Tutorial Game for the Parser Unaware?

Just wanted to see if anyone had any thoughts about this, good, bad, or indifferent:

I was playing En Garde the other day and I had an idea. En Garde is an Inform 7 game which replaces the parser command line with colored buttons using Vorple. This is a cute gimmick in the game, as buttons are slowly added and eventually labeled as the game progesses. However, those buttons could have easily been in addition to the parser command line as opposed to replacing it.

In a nutshell, I’m pondering if buttons for navigation and simple commands could be introduced in the beginning orientation, and then slowly eliminated as the game explained how each was more flexible (and attributable towards specific NPCs and objects) as a parser entry.

For example, a game begins in a room with a single object and a single exit to the north. The only interaction points on the screen (other than an unobtrusive cursor at the bottom) would be three command buttons, “take,” “look,” and “north.”

One

When “take” is selected, the new command buttons “drop” and “inventory” appear. When the player selects north, they move north to the next room, which contains a staircase, and the “south” and “up” buttons are added.

Two

In this way, within a few rooms all the core commands typical to parser games are introduced to the player in an intuitive way. This would continue long enough for the uninitiated to get the hang of navigation and basic inquiry and interaction.

Three

Once all of the core commands are introduced and the player solves a couple of trivial puzzles using these command buttons, they move into the next section. The first room in this section would have multiple things to look at. Clicking the look command would result in a message asking “I don’t know what you wish to look at: X, Y, Z1, Z2, or Y?” At this point, the game would then introduce and highlight the parser, explaining how it allows you to specify which thing to look at. The game would then prompt the player to look at two of the things mentioned with the parser, explicitly demonstrating how those commands could be entered. After successfully examining those two things using the “look X” command in the parser, and then briefly explaining to the player the sorts of things they can look at going forward, the “Look” button fades away forever. The next room has multiple objects, making the simple “take” button similarly insufficient for the task. Rinse and repeat the same method used with the Look command. After demonstrating understanding and proficiency, the “take” button fades. Variate on this theme for each basic command button, belaboring the point a little less each time.

Four

Eventually, you would be left with only the navigational buttons and the parser. After demonstrating how direction commands can be entered into the parser (and also abbreviated), the game would then give you the option to remove the navigational buttons or continue with them if you prefer (although you could simply leave the navigational buttons up while you still type north, south, etc. anyway).

-OR-

All parser functions would function at the very outset of the game, and using the parser immediately (and correctly) would prompt the game into asking if you wish to skip the tutorial, but if you don’t know to use the Parser, this option would appropriately not appear. For those skipping the tutorial, this would leave a fairly simple set of rooms for the parser pro to zip right through to get to the game proper. Demonstrating understanding of the parser by using it as directed would be necessary to not only remove the associated buttons, but to advance the game forward. Demonstrating this immediately simply expedites this.

I feel this might be a fantastic way to ease those new to Parser games into the format. The game starts as an intuitive point-and-click with an optional parser (assuming they even notice the cursor at first) and by the end of the tutorial section transforms to a nearly parser-only game with an optional N-S-E-W navigational pad.

Assuming the player is a novice and works their way through the tutorial, the game gives them enough information to encourage them to continue exploring the format themselves. Specifically, after the game allows the player to choose whether to keep the navigational pad or not, the game gives a few examples of actions the parser will recognize that were not in the tutorial (dance and throw for example) and then hints that there are yet more possible commands and encourages the player to explore possibilities with the parser. Furthermore, as a final crutch, the game lets the player know that typing the word ‘actions’ into the parser will list all of the commands (and associated abbreviations) discovered by the player thus far, but not necessarily an exhaustive list of all the commands implemented in the game. Each new command discovered is another added to the list.

Other common IF tropes could be explored as the game progressed, with the goal of equipping the player with the skills, vocabulary, and general familiarity needed to approach most other parser works with some confidence. Ideally, the game would include enough depth and hidden content to keep those already parser pros engaged in the story and game anyway.

Obviously, this is likely a fairly one-off project and likely would be too much work to regularly implement into the beginning of all but the largest IF projects. However, this could be an excellent “First IF parser Game” to refer to for those in our lives who’ve never touched a single IF title. Consider it a possible parser gateway game, lol. Feel free to dissuade me and disparage the idea as a whole, both actions could be warranted, but be aware that I’ll probably pursue it regardless. If you want to weigh in with suggestions for improvements, possible pitfalls, or use-cases I haven’t considered, I’m definitely all ears.

Thanks for reading!

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It’s an interesting idea. I have no idea if it would actually serve to overcome people’s loathing of typing, but if anything could help, this would.

I’ve beaten on this drum many times before, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of making click or touch buttons, why not simply adapt some IF to be completely typing-free? I can think of several games that would lend themselves beautifully to such a project, although I don’t know how any authors feel about having their games adapted that way. Taking a page from Townsend & Rajan, who made A Dark Room such a hit by clever adaptation, could actually yield some good profits, as well as exposing more people to IF.

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I’ve considered it. The very game I mentioned above, En Garde, has no need to be an Inform game, and would likely benefit by a Twine presentation for example. That offers limited benefits, though, as that leaves the parser barrier in place for many works that would not survive such a transformation. The goal here is to delay “rage-quit” long enough for new players to experience the actual content of the games.

tl;dr: I enthusiastically agree, but I don’t believe those two things are mutually exclusive.

Isn’t interface an artistic decision, though? Sure, there are people that do and do not like things, but there is probably a player-agnostic sense in which different interfaces, engines, etc. can lead to fundamental differences in terms of experience. Or different sorts of meaning, if the experience of interactivity is part of the text of a game’s meaning (I think it is).

In poetry, such decisions would likely be comparable to a writer’s chosen form. Sonnets, tanka, and free verse all generally lead to different reading experiences as a matter of structure, independent of their respective content. The parser player doesn’t just type more, they make different choices. This is true of every platform, I am sure, and the types of choices available to a player have artistic significance.

A significant (majority?) portion of decidedly non-IF blockbuster Elden Ring’s worldbuilding is accomplished through item descriptions, but the way that the player arrives at those descriptions dictates radically different player experiences. Some parser games rely just as heavily on descriptions, but the parser player must, at ground level, determine which items can be examined. The Elden Ring player looks through a list.

The typical parser game does not just have a specialized sort of input. It requires a specialized type of reading that people may dislike as much as they do the typing.

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Absolutely, oftentimes just as important (if not more-so) as the actual content of the story. The point of a game like this isn’t the actual player experience of the story included (although it might as well be good). It is simply a way to acclimate new players to the absolute basics of text parsers without requiring them to read a FAQ beforehand. After completing the game, they certainly won’t know everything they should know, but they might know enough to know how to approach another parser game. That’s the goal anyway.

Again, absolutely! A parser gets players to approach a fictional world in entirely unique ways. When a player knows their input options are limited, they limit their own thinking regarding the game. An open parser in a well-written game encourages lateral thinking in a way rarely seen in mainstream games.

Often times what you miss can be more impactful than what you see. These sort of things are alleviated by common IF conventions, examine everything, take everything, talk to everyone, lol. Not knowing these conventions can cause unpleasant experiences for new players, causing them to go elsewhere.

Again agreed. Some people will make it all the way through this game, try several other parser games, and still decide they hate Interactive Fiction, which is honestly fine. The problem is many suspect that an awful lot of these personality types who might enjoy such things never make it far enough to actually make an informed decision. This game isn’t going to suddenly fix everything and cause the masses to abandon their ray-tracing and VR in favor of old-fashion text parsers, but nor do I expect it to. Just trying to smooth out the learning curve enough to scare off a few less folks who happen to wander on in from the cold.

Thank you for your thoughts.

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Since I may sound a bit negative: I think tutorials are nice resources for the community and it would be kind of you to spend your time in this way.

As a bit of background, I worry over the possibilities of “parser elitism,” which is not new, of course. It dates back to Infocom’s early magazine advertisements (see below). This concern extends to non-parser/hypertext IF as well, which were not always respected as much as they are today. That is a potentially interesting history to investigate, if you haven’t encountered it already.

I say this as a person who only plays parser IF and retro P&C (plus my PS5 with ray-tracing, of course) unless reviews are overwhelmingly positive or I’m judging competition entries (a good thing, too–my 2021 favorite was A Paradox Between Worlds!) People who love choice or P&C but hate parser often have good reasons for their preferences. So I wondered about the graphic in the OP, which implied that choice or P&C is a potential gateway to parser gameplay when it is a preferred end state for many.

I appreciate you taking the time to elaborate further on your intent; I better understand now.

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Who are you imagining would do this? Are you proposing coding it yourself? Asking someone else to code it?

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Me, yes, and certainly not; in that order.

I wouldn’t have proposed it if I wasn’t willing to make the attempt myself.

Getting some feedback on the idea before I start coding as opposed to backtracking after the fact seemed wise.

I’m not super clear on the intent behind your question, so in the off chance you simply wanted to borrow/adapt the idea, go for it. Nothing wrong with a similar idea being executed two different ways. Besides, I’m not Disney; if I wanted to keep the idea all to myself, I wouldn’t have posted it on a public forum, lol.

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From time to time, folks show up here on the forum with wishful ideas for IF platforms, hoping that someone else will code them. If that were the case, I just wanted to encourage you to try coding it yourself.

In practice, might I specifically recommend porting Bronze to your new thing? https://ifdb.org/viewgame?id=9p8kh3im2j9h2881 Bronze was originally designed with some “teach the newbie” features built in, and its source is available under a Creative Commons license, so you should in principle be able to take the code, add in Vorple buttons, and try it out with real IF newbies to see if it helps/works.

(A common problem for folks implementing a new thing is that you not only have to code the new thing, there has to be a good game underneath; often, these are, ah, separate skillsets.)

Also be sure to check out Blue Lacuna, if you haven’t already. It has my favorite newbie tutorial of any parser game I know; I like it better than The Dreamhold, which was designed specifically for educating newbies.

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I think you were simply voicing your concerns. They are valid concerns and should be brought up in a conversation like this. Even if I already agree with you, another reading this post may have not yet encountered those viewpoints. Thank you; I hope they actually help, lol.

I’m familiar with the history. It’s a common reoccurring topic on ifMUD. I believe a community can be inclusive and also celebrate the things that make them unique at the same time. There are some fantastic Twine games that I would readily recommend to nearly anyone. At the same time, there are things that parsers do that a hyperlink-based game simply cannot.

…adds to endless ‘need-to-play’ list…

Agreed, it isn’t for everyone. Choice and Point & Click games certainly have their strengths.

Honestly, the gateway comment was a joke reference to the DARE program of my youth. It wasn’t the wisest choice of words in retrospect, but I believe you understand my intent now.

Of course, I’m glad that’s the case. Thanks for sharing the poster! :smiley:

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The Adventure Literacy Project (TALP) and the associated game jams try to do something similar by encouraging authors to include a tutorial to “text adventures” as part of the game.

Adventuron, a system by the TALP co-ordinator, is quite an interesting authoring tool as it has support for both choice and parser-based input, as well as the ability for players to click on commands/auto-complete. It might be worth you looking into.

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I can see how that would be problematic. I’ve witnessed similar phenomenon in other creative endeavors. People asking photographers to photograph their event for free for the “exposure” or graphic artists being either lowballed or stiffed for custom work, etc, etc. This is a less exploitative example, more-so wishful thinking on the part of the hypothetical poster, but I can certainly see your point.

Point taken. I had forgotten that Bronze’s CC license allowed me to do this. This would be a great place to start as a proof of concept and would be a great community resource in and of itself. It would also let me play-test the concept and work out some of the kinks.

Honestly, I’d still like to make a custom build eventually. Something purpose-built is often better at that purpose than something adapted to that purpose after it was built.

Agreed wholeheartedly. You should see my code. Half of the written text is simply personal notes signposting what each bit of code is, what it does, and why I have it there. Past Pinkunz constantly handholding future Pinkunz attempting to decipher what he had written and why. Coding is not one of my native skills, but I can brute force it with enough patience and organization. Thankfully, I rarely make the same mistake twice. Disturbingly, there appears to be an endless list of new mistakes to make, lol.

Thanks for the suggestions. Both dutifully added to my endless list, although with higher priorities given their relevance to these efforts.

I am a huge fan of the Text Adventure Literacy Project and have already joined this year’s Jam.

As for Mr. Ainsley’s Adventuron Engine, I find it to be an impressive system with even more impressive active support and constant beta effort for new features on its Discord.

Coding is my chokepoint. It took me a few years to gain enough comfort with Inform to feel confident enough to release a game publicly. Adventuron will take me some time to pick up. For the time being, Vorple will have to suffice.

Thank you very kindly for the suggestion though.

I think if your goal is to teach people how to play a parser game you should stick to using the parser. A couple reasons for this.

  1. if you’re trying to teach people parser you don’t want to also have to teach them how to use buttons, thats just time detracted from teaching them the thing you set out to teach them.
  2. similarly it may be confusing for players switching between the systems.
  3. If you are designing a tutorial, whether as part of a game or as a game itself the tutorial design should lend itself to the design of the game which includes if it’s parser or buttons. If you design your tutorials around buttons, and having to design tutorials for both buttons and parser requires two different design approaches, mainly because of what information is already available to the player, but you may also want to communicate that information differently. So having two different systems means your going to have to work in two different designs, again making things more complicated for you and the player.

As for the idea of a tutorial game though, it does sound interesting, I’d definitely give it a play. Personally I think it’d be a lot nicer to see more games tackle tutorial design in their game design besides just info dumping how to play or making verbs visible. I’ve shared in another thread as well this GDC talk on tutorial design, I think it has a lot of great ideas included in it, and hopefully it can help your project. The main thing I took away is a lot more tutorials should follow the rule of show don’t tell. The speaker talks about this a bit in the part on Half Life where they talk about how the player is introduced to the enemies, and weapons through environmental design, not some pop-up or other info dump. An example of this I think would work well in a parser game would just be showing other characters picking things up, or moving to the other room in order to teach someone how to TAKE or GO. (mainly in this case the reported text should aid the player in knowing what verb the NPC is using such as “You see NPC goes north” or “you see NPC take the item”)

I’d definitely be interested in hearing more about what all you hope to teach the player in terms of verbs or general game play.

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In a nutshell, I’m pondering if buttons for navigation and simple commands could be introduced in the beginning orientation, and then slowly eliminated as the game explained how each was more flexible (and attributable towards specific NPCs and objects) as a parser entry.

Personally, I would not take things away from the player in that way. Even though replacing the buttons with text commands is technically broadening what the player can do, there is not really any reward for the player.

Instead I would make it a choice on the part of the player. For example, give the player room for 3-5 action buttons. Then the player could “memorize” certain actions to remove those buttons, thereby making room for new action buttons. This means the system would work at their convenience.

Then again this approach would be significantly different from standard IF and might not work as a tutorial.

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Hello Gwen, thank you for your response. I understand your points and if it were only parser input being taught, I’d be tempted to take that approach. However, there are really at least two things being taught here: the world model typical to text adventures & parser games, and the actual parser interaction with that world model. Allowing the player to intuitively explore that world model and discover how items, rooms, scenery, inventory, and NPCs all interact and function allows for that to be grasped separately before tackling the parser itself.

Let me quote @robinjohnson from a different topic, because he elucidates this point quite well:

I grant that starting with buttons first takes more time and potentially adds more complexity and possible points for confusion, but there is one more thing I’m trying to demonstrate to the player, and that is the intrinsic limitation of a button interface. Starting with a button interface and successfully interacting with the (simple) world model only to run into more complex situations that can’t be handled with that interface demonstrates a solid Why for the parser. More importantly, this demonstration takes place after the player has already invested into the gameplay and not prior to playing. This is opposed to trying to tell the player why they should play a text input game (ironically using a wall of text) before actually developing any interest in the premise, setting, or characters of your game. For many players, this is a big ask when we already run at a deficit of patience from casual gamers.

Agreed, either of those methods would be inadequate for many prospective players.

That is an excellent tutorial suggestion (as well as a great narrative hook, Alice does indeed follow the rabbit) and you can consider it safely swiped. * swoosh *

When an author writes a book, they don’t typically write for an audience, but instead write for an individual or, at most, a few specific people that they perceive (right or wrong) as representative of their overall audience. In that way, to be entirely transparent, the archetypal individual I perceive this game being written for is my wife. Her interactive fiction experiences thus far only include a single scarring episode at roughly twelve of being sat down in front of Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with absolutely no guidance or explanation (not a forgiving game even for the parser fluent). Her last positive videogame experience was in the early 90’s playing Capcom’s Yo! Noid for the original Nintendo. Opening the game to a blinking cursor, no matter how friendly the interface, or being prompted to read a written FAQ before the game begins would be a non-starter for her. She’s certainly not stupid, quite the contrary, in fact. She is very smart and a voracious reader, vacuuming up novel-length fiction in particular. She often laments that authors don’t keep internal consistency for their character’s actions in light of their motivations. I see her very much enjoying (hypothetically) something in the vein of a modern Plundered Hearts, or Violet, or even Alabaster

…if I could get her to play it long enough to get interested.

This is all to say, that there are three separate things I’m trying to impart to my wife and others like her:

  • Fluency and possible interest in the world model system of stereotypical interactive fiction.
  • Familiarity and basic fluency with a text parser input and the sorts of things this interface allows one to do beyond a button interface.
  • Why a text-based game, and Interactive Fiction in general, may be worth further exploration on their part.

The first and second points are really only crutches to getting to the aspirational third goal.

Hello, thanks for your response.
That’s a valid point. Some sort of reward for mastering a parser input would be a good idea, although I’ll have to stew on what would be appropriate.

This is an interesting idea and could certainly be workable. I’d have to chew on how best to present the button limitation to the player, but it would be less obtrusive than actually removing the button on behalf of the player. Interestingly, you could make new command functionality dependent on having an open button slot:

You could probably jump across that chasm, if only you had an available action slot. Maybe there’s another way to look, take, drop, talk, or open?
…* glowing button labeled “show me how” appears *…

Or something of the like. It is a less obtrusive way of incentivizing the player to learn the corresponding parser commands. I might swipe some version of this… * swoosh *

Yet to be seen, right? Thank you again for your comments.

Apparently Infocom did release a tutorial demo? Apparently it was originally released in a “four in one” sampler.

In my head, I’m thinking of a parser game that includes a sidebar with text explaining what’s happening and suggesting actions. I don’t know if I’ve imagined it, but I’m almost sure I’ve played an Infocom that had tutorial text in italics, and it nagged you until you turned it off. I may be misremembering.

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@HanonO : News to me. Thanks for the lead.

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I’m embarassed that I did not think of this. I may go try the tutorial again, as it’s been a long time. The files are at Zarf’s OCIC

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