Ways to to have a "reading" experience with parser games

“Readthrough” mode - Authoring / General Design Discussions - The Interactive Fiction Community Forum (intfiction.org)

Ever since @johnnywz00 's thread about readthrough mode, I’ve been wondering about ways to enable people who–for whatever reason–have difficulty engaging with parser games. For some, the challenge may be an accessibility issue. For others, it might be a language barrier. Sometimes, people just don’t enjoy or get the hang of something.

Such people might enjoy the narrative, though, or the experience of reading the prose. I’ve been thinking about ways to make such experiences available. Now, before you say, “what a silly thing to do!” remember that reviewers often refer to their use of walkthroughs. This is a common community practice. My question is: can this be streamlined for persons who struggle with parser gameplay?

Now, John’s already done this work with his TADS game; I’ve seen it and think it’s great. I’ve had a transcript published with RTE ever since Spring Thing ended, but I feel that just dropping a transcript is not engaging enough. Looking forward, I want to improve my transcript document and also offer an in-game feature. The craft of playing and reading are two separate things. In the transcript, the author has to decide what the reader sees. What is interesting, and what is not?

Whether using a static document or a in-game mode like John’s, what are the best practices and considerations? If you were reading such a text, what would you like and dislike?

An important note:

From time to time, people write parser games about things like mental illness and dead parents, so let’s not suggest radical changes to tone or narrative voice involving new speakers or narrative framing. People can do things like that, of course, and maybe a new thread would be a good place for discussing it. The goal here is giving readers and players comparable (so far as the two mediums allow) experiences with the core text of the game.


This has no effect on others making their own transcripts. That can be very valuable for authors and players alike. I’m talking about things like let’s plays and club floyd, but those are not part of the author’s text. I don’t think an author should try to influence how players use their work. It’s their business. Just my take!


It’s not really something that can be done solo, but I enjoy reading lets-plays of games that I wouldn’t enjoy playing myself. For example, I loved reading Cragne Manor but never got past most of the puzzles.


I agree with that. Some of the nicest feedback I’ve gotten was from a group of people who played Repeat the Ending together. I couldn’t synthesize that experience (collaboration) for individual play, but my first recommendation would be to see if there’s a parser-playing friend who might be interested.


Thanks for the shout, Drew! Glad that the readthrough proved beneficial for someone, and I hope others will make use of it!


Even though there haven’t been a lot of replies, there has been some engagement. I’ll put forth some specific situations that might be interesting to talk about.

Dead Ends and Failure
Failure is a common feature of play, especially in older games. Should failure and unsuccessful actions be part of a game’s readable text? Are there cases where this would make more or less sense?

Easter Eggs
To what extent should these be considered? Some might change the tone in an undesirable way. Repeat the Ending has a ton of easter eggs, but I think it would be disruptive to read them all in one sitting. Interacting with or finding them might not be as jarring. A more familiar example/question might apply to Zork III: should the text do the hello sailor thing, or manipulate the mirror box?

Examining Everything
This usually happens as a matter of course while playing a parser game. Would this be equally interesting in a static text, or should it feature a curated group of examined objects instead?


I had to think about all those things when I created my readthrough file. Because my game is light comedy, I did include many goofy deaths/kill-your-sidekick in the readthrough (which undo themselves without the player/reader having to do anything differently). A more serious game might not.
Also because my game is whimsical, there aren’t really any easter eggs that will “spoil” the tone. So I included some of my favorites in the readthrough.
As for examining, you’d be hard pressed to find another game with as many unique vocab objects as mine, so my readthrough is far from examining everything. It, however, examines everything that a real player would need to see to figure things out, and includes a certain portion of extras that I felt were of some interest.


Oh, yes, I also included some unsuccessful actions too, if they had amusing or enlightening responses. Things a player might try before getting the real answer.


My thought is, there are likely some people who would prefer every/most instances of these be included, and some who’d rather it be pared down—so then my thought was, what if you did include all/most but bolded or otherwise highlighted the “essential” ones, thus allowing people who wanted to to skip the non-essentials. But then I realized that I’m basically suggesting creating two different versions of the readable transcript, a verbose one and a brief one, which would be a lot more work. :sweat_smile:

It’s hard, though, because creating a single readable version seems like you’re essentially canonizing that version, so I do like the idea of there being several different versions tailored to different readers. But again, then there’s the issue of of how much time that would take and whether it would actually be worth it…


I don’t have as many objects, but almost everything in RTE that has a description also has a unique response to DIAGNOSE… so it does seem to be a question of what makes actions make sense… plus maybe a bit left over if I really like the text. So there is a judgement call as to what those left over bits should be.

What I am thinking is that, for the actual interactive version, the player will be able to pause the action and do whatever they want. So they can read the “after you’ve seen it all” portion of the guide and try things out if they want to. The printed version is definitely trickier, since they can’t step off the path.

But even in the interactive version, I have to make a decision about what is on “the path.”


As another question @johnnywz00 did you have dedicated testers/readers for playthrough mode? Who would evaluate the reading experience, I suppose. I’d like to evaluate this at every phase of playtesting, but there’s still a lot to work out.


Not really@mathbrush checked out the first few commands right after I wrote it, to verify that the autonomous play and scripted play could transition smoothly back and forth. And then only a week or two before comp deadline, @daggermoor did some pro bono proofreading/copyediting of the game text of the intro/warmup portion, and I believe he primarily used the readthrough to get through the text. So you have probably commented more on the readthrough as such than anyone else, and to my knowledge, no one has seen the readthrough after the end of the warmup game (wait, maybe you yourself used it for awhile after that point… I’m forgetting which parts you did autonomously or otherwise). I believe @daggermoor made a couple of comments about which commands should or shouldn’t be included, mixed in with the other editorial work he did, but taken all together, readthrough testing/feedback has been very minimal.


A “reader’s version” is definitely possible as an in-game feature. I think development of it would go something like this:

  • Create a list of all interesting options at each point where the user can make an input
  • Put the list in a part of the program where it is clearly distinguished from the “player’s version”
  • Put conditional code in so anything that leads into a circle is only used once
  • Have the computer randomly select an option (weighting is an optional extra, useful if you have lots of witty one-liners in a scene but only one action actually takes the game forward)
  • Put in a command to launch this feature, and another feature to turn it off (and continue play from whichever point has been reached).

This allows the game to be, to a certain degree, self-reading and self-teaching in a more immersive way than a static text document can achieve. It also allows the preservation of mystery and jeopardy, in IF where these are considerations. By using a list of interesting responses rather than some sort of “all possibilities” list, the author can allow their preferences for dead ends, Easter eggs and the like to convey something about how they perceive the story in ways that people doing a playthrough might not experience. Some sort of curation would be expedient, but how much need not be set in stone.


I’ve already created this feature for TADS3, both adv3 and adv3Lite libraries. If you haven’t read about it in any of the other threads, it also has the capability for the player to enter autonomous commands in the middle of the readthrough mode (to try out something that the readthrough might not cover). But after continuing with the readthrough, the autonomous commands are undone and brought back to the last script state. My implementation includes the option for author’s comments in between commands. I have used this in places where there are “lots of witty one-liners” (well, more like amusing atmospheric messages), to tell the player "If you want, you can use the ‘wait’/‘z’ command here to watch the [town atmosphere/joke-telling NPC/etc.]
I wondered if somebody would be inspired to write something similar for Inform, when I released it…


Release 4 of Repeat the Ending will probably come out in January. Who knows what might be new? :smiley_cat:


Cool! Are you going to try for interactive play within the scripted game, or mainly just looking for a step by step readthrough?


Like yours, I want the player to be able to stop and do whatever, then resume whenever they like. I’ll also have a whitelist of actions that don’t stop the walkthrough. I have that big guide text in-game and I want players to experience that in a seamless way.


Great! Do you already have ideas of how the implementation will work in Inform code?


As luck would have it, the trickiest part (managing undo with set restore points) already exists in code as an extension. It hasn’t been used for this, but it’s definitely a good fit!

The rest of it is pretty clear to me. A couple of tables for the commands and the whitelist. Inform 7 allows authors to manipulate player commands, swap them for something else, and so forth. I’m sure there’s a more elegant way, but I feel it will be stable. We’ll see! I’m hoping to show RTE to some people after IF Comp. People who don’t usually play parser games, ideally. I’d really like to make this a good alternative for people and not just a plan b.

e: but a lot of that hangs on some of the questions here, choosing what to show.