The Compass, Is everyone Just Lazy

The compass was the first method that arose because it was the best way to navigate the Mammoth cave.

It stuck because it turns out to have been the best. Absolute movement is much better than relative movement in IF, occasional situations notwithstanding.

It’s as simple as that, really. Once you create the wheel, you can add things to it, but you’ll have a hard time getting your car to go anywhere if you try replacing the wheel with, say, a square. Or getting rid of it altogether.

Also, I really really really hate the question in the thread topic. Makes me want to answer rudely.

Well, maybe. That’s the general consensus in this community, but there’s probably a bit of self-selection bias going on - people who strongly dislike the compass and would be more comfortable with some other navigation system are less likely to persevere with IF.

Personally speaking, relative directions tend to confuse me, but I didn’t have much trouble visualising/navigating Blue Lacuna with just location keywords.

Location keywords are great when a sense of relative position doesn’t matter. And sometimes it doesn’t. Not every game has to be about a strongly-established, highly concrete sense of setting. (But that’s one of the things that IF is pretty damn good at. Not wanting to bother with concrete setting in parser IF is a bit like expressing yourself through dance but deciding that you’re not really all that interested in arms.)

Relative (left/right, forward/back) commands are great when you want the player to feel disoriented.

Fair enough, let me rephrase: it’s the best method for navigating what we perceive as Interactive Fiction, due to the very way it’s modelled. Both the compass rose and our concept of “room” appeared together, and to meaningfully replace one we’d have to replace the other; the biggest hurdle in left/right relative movement is that we have to try and make it fit into a concept of “room” that was meant for absolute movement.

I find that a strong dislike of the compass is rather silly as it pertains to IF, and missing the point. It’s not about cardinal directions at all, you don’t have to know where the sun sets or where the magnetic pole is. It’s a direction, and in your mind you can translate it as “right/left/up/down” if you visualise your IF as a 2D map. Cardinal directions are perfect for meaningful movement in a 3d world (which is what IF is inside the player’s head… hopefully. It’s what it tries to be, anyway). No other navigation system has proved so easy to use, so robust, as to replace the compass rose, despite very many alternatives over the years, and that’s a fact to consider. No, we’re not just “lazy” - it’s like the adverbs situation. Two-verb commands work best. Start getting creative and adding adverbs and you’re making it harder for yourself and your players with no real gain. Same thing if you try to mess too much with the compass rose without a specific end in mind.

There seems to be an implicit link here between “there is a strongly-established, highly concrete sense of setting” and “relative position matters,” which I doubt. Blue Lacuna and just about anything by Pacian (especially Walker & Silhouette and Gun Mute) have strongly-established, highly concrete settings even if you don’t navigate them by compass directions. Ditto Counterfeit Monkey, which I navigate on the macro scale almost exclusively by goto’s (though it’s got the map to establish exactly how the city is laid out). And I think Metamorphoses had a strongly-established, highly concrete sense of setting, but remembering that I had to type e.s.s.s.w (or whatever it was) to get from the room with the pulley to the room with the forge sure didn’t help me grasp it – perhaps in that case the concreteness is more in the individual rooms than the overall setting.

Part of this might be that in the real world I don’t make a global mental map of the spaces I’m in – my sense of direction is appalling.

It’s not “silly” if it fosters discussion and thought. (What is silly is getting upset about it, I would argue.) It is ALL about cardinal directions because they are a mechanism that translates into locational specificity. Saying “north, south, east, west” is not about cardinal directions makes little sense. However, as you say, the focus is not on the realistic application of cardinal directions (i.e., magnetic pole) as it is a direction that your mind can translate to when you don’t use the referents that immediately are available in a visual space (whether real world or visual game).

As far as no other navigation system proving so easy to use, it depends. Games that just let you choose the location name are pretty easy. Whether that is a good mechanic given that it may allow you to skip certain things is a different question than one of ease.

There’s some truth to that no doubt but thinking like that is also what can keep textual IF from innovating, at least potentially so. I agree with the current crowd, perhaps that is all true. But as you bring in other players – or try to – who are used to different types of input or modes of expression, thinking beyond the self-selection effect of how people currently understand text games would be helpful.

Two word commands (in this day and age) could work “best” simply because people don’t want to type a lot to play a game and have seen little reason to need more than two word commands. (Point and click, after all, still works pretty well in graphical games, even when “wheels”, “dialog circles” and “coins UIs” were added. Still the same mechanic, just with a bit of nuance.) If the adverbs actually were meaningful or had a dynamic contextual usage that allowed nuance, then they would perhaps work “best” – but they would have to be proven to do so. The mechanic introduced would have to actually make the game more enjoyable or provide benefit for the player beyond just being an element that shows the prowess of game designer to accept a lot of input.

The same would apply to any attempt to change how spatial information is conveyed and navigated. Personally, I think all of this would be a more interesting type of competition for text games. Focus on creating different interfaces or different usage of direction or different ways to use nuanced commands.

Fair point, poor choice of word. I meant it would be silly for it to be an obstacle simply of the bases of “I don’t know my way around cardinal directions”, and not to get into IF more deeply thinking you’d need this knowledge or comfort with a compass rose. I know it’s weird for me to say it’s not about cardinal directions when clearly it is - but transposed into the necessities of IF, we could say NSEW, Aft/fore/port/starboard, Widdershins/clockwise/rimwards/whatever. So it loses the stigmata that it may have for some people as regards cardinal directions. The directions could even be meatloaf/spaghetti/candy/santa claus. As long as it gets you somewhere.

As it happens, the language of the compass rose is a bit more internationally recognisable as a direction than foodstuffs. :wink:

Point taken. Easy to use, though, doesn’t always mean easy to navigate. And even if they are easy to navigate, it’ll be hard pressed to create a actual world inside the player’s head, rather than a mere collection of fragmented rooms.

But some games do benefit from this approach. And some players don’t really care about a world in their head. So the compass rose is not a must, it’s merely a standard. But it’s a damn good, tried and true standard which I don’t imagine successfully replacing.

I’m all for innovation. If one can devise a way to introduce adverbs into a game in a controlled environment that won’t be frustrating for the player and hellish for the programmer, I’ll be first in line to try it and praise its courage. We certainly won’t get anywhere if people don’t try new things. The thing is, I picked up adverbs as an example because it’s a nightmare to go down that road. For everyone involved. Guess the verb becomes also guess the adverb, and often there is no appreciable reason to randomly “open door cautiously”, and if there is, and the PC knows about it, the player would balk - rightly so - if the PC did not automatically open the door cautiously. The adverb would be a roadblock, an extra step, a foolish one in most cases. For it to be an important part of gameplay it must be applicable in many other situations, and I’ll stop right here, because we all know the problems about adverbs.

My point in bringing them up is, you’ve brought up a fair number of points in adverbs defense, which all sound good in theory and in "would have to"s. Try making it. Then once it’s done, after all the unbelievable amount of work it’ll have needed, look at what you’ve created and ask yourself “How is this really any better than not having the adverbs in the first place?”.

I think adverbs are Betamax, and two-verb commands are VHS. I also think trying to find a new standard for the compass rose is trying to come up with Betamax while you’re already using VHS. I have admittedly limited knowledge of the whole Betamax thing, but a cursory look at wikipedia makes me think it sums it up.

Though the last time I tried a newbie on IF (“Cold Iron”) she typed all kinds of commands like “pick up the book” and “walk through the door.” It was a very good thing that responses were implemented. And she got surprisingly far in with only a couple of nudges from me about how to formulate commands, until she got to the part that required compass navigation, which utterly flummoxed her. (More here and here.)

So maybe the conventions the community is used to don’t always work the best for everyone.

A good example, thank you for it.

I’ll now hold my peace because we’re starting to veer into territory I don’t like: making parser IF so complex that EVERYONE will be able to get into it, instead of sticking to what works and having people LEARN how it works and thus keeping the complexity down. This is also cousin to the “Evils of the Parser, or, How I learned to stop Typing and love the Clicking”. My views won’t be popular and it’d derail things a bit.

Hm. Gun Mute’s not a great example, I think, because navigating it would be exactly the same whether you were using absolute or relative directions. Walker and Silhouette… I remember that as having a progression of scenes, with no navigation at all.

See, I agree that the connections between Metamorphoses rooms aren’t hugely important - but I think that the reason there is because you’re in a fantastic dreamland. By contrast, I think the reason for the map in Counterfeit Monkey was precisely that Emily wanted a very concrete setting; a central aim of Monkey was to ground the wordplay in something that felt like a real place rather than a surreal fantasyland. The geography’s a big part of that. The map’s there to reinforce that sense of geographic solidity for people who aren’t mental mappers. GO TO doesn’t teleport you: it moves you through the map.

I haven’t played Blue Lacuna far enough to be sure one way or another.

For me at least, Walker and Silhouette… had great setting, but no sense of concrete place. Every scene was in a new, disconnected location. That… okay, when I think of fantasy setting there’s the Tolkien school, where you treat the world as a real, solid thing that can be itemised and inventoried, and there’s the Kafka school, where the world is a sketch, a suggestion, something that conspicuously only needs to exist for the length of the story. You don’t need to know much about the government and geopolitics of In the Penal Colony; they only exist as shadows cast by the story. The lack of geography in W&S moves it more towards the Kafka end of the spectrum, is my feeling.

But, yeah, maps and relative direction are things my brain is fond of. I’m a hiker. Walking’s how my brain works. I grew up spending a lot of time wandering off into the bushveldt and exploring. I don’t feel as if I’ve actually been to places until I’ve walked all over them. (Driving absolutely doesn’t count.) My sense of direction is… not entirely reliable, but I’ve self-rescued at least once by figuring out where North was from the sun. (I was about forty-five degrees off. Ninety would have have been Really Bad.)And I freakin’ love cartography.

You do wind up moving from place to place a bit within some of the scenes (the asylum and the park most notably). But the point about the navigation here is what I’m getting at; a strongly-established highly concrete sense of setting isn’t the same thing as a 2-D space you can navigate. (At least not for a non-mental mapper like me.) I took it, BTW, that the navigation in Gun Mute wasn’t linear; that if it had been translated into compass directions you’d be going in different directions some of the time.

And I’m not entirely clear why you had to take a shortcut through the nuclear power plant. Is it possible not to kill Earl? I always felt bad for him; of all the antagonists he seemed like the one who was reasonably protecting his home against an armed intruder.

Another example is Slouching Toward Bedlam. I get a definite sense of London as a setting there, even though the cab means you’re teleporting among five or so distinct sub-regions. It’s not important to know where they are in relation to each other.

Mrm. For me that’s the difference between seeing a city in TV shows, photos and movies, versus visiting it. Until I actually visited Washington DC, I only knew it as a series of disconnected locations, different sound-stages. (I understand why non-Americans often assume that it’s the same place as New York.) Earlier this year I walked around the Mall and Monuments area - and now it actually fits together as a concrete, unified place, something inhabited rather than viewed.

Structurally linear. Or in terms of topology, if you prefer. Gun Mute as a straight north-south avenue wouldn’t be hugely different from Gun Mute as an unbroken twisty line.

I played Blue Lacuna almost entirely with location keywords (the exception being the pseudo-maze, where I felt I needed to be clearer about exactly how the landscape fitted together). It’s been a long time, but I still have a pretty clear idea of the relative positions of the main locations, and I don’t remember having any trouble navigating it.

I do suspect that if you’re going to have location keywords instead of compass directions, you’re going to need to do a bit more work to make sure the room descriptions are clear about the way the locations fit together (assuming a good sense of their relative positioning is important to you). Blue Lacuna is mostly very good at that. On the other hand, you can write the room descriptions a bit more naturally if you don’t have to try to shoehorn in compass directions.

This is an interesting problem, but moving around relatively without compass directions removes a lot of freedom of movement, especially if you expand the scope of a ‘room’ to be many rooms, like a forest. It would be very hard to create a unique feature for every exit, like if there is moss growing on trees ahead of you (removing north), would you move north by ‘going toward moss’? The relative directions work great if you’re dealing with clear cut directions, and there’s only one relative way a person can be ‘facing’ when in the room.

Someone else mentioned this, but the compass initially came from navigating a cave. The view I get as I’m playing IF moves from the room description, which reads like a novel and puts me in the shoes of the character, to an isometric world view for navigation, where my character is like a pin on an overhead map. This removes the problem of relatively facing a given direction, which is hard to describe. If I need to also imagine which way I’m facing, then the room description would have to shift every time I change the direction I’m facing, and this would add extra actions for moving around within a space. This is real easy to do in 3d, which constantly renders things based on the camera, which is the player’s viewpoint, but hard to do in IF, where the camera is fixed. (And happens to ‘film’ words, rather than pictures. :smiley:)

Anyway, I asked this same question, and I came to this: is it easier to imagine ‘forward, left, right, back’, with the inclusion of ‘turn left, turn right, turn around’ for facing, or is it easier to just use the compass, and leave the rest to the imagination? I went with the compass.

It depends on the game world. If you have a linear story with few locations, getting around by verbs like “cross stream” is perfectly fine compared to “ne”, but classical games like Colossal Caves would be horrible to play without being able to type verses like “n-n-e-se-s-u-d-d-…”. Try writing a map of a giant cave system without any sense of direction.
It doesn’t have to be the character’s compass directions, but a tool for writing maps in a 50 locations game. (…though having a compass or GPS in your inventory, does help with immersion.)
…so to sum it up: Sometimes it fits, and sometimes it doesn’t.

All those mazes certainly wouldn’t work without compass directions.

When I programmed my first IF game, I made some experiments putting total newbies to play without any instructions at all, and watching (and logging) what they typed. Those experiments shaped all the games I made afterwards, as intuitiveness has always been one of my priorities.

One of the things I observed was that they naturally typed things like “walk through the door”, “go up the stairs”, “enter the kitchen”, “go to the corridor”, etc. So all my games (except that first one) support that and you don’t need to type any compass direction (although in most you still can if you want).

I have nothing against compass directions per se, but requiring them in order to move makes IF less accessible to new players, and in the vast majority of games it is very easy and natural to implement alternative commands. I also find that they enhance immersion.

Thank you! That is incredibly useful input, at least to me. Thank you!

Even in visual games, it’s easy to get lost if environments don’t either provide visual markers of which place is which, or an in-game map that itself presumes your player character has perfect sense of direction.

Though really, sense of direction isn’t that hard. I’ve been working on a game mostly set inside a single large building; it makes perfect sense that the player character knows which way is north at all times, given that they’d know the orientation of the building.