Unconventional Parser Movement

I’m trying to fix the Twine parser monstrocity I made, and like… 1/3rd of the issue is movement commands.

So I know most (all?) parsers use cardinal directions (+ up/down) to move about, but I’ve been wondering whether other types of directions have been used in parsers. Like, rather than being set on NSWE, it’s something like [left/right/forward/back].

Has this been done before? Do that even work while playing?


Shipboard directions get used sometimes - port/starboard/forward/aft - though folks often find that a little confusing. Left/right/forward/back are less frequent, since they’re inherently very confusing - since they’re relative, the mental load on the player goes way up (they need to keep track not just of where they are, but how they most recently entered a location, and rotate their mental map of the space accordingly). The Library, from the 21 Comp, used this kind of movement system and pretty much every review mentioned how challenging it was. Of course, you can just make left/right invariant, but that gets confusing in a different way.

I have seen some games that just lean on saying the name of the place you want to go - I think this is how some parts of the original Adventure worked, funnily enough - so like if you are in a hallway with doors leading to the bathroom and bedroom, you’d just type BEDROOM or whatever. Some people seem to really like this, though personally I find it’s slow and makes it harder to picture the space.

And then there are games where nonstandard movement is the whole point, like Threediopolis and Ether. But unless you’ve got a whole puzzle structure based around navigation these are probably not very relevant examples, cool as they are.

My basic take is you can’t go wrong with N/E/S/W; layering some alternate options on top of that can improve accessibility and thematic resonance, but there’s rarely a reason not to offer then as a familiar fallback.


Several games by Pacian do weird movement, like:
Dead Like Ants (uses widdershins, I think)
Gun Mute (forward and backward)
Weird City Interloper (just type the name of rooms)


Hunter, In Darkness is another game that use left/right/forward/back directions.

There are a number of older threads that deal with the question (not an exhaustive list):

IF Wiki has links to a slew of discussions on the subject from the rec.arts.int-fiction days.


See also…


Nothing Could Be Further From the Truth uses a unique inward/outward system in a bunker…


Not to talk about my own game, but Steal 10 Treasures uses arrow keys for movement. Of course, it’s not at all a traditional parser.


Nord & Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It just uses >GO TO ROOM.

I’m surprised nobody mentioned Midnight. Swordfight. That game doesn’t use cardinal directions, instead FORWARD & BACKWARD (in time), and CLOCKWISE & COUNTERCLOCKWISE (they have something to do with time but I don’t get them).


The left/right/forward/back system lends itself well to a joystick, but who uses a joystick nowadays? One of the very few adventures issued on a cartridge was Powerstar for the Atari 8-bit. This used this system and it became very confusing very quickly. I’ve played a couple of very old games that used this system and you seemed to spend most of your time floundering about trying to sort out the navigation, rather than actually playing the game and solving puzzles.

Avalon Hill produced a few games (such as G.F.S. Sorceress) that used the GO <room> system. I absolutely hated them. Not to mention all the extra typing.

Both of these systems are a nightmare to map.


I have a WIP on my laptop that involves normal NSEW directions, but also has two hidden directions that work as backwards and forwards in time. This allows some interesting navigation, because a normal space connection may have existed at one point in time but is not available in another. Amusingly, as far as Inform is concerned, backwards and forwards in time are two literal directions of travel in normal space, as that’s how it’s implemented. If anyone remembers the stool discussion in the early forum protochatrooms, this is the same work. Assuming I don’t keep creating new projects, I’ll finish this WIP in 2 or 3… decades. :smiley:


I had a similar idea, but haven’t done anything with it yet. Great minds think alike.


There’s also Xeno, one of the notoriously impossible-to-beat games originally developed on the Phoenix mainframe. It only accepts left/right/forward/backward in place of cardinal directions, but will allow you to use ordinal ones when necessary.


Quoting from Richard Bos’ solution on CASA:

One, and most importantly, this is a rotten hard and at times unfair game. In fact, it has the reputation of being one of the nastiest and most unfair of the Phoenix games, and it certainly deserves the former. The other Phoenix games want you dead; Xenophobia wants you to tear your hairs out while dying.

And regarding the navigation:

Three, this game does not (mostly) recognise compass directions. You have to navigate using “left”, “right”, “forward”, “back”. I suppose this ties in with the whole “slice of reality, not a fantasy game” theme, but it will take some getting used to. You can, at least, abbreviate these as “l”, “r”, “f” and “b”. Note that this also means that the usual Phoenix meaning for “back” of “go back to my previous location” doesn’t quite work; it often comes down to the same thing, but not always. You can also turn left and right to change which way “forward” is, if that helps navigation.


Pacian’s game Killing Machine Loves Slime Prince use walk / jump / climb.


I’d say it’s an unintended default mechanism, but there are certainly better narrative ways to convey locations. If the player gets a list of locations, you could implement GO TO location and dump the compass rose completely. Of course, this is not a trivial change to most IF platforms, since I think all of the parser-based systems use the compass rose as a root design element.

From a platform design perspective, I like the idea of making locations a root element, but movement would be a separate module you include. Such modules might be compass-directions, ship-directions, nautical-directions, goto-directions, spatial-directions, or spherical-directions.

It’s an interesting thought-exercise.


Invariant directions, to be clear.

I tried to make this diegetic. Early on, if you return to a previous room you do it by crawling backwards, so you don’t change your absolute facing. Later in the game I just gave up and made it a rule with no in-game justification.


Hhmmmm :thinking:
This is giving me a lot to think about. Thank you for the insights (and the threads… I should have used the search bar before posting…) and the games (lots of new stuff to play :partying_face: ).

I’ll probably need to go back into code and untangle that mess to see whether I should go the conventional NSWE, or try out the LRFB… or maybe both :woman_shrugging:
(I had used the NSWE like LRFB in that project, so it made a whole mess and a half while playing…)

Thank you agaaaaaain! :green_heart:


My game “Piracy 2.0” users ship directions, but they are only optional forms of the standard compass. Starboard, port, fore, aft all work but are really just east, west, north, south.

My problem with left/right is that it implies facing. I just wrote “Put-Peep™” and debated whether to use left/right/forward/backward instead of the compass directions, as you’re in your office. While an office DOES face north, I struggled to switch to left/right because it implies your body’s facing.

But it felt weird to “go east” in my office. When I’m there, I care NOT about which way is east or west. I just go around my office.

Using room names is a great way to go, but has its own issues, like not having visited a room yet, or revealing hidden rooms, etc, and also passing through intervening space as if it didn’t happen, might hurt some game designs.

It felt really awkward to pretend no matter where you are in your office, you are physically facing north. And if you don’t want that, then left-right fails completely, as if you turn, left is no longer left.

So sadly, n/e/s/w is still the best way to move around in my book.

I wonder how a circular space station would be handled… When going “left” will lead you around in a circle, ending up where you started, and vice versa with “right”.

(Trying to remember how Stationfall did it… As well as Starcross)

I wish there were a better way, but I think I’ll be sticking to n/e/s/w until I have a good reason not to.



Well… I’ve made a proper map of the game. And it makes more sense to keep the NSWE commands… but actually using them properly and not as a synonym for front/left/right/back :joy:


Just fore/aft/starboard/port, but more commonly you can just use north/south/east/west.