Comments on Gamebooks, interactive fiction and hypertext


I believe what I actually said, if you’re referring to a recent ifMUD conversation about this, is that it’s not *what I mean when I say IF* unless it’s text-in, text-out. In other words, nothing to the effect that CYOA sucks or whatever, but that I tend to use the term “interactive fiction” to identify one particular medium with a parser and a world model.

FWIW, I just recently submitted an article in which I argue that changes in the IF community have us moving towards a broader view of what interactive fiction might be.

in ways as subtle as having a “Best Use of Medium” category in the XYZZY Awards and none for innovation

Not true. For years Best Use of Medium was often awarded for innovation, and last year was split out into separate implementation and innovation categories:

-- Emily Short 2017-09-30 15:47 UTC

Thanks for the clarification, I was quoting from memory. Also, I must have missed your article. As for my remark about the Awards, goes to show how powerful mental inertia is.

-- Felix 2017-09-30 15:47 UTC

Re. the article, it’s not published yet; I mentioned this to point out that from my point of view, the shift of community attention is not merely happening; it is significant enough to warrant a whole write-up.

Graphics in text adventures suck… until Future Boy comes along. Combat in text adventure sucks… until King of Shreds and Patches does it right.

Mrmm bibble. Maybe? (I think I’d pick Gun Mute as exemplifying the kind of combat I enjoy in interactive fiction, rather than King of Shreds and Patches, but YMMV.)

The fact is that it’s really a considerable skill to pick apart a failed experiment or unpolished demo and say “here’s what I think it was trying to do; here’s what I think worked and what didn’t; here’s what we can conclude about these techniques for the future.” It takes a lot of game design savvy to do that. (Which is one reason why pro game designers and AI guys will often say you shouldn’t show an unpolished demo to non-designer execs: they won’t understand what it means and will take away an overall negative impression from the experience, even if you’ve produced something that is two skilled artists, a UI designer and a QA team away from being pure canned Awesome.)

The other thing is that the IF community is not a monolithic entity but actually includes players who play and writers who write for a lot of different reasons, and the only thing that ties them together is an interest in a specific historical form.

Which, perhaps surprisingly, means that the community presents an overall appearance of being very formally conservative even though it has a lot of individual members who are very interested in branching out in various directions. There are lots of people interested in procedural stories, in IF semi-roguelikes, in IF with graphics, in CYOAs, in browser games, in tablet and mobile games, in multiplayer IF. The demo fair, the questions on the intfiction forum, and the kinds of feature requests we receive for Inform 7 are evidence of all of that.

But the XYZZY awards and to an even greater extent the IF Comp and Spring Thing tend to reward games that everyone liked at least somewhat. So if you have a formal experiment that a third of the people thought was really cool and interesting and then the rest thought wasn’t really up their alley, it’s not going to place well. It’s not because the other two thirds are luddites or nay-sayers in general; they just might be looking for something else. Like, it would take a pretty awesome randomized-combat roguelike RPG IF for me to get enthused about it, because while that might be technically inventive, it addresses none of the things I like about conventional IF: story, puzzles, atmosphere, character, and thematic depth are likely to take a back burner to combat combinatorics, and I just don’t really care that much about that, in comparison.

So what really gets everyone on board with a new concept tends to be, yeah, a breakout game that everyone agrees is so awesome that it challenges preconceptions and brings along even the part of the community that was mostly looking for something else. It’s not a conspiracy, though.

I do still think that CYOA is inherently a different medium with different possibilities from parsed IF. The thing about CYOA and your chess analogy is that chess *does* have the functional equivalent of a world model. It has a consistent rule set that allows the player to reason into the future about the results of the actions he takes. So you can know all the affordances available to you — move this knight HERE or THERE, move that bishop THAT WAY, etc. — but the challenge of chess is not just about recognizing those options but about anticipating the options that will open up in the future as the result of present actions.

A CYOA with no world model or consistent rules doesn’t offer this to the player. All it offers is a set of choices that can be made now. But how do I know what they’ll do? And even if I’m right about what they’ll do, how can I guess what effect they’ll have in the future?

Sometimes a good CYOA author will effectively include some implicit rules, whether or not they’re procedurally enforced. But many don’t, and that means that the player’s sense of long-term agency and ability to plan an action is significantly reduced.

-- Emily Short 2017-09-30 15:49 UTC

Speaking of clarifications: this article ended up sounding like it’s about menus versus parsers. The issue goes deeper than that, but I didn’t want to spread myself thin. Graphics in text adventures suck… until Future Boy comes along. Combat in text adventure sucks… until King of Shreds and Patches does it right. I’ll admit that we applaud successful experiments, but we’re way too harsh with failed ones, though they are just as important. And if an experimental work falls flat on its face, it may not even be because of the experiment, but general poor quality. But guess which cause is normally blamed.

-- Felix 2017-09-30 15:50 UTC

menu-based conversation systems are similarly despised, even though the ask/tell system boils down to the same thing… except you have to guess at the available options.

Is this true? I think Photopia’s conversation system was praised at the time, Best of Three’s system is menu-driven (though I guess it wasn’t as well received as many of Emily’s other games), and IIRC Alabaster, which was very well received, comes pretty close to having a menu-based system.

Very nice to see your blog, and I agree that CYOA is interesting; one of the ideas buried in my things-to-do queue is for one.

-- matt w 2017-09-30 15:51 UTC