This new system is text based, but with no typing. Is it a good idea?

TL;DR
I made a prototype for a game with a little system I thought up. Would love your feedback! The game is here:

https://limikael.altervista.org/if/adventure/the-morning-game/

The point of the game is to figure out the color of the hat of the garden gnome. The first person to solve it and post it in the thread will be officially recognised as a ninja!

So what is this and why?
I was born I the 70s so I had some experience with the pure text based games that existed in the 80s, e.f. the Infocom games like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and similar. I always found them a bit too complicated and time consuming, and I personally never got really hooked. I understand that there are many people who do love that exact type of game, exactly because of the typing, and I have full respect for that, I’m not saying that you are wrong. However, the kind of games that really got me hooked were the games in the 90s, like Zak McKracken and Monkey Island. These games were graphical, had a limited set of verbs, and you played them by clicking rather than typing.

Fast forward 30 years to today to the age instant gratification. One day I got bored after watching too much YouTube and decided to see what had happened with this genre. I saw that it had evolved in different ways:

  • There are apps like Text Fiction, adhering very much to the text and typing tradition.
  • There are point and click adventures, with a lot of advanced graphics and therefore high production costs.
  • There are visual novels, but these are mainly “choice based”, not open in the sense where it allows the player to roam around freely and to what they want.

So therefore I decided to test something where the story telling is purely text based, but the player executes verbs by clicking rather than typing. I would like to expand my knowledge of the genre, so I would like to ask those with more experience, how novel is this approach?

Thanks!

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I guess I won by looking at the garden gnome? (And noticing its midnight blue hat?)

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This reminds me of a short game I wrote in Twine a while back, trying to achieve the same thing - a SCUMM-like text based adventure (Five Scarabs by agat). Though, your interface is nicer :slight_smile:

The only thing I didn’t like (from the technical standpoint, it’s a tech demo, so I won’t comment on the puzzles) was that a lot of text got crammed into a narrow pop-up when using “look at”.

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Reminds me of the interface from the Spellcasting games, but without the picture.

The main thing to contrast this with is Gruescript.

Especially compare with @robinjohnson’s games like Detectiveland and Draculaland.

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Yey! You are the official ninja! :slight_smile:

Yes that is a very similar idea! Great minds think alike… :slight_smile: Good point about the popup, I’ll make it wider…

‘Too bad,’ you hear the cat mummy say. ‘You were so entertaining to watch!’ ← yey I solved it! :slight_smile:

I also played around a bit with Twine. Was it straight forward to create the game in Twine, or did you have to do a lot of tweaking that sort of felt “non standard”? Would you allow me to try to recreate your game using my system as a kind of test? I saw that Twine has the function to export a “proofing copy”, could you send me that for your game and I can try? You will of course get full credit!

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Writing “Scarabs” in Twine wasn’t all that complicated - it’s mostly some variables and if/else statements. I didn’t have that much experience with Twine (and coding in general) when I made it, so it’s a bit of a mess under the hood. I think I could make the code much cleaner now. But it works as intended.

If you want to remake it using your system, sure, go ahead! I’ll DM you the proofing copy.

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Interesting! Yes gruescript has a similar philosophy, although slightly different user interface. I also had a look at https://www.choiceofgames.com/ and your choice script. Interesting to see that many different systems like these exist!

My system is based on yaml and it is in a bit of a flux, but in the current iteration it looks something like the following. This says that you can reach the kitchen from the bedroom, but only if you use the lamp and the slippers. And also that in order to use the slippers, you need to pick them up first.

- location: bedroom
  description: This is the bedroom.
  destinations:
    kitchen:
      and:
        - if-using: lamp
          else: You can't see where you are going 
        - if-using: slippers
          else: The floor is too cold

- thing: lamp
  location: bedroom

- thing: slippers
  location: bedroom
  use:
    if-having: slippers
    else: You need to pick them up first.

I’m trying to understand of how understandable this is… I guess I just need to get it to a working state, write a documentation and invite people to test it, and then be ready to iterate and change it. Anyway, I would initially have thought that in order to appeal to authors you would need a graphical system like Twine. But it seems like both gruescript and choicescript get away with being based on text source files.

How important is it for a system like this to have a graphical authoring system?

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That code isn’t too difficult to understand. It might not need a graphical system so much as a side-by-side interface with the code and a panel that runs it immediately (like Gruescript) so it’s possible to tweak the code and immediately see the results. That is always helpful for us less code-inclined people.

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In the Gruescript thread, I wrote out my advice for folks starting a new IF engine:

Looks like you’ve done #2 on this list, but not #1 or #3.

Elaborating on #3, as Hanon said, “graphics” aren’t the critical thing here, it’s how easy it is for a total novice to get started, a novice who doesn’t (yet) know how to use a coding text editor or use the command line.

The problem with “You can implement your game in any text editor” is that newbies are forced to decide between complex professional text editors like Visual Studio Code (“before you write your first line of code, download and install VS Code and learn how to use it”) or very simple editors like Notepad that won’t help them with managing indentation, flagging errors, etc. etc.

(When I launched ChoiceScript, authors frequently asked me, “Can I write ChoiceScript in Microsoft Word?”)

And that brings me to the next problem with not having a tool: most IF authors aren’t familiar with using the command line to do their work. Even launching a command prompt and using cd to navigate to a folder containing their work requires learning. “Before you can run your YAML game for the first time, you’ll have to learn how to cd and run a command from the command line…”

That’s why I recommend building a system where authors can develop on mobile web. Like Gruescript or Twine, you should be able to click on something and start working right there in the browser, without downloading anything.

But that isn’t my top recommendation by any means. My top recommendation, by far, is #1, to build an admirable game yourself. Most people choose an IF platform by playing a great game and saying, “I really like this game, and I would like to make another game just like it. How did the author(s) make it?”

Admirers don’t seem to directly care about any of the details of the system, except that if it’s too hard for them to learn the system and finish a game, that’s a major factor in achieving true popularity.

I think you’ll either need to write something great or hire a great writer (preferably paid in advance) to launch your platform effectively.

#1 is way more important than #3. ChoiceScript didn’t have a tool for its first few years; we just wrote the games ourselves. Eventually a volunteer stepped up to write the ChoiceScript IDE, for which we’re extremely grateful.

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This is very valuable feedback! Also consistent with what @dfabulich said. So the important thing isn’t really that the system is graphical, but rather that it is easy to quickly deploy and test it. And most people don’t really have an emotional attachment to “their favourite text editor”. This makes total sense. So based on this:

  • My system (or system is to strong word at this point, my embryo of a system) is based on WordPress. A lot of research has gone into making WordPress usable in terms of editing and publishing articles. Creating and publishing a WordPress article is a lot more pleasant than downloading a compiler and compiling a program. :slight_smile:
  • I did some research and found ace. Based on this I think it would be possible to create something that feels quite IDE like and gives the author aid in terms of syntax and such when authoring the game.
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Those are very good points and they make total sense! So yeah I have #2, and I have plans for #3 (see the response to @HanonO). So to address #1

I think I somewhere have a quite deep fear for expressing myself creatively, which is probably an underlying reason for why I created this in the first place. I used to work from a cafe where there was writers group meeting once per week. I overheard them talking about characters and plots in their stories. It always sounds very interesting, and I think I secretly wish to myself to be one of those guys and having those conversations. And well, since I would rather write 1000 lines of programming code before I write one sentence of prose, I thought that the easiest way to get to hang out with cool writers would be to create a system for them that they could use.

I don’t really know what the “definition of success” is here or what it is that I want to achieve, but I think I will take your recommendation to heart and try to create some kind of game with the system. And this seem to be a really nice, friendly and non-judgemental community.

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As is, this system is completely inaccessible in a browser – one should be able to use the tab key to put focus on any of the selectable things. Because your buttons are just divs and your a-tags have no hrefs, they can’t be navigated to by keyboard. Keyboard Accessibility is an intro to the issues. It’s not all that hard to fix; I hope you’ll consider it.

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Yes good point! I will for sure do it in the next iteration. It shouldn’t be hard to fix, but it is also interesting how one can paint oneself into a corner with programming code, which makes it at this very moment more work than it should be to fix it. Which is why I can’t fix it right this minute, but I will for sure fix it very soon.

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The accessibility has been improved now… Do you care to take a look @Zed ?

Yes, that’s much better – nice work.

For the pop-up confirmation dialogs, I suggest starting with the focus on “OK”.