Trying to Understand Appeal of Text Adventures (I Really Am)

There’s textual setting. You have to make it clear what you are promoting to people. Text adventures may imply that but then the setting really demands good writing skills to make it feel like an actual setting, rather than just a bunch of text. So “play this game because the settings are described really well, and the writing is quite atmospheric” would be something enticing. “There’s a setting.” would probably not.

Humor is a good one.

“Not getting stuck” totally depends, of course. I’ve seen many people get stuck on text adventures because they missed reading one bit of text that they didn’t know had changed (since it only changed after one event and it wasn’t clear what had changed). I’ve seen people get “stuck” in the sense of having to sit and examine everything in their inventory to remember what the bit of text was about it and then try “use {thing} with {thing}” or lots navigating to read a bunch of text to see if they missed an exit or something.

Visuals, sounds … I’m not sure. I don’t see much effort on authors to really utilize all senses when authoring text games. There are some exceptions, granted. And if people want visuals and sounds, going to a text-based game is often not going to be what they think of, any more than they would go to a book when they really wanted a movie.

And how has that worked for text adventures lately? :slight_smile: Seriously: people have lots of ways to spend their time and they may like lots of things. That argument can apply to anything. Try skiing. You may like it. Try basketball. You may like it. Try World of Warcraft. You may like it. But when there are lots of choices, making options compelling may require slightly more thought. Again, you may not need this since you’re already interested in text games. If this is the best people can do, I can see why text games have never really taken off again even though, in many ways, I can see lots of potential for text-based game worlds.

Going back to what I said before: “setting really demands good writing skills to make it feel like an actual setting, rather than just a bunch of text.” I think that’s one value add that text games could potentially bring as a value add: good writing. (Some people tout Mass Effect’s story and thus writing as really good. I actually don’t think it’s all that great, to be honest. I mean, it’s okay – but it’s a story that’s been done to death. It’s the combination of other gaming elements that makes it workable.) But let’s face it, beyond a pure puzzle-fest, a text-based game pretty much has to have solid writing because it lives and dies by the text that it presents. If that text is boring, confusing, etc., then people won’t be able to tell if they like the experience of text games because they’ll equate the experience with bad or shallow writing.

I guess I’m probably asking two questions in this thread as I think on it. One is “How would you present a compelling case for text adventures?” and “Why is the level of interactivity often touted as the key determinant of text adventures when it seems there is less interactivity than other game formats?”

I came across the TextFyre site. I had heard about “TextFyre” before but didn’t know if it was a library for text games or what. Anyway, I see on that site the value add seems to be:

That seems like a really, really shallow way to promote text games. It would certainly work for someone already involved in text games. I’m curious: how many people who frequent these forums have purchased the games mentioned on that site?

I also found Malinche Entertainment. At least their blurb is more interesting:

That, at least, makes me curious. The site also says:

This is clearly catering to readers but at the very least, it’s not bad. This to me would have been a good elevator speech.

But that’s not what I think of as being stuck because I haven’t mastered the mechanics in these games – I’m thinking of getting killed over and over again on the same screen, and I bet those games don’t prompt me there. (Well, they might have some kind of adaptive difficulty.) This can work for

Yeah, what I mean by being “in the groove” is that those things aren’t happening. Navigating all over the place looking for something I’ve missed is one of the most immersion-breaking IF experiences for me. (But it’s by no means unique to IF; it seems like it’s most of the game in Aquaria, and even Redder, for instance. And don’t get me started on graphic adventures.) Non-IF games even have the equivalent of the repeated static text, with the cutscene that plays every time just before the boss fight you can’t beat. Though walking through an already-explored area that has nice scenery is definitely better than navigating through an already-explored area that’s described with nice graphics.

As for my elevator speech – I guess it’s something like “Games that you read”? “If podcasts make you say 'Please write down what you’re saying so I don’t have to listen to your stupid voices, then you might like IF”?

Exactly that. They may have adaptive difficulty or they may have messages (or dialogue) that help you along only if you clearly keep having issues or keep having the same sort of issue. Eventually there may be a bypass mechanism. It can also help if you see what is killing you, as opposed to typing a command and getting killed. If you see what killed you, you can work to avoid it. Crouch behind those barrels. Don’t rush into the room. Use the environment as protection. Go into cloak mode – but make sure I dont’ rustle the bushes or bump into someone. (I’m thinking Crysis with that last example.)

I realize typing a command like “REMOVE PILLAR” can make it very clear what killed you if a rockfall happens. But the thing to do then is to not remove the pillar. If you determine you need to remove it, then you have to find what to replace the pillar with or something. But it’s a limited form of interactivity. It’s highly unlikely that in a text game you will be able to use your enviornment to the extent that you at least could in other games. (Granted, not all games do this.) But Dead Space, Splinter Cell, Alpha Protocol, and others do encourage more interactivity by figuring out how to use environmental cues to solve problems in different ways. (Again, Half-Life 2’s gravity is a good – but oft-stated – example.)

I agree with all of this. As you say, none of these potential pitfalls is unique to text adventures. But that just shows text adventures can suffer the same problems as other games. It doesn’t say how the interactivity of text adventures in particular is a determining factor that makes these challenges more surmountable necessarily or make a game more entertaining.

Very true. But text games repeat their text pretty much all the time. And I don’t know if the author sometimes changes the text of the rooms based on events or if new objects have appeared. So I have to read it all the time or at least until I get a feel for what the author does – and then hope they’re consistent. Most graphical games that do have cut scenes also allow you to skip through with a key press or mouse button push. A boss fight – yeah. That you’re often stuck doing again. But that challenge is also part of why people go to games where they fight bosses. If you’re playing a game that has boss battles, you presumably know that going in (or pretty quickly determine that you don’t like those kinds of games).

To which someone who knows games might say, “Oh, you mean like the codex stuff in Mass Effect? Or the newspaper entries in Deus Ex? Oh, you mean like those old King’s Quest and Space Quest games?” My point there being it’s more accurate to say “Games where reading is the primary interactive element. You have to read the text to see how your actions have changed the story world.” That’s a qualitiative difference between the reading in text games and the reading in most other game formats.

So is that you don’t like to hear voice dialogue or that you simply prefer text to read? There are many games without voice dialogue or where you can turn voices off and those aren’t text games. I’m not being purposely obtuse here. I’m just showing how it seems people can’t really define the value add very well.

I think the Malinche site that I quoted earlier definitely seems to capture what might appeal to someone who is looking more for a reading experience than a gaming experience that utilizes multiple modes of interaction. I’m not sure that same set of statements would appeal to your average gamer, though, but maybe it would. I don’t know what the TextFyre and Malinche’s businesses do in terms of sales.

Some games have that. Some IF games have something similar. But how do these messages help you when your problem is that you can’t make a certain jump? “It looks like you suck at jumps. Try sucking less!” (And bypass mechanisms are problematic – I read somewhere, I thought at baf’s The Stack but I can’t find it, that when a part of the game is so onerous that you find yourself needing build in a mechanism to skip it, you might want to rethink some of your design decisions. Maybe it’s nice for noobs, like me, but still.)

Yes, when you fail at doing something it’s nice to get feedback that indicates what you can do. Good IF does this. But you’re just talking about strategy and puzzles in action games, which I imagine tend to be easier than they are in IF, and which in any case are irrelevant to the point that I’m making: these aren’t the core mechanism of these games (are they?), and if you know exactly what to do but you’re not good enough at the core mechanism to do it, then all the messages and dialogue and being able to see what is killing you before you hit the button and cloak mode in the world won’t do a damn thing to help you. It’s not that I can’t see that the Frenzied Doctor is ripping me a new one, it’s that I can’t stop him from doing it. This is not an an obscure point.

So I don’t play AAA games and I haven’t played any of these, but this seems roughly like complaining that all these games have less interactivity than the Sims because they don’t let you build a house or set your characters’ goals. Or that they have less interactivity than Galatea because all you can do is move through the environment, jump, shoot, and pick dialogue choices (or whatever); you can’t converse on a wide range of topics just by typing a keyword. They’re different kinds of ranges of interactivity, aren’t they?

In bukayeva’s FPS:IF parable, much of it sounds like a really easy position to argue from either perspective:


Even RPGs completely break down to performing clicks to generate a change in state, which can be resolved by another click, leading to another change in state. Sometimes, you’ve clicked as much as possible in an area and if you just sit there . . . nothing happens, literally forever (or until the power company shuts off your electricity or your computer dies).

What an RPG or graphic adventure requires from you with a mouse click, the text adventure requires with a typed command.

As for parser errors, or being “stuck” from a lack of ability to effectively communicate with the program, I can’t imagine anyone would single out text adventures, which (in my experience) have never crashed in the middle of a level or a save/restore. I’ve never found my avatar inextricably spliced between two planes and had to restart in a text adventure. I’ve never found myself unable to shoot a target in a text adventure because the displayed pixels were calculated out of synch with the underlying engine’s 3D map, nor found that my sound card was incompatible with my text adventure’s prose.

Unique to every genre and medium are the problems thereof. “Triple-A” text adventures are as bug-free in their own ways as AAA games of any stripe.

Virtually all text adventures are turn-based, text parser-driven, text-output games. It’s a matter of which senses need to be engaged to successfully tell the story, and what the player’s genre expectations and entertainment threshold are.

Which senses need to be engaged? It’s often said that the more senses, the richer the experience, although no one is upset that John William Waterhouse failed to incorporate Smell-O-Vision into Ophelia At present, there is no expectation that a work of art will employ every sense both literally and figuratively.

Most novels explicitly engage all five senses through the written word, as do many of the best text adventures. Just as I appreciate paintings without the rustle of wind playing through my headphones, I enjoyed Ender’s Game just fine without having to hoist a promotional poster above the book as I read for lack of visual stimulation.

Interactive fiction is a visual, symbolic medium which conveys an experience to the reader, founded on the author’s input, and allowing the reader a degree of control over the revelation of the conveyed experience.

I like that.

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So if the qualitative aspects are the same, why have text-based games not been able to compete in the industry in any meaningful way? Why are not more game authors flocking to this way of writing games? Why are more gamers not interested in these games? My point was that, yes, all games have mechanics. We all know that. It’s the nature of the mechanics that ultimately matters to audiences.

Text games often tout their interactivity as being a key driver of what makes them a different experience. Yet, as you’ve just said, it’s basically the same thing really. I’m saying that’s not the case – at least to audiences that left text adventures behind and those that continue to ignore them.

Great points. I’m surprised it took someone this long to bring them up. But, yes, that is one value add of text games: they are not resource intensive and thus can be played on very minimal systems.

Among gamers, however, there is an expectation that games will engage them with different levels of interactive elements: which is why sound cards and video cards are such an important component of systems and why high-end gaming rigs are the norm. Gamers do have many expectations. Not of “every sense” – which I don’t think I said – but certainly of multiple senses when interactivity with an environment is touted.

But you can get visual stimulation by how the author evokes imagery in your mind. That’s what you can get from books. Presumably from a good game author, you can get the same from a text adventure. But you can get the same from any game if the game author(s) are good. It seems like it’s how you can interact that sets the games apart. (Again: I’m going on what I constantly hear – that the interactive elements of text adventures are what set them apart from other games.)

Which – if I replace “reader” with “player” – I could say about any game format, not just text adventures. (Again, to me “interactive fiction” is any type of experience that is fictional and interactive. That means most games fall into that category. It’s ridiculous to me that people would somehow only equate this with text games.) The specific focus on “reader” along with “degree of control” does seem to suggest that these are the compelling arguments: someone who likes to read stories but would like more control over the lead character in the story. The mechanic they then have to accept is the parser.

What I was trying to find out is what is the appeal of text adventures that sets them apart from other games, making them a viable other choice. Since you can get control of the lead character in any game, the emphasis goes back to the reading experience, if everyone agrees that the mechanics of an RPG (or other game) are ultimately reducible to what you would do at a command prompt. In that case, the reading experience demands that you have good authors that can deliver.

Yet there’s no getting around the fact that text adventures lost out in a big way to just about every other gaming format, even though people’s desire to read during that same period of time certainly didn’t diminish.

This is a very “religious” conversation. It appears to be going nowhere very fast.

bukayeva, you don’t want to be convinced. I’m not sure why you even brought this up. This seems to be the most intellectual trolling I’ve witnessed in a considerable amount of time. Why start a conversation on an IF-based forum about why IF can’t satisfy your gaming needs or why it can’t compete commercially with more graphically immersive games.

IF was born at a time when “gaming” was an almost non-existent pastime. At the time, it was considered very interactive. It was also commercially successful in its hey day. Its games didn’t make millions of dollars for the developers, but that was a different time and a different culture. Kids were not yet melding with their couches and IF provided a very entertaining distraction from playing in the dirt. (And with the dirt. (Guilty.))

The term “interactive fiction” is a holdover from that time. Basically homage to a medium that has a cult following but is no longer the mainstream commercial endeavor it once was. It’s already been said that IF fought the war and lost it.

People write IF because they like to write IF. People play IF because they like to play IF. It doesn’t matter if you call it a “text adventure” or “interactive fiction”. The games don’t cost millions of dollars to make. They don’t cost $60 a piece. It doesn’t take a team of seventy people to make one. They’re made, even the bad ones, because someone has a love for making them. They’re played, especially the bad ones, because someone has a love for playing them.

This is an apples and oranges conversation. Very few “companies” and very few websites try to “sell” anyone on IF. It’s a small community, comparatively. We brag about it because we love it. Because it holds fond memories for us. Because it fascinated us when we were young. We don’t care if you love it. If you’d rather be “fragging” or “headshotting”, then be my guest.

I also love your “fancy pants” video games. I thought Mass Effect was one of the most boring games I’ve ever played. The characters were hollow. that whole planet scanning thing was absolutely ridiculous, nothing more than a time waster. F.E.A.R. also wasn’t as deep as it’s fanbase wants you to believe.

Books, video games and movies have a tendency to force feed everything to you. No matter how “sandbox” a video game appears to be, there’s a great deal of lineararity to it. (“Is that a word?” “It just came outta my mouth…”). Most of them, anyway. Very few of them vary much in the rewards they offer. Games like Silent Hill (a franchise of which I am an enormous fan, no matter how bad they jack it up) do reward you differently for how you act in the game. Do I murder my own mother who is in unbearable pain or let her be torn in half by this hellish machine? That decision affects the outcome of the game.

If you think FFVII (American version) was the greatest FF game? I hope you die a flaming fiery death. Hated X because “I just don’t get it and it’s not VII”? Die a flaming fiery death.

Point being is that we all have our preferences. We have our skillsets. We have our upbringings. We have different environments.

You won’t see the next Cadre game on the cover of Game Informer. You will see the next ungodly bastardization once proud comic book franchise.

And we’re perfectly okay with that.

For me, the charm of text adventures comes from the writing. The best part of IF is playing stories that come from a single passionate author.

I cannot abide bad writing in novels or short stories. As a consequence it’s always a challenge to find new reading material that suits my mood and my tastes. With IF I don’t really have that problem. There is something about the format that helps to transmit the author’s vision even if the writing has some rough spots, or the puzzle mechanics present a barrier. I almost always feel like I’m playing the game the author meant to write, even if it’s not a great game.

When playing commercial games - or even indie games meant to be commercially successful - I feel instead like I’m playing the work of a committee, designed first and foremost to keep me happy about spending my $50 or even $5 on that title. That’s great too; I like to spend money and feel good about it afterwards. But there’s no dialogue between me and the author; there’s no personal connection. It’s mass entertainment rather than intimate conversation.

I have two points to make, one about levels of interactivity and the other about the command prompt:

First, the interactivity of a text adventure is on a different level than the interactivity of a first-person shooter. The FPS really is more interactive for the specific actions that it simulates, such as walking and shooting. In an FPS, you can choose to walk specifically between this rock formation and that tree, and you can stop at any point between them. Modelling distances and outdoor locations is an admittedly difficult in IF. However, I would like to see an FPS interactively implement a scene in which the PC gets dressed after waking up in the morning and then goes to his kitchen to fix himself some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. Although such a scene might be boring, it would perfectly natural to implement in a text adventure using the normal method of controlling text adventures.

Also, the command prompt is probably more important to text adventures than the text descriptions itself. The prompt asks the question “What do you want to do next?”, and even though you can’t do anything you want, the ideal that adventure games strive for is that anyone really trying to play the game should be able to understand what can be done in the context of the simulated world. If you listen to the game, chances are that it will listen to you. Andrew Plotkin makes a good case for this in his essay “Characterizing, if Not Defining, Interactive Fiction,” which begins on page 59 of the IF Theory Reader.

When the command prompt is combined with the turn-based format of most text adventures, the effect is to put great emphasis on the actions of the PC as choices of the protagonist of the story. Now, I want to make it clear that I agree that the turn-based format is significantly less immersive than a real-time simulation, because the whole universe doesn’t hang on our every whim, every moment. However, in any story, whether or not the fate of the world is literally at stake, the fate of the story usually does hang on the every whim of the protagonist. The protagonist’s choices build the plot (or in most novels, the choices of a few important POV characters). Therefore, in allowing the player to control the protagonist, it is an appropriate storytelling technique to freeze the simulated universe until the player decides what the protagonist is going to do next.

I also want to emphasize that the command prompt can be implemented in a real-time environment, and has been in the case of MUDs and related forms. I think that the turns-based format is the more natural one for single-player IF because of the emphasis it places on story, but I also love the immersion of real-time in the text gaming experience. The most immersive text-gaming experiences that I have ever had did not occur while playing “text adventures,” but in an RPI (roleplay intensive) MUD. The experience of having your PC stand in one room while watching characters controlled by other human players interact with each other and the simulated world, moving and dropping objects, giving things to each other, perhaps fighting each other, all acting according to the imaginary story world – while the command prompt remains open the whole time for you to interact with anyone or anything you see in whatever way you can imagine your character behaving – that is an immersive experience indeed! I see IF and MUDs as two sides of the text adventure, and I love them both in different ways.

This is an excellent point (and Rover’s Day Out implements pretty much exactly that scene, and makes it awesome). Check out the video Zack Urlocker posted here about storytelling in videogames. While they talk about storytelling scenes from a bunch of videogames are playing in the background, and most of them are about shooting stuff. There are a couple about hitting stuff with axes, a couple point-and-clickers which is a genre whose interactivity is at least as limited as IF, a couple platformers; Heavy Rain is the one that stands out as looking like it actually has a story. So that might be my elevator speech – “These are games that aren’t about shooting stuff.”

As for why more gamers aren’t interested in it – well, I’m no historian or marketing expert, but we could start by asking why movies sell better than novels. Also we could think about how gamers are basically defined by their interest in videogames with graphics (I don’t believe that anyone was a self-defined gamer when text adventures were the dominant video game, or if they were it referred to tabletop RPGs), so of course they’re going to be more interested in those.

Another point, though, is that I get the impression that the business model of early commercial text adventures was built around making the game frustrating. First, there weren’t that many games available, so they wanted to stretch out playing time by making the game hard, and second, they made a lot of money selling hint books I believe. (And as Jimmy Maher points out here, in the pre-commercial days authors might expect you to source-dive.) Which means a lot of people have the impression that text adventures are still all about fiendishly difficult guess-the-verb puzzles. See here where the reviewer (on a site that Emily Short posts on) says “Text adventures are designed to be difficult and puzzling because, gameplay-wise, that’s all they’ve got,” and one of the commenters complains about being unable to use “open door” to open a door in a text game. People are less likely to flock to a genre of game when they think that’s how it works, or to spend the effort that it takes to become competent with the mechanics; any more than they’d learn how to master jumping mechanics if they thought every platformer was I Wanna Be The Guy.

[Some context: I’m working on a group studio project about border towns, and I’ve been especially fascinated by Baarle-Hertog/Nassau and China Miéville’s The City and the City]

As an exercise to help me work towards my goal of designing a meaningful physical/virtual experience about border towns, I’ve been working on a little “translation” of the world of The City and the City into interactive form. [Spoilers for that book.] I started with a top-down RPG-type simulation of the terrain, but an important politically-loaded action in the book is so-called Breach, when someone interacts with the other side, even through something as seemingly minor as looking across the border. Glances just don’t translate well to the RPG setting, so I’ve been thinking about things that do. And shooting is pretty much the only one, so I’ve been planning on making enemies on both sides of the border, with penalties for shooting the cross-border enemies (since you’re not supposed to even acknowledge their existence). I’ll probably still implement this, since really it’s just a warm-up exercise, but it certainly lacks subtlety. But in IF, glances are one of the basic stuffs of interaction; it seems to me that over half the commands I type into most IF games are “examine.” So this is exactly a situation in which the one standard verb of most realtime games is not the one I want, and the subtlety that is IF interactions is perfect. (Though perhaps for this particular exercise, the convoluted map calls for something Glimmr-based, not solely text.)

Wow, that was something like the first thing I thought of when reading that book. And it definitely seems like something that would work a lot better in IF (with graphics, perhaps) than graphically.

[spoiler]For instance, the big climactic puzzle could come after the player had navigated the map enough to know what was grosstopically where, where they had to actually Breach out and interact with something in the grosstopical location – which didn’t appear in the room description.

It’d be hard to convey what needed to be done, but maybe you could do that by having the player bump into things that were in the virtual room but not in the room they were seeing. There was some game where you had to figure out what was going on by running into things you couldn’t see, until eventually you found your way to your goal (which was in sight at the beginning!) but wouldn’t see it and had to know that it was there. I forget the game’s name.[/spoiler]

(On the non-IF front, check out Derby Line.)

Sounds like a fun project. I’m not familiar with The City and the City and so I don’t know how spoilery reading my suggestion would be, but I’ve spoilered this idea just in case:

One thing that most top-down RPGs implement is facing, where each character can face in at least the four cardinal directions. Often this is just an aesthetic overlay, without many gameplay ramifications, but there are exceptions: backstabbing a character that’s facing away from you for more damage, for example. Could you use the facing mechanic to penalize the player in some way when her avatar is both in the same row or column as a character across the border and is facing toward the character? This would mean, essentially, that the player could not approach the border in a given file if there is a cross-border character in that tile. You could probably even use this mechanism to structure little puzzles, though it would mainly function to dramatize the awareness-without-acknowledgment dynamic that you describe.


Yeah, sounds familiar… :stuck_out_tongue:

Stanstead/Derby Line is[/are?] awesome, and it’s one of the favorite examples of the organizers: … he-library
I love that opera house. They’re hoping to pull through funding so that we get to visit (fingers crossed!) but in the meantime we are visiting Niagara Falls.

I did think briefly about facing, but it seems like it would be darn near impossible to play with a map of any complexity. But it is also true that I tend to make really easy games rather than hard ones.

Although I’m not trying for a strict translation, one of the major themes in the book is the characters’ ability to “unsee” the other city – that is, they may be physically looking right at it, but they don’t react and try to erase what they saw from their memory. There are interesting descriptions of how this works with, say, fast moving vehicles (since some of the car-accessible roads are shared between the cities), loud noises, and smells. (I do actually recommend the book quite highly for its world-building. :slight_smile:) So I guess it’s that spirit of willful ignorance that I’m interested in – which I think could actually be really effective on an IF-trained audience, since we’re all really used to reflexively examining everything.

I think you’re quite right that there’s potential for some really interesting puzzles in deliberate facing directions. For example: Don’t Look Back.

I think this is a little unfair. Nobody has actually answered her question yet. I could probably come up with an (obviously, opinionated) argument why you should appreciate silent movies and why I’m glad that people are still making them, so I think it’s interesting there’s very few testimonials in this thread. “I love IF because…”

For my part, I think text is a brilliant way to present events and allow you to inhabit a setting. It also offers an unparalleled route into a character’s head: if the game has an “I” the author can infuse every part of the story with their personality. And I think that when presenting text to a player, it feels right and natural for the player to respond by typing text of their own.

What I’m less convinced about is that a traditional text adventure with its find-object-use-verb-with-object puzzles is the right way to leverage any of that. Or even that the whispered promises of the parser at all outweigh its obvious pitfalls. For all that text-only games may have a hoary old legacy, I still think we’ve seen precious few of them with consistent gameplay mechanics.

I’m convinced by arguments I find good. I’m seeking that. I’m not saying everyone should agree with me, one way or the other. I’m just stating my viewpoint and asking for others. Lighten up.

I’m trying to understand what does appeal about text adventures to various people here. If you don’t like that or find it to be “trolling” then don’t participate. Oh, and lighten up.

Before cinema, books were really popular. When cinema came out there was a fear that books might be replaced. That didn’t happen. When graphical games started to do what text adventures couldn’t do, I remember people saying text adventures were going to get replaced. That did (sort of) happen.

I’m curious why. Why didn’t gamers who like to read – and there are many – keep text adventures as a viable medium, even as book readers kept books viable during the onslaught of cinema? I’m curious about that. You’re apparently not. That’s fine. I’m curious about the cultural context in which text adventures grew up and then stalled. That context is also part of this community.

Anyway, you’re reply is clearly one of the “defensive” ones that I’ve noted some people take when discussing text adventures. I was quite happy that people didn’t degenerate to this – until your post. So thanks for that.

P.S. Seriously. Lighten up.

That’s a really interesting point. I wonder if others share that. I can totally understand where you’re coming from even though I can’t relate it to text games. I’m into screenwriting and I have a similar experience with low-budget films in many cases: I can tolerate many such films – when many of my colleagues can’t – because I can see what the director was going for. I can appreciate what was trying to be done, regardless of some of the acting or the bad locations or whatnot.

That’s another interesting point. There’s a certain personal touch – an authorial viewpoint – that you get from text adventures that you may not get from bigger budget games. I can relate that to the modding community. While mods tend to have more than one author/creator, I do find them to be a bit more — personal, I guess — than the original game that the mod was based on.

That’s like asking a film to do the interiority of a novel. Could it be done? Yeah. Lots of voiceovers, perhaps, or cloudy film to indicate what’s happening is in the person’s mind. Whether it’s a good idea or not – yeah, different question. However, The Longest Journey did do some of what you suggest. April Ryan does have to wake up, get dressed, walk downstairs, she can sit with her friend, etc. Dreamfall did the same thing. Wake up. Watch TV. Get dressed. Drink coffee with dad in the kitchen. Those aren’t FPS games, but rather graphical adventures. So it has been done.

Yes, but the trick is that they aren’t always “meaningful choices” as fiction would present. They are meaningful to completing the game, granted. Graphical games suffer from this, too. My point here is that this exists regardless of turn-based. Games like Dragon Age or Alpha Protocol will have make you lots of decisions similar to how you would in real life: during the heat of action. Far Cry 2 and Mass Effect try to present dialogues that have significant impact. The difference in Far Cry is that in some cases you are limited; you can’t just sit and wait to make a choice – you must make one quick. That’s not the case in Mass Effect. I like the Far Cry approach because it forces you assess and react, again as you might in real life.

I think that’s part of it: the choice has to be something that matters even though you won’t know the effects and you don’t have all day to make a decision. Human pathos is partly having to make decisions upon unformed decisions or not having all the facts or all the time in the world. I would actually think text adventures could model that really well.

Current game design suggests the exact opposite. The world should not freeze. It’s the same logic by which so-called “personality tests” are better taken quickly. The better quizzes only give you twenty seconds or so to make a decision. That’s an important point of being human. Call of Duty uses this “quick decision” focus to really good effect. Real time elements are a part of fiction: even in reading, while we as reader can pause the book, the protagonist – once we start reading again – must make decisions quickly. In movies, the same. Games that replicate that tend to be reacted to favorably by people. (A notable example is Mass Effect with its paragon/renegade system that isn’t based on time. It gets around that by not always making it clear what are the “notable decision points.”)

Everything you’ve written so far though, assumes that “current game design” is good design. Current game design is focused on maximizing sales for the primary target group, which is 16 year old teenagers craving for fast action, blood and sex in video games.

You can’t really throw “current game design” into the mix when talking about IF.