Your input needed [IF audience expectations]

Hello, all:

I have been receiving very good playtester feedback and it’s teaching me about the modern IF player. For example, he was looking for a full sensory experience and so I added “listen” and “smell” to many of the locations. I thought that was valuable feedback.

My questions to you are:
(1) How does the modern IF player differ from the old-school days – that is, what parts of a game do people want to see included?

(2) I just finished reading Graham Nelson’s IDM-4, particularly the tips about game creation. This also showed me how old-school my game is and how I need to modernize it. What part of old-school gaming do you find frustrating?

Thank you, I’ve taken so long to complete this I need to make it compelling, like something that people want to play.


I think that one of the largest differences between old-school and modern players is the availability of games. There used to be only a few big games per year that people would play (a lot were being made, but people often followed just a few sources, like type-in magazines, Scott Adams, or Infocom or Magnetic Scrolls). So games were designed to last a long time, possibly with the help of others. Something that could be completed quickly would be disappointing.

Now there are dozens of games released each year. Most games will only be played through once and then discarded.

It’s still okay to put any of the old-school things delaying things into your game if they have a purpose, but I would just avoid putting things in just to increase the difficulty or playtime and not for enjoyment.

For instance:

  • Mazes. There are many standard ways of solving mazes, and adding one to your game just to be a maze will do nothing for you. But if it makes sense narratively (the player is meant to feel trapped), then it can work. Charm Cochran had a game called You May Not Escape! in a recent ifcomp, and Mike Russo said:

Now that I’ve said all that, this is a maze game. Wait, come back! Yes, 90% of the gameplay is wandering around a big, nearly-empty maze, and if you’re allergic to that sort of thing you probably won’t enjoy yourself here (I have to confess, it’s not my personal favorite). But that’s integral to the premise of the game: you’ve been chosen, through a process whose exact operation isn’t clear but which is clearly deeply unfair, to be thrown into a maze. There is an exit, you’re assured by the representative who greets you upon your entry, but it may or may not be unlocked. Still, there’s nothing for it but to try.

  • Locking yourself out of victory unwittingly. (This is what the Zarfian scale of cruelty refers to, if you’ve heard of it before). If there’s a bar of chocolate early on that the player can eat, and the game says ‘Hmm, delicious!’, and then at the very end of the game, the enemy can only be defeated by the chocolate bar, people won’t like that. It makes you replay the whole game, not seeing anything new. But this can work if the game has variety and is replayable.

I was trying to find some examples to show you, but there honestly aren’t any highly-played and highly-rated cruel games from the last few years. Some have high average scores, but they all have 10 ratings or less. Here’s an ifdb search if you’d like to see some examples.

  • Hiding things in a way that requires thorough searching of repeated mundane objects. A lot of people who make what they call ‘old-school’ games like to do this. You have 20 tables in the game and under exactly one of them is a coin or something. The Horror of Rylvania did this with having wainscotting or something in every room of a castle and exactly one room had a mouse hole if you examined it. This isn’t bad again if you build the game around it so it’s interesting. The recent game I Am Prey involves you searching desperately through indentical things in different rooms while you’re being hunted down.

  • This probably doesn’t need to be said but hunger, thirst, and sleepiness timers are generally very annoying if they don’t contribute directly to the story. I don’t have any good examples of recent games that use these in a fun way (I may have forgotten some though!)

  • One of Emily Short’s pieces of advice is that, once the player knows the solution to a puzzle, it should be easy to type it in. So making sure you code things right so the player doesn’t get an error when typing ‘CUT ROPE’ when the real answer is ‘SLICE CABLE’.

That’s all I can think of for now!


Be sure that, just because testers do this, it’s a good idea or even what people want - or even what the tester wants!

I say this not to criticise your testers, but that’s exactly what i do when testing other games. I try all sorts of stuff! For example I go round listening to things, tasting things, eating everything and messing with stuff to smoke out problems. Testing is very different from playing. Testing is all about kicking the tires. If I’m outside, i x sky and x ground. Inside, I’ll x walls and x floor. Even though these aren’t mentioned.

So just because the game doesn’t handle it or throws a cop-out, doesn’t really mean the game is defective in this regard. In point of fact, it’s the real bugs i might find that the author should spend time on. Like talking to dead bodies or puzzles that aren’t working right.


Thank you for your feedback! I felt that the playtester’s feedback was useful and easy enough implement.


Thank you for your feedback, it is invaluable!


A couple of things I personally look for in parsers:

  • If a noun is mentioned in a description, I would like to be able to interact with it. It doesn’t have to have a unique response for everything, but for instance if a table is said to have a scratched-up top, I always hope X SCRATCHES will get me a unique description.
  • To echo Mathbrush, if a parser is listed as Cruel I will be more hesitant to play it—I struggle with puzzles enough as it is, so being given the ability to unwittingly screw myself over hours before I might realize is just a bit anxiety-inducing.
  • If something makes sense for a character to try in a narrative situation, even if the action isn’t actually implemented, I like to see refusal messages that acknowledge that it made sense to try, or that give a reason why it’s not possible. For instance, if there’s a high ledge and I need a ladder to access it, if I try to JUMP before finding the ladder, it’s more helpful to get back You jump as high as you can, but the ledge remains just out of your reach, rather than just You jump on the spot.

Mind you, if the scratches aren’t important, I’d probably make SCRATCHES a synonym for TABLE. Then EXAMINE SCRATCHES will repeat the table description – the player probably already saw it, but now at least they know they’re not missing anything.

The “if it’s mentioned in a description” thing can be looked at more generally, too. The original question mentioned LISTEN and SMELL. It would be good if the room descriptions occasionally mentioned the sound or smell of the environment! Not in every single room, but just now and then. Then the player will think “Hey, this is a full-sensory sort of game” and they’ll type SMELL and LISTEN more often. Thus appreciating the work you put in. :)


Yes, I agreed with the playtester’s point. I added many listen and smell opportunities – though I can’t promise that it will be a pleasant smell :slight_smile:


As a general rule, I’d suggest overriding the general response for LISTEN and SMELL to something more appropriate to the game, and don’t forget that you may not be able to listen or smell anything in some circumstances, such as inside a spacesuit.

You can then add location-specific responses to LISTEN and SMELL whenever it’s appropriate, especially when the location description says you can hear or smell something.

The same principle applies to other commands, as well.


Yes. If parts of an object or details of a description are not important to the game, I like it if examining them redirects to the original object-description.

It’s a bit of an unspoken conversation between author and player.
[redirects to table-description, implicitly saying:]
→ “I appreciate your attention to detail, which is why I made sure examining this particular noun got a response. However, rest assured that it’s just there for aesthetic reasons, to add to the atmosphere. Just examining the table will tell you all you need to know. But thanks for the deep level of engagement!”