Width vs Length

I’ve been reading some of the posts here regarding parser vs choice but are there many works of IF that combine the two? It seems perfectly do-able (to me at least) albeit a lot more work, but marries the joy of the puzzle with the agency of the choice. It’d be fairly easy to implement: a conversation with an NPC for instance could open up a different branch of puzzles for example. The work involved would make games shorter (using a finite amount of time as the yardstick for IF creation) but replayability being the pay-off.

Pointers for examples, thoughts etc?

The only thing worse than an interface is switching between two interfaces.

Nah, I think it can work if done well. The problem is, it needs to be done well to work.

My usual take is that you’re combining the drawbacks of the two approaches, not the benefits.

That’s a general rule, not a declaration that it’s impossible. But the common principle of UI design is to make it consistent and simple, so that the user can learn and become comfortable. Discard exceptions. If you design a game with two interfaces, you have to constantly be asking yourself whether you can discard one of them entirely.

There is an extension, “Hybrid Choices” by AW Freyr, which allows you to switch between parser and gamebook/choice format.

I think you could do it, if you carefully balanced the UIs. The trouble is that it’s a very tricky thing to do, and we don’t have enough experience doing it. But it’s definitely worth a shot.

The main example that comes to mind is Blue Lacuna’s prologue sequence, in which the player makes various narrative choices through the parser interface using specific keywords, actions, etc. This approach can work very well, I think (parser puzzles set within a larger, branching plot, where plot choices are determined by questions or clear in-game actions rather than a separate link interface or something).

A more obscure example would be The Orion Agenda, in which the ending (and, to some degree, path) is determined by a mixture of player actions and answering explicit questions from NPCs. Neither of these examples feature all that extensive branching, however. If the question is just “width vs. depth”, there are a lot of short games with a lot of branching and replay value, going back to Aisle.

Depending on your definition of a choice-based interface, many otherwise parser-centric games use lists of specific choices for conversation.

I think Endless Nameless by Adam Cadre does this very well.

It’s a parser game, but if you end up dying and going to the afterworld, most of your interactions with the various incarnations of you (this will make sense if you play the game) are choice. It gives you four choices, let’s say, that tell you what to type to make each choice. So, you can walk away, etc. But if you want to talk to the “experts,” you can’t ask what you want to ask. You have to choose one of the choices.

Layne Saltern’s “The Snow Queen” from ifarchive.org/if-archive/gam … altern.zip contains both interfaces, if memory serves correct – swapping back and forth in alternating segments, each associated with a particular protagonist.

Thanks for the replies. It’s interesting that a few people have focused on my mention of interfaces, which I actually didn’t mention. But whilst on that subject I can envisage parts of a parser game where hyperlinks would come in useful, for example a lift. The lift could also serve as a point in the game where it branches (whichever floor you choose leads to a set of puzzles and, possibly, it’s own story arc). It’s the ‘possibly’ that’s the sticking point though as I can foresee it generating an unfathomable amount of work that could quickly spiral into a project which can’t be completed.

City of Secrets is a good example of commands and hyperlinks used together (the conversation system uses them a lot, and there’s a clickable compass rose).

People mostly use choice v parser terminology to speak about the interface. I think you’re assuming that by default choice=branching plot without puzzles while parser=linear plot with puzzles, but that’s not necessarily an assumption that everyone makes. (I had to read your original post a couple of times to sort out what I thought you were really asking.)

Some puzzle games with branching narrative:

  • As mentioned, Blue Lacuna lets you make some choices that give you different scenes with other characters
  • Losing Your Grip is divided into “fits”, and you encounter alternates of one fit depending on what you’ve done earlier
  • City of Secrets branches at a few points and has multiple story/puzzle ways past several of the barriers
  • Pytho’s Mask has several endings, including some more-obscure ones that bypass the main ending of the story
  • Narcolepsy randomly starts the game with different beginnings, and also has randomized dream sequences embedded in play
  • I-0 branches a lot, supporting encounters with different characters and a range of approaches to the story
  • Max Blaster lets you play as different characters and encounter different things

Conversely, you can get puzzle solutions used as a form of player choice. Metamorphoses and The Erudition Chamber both allow multiple puzzle solutions and then draw conclusions about the player depending on which puzzle solutions she selected.

There are also puzzle design structures that are sort of branchy even though the branching isn’t really about plot:

  • Scavenger allows you to buy a limited subset of the game’s tools and resources at the start of play, which then influences how you’ll solve puzzles later on (this is a bit more of an RPG/resource-management sort of thing than real plot-branching, but it’s related)
  • Various games score you in such a way that you’re allowed to finish the game with an incomplete score, so you’ve chosen for yourself a subset of the content to play. Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder is a recent example, but there’s also Paint!! and a few others.

“Linear” and “branching” aren’t the only options for plot shape, either. You can also have stories which are less divisible into nodes (Make It Good comes to mind), or stories where you can have significantly different experiences on replay (Slouching Towards Bedlam, Varicella) where the new plot content comes about because on the second/etc. play you know that you should look for it. The “replay” tag on IFDB applies to some of those.

The main issue with a branching puzzle game is that it’s that much more work to build and test. There are some ways to mitigate that, but it’s likely to remain something of an issue no matter what you do.

Thanks for the reply. I do seem to have an issue with expressing myself in a way which makes perfect sense in my head but confuses others, which doesn’t bode well for IF creation! Lol I should force myself to do an ambiguity check or something… For posts I mean, obviously I’d get IF tested.

A couple more thoughts, belatedly:

– Blighted Isle and Elysium Enigma both have a lot of optional content and alternate relationships with characters; it’s been a while since I played either of these, but they might be candidates for you to look at as well.
– Some games have different difficulty settings, which can also lead to swapped/altered puzzle content. Again, it’s not so much a plot choice, but the design decisions here might be informative. The “adjustable difficulty” tag on IFDB might be a place to start looking if you want to dig into those.

Thanks for the suggestions. Quite a lot to work through! My initial thoughts on branching stemmed from thinking about alternate endings. Which led to me thinking about replayability - would anyone care to find out the alternate endings if getting there involved an exercise of jumping through all the hoops they had previously? Then it started to become complicated in my mind.

One feature I’ve never seen in a parser game (although I don’t see why it couldn’t work) would be a New Game+ mode where after finishing a second playthrough can allow you to fast-forward through some of the linear stuff to the branches.

In Losing Your Grip, for instance, you could functionally just skip part 1 and go straight to the scene which has a branch involved.

I haven’t seen quite that either. But there are some parser games that effectively permit that because restarting the game with full knowledge allows you to do key actions right away that otherwise you wouldn’t have thought of – Slouching Towards Bedlam comes to mind here.

The ancient Microilllusions game Romantic Adventures in the Dome does something like this–after the first time you play through (maybe before?) it lets you select from a menu of scenes. Though maybe calling it a parser game is a bit of a stretch (I think it’s got a keyword interface under the hood to get you from one node to the next of its branching structure, though there is a hub area and a lot of interstitial stuff). It’s in Jason Scott’s collection of orphanware MS-DOS games playable in-browser, and you can read more about it from Cara Ellison here.

(Note, it has lots of fairly explicit and not awfully sexy sex scenes, some of which may be kind of squicky or flinchy for various reason. Which I think is deliberate, but still.)

Thanks for your comprehensive (!) replies. I generally play IF on my ios tablet and I had some problems when I tried to play some inform games online. Then, purely by accident, I discovered Frotz; I think by searching for Zork in the app store. Which works perfectly. Um, my point I guess is that you have to dig a bit to discover Frotz (unless I missed something). It needs to be flashing in lights somewhere.