What do you look for in your IF?

As a player, what kind of interactive fiction do you enjoy? I don’t really have a categorical taxonomy in mind here, but I’ve noticed that high minded “artsy” IF gets most of the press and attention. Is that all that people are looking for?

If not, what ARE you looking for? Any particular genres? Styles? Simulationist feats of puzzle engineering? Dramatic interactions focusing on personal angst? Pornographic romps? Rip-roaring adventure yarns like likes of which will echo through the halls of valhalla? Heavy and terrifying atmospheric horror? Slice of life vignettes about unjamming the copy machine without getting ink on your tie before the Big Meeting? Pick Up The Phonebooth and Die?

All of the above, while juggling flaming chainsaws?

The primary thing that will get me to actually play a game, walkthroughless, is the assurance that it’s reasonably short. Things that get me interested in finding out more about a game – probably in the form of reading more reviews and taking a loose walkthrough or reading a ClubFloyd transcript – are mostly about creative uses of the medium. That means that, yes, a lot of the games I’m interested in tend towards “art” games*, but it also includes a lot of Plotkin and Cadre classics and, for example, Rover’s Day Out. Genuinely good writing and unique worldbuilding (games by Emily Short and Pacian, for example) get my attention, too. I don’t exactly care about genre, but as with movies, I’m turned off by horror and perfunctory/cliché romance (which is not nearly as much a problem in IF as in movies) and generally prefer something mediated by humor unless there’s compelling reason for it not to be.

*I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Gostak is a perfect thing.

Hmmm, not sure what you mean by ‘artsy’ IF taking over - but then I haven’t really been looking into the competition stuff, just recommendations on the IF database. I recommend having a look at the lists, and ‘I’ve played this’ list and ‘I want to play this’ list if you want to get a real look at the trend of what people are playing.

What I look for these days is pretty much the same as tove - except for a lack of interest in (at least what I think of as) artsy IF. I also have an aversion to horror - to my detriment I think. I really would love to play Nevermore (<3 Poe), but get too creeped out.

I like short IF too, mostly because I don’t really have time to play IF at all (though I do anyway =p). The right game will get me in though. I replayed Arthur again recently - lovely - though some of those old games make me realise how spoilt we are these days. I can’t stand Scott Adams games because of the parser wrestling they require (and lack short-cuts like x for examine). Bad writing is a turn-off too, and lack of detail.

Turn-ons are writing that reveals the player character slowly, through the way they describe things, etc. I really enjoyed playing Sand-dancer recently.

PS - I also love Em Short’s games. I think it’s the world-building, and the atmosphere. Plus I like the spec-fic genre (a LOT - just ask my Prose Writing class at Uni how much of a fangirl I am).

The good stuff. The crappy stuff, not so much. But sometimes.

I hope not. I think it’s fascinating and even cool that people bother to make high-minded artsy IF, but I’m not in it for the homework; I want stuff that rocks.

Just ordinary chainsaws would be fine; no need to overdo things.

I like easy puzzles. I like a sense of exploration. I like evocative, confident, lean writing. I like satire. I like humor. I like social commentary as fuel but not as structure.

I definitely think there is vast potential for erotic IF that’s never been approached (AIF in its current form seems to go out of its way to avoid the kind of games I’m hoping for/imagining/must one day write myself if I want any such games to play, I guess).

If I were to boil it down (and in fairness, I have on many occasions): I want games by designers more interested in seeing their work enjoyed than in seeing their work appreciated.

Hm. My answer probably isn’t helpful since I’m not your target group - I’m not into the IF scene, and if I play games, then it’s state-of-the-art RPGs, maybe a shooter, or a strategy MMO browser game. But every now and then I give a text adventure a look for the same reason why I read a book on the train instead of playing a game mentioned above, and looking for the same stuff I’m looking for in a book: Entertainment. A story. Additionally, I wouldn’t mind learning something (a story within a historical setting e.g.) or getting something to think about (e.g. a scifi story within a political system different from the ones we know). But the story would be most important; especially in the beginning I’d appreciate if something’s actually happening. Once the story has caught me, it’d be okay to work on a puzzle for hours, but in the beginning I need action, nothing complicated. Oh, and if there’s NPCs, I love em lively, or rather “in character”, like doing and saying stuff I’d expect them to (with the occasional surprise). Not just standing there and giving me a quest and that’s it. Just my 2ct from the off.

You know that there is a Spring Thing 2011 game you should be playing right now? :slight_smile:

If it’s the game I think you mean, I’m already in the testing credits :slight_smile:

If it’s not, then please point me to which one … I never get around to these things 'til years later without reviews! :frowning:

Huh, that’s exactly why I like the artsy stuff. No art game has ever given me as much homework as Zork did.

I think the artsy games are fun to talk about, which is perhaps why they attract more discussion. But I don’t think that necessarily means they’re more fun to play.

Personally, I like long games and hard puzzles as long as there’s some “juice,” to use a human interface term. But I don’t play them all that often - maybe one a year or so. I also like short games.

I like creative world-modeling, and clever ways of restricting the player’s action that serve both the game and the world model.

I like writing that draws you into the setting and reads smoothly.

I like having a clear goal - I’m not so into multiple endings.

I like character interactions that serve the story without seeming contrived. NPCs can really brighten up a game-world, but they can also sidetrack a game.

I like the same thing I like in most of my entertainment: compelling characters and a compelling story.

(Full disclosure: I just spent an hour playing Left 4 Dead 2, which has compelling dismemberment but not so much the other things. This is an exception to the general rule.)

I prefer compelling characters and story in my IF, but there has to be some agency / interaction / whatchamacallit too, else it’s just a failed book. I look for very different things in my videogames than IF. Since videogames are primarily spatial, and facial expressions & lip sync are so difficult to get right, I really don’t ask for such from them. Yet.

I need to try out Dragon Age.

I’m sure it’s just me, but surrealist games. I love them. Never had any luck writing them, though.

I look for a couple different things in my games, including IF. Puzzles and challenges th be great, especially when presented with panache or humor. Dual Transform was awesome, and I can enjoy puzzlefests like Raising the Flag on Mount Yo Momma and The People’s Revolutionary Text Adventure Game too.

But I’m not great at puzzles, I don’t find it too rewarding to be flat stuck because I haven’t figured something out, and anyway it seems to me that the real potential of IF lies in story and the like. My favorite kind of puzzle/challenge relies on systems in a way that aren’t best presented in IF (logic puzzley things and roguelikelikes). IF is prose and can play to prose’s strengths. And even in non-IF games I don’t need crazy twitch challenges if there’s an engaging story. Small Worlds is the best thing ever, and making the jumps hard wouldn’t improve it; and Alphaland, Fathom, The Day, and A Single Word in Her Beautiful Calligraphy are all good games that are made by their story, not by challenging gameplay.

I like that in IF too; if the story is engaging and the interaction suits the story, I don’t need to spend fifteen minutes worrying about how to untie myself from this chair. In fact, that tends to detract from my immersion. (Ditto for non-IF games; I still don’t know what the normal ending for Cave Story is like.) And yes, there’s interaction. Photopia has interaction, East Grove Hills has interaction, Rameses has interaction, even Constraints has interaction. An IF without interaction wouldn’t be a failed novel, it’d be a novel. (Or this.)

So, hooray for stories. They should have a reason to be IF – make me move through the stories, and show me how to do it – but no need to get me stuck. Galatea, Best of Three, All Roads, the first half of Rover’s Day Out (before the puzzles that made it seem as though I should’ve been reading the status line the whole time), The Baron, those all worked for me without getting me stuck. I recently went back and played Blue Chairs and The Act of Misdirection, and they were great; and when the About text of Anchorhead said “It isn’t meant to be puzzle-intensive, and what puzzles there are aren’t meant to be difficult,” that made me happy.

(BTW, katz, if you haven’t played Blue Chairs you should.)

Although I really enjoyed playing some IFs, I think this kind of games lacks ambition and is mainly grounded in nostalgia. This can be seen in the technology used by inform (the i6 layer, lack of a universal type (kinda like java’s Object class, which makes the writing of some rules a real pain) )as well as in the if-writing style encouraged by the i7 layer.
To me, Interactive fictions are too simplistic, too static and lack content : most of IF games are puzzle-driven, yet nothing is done to prevent the same text from being printed over and over again(like when you type ‘look’ for the 10th time in the same room) ; this is probably because i7 has no “module” for text-generation.
But to me, the worst thing about IFs is the feeling of emptiness they imply : NPCs are very rare, no passer-by, no crowd. Most of them are unable to move.

My ideal game would be a kind of text-based GTA - a vast territory, with generated NPCs, with no main plot but plenty of “miniquests”, and a robust social model that would allow “stories” to be naturally generated through the players actions. For example you could follow some random guy, and figure out he lives in a small house with a wife and two children. You could figure out he is having an affair with another woman and send compromising pics to his wife. All of this being randomly generated.

The problem is that people have this now: World of Warcraft, GTA, and so on. I don’t think those audiences would even want that stuff all text-based. You would be giving up most of what makes that stuff entertaining for people: the graphics and audio capabilities that try to fully immerse you in the world. The “naturally generated” and “randomly generated” stuff you mention probably wouldn’t appeal to people who are more readers of books because they want the emotive experience they are used to when they read good fiction.

So, once again, I see text games and IF sitting on the periphery of an area that very few people (relatively speaking) want. Personally, I’ve almost-but-not-quite given up on IF at this point as anything worth pursuing, even as a hobby. Like you mention, I see it very nostalgia-based which I suppose is to be expected to a certain extent. I just don’t think that IF can provide what two core audiences may want (reading experience, gaming experience) to the extent they want it. And, quite frankly, I don’t think the current author-base (as opposed to player-base) of IF is effective enough to change the expectations of those core audiences to make IF fun beyond the self-enclosed community of practice that currently supports IF creation. I sort of feel like it’s a place to stagnate if you don’t really want to be a novelist/short story writer or you don’t want to be a game writer. It’s like this nebulous middle ground where you have the delusion that you can satisfy one or the other urge or audience if you just had a slighty better parser, or slightly more natural way of expressing it, or a slightly better tool, and so on.

Highly opinionated, I realize. I don’t expect people to share that opinion but it’s there for what it’s worth. I guess I’ll also throw in that I grew up on text-based games and fondly remember reading Choose Your Own Adventure and Interplanetary Spy. So I didn’t come in to this predisposed to find problems or be negative. Ultimately I guess I agee with your sentiment (but for a different reason): a feeling of emptiness.

Actually there are two quite sucessfull “IF-games”.

Phonatacid describes the gameplay of facebook pretty good.

The other one is google: commandline, quite good parser, each session is like solving a puzzle.

I disagree more or less completely with your two propositions. It’s not stagnation if people who aren’t interested in writing novels or short stories don’t write them. It’s a great thing. There are enough good short stories and novels to last modern readers a lifetime, and enough of the bad to line the world’s parrot cages a thousand times over.

Moreover anyone truly interested in writing for games could not ask for a better format than IF. There are a bare handful of commercial games with a distinctive, well-written narrative. It’s not a quality that the industry prizes, to put it mildly. A few companies like Blizzard and Bioware employ a fair number of writers, then set them to work producing flavor text and quips which even the target audience of 13 year old males must find insipid and trite. The AAA titles are unwilling to take risks and the smaller titles don’t bother.

There are only a few notable game writers. Chris Avellone, who peaked with Planescape: Torment and has spent the last decade writing the same game. Sam Lake, whose Max Payne and Alan Wake are deliciously overwritten. Ken Levine, who raised the commercial bar with Bioshock.

There are many more first rate IF writers. Even the run of the mill IF writer fares pretty well against his industry counterpart; each year the top half of the IF Comp contains more original thought and displays more raw talent than the vast bulk of commercial games released in the last twelve months. But the significance of IF is not in the authors but in the audience. Any gamer who genuinely cares about narrative quality should be familiar with IF. That constituency is really the only group we need appeal to, and improvements to the parser and player experience are only useful to the extent that they enhance that appeal.

I just went and played through Blue Chairs out of curiosity. I’m afraid it didn’t make me any more a fan of surrealist IF, but I did like the way the opening scenes modeled the experience of being intoxicated.

A proposition is a suggestion for something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done. I didn’t offer any propositions. I offered an opinion. It’s cool to disagree, of course. I didn’t expect people who didn’t share my view to also share my opinions.

I agree. I would imagine it is an interesting ground in which to stake a certain amount of creativity. If that’s all you want, go for it. I wasn’t suggesting people shouldn’t work on IF. (I do notice people get overly defensive in the IF community; I don’t see this same defensiveness in any other gaming community of which I’m a part.)

That’s way too categorical and I know many, many, many game developers who do ask for (and find) better formats than IF. But they are also looking to reach much wider audiences and also bolster some other skill set. I actually could see IF being used to bolster a skill set in being a writer since I imagine many of the same skills in telling a story could apply. I rarely if ever see those discussions here, though.

Since I work in the game industry (and have done so for the last fifteen years), I can tell you this is totally incorrect. It is a qualitly that the industry is coming to prize and respect more and more. Yes, there are many games that don’t display “distinctive, well-written narrative.” But the same applies to IF. Even going back aways, lots of people did respond to the characters and story lines of old Sierra games and certainly games like The Dig, Monkey Island, Broken Sword, Tunguska, Beneath a Steel Sky, and so on. More recently, games like Alpha Protocol, Call of Duty (the modern warfare and black ops variants), Fallout, Longest Journey, Splinter Cell, Culpa Innata, Old Republic, and many others are just some of those trying to incorporate better writing and provide a more diverse experience. You may argue that they don’t succeed by your criterion – but those writers are reaching a much wider audience and having their experiments at writing and telling stories put to much greater test than just about any work of IF. As such, the industry has a wide user base to learn from and it’s a user base that continually experiments with RPG, first-person shooter, and hybrid games, often moving between them, allowing a good interplay of idea and technique.

Way too categorical for me and way too subjective. As a opinion, it’s cool. But you seem to state it as fact and then just expect others to accept that. (Again, a trait I notice in people who seem to feel the need to defend IF.)

You seem to have a lot of opinions – like me – so that’s cool. But you seem to have a categorical view of how much better IF writers are than those in other game venues. Since IF is never put to any real test except within its own isolated community (or forays into the “casual gaming” crowd), I guess for the time being you don’t have to worry about your claims being tested in any sort of overly critical way.

Rather, I would say that any gamer who likes a narrative component to their game play experience should, if they are a well-rounded gamer, be familiar with those IF games that do put a focus on narrative so they can determine if this is yet one more gaming experience they would enjoy. To say it is “narrative quality” begs the question. It’s not “quality” unless the gamer thinks it is.

I meant in terms of compensation and respect. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of better writing, especially when console graphics have hit a plateau and production costs have stabilized. I have talked to a fair number of industry writers, both in Seattle and Austin, and the impression I get is that they are essentially second class citizens. They get brought on late and kicked off early. Pay is unremarkable and credit protection is non-existent. For every staff writer with a stable job there are a dozen freelancers trying to land gigs writing everything from manuals to boxes to translations. It was rare to find anyone with genuine enthusiasm for the material they’d worked on.

The situation may have changed dramatically since 2008 but what with the recession and the slow recovery I would be surprised if much progress had been made. Last I heard rates were down and less experienced people were having trouble making their quote.

Again I can only offer my perspective, which seems diametrically opposed to yours. I don’t see much experimentation in FPS games. I happen to know that Bungie Studios hired a few game writers during the development of Halo: Reach. They may as well have been locked in a closet and denied essential supplies because I’ve never seen such useless and hackneyed writing.

I don’t mean that as a reflection on their talent; it’s just that there’s only so much you can do with a story whose salient points are know to everyone who sits down to play. I guarantee that it wasn’t the story they wanted to tell, but the word came down from On High that it would be a prequel, and so their hands were tied. (That is why compensation and respect are important; they make it more likely that when you hire a professional to do a job, you will actually let him do it.)

Still, better that than the other routine industry “experiment”: cut out part of the middle and most of the end when faced with budget overruns and deadlines, then have the writers struggle to repair the damage with a few lines of dialogue. Then cut those lines because who wants to see talking heads, right? (See Knights of the Old Republic II for the most egregious example.)

There is some experimentation with gameplay mechanics at the indie / XBLA level, but has there been anything since Braid that even pretended to break new ground in storytelling?

I would say that what you are characterizing as defensiveness is more of a zealous enthusiasm. While both traits are awkward in polite company, as far as I know we are all friends here.

I did not mean to suggest that IF writers are uniformly better than industry writers. However, IF writers have the advantage in that the medium puts writing front and center. Industry games rarely privilege writing to such an extent; the writers I name-checked are perhaps simply fortunate to have worked on titles that did. Perhaps too they are amazingly talented.

I play a lot of IF and I’ve played a good number of commercial games over the years. I try to remember the names of writers who have delivered a compelling interactive narrative. There are many, many more names on the IF side of my mental ledger. I happen to find this persuasive; your mileage will obviously vary.