d like to do). My thoughts were not so much about the inherent differences of the types of games, but rather the amount of overlap in their respective audiences. If there is little or no overlap, it makes sense to separate them, but if many people enjoy both it may not. It’s not really something that matters to me personally; I’m always happy that the world is bigger than my private enjoyment.

I did, however, become intrigued by the suggestion to organise an additional event catering to one’s favourite type of game and just registered the domain name puzzlefest.xyz (it was even on sale!). For complicated reasons I can’t really commit to any further organisational work at the moment, but I will definitely consider it for 2020. And if anyone else is interested in helping out with such a thing, please let me know.

Oh, and I really loved Alias ‘The Magpie’ too, thanks for your work on that!

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(matt w) #5

I should say, wearing my moderator hat, that in the past the parser/choice discussion got even more heated, in a way that caused lasting harm to the community (or perhaps exposed fissures). That’s the main reason why the particular bit of the Code of Conduct I quoted in the linked thread is in there.

I should also say, wearing my moderator hat, that you’re absolutely fine–there’s nothing wrong with expressing a personal preference for one or the other!

As for the question of potentially splitting parser and choice games, not wearing my mod hat, I agree with J.J.–I think the audiences (and authors) overlap enough that splitting them would be counterproductive. And that there are other possible splits that don’t map neatly onto parser/choice; some people like puzzly games, some people like more story-oriented games, and you can find both of those in both formats.

(Someone will probably upbraid me for promulgating a false dichotomy between puzzle and story, and I’ll deserve it.)

Though there would be a lot of merit to a comp just for parser games–I keep hoping that someone will bring back ParserComp! I just don’t think that splitting the existing major comps is called for.j9

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(Brian Rushton) #6

Just adding to the excellent points already put forward:

Games you should consider playing:

  • Detectiveland (very parser-ific but with a button interface)
  • Superluminal Vagrant Twin (an amazing parser game that is essentially choice-based)
  • Lux (very difficult choice-based puzzle game that has locations and inventory)

These games are great examples of the blurry barrier between parser and choice that people mentioned before, and illustrate the difficulty in separating the two.

I was completely in the parser-only camp for a long time until two Twine games really made everything ‘click’ for me (Astrid Dalmady’s " You are Standing at a Crossroads " and Chandler Groover’s " creak, creak "). They had nothing to do with parser games: they were tiny, atmosphere-based games. I just liked them.

I would be sad if parser games died out. My goal is to write at least one ‘good’ parser game a year!

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#7

Thanks for your replies! I see that the decision to keep them together is an informed one (my favourite kind of decision), and I’ll happily leave it at that. Though I’m a bit sorry that my question managed to sidetrack the warm and fuzzy spring thing feeling. I guess that’s what I get for thinking out loud :wink:

I appreciate your suggestions, @mathbrush, and will take you up on that!

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(Hanon Ondricek) #8

No need to be sorry. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. :four_leaf_clover:

I used to be a parser-only enthusiast who could never jibe with Twine and wasn’t a fan of low-interactivity IF. I found a system that I really enjoy working with. One of my goals is to create choice-narratives that are less linear, more game-like, and allow higher agency for the player.

I was very inspired by A.D. Jansen’s Eidolon, Abigail Corfman’s 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds, and the grindy hub-based structure developed by porpentine in multiple games.

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#9

Can chime in and say I also play and write both kinds of IF, and as Mathbrush says, the border can be blurry. I suspect we’ll continue to see more choice stuff being written, but parser stuff on average rating better among the community. (This is born out in the IFDB top 100, with only two of the top twenty titles being non-parser.)

#10

It’s not a preference of parser vs. choice or Inform vs. Twine. But fiction implies story and story implies conflict, plot, obstacles to overcome and conclusion.

We shouldn’t pretend that there isn’t a big difference between Interactive Fiction and Interactive Poetry, which is actually what many choice games are.

Both forms have many merits and neither is better than the other, but as a writer, most fiction writing contests separate poetry and short-stories into categories. When you lump them together and judge them the same, no doubt there will be friction between the two camps.

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#12

I think a choice based systems require far more thought/work from authors to make a meaningful experience because the choices are, by their nature, so apparent. If the one and only “correct” choice is obvious every time, you are not giving the player a choice. A choice game should have at least two choices that lead to meaningful, satisfying, outcomes on every scene. Otherwise, you are just doing the equivalent of page turning and you might as well be writing static fiction.

Parse-IF systems generally provide so much built-in functionality that they can cover up the fact that the game itself may not have many meaningful choices for the player to make.

A poorly designed game is more fun to play in a parser based system than in a choice based system. A well designed game is fun regardless of the system chosen.

Personally, I don’t find the choice/parser dichotomy that useful. When you come right down to it, they are all choice games. In parser If, the choices are typed, rather than clicked.

Or, perhaps they are all command games. The player issues commands through the keyboard or through the mouse/touch screen. Perhaps a better dichotomy is Keyboard IF vs. Mouse IF.

Really, I think the ideal system would allow for mixed input. Sometimes it makes more sense to click (or drag/drop) on things and sometimes to type things depending on the situations presented in the game.

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(Hanon Ondricek) #13

I think of it like this:

  • Parser is a physics engine for words. Happy unplanned accidents and emergent gameplay can occur. They allow for a game like Counterfeit Monkey which would be impossible to pull off in a choice narrative. You can also make an effective game that is just an explorable environment.
  • Choice Narratives at base level are flowcharts where the author writes what happens for every choice. You’re never going to have a string of "You can’t do that"s because you can’t do anything the author didn’t write. The author has control of everything (unless there’s a bug in the code which usually amounts to a typo.) They can be great; I very much enjoyed Choose Your Own Adventure branded physical books when I was in school.
  • Quality Narratives are Choice Narratives with statistics or variables which control access to potential choices in any given situation. They can also be surprising - a player can grind a stat in a way the author never planned for and cause unexpected game behavior. They cross over somewhat with paper gamebooks with stats and dice.
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(Dan Fabulich) #14

I feel like there should be another category here for games with a restricted verb set, especially where most of the game puzzles are solved with “use [inventory item] on [scenery object].”

That’s typical for point-and-click adventures, but there are plenty of parser games like this, too. No emergent gameplay occurs in these games (if there is, it’s probably a bug), and typically no plot branching at all, just puzzle after puzzle leading up to the ending.

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(Ruber Eaglenest) #15

Personally, I don’t like categories in competitions and jams, because with that you pidgeon-hole the entries. That is, with that what you can do with hybrids? For example, there are parser games that have no model world or are not based on locations and objects. Or you can have choice based IF with puzzles, or choice based if with locations. The scene is so varied right now that is preferable to have it with a very big umbrella.

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(Hanon Ondricek) #16

Right. The term limited parser seems to stick when people discuss them.