This is a topic that has come up several times as a discussion in the Interactive Fiction community. Most text games require the cardinal points to move around the map. North, south, east, west, abbreviated N, S, E, O. From time to time some dissenting voice comes out against them and very rarely comes any game that eliminates that form of movement by some more or less daring scheme or original.
The fact is that the cardinal points are super useful because they provide a functionality when exploring a wide space: orientation. An example putting a case of apparent innovation that does not stop working: Blue Lacuna, by Aaron A. Reed. It has no cardinal points and that is a problem … because you do not know where things are, the beach is on one side and the mountain on the other? Are they side by side? It does not work to make a mental map or picture of the scenario. Of course, Aaron knew that and provides earlier in the game a compass that the player could use to take her bearings.
Anyway, removing the compass could work in games with small maps, for example, I have a game with no cardinal points (The strange case of Randolph Dwight, in Spanish; yes, with that title you can expect something Lovecraftian). But it happens inside a mansion, and it has 5 locations. It is easy to give the player to get a sense of direction.
Recently I played Bring me a Head, by Chandler Groover, I know him and some people are very fond on alternative systems to N S W E. But even with a map as small as this one, I couldn’t get my bearings, stumbling around aimlessly. So although in “Bring me a head” the problem is a little alleviate thanks to the west wing and east wing, but certainly the other rooms… where are they? I don’t know.
Again, this is just a nitpicking, a small problem for Groover’s piece, but I think games that remove compass should heavily depend on maps or any other systems for orientation. But for a longer game, this could be a great problem. Even, maps are a straightforward solution.
In the case of Bring me a head or others, this can be solved by providing a graphic map (as did Groover’s Eat me). An illustration that tells you unequivocally where everything is. But maybe that takes away the pleasure of mapping for yourself (although this is something that fewer and fewer players do), or the pleasure of discovering unknown places.
Well, the other day I found this game. The castle of the red prince. of J.E.C. Pacian, an author who likes to play with the conventions of the middle and almost all his games eliminate the cardinal points. (Yes, I’m studying the topic at hand).
In this work, all the mapping is available within reach, as if we were an omniscient being in a dream landscape. To explore, use the command X abbreviation of eXamine and eXplore, so that everything is conveniently within reach. You examine a hill, and you’re there. On the hill there is a hut, you examine it and it takes you to a mine, you examine the mine and it takes you to a box with a piece of forgotten dynamite. Etc.
It works, at first, it works very well especially because some of these explorations have “the trip” implicit in the text. Let’s see:
The inn bears no name, only a hanging sign depicting an overflowing tankard. The windows are barred and the door is unusually heavyset, but the hearth within casts a friendly glow and the barstool is a welcome respite for your weary legs.
Or this other example
You enter a domed hall of faded tapestries and tarnished gold. Cobwebs span the archways and dust coats every surface.
However, there is no code to control where you really are (because everything is always within the dream range of the hand) and therefore this great transition does not always occur, so in the end, the game disappointed me a little because it creates a kind of narrative disruption. Like a racord error (cinema lingo). Between that, how short it is, which is a small game to demonstrate the gimmick of removing cardinal points. I doubt this trick would work for longer deeper games. Yeah, yeah, I know, Toby’s Nose. I don’t think Toby’s Mystery has the same feeling of exploration of Red Prince or Dark Souls, even the virtual exploring of the Colossal Cave. For me, it is more a game with a robust system for remembering stuff. Toby uses his great nose to remember things, not to travel there (but this is a very subjective vision of the work by me).
Returning to Red Prince. In this game the orientation works, because “everything is in sight”. There is an action, map, that describes the known world:
Wild forestland surrounds a quaint and shadowed village.
A sheer cliff rises over the treetops, upon which is an ancient and gothic castle perched.
Maybe it works because it’s a very small world. It is almost a world painted in watercolor: a village, surrounded by a forest, threatened by a hill on which there is a castle. The orientation is implicit in the relationship of some localities with respect to others.
As I say, a small game by way of example, but interesting in turn. And the first steps in the world of Amaranth, make the sensation of exploration. It works perfectly, without the need for cardinal points.
Another game that succeeds in this is Lime Ergot, the telescopic nature of the game builds a perfect mental picture of St. Stellio. But, would it work for a bigger and deeper world?